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Ready to Vote? Rampant Suppression Threatens Already Tight Race | The Nation

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Voting Rights Watch

Voting Rights Watch

In-depth coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide, in partnership with Colorlines.com.

Ready to Vote? Rampant Suppression Threatens Already Tight Race

We’re just four days away from Election Day, and voter suppression schemes continue to strike—as does the push back against them. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may mark an additional, and unforeseen barrier to the vote. Meanwhile, everyday people will contribute to the way we understand this election than ever before.

As seen above, Video the Vote is empowering communities to document what happens Tuesday, from long lines to voter machine failures. Their new promo video encourages voters to sign up, monitor hot spots, and hashtag shared social media content with #VideoTheVote.

The Advancement Project has also released a short series of films, produced by Stanley Nelson, that focus on people whose right to vote was threatened this year. The inspirational films encourage people to get out and vote.

But the lead up to this election is still marred by attempts to keep certain people from casting ballots. Here are some of this week’s most important voting rights updates, including many from our community journalists in key states:

Hurricane Sandy Affects Early Voting in Virginia

Harrisonburg, Virginia, Community Journalist Hermelinda Cortes writes in that this week’s huge storm may take its toll on the election:

Political organizers in Virginia are working down to the wire and putting boots to the ground to influence the vote in the remaining days before the election. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has political pundits are making all sorts of predictions for which way Virginia will swing come Election Day. The anticipation of massive storm forced the closing of twenty-one voter registrar offices offering early absentee voting in ten counties in Virginia, including Arlington County, Fairfax County, Virginia Beach City and Suffolk Counties—four of the most highly populated areas of the state. As the storm subsided and its most disastrous effects circumnavigated a majority of the state, Governor Bob McDonnell authorized, not mandated, local registrar offices to extend in-person absentee voting hours for the remainder of the week until the November 3 deadline.

In 2008, absentee votes accounted for 13 percent of all ballots cast in Virginia. Of these absentee votes, then nominee Barack Obama won 63 percent, making his margin of victory 6.3 percent. According to Daily Kos, the Virginia legislature initially reported that the margin of victory was only 3.4 percent, because it did not include absentee ballots. However, the Virginia Public Access Project indicates that absentee voting is down by 30 percent.

The state doesn’t make it easy to vote early. Unlike other states, Virginia demands that early voters meet one of more than a dozen qualifications and sign a sworn statement. What does this mean for a president who won a state in 2008 on a winning margin provided by absentee ballots? With its thirteen electoral votes, Virginia remains the tightest race—and it’s still unknown what effect the closure of twenty-one registrar offices will mean.

Are These Voting Machines Colorado’s ‘Hanging Chads’?

Colorado-based Community Journalist Rosemary Harris Lytle writes in that touch-screen voting machines may cause a problem in the swing state. As the Denver Post reports, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office is accused of providing unreliable voting machines that violate his state’s election rules. Despite the complaints, Arapahoe County, a swing county in the swing state, will be using the machines as the primary way of casting ballots on Tuesday, along with two other counties.

And, with just two working days left before the election, Univision is reporting that Gessler is also pursuing a purge of what he says are noncitizens on Colorado’s voter rolls. Election officials may challenge voters on the list, which could discourage eligible voters.

Georgia County Denies Backlog, Questions Immigrant Voters

Atlanta-based Community Journalist Noni M. Grant wrote last month that Fulton County—one of Georgia’s largest counties—had a huge voter registration application backlog. Noni send this update:

I spoke with Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (GCPA) yesterday. Based on records kept by GCPA, the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department has yet to mail back fifty-seven absentee ballots to applicants that GPCA assisted. Georgia law requires that absentee ballots be mailed within two days of receipt of the application. Butler says that the applications in question were sent September 25, 2012, and she advised that the Elections Department is working with her to ensure that the affected applicants for absentee ballots will be processed in time for Election Day. Fulton County has continued to deny a backlog of voter registration applications.

But that’s not all. Noni also writes that new immigrants are being targeted for disenfranchisement in Georgia, because of the state’s citizenship verification law. According to OnlineAthens.com, at least three people who provided passports for early voting in Cobb and Fulton Counties were initially denied the opportunity to vote.

Pennsylvania Accused of Continuing to Foment Voter ID Confusion

Philly-based Community Journalist James Cersonsky reported last week on a petition filed by the Pennsylvania ACLU, Advancement Project and Philadelphia Public Interest Law Center on October 19 to get the state to correct misleading or false information about photo ID requirements for voters. Here’s his update from this week:

After twisting through Pennsylvania’s legal system over the summer, the state’s new voter ID law won’t be in effect this November. Still, the state has sent out false letters to senior citizens, has been slow to take down outdated billboards and posters, and is still putting out “Show It” ads encouraging voters to bring ID to the polls, only slightly amended from their original version.

“We’ve gotten lots of calls about ads in different mediums complaining that they still have the old ad up,” says the Witold Walczak, the state ACLU’s legal director. “When we checked it out, it in fact was the new ad.”

Today, Commonwealth judge Robert Simpson rejected the petition for the state to take corrective action. To combat the inertia, the ACLU has teamed up with the Service Employees International Union to mail out 90,000 letters clarifying for voters that they don’t need ID. On election day, there will be a election protection coalition effort.

“A major focus will be to ensure that poll workers are not wrongfully insisting on ID as a requirement of voting,” Walczak says.

True the Vote Manual Features Transphobic Image

True the Vote guide

Voting Rights Watch obtained a copy of a training manual that True the Vote uses in Virginia. Part of the front cover features a caricature of what is supposed to be a man dressed up as a woman, with the slogan “Prevent voter fraud” directly above it. As Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King has pointed out, a voter’s gender identity can prove to be an unnecessary burden at the polls. The National Center for Transgender Equality has released public service announcements and other resources that address the problem that voter ID laws may pose for transgender voters—images like the one found on True the Vote’s manual testify to poll watchers may target transgender voters for disenfranchisement.

Nevada Poll Workers Hassle Voters

Community Journalist Kate Sedinger works with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, and her group has heard reports of voters being hassled at polling stations. Kate writes:

Although the state does not require voters to show ID unless they did not show one or provide a signature when they registered (Nevada recently implemented online voter registration services), many individuals are being told at the polling booth that their signature does not match the one on file and are then asked to show identification before they can vote.

This brings up something we may have overlooked: the clause that poll workers can ask for ID when they determine signatures don’t match leaves gray area for poll workers to work around Nevada’s lack of voter ID law and ask for ID anyway. One voter told me, “They asked for my ID, which I provided…. they seemed to deliberate for a minute before I asked if there was a problem. Once I asked if we were good they let me vote, hesitantly.”

I have heard multiple firsthand accounts similar to this one, and so far, it’s been impossible to count how many people experiencing these barriers don’t speak out—or worse, don’t have the requested ID, don’t know their rights and end up walking away from the poll booths without casting their ballots.

New Mexico Secretary of State Prohibits League of Women Voters’ Guide

From New Mexico, Community Journalist George Lujan writes in that the Secretary of State has banned the League of Women Voters’ voting guide at early voting locations. The League’s guide is nonpartisan, and has been used to educate voters for years. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the guide, on the pretext that it amounts to electioneering, is now banned.

George also writes in that voters received deceptive phone calls informing them that early voting had ended in Doña Ana County, despite the fact that early voting continues.

The Power of the Native Vote in New Mexico

Arizona-based Community Journalist Hillary Abe, who focuses on Native American voter rights, wrote in that Mark Trahant at Indian Country Today has posted an article about New Mexico’s growing Native influence, coupled by an attempt to suppress that power through voter suppression. The article highlights Santa Clara Pueblo member Alvin Warren:

Warren said there is an increasing number of Native Americans running for office—seventeen at one point—and a coalition defeated three different voter ID proposals. At the panel he said there are only two Native American senators and three representatives, but he said those numbers will increase as civic engagement increases. “I would say the majority of tribes now are actively involved in doing some kind of voter registration,” he said. “They’re in their communities doing voter education. My community, I’m proud to say, we’ve been actively doing this for the last, oh, five or six cycles.”

But that growing clout is exactly why there are renewed efforts to limit Native voting.

Read the whole article here.

Riverside County Accused of Reversing Democratic Registrations

LA-based Community Journalist Maegan E. Ortiz writes in that Democrats are accusing Riverside County of reversing voters’ party affiliations in order to create a Republican Advantage. California Watch reports that more than 100 Democrats signed affidavits claiming they were duped into signing petitions “outside of welfare offices and stores,” which were then used to re-register the voters as Republicans.

Southern California Edison Plans Outages on Election Day

A concerned reader wrote in that Southern California Edison (SCE) is planning an outage from 7 a.m. to 7 pm on Election Day in South Bay area of Los Angeles. Voting Rights Watch contacted SCE to ask how many outages were planned for Tuesday. Our call was eventually returned by media relations representative Paul Klein. Klein, whose job it is to answer reporters’ questions, insisted that we answer his questions first, and reveal our source. When we declined, he became recalcitrant and asked if we were “doing a story about this.” We claimed that we were, and he angrily stated that he would call back. We never heard back from Klein, and our subsequent calls were never returned. It remains unknown how many power outages are planned for Election Day.

‘Dream Voters’ Make Pledges to Undocumented Youth

As election day nears, many have pledged to enter the poll booth with the voices of thousands accompanying them—but not in the way you might think. Texas-based Community Journalist Kemi Bello, who was an Undocubus rider, and focuses on the way undocumented people are engaging with the electoral process, writes in:

They call themselves “dream voters” and have signed a pledge promising to keep in mind the pressing needs of the undocumented community—namely education access and protection form deportation—as they cast their votes this election. Immigrant, and often undocumented youth in particular, from groups like Education Initiative Association in Beaumont and the San Antonio Immigrant Youth Movement, have been registering voters across the state of Texas and encouraging them not just to vote, but to be dream voters.

Colorlines.com recently asked if President Obama is taking the Latino vote for granted. Since Latinos make up a large part of the undocumented demographic in the United States, it raises the question whether mobilizing dream voters will result in more accountability at the ballot box next week. It seems that if “Mi Voto es Mi Voz” (“My Vote is My Voice”) does not apply, “Su Voz, Mi Voto” (Your Voice, My Vote) just might.

Community Journalist Encourages Voters not to Dissuade by Ballot Bullies

Ohio-based Community Journalist Nelson Pierce authored an opinion piece urging voters not to be discouraged by efforts to disenfranchise them. The piece, written with the Advancement Project’s Judith Browne Dianis, can be read here.

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