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Ari Berman | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Goes to Court

Tomorrow the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hear a challenge to the state’s new voter ID law from the ACLU and other voting rights groups. The lead plaintiff is Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. Applewhite worked as a hotel housekeeper and never had a driver’s license. Four years ago, her purse was stolen and she lost her Social Security card. Because she was adopted and married twice, she cannot obtain the documents needed to comply with the state’s voter ID law. After voting in every election for the past fifty years, she will lose the right to vote this November.

The ACLU will argue that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law needlessly disenfranchises voters like Applewhite and violates Article I, Section 5, of the state constitution, which states: “Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” As in Wisconsin, where two federal judges have blocked that state’s voter ID law, the Pennsylvania Constitution affords strong protections to the right to vote. (The Justice Department is also investigating whether the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.)

Recent developments in Pennsylvania have transformed the debate over voter ID laws locally and nationally. The first turning point came last month, when Pennsylvania GOP House Leader Mike Turzai said the voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Turzai’s comment clarified, once and for all, the real intent of GOP-backed voter ID laws. They’re not aimed at combating the phantom menace of voter fraud—indeed, Pennsylvania just admitted in court filings that there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania”—but rather at suppressing Democratic turnout in order to benefit Republican candidates.

The second turning point came a few weeks later, when the Pennsylvania Transportation Department found that 9.2 percent of registered voters, 758,000 Pennsylvanians, don’t have the state-issued IDs required to vote under the law. The number of voters without ID was larger than the margin of Barack Obama’s victory over John McCain in Pennsylvania in 2008. That bombshell contradicted Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele’s oft-repeated claim that 99 percent of eligible voters possessed the requisite IDs. The Department of Transportation didn’t release the exact demographic breakdowns of who did not have IDs, but it did find that 18 percent of voters in Philadelphia, a heavily Democratic city that is 44 percent African-American, did not have valid state-issued IDs.

In fact, the number of voters lacking voter ID may be even higher than the state’s estimate. According to a new study [pdf] by University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto, more than 1 million registered voters in Pennsylvania—12.8 percent of the electorate—don’t have valid voter ID. Furthermore, only 34 percent of registered voters are aware of the law but 98 percent of registered voters believe they have the right ID. That’s a huge gap between perception and reality with regards to the law.

Who are the voters without ID? Writes Barreto:

“There are several statistically significant differences in possession rates of valid photo ID across subgroups of the population. Specifically, female eligible voters lack ID at higher rates (17.2%) than do males (11.5%). Latino eligible voters lack ID at higher rates (18.3%) than do non-Hispanic Whites (14.0%). The elderly (over age 75) lack ID at higher rates (17.8%) than middle-aged residents (10.3%) and younger respondents (age 18-34) also lack at higher rates (17.9%). Eligible voters who make less than $20,000 annually are more likely to lack a valid photo ID (22%) than all other income categories, most notably those who make $80,000 or more (8.2%), and finally 18.5% of respondents who did not complete high school lack an ID compared to 8.3% among college graduates.”

Moreover, obtaining the correct ID from the state isn’t as easy as one would presume, Barreto notes. 

“In order to obtain a valid photo ID, residents of Pennsylvania need to provide documentary proof of citizenship, a Social Security card, and proof of address. Among eligible voters who currently lack a valid ID, 27.6 percent do not have at least one of the three required underlying documents needed to obtain a valid photo ID. Overall, this represents an estimated 379,009 citizen, adult, eligible voters in Pennsylvania.”

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 2 million Pennsylvanians—24 percent of state’s voting-age citizens—live more than ten miles from the nearest DMV or ID-issuing office. Of that number, 135,000 people don’t have a car.

In response to public outcry, Pennsylvania has decided to make available a backup ID for those who cannot produce the documentation necessary to obtain the original voter ID card. The program is supposed to begin next month, but it’s unclear how many Pennsylvanians without ID will take advantage of it or be able to comply with the requirements—two proofs of residence, date of birth and Social Security number. It doesn’t help that the voter education component of the law is being run by GOP operatives with close ties to GOP Governor Tom Corbett and the Romney campaign.

For all these reasons, the trial in Harrisburg tomorrow will have major implications for the 2012 election in Pennsylvania and nationally. Turzai, sadly, will not be testifying on behalf of the state.

Romney's Chilly Reception at the NAACP

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Barack Obama is beating Mitt Romney among African-American voters by 92 percent to 1 percent. Romney’s speech to the NAACP today isn’t likely to change that dynamic.

Romney was repeatedly booed for vowing to repeal Obamacare (which covers 7 million uninsured African-Americans) and saying he would be a better president for the African-American community than Obama, the nation’s first black president. The room looked rather empty during Romney’s speech, and the “standing ovation” he received at the end was a mere formality.

Most notably, Romney said nothing about the wave of new voting restrictions passed by Republicans since the 2010 election that will disproportionately make it harder for African-Americans to cast a ballot and participate in the political process. NAACP President Ben Jealous has called the new laws “the greatest attack on voting rights since segregation.” A quarter of African-Americans, for example, lack the ID necessary to comply with new voter ID laws passed by Republicans in ten states since 2010—which Romney supports. In Pennsylvania, 10 percent of statewide registered voters lack voter ID but the number is 18 percent in Philadelphia, which is 44 percent African-American. Pennsylvania GOP House Leader Mike Turzai recently said that the state’s voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Black voters are also disproportionately impacted by other prongs of the GOP’s war on voting—such as shutting down voter registration drives, cutting back on early voting and disenfranchising ex-felons—that have been implemented in crucial swing states like Florida (see Brentin Mock’s great piece “Florida to Minorities: Don’t Vote Here.”)

In Florida, African-American voters were twice as likely as white voters to register to vote through nonpartisan voter registration drives run by the likes of Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters, which had to suspend their registration efforts in the state because of new onerous bureaucratic requirements (a federal judge has subsequently rescinded the law). As a result, black voter registration has declined 10 percent in Florida relative to 2008, according to the Washington Post. African-Americans also made up 54 percent of early voters in 2008; early voting has subsequently been cut from fourteen to eight days, with no voting on Sunday before the election, when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. And it’s virtually impossible for nonviolent ex-felons to cast a ballot in Florida, where African-Americans are 50 percent of the state’s prisoners but only 16 percent of the total population. Of the 7,000 felons purged by Florida in the first four months of 2012, 44 percent were African-American.

Romney’s failure to denounce or acknowledge his party’s efforts to suppress the African-American vote was particularly notable given that his speech took place in Texas, where the Department of Justice has blocked the state’s voter ID law and redistricting plan for violating the Voting Rights Act and diminishing the ability of minority voters to participate in the political process.

So why did Romney address the NAACP? Perhaps he believes he can pry some black votes away from Obama, despite his party’s horrid recent record on civil rights. Perhaps he wanted to seem “reasonable” in the eyes of suburban swing voters and courageous for addressing what he knew would be an unfriendly audience. Or perhaps he thought that getting booed by the NAACP would help him court conservative white working-class voters—the so-called “Southern Strategy” perfected by Richard Nixon. “If I were a political cynic, I’d wonder whether the Romney campaign wanted to be booed at NAACP,” conservative commentator David Frum tweeted. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called Romney’s speech a “reverse Sistah Souljah moment.”

The recession could theoretically give Romney an opening to make a pitch to black voters. African-American unemployment is higher than the national average, rising from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent last month. Unfortunately, the ideas advocated by Romney and his fellow Republicans, such as laying off more public sector workers, would only bring more pain. According to a UC-Berkeley study flagged by Slate’s Dave Weigel: “21.2% of all Black workers are public employees, compared with 16.3% of non-Black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.”

Cutting back employment opportunities for African-Americans and making it harder for them to vote is not likely to win the GOP more African-American votes. And by staying quiet on the major civil rights issue of the day—the effort to restrict the right to vote—Romney proved which side he was on. After Romney’s speech, the NAACP asked its members to phone bank for voting rights.

Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law Challenged in Federal Court

This week the state of Texas will try to persuade a federal court in Washington to uphold its voter ID law. The facts, however, are not on Texas’s side.

In March the Justice Department blocked the state’s voter ID law, saying it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters. DOJ found that “over 600,000 registered voters do not have either a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by [the Department of Public Safety]—and that a disproportionate share of those registered voters are Hispanic.”

Wrote Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez:

We conclude that the total number of registered voters who lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS could range from 603,892 to 795,955. The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification.

In court today, the Justice Department argued that the number of voters without ID is, in fact, double what the state estimated. “At least 1.4 million registered voters in Texas lack any form of state-issued ID accepted under [the law], and those voters are disproportionately Hispanic and black,” said DOJ lawyer Elizabeth Westfall.

Hispanics in Texas, who vote solidly Democratic, are not only more likely to lack ID compared to white voters, but will have a harder time obtaining the voter ID required by the state. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.

The law also places a significant burden on low-income residents. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ noted. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.

Texas Republicans, as in other states, claim the law is needed to combat so-called “voter fraud.” Governor Rick Perry said the state had “multiple cases of voter fraud”—even though there were just five complaints of voter impersonation in Texas during the 2008 and 2010 elections out of 13 million votes cast. The real purpose of the voter ID law, which passed the state legislature at the beginning of 2011 as “emergency” legislation, is to benefit Republicans. For example, a handgun permit is considered an acceptable form of ID but a university ID is not. The law is yet another way Texas Republicans are trying to dilute the Democratic-leaning youth and minority vote in the state. (In the 2008 election, Barack Obama won just 26 percent of the white vote in Texas, but 63 percent from Hispanics and 98 percent from African-Americans. He beat John McCain among 18-to-29-year-olds in Texas but lost among every other age group.)

Texas has the dubious distinction of being the only place where the DOJ has blocked the state’s redistricting plan and its voter ID law, for diminishing the ability of minority voters to participate in the political process. Hispanics and African-Americans accounted for 80 percent of Texas’s booming population growth between 2000–10, yet the redistricting plan passed by Texas Republicans last year actually decreased the number of seats in Congress and the state legislature where minority voters will be able to elect a candidate of their choice. As a result, white Republicans, although now a demographic minority in the state, will be able to retain a huge political majority for the next decade. The League of Women Voters called it “by far the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.” (The Texas redistricting map also has yet to be precleared in federal court.)

If a three-judge federal court panel rules against the state’s voter ID law, Texas has vowed to challenge the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination to clear any voting changes with the federal government to make sure they do not adversely impact minority voters. Attorney General Eric Holder has called Section 5 the “keystone of our voting rights.” (Texas has lost more Section 5 enforcement suits than any other state.) Already, Republicans in four states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida and South Carolina) and two local jurisdictions (in Alabama and North Carolina) are challenging the constitutionality of Section 5. A case originating in Shelby County, Alabama, is likely to reach the Supreme Court this year or next. According to a study by Columbia University law professor Nate Persily, “there have been more challenges to the Voting Rights Act in the past two years than in the previous 45 years combined,” reports Reuters. The Texas Republican Party platform goes even further, calling for repeal of the entire Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yet the wave of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans since the 2010 election proves that the Voting Rights Act is as important as it ever was. Texas, in many ways, is emblematic of how conservatives are responding to an increasingly diverse electorate by passing laws that dilute minority voting rights. Texas Congressman Charlie Gonzales, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, calls the state’s redistricting plan and voter ID law “exhibits A and B as to why Texas needs scrutiny under Section 5.”

Addendum: I discussed Texas’s voter ID law and other voting rights news on Democracy Now! this morning

Florida Voter Purge Is Unlikely to Resume

Last week Florida federal district court judge Robert Hinkle ruled against the Justice Department’s motion for a temporary injunction against Florida’s voter purge. The ruling was widely portrayed as a victory for the state, by Florida Governor Rick Scott and many in the media.

Yet the ruling itself was less of an endorsement for Florida and more of a rebuke. “There were major flaws in the program,” Hinkle wrote. “The [Florida secretary of state] compiled the list in a manner certain to include a large number of citizens…The program was likely to have a discriminatory impact on new citizens.” Hinkle ruled in favor of the state “primarily because the Secretary has abandoned the program.”

In case you’ve forgotten, Florida’s voter purge was riddled with errors (“98.4% of the 2,625 people identified by the Florida SOS as ‘potential noncitizens’ remain on the rolls because the Supervisors of Elections found insufficient evidence that they were ineligible to be registered voters,” found University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith), racially biased (minorities comprised 80 percent of the list but only 30 percent of Florida’s population) and blatantly partisan (Democrats outnumbered Republicans by two to one). That’s why Florida’s supervisors of elections overwhelmingly refused to implement the purge—which remains their position following Judge Hinkle’s ruling.

“The supervisors are where we were before—we’ve stopped the purge,” Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, told me. “The list was much too flawed for the elections supervisors to move forward with in the same format and without backup documentation.”

“We’re not going to see any further activity in most of the counties in the state’s direction,” adds Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Tallahassee’s Leon County. “It’s just too close to the election at this point.”

Two heavily Republican counties, Collier and Lee, are the exceptions, comprising 65 percent of the 107 potentially ineligible voters purged in Florida from early April to early June. Collier County, which includes Naples, removed 26 alleged “non-citizens” from the rolls based on the state’s list—eight of whom did not respond to contact attempts from the county to determine whether they were or were not citizens. “The worst-case scenario is that we’ve wrongfully removed somebody from the rolls,” says Tim Durham, the county’s deputy elections supervisor. If that’s the case, legitimate voters wrongly branded as “non-citizens” would have to cast a provisional ballot, which may or may not be counted (Durham says two-thirds of provisional ballots are counted in Collier County).

Lee County, home to Fort Myers and fittingly named after the Confederate general, is the other rogue county—and the only one in the state still purging voters. Lee removed forty-four suspected “non-citizens” from its rolls from April to June, according to Daniel Smith, but only two were from the state’s list. The other forty-two were evidently based on the county’s records of people who identified as non-citizens in order to avoid jury duty, a highly unreliable way to determine citizenship. (Lee County election officials were out of the office and did not respond to interview requests).

So what happens now? Collier is one of five counties in Florida subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), meaning it must seek approval from the federal government to make sure any voting change does not discriminate against minority voters (which the county failed to do). The Justice Department, whose lawsuit against Florida under the National Voter Registration Act is moving forward in Hinkle’s court, could also challenge the voter purge under Section 5. The ACLU and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights are already suing Florida under that provision, alleging that the counties needed preclearance for the voter purge, while the Advancement Project and other voting rights groups filed another lawsuit under Section 2 of the VRA, noting the purge’s discriminatory impact.

Florida has said the voter purge will not resume unless the state gains access to the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE database—which tracks government benefits for non-citizens and is not intended as a tool for purging ineligible voters. “The State's insistent claim that access to the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program will resolve any deficiencies in the current match process seriously overstates the usefulness and accuracy of SAVE for the purposes of verifying names in a voter list maintenance program,” writes the Brennan Center for Justice. Moreover, Florida lacks the identifiers necessary to properly use the database.

Yet although the purge remains suspended, Florida has yet to admit to any wrongdoing or to address the widespread confusion surrounding the program, which may scare some minority voters away from the polls in November for fear of retaliation. “The state needs to publicly acknowledge, to both election officials and voters, that there were errors, that they’re checking to make sure no one has been wrongfully removed and that the list won’t be used anymore,” says Diana Kasdan, counsel at the Brennan Center’s democracy program.

Judge Hinkle ended his opinion with a warning to the state. “If the secretary or the supervisors of elections go forward with the program the secretary says he has abandoned,” he wrote, “the issue can be revisited.”

Howard Dean on Healthcare Ruling: 'The President Won'

Few politicians know as much about healthcare as Howard Dean, a former physician, five-term governor of Vermont and president candidate. Dean has long been an advocate for universal healthcare, although he was critical of the Obama Administration’s handling of healthcare legislation in 2009-2010, particularly the lack of a public insurance option in the final bill (which Dean ultimately supported). I interviewed Dean today about the political and policy ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

Ari Berman: What was your reaction to the healthcare ruling?

Howard Dean: I was surprised. Like many people, I was shocked that Justice Roberts sided with upholding the bill and somewhat surprised and disappointed that Justice Kennedy voted to get rid of the entire thing along with the three right-wing justices.

I was glad that the president won a victory. But this pretty much ends the debate about the nature of the private sector in the healthcare business—it’s here to stay in a very big way. This is, after all, a Republican bill. Not the Republicans that we see today, but the moderate Republican wing under Mitt Romney in Massachusetts—this is their bill. For the foreseeable future there will be those who wish we had a single-payer healthcare system, but that’s not going to happen in Washington anytime soon. 

Will the Affordable Care Act be implemented as drafted following the ruling?

For the most part. There’s still a lot of work to be done—this does not insure everyone, first off. Secondly, the Medicaid decision is extremely concerning [the justices ruled that the government could not withhold all Medicaid funds for states that refuse to implement the law]. We would have been better off as a people if the Medicaid provision had been upheld fully and the individual mandate had gone down. The Medicaid expansion insures more people than anything else in the bill. The expansion is still real, but there’s no real stick for the federal government to use against the states.

I wish the law was more comprehensive, but it’s much better than having the bill repealed.

Should the president campaign on the issue of healthcare? We’ve seen a lot of polls showing that the bill has remained relatively unpopular—can the president do anything to change that now?

He can’t. It’s too late, the Republicans have out-branded him on this one. But I do think the president can talk about the individual provisions when they come up.

If I were Obama, I probably wouldn’t talk about healthcare all that much. Why try to climb a hill? Why not just hammer the daylights out of Romney every day for his car elevators, his Cayman Islands bank account and the fact that he’s a classic 1 percenter who doesn’t care about the 99 percent.

Does Romney have any credibility to attack Obama on healthcare given his own record in Massachusetts?

No, I don’t think he does, but he’s trying to appease his base. What Obama did was adopt Romney’s bill. I don’t see how you can pretend otherwise. 

Will this ruling energize conservative activists?

No, they’re so energized anyway it won’t make any difference. Although it’s going to be a little hard for conservatives to say that John Roberts condoned a socialist plan.

How worried are you about Republicans now calling the healthcare law a tax over and over and over again?

They were using that line anyway. I don’t think it’s going to be any worse than it already was.

What can Obama say in response to that?

He can say what he said today. He can tell the story of individual Americans who are going to benefit from it. And the truth is that the Congressional Budget Office says the law will save money and save jobs. He can talk about that too.

What is the importance of the Supreme Court going forward?

The Citizens United decision essentially put American politics up for sale.… Let’s not make a mistake about it: we have five right-wing judicial activists on the Supreme Court. That’s one of the reasons I decided early in the year to vigorously support the president’s re-election campaign. I believe there’s a huge difference between Scalia and Alito, and Sotomayor and Kagan.

GOP: Obama Planning to 'Steal' the Election

Michael Kinsley famously wrote: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say.”

Pennsylvania GOP House leader Mike Turzai uttered precisely such a statement over the weekend when he said that the state’s new voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Republicans have passed more than a dozen new voting restrictions since 2010, including voter ID laws in ten GOP-controlled states, under the guise of stopping the virtually nonexistent problem of “ voter fraud.” Yet the real purpose of the new voting restrictions, as Turzai admitted, is to shape the electorate in the GOP’s favor, since such laws disproportionately impact Democratic-leaning young and minority voters. As Bill Clinton said last year: “Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.”

In order to justify new voter suppression laws, GOP operatives are spinning increasingly elaborate conspiracy theories about alleged schemes of the Obama campaign and its allies to try to hijack the 2012 election. “Stop the corrupt Obama machine from stealing the 2012 elections,” reads the headline of a recent fundraising letter from the conservative legal organization Judicial Watch (see below).

According to Judicial Watch, which led the fight to impeach Clinton, the Obama administration is “aggressively pursuing plans behind closed doors to enact ‘stealth’ amnesty’ for millions of illegal aliens in a move to curry favor with Hispanic voters and potentially make it easier for illegal aliens to break the law and vote in 2012,” along with “continuing to funnel tax dollars to the corrupt and criminal ACORN.”

Such assertions are easily debunked. There is no “stealth amnesty” program, there is no record of noncitizens intentionally voting in US elections and ACORN no longer exists. Yet such outlandish claims are deeply ingrained in the conservative psyche. A 2009 survey by Public Policy Polling found that “52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately.”

The purveyors of such discredited arguments, like Judicial Watch, continue to be deeply influential in conservative political circles. Nancy Pelosi recently said that Republicans are going after Attorney General Eric Holder , another frequent Judicial Watch target, as payback for the Justice Department’s blocking discriminatory voting laws under the Voting Rights Act. “His department’s blatant refusal to enforce federal law requiring states to clean up their inaccurate voter-registration records, combined with DOJ lawsuits against state voter-ID laws, must bring smiles to any ACORN-like groups contemplating electoral mischief this fall,” conservative columnist John Fund wrote recently in National Review.

Judicial Watch’s “2012 Election Integrity Project” helped lay the groundwork for Florida’s discriminatory, illegal and inaccurate voter purge. “According to a Judicial Watch investigation voter rolls in the following states appear to contain the names of individuals who are ineligible to vote: Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama and California,” said a recent press release. “As part of its 2012 Election Integrity Project, Judicial Watch has put these states on notice that they must clean up their voter registration lists or face Judicial Watch lawsuits.” Judicial Watch and the Tea Party group True the Vote recently sued Indiana to force a Florida-esque voter purge in the Hoosier state. On Tuesday the two groups also filed a motion to intervene in support of Florida’s voter purge. (Florida says that fellow swing states Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina are trying to access a Department of Homeland Security database, potentially to conduct a voter purge of their own.)

Expect to see more voter suppression measures unveiled as we get closer to November. Because, according to the likes of Judicial Watch, the only legitimate elections are the ones that Republicans win.

Romney: Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran

Over the weekend, Jamie Fly and Bill Kristol, two high-profile neoconservatives, wrote an article in the Weekly Standard urging President Obama to “ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program.” Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative advocacy group that is a successor to the Project for the New American Century, which laid the intellectual groundwork for the US invasion of Iraq. Kristol is an FPI board member. Fellow FPI board members Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan and Dan Senor are foreign policy advisers to the Romney campaign.

Romney was asked about the Fly/Kristol article on Face the Nation on Sunday. He responded:

I can assure you if I'm President, the Iranians will have no question but that I would be willing to take military action, if necessary, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don't believe at this stage, therefore, if I'm President, that we need to have war powers approval or a special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now.

It’s worth pausing a moment to consider the magnitude of this statement. Romney is saying that he doesn’t need Congressional approval for a US attack on Iran. Notes Andrew Sullivan: “Remember that this was Cheney's position vis-a-vis Iraq. Bush over-ruled him. Romney is to the neocon right of George W. Bush in foreign affairs.” He’s also to the right of Bill Kristol, which is no small feat.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Romney has chosen a team of neoconservative advisers hellbent on resurrecting the hawkish unilateralism of the early Bush years. As I reported in The Nation in May, nearly a dozen Romney advisers have urged the US to consider a military strike against Iran.

Top Romney adviser John Bolton, who many neocons hope will be secretary of state in a Romney administration, has been advocating war with Iran since 2008 and recently wrote that he wanted diplomatic talks between Iran and the international community to fail. “John’s wisdom, clarity and courage are qualities that should typify our foreign policy,” Romney said when Bolton endorsed him last January. (Less hawkish members of Romney’s foreign policy team have urged a negotiated settlement with Iran along the lines the Obama administration is currently pursuing.)

One could argue that the Obama administration’s refusal to seek Congressional approval for the NATO incursion in Libya set a precedent for Romney to sidestep Congress on Iran. But the Libya mission had the support of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council, which wouldn’t be the case with an Iran attack. And a military strike against Iran would be far more dangerous and risky than taking out the Qaddafi regime. That’s why the administration and its diplomatic partners are trying to peacefully resolve what has unnecessarily become a brewing conflict.

On Saturday, Romney once again ridiculed Obama’s Middle East policy. “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite," Romney told the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a Christian right group run by Ralph Reed. If Obama seeks peace with Iran, then Romney and his ilk want yet another war.

Obama Has a Jobs Plan. Romney Doesn't.


President Barack Obama talks about the economy in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

It’s no secret that the presidential election will be decided by the state of the economy and which candidate has a better plan for creating jobs. So, toward that end, consider a few relevant numbers:

+ 1.4 million to 3.3 million—that’s how many jobs were created or saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

+ 1.9 million—that’s the number of new jobs the American Jobs Act, unveiled by President Obama in September 2011, would create, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s.

- 4.1 million—that’s how many jobs Paul Ryan’s budget, which Mitt Romney called “an excellent piece of work,” would eliminate through 2014, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

+11.5 million—that’s how many jobs Romney claimed last September he would create in the first term of his administration. But true to form, Romney never said how he would create that many jobs, nor has any reputable economist backed up his claim. “Nowhere in the 160 page plan could I find a stated job creation number,” wrote Rebecca Thiess of EPI. “The math doesn’t just appear to be fuzzy—it appears to be nonexistent.” Added David Madland of the Center for American Progress: “It is a plan from the Republican candidate for president designed to maximize corporate profits. What it doesn’t do is help the middle class or create jobs.” Even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal called Romney’s fifty-nine-point economic tome “surprisingly timid and tactical considering our economic predicament.”

Following last month’s disappointing jobs report, Romney offered six specific ideas to lift the flagging economy. Reported Greg Sargent:

He said he would tap our energy resources to “put a lot of people to work in the energy sector.” He said he’d repeal Obamacare, which is “scaring small businesses from hiring.” He said he’d balance the budget so people know “investing in America is going to yield a return in dollars worth something.” He vowed to “open up new markets in American trade.” He said he’d revamp the National Labor Relations Board and lower tax rates on employers, both of which would make it easier to hire people.

Sargent asked a few top economists whether Romney’s ideas would actually create jobs. “On net, all of these policies would do more harm in the short term,” responded Mark Hopkins, a senior adviser at Moody’s Analytics. “If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.”

Hopkins’s quote might just be the most important one of the campaign so far. Every story about the candidates’ positions on the economy should mention this essential dynamic: Obama has a jobs plan. Romney doesn’t. In fact, according to economists, Romney’s prescriptions for the economy would only make a bad situation significantly worse.

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.

The State of the Obama Coalition in 2012: Live Chat with Van Jones and Ari Berman

Note: To read a replay of the chat, click the CoveritLive box below. You can also access an edited transcript here.

After a campaign that saw an unprecedented level of grassroots activism and young voter engagement, Barack Obama’s supporters have struggled to reconcile the idealism that swept him into the presidency with the more centrist and cautious approach he has taken once in office. As the 2012 election approaches, what role will grassroots activists play in Obama's re-election campaign and in pushing him to stand up for more progressive governance? 

On Friday, June 1st at 2 PM EST, Nation readers are invited to join us for a discussion with Nation writer Ari Berman and Rebuild the Dream president and co-founder Van Jones on the state of the Obama coalition in 2012.

Ari Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation and Investigative Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute, has reported extensively on American politics, foreign policy and the intersection of money and politics. His first book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, looks at the grassroots organizing that sought to expand the Democratic coalition beginning with the Howard Dean campaign and culminating in the Democratic victories of 2008.

 

Van Jones is the president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, an organization that seeks to implement bottom-up solutions to fix the United States economy. In his new book of the same name, he details his experience in the Obama White House and proposes strategies to build movements for progressive change.

 

 

Please join us on Friday, June 1st for a lively discussion!

Democrats Counter GOP Voting Restrictions

Since the 2010 election, Republicans have approved laws in more than a dozen states to restrict the right to vote. These laws include requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, restricting voter registration drives, curtailing early voting, disenfranchising ex-felons and mandating government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot. The Brennan Center estimates that “these new laws could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012,” and notes that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.” States with restrictive voting laws now comprise 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency—including crucial swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The impact of such laws could be one of the sleeper issues that helps decides the 2012 election.

House Democrats responded to the wave of new voting restrictions by introducing a comprehensive new bill yesterday, “The Voter Empowerment Act,” aimed at expanding voting rights for all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. “The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple,” said Representative John Lewis, a civil rights hero who cosponsored the legislation with House Democratic whip Steny H. Hoyer, Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, Representative John Conyers and Representative Robert Brady. “Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. The sponsors of this act believe we need to take action or risk losing the liberties we have enjoyed. We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out.” (The Obama campaign also unveiled a new voter-education website today, gottavote.org.)

The Voter Empowerment Act is the first piece of federal legislation that would modernize voter registration and includes a number of important new federal standards. They include:

-Automatically registering consenting adults to vote at government institutions like the DMV, allowing them to register to vote online and easily update their voter registration information when they move and adopting Election Day registration nationwide (states with same-day registration have the highest turnout in the United States)

• Guaranteeing fifteen days of early voting before Election Day

• Granting the right to vote for ex-felons after they’ve served their time

• Banning deceptive ads aimed at suppressing voter turnout

• Preventing election officials like Katherine Harris from working for political campaigns

(The bill does not address new voter ID laws, which nine GOP states have passed since 2010, but Representative Keith Ellison introduced a bill last year that would prohibit election officials from requiring photo identification to cast a vote or register to vote.)

“The Democratic leadership is taking voting reforms very seriously,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “This legislation addresses the real problems in our system of elections, not the fictitious ones.” Indeed, since the 2010 election Republicans have breathlessly hyped the phantom menace of “voter fraud” in order to pass new voting restrictions that will reshape the electorate in the GOP’s favor, needlessly politicizing American elections and ignoring the real deficiencies in our electoral system.

For example, 9 million voters couldn’t vote in 2008, according to MIT, because of problems with their voter registration (13 percent), long lines at the polls (11 percent), uncertainty about the location of their polling place (nine percent) or lack of proper ID (seven percent). An additional 51 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote, notes Demos. “This represents almost one in four citizens, disproportionately low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans,” writes Liz Kennedy. Of the 146 million Americans registered to vote in 2008, 131 million voted—a turnout rate of 90 percent. So the biggest problem in US elections isn’t that people aren’t voting, but that they aren’t registered to vote.

Unfortunately, this problem is getting worse, not better, as we head closer to the 2012 election. Crucial swing states like Florida have cracked down on voter registration drives, forcing non-partisan groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote to abandon their voter registration efforts (the Department of Justice has objected to Florida’s law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act). Eighty-one thousand fewer voters have registered in Florida in 2012 compared to the same period four years ago, according to an analysis by the New York Times. Voter registration in Florida's communities of color has grown about half as fast as it has in North Carolina since 2008, notes a new study by Facing South. Nationally, the number of black and Hispanic registered voters has declined by 5 percent since 2008, according to the Washington Post, including 28 percent in New Mexico and 10 percent in Florida, the result of people leaving their homes because of the economic collapse or not being able to register to vote due to new voting restrictions.

Wendy Weiser notes that the main ideas included in the Voter Empowerment Act are common-sense reforms that have been adopted on a bipartisan basis in a number of states. They would make US elections more convenient, more efficient, more participatory, more secure and less expensive—virtues that all sides should be able to agree on. “These are not partisan hot-button issues,” Weiser says. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Non-partisan voting rights groups like the Brennan Center, Common Cause, Demos, the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote have endorsed the effort. The bill has approximately 100 Democratic supporters in the House, but so far no Republicans have signed on.

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.

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