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Ari Berman | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

Elizabeth Warren to Romney: 'Corporations Are Not People'

During the GOP primary, Mitt Romney said that public concern about income inequality and Wall Street excess amounted to “envy” and “class warfare.” The not-so-subtle theme of the RNC was that Obama and the Democrats resented “success.”

Tonight Elizabeth Warren offered a powerful defense of economic populism and a stinging rejoinder to Romney & Co. Here’s a key section from her remarks:

People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here’s the painful part: they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in profits. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. And Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors and acting like we should thank them.

Does anyone here have a problem with that? Well, I do too. I talk to small-business owners all across Massachusetts. And not one of them—not one—made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy. I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters—people who bust their tails every day. And not one of them—not one—stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

These folks don’t resent that someone else makes more money. We’re Americans. We celebrate success. We just don’t want the game to be rigged.

No one, according to Warren, represents the “rigged game” better than Romney.

And Mitt Romney? He wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. But for middle-class families who are hanging on by their fingernails? His plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to $2,000 dollars. Mitt Romney wants to give billions in breaks to big corporations—but he and Paul Ryan would pulverize financial reform, voucher-ize Medicare and vaporize Obamacare.

The Republican vision is clear: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.” Republicans say they don’t believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.

No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people. And that’s why we need Barack Obama.

Warren wasn’t always a favorite in Obama’s inner circle—after all, the Obama administration bent to the bank lobby and declined to name her permanent director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she created. But Obama’s campaign theme of economic fairness has been influenced by Warren as much as anybody else. If she has her way, the campaign really will be a contrast of two drastically different economic philosophies. Democrats stumbled in 2010 by seeming as if they prioritized Wall Street over Main Street. Romney gives them a perfect opportunity to correct that wrong. Obama stands the best shot at getting re-elected by making the election a choice between fairness and greed, with Romney and his corporate allies as the unabashed defenders of a new Gilded Age.

Bill Clinton: GOP Voter Suppression Laws a Sign of Desperation

At an event on Tuesday night organized by the Arkansas Democratic Party, former President Bill Clinton offered a preview of his prime-time speech at the Democratic Convention tomorrow. He defended Obama’s stimulus and healthcare plans, and ridiculed GOP efforts to blame Obama for the national debt, saying, “They built it.”

At the end of his speech, Clinton took aim at the GOP for passing laws across the country that will restrict the right to vote for minority, low-income, young and elderly voters, singling out the swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio as the worst offenders. Said Clinton:

“Do you really want to live in a country where one party is so desperate to win the White House that they go around trying to make it harder for people to vote if they’re people of color, poor people or first generation immigrants?

“In Pennsylvania, where they passed all these voter ID requirements, the House Republican leader who passed it said it was one of the most important achievements because it will enable Governor Romney to defeat the president in Pennsylvania.

“In Ohio, they passed the whole nine yards. The problem was in Ohio you can actually put this stuff on the ballot pretty easily to overturn it. So they went back in—you gotta give it to Republicans, they’re good. They vetoed it, then they snuck in an end to advance voting. Then they allowed the counties—and every county in Ohio has an election commission of three Democrats and three Republicans—to decide if they were going to go around advance voting. The Democrats, we were for it. So in every county that was Republican, Democrats said ‘OK, we’ll have advance voting.’ And in every single county that is overwhelming Democratic, the Republicans voted against allowing advance voting.

“This is not complicated—America is becoming more diverse and younger and more vibrant. We’re younger than Europe, we’re younger than Japan and in twenty years we’ll be younger than China.”

And, as Clinton told student activists at the Campus Progress conference last year, the GOP is responding to that growing diversity not by courting minority voters but by making it harder for them to cast a ballot. Said Clinton in July 2011:

“One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.…

“Why is all 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.”

How successful Republicans are at this voter suppression effort will be one of the major factors that determines the outcome of the 2012 election.

Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again

Charlotte—On Sunday I attended a fascinating panel of Southern politics experts convened by UNC–Chapel Hill. One of the major takeaways from the session was how diverse the South has become. For instance, Charlotte, the host city of the DNC, is now 45 percent white, 35 percent African-American and 13 percent Hispanic.

Among baby boomers aged 55–64, the South is 72 percent white. Among kids 15 or under, the South is 51 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic, 21 percent African-American and 6 percent other (which includes Asian-Americans and Native-Americans). In North Carolina, people of color accounted for 61 percent of the 1.5 million new residents the state gained over the past decade. Since 2008, the black and Hispanic share of eligible voters in North Carolina has grown by 2.5 percent, while the percentage of the white vote has decreased by a similar margin. This increasing diversity allowed Obama to win the Southern states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in 2008—all of which are competitive again in 2012.

The region’s changing demographics are a “ticking time bomb for Republicans,” said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. The Southern GOP is 88 percent white. The Southern Democratic Party is 50 percent white, 36 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other. The GOP’s dominance among white voters—who favor Romney over Obama by 26 points in the region—has allowed Republicans to control most of the region politically. But that will only be the case for so long if demographic trends continue to accelerate. Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote.

Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP. Some of these changes have been mitigated by recent federal and state court rulings against the GOP, yet it’s still breathtaking to consider the different ways Republicans have sought to suppress the minority vote in the region.

• Laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Virginia tightened a looser voter ID law. A federal court blocked Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law last week and will rule on South Carolina’s law shortly. Mississippi and Alabama must also receive preclearance for their voter ID laws—which are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and 2014—from a federal court in Washington or the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. According to a 2005 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of US citizens don’t have government-issued IDs, but the number is 25 percent among African-Americans.

• Laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote were passed in Alabama and Tennessee. Restrictions on voter registration drives were enacted in Florida and Texas. Florida’s law has been overturned by a federal court. Texas’s law has also been blocked by a state judge. Data from the 2004 and 2008 elections in Florida show that “African-American and Hispanic citizens are about twice as likely to register to vote through drives as white voters,” according to Project Vote.

• Early voting periods were reduced in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. African-Americans in states like Florida were twice as likely to cast ballots during early voting as white voters. According to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, 800,000 voters in Florida cast ballots during early voting hours in 2008 eliminated by the GOP. A federal court overturned the law in the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

• Florida also prevented felons convicted of nonviolent crimes from voting after they’ve served their time, which disenfranchised nearly 200,000 Floridians who would have been eligible to vote in 2012. Blacks are 13 percent of registered voters in Florida, but 23 percent of disenfranchised felons.

• Only three Southern states—Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—did not pass restrictive voting laws since 2010. North Carolina Democratic Governor Bev Perdue twice vetoed efforts by North Carolina Republicans to pass a strict voter ID law before the 2012 election. If GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory wins in November, it’s all but certain a tough voter ID law will be among the first pieces of legislation he signs.

• In conjunction with these new voting restrictions, Republicans all across the South used their control of state legislatures following 2010 to pass redistricting maps that will lead to a re-segregation of Southern politics, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority minority” districts as possible as a way to maximize the number of Republican seats. “Their goal is to make the Republican Party a solidly white party and to make the Democratic Party a majority African-American one,” says Kareem Crayton, professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill and an expert on voting rights in the South. The Texas redistricting maps, which a federal court ruled last week were “enacted with discriminatory purpose,” are simply a more extreme version of an effort that has been replicated in virtually every Southern state to undercut black and Hispanic political representation.

The consequences of these changes will be to make it harder for growing minority populations to be able to cast a ballot in much of the South and to make the region more segregated politically at a time when it is becoming more diverse demographically. “The net effect is that the potential for any coalition to exist in the Democratic Party of moderate-to-progressive whites and African-American voters is pretty much decimated,” says Crayton. Obama is betting he can once again turn out such a coalition in states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, but that task has become tougher in 2012. The outlook for state and local Democrats in the region is far bleaker.

The regression in the South today when it comes to voting rights is eerily reminiscent of tragic earlier periods in the region’s beleaguered racial history. “After Reconstruction, we saw efforts by conservative whites in Southern state legislatures to cut back on opportunities for black Americans to cast a ballot,” says Crayton. “It’s hard to dismiss the theory that what we’re seeing today is a replay of that scenario.”

Today, four Southern states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas) are supporting a constitutional challenge to Section 5 originating in Shelby County, Alabama. When Republicans in Tampa yearned for the good ol’ days, it was hard not to get the feeling that they were thinking of a time in the South when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist.

UPDATE: The Democratic Party convention platform opposes voter ID laws and "unecessary restrictions" on "the right to vote." Here's the section:

Voting Rights. We believe the right to vote and to have your vote counted is an essential American freedom, and we oppose laws that place unnecessary restrictions on those seeking to exercise that freedom. Democrats have a proud history of standing up for the right to vote. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough, and independent reviews of proposed voting changes, and it has prevented states from implementing voter identification laws that would be harmful to minority voters. Democrats know that voter identification laws can disproportionately burden young voters, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly, and we refuse to allow the use of political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens.

Federal Court: Texas Voter ID Law Violates Voting Rights Act

On Tuesday, a federal court in Washington found that Texas’s redistricting maps violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and were “enacted with discriminatory purpose.” On Thursday a separate three-judge federal court panel in Washington unanimously found that Texas’s voter ID law also violated Section 5 by discriminating against minority voters.

For background, see my earlier posts “DOJ Blocks Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law” and “Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law Challenged in Federal Court.”

In March the Justice Department objected to Texas’s voter ID law. Among the reasons: the state admitted that between 603,892 to 795,955 registered in voters in Texas lacked government-issued photo ID, with Hispanic voters between 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely than whites to not have the new voter ID; to obtain one of the five government-issued IDs now needed to vote, voters must first pay for underlying documents to confirm their identity, the cheapest option being a birth certificate for $22 (otherwise known as a "poll tax"); Texas has DMV offices in only eighty-one of 254 counties in the state, with some voters needing to travel up to 250 miles to obtain a new voter ID. 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 new voter ID (Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car).

These facts also persuaded the court to block the voter ID law. Section 5 mandates that covered jurisdictions with a history of electoral discrimination—which includes parts or all of sixteen states, including much of the South—receive approval from DOJ or a federal court in Washington for any voting-related change to ensure that it does not make it harder for minority citizens to be able to vote (known in the legal parlance as “retrogression”).

Here’s the key section from the court ruling:

Texas bears the burden of proving that nothing in SB 14 “would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Because all of Texas’s evidence on retrogression is some combination of invalid, irrelevant, and unreliable, we have little trouble concluding that Texas has failed to carry its burden.

To the contrary, record evidence suggests that SB 14, if implemented, would in fact have a retrogressive effect on Hispanic and African American voters. This conclusion flows from three basic facts: (1) a substantial subgroup of Texas voters, many of whom are African American or Hispanic, lack photo ID; (2) the burdens associated with obtaining ID will weigh most heavily on the poor; and (3) racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.

The court elaborated:

According to undisputed U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in Texas is 25.8% for Hispanics and 23.3% for African Americans, compared to just 8.8% for whites. This means that the burdens of obtaining [voter ID] will almost certainly fall more heavily on minorities, a concern well recognized by those who work in minority communities.

…Undisputed census data shows that in Texas, 13.1% of African Americans and 7.3% of Hispanics live in households without access to a motor vehicle, compared with only 3.8% of whites.

…while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a DPS [Department of Public Safety] office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor. Poorer citizens, especially those working for hourly wages, will likely be less able to take time off work to travel to a DPS office—a problem exacerbated by the fact that wait times in DPS offices can be as long as three hours during busy months of the year. This concern is especially serious given that none of Texas’s DPS offices are open on weekends or past 6:00 PM, eliminating for many working people the option of obtaining an EIC [“election identification certificate”] on their own time. A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote. The same is true when a law imposes an implicit fee for the privilege of casting a ballot, like the $22 many would-be voters who lack the required underlying documentation will have to pay to obtain an EIC. “[W]ealth or fee paying has…no relation to voting qualifications; the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned.”

…Significantly, Texas disputes none of the facts underlying this conclusion—not the $22 cost for a birth certificate, not the distance between DPS offices, not the poverty rates for minorities in Texas, not the disproportionate vehicle access rates.

The court ruling clearly shows how voter ID laws disproportionately harm Hispanic, African-American and low-income voters, who, perhaps not surprisingly, are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. Republicans drafted the voter ID law, just like the redistricting plans, to benefit their party, from passing it as “emergency" legislation at the beginning of the 2011 legislative session to allowing voters to cast a ballot with a concealed weapons permit but not a student ID. (By my count, federal or state courts have blocked new voter suppression laws in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin this year.)

The court also recognized that voting is a precious right in a democracy and is an exercise that is in no way akin to buying Sudafed or boarding a plane. Wrote the judges: “As the Supreme Court has ‘often reiterated…voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure.’ Indeed, the right to vote free from racial discrimination is expressly protected by the Constitution.”

Texas has said that it will now amend its case to challenge the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Supreme Court. The state has already signed on to an amicus brief supporting a challenge to Section 5 originating in Alabama that is headed to the Supreme Court. As I noted this week, Texas has lost more Section 5 enforcement cases than any other state. The state’s unlawful voter ID law and redistricting maps illustrate vividly why, forty-seven years after its passage, the Voting Rights Act, particularly Section 5, is as important today as it was in 1965.

Federal Court Blocks Discriminatory Texas Redistricting Plan

In December of last year, the Justice Department asserted that Texas’s redistricting plans for Congress and the state legislature violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by “diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” Today a three-judge federal court in Washington concurred with DOJ, writing that Texas’s redistricting plans were “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and did not deserve preclearance under Section 5.

Here are the relevant facts of the case: Texas gained 4.3 million new residents from 2000–10. Nearly 90 percent of that growth came from minority citizens (65 percent Hispanic, 13 percent African-American, 10 percent Asian). As a result, Texas gained four new Congressional seats, from thirty-two to thirty-six. Yet under the Congressional redistricting map passed by Texas Republicans following the 2010 election, white Republicans were awarded three of the four new seats that resulted from Democratic-leaning minority population growth. The League of Women Voters called the plan “the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.”

Noted the federal court:

The Black and Hispanic communities currently make up 39.3% of Texas’s CVAP [current voting age population]. Thus, if districts were allocated proportionally, there would be 13 minority districts out of the 32 in the benchmark (39.3% of 32 is 12.6). Yet minorities have only 10 seats in the benchmark, so the representation gap is three districts. In the enacted plan, proportional representation would yield 14 ability districts (39.3% of 36 is 14.1), but there are still only 10 ability districts.

Texas Republicans went to extreme lengths in order to dilute and suppress the state’s booming minority vote, as I reported in The Nation in January (see “How the GOP is Resegregating the South”).

According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.

Texas Republicans not only failed to grant new power to minority voters in the state, they also took away vital economic resources from minority Democratic members of Congress.

Reported the court:

Congressman Al Green, who represents CD 9, testified that “substantial surgery” was done to his district that could not have happened by accident. The Medical Center, Astrodome, rail line, and Houston Baptist University — the “economic engines” of the district — were all removed in the enacted plan. The enacted plan also removed from CD 9 the area where Representative Green had established his district office. Likewise, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents CD 18, testified that the plan removed from her district key economic generators as well as her district office. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of CD 30 also testified that the plan removed the American Center (home of the Dallas Mavericks), the arts district, her district office, and her home from CD 30. The mapdrawers also removed the district office, the Alamo, and the Convention Center (named after the incumbent’s father), from CD 20, a Hispanic ability district.

No such surgery was performed on the districts of Anglo incumbents. In fact, every Anglo member of Congress retained his or her district office. Anglo district boundaries were redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren. And Texas never challenged evidence that only minority districts lost their economic centers by showing, for example, that the same types of changes had been made in Anglo districts.

The only explanation Texas offers for this pattern is “coincidence.” But if this was coincidence, it was a striking one indeed. It is difficult to believe that pure chance would lead to such results. The State also argues that it “attempted to accommodate unsolicited requests from a bipartisan group of lawmakers,” and that “[w]ithout hearing from the members, the mapdrawers did not know where district offices were located.” But we find this hard to believe as well. We are confident that the mapdrawers can not only draw maps but read them, and the locations of these district offices were not secret. The improbability of these events alone could well qualify as a “clear pattern, unexplainable on grounds other than race,” and lead us to infer a discriminatory purpose behind the Congressional Plan.

The same analysis applied to the state Senate and state House maps as well. “Texas has failed to carry its burden that [its redistricting plans] do not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” the court wrote in its conclusion. An interim map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio in February will be used for the 2012 election.

Texas’s redistricting maps and voter ID law (which DOJ has also objected to and will soon be decided by a federal court in Washington) in many ways embody the conservative response to the country’s changing demographics. Instead of courting an increasingly diverse electorate, Republicans in Texas and elsewhere are trying to take away political power from minority voters and make it harder for them to vote.

Texas is one of seven GOP states that recently filed an amicus brief supporting a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court. The state has already vowed to appeal the redistricting case to the Supreme Court, which could also hear Texas’s voter ID case if overturned. Texas, it should be noted, has lost more Section 5 enforcement suits than any other state. Today’s ruling is another black eye for Republicans in the Lone Star State.

Discriminatory South Carolina Voter ID Law Challenged in Federal Court - UPDATED

Starting today, a federal court in DC will hear a week-long trial to decide whether South Carolina’s new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. The Department of Justice objected to the law last December under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that South Carolina had failed to prove that the measure would not disenfranchise minority voters.

Here’s the relevant evidence presented by DOJ:

Of the total number of registered voters in the state, 239,333 (or 8.9%) did not possess a DMV-issued photo identification (either a driver’s license or a non-driver’s photo ID card) that would satisfy the requirements under Act R54. When disaggregated by race, the state’s data show that 8.4% of white registered voters lacked any form of DMV-issued ID, as compared to 10.0% of non-white registered voters. In other words, according to the state’s data … minority registered voters were nearly 20% more likely to lack the DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised by Act R54’s new requirements.…

Notably, seven counties with the highest percentages of registered voters who lack DMV-issued identification are also among the ten counties in South Carolina that have the highest percentage of voting-age persons who are non-white.

The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands. According to the state’s statistics, there are 81,938 minority citizens who are already registered to vote and who lack DMV-issued identification.

South Carolina Republicans have displayed a cavalier attitude toward those voters lacking ID in the state. “Find me those people that think that this is invading their rights,” said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, “and I will go take them to the DMV myself and help them get that picture ID.” Yet given the number of registered voters in South Carolina who lack the new voter ID, transporting each one to the DMV would take Haley quite some time—seven years, four months, three weeks and five days, Think Progress calculated.

Moreover, obtaining that government-issued photo ID isn’t as easy as you’d think. To get the “free” ID the state must now provide, voters need to buy a passport or a birth certificate in order to authenticate their identity. “It’s the stepsister of the poll tax,” Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, told me last year. Under the new law, many elderly black residents—who were born at home in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate—must now go to family court to prove their identity.

What justifies making it so difficult for certain segments of the population to exercise one of the country’s most basic constitutional rights? South Carolina Republicans claim the law will stop a massive outbreak of voter fraud. Yet DOJ noted that “the state’s submission did not include any evidence or instance of either in-person voter impersonation or any other type of fraud.” A separate investigation by the South Carolina Elections Commission, based on the hysterical claim by the South Carolina Attorney General that 900 dead people voted in the 2010 election, also found no evidence of voter fraud or zombie voting

DOJ has also objected to discriminatory new voting restrictions in Florida and Texas under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 mandates that covered jurisdictions with a history of electoral discrimination—which includes parts or all of sixteen states, including much of the South—receive approval from DOJ or a federal court in Washington for any voting-related change to ensure that it does not make it harder for minority citizens to be able to vote. On August 16, a federal court found that Florida’s cutbacks to early voting violated the Voting Rights Act, since African-American voters were twice as likely as white voters to use early voting during the 2008 election. Seven GOP states are now challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Supreme Court. Not surprisingly, South Carolina is one of them.

A few updates on the case:

-During the trial on Tuesday it was revealed that South Carolina GOP State Rep. Alan Clemmons, author of the voter ID bill, received an email from a supporter of the voter ID law, Ed Koziol of Greenville, suggesting that if black voters received a reward for obtaining the voter ID “it would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.” To which Clemmons replied, “Amen, Ed, thank you for your support.” Clemmons also said he did not recall “distributing packets of peanuts with cards that read ‘Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID,’” McClatchy reported, despite prior testimony to the contrary.

-At the opening night of the RNC convention, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley received big cheers when she defended her state’s voter ID law. “We said in South Carolina that if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed and you have to show a picture ID to set foot on an airplane, then you should have to show a picture ID to protect one of the most valuable, most central, most sacred rights we are blessed with in America—the right to vote,” Haley said. “And what happened? President Obama stopped us.”

Haley doesn’t seem to realize that you do not, in fact, need government-issued identification to board an airplane, nor is buying Sudafed akin to voting. “Someone should tell Haley that the right to vote is a constitutional one, for which many good men and women have died, while the right to Sudafed is not,” writes Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic.

 

Ohio GOP Admits Early Voting Cutbacks Are Racially Motivated

Earlier this month I reported how Ohio Republicans were limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, while expanding them on nights and weekends in Republican counties.

In response to the public outcry, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who intervened in favor of limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties, issued a statewide directive mandating uniform early voting hours in all eighty-eight Ohio counties. Husted kept early voting hours from 8 am to 5 pm on weekdays from October 2 to 19 and broadened hours from 8 am to 7 pm from October 22 to November 2. But he refused to expand early voting hours beyond 7 pm during the week, on weekends or three days prior to the election (which is being challenged in court by the Obama campaign)—when it is most convenient for many working Ohioans to vote. Rather than expanding early voting hours across the state, Husted limited them for everybody. Voter suppression for all!

Montgomery County, Ohio—which includes Dayton—is now at the center of the early voting fight. (Obama won Montgomery County by 6 percent in 2008). On two separate occasions, December 28, 2011, and August 6, 2012, the four-member county board of elections unanimously approved expanded weekday and weekend early voting hours. But in a meeting on August 17, the two Republicans on the board reversed their position and opposed expanding early voting hours. With the committee deadlocked between Democratic and Republican members, Husted broke the tie in favor of the GOP, like he’s done in Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo.

Yet before breaking the tie, Husted ordered Democratic board members Tom Ritchie Sr. and Dennis Lieberman to hold a new meeting and rescind their votes in favor of early voting. When they refused, arguing that Husted’s directive did not apply to weekend voting, Husted suspended them from the county board of elections. (A third of the 28,000 in-person early voters in Montgomery County in 2008 voted on the weekend.)

“There’s no reason in the world for him to do what he’s doing to us other than to suppress the vote,” Ritchie, who’s served on the board of elections since 1995, told me. At a hearing in Columbus today, Husted’s office will decide whether Ritchie and Lieberman will be permanently suspended. “I fully expect that me and my fellow board member will be removed,” says Ritchie. (UPDATE: a ruling is expected later this week.) If that’s the case, Ritchie and Lieberman plan to appeal their suspension to the Ohio Supreme Court. (He also believes that Husted’s order that the board hold a second meeting on August 17 violated Ohio’s Sunshine Laws, which requires that a government body give twenty-four-hour notice to the media and general public in advance of a public meeting.)

Llyn McCoy, president of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, says she was not consulted about Husted’s directive—despite his claim that he sought the input of local election officials before making his decision—and was “surprised” by the suspension of Ritchie and Lieberman. “I don’t see why Husted got into this ‘you voted, now you’re suspended’ kind of thing,” McCoy says. “The secretary of state was trying to send a message that he wasn’t going to tolerate any extended hours.”

Husted’s drastic action marks a dark day for democracy in Ohio. “Historically, the Montgomery County Board of Elections has been very well-run and is widely viewed as one of the best board of elections in the state,” says Ellis Jacobs, an attorney with the nonpartisan Miami Valley Voter Protection Coalition. “The board of elections planned ahead to maximize voters’ access to the polls and now they’re being punished by the secretary of state for doing their job so well.”

Why do Ohio Republicans suddenly feel so strongly about limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties? Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse gave a surprisingly blunt answer to the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.” Preisse is not some rogue operative but the chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio’s second-largest county and a close adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Like Pennsylvania House majority leader Mike Turzai, who said his state’s voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Preisse said publicly what many Republicans believe privately—keeping turnout down among Obama supporters is the best way for the GOP to win the 2012 election. That’s why, since the 2010 election, Republicans have devoted so much energy to voter-suppression efforts like limiting early voting hours, restricting voter registration drives, passing voter ID laws, disenfranchising ex-felons and purging the voter rolls.

Cutbacks to early voting disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters in Ohio. African-Americans comprise 21 percent of the population in Franklin and Montgomery counties and 28 percent in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County but accounted for 31 percent, 52 percent and 56 percent of early voters in the respective counties in 2008. (Nearly half of early voters in Franklin County in 2008 did so on nights or weekends.)

Now it’ll be harder for voters across Ohio, particularly in the most populous, heavily Democratic cities, to find a convenient time to vote before Election Day in order to avoid the long lines that plagued the state in 2004 and may have cost John Kerry the election. “In the hours and days now eliminated by legislative and Sec. of State restrictions, an estimated 197,000 Early In-Person votes were cast, constituting about 3.4% of all votes cast statewide in 2008,” according to a new report by Norman Robbins, research director for Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates. “This is very significant in Ohio where major elections have often been decided by a 2% margin of victory.”

Republicans were for reforms like early voting until Democrats started using them. “It just so happened that [2008] was the first time that early voting had been used in large numbers to mobilize African American and Latino voters," Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Huffington Post. A federal court ruled on Thursday that early voting cutbacks in Florida—where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters in 2008—violated the Voting Rights Act. As Doug Preisse admitted on Sunday, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure 2012 isn’t a repeat of 2008.

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You can find more of The Nation’s coverage of voting rights at our blog, Voting Rights Watch 2012.

Partisan Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Wrongly Upheld by Court

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, declined to issue an injunction against the state’s new voter ID law in a ruling today, despite the preponderance of evidence that the new law is unjust, unnecessary and discriminatory. (See my “Ten Takeaways From Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Trial” for background on the case.)

Simpson sided with the state on a challenge brought by the ACLU and the Advancement Project. He acknowledged that “petitioners’ counsel did an excellent job of ‘putting a face’ to those burdened by the voter ID requirement,” but concluded that “petitioners did not establish, however, that disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable.” On the contrary, Simpson asserted that the law’s “provisions are neutral and nondiscriminatory and apply uniformly to all voters,” and that he “was convinced that [the law] will be implemented by commonwealth agencies in a non-partisan, even-handed manner.”

Instead of forcing the state to prove that the voter ID law was necessary, Simpson put the burden of proof on the plaintiffs’ to show that the law violated the state constitution, which he said they failed to do. “Any party challenging a legislative enactment has a heavy burden, and legislation will not be invalidated unless it clearly, patently and plainly violated the constitution of this commonwealth,” he wrote. “Any doubts are to be resolved in favor of a finding of constitutionality.”

This was a head-scratching ruling, and one at odds with state courts in Missouri and Wisconsin, which found that voter ID laws restricted the fundamental right to vote of citizens. Instead, Simpson relied on a controversial 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County, which upheld Indiana’s voter ID law even though the state failed to provide any evidence of in-person voter fraud to justify the law. Pennsylvania, like Indiana, stipulated at the beginning of the voter ID trial that “there have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.” But in the Crawford case the Supreme Court found that the mere threat of voter fraud was enough to justify a voter ID law, which set a chilling precedent for voting rights advocates. (That “threat” is virtually nonexistent. A major investigation from 2002–07 by the Bush Justice Department failed to prosecute a single case of in-person voter impersonation. There were thirty-nine times as many deaths by lightning from 2000–07 as there were instances of voter impersonation.)

Despite the Crawford ruling, it’s hard to take seriously Simpson’s claim that the Pennsylvania voter ID law is nonpartisan and nondiscriminatory.

Voter ID laws are partisan. Of the ten states that have passed strict voter ID laws since 2005, all are controlled by Republicans. These laws were first drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful ally of the GOP. Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, said the voter ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” The consulting firm in charge of educating voters about the law is run by Pennsylvania Republicans with close ties to GOP Governor Tom Corbett and the Romney campaign. All of the top officials in Pennsylvania in charge of implementing the law are Republicans. How much more proof of partisanship does one need?

Voter ID laws are discriminatory. Those without IDs are disproportionately people of color who tend to vote Democratic. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, 9.2 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania lack state-issued voter ID, but the number is 18 percent in Philadelphia, which is 44 percent African-American. Another study based on the state’s data found that voters in predominately black precincts in Philadelphia are 85 percent more likely than voters in predominately white precincts to lack state-issued ID. Voters in Hispanics and Asians neighborhoods are also twice as likely to lack IDs relative to white voters.

Finally, on a practical level, Pennsylvania is unprepared to implement the law. “Petitioners did not establish that greater injury will occur from refusing to grant the injunction than granting it,” Simpson claimed. “This is because the process of implementation in general, and of public outreach and education in particular, is much harder to start, or restart, than it is to stop.” But at the trial, Pennsylvania officials admitted that they didn’t know how many voters lack the correct ID and have allocated funding for only 75,000 “free” voter ID cards, even though the department of transportation found that ten times as many voters may lack valid ID. Nor is the state equipped to handle all of the people who will need to get ID. “There were 71 PennDot offices, but 13 of them were only open one day a week,” Slate’s Dave Weigel noted. “Nine Pennsylvania counties have no PennDot office at all.” Added the Philadelphia Inquirer: “In recent visits to the Department of Transportation’s offices, the witnesses said, they found long lines, short hours, and misinformed clerks, which made obtaining voter identification cumbersome, and in some cases impossible, for those who don’t have supporting documentation.”

According to the department of transportation, 758,000 registered voters do not have state-issued ID. Matt Barreto, professor of political science at University of Washington, found that more than a million registered Pennsylvania voters lacked sufficient ID and that 379,000 don’t have the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, needed to obtain the right ID. Simpson dismissed these studies and claimed that voters without ID would be able to vote with an absentee ballot (providing that they can get a doctor’s note confirming their illness) or with a provisional ballot (which may or may not be counted). Simpson’s logic in this regard doesn’t make much sense. It would be a lot easier to block the voter ID law and run the 2012 election like every other election in Pennsylvania history than to implement a costly, confusing and hasty new law.

University of California–Irvine law professor Rick Hasen, author of The Voting Wars, summarized his reasons for opposing the ruling.

I disagree with the ruling on the merits on a couple of grounds.  First, the judge seemed to downplay the burden placed on voters needing to go out and get the voter i.d., such as the costs to poor voters of getting the underlying documents. While burdens on voters would be justified if the law actually served an important purpose, the fact that there is no evidence of impersonation voter fraud to justify a voter i.d.—a point which cannot be emphasized enough—the law would be imposing a burden on voters for no good reason.  And of course it is being imposed for a bad reason: these laws have been favored almost exclusively by Republican legislators likely out of the belief that it will cause a modest decline in Democratic turnout…. Finally, the judge points to “as applied” challenges as the solution.  But these are expensive and difficult to bring—people who lack an i.d. are going to be among the least connected to the legal system, and there is no doubt that most of these voters will now fall through the cracks.  Again, if there were a solid reason for requiring the i.d., this cost would be more justifiable.  But there isn’t.

The plaintiffs are appealing the ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans. If they deadlock, Simpson gets the final word—in which case, Republicans win and democracy loses.

Read more on the Pennsylvania ruling: “In the Wake of Voter ID Ruling, Pennsylvania Rep Pushes Myth of Voter Fraud.”

Romney-Ryan Economic Plans Would Increase Unemployment, Deepen Recession

Much has been written in recent days about Paul Ryan’s plans to privatize Medicare, dismantle Social Security, massively cut taxes for the wealthy and drastically redistribute income from the bottom to the top.

Yet perhaps the most disturbing feature of Ryan’s budget is that, in the midst of a prolonged recession, it would cost the US economy millions of jobs. Ryan’s 2011 budget plan proposes what the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calls “the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in US history—two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes” (Medicaid, Pell Grants, food stamps and low-income housing). According to the Economic Policy Institute, “The shock to aggregate demand from near-term spending cuts would result in roughly 1.3 million jobs lost in 2013 and 2.8 million jobs lost in 2014, or 4.1 million jobs through 2014.”

Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress calls Ryan’s budget “austerity on steroids,” while Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute dubs it “bizarro stimulus.” Explains Konczal: “These are arguments that doing things traditionally thought of as the opposite of economic stimulus will be the real stimulus and help bring unemployment down.” (Ryan’s also a fierce critic of actions taken by the Federal Reserve to reduce unemployment.)

Ryan’s new boss, Mitt Romney, has also pledged to improve the economy while advocating ideas that would actually make the economy worse. Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, claims Romney would create 12 million jobs in his first term by capping spending, slashing corporate taxes and repealing healthcare reform and financial reform. Yet a host of prominent economists surveyed by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent found that “Romney’s ideas would do little or nothing to fix the immediate crisis, and could in the short term make things worse.” Said Mark Hopkins, senior adviser at Moody’s Analytics: “On net, all of these policies would do more harm in the short term. If we implemented all of his policies, it would push us deeper into recession and make the recovery slower.”

In contrast, the jobs plan introduced by Barack Obama last September would create 1.9 million jobs and reduce the unemployment rate by a full percentage point, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s. That’s not enough to turn the US economy completely around, but it’s a whole lot better than what Romney and Ryan are proposing.

Read more of The Nation’s coverage of Paul Ryan: Bryce Covert, “Paul Ryan’s Budget Deals a Body Blow to Women’s Bottom Line.” And remember when Paul Ryan gave the Republican response to the State of the Union? Katrina vanden Heuvel took apart his budget back then, in “Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ ‘Thinker.’ ”

Ohio Early Voting Cutbacks Disenfranchise Minority Voters

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On Election Day 2004, long lines and widespread electoral dysfunction marred the results of the presidential election in Ohio, whose electoral votes ended up handing George W. Bush a second term. “The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters,” found a post-election report by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. According to one survey, 174,000 Ohioans, 3 percent of the electorate, left their polling place without voting because of the interminable wait. (Bush won the state by only 118,000 votes).

After 2004, Ohio reformed its electoral process by adding thirty-five days of early voting before Election Day, which led to a much smoother voting experience in 2008. The Obama campaign used this extra time to successfully mobilize its supporters, building a massive lead among early voters than John McCain could not overcome on Election Day.

In response to the 2008 election results, Ohio Republicans drastically curtailed the early voting period in 2012 from thirty-five to eleven days, with no voting on the Sunday before the election, when African-American churches historically rally their congregants to go to the polls. (Ohio was one of five states to cut back on early voting since 2010.) Voting rights activists subsequently gathered enough signatures to block the new voting restrictions and force a referendum on Election Day. In reaction, Ohio Republicans repealed their own bill in the state legislature, but kept a ban on early voting three days before Election Day (a period when 93,000 Ohioans voted in 2008), adding an exception for active duty members of the military, who tend to lean Republican. (The Obama campaign is now challenging the law in court, seeking to expand early voting for all Ohioans).

The Romney campaign has recently captured headlines with its absurd and untrue claim that the Obama campaign is trying to suppress the rights of military voters. The real story from Ohio is how cutbacks to early voting will disproportionately disenfranchise African-American voters in Ohio’s most populous counties. African-Americans, who supported Obama over McCain by 95 points in Ohio, comprise 28 percent of the population of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County but accounted for 56 percent of early voters in 2008, according to research done by Norman Robbins of the Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates and Mark Salling of Cleveland State University. In Columbus’s Franklin County, African-Americans comprise 20 percent of the population but made up 34 percent of early voters.

Now, in heavily Democratic cities like Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Toledo, early voting hours will be limited to 8 am until 5 pm on weekdays beginning on October 1, with no voting at night or during the weekend, when it’s most convenient for working people to vote. Republican election commissioners have blocked Democratic efforts to expand early voting hours in these counties, where the board of elections are split equally between Democratic and Republican members. Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has broken the tie by intervening on behalf of his fellow Republicans. (According to the Board of Elections, 48%* of early voters in Franklin County voted early on nights or weekends, which Republicans have curtailed. The number who voted on nights or weekends was nearly 50% in Cuyahoga County.)

"I cannot create unequal access from one county board to another, and I must also keep in mind resources available to each county,” Husted said in explaining his decision to deny expanded early voting hours in heavily Democratic counties. Yet in solidly Republican counties like Warren and Butler, GOP election commissioners have approved expanded early voting hours on nights and weekends. Noted the Cincinnati Enquirer: “The counties where Husted has joined other Republicans to deny expanded early voting strongly backed then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, while most of those where the extra hours will stand heavily supported GOP nominee John McCain.” Moreover, budget constraints have not stopped Republican legislators from passing costly voter ID laws across the map since 2010.

The cutbacks in early voting in Ohio are part of a broader push by Republicans to restrict the right to vote for millions of Americans, particularly those who voted for Obama. “The Republicans remember those long lines outside board of elections last time in the evenings and on weekends,” Tim Burke, Democratic Party chairman in Cincinnati’s Hamilton County, told the Enquirer. “The lines were overwhelmingly African-American, and it’s pretty obvious that the people were predominately—very predominately Obama voters. The Republicans don’t want that to happen again. It’s that simple.”

Ohio in 2012 is at risk of heading back to the dark days of 2004. “Voting—America’s most precious right and the foundation for all others—is a fragile civic exercise for many Ohioans,” the Enquirer wrote recently.

*August 23, 2012: This figure has been updated due to an error discovered and corrected in the source material. 

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