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Cindy Sheehan: "Challenge the Status Quo"

Fresh from being arrested on Capitol Hill, along with 45 other activists demanding that Congress get about the business of impeaching George Bush and Dick Cheney, Cindy Sheehan has determined that she can no longer count on others to stop the war in Iraq or hold a lawless administration to account.

So she has announced that she will, indeed, challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bid for reelection next year.

It is a bold gesture, rooted in the deep frustration of the nation's most prominent anti-war activist with Pelosi's hyper-cautious approach to her duties as both the leader of the congressional opposition to an unpopular president and as a sworn defender of the Constitution.

This is the context in which Sheehan proposes to challenge Pelosi. "At the end of this day, Speaker Pelosi has not supported impeachment and has not upheld her oath of office to 'protect and defend' the Constitution," says the challenger.

Sheehan's bid, presumably on an independent line, will be uphill all the way. Pelosi has all the advantages of incumbency -- and more. Closely tied for decades to the Democratic political establishment of San Francisco, Pelosi and her campaign team know just about everything there is to know about winning elections there. And, as the Speaker of the House, she has the ability to deliver both on the practical and egotistical needs of the city by the bay. Additionally, she has the ability to raise and spend more money than any opponent.

With all of this said, however, Sheehan has standing.

It is not just that she enjoys her own prominence, and a measure of sympathy and respect, as the mother of slain soldier Casey Sheehan who turned her personal grief into a powerful call for accountability from President Bush and those who were responsible for the illegal and immoral war that claimed Casey's life.

What makes Sheehan a potentially credible challenger is the fact that, by any reasonable measure, she is more in touch with the true passions of San Francisco's voters than Pelosi. Pelosi is a war critic, but she has never gone to the mat on the issue. San Franciscans, on the other hand, have voted overwhelmingly for immediate withdrawal. Similarly, Pelosi says that impeachment is "off the table," despite the fact that San Franciscans voted by a 3-2 margin last fall in favor of holding the president and vice president to account.

For Sheehan, it is Pelosi's determination to protect Bush and Cheney from demands for accountability that tipped the balance in favor of making the race against the Speaker.

And it is Sheehan's faith that Bush and Cheney must be held to account -- not just to constrain them but to constrain the excesses of future presidents and vice presidents -- that will define her challenge to Pelosi. There is no question that the war in Iraq is an issue, but the deeper concern is with the political compromises that made possible that war and that have allowed for its continuation.

"If anybody would dare think that I am not serious, I would hope that they would look back at the last three years of my life and everything that I have sacrificed to restore our nation to one that obeys the rule of law and can be looked up to with respect once again in the international community and not as the hated laughingstock on the block," says Sheehan. "I am committed to challenging a two party system that has kept us in a state of constant warfare for the last 60 years and has become more and more beholden to special interests and has forgotten the faces of the people whom it represents."

Sheehan continues, "I am committed to using our strength as a country to wage peace and to elevate the status of every citizen in our country by converting the enduring war economy to a prosperous one with lasting peace."

If that sounds like a campaign speech, it is. And as someone who has appeared on dozens of platforms with Sheehan over the past few years, I can confirm that she is able to deliver a stemwinder in the best old populist sense.

Good speeches do not always translate to electoral success, however, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson learned in 1984 and again in 1988, when he mounted a pair of articulate but ultimately unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nod.

Nothing about challenging Nancy Pelosi will be easy. Victory is unlikely. But, as George Bush will confirm, Cindy Sheehan has shaken the political establishment before. And she is determined to do so again -- not just as one "Peace Mom" running for Congress but as part of a political upheaval that she dares to dream might involve a lot more than a spirited contest in San Francisco.

"Someone needs to step up to the plate to do this and I challenge other Americans to do the same," says Sheehan. "Challenge the status quo, because the status quo is no good. We need to become plugged into our government once again as active participants not just passive voters."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Attack of the Raging Chicks

New York Times columnist David Brooks is one of the more effective conservative commentators, in that he is a master at making outrageous arguments with a professorial elan that suggests careful thought and balanced reasoning. And then you listen to what he's really saying ...

He's at his ludicrous -- and seemingly persuasive -- best when making arguments about gender, as when he blamed feminists for ruining fiction for boys. Slippery as he is, it is exceptionally satisfying when he finds himself wrong-footed by those inconvenient little things we call facts.

The most recent example was a July 10 column titled "The New Lone Rangers," where he argued that a recent rash of pop songs -- Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," "U + Ur Hand" by Pink and "Girlfriend" by Avril Lavigne -- suggested an alarming new cultural trend toward feminine rage:

"If you put the songs together, you see they're about the same sort of character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago."

This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving. She's like one of those battle-hardened combat vets, who's had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no longer has time for romance or etiquette. She's disgusted by male idiots and contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them."

Yeah, well, there's nothing more unattractive than a pissed off woman, or more pathetic, as Brooks concludes, "The angry young women on the radio these days are not the first pop stars to romanticize independence for audiences desperate for companionship."

Brooks really means "socially unacceptable" in a woman and he's only talking the women in the audience, who are naturally "desperate for companionship," but he never says so explicitly, butsimply never mentions similar songs by male artists. Angry men in pop music? Unthinkable! And men angry at women? Fuggedaboutit! This is clearly one of those "female problems."

A number of liberal bloggers took Brooks to task for his column, but few seem to have noticed that each one of these songs were written primarily by men: Josh Kear-Chris Tompkins wrote "Before He Cheats"; Luke Gottwald, Max Martin, and Rami wrote "U + Ur Hand"; and "Girfriend" was co-written with Luke Gottwald, or more likely entirely so given Lavigne's suspect songwriting creds.

Say it aint' so, David.

An Obama Flub at the YouTube Debate?

I can see the ad now: Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, and Hugo Chavez all strolling into the White House, and a grinning Barack Obama greeting them with a friendly "Welcome, boys; what do you want to talk about?"

If Obama gets close to the Democratic presidential nomination, pro-Hillary Clinton forces could air such an ad. If he wins the nomination, the Republicans could hammer him with such a spot.

And the junior senator from Illinois will not have much of a defense.

At the newfangled YouTube/CNN debate on Monday night--during which YouTubers posed questions to the Democratic candidates via video--a fellow named Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, California, asked,

In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

Obama took the question first. He replied,

I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous. Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.

The crowd responded with applause. His answer seemed fine. It was only moments later that the problem became obvious. Sorta, who was also in the audience, put the same question to Senator Hillary Clinton. She said:

Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration. And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.

And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we're not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.

Then CNN's Anderson Cooper, the moderator, turned to former Senator John Edwards and asked, "Would you meet with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong Il?" Edwards echoed Clinton:

Yes, and I think actually Senator Clinton's right though. Before that meeting takes place, we need to do the work, the diplomacy, to make sure that that meeting's not going to be used for propaganda purposes, will not be used to just beat down the United States of America in the world community. But I think this is just a piece of a bigger question, which is, what do we actually do? What should the president of the United States do to restore America's moral leadership in the world. It's not enough just to meet with bad leaders. In addition to that, the world needs to hear from the president of the United States about who we are, what it is we represent.

Obama had suggested he would sit down with these leaders willy-nilly, no preconditions. Clinton and Edwards explained that that they would use diplomacy to try to improve relations with these nations and that such an effort could lead to a one-on-one with these heads of state.

Obama had responded from the gut, working off a correct critique of the Bush administration's skeptical approach toward diplomacy. But his answer lacked the sophistication of Clinton's and Edwards' replies. And this moment illustrated perhaps the top peril for the Obama campaign: with this post-9/11 presidential contest, to a large degree, a question of who should be the next commander in chief, any misstep related to foreign policy is a big deal for a candidate who has little experience in national security matters.

Clinton, with her years as First Lady and her stint as a member of the Senate armed services committee, and Edwards, with his tenure on the Senate intelligence committee, are steeped in the nuances, language, and minefields of foreign policy. (Among the second-tier candidates, Senator Joe Biden, Senator Chris Dodd, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson can boast extensive national security experience.) Though Obama was against the Iraq war before he was a senator, he has not developed his foreign policy chops. That's understandable; he's only been on the national scene for two years. (Prior to that, he was doing admirable work as a state legislator, a civil rights attorney, and a community organizer.) So he is more prone to commit mistakes in this area--perhaps stupid mistakes--that can be easily exploited by his opponents. And in the post-9/11 era, there's not much room in national politics for such errors.

During the 2004 Democratic presidential contest, Howard Dean had the foreign policy positions that resonated most with Democratic voters. He was opposed to the Iraq war; Senator John Kerry had voted to let George W. Bush invade Iraq. But Dean, like Obama, had not spent years talking and doing foreign policy. He made some dumb gaffes. On Meet the Press Tim Russert asked Dean this question:

Let's talk about the military budget. How many men and women would you have on active duty?

Dean flubbed his response:

I can't answer that question. And I don't know what the answer is.

Later in the race, Dean repeatedly referred to Russia as the "Soviet Union," a country that had not existed for 13 years.

Such remarks were not the downfall of Dean. But they did allow others to suggest he was not ready for prime time regarding national security matters. (Of course, neither was George W. Bush, but he had the good fortune of running in the last pre-9/11 election.) About Dean, Kerry said, "All the advisers in the world can't give Howard Dean the military and foreign policy experience, leadership skills...necessary to lead this country through dangerous times." Obama is obviously susceptible to a similar attack--from a Democrat or a Republican.

For Obama to have a chance of toppling front-running Clinton, he will have a near-perfect performance from now until the actual voting. During the YouTube debate, Obama generally did fine. But he did not differentiate himself from Clinton in a significant manner. After all, there is not much difference between their current positions. He did take a strong shot at her during a series of questions about the Iraq war:

One thing I have to say about Senator Clinton's comments a couple of moments ago. I think it's terrific that she's asking for plans from the Pentagon, and I think the Pentagon response was ridiculous. But what I also know is that the time for us to ask how we were going to get out of Iraq was before we went in. And that is something that too many of us failed to do. We failed to do it. And I do think that that is something that both Republicans and Democrats have to take responsibility for.

The crowd cheered, but one swing at Clinton does not a campaign make. Yes, there are months to go in the preprimary maneuvering, but at some point--probably sooner than later--Obama is going to have to make a move. Meanwhile, he also has to avoid such mistakes as promising to open the doors of the White House without conditions to Kim Jong Il and others of that ilk. He cannot let Stephen Sorta of Diamond Bar, California, trip him up again.

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JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Stand Up for DC's Right to Vote

A striking yard sign is springing up on lawns across the nation's capital: a fist grasping a "V" with the words "I Demand The Vote" and "No Taxation Without Representation" written below.

For nearly 600,000 DC residents there is, finally, some light at the end of a long tunnel. A bill which would give the District its first voting Representative--already approved by the House--was approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in a 9-1 bipartisan vote.

"At every turn over the past four years, people have doubted our ability to move this legislation," said DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka. "But we have both the moral advantage in this debate and the bipartisan support to get the job done. We also now have the momentum we need to get this bill enacted by the full Senate."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will bring the bill to the floor when he knows he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome the Filibuster party (once known as Republicans). According to DC Vote, the 60 votes are within reach – currently, 55 Senators have indicated they will vote for cloture.

Today, DC Vote and its coalition partners are conducting a National Call-in Day to make a final push before the August recess. Between 9:00 – 6:00, people can call toll free at 1.866.346.3008 for some brief information about the importance of the bill and then be patched through to their Senators.

Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia constituents are particularly needed. But everyone is encouraged to let their Senators know that they support this bill--this effort is not only about cloture but also passage and enactment.

"There hasn't been a filibuster of a voting rights issue since the 50's and 60's," said DC Vote Communications Director Kevin Kiger. "We don't want a return to those dark days. It's time to allow a vote on this bill."

Stand-up for your fellow citizens in the District of Columbia. Be a part of this important National Call-in Day.

Dept of Misleading Headlines

According to the latest New York Times poll, "two-thirds of those polled said the United States should reduce its forces in Iraq, or remove them altogether." The same number believes the war continues to go badly.

So why is the Times story about the poll headlined "Support in US for Initial Invasion has Risen, a Poll Shows?"

Presumably because the number of Americans who say the war was right to fight stands at 42 percent, compared to an all-time low of 35 percent in May. And those who think the war is going "very badly" has decreased from 45 percent earlier in the month to 35 percent today.

Promising news, one could suppose, for the Bush Administration. But the overall findings of the poll indicate a hardened and continued pessimism about the direction of the war, which is not at all reflected in the pro-war headline.

The Washington Post, in its own Iraq poll today, had a very different take.

"Overall attitudes about the conflict continue to be decidedly negative," the Post writes, "with more than six in 10 saying that given the cost, the war was not worth fighting."

Eight in ten Americans say Bush is not willing enough to change his policy, a 12 percent increase since December.

The Post headline: "Poll Finds Democrats Favored on War."

So much for the Times' alleged "liberal bias."

YouTube Rocks

A few minutes into Monday night's CNN/You Tube debate at the Citadel Military Academy in South Carolina, Senator Barack Obama said, "I believe in the core decency of the American people..."

After tonight's debate, I'd add that I believe not only in the decency but also in the creativity, caring, informed, sometimes zany sense of humor and street smarts of the people who sent in close to 3000 video-questions.

I've always believed that any politics, whether liberal or "modern progressive" (a term Senator Hillary Clinton coined tonight--what's wrong with liberal, Senator?) is dead on arrival if it ignores, shafts or blames the people. And Monday night, (and who cares if it originated as a gimmick of marketing and synergy) CNN/You Tube gave voice to people.

There were Mary & Jen from Brooklyn, New York, on gay marriage; Reverend Longcrier from Hickory, North Carolina, on religion and equality before the law; a spirited snowman from Minneapolis, Minnesota, on global warming; Morgan of Atlanta, Georgia, asking if the response to Hurricane Katrina would have been different if a mostly white city had been hit; Melissa of San Luis Obispo, California wondering why can she order the same caffe latte macchiato with whipped cream in every state of the union but we don't have standarizing voting systems?

There were people from around the country asking about a way out of Iraq--a mother whose son has been deployed twice, a father who has lost his son. The first question when it came to international politics had to do with how we end the killing in Darfur? (Governor Richardson's answer revealed his skills as a caring and roving diplomat. Hell, anyone who argues for a permanent UN peacekeeping force to prevent war and genocide deserves praise.) There was an Alzheimers patient, a daughter describing her mother's suffering from diabetes, a breast cancer survivor --all spoke directly into the camera about their raw experiences with a crumbling health care system.

And how many inside-the-beltway pundit/questioners have ever bothered to ask the candidates about what they think of reparations for slavery? Education made a rare appearance in the debates in an edgy and clever video about the No Child Left Behind Act--moving Richardson to his scrappy and straight reply--"scrap it"--which brought the house (well, the Citadel military academy) down.

John Edwards' campaign video, scored to the iconic '60s rock opera "Hair" theme song was a classic. Using self-deprecating humor to bring attention to "what really matters" is always a smart idea. And as Frankgrits put it, posting a comment on my blog,Edwards--replying to a question about race and gender, had one of the best lines of the night--"Anyone who won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman or Obama because he's black, don't bother voting for me. I don't want your vote."

As FrankGrits says, that effectively relegated "sexists and racists to the garbage heap where they belong." Now,I don't really care if Joe Biden scored well on those Clockwork Orange people-meter readings CNN used to gauge instant reactions to the debates. What's heartening and hopeful is that tonight marked the end of debates as we've known them. Let the peoples' voices be heard.

The Dems' Nuclear Option

We've done all we can do, Democrats said after pulling an all-nighter last week, when Republicans blocked yet another vote on a proposal to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq.

It takes sixty votes to pass anything in the Senate these days. And Democrats had only fifty-two. After much hype, just three Republicans broke with President Bush. Until more Republicans defect, Congress is stuck in a stalemate.

But there's another option. Democrats could give Republicans a taste of their own medicine and invoke the "nuclear option." Two years ago Republicans threatened to eliminate the filibuster if Democrats didn't allow an up-or-down vote on President Bush's judicial nominees. Frightened Democrats acquiesced and allowed the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito, thus ensuring a conservative majority on the court for decades to come.

Is the war in Iraq equally important to Democrats? Vowing to alter the rules of the Senate would be a risky and unpredictable move. But it would prove that the party stands for more than all-night PR stunts.

Censure and Impeachment

There is every reason to be enthusiastic about U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's decision to ask the Senate to consider a pair of censure resolutions condemning the President, Vice President and other administration officials for misconduct relating to the war in Iraq and for their repeated assaults on the rule of law.

Indeed, as the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney attracts more support with each passing day, Feingold's resolutions should be seen as evidence that the essential American principle of presidential accountability is finally being put back on the table by responsible members of Congress.

Feingold is renewing and extending a call for censure that that the Wisconsin Democrat initially made in March, 2006. The senator now proposes one resolution censuring the president, the vice president and their aides for overstating the case that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, particularly nuclear weapons, and falsely implying a relationship with al Qaeda and links to 9/11; for failing to plan for the civil conflict and humanitarian problems that the intelligence community predicted; for over-stretching the Army, Marine Corps and Guard with prolonged deployments and for justifying U.S. military involvement in Iraq by repeatedly distorting the situation on the ground there. A second resolution would censure the administration for approving the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping program, for promoting extreme policies on torture, the Geneva Conventions, and detainees at Guantanamo; and for refusing to recognize legitimate congressional oversight into the improper firings of U.S. Attorneys.

Feingold, a Constitutional scholar, is well aware that these misdeeds of the George Bush, Dick Cheney and their minions fall, as the senator has suggested, "right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors." He has frequently suggested that he "would not rule out any form of accountability," including an impeachment inquiry beginning with proper investigation and hearings.

But, as a senator, Feingold cannot initiate an impeachment.

The founders, wisely, rested that power with members of the U.S. House.

The drafters of the Constitution feared that the Senate -- which was initially conceived of as an appointed chamber, more akin to the British House of Lords than the elected body it has become -- would be too formal and cautious about holding presidents and vice presidents to account.

So they gave the authority to impeach members of the executive branch to the House, which was elected from districts and, as a result, more closely in tune with the ebbs and flows of popular sentiment. James Madison, George Mason and the other essential authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights wanted impeachment to be a popular process. And the House was the more populist chamber.

That said, they did not intend for senators to sit idly by while high crimes and misdemeanors were committed.

Feingold is right to describe his censure motions as "a relatively modest response." But they are precisely the response that a senator can and should propose.

"Censure is about holding the administration accountable," says Feingold. "Congress needs to formally condemn the President and members of the administration for misconduct before and during the Iraq war, and for undermining the rule of law at home. Censure is not a cure for the devastating toll this administration's actions have taken on this country. But when future generations look back at the terrible misconduct of this administration, they need to see that a co-equal branch of government stood up and held to account those who violated the principles on which this nation was founded."

Censure is not the cure. Impeachment is. But censuring Bush and Cheney ought not be seen as a compromise, or an insufficient response to the crisis. It is a senatorial compliment to the burgeoning movement for impeachment -- a movement that today delivered petitions with more than 1,000,000 signatures to Congressman John Conyers appealing to him to begin impeachment proceedings. Conyers, it should be noted, indicated at a recent meeting in California with members of Progressive Democrats of America that he would be receptive to appeals from other members of the House to develop a game-plan for considering serious impeachment proposals.

Supporting Feingold's censure resolutions should not distract from nor negate the push for impeachment. Rather, moves to get the Senate to censure Bush and Cheney ought to be seen as vital pieces of the broader struggle to hold this administration to account.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Legislation Watch: Ballot Integrity Act of 2007

The Bush administration, its political appointees and their cronies have fomented dramatic fears in order to justify laws, policies and prosecutions that suppress the vote of minority and lower-income communities. It turns out that this is nothing more than fear mongering at its worse. Voter fraud has been disproved and occurs "statistically…about as often as death by lightning strike."

What is true, however, is that voter registration drives are incredibly successful (hence the backlash). The 2004 Census reported that such drives registered 12 million Americans to vote, largely from minority and low-income communities. In Florida alone, activists registered 524,000 new voters, mostly from African-American and Latino communities – almost 20 percent of all registrations processed by the state that year.

A Project Vote reportnotes that just as the Democratic Party felt threatened by an influx of new African-American voters in the late 19th century and responded by erecting stricter registration rules to "protect our democracy," so too are Republicans now resurrecting baseless fraud allegations to erect new barriers to voting and to thwart voter registration drives:

• In Florida, prior to the 2006 election, the state legislature passed a bill establishing a punitive set of fines – even for accidental mishandling of voter registration forms – that forced the League of Women Voters to halt a major registration drive for the FIRST time in its history. The law was later overturned as unconstitutional but not before real damage was done.

• Less than two months before the 2004 election, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell ordered counties to discard any registration forms not printed on thick, 80 lb. paper. The rule was partially reversed three weeks later due to pressure from voter registration groups and local election officials. (It's worth mentioning that the Ballot Integrity Act would also prohibit any chief state election official – such as Kenneth Blackwell and Katherine Harris – from serving on any political campaign committee of a candidate for Federal office.) In 2006 in Ohio, a law was passed requiring any individual collecting voter registration applications to personally return them to the Board of Elections within 10 days. Also, individuals compensated for collecting registrations needed to register with the state, complete a training program, and include their name and employer on each voter registration form. In Project Vote vs. Blackwell, a District Court ruled these requirements unconstitutional, noting that the direct return provision "severely chills the voter registration process."

• In New Mexico, the Secretary of State issued rules limiting the number of voter registration forms to 50 per individual or organization. The state also now requires activists to turn in forms within 48 hours, making it more difficult for organizations to thoroughly check every application for accuracy and thoroughness, and also causing them to spend more time transporting forms and less time collecting them from voters.

• Arizona now requires people registering to vote to provide the local board with proof of citizenship – a copy of a driver's license, US passport, birth certificate, Bureau of Indian Affairs card, or naturalization papers. Most people, of course, don't carry copies of these documents and so they often don't have them when offered assistance by voter registration programs.

Now, a bill co-sponsored by Senators Christopher Dodd and Dianne Feinstein – the Ballot Integrity Act of 2007 – would prohibit states from passing any law that hinders voter registration drives and address other needed election administration reforms as well. There are some divisions within the pro-democracy/voter reform community about some aspects of the bill, but there can be no mistaking the importance of protecting efforts to expand voting participation. As Maude Hurde, President of ACORN told me, "If legislators in Ohio and Florida had their way, ACORN would never have been able to run the kind of successful voter registration drives that helped 1.6 million Americans join the voting rolls in the past four years. Fortunately, Senator Feinstein's Ballot Integrity Act won't be leaving the decision up to them, and that is good news for America's democracy."

Burying pro-democracy activists in paperwork or forcing them to comply with burdensome and unjustifiable regulations are less violent than the tactics used against civil rights activists 40 years ago. But the impact is similar: minority and lower-income citizens are stopped from exercising their right to vote. Tell your Senator to support the Ballot Integrity Act of 2007 and protect organized voter registration drives today.