In-depth coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide, in partnership with Colorlines.com.
As the St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church vans pulled up to the C. Blythe Andrews library polling place to let congregants out to vote, a line already snaked out the voting entrance. A table was set up on one end of the library’s parking lot where volunteers served fried fish and hush puppies. A DJ blared gospel music that could be heard blocks away. It was after-church Sunday, the first and only Sunday of “Souls to the Polls” in most of Florida, and the second day of early voting. Here in Tampa, early voters, and black voters in particular, had already made their statement.
Despite setbacks such as Governor Rick Scott’s HB 1355, which undercut voter registration drives and reinstated harsh felony voting restrictions and his notorious purge program, voters turned out in record numbers this past weekend: over a half-million people cast early votes statewide by Monday morning. In Hillsborough County, 36,702 early votes Saturday and Sunday—roughly 2,500 of those cast at the C. Blythe Andrews site in Tampa’s historically black College Hill neighborhood. As of last night, more than 55,000 voted early.
These numbers far outweighed the historic 2008 election here, when less than 17,000 turned out for the first weekend of early voting, 1,248 at Andrews (then called College Hill Library). Back then, those were considered remarkable numbers. This year, they’ve almost doubled that, despite the odds against them.
After dismal voter turnout numbers in 2010, the year Scott was elected, Get Out The Vote advocates retooled and put together an aggressive canvassing strategy that made sure people were registered and “knew their status”—verifying that their address was updated, and that any felony convictions were cleared up. In 2008, African-American voters were self-motivated, hyped about the prospect of not only electing the first black president but also finally undoing the eight years of economic and political ruin of George W. Bush.
“I don’t think there was a GOTV strategy in 2010,” says Belinthia Berry, a political strategist who works with the NAACP and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, who was on hand for the Souls to the Polls outing at Andrews. “This year we really made a conscious effort to actually canvass, knock on doors—people actually know GOTV now, pushing people to vote, as opposed to 2010 when I didn’t even know. Nobody knocked on my door or pushed me to vote.”
Yvette Lewis, political action chair of the Hillsborough County NAACP, was also on hand Sunday, passing out voter materials, directing traffic and responding to any voters who needed help. At one point a Haitian church group approached the polling site with about a half-dozen congregants who primarily spoke Creole, their English limited. Lewis immediately stepped in to help them and let them know that they could bring another person to the voting booth to help them with their language challenges, as protected by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.
Lewis was instrumental in securing a list from the state of people with felony convictions who are eligible to have their voting privileges restored. She told me she still continues to help people with that, even unfortunately those who’ve received conflicting voting eligibility information from the county and state, whose voting records are still out of sync.
Despite those problems, she’s seen nothing but long lines of early voters since Saturday, when lines wrapped all around the Andrews library. Local news outlets have reported no problems so far, and the Hillsborough County election supervisor’s office tells me they received no complaints.
There were a few hiccups Sunday, with strange poll watchers—some authorized, some not—showing up at the Souls’ Polls site trying to cause problems. One watcher tried to challenge a voter over her acceptance of fried fish. Stories vary on what happened, but according to Lewis, a poll watcher—a white woman in a sea of black voters—reported to poll judges that a woman headed to the voting line was bribed with a fish sandwich to vote for Obama.
Another poll watcher, described by Lewis as being a Republican Party–appointed watcher, asked poll judges if they “could stop or slow down” the number of voters entering the library because it was getting crowded. Then one poll watcher tried to interrogate an 11-year-old girl about what all the fish serving and gospel music playing was about. In every case, the watcher was confronted by lawyers from the Election Protection team who were at the site in full force, dozens of lawyers, authorized poll watchers and volunteers from the NAACP, SEIU, Obama for America campaign and the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus. The voters were barely disrupted.
Janee Murphy, the mother of the 11-year-old who one of the Republican poll watchers rolled up on, said media accounts about voter intimidation underestimated the resilience of black voters.
“We are a lot smarter than they think we are,” said Murphy, former chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. “While I do agree with the fact that we need to protect our right to vote, early vote and vote on Sundays, it’s not just about early voting for us. What is also important to us is to make sure that when we show up and we get in there to vote, that there are enough machines for us, and making sure we know where to vote, and how to go down a ballot. That’s all called GOTV, and where’d that originate? GOTV came from us.”
It was clear that GOTV organizing was bearing fruit and that any threats of intimidation were immediately diffused.
News reports from other areas like Ohio also showed no intimidation in play, but erroneously concluded that was because it was never a problem to begin with. That’s a silly if not naive interpretation. If intimidation isn’t showing its face, it’s because a legion of voting rights reporters exposed the plans and intentions of ballot bullies and voter harassment artists like True the Vote and their tea party affiliates. More importantly, having dense teams of Election Protection lawyers on the grounds also have been a huge deterrent. So the point is not that voter intimidation isn’t a threat; the point is that civil rights advocates have organized to make the would-be intimidators look like nobodies.
For more on the fight against voter supression, check out The Nation's joint project with Colorlines, Voting Rights Watch 2012.
With a little more than a week before Election Day, grassroots campaigns are hoping to maximize voter participation among often disenfranchised communities. Cuéntame has launched a series of public service announcements targeted at some 50,000 new Latino voters in three swing states: Colorado, Nevada and Florida. The PSAs, made in conjunction with 300 partner groups, are airing on major Spanish language television stations like Univision, MundoFox and Azteca America.
But it’s not all good news. Our community journalists write in that schemes to confuse voters are coming to a head. Here are some of this week’s most important voting rights updates:
‘It Feels Like Sabotage’ for Nevada’s Early Voters
Kate Sedinger works with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada—one of the groups that paired up with Cuéntame to create some of the PSAs we just told you about. Kate writes in that there are already problems with early voting for some people in Nevada:
Saturday was the first day of early voting in Nevada. PLAN had an early voting rally in Sun Valley, which is a community just north of Reno that has a high percentage of low income and Latino residents. Those residents are the reason why we chose that location for our rally. I’ve never waiting in line for more than a couple of minutes to early vote at the university or some of the shopping centers in higher income neighborhoods.
As KOLO 8 reports, however, people waited hours in line—and that some were even asked for identification, which isn’t law in Nevada.
Colorado’s Arapahoe County’s Sticky Situation
Our Colorado-based community journalist, Rosemary Harris Lytle has had a busy week. She heads the Colorado/Montana/Wyoming State Conference of the NAACP, and because Colorado is a battleground state, every vote will definitely count there. You may remember Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who demanded the Department of Homeland Security hand over an immigrant database in order to purge voters, and then gave up on using it. Rosemary writes in that Gessler now faces allegations of state ethics rules violations.
But that’s not all. This election could well be decided by Arapahoe County voters, who are essentially split three ways between Democrat, Republican, and independent voters. Rosemary tells us that The Denver Post is reporting a troubling update in the swing county:
More than 230,000 ballots last week were mailed to Arapahoe County’s voters in envelopes that possibly contained a participation sticker that rubbed up against the ballot and in some cases left a faint, near-linear mark that appeared exactly where voters draw a line to select their candidates.
The story concludes that the voting machines won’t count the marks, but this may not be the last we hear about Arapahoe County.
Maricopa County Strikes Again and Again
You may remember we told you last week that Maricopa County misled Spanish-speaking voters about the day on which to cast their ballots. The county’s election department explained it was an honest mistake, and that it fixed the error. The Phoenix New Times is reporting, however, that the county also produced Spanish language bookmarks with the wrong date as well.
But wait, it’s Maricopa, so of course, there’s more. Some early voters are getting letters stating that their signatures need verification. The letters allow voters four business days to respond from the date on the letter so that the ballot can be validated. One voter, Jason Spence, took to his social media site to explain that although his letter was dated October 22, he didn’t receive it until after work on October 24. Spense claims that none of the phone numbers listed were answered, and none had the voicemail set up. He kept trying and subsequently got through and was able to verify his ballot. Voting Rights Watch called all four phone numbers Thursday morning, and verified his initial experience: no answer, and no voicemail setup. When we called back Thursday evening, one of the phone numbers was answered, but although the letter is also addressed in Spanish, no one at the Election’s Department was able to talk in Spanish, aside from kindly asking to call back “mañana.”
Intimidating Letters Sent to Florida Voters
The Advancement Project tipped us that voters in at least twenty-six Florida counties have been sent fraudulent letters questioning eligible voters’ citizenship. Whoever is behind the intimidation is violation of Florida law, and could be charged with a third-degree felony and fined up to $5,000. Voting rights advocates demanded federal investigation into the matter, and the Tampa Bay Times reports that the FBI is looking into the letters.
Voter ID: A Threat to Tribal Sovereignty
Hillary Abe, our Community Journalist who’s keeping an eye on Native American voter disenfranchisement, writes in that The National Congress of American Indians has released a new report that outlines how voter ID laws disproportionately affect Native voters and threatens tribal sovereignty. Indian Country Today explains:
The new report, “Voter ID laws & the Native Vote: States of Concern,” says that state voter ID requirements create three problems. First, it strips American Indians of their rights when states refuse to accept tribal IDs. Second, it costs money, travel and time for American Indians to get a state ID. And these laws risk disenfranchising voters by rejecting provisional ballots. Three states—Alaska, Florida and Minnesota—either have rules or proposed measures that do not allow the use of tribal IDs for voting.
Minnesota’s voter ID ballot measure would require a physical address with which to vote in the future. Natives who live in rural areas use PO Boxes instead of physical addresses, because some homes are in areas that are so remote, there are no street names or addresses.
Don’t think it’s all that hard to get an ID? Then watch Hillary’s video, which might help you reconsider.
Minnesota County Commissioner Candidate Stands Corrected
Community Journalist Lolla Mohammed Nur is based in Minnesota, where voters will decide whether to amend their state’s Constitution to make state-issued identification a requirement for voting. Lolla writes in that a local candidate was more than confused, and made a wildly incorrect claim about registered voters:
The Twin Cities Daily Planet recently published a column correcting a claim made by Sue Jeffers, a candidate for Ramsey County Commissioner and a voter ID proponent. Jeffers allegedly claimed there are more ballots than registered voters in the Twin Cities during a local radio interview, a claim which Mary Turck, editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, refuted. Turck interviewed a Hennepin County Elections Manager, who said it is impossible for there to be more ballots than registered voters, because Minnesota state law has procedures that account for every person who votes and every ballot cast.
Pennsylvania Still Misinforming its Voters
Our Philly-based Community journalist James Cersonky writes in that Pennsylvania has been slow to catch up with the ruling that affirms that voters won’t need an ID to vote on Election Day:
Though Pennsylvanians won’t need photo IDs this election cycle, voters are still receiving twisted or flatly incorrect information about ID requirements. A petition backed by the Advancement Project, Philadelphia’s Public Interest Law Center, and the state ACLU states that thousands of seniors received a mailing from the state’s Department of Aging that included a card saying, “Voters are required to show photo ID on Election Day.” The petition also notes that state Department of Transportation centers, which administer voting-only IDs, still had up outdated posters telling people that they needed ID as recently as October 11. Meanwhile, the state has barely changed the “Show It” ads that it was running before the voter ID law was put on hold.
On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson asked the state to respond to the petition, filed on October 19, by October 30. In response, the petitioners have filed a follow-up motion for the state to move faster so it has enough time before the November 6 election to mail corrective notices and resolve other misleading information—or, if the petitioners’ case is rejected, to give enough time for an appeal.
All-Time Low Turnout Expected for Military Voters
Military voters’ absentee ballot requests have dropped to an all time low—especially in the key swing states of Ohio and Virginia. Although Congress moved to increase participation for those stationed overseas, the Department of Defense has resisted the move. No military voter assistance office has been installed, leaving thousands of overseas troops disenfranchised in this election.
Check out the Voting Rights Watch 2012 blog for frequent updates on the voting rights battle leading up to the election
Undocubus. Photo: Aura Bogado
Voter ID schemes are largely rooted in an unfounded fear about undocumented people casting ballots. Yet, despite a deeply anti-immigrant climate, undocumented immigrants have participated in this year’s electoral process unlike ever before.
Just yesterday, undocumented youth rallied in front of Republican Linda McMahon’s Bridgeport, Connecticut, office, demanding to know how the candidate for US Senate stands on the DREAM Act and immigration. McMahon, the former head of the World Wrestling Entertainment, has so far spent more than $27 million in her bid for Senate. And although she’s heavily courting Connecticut’s Latino voters, she has yet to define her position on immigration in her Spanish language ads. Her opponent, Chris Murphy, already supported the DREAM Act when he voted for it two years ago in the US House.
And although activists have rallied together in previous elections, 2012 marks the first time undocumented people are directly demanding answers from candidates. Meet Kemi Bello. She was an Undocubus rider, a ride we followed as it made its way to the DNC in September. For Kemi, it’s hard to accept that politicians decide the future for undocumented immigrants, who are barred from voting. In this dispatch, she explains how her community is finding ways to engage in the electoral process.
Barred from Voting, Undocumented People Create New Forms of Political Participation
Texas, the state I am proud to call home, became the fifth state to gain majority-minority status last year as our nation overall begins to look browner. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily getting easier for people of color. We’ve also shift towards staunch conservatism, including Tea Party–oriented groups like Harris County, Texas-based True the Vote, and the surprising primary victory of Texan Tea Party Senate candidate Ted Cruz. The push back, meanwhile, saw a victory in a federal court’s decision to block a voter ID bill that would have disenfranchised an estimated 1.4 million Texans.
On the federal level, the Obama administration has overseen the deportation of more than 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in less than four years—more than any other administration in the history of the United States. This as states in the South are contributing to a de facto policy of mass deportation by adopting their own attrition through enforcement doctrines.
At all levels, the immigrant undocumented community is under attack. Survival as an undocumented person has reached a critical mass. It means pushing back against the entire political system itself, all while your lack of papers bars you from the most basic form of civic engagement: the right to vote.
Voter suppression and anti-immigrant sentiment are rooted in the same unwillingness by those in power to yield to the political shift brought on by the nation’s ever-changing demographics, whether through poll taxes and literacy tests in 1960s Mississippi or Arizona’s show-me-your-papers requirement in 2012. The same question remains: How do we force the political system to recognize and respond to the fact that we exist?
First, we had to begin holding politicians accountable to the consequences their decisions had on our communities. This is especially important since we cannot vote them out of office ourselves.
Undocumented youth of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance have continued to push back against harmful policies by staging countless civil disobedience actions. Most recently, they’ve infiltrated a Florida detention center by placing themselves under arrest. In that center, organizers found a mother with no criminal record and a case for asylum jailed for over two years and a father picked up by the police simply while dropping off his child at school. The prevailing sense is that in light of such a harsh national atmosphere, there is nothing left to lose and jail simply presents another opportunity to empower and organize the undocumented community from within.
Undocumented youth, fed up with the political game of chess at hand, staged a series of “UndOccupation” actions in Obama for America campaign offices, shutting down offices in California, Michigan and Ohio. Finally nearing the end of his first term, and with a track record of broken promises to the immigrant community, President Obama knew he had to throw the community a strategically timed bone or risk losing the Latino electorate when he announced deferred action for some undocumented youth. Obama’s suggested policy offers a a case-by-case chance at a temporary, two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit for childhood arrivals. Even then, the Latino community still had a lot of questions.
But it’s important to remember that Obama made the announcement shortly after the campaign office protests. Obama’s announcement serves as an acknowledgement to the power of undocumented youth, who had thrown a critical cog of inconvenience into his political wheel. Without ever casting a single vote, we had moved the president to act on an issue important to us: our very lives. Without a single lobbyist or PAC, we had disrupted the president’s campaign efforts and fundraising machine.
This hybrid form of political participation was displayed again as Undocubus flaunted its way through the South. We ended our long journey in Charlotte, North Carolina, the site of the DNC, where we promptly blocked the entrance—a symbolic and powerful statement of those who had been forcefully left out of the process. Locked out, we choose to challenge the political beast at its own front door. These actions serve as a friendly accountability reminder to those in power that we may not be able to vote at the polls this November, but we will continue to find our own ways to effectively participate within the electoral system.
When you are shut out of the process, you have to create new forms of entry. Whether or not they lock the front door to political participation because of our legal status, we will create a window and climb through it. They have left us with no other choice. Our votes may not count, but our voices do, and we will forever fight for them to be heard.
And that, my friends, is what democracy really looks like.
Watch Kemi Bello explain why she joined Undocubus on the journey to the Democratic National Convention in this video.
With a little more than two weeks left until Election Day, get out the vote campaigns, lawsuits, arrests and even Supreme Court decisions are helping determine what voter participation may look like in 2012. Here are some of these week’s voting rights updates, including those from our amazing team of community journalists:
GOP Contractor Arrested Over Dumping Virginia Registration Forms
Hermelinda Cortez is our community journalist based in Virginia, where an arrest has been made in a crucial case over registration forms being dumped for trash:
While most Virginia voters expected countless smear ads and overflowing mailboxes full of candidate fliers, few expected that their voter registration forms might not ever make it to the registrar’s office by October 15. This past week has been ripe with countless reports of voter suppression in the Old Dominion including phone banking targeting elder voters who are primarily Latino and African-American to let them know they could “vote on the phone.” Even more disturbing, a contracted employee of the Republican Party of Virginia, Colin Small, was arrested in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for dumping a bag of completed voter registration cards in the dump behind a local business. Hours later the Justice Department announced they were placing US Attorney Sharon Burnham in the area to police voter fraud, but what will become of the trash bag full of registrations remains unclear, and more Virginia voters have to wonder if they’ll show up to the polls only to be turned away.
Montana Tribes Demand Early Voting on Reservations
Members from the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes and nations are suing Montana because the state won’t provide early voting on those reservations. Although Montana—one of the states with the highest percentages of Natives—remains crucial for the Senate election, the lead defendant is Democrat Linda McCulloch. The presiding judge is Richard Cebull, who sent out a disparaging, racist e-mail Colorlines.com wrote about in March. Indian Country Today reports that Rosebud County’s election officer, Geraldine Custer insists the choice to not allow early voting on the reservations is “not about race.” And in case you were wondering—yes, she’s related to Colonel George Custer of the Battle of Little Bighorn infamy.
Spanish Speaking Voters Misled by Maricopa County
Bad news for Spanish speaking voters in Arizona: Maricopa County’s Election Department has printed the wrong election date—only in Spanish—on cards it’s issued to voters. The department says that fewer than fifty people were handed the document before it fixed the error. No word yet whether those fifty people have been contacted in order to ensure they know their official voting materials list a date on which they won’t be able to cast their ballots.
Latino Leaders Turn Place Emphasis on Registration
Felipe Gutierrez, our Community Journalist based in Texas, writes in that national Latino leaders held a conference call this week who shared stories of the progress the US has seen among Latino voters. But registration efforts need to catch up with population increases:
The common response that the National Council of La Raza has received from Latinos is that they have never been approached to register. Voter participation hotline calls have jumped with voters wanting information on how to register. NCLR’s Clarissa Martinez-De-Castor mentioned it’s now time to move into the education face and get out the vote with these new registrants. More than 90,000 new applicants have come in from key states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina and Idaho.
Nevada Voting Rights Advocates Concerned about Voter Challenges
Kate Sedinger, our community journalist who works with Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), writes in that her organization is getting proactive about pushing back against voter suppression:
Bob Fulkerson, Executive Director of PLAN, and members of the Advancement Project met with Luanne Cutler, the Washoe County Elections Department administrative secretary to discuss the current status of voter challenges and voting accessibility. Luanne identified a major issue as lack of bilingual poll workers for Election Day in the Reno area: of 525 workers, twenty-nine, or 5.5 percent, are bilingual. Reno’s Latino population hovers right around 25 percent. Numbers for early voting poll workers are even lower. Las Vegas reports having sufficient Spanish-speaking poll workers but insufficient Tagalog speaking workers, which is a concern considering most of Nevada’s 124,000 Filipinos live in the Las Vegas area, and many speak Tagalog as their primary language.
Republicans in Clark County sent a list of 284 voter names to the Clark County Registrar of Voters claiming the individuals listed were ineligible to vote. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller has issued strict guidelines for anybody wishing to challenge a voter’s eligibility:
The challenge must submit a written affirmation and fill out all information requested and sign under penalty of perjury.
The challenger must be from the same precinct, which must be confirmed and initialed by the poll worker.
The challenger must mark the type of challenge.
The challenger must provide a written statement of facts setting forth the basis for the challenge.
The basis of challenge and statement of facts must be made upon personal knowledge.
If the challenger fails to meet any of these criteria, the challenge shall be rejected and no further challenge shall be taken with respect to the challenge.
Per these requirements, the Clark County Republican’s list of supposedly ineligible voters will be discarded.
The Washoe County Registrar of Voters ran out of registration forms prior to the end of voter registration. Many of Washow County’s forms ended up in Clark County.
True the Vote Video Full of Inaccuracies
George Lujan, our Community Journalist in New Mexico, writes in that Progress Now New Mexico has outlined a series of errors in a True the Vote training video. The video links were sent out to subscribers despite the fact that New Mexico’s Attorney General is investigating voter suppression in his state. Among the serious errors sited, the True the Vote video instructs poll challengers to “compare the photo on a voter’s ID to the voter,” despite the fact no ID is needed to cast a ballot in New Mexico. You can read about these and other disturbing video highlights here.
‘Bee’ a Winner Video Targets Desis to Vote
LA based Community Journalist Maegan E. Ortiz writes in about a hilarious new video produced by 18 Million Rising, aimed to persuade Desis to vote:
One way to empower and engage people of color immigrant communities and their children is to turn them into a constituency. South Asian civic participation has not reached its full potential in terms of it feeling essential for their own interests and the interest of politicians. There’s no better way to get people into the electoral process than by making it fun.
And fun it is. Click here to watch the video.
Intimidating Billboards Still Plaguing Ohio
As we write last week, intimidating billboards are popping up in Ohio and Wisconsin. Ohio-based community journalist Rev. Nelson Pierce Jr. participated in a press conference to denounce the billboards. Nelson writes:
The billboard was place on a semi-major intersection as you cross the line from a historically lower to working class mostly white neighborhood within a isolated city (Norwood) into a working to middle-class black neighborhood (Bond Hill).
He added he’s “appalled at the blatant attempt to intimidate voters, and that so many people and companies would be complicit in the process.”
Also in Ohio this week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the Ohio early voting case—a win for voting rights groups.
Whatever shenanigans True the Vote and their tea party cells had or has in plans for November will run up against a brick wall in the form of civil rights lawyers and government officials who are striking back against threats to corrupt voting rights. News reports from across the nation this week are showing a formidable resistance to True the Vote’s operations, which include recruiting “a million” poll watchers and poll workers, and making voters feel “like driving and seeing the police follow you.”
It’s clear at this point that they won’t come anywhere close to a million, but whoever they recruit will be met at the polls by a much larger squad, an election protection team consisting of thousands of lawyers and poll watchers trained to answer any questions voters may have if approached or challenged by tea partiers who try to kirk out at the polls.
A few examples:
A group of Ohio state senators sent a letter to Sec. of State Jon Husted warning him of plans from True the Vote and their state affiliate Ohio Voter Integrity Project to challenge voters illegally. Sec. Husted responded by stating “he will act swiftly to investigate and seek prosecution of any offenders,” of voter intimidation, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch.
The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) released a report about True the Vote’s infiltration and influence throughout the North Carolina electoral landscape, particularly through their local affiliate North Carolina Voter Integrity Project. While True the Vote says that they don’t target communities of color, the IREHR has mapped out predominantly African American communities where it reports True the Vote’s recruits will be focused (see below). The report prompted Rep. Elijah Cummings to issue yet another demand for True the Vote's procedural documents.
The labor group AFL-CIO held a conference call this morning where it discussed the deployment of its Lawyers Coordinating Committee, part of their My Vote, My Right voter protection program. Lawyers from Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada described how they have already been fending off challenges and voter suppression efforts from True the Vote and their affiliates, well in advance of Election Day. Florida attorney Alma Gonzalez said their lawyer team is in regular communications with all but one of Florida’s county elections supervisors about True the Vote and have successfully blunted purges demanded by True the Vote’s recruits — the lone standout being Collier County, where purging has commenced. Said Gonzalez, “We have also communicated directly to True the Vote and (their local affiliate) Tampa Vote Fair that we are ready and we are watching them. We will also have poll monitors where we have seen Tampa Vote Fair's efforts undertaken in order to protect those voters in those areas.”
Today the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they will be monitoring early voting in Dallas and Harris County, Texas to make sure Voting Rights Act laws are being followed. Coincidentally, DOJ visited Harris County to monitor voting during congressional elections in 2010 also. And it just so happens that Harris County is the homebase for True the Vote, and the King Street Patriots tea party group they grew from.
Ari Berman reports in this week’s The Nation about the national Election Protection team, known by most voters by their help line 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Berman zoned in on Virginia where True the Vote’s affiliate Virginia Voters Alliance has been drumming up pipe dreams about “a tsunami of voter fraud” while recruiting and training hundreds of tea partiers for Election Day confrontations. But “The Election Protection coalition has been preparing for months to deal with voter suppression laws and vigilante groups,” writes Berman.
It’s probably especially important to have election protection forces in place in Virginia given that one of True the Vote’s most trusted advisors, Hans von Spakovsky, will be running elections there in Fairfax County. And that’s the thing — many people are focused on the damage True the Vote could do outside the polls, as watchers. But few are looking at their inside game, where they have positioned themselves to be selected as poll workers, the actual front line between you and the poll booth, and the eyes and hands handling provisional ballots. Thanks to a lot of great reporting and coverage, though, election protectors are hip to True the Vote’s game.
Join me, The Advancement Project, the Texas Organizing Project, Progress Florida and a host of other state and national voting rights organizations next Thursday for a Twitter Town Hall on voter protection efforts. The hashtag for the event is #yvote, and it will take place October 25 at 3:30 p.m. EST. Sign on to find out more about it here.
-- Brentin Mock
Obtaining a state-issued ID is a lot harder than some people might think. Agnes Laughter, an elder from the small rural town of Chilchinbeto on the Navajo Nation, tried time and time again. But Laughter, who only speaks Navajo, was told she didn’t have the right documentation. Determined to not be defeated, she enlisted the help of a dozen volunteers to help with gathering documents, and providing interpretation and legal assistance so that she could finally get her ID. Countless others on the Navajo Nation remain in a similar predicament.
This video, produced by our Flagstaff-based community journalist Hillary Abe, illustrates why voter ID is an impediment to casting a ballot.
For more on the restriction of Native Americans' voting rights, read Aura Bogado’s “Democracy in ‘Suspense’: Why Arizona’s Native Voters Are in Peril.”
Less than a month before Election Day, the “election integrity” group True The Vote is battered, bewildered and disappointed. The upcoming election landscape will hardly resemble the “ground war” they were hoping for. Voter fraud as a thing has been exposed by civil rights watchdogs and a wide range of journalists as pure conspiracy theory. And civil rights legal advocates have at least temporarily blocked all of the most strict voter ID laws for which they fought so hard.
But while True the Vote is down, they’re certainly not out. The group still hopes to make an impact in November, though they’ve downgraded their self-descriptors from “armies” prepared for “ground wars” to “grannies with clipboards.” Besides their cheering for billboards warning that voter fraud is a felony targeted in poor, black neighborhoods in Ohio, their last operative hope is to shake down states, including Ohio, that don’t comply with their purging demands with frivolous lawsuits.
A true army, encompassing journalists, lawyers, election protection volunteers, civil rights activists and the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be watching the watchers throughout early voting periods and on Election Day. The real question now is, if things go awry with any of the clipboard grannies, will True the Vote have its volunteers’ backs? If recent news reports are any indication, it sounds like the volunteers True the Vote has recruited will be on their own.
True the Vote attorney Brock Akers told The American Prospect’s Abby Rapaport that True the Vote has “no relationship with any other groups and [is] not aware of others describing themselves as ‘empowered.’”
Akers was flat out lying. Colorlines created a map that points to no less than two dozen groups True the Vote is aware of. One of those groups, the Virginia Voters Alliance, has a YouTube video posted where one of its leaders clearly spells out the training relationship, and also spells out why True the Vote told them not to use their name—“because of all of the lawsuits they had been getting in Houston,” VVA’s Reagan George explains.
This past weekend, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht presented in Arizona at FreePAC, a gathering of thousands organized by the conservative non-profit FreedomWorks for “grassroots training” on “best strategies” on topics like making “voter ID calls.” Engelbrecht encouraged the fired-up crowd to sign up for True the Vote’s poll training, for both poll worker and watcher positions. Two more FreePACs are scheduled this month in Florida and Illinois.
These kinds of associations place True the Vote’s partisanship in further question—most recently, the non-partisan assertion was undermined when Facing South revealed a $5000 donation True the Vote made to the Republican State Leadership Committee. But the ties to FreedomWorks also show that True the Vote has continued access to the voluminous networks and resources of much larger conservative political action groups. In battleground states like Colorado and Florida, where they have sizable representation, that’s enough to make an impact on elections there.
Whatever the size of True the Vote’s volunteer brigade in November, there also remain serious questions about the quality of their training. In that Arizona speech, Engelbrecht described their trainings as a “one hour training, quick in-and-out, online experience.” Such inadequate training appears to be yielding poor results. The Atlantic reported how Lou D’Abbraccio, a Wisconsin Republican poll watcher trainer, instructed volunteers with True the Vote, but then distanced himself from Engelbrecht’s group after numerous complaints were filed against those trainees during Walker’s recall elections. “It was clear that they didn’t have a full understanding of the law,” said D’Abbraccio.
When I asked Erin Anderson, then identified as True the Vote’s regional director, about the Wisconsin complaints after this spring’s recall election, she told me “We don’t know 100 percent where the people that we trained—we didn’t deploy them. We had an online training, but a lot of people participated in it … We don’t know where they ended up.”
Colorado Voter Protection’s head Jeff Kelly told me there was no contract or funding between his “empowered” group and True the Vote, and that for him “it is all about the tools and the training that they offer.”
But the trainings appear to be lacking, as exemplified in Ohio where Secretary of State Jon Husted disowned and criticized True the Vote’s volunteers, which prompted the ballot bullies to sue him. In a Twitter exchange with True the Vote’s Election Integrity Project partner J. Christian Adams, I brought up Husted’s “crying wolf” statement about their shoddy work. Adams responded that Husted “was talking about someone other than @TruetheVote.”
That’s true, sort of. Husted was referring to the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, a group that thinks it’s been “empowered” by True the Vote, but whom Adams had no problem publicly throwing under the bus. Engelbrecht did state in a letter that True the Vote “stands by the well-intentioned citizens” of OVIP when the Los Angeles Times uncovered those “citizens” had inaccurately challenged thousands of names on voter rolls. But would True the Vote stand by them if OVIP ever ended up in court?
“This has never been an issue before,” said Logan Churchwell, True the Vote’s public relations director. “No legal action of any kind is justified when citizens are abiding by local and federal election regulations.” But he would not commit to providing legal support to any volunteers who might end up court.
We do know that True the Vote is willing to go to court to capitalize off of OVIP’s work. In its lawsuit against Husted, True the Vote is claiming that the secretary injured them “by causing it to divert resources away from other programs in order to devote those same resources to its list verification program.” As a result, the group has “suffered irreparable injury” due to Husted’s failure to comply with its purging demands, and hence it wants a judge to order Husted to pay “reasonable attorney’s fees, including litigation expenses and cost.”
In other words, True the Vote wants Ohio to use taxpayer money to pay it for the nuisance lawsuit it filed. OVIP is not once mentioned in the lawsuit, but one vital paragraph may allude to them:
“True the Vote trains volunteers to review voter lists and to compare those lists to other publicly available data. When a volunteer identifies registrations that appear to be duplicates or registrations of persons who are deceased, have relocated, or otherwise are ineligible to vote in a particular jurisdiction, those registrations are flagged and complaints are filed with appropriate election officials.”
This describes OVIP’s activities, which they’ve now suspended. True the Vote says in the filing that its volunteers’ work is hampered by Husted’s “poor list maintenance,” and so now taxpayers need to pay for the “injury.”
True the Vote has created an industry out of charging state and county election officials with list maintenance neglect under the flimsiest of evidence. The group and its “empowered” allies cite findings that there are more people registered to vote in a county than the current voting age population, or people registered in two states. But this does not mean that there is potential voter fraud or poor list maintenance. All it means is that some people have moved and changed residencies since being registered and the files haven’t been updated yet.
When a voter moves to another county or state, that person is supposed to check in with the government to update voter records. But that often doesn’t happen right away. In these cases, all the state can do under state law is send out a postcard to people believed to have moved, asking them to change their address. Husted did just that for 70,000 voters thought to have moved out of Ohio, and 300,000 who moved within Ohio. If voters don’t send the postcard back with updated info, Husted can only legally purge their names if those persons have not voted in the last two federal elections. You can read about Husted’s list maintenance activities here.
But True the Vote is not satisfied with this, saying earlier this month that “much more needs to be done.”
Matthew McLellan, press secretary for Husted’s office, tells me that Ohio’s voter rolls “are in the best shape that they’ve been in years” and that “when Sec. Husted took office in January  he began work right away to improve voter rolls and make sure they contained accurate information.”
McLellan said none of the state’s current list maintenance activities are carried out in response to True the Vote’s legal threats.
True the Vote filed a similar lawsuit in Indiana and has sent 160 “legal notices” to counties across the nation with the same more-registered-than-residing faux “problem.” At FreePAC Arizona, Engelbrecht said “we have a federal government with a full-on assault on the states,” but apparently her own barrage of lawsuits and legal notices don’t count in that assessment.
Voter suppression struck a loss in Ohio yesterday. Ari Berman reports.
As the Department of Justice announces a lawsuit against Vermont over the rights of military and voters living abroad, our community journalists have been hard at work tracking voter suppression—and the push-back against it. Here are some of this week’s updates:
Latina Registering Voters Dyes Hair Blond to Avoid Intimidation
Kate Sedinger, our Community Journalist in Reno, who works with Progressive Leadersip Alliance of Nevada, shared a disturbing video that features one of her co-workers. Elvira Diaz works to register voters outside of a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles office, but has faced serious intimidation for doing so. Diaz says she has been shoved and spat at—and in the video, she identifies Republican Party operative Alex Bacchus as the man who formed a hand gesture like a gun, aimed his fingers at her, and made firing sounds.
Far-Right Voter Suppression Panel Attempts to Explain “Integrity”
Judicial Watch, a far right–wing partner of True the Vote, held a live panel in DC Thursday. Our Philly-based Community Journalist James Cersonsky was there and writes in:
The discussion, titled “2012 Election Integrity Update,” featured TTV founder Catherine Engelbrecht, voter suppression expert blogger J. Christian Adams, conservative Heritage blogger Hans von Spakovsky and a new ally: Pennsylvania state Representative Daryl Metcalfe, who has infamously called voters “lazy” for not complying with photo voter ID mandates courts have said cause disenfranchisement. During the panel, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the election is “about the illegal alien vote,” mirroring previous statements about President Obama getting elected by the “food stamp army.” Meanwhile, Adams took the time to applaud intimidating billboards found in black neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin. Adams referred to “well-developed, nasty, racialist, dishonest” civil rights groups who opposed the billboards saying “they become like Tony Soprano because they threaten free speech.” Civil rights groups, meanwhile, don’t think the billboards are funny.
Will Colorado Count Every Voter’s Ballot?
Rosemary Harris Lytle works with the NAACP, and is the newest addition to our team of Community Journalists. She’s based in Colorado Springs, and tells us that, in a move to provide a solution to the imaginary problem of voter fraud, Colorado is going out of its way to verify voters’ signatures. As KKTV.com reports, more than 300 ballots were tossed out in El Paso County alone during the last presidential election—and that several counties have “hired investigators to verify voter signatures.”
Voter Registration Pileup in Georgia
In Atlanta, Community Journalist Noni Grant tells us that she spoke with Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and found the following:
Apparently, Fulton County (one of the state’s largest counties which houses Atlanta) has a huge voter registration application backlog, and there is concern that the registrations won’t be processed in time for the election. This may force a lot of people to vote with a provisional ballot if the registration is not evident at the time of voting, or be deterred from voting.
New Mexico’s Attorney General Investigates Voter Suppression
Our Community Journalist George Lujan, who’s based in Albuquerque, writes in that Attorney General Gary King has launched an instigation into voter suppression. The investigation comes on the heels of a secretly taped video, in which the vice chair of the Sandoval County Republic Party, Pat Morlen, misinforms poll challengers. Morlen tells the challengers that they can demand voters show their ID, and that any voter who received a postcard questioning their status as a voter this year will have to cast a provisional ballot. Neither claim is true.
Today, a federal court blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law for the 2012 elections, though it will be allowed to commence in 2013. According to the judges’ ruling, it is too close to the November election for effective implementation of South Carolina’s Act R54, which required voters to show a driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, passport, federal military photo ID or a photo voter registration card to vote. Before this law was passed, voters could show their voter registration card without a photo. The ruling states:
From the outset, the Court has pushed very hard to make a decision in time for the 2012 elections. We set an extremely aggressive trial schedule to accomplish that objective. Counsel for all parties have worked diligently, which the Court greatly appreciates. Unfortunately, as one might have anticipated in a case with this many entities involved, the parties ran into some discovery delays over the summer in trying to obtain relevant information. In the ordinary case, those minor and typical delays would not have been a big deal. In this case, those discovery delays pushed back the trial date by several weeks, with the voluntary consent of all parties. And that delay has in turn pushed back our date of decision. We need not belabor the point. At this late date, the Court is unable to conclude that South Carolina can implement Act R54 for the 2012 elections in a way that will suffice under the Voting Rights Act. [Emphasis added.]
US District Judge Collen Kollar-Kotelly noted in her concurring opinion that both the state and the civil rights attorneys challenging the state agreed that almost 130,000 voters in South Carolina lacked qualifying ID to vote, mostly people of color. Pointing that out, Kollar-Kottelly, who was appointed by conservative US Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, credited the Voting Rights Act, and Section 5 in particular for protecting the rights of those voters of color, writing:
“one cannot doubt the vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played here. Without the review process under the Voting Rights Act, South Carolina’s voter photo ID law certainly would have been more restrictive.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has been defending the state’s voter ID law, which was first enacted in May 2011, and has been vocal about his opposition to Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 pre-clearance rules. Last week, Wilson participated in a news conference call with True the Vote where he said that the US Department of Justice, which initially refused to clear the voter ID law, has “an ulterior agenda to enforcing the law.”
Today, Wilson is calling the ruling “a major victory for South Carolina and its election process. It affirms our voter ID law is valid and constitutional under the Voting Rights Act.”
Similarly, the voter ID law passed in Mississippi was blocked last week by the Department of Justice on Voting Rights Act Section 5 grounds. Voters in that state will not have to show photo ID in November, but the law is still under review for whether they will have to show it in future elections.
Voting rights protections are especially needed in Mississippi where the head of the state’s tea party chapter, Janis Lane, told Jackson Free Press reporter Ryan L. Nave that women don’t deserve to vote. As Lane told Nave:
“Probably the biggest turn we ever made was when the women got the right to vote. … Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how than can skewer a person. I do not see that in men. The whole time I worked, I’d much rather have a male boss than a female boss. Double-minded, you never can trust them.”
Further, while Missisippi’s voter ID law is not in effect for November, the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has failed to update the state’s voters about this fact. Writes the Jackson Free Press:
What Hosemann has irresponsibly failed to do is explicitly tell Mississippi voters—and potential poll workers—that voter ID is not required this election. There is no statement that we can find on the SOS’ website nor have we seen a press release alerting people that photo ID is unnecessary this time around. Instead, what we’ve seen are misleading posters offering help in securing ID, which falsely implies one is needed.
View Mississippi’s voter ID outreach website here.
As we noted on Thursday, the issue of poverty was conspicuously missing from the first presidential candidates’ debate. While the term “middle class” was traded more than thirty times between Obama and Romney, neither candidate made any substantive claims about poverty. In a debate dominated by the topic of the economy, Obama couldn’t bring himself to say the words “poor” or “poverty” one time. “Middle class,” meanwhile, remains the term that is supposed to blanket everyone living in the United States—despite their income or wealth.
Not surprisingly, the poor are given little voice in this election. Unemployment numbers remain just that: numbers that obscure the reality of those living people surviving without income. At a time when median white household wealth is at more than $110,000, and median black household wealth is less than $5,000, the term middle class also blurs the racial distinctions of money.
Nevada, meanwhile, remains a swing state that will be key in helping to decide the election—but the poor may be losing their collective voice as voters there, too. Although the 1993 National Voter Registration Act obliges public service agencies to provide voter registration forms for their clients, a federal lawsuit alleged that Nevada failed to do so, thereby not allowing an opportunity for the state’s poor to register to vote.
Meet our Nevada-based community journalist, Kate Sedinger. She’s currently working on a Masters in social work at the University of Nevada, Reno, and interns at Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. In today’s dispatch, she explains why the poor in particular must be given the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process.
Nevada Public Assistance Agencies Blunder in Registering Poor Voters
In a country where so many cling so tightly to the idea of the American Dream, classism remains one of the least acknowledged forms of discrimination. We want to believe success is contingent on hard work alone because that allows us to believe that monetary wealth is in our future, rather than acknowledge that unless we were born into wealth or we’re white, middle-class and educated, it likely isn’t. We want to believe that someday we’ll have no worries, life will be easy: we’ll be able to retire, to send our children to college without debt and to be lauded by society as proof that the American Dream can be a reality.
We all work hard. We put in the hours. We trade our time for a place to live and food to eat. We live with integrity. We set aside other priorities such as family, self-care and hobbies for work, believing success is inevitable, as if success follows hard work as B follows A. We are committed to believing, even in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, that everyone can succeed in this country because we don’t have the structural blocks of other countries where wealth is determined by birth. We are all born equal, right?
The flip side of the myth of the American Dream is that those who don’t make it—those who, heaven forbid, use public assistance—just aren’t trying hard enough. This belief serves as a blanket of false security, allowing the belief that poverty is due to personal deficiencies rather than structural inequalities. By allowing us to believe if we just do the work, we’re safe.
Many of those who live in poverty are swept under the rug as having less intelligence, a weaker work ethic, faulty integrity and less drive. We may not consciously acknowledge this, but I wonder whether we as a society also believe the poor haven’t quite earned the same rights as those of us who don’t live in poverty.
Knowing this, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Nevada public service agencies weren’t fulfilling their federally mandated responsibility to serve as voter registration sites. In my work in human services, I frequently interact with under-resourced individuals and have seen firsthand that the system is not set up to make their lives easy, nor is it designed to encourage their civic participation. Like it or not, this country does not count all citizens equally—how you count is directly tied to how much money you have, how much formal education you have, your skin color, your gender, your sexuality and various other arbitrary markers we enact to make sure those who have had the power and the privilege get to keep it.
The Las Vegas Sun reported in mid-September that a federal lawsuit had been brought against the state of Nevada by the National Council of La Raza and Nevada National Association for Advance of Colored People chapters, accusing state agencies of failing in their voter registration responsibilities. This accusation was based on findings that several government assistance agencies did not explicitly offer registration to their clients, some failed to maintain voter registration forms in the office and many didn’t have signs or other indicators informing client they could register at the agencies. Not one of the government assistance offices offered their clients instructions on how to register to vote.
Those who support making voting more difficult have suggested that the motivated will find a way to enact their civil right to vote, regardless of how difficult it is. But civil rights aren’t only for the highly motivated, and they aren’t about how many hoops you can jump through. They’re rights guaranteed to all.
The ability of those living in poverty to maintain shelter and to make sure their children have something to eat is very closely tied to the outcome of this election. The policies of the two parties vary drastically when it comes to maintaining the public benefits system, and it is no secret that the concept of entitlements, otherwise known as Medicaid, housing assistance, disability payments, food assistance and a myriad of other programs are being used as pawns in this political fight. The poor are the ones who will be most deeply impacted by public benefits policy decisions. For that reason alone, poor people must not only have opportunity to vote, but also a reasonable avenue through which to do so.
Though the La Raza/NAACP lawsuit has not yet been heard in court, in consideration of the impending registration cut-off all groups have agreed to move forward. Since July 31, 2012, up to 30,000 voter registration forms are being sent out monthly to those using public assistance in Nevada. In that time frame, 2,731 completed registrations have come into the Nevada voter registrar offices in Clark County (Las Vegas) and Washoe County (Reno) from these public assistance agencies. The combined counties represent about 85 percent of the state’s population. This is a clear demonstration that when we unite to publicly advocate for equality, we can be actors for positive change.
However, it’s not quite good enough. During the 2001–02 election cycle, Nevada public assistance agencies collected 40,000 registrations. In other years, these agencies have collected between 2,883 and 13,200 forms. These numbers make the current cycle’s collection seem paltry. It seems that perhaps in those months when we weren’t actively registering those on public assistance, we lost ground we may not be able to reclaim in this election cycle.
A democracy is only as good as the percentage of people who participate. If we want to believe that we live in a nation of equality, we must enact policies that not only protect the equality we have built but also ensure those policies are followed. Doing this isn’t anyone’s responsibility but our own.
For more on the right’s effort to disenfranchise voters, read Brentin Mock on True The Vote’s potentially illegal vote watching activities