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Voting Rights Watch

Voting Rights Watch

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

UndocuBus Riders Find Struggle and Hope in Knoxville

Knoxville’s Church of the Savior was buzzing with energy last night. Some seventy locals prepared a potluck feast for UndocuBus riders, who have spent the last three days in eastern Tennessee. Riders include people of all ages, including students, day laborers and domestic workers, and they’re headed to the Democratic National Convention.

Last night’s generosity is indicative of the support riders have experienced since the ride started in Phoenix, Arizona, more than a month ago. While UndocuBus is reaching out to those people who have been most affected by draconian immigration laws, they’re also building community with white allies who are helping to feed and house the riders as they head towards Charlotte for the convention. 

After dinner, the riders were given the pulpit to share their stories. A candle was lit to signify the sacredness of the moments that followed, when more than a dozen people spoke, sometimes sharing poetry, sometimes singing music, always reflecting on why they joined the ride, and ending with the refrain, “No papers, no fear!” 

What might sound like a catchy slogan to some has real resonance in Knoxville. Local sheriff J.J. Jones has applied for 287(g), which is a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security so that local deputies can enforce federal immigration law. A coalition of immigrant rights groups have attempted to meet with Sheriff Jones, but he has so far refused. A Knoxville teenager, Alejandro Guizar, who was already facing deportation when he joined UndocuBus in Nashville early this week, wanted to join an action to challenge Sheriff Jones.

Guizar, 19, was arrested after his high school graduation—he had some drinks at a party and was charged with public intoxication. Despite the fact that the charge was dropped, he still faces deportation proceedings. As he addressed the packed church, he explained why he decided to risk arrest the previous day, when he and three others blocked the bridge that leads to Sheriff Jones’s office. Because he was the only one participating in the civil disobedience without identification, he was, indeed, arrested—but mounting pressure from UnodcuBus and the social media network they’ve created secured Guizar’s release, just six hours after his arrest.

I learned that one of the women he was arrested with was named Fran—described to me as a white ally who works on immigrant rights locally. When I sought her out after the event, I didn’t expect to meet a 66-year-old white woman. A retired law professor, Fran Ansley grew up in what she described as Jim Crow Atlanta. She works with Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and although she’s committed a lot of time to social justice, the last time she was arrested was during a student war protest in 1969. She explained she’s been so inspired by the way people have been inventing new ways to fight against anti-immigrant initiatives that she wanted to do what she could to be part of a civil disobedience. If Sheriff Jones had been able to ignore the coalition so far, the action would just make it that much harder.

As the riders headed back to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church to spend the night, they sang a song popularized in Chile called “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” which translates to, “The people united will never be defeated.” In an ever-changing nation, UndocuBus challenges how we define “the people,” and who creates change. 

Before the night was over, Maria Huerta, a 65-year-old undocumented rider from northern California who was cited the previous day for participating in the civil disobedience against Sheriff Jones’s 287(g) request, got a text and became visibly excited by the news. Huerta, who works with Mujeres Unidas y Activas (United and Active Women), arrived on UnodcuBus on a delegation of six women sent by the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance about two weeks ago. Four of them headed to California soon after as that state’s domestic worker’s bill was moving through the legislature. Huerta’s text alerted her that the bill had just passed—largely due to the efforts of undocumented women who are claiming their stakes in electoral politics.

—Aura Bogado

Ohio's Jon Husted, the New Bad Boy on the Voting Rights Block

Florida Governor Rick Scott is probably loving that the spotlight is off of him and his purge program (and his True the Vote allies) thanks to Hurricane Isaac—and to Ohio, the latest bad boy on the voting rights block. The Buckeye’s Secretary of State Jon Husted was upset by a federal district judge yesterday who blocked the secretary’s effort to limit the use of provisional ballots. The state already leads the nation in the number of provisional ballots dropped in the garbage.

The judge ruled that provisional ballots that are cast by voters whom poll workers send to the wrong voting precinct should still be counted. In so-called “right church, wrong pew” incidents, voters who otherwise would have had an eligible vote, save for a poll worker’s mistake, should not be disenfranchised, according to the opinion from Judge Algenon Marbley in SEIU v. Husted.

Ohio is not the only state that punishes voters for casting ballots at the wrong precinct, even through no fault of their own, but the state is a standout. In the 2008 election, Ohio rejected almost 40,000 provisional ballots, 14,335 of which were disposed of because a voter voted in the wrong precinct. Judge Marbley said that every “documented instance in the record of a correct location/wrong precinct ballot being disqualified was the result of the poll worker failing in his or her statutory duty.”

Husted’s spokesman said that the secretary of state “respectfully disagrees” and that the state would likely appeal.

“For too long, Ohio had simply turned a blind eye to the rampant errors that resulted in voters’ being provided the wrong ballots, and then used said errors as an excuse to throw those votes away,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, which joined the suit with the SEIU.

Husted’s fight against the inclusion of votes inadvertently cast in the wrong precinct goes against his oft-repeated phrase that he is “committed to making voting uniform, easy, fair and secure.” It’s hard to make an argument that the status quo was “fair”; if poll workers wanted to throw an election they could deliberately misdirect voters to the wrong precinct, and do so without punishment.

Ohio is embroiled in a heavily contested redistricting process, which likely will lead to confused voters, confused poll workers and confusing transactions between both. In such cases, why shouldn’t the franchise bend towards allowing participation in democracy, as opposed to giving the benefit to a mistake that would lead to exclusion from democracy?

The same day of this ruling, Husted fired two county election officials for defying his orders to strip away weekend voting from the early voting period. Husted’s early voting surgery effectively kills off black churches’ “souls to the polls” campaign, which delivered black churchgoers to voting booths right after church service on the Sunday before Election Day. The Obama campaign is suing the state to have the weekend days reinstated.

So here’s Husted’s score so far on democracy: he eliminates a day known statewide for increased black voter turnout; he fires two elections officials who dared to try to restore those days; he fights for the right to throw away the votes of those who were misdirected by poll workers.

But that’s not all. With all of the perceptions swirling around Husted that his new election rules were burdening black voters, he chose to participate in a summit hosted by True the Vote, which carries a reputation for voter intimidation and deceptive practices. He was scheduled to speak at an Ohio True the Vote summit on Saturday, August 25, right before Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, who believes President Obama plans to steal the November election with “illegal alien” votes.

After our investigative report detailing True the Vote’s quickly expanding intimidation network, and follow-up reporting from Rachel Maddow on the group, Husted quietly dropped out of the summit’s speaker line up. His deputy press secretary, Alexis Zoldan, said his disappearance was due to a “change in his schedule,” but would not elaborate on that schedule change.

Like Florida, Ohio has a sordid history with voting rights over the last few presidential elections. Also like Florida, True the Vote’s dark shadow is cast upon the state. It’s worth noting that both states are essential for victory in November, but more importantly the precedents set, and the brazen attitude of Husted about it, is putting democracy in peril.

This Is What Voter Participation Looks Like

While most of our work here tracks threats to the vote this election season, we also want to highlight the work that community groups are doing to increase voter participation. California recently passed a same-day voter-registration law; if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, it will be one of only nine states that makes voting easier.

Meanwhile, one organization in South LA is looking for ways to get people of color to not only register, but to become habitual voters that make decisions beyond the big ticket. People in the area—which is 40 percent black and 60 percent Latino—are disproportionately impacted by the Golden State’s “three strikes law” and the death penalty. This November, they could help reform those laws by voting on ballot propositions.

Meet Maegan E. Ortiz. She publishes VivirLatino.com, and attended an event this weekend held by a local group to empower local residents to recognize the strength of their vote.

—Aura Bogado

South LA Moves to Make the Occasional Regular

A few hundred people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in South Los Angeles on Saturday, for a late summer music festival put together by the Community Coalition. The local nonprofit social justice organization, in partnership with SEIU United Long-Term Care Workers, SEIU Local 99 and others, created an event appealing to multiple generations in order to engage the occasional voter.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition, defined the occasional voter as someone who is young and generally votes in the big election, like the 2008 presidential election, because of its historic nature. Harris-Dawson said the the South LA Summer Power Festival was “a first, feel good step” and the organization’s real work comes afterwards, in terms of seeing how many of those occasional voters go to the polls come November.

The South LA Summer Power Festival at King Park used a multi-generational and multi-ethnic approach to engaging the community. While adults participated in workshops on topics ranging from deferred action to earthquake preparedness, children played sports, got balloon animals or beaded necklaces. Health services included free HIV tests—and the soundstage featured Jasiri X, who rapped to an engaged audience about justice for Trayvon Martin. Free food filled bellies, while booths with information about all of the California ballot initiatives filled minds.

A host of key state propositions could have a significant impact on the lives of working families and communities like South Los Angeles. Proposition 36 would reform the “three strikes” law, reserving life sentences for only when the third felony conviction is serious or violent. Proposition 34, meanwhile, would end California’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In a state where three of every four men in prison are non-white and 36 percent of inmates on death row are black, these propositions could change the lives of South LA residents—where the local population is 40 percent black and 60 percent Latino.

Yet more than four in ten voters in California are new or occasional voters, and most of them are Latino or African-American. Not only do these occasional voters generally visit the polls only during major elections but they often do not complete the entire ballot. According to Harris-Dawson, a lack of accessible information about state propositions means that the occasional voter will only vote for the big ticket, like the presidential candidate, while leaving the rest of the ballot blank.

Back at King Park, a multiracial group danced to cumbia music. The Turn Up Your Power tent housed discussions over California Proposition 38, which would increase personal income tax rates for most Californians on a sliding scale, with higher income earners paying more in order to fund school districts and early educational programs. Community Coalition’s Jung Hee Choi explained that all the issues come down to fiscal reform—making sure that South LA residents get their fair share. Marqueece Harris-Dawson wanted people to come for fun and stay for the political education. Participants seemed to be coming for both.

—Maegan E. Ortiz

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted Withdraws From True the Vote Summit

Today we learned that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has pulled out of his scheduled appearance as a featured speaker at the True the Vote Ohio State Summit. Husted’s withdrawal comes after Voting Rights Watch 2012 released an investigative report about the dangerous far-right-wing network that True the Vote built itself into, and its record of drawing voter intimidation complaints.

On Wednesday, August 22, True the Vote put out a press release stating that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted was participating in their Ohio State Summit as a featured speaker, alongside True the Vote right-wing extremist affiliate Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, who says President Obama stole the 2008 election with fraudulent votes and plans to do it again this year with the “illegal alien vote” and votes from a “food stamp army.” Husted was scheduled to speak at approximately 1:15 pm, right before Fitton.

The following day, Voting Rights Watch published the story “How the Right’s Building Its ‘Poll-Watcher’ Network for November,” which shows how True the Vote has been able to expand its influence since its start as a small Tea Party Patriot group in Houston just three years ago. A few days before that, The Nation published a report from Ari Berman about how Husted set new early voting rules that upheld the elimination of the weekend before Election Day, including the Sunday that black churches used in past elections for their “souls to the polls” campaign, which helped increase black voter turnout. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow featured both stories in her Thursday night news segment on True the Vote. The next day, Voting Rights Watch 2012’s Brentin Mock was featured on MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Rev. Al Sharpton, where he discussed True the Vote’s voter intimidation network with Joyce Beatty, a candidate for Congress in Ohio.  In that discussion, which can be viewed here, Beatty expressed her disgust at the fact Husted was participating in the True the Vote Ohio summit and said, “They are trying to kill the vote.”

“I am appalled,” said Beatty, “that our former secretary of state and our current secretary of state are engaged in such things as voter intimidation.”

This morning, True the Vote sent out an updated press release that no longer featured Husted as a featured speaker. He was replaced with Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz. I wrote to Kirsten Fedewa, the public relations director who sent out the press releases, asking her if Husted was no longer participating in the summit. “No, he is not,” she wrote back.

Husted could not be reached at his office by phone nor by e-mail for comment. We will update when we hear back. 

Read “How the Right’s Building Its ‘Poll Watcher’ Network for November” here.

—Brentin Mock

Voter ID Threatens to Storm Next Week’s GOP Convention

The Republican National Convention now includes an amendment supporting voter ID. The language was added by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—who has long intellectually authored anti-immigrant and voter-suppression legislation. As the Wichita Eagle reports, the party’s new platform mirrors “a controversial law that goes into effect” in Kobach’s state next year.

As tropical storm Issac remains a potential threat to next week’s convention in Tampa, we’ll keep an eye not just on the convention but on voting rights, too. If you’re looking for some worthwhile reading that explains the Republican National Convention’s ties to a dubiously named group called True the Vote, make sure to read Brentin Mock’s investigative report. In the meanwhile, here are some more of this week’s voting rights updates.

DOJ Backs Virginia’s Voter ID
The Department of Justice has pre-cleared Virginia’s voter ID law. Rather than require strict photo identification, Virginia’s law allows school IDs, utility bills and bank statements to be used when casting a ballot—and the DOJ found that it is nondiscriminatory. As Rick Hasen points out, the NAACP issued a mixed response on the decision, noting that Virginia should use its resources to “enhance and increase [voter] participation.”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear Voter ID Case Next Month
Opponents to Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, who lost their challenge last week, are now headed to the state’s Supreme Court on September 13 to appeal the ruling. The law’s backers wanted to wait until October—just weeks before Election Day—for the high court to hear arguments, but civil rights groups that wanted an earlier hearing won a small victory with the announcement.

California Passes Election Day Registration
California lawmakers passed sameday voter registration legislation, doing away with the state’s current two-week deadline. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the bill into law, which wouldn’t be in effect for this fall’s election. Only eight states currently allow same-day voter registration.
 —Aura Bogado

Florida's Menacing Moves to Restrict Voting

Florida has dominated voting rights news for its attempts to restrict registration and early voting, for its questionable voter purge, for the local elections officials who’ve opposed such measures, and for the flurry of lawsuits that have followed.

But what most of us haven’t heard about is the issue of absentee voter fraud that, while not widespread, has occurred in parts of Florida for the past twenty years. While voter fraud in general remains nearly nonexistent, two cities with high Cuban-American populations in Florida have seen incidents where absentee ballots have been illegally brokered. Florida’s changes to its electoral system, meanwhile, haven’t addressed the ballot-brokering but have created changes that make it harder for other people of color to vote.

Meet Graciela C. Catasús, a member of ColorOfChange.org, and the newest addition to our team of community journalists. Originally from Cuba, she’s worried about the way her community pays little attention to ballot-brokering, while advocating for changes to existing voting laws that disenfranchise voters of color.
—Aura Bogado

Florida’s Own Voting Rules
Florida is a land of newcomers. Some come to retire, while others migrate from different countries, often escaping political persecution and poverty. I was still a teenager when my own family arrived from Cuba in 1959, pending Castro’s imminent takeover. If nothing else, voting is important in Florida because it potentially gives retiring seniors and new citizens here a stronger voice. But that does not appear to be the case.

Voters in Florida have not been paying close enough attention to how best to protect their own needs and aspirations through the ballot box. We’ve allowed a legislature to enact unnecessary voting laws that suppress certain groups of people from exercising their right to vote, while allowing that legislature to ignore a unique brand of absentee ballot brokering—mostly in Miami and Hialeah.

Florida’s lawmakers passed unnecessary electoral reforms in 2011 to restrict voter registration drives and to cut off early voting hours—a move that affects eligible black and Latino voters. The recent voter purge has been aimed to supposedly counter “immigrant fraud” during this last election cycle. Never mind that Florida’s county electoral boards have affirmed that fraud by non-citizens has not been reported in any past elections.

Florida’s actions appear to follow similar trends in other swing states, leading many to wonder if this is a tandem effort to suppress voting rights in states with sizeable Latino populations. Colorado and New Mexico are also cracking down on voter fraud—despite the fact that there is no evidence that it actually exists.

What does exist in Florida’s cities with large Cuban-American populations, such as Miami and Hialeah, are absentee ballot-brokers. These brokers have been directing the elderly and disabled to cast votes that may or may not have reflected these voters’ choices. As the Miami Herald reports, Deisy Penton de Cabrera was charged with a felony, accused of committing absentee-ballot fraud ahead of this month’s primary election. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this happen, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Testifying before a US Senate Committee in January 2012, Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida, contributed that—despite the scandals—Florida’s recent election laws will make “absentee ballot fraud more difficult to prosecute” and wondered if the Republican-led legislature has not purposefully done this to continue enjoying the advantage their party has over Democrats in this method of voting.

Because voting grants constituents an opportunity to speak for their individual needs and beliefs, manipulation of elections is a shameful and immoral act. Florida’s Cuban exile community, which lost its own country under tragically undemocratic circumstances, should be highly responsive to voting as well as upholding electoral regulations in the strictest of ways. Unfortunately, rather than educating itself on how best to follow democracy’s tenets, the Cuban-American community has ignored fellow exiles who have rigged elections and instead supports unwarranted legislation that will keep other Latinos away from the polls.
—Graciela C. Catasús

Court Cases Continue to Decide the Future of Voting Rights

The ballots cast on Election Day will decide Congressional seats and the next president—and in some states, those votes will also decide major constitutional and legislative measures. While the battles over early voting and voter ID continue, other states are focusing in on propositions that are sometimes as important as life and death. Here are some of this week’s voting rights updates.

South Los Angeles Voters Crucial to Upcoming Election
Fewer than half of the states allow for citizens to initiate constitutional amendments, laws or statues—and twenty-five allow for citizens to overturn state statutes through veto referendums. California allows for all of these, and has passed and vetoed some of the most controversial legislation in the country. This fall, California voters will decide whether to make crucial changes to the state’s “three strikes” law, and whether to abolish the death penalty.

Nearly half of all voters in the country’s most populous state are new or sporadic voters—and most of them are voters of color who could have a big say on California ballot measures that disproportionately affect their communities. Community Coalition is working to secure that South LA’s voters recognize the power of their vote, and turn out in record number this November. The group is hosting the South LA Summer Power Festival next Saturday to do some civic education while bringing some of LA’s most popular local musicians to a stage for some fun.

Federal Court Restores Early Voting in Five Florida Counties
Following a federal court ruling late last night, five Florida counties protected by the federal Voting Rights Act will now see their early voting days restored. A Florida bill cut down early voting to just eight days—down from fourteen (as it’s been pointed out, AP erroneously reported that it was twelve days, and nearly all major media outlets have repeated the small error).

The ruling has caused some confusion, but some of the best analysis can be found on ElectionSmith’s post today, including the possibility of a dual election system. Florida’s voter purge, meanwhile, continues to take place—part of the Sunshine State’s message to voters of color to stay away from the polls.

Ohio Attempts to Cut Early Voting, Too
A federal judge heard arguments this week over Ohio’s move to restrict early voting. Opponents of the new law say it will disproportionately effect voters of color—and fifteen military groups have also intervened against the law. Ohio’s Secretary of State has now issued a directive that standardizes early voting hours, but cuts out early voting on weekends altogether. As is the case in Florida and other states, black and Latino churches often urge their congregants to vote after Sunday services—which won’t happen in Ohio unless the law is blocked, and may prove especially crucial in this swing state.

Pennsylvania Ruling Means Voter Education Campaign
A Pennsylvania judge rejected an injunction on Philadelphia’s voter ID law this week, which means that marginalized voters may find it impossible to cast their ballots on Election Day. One of the plaintiffs in the case, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, was finally able to obtain identification in order to vote—but only after Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation bent the rules for her.

Our community journalist James Cersonsky tells us that Pennsylvania’s NAACP, and other statewide Voter ID Coalition partners are organizing a massive voter education campaign, including clinics and door-to-door canvassing to educate voters on the new requirements to cast their ballots. That and more will be needed, as Pennsylvania dropped two online voter initiatives on the day of the judge’s ruling.

Restoring Milwaukee Licenses May Have Added Benefit
As the League of Young Voters notes, Milwaukee’s move to trim down the number of people on suspended driver’s licenses in order to support the state’s unemployed workers may have the added advantage of providing a voter ID. Although an injunction has barred Wisconsin’s voter ID law from taking hold, the state’s voters still face a threat to their right to vote in the future.

Making it Harder for a Growing Latino Population to Vote
A new report by News21 makes clear the connection that while the eligible Latino voter population keeps growing, so does the effort to make it harder to cast a ballot. Latino turnout is already low, but half of the states with the highest Latino populations have instituted some form of voter ID.

—Aura Bogado

What’s Ahead in the 'Voting Wars'? Certainly Not Peace

I spoke with Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, election law scholar, while ten Pennsylvania residents were arguing in court that the state’s new voter ID law will disenfranchise them and hundreds of thousands more. In that talk, Hasen said, “Pennsylvania looks like it really doesn’t have its act together, and if that law goes into place it could actually have a significant effect on turnout.” But neither of us really though that would happen, mostly because the hearing seemed to make Hasen’s point so clearly. Less than a week later, a Pennsylvania judge proved us wrong when he refused to block the law.

On Hasen’s election law blog, which is widely read by journalists and academics alike, he wrote that he was “surprised by the ruling.” To understand his bewilderment, you may want to pick up his recently released book, The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown, which details hyper-partisan battles around election reform over the past twelve years that have culminated in courtroom showdowns such as those in Pennsylvania and Texas.

In The Voting Wars, Hasen argues that parties involved in election reform issues fall into one of two camps: one focused on eliminating voter fraud, no matter how little of it exists, and the other focused on expanding voter access—the former occupied by conservatives and the latter by progressives. In our talk, we unpacked what that means along racial lines, specifically around purging, ACORN and the Voting Rights Act.

Before The Voting Wars you developed a reputation for pissing off both the left and right for issuing critiques on both sides of ballot reform issues. Are they equally at fault?

I think that Republicans have been more to blame in the period since 2000 than Democrats, although there is blame on the left, [such as] an exaggeration of the extent to which election changes made by Republicans are going to disenfranchise voters. So for example, there is no good reason to cut off early voting, but it’s not clear that it will negatively affect turnout. In fact, as Democrats publicize acts of what they characterize as voter suppression it actually increases turnout by getting people on the left fired up about voting. In the same way, I think much of this talk about voter fraud is about getting the [right’s] base excited and getting them to come out and vote.

In the book, you say there is a small problem in the nation with non-citizen voting. Explain.

There is some evidence of non-citizens who are registered to vote. There’s much less evidence that these non-citizens are actually voting, but there are occasional cases where it happens. This seems to happen mostly for two reasons: one, a person is on a path to citizenship and doesn’t realize that he or she is not yet eligible to vote. The second is when private parties go in and try to register people to vote and mislead them about whether or not they are allowed to register to vote. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence of non-citizens deliberately signing up to vote knowing that they are not eligible to vote, athough [John] Fund and [Hans] von Spakovsky in their new book [Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk] argue that people do this in order to get other government benefits, and I’d like to see proof of that.

I see this as a pretty transparent partisan attempt to clean the rolls even at the risk of removing the wrong people from the rolls. This is especially going to fall hard on legitimate Latino voters. So it should be done, but it should be done carefully, which is why I’ve called for a moratorium on purging now close to the election.

The Voting Wars is just the latest dismantling of a prevailing myth around ACORN-perpetuated voter fraud, which has been the right’s main weapon against voting rights. How does the right keep this myth alive?

They are a very convenient target, even though they don’t exist [any longer]. ACORN is a name that has resonance and tying current groups to ACORN is a way to try to sully their reputation. It’s important to realize that the main problem with ACORN is that [they] hired employees who falsified voter registration documents in order to get paid. I have yet to see a single case of a proven fraudulent ballot registration submitted by an ACORN employee leading to a fraudulently cast ballot. So Tony Romo, the quarterback, may have registered many times through false registrations submitted by ACORN employees, but you don’t see the false Tony Romos showing up on Election Day to vote.

Also popular on the right these days are claims that turnout from voters of color is boosted by voter ID laws, and also that people of color are most likely to be victims of voter fraud.

On the ID [increasing turnout] issue, the point is totally not proven. You cannot look at, for example, Georgia [turnout] in 2008 among minorities as being caused by Georgia’s voter ID law, as opposed to it being caused by the tremendous enthusiasm there was for Barack Obama’s candidacy. Turnout was up among minorities across the board. The best studies out there show that the voter ID laws in place have perhaps a modest negative effect on turnout, which skews against Democratic voters. In terms of minorities as the greatest victims of voter fraud, I’d point to [Loyola Law School professor] Justin Leavitt’s analysis, which debunks line-by-line and word-by-word the so-called study done by the National Center for Public Policy Research. It wasn’t a study at all, more an unsupported polemic.

The Voting Rights Act will likely be reviewed by the US Supreme Court this year. What’s the chances Chief Justice John Roberts will do for it what he did for affordable healthcare?

Some have suggested the reason Chief Justice Roberts voted the way he did in that case [on the Affordable Care Act] was to give him the political breathing room to be able to do things like strike down affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. I’m not at all optimistic.

This is an issue that Chief Justice Roberts has been interested in and excited about since the 1980s, when he was the Reagan administration’s point person on the expansion of the Voting Rights Act Section 2. if you read his opinions in the race area, this is something he cares strongly and passionately about. In the last case involving the Voting Rights Act constitutionality, his opinion specifically signaled to Congress that they better fix this law because otherwise we’re going to strike it down. Since then Congress has done nothing.

—Brentin Mock

WATCH: Video Chat on Voting Rights with Brentin Mock, Aura Bogado and Ari Berman

Editor's Note: Readers can replay the video chat below.

From the recently upheld voter ID law in Pennsylvania to purges of voter rolls in New Mexico to state challenges to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the last few years have seen a proliferation of state laws that threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters. Passed under the guise of combating the virtually nonexistent problem of voter fraud, the laws target poor people, people of color, the elderly and students, and threaten to roll back the clock on voting rights in ways not seen since before the civil rights era. Activists and voting rights advocates are fighting back, but what will the landscape look like this November and going forward? What is the future of the Voting Rights Act? And what effect would proposed reforms, such as a national id card, have on guaranteeing the right to vote for historically disenfranchised communities?

On Thursday, August 23rd at 12 PM EST readers are invited to join us for The Nation.com’s first ever live video chat. Organized in partnership with Colorlines.com as part of our Voting Rights Watch 2012 series, the chat will feature Nation reporters Brentin Mock, Aura Bogado and Ari Berman. All three have reported extensively on voting rights, including on the voter suppression group True the Vote, discrepancies in the numbers of ID-less residents cited by the state of Pennsylvania and efforts to end early voting in Ohio.  After a discussion amongst our panelists, we’ll invite you—our readers—to submit your best questions and comments.

Readers are encouraged to RSVP and sign up for a reminder email in the chat box below. While anyone can watch the chat, you will need to be signed into Spreecast, Twitter or Facebook to submit questions. We hope to see you on Thursday, August 23rd for a lively discussion!

In Wake of Voter ID Ruling, Pennsylvania Rep Pushes Myth of Voter Fraud

A judge in Pennsylvania has refused to block the state’s photo voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation. Civil rights groups had challenged the law, representing ten Pennsylvanians impacted by it, and brought dozens of witnesses who testified to their inability to get picture ID due to lacking primary documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.

But despite the fact that an untold number of Pennsylvania voters—most estimates range in the hundreds of thousands—lack ID, that the state’s own governor and secretary of state didn’t know the details of the law, a state legislator admitting the law would throw the election to Mitt Romney and testimony that thousands of African-Americans and Latinos would be unfairly burdened by the law, Judge Robert Simpson rejected many of the arguments made against it, particularly that it violated the state’s constitutional protection of the right to vote.

Said Judge Simpson:

The photo ID requirement of Act 18 is a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life. The Commonwealth’s asserted interest in protecting public confidence in elections is a relevant and legitimate state interest sufficiently weighty to justify the burden.

His ruling mirrored the ruling handed down by the US Supreme Court, which upheld Indiana’s voter ID law. The difference here, though, is that the Indiana case was argued on the premise that it violated the US Constitution, while the Pennsylvania case was about the state’s constitution.

Civil rights groups involved in the case say they are now considering appealing to the state’s supreme court, where it would have ended up no matter how the judge ruled, as the judge acknowledged on the opening day of the Pennsylvania hearing.

“Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law erects an unequal barrier to voting for hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, disproportionately blocking veterans, seniors, and people of color,” said Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis. “Because no citizen should be denied this basic American right or unfairly burdened to exercise it, the Advancement Project is taking immediate steps to appeal today’s court ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

“If other legislators across the country take this decision as a green light, still more citizens nationwide could have their votes obstructed this November,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project. “Today’s ruling not only hinders Pennsylvania citizens from participating in the electoral process; it undermines the most basic fabric of our democracy.”

Most striking is that the judge allowed for the law to continue even though the state was not able to produce evidence of any voter fraud occurring in Pennsylvania, which was the premise upon which Republican state legislators passed the law. Judge Simpson said in his opinion that the state’s lack of evidence of voter fraud didn’t matter because the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s law “despite the absence of any evidence of in-person voter fraud occurring in that state.” (For a great list of highlights from Judge Simpson’s rulings, read “thirteen key points on PA Court ruling upholding Voter ID law” from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Still, one person is convinced voter fraud is and has been a threat. Representative Mike Turzai, who notoriously stated that the voter ID law was going “to allow Governor Romney to win the state,” said in a response to Judge Simpson’s ruling: “It is unfortunate, but there has been a history of voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”

A recent Washington Post survey found that a majority of Americans believe that voter fraud exists, and that’s likely due to people in power making reckless statements like Turzai’s.

—Brentin Mock

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