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Voting Rights Watch

Voting Rights Watch

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

Fannie Lou Who? Why Voting Rights Still Matter

I'm poring over notes created the last few weeks on my laptop, in my notebook and on scraps of paper, in order to explain why this blog exists. In short, Voting Rights 2012 is a collaborative effort between Colorlines.com and The Nation, to report on voter suppression. But that doesn’t explain why this blog exists. Brentin Mock will be writing the bigger picture story, looking at broader national trends from voter ID to voter suppression. Meanwhile, I’ll be augmenting with more of the day-to-day developments, as well working with community journalists, who will be our eyes and ears, since our little team can’t be everywhere at once. Now that I have it down in a short paragraph, it sounds simple enough. But it hardly begins to answer why we’re really here, or why anyone should want to follow our work.

Many readers of The Nation, who follow electoral trends and possess a tendency towards protecting voting rights, might wonder why their coveted magazine (and, increasingly, their online go-to site for political analysis) felt the need to pair up with a site that focuses on racial justice. Meanwhile, some Colorlines.com readers, who may be disenchanted with politics four years after a historic election that resulted in fewer gains for people of color than many hoped for, might wonder why their favorite daily news site is concerned with voting rights—an issue that seemingly only affirms the establishment (as a dear friend recently posted on Facebook, “the Republicrats will win no matter what”). And then, there’s Brentin and I, pressed to write for two intelligent yet not always overlapping audiences, and convince both that what we’re reporting is relevant.

Over the last few years, the narrative about voting rights has drastically changed. We know that the history of who can and cannot vote in the United States is fraught with discrimination against women, the poor and people of color. Some fifty years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer decided to risk her livelihood (to whatever extent sharecropping can be considered a livelihood) and her very life to fight against voter suppression. It was people like Hamer who saw the transformative possibilities attached in simply exercising one’s right to register to vote, and this is what eventually helped secure the Voting Rights Act.

For some readers, the reminder that radical black folks have jeopardized their lives so that future generations could fully participate in this nation’s democracy is a fact that should be celebrated and honored—and these posts will serve as a reminder that, by and large, voter suppression still largely targets people of color. For others, who might feel a detachment with establishment politics, we’ve taken this project on in order to help generate what we feel should be a natural concern for social justice activists.

We’re attentive not only to legislation and bullying tactics that confront people of color, but other communities who are often left out of the analysis. When we read about the Latino vote, we often read about immigration and deportation—but what about those immigrants who are now naturalized citizens? In Florida, immigrant voters have filed suit to protect their right to vote after being made to show proof of citizenship, yet were not provided with any written guarantee that they would be eligible to participate in the upcoming election. As in previous elections, we’ve also read that women may decide the next election, yet working women may soon realize they won’t have the time to jump through all the necessary hoops in order to vote. And although we don’t often read about transgender people in relation to the presidential election, more than 25,000 of them may lose their right to vote—more than a quarter of those live in battleground states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This is what voter suppression looks like in 2012: yes, it still targets black and poor voters, but it’s also an immigrant, gender and transgender rights issue.

While the Voting Rights Act was crafted to guarantee rights on a national level, we’ve found that the attacks against voting rights are numerous and decentralized, designed to keep activists on the defensive. We felt we wanted to provide these watchdogs an offensive outlet. For that reason, we’ll soon be joined by a team of community journalists who will tip us to and report about mechanisms of harassment that we might otherwise miss. We feel this kind of crowdsourcing will help explain the smaller details that make up the grander scale of voter suppression.

The fact that a person’s race, class and gender may still determine whether they will be targeted for voter suppression should remind us that the collective power of the vote is still a threat. By identifying potential voter suppression threats, we hope to engage people to think about why—nearly fifty years after the Voting Rights Act—some folks are still deemed ineligible to cast a ballot. If their right to go to the polls is honored in November, these marginalized voters may decide what the next administration looks like. In the past few decades, the concern over voting rights was whether someone had access to the voting booth; today, in an increasing number is states, it’s whether someone has a very specific form of identification in order to get past the poll worker. This project contends that it’s time to seriously consider how and why this conceptual shift has occurred, and to spark discussions about how to move forward in a new century.

We do hope you’ll join us.

—Aura Bogado

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Places Expiration Date on Democracy

Back in April, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele visited the editorial board of the Erie Times-News newspaper to speak with them about the new photo voter ID bill Governor Tom Corbett had just signed into law. The bill is supposed to fight or prevent voter fraud, but as with every other state that has passed voter ID laws, this fraud is mostly a boogeyman that seems to only haunt Republicans in their dreams (Check this Rolling Stone slideshow for an excellent ride through voter fraud myth debunkment).

Aichele’s Erie visit was part of a state tour to educate voters about what they’d need for compliance with law and for the ability to exercise their right to vote. One of the IDs acceptable for voting is a state employee photo identification card. However, the law also says that IDs must have a current expiration date for voter eligibility, and the state employee cards do not. Aichele seemed to overlook this paradox in her education drive.

“Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele showed her state photo ID, which is not acceptable for voting because it doesn’t have an expiration date,” wrote the editorial board after she showed hers to them. It must have been humiliating for the secretary who was promoting the new law to find that her own example didn’t hold muster. It’s bad enough mandating that voters have ID cards, but to add the additional restriction that the ID needs an expiration date makes it even more obtrusive. The editorial says that 10 percent of Pennsylvanians, or 88,000, do not have a valid photo ID—though that number is contested and is thought to be much larger.

I wonder what the Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin would have thought of this law. Back in his day, the requirement for voting was that a (white) man own property as opposed to ID (or is an identification card considered property?), which Franklin thought was foolish. In his tract “Flowers of Literature, Wit and Sentiment,” he tells the story of a man who owns a jackass and hence is entitled to vote. But the jackass dies. Meanwhile, even though the man has become more educated about government he can no longer vote because his property, the jackass, is gone. “Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?” asked Franklin.

I won’t say that Aichele made a jackass out of her ID card when she showed it to the editorial board. But the lawmakers and the governor who made this law are allowing democracy to expire every time a voter ID card is required or rejected. Even in offering Pennsylvanians free voter ID cards, it’s still a measure that places the right to vote in a plastic card rather than in the citizen.

Acknowledging the burden this law places on voters who lack ID or the means and documents to easily get one, Aichele introduced a new initiative that allows voters who don’t have their birth certificate to submit certain information to the state’s health department for verifying voter eligibility and granting them ID. The program is only for Pennsylvania natives, so if you were born in another state, tough luck. Many older African-Americans migrated to Pennsylvania from the South, where many likely were born without the benefit of a hospital that kept their birth record.

Take the example of Henrietta Kay Dickerson, 75, of Pittsburgh, a black woman who was born in Louisiana. She came to Pennsylvania as an infant and grew up her whole life in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the historical black neighborhood immortalized in the plays of August Wilson. In May last year her state ID expired. She went to the state’s department of transportation where she was refused a free voter ID card, even after she paid the $13.50 fee, according to her account in the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project against the state, which says the law violates voting rights granted by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The state’s new initiative with the health department doesn’t seem to address the fundamental problem with the law. The Philadelphia Inquirer calls the initiative a “pig in lipstick.” That paper’s editorial board wrote:

It doesn’t much matter that the state is loosening the guidelines for getting the proper papers, or that the state Department of Transportation is promising to process nondriver IDs in only 10 days, rather than the months-long wait seen in some cases. The fact remains that voter-ID rules target the fundamental rights of young, minority, and elderly residents, especially in urban areas like Philadelphia, where—surprise, surprise—Democrats expect to pull millions of votes for President Obama in the fall.


It “still is a case of misplaced priorities,” says Khari Mosley, a political strategist in Pittsburgh. “Considerable education efforts must continue due to further potential confusion and people will still need to be cajoled to the DMV.”

If you don’t know about Pennsylvania’s DMV—called PennDot—I can testify as someone who was born in the state, got my driver’s license there and lived there most of my life that those offices rank up there with prison in terms of the last places anyone wants to go. The hours-long waiting periods can often actually feel like jail. When the transportation department’s secretary Barry Schoch wrote in a newspaper that his offices were ready to receive Pennsylvanians needing ID, he got peppered with response letters that basically said, “Yeah, right.”

Donald Cooper visited a Penn DOT office and ” the workers didn’t know which ID they were making me,” he wrote in the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “I thought the voter ID was free, but I was charged $13.50. Can I send Mr. Schoch the bill?”

Someone must not mind the madness, though. The two-thirds of voters who support the voter ID law probably already have ID and have no worries about their ID expiring before the November election. Which means there may be about a third of the state who at least have questions about how this law will affect them and their fellow Pennsylvanians. It also means that the ACLU and the Advancement Project have a tough battle ahead. And when some of the most racist voters in America live in western Pennsylvania, there will be even less sympathy for voting rights.

The stakes are high for Pennsylvania, which is a perennial battleground state, and which has a long history of disenfranchising voters, particularly black students. Like the state employee IDs, many state college IDs have no expiration date. Some colleges are paying to add expiration date stickers to college IDs so they can comply. Of course, stickers can be manipulated, taken off, swapped off and corrupted. This would seem to invite the voter fraud that the voter ID law professes to solve. If that becomes the case, then who becomes the jackass?


DOJ Adds to Pile of Lawsuits Over Florida’s Voter Purge

The already nightmarish condition of Florida’s purge of immigrant voters has attracted a slew of lawsuits. The first of those, filed Friday, comes from two U.S. citizens from Hillsborough County and a Latino civic participation group that claim their voting rights have been violated. The purge has drawn national controversy, sparked a federal civil rights probe, the citizens’ suit, and now suits between Florida and the feds.

The Department of Justice issued Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner a letter indicating the initiation of suit against Florida in federal court, citing the state is in violation of two federal voting rights laws. The suit follows the fed’s inquiry into the voter purge, which has questioned the rights of eligible U.S. citizens to vote.

According to the citizen’s suit, Murat Limage, who was born in Haiti, became a U.S. citizen and subsequently registered to vote in 2010, received a letter in April informing him that he was on a newly compiled list of voters suspected of not being citizens. Limage was told that if he failed to present proof of citizenship within 30 days, his name could be removed from the rolls, making him ineligible to cast his ballot.

Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles first issued Limage a driver’s license in 1999. When Limage updated it in 2008, the department noted that he was not a U.S. citizen at the time. These are the records the state is using find the non-citizen voters that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has insisted are a threat to Florida’s fair elections. But the scheme doesn’t account for those U.S. citizens who, like Limage, were naturalized after they received or updated their driver’s licenses.

After receiving the daunting letter, Limage took the time to provide proof of his citizenship at the Hillsborough County Elections and Registration Office. An official made a copy of Limage’s passport yet told him he wouldn’t be provided with any confirmation in writing that he had, in fact, proven his citizenship—and was therefore eligible to vote. Limage remains rightfully worried that he won’t be able to vote in this fall’s election, because the only document he has in writing is the one that questions his citizenship.

Because word of Florida’s voter purge is spreading like wildfire, it’s also causing anxiety for those U.S. citizens who have not yet received a letter from elections supervisors, but are concerned that they will — or those who believe they won’t get a letter but will be told they are ineligible once they arrive at the polls on Election Day.

One of such person is Pamela Gomez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and is part of the citizens’ suit. The suit claims that Gomez, who like Limage, was issued her driver’s license before she became a naturalized citizen, has had her voter rights violated. Gomez expects her eligibility as a voter will be contested as a result of Secretary of State Detzner’s cross-referencing scheme to target supposed non-citizens.

The citizens’ lawsuit is backed by the ACLU and other groups that sent Detzner a letter on June 1, warning that the voter purge was taking place in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (and, not surprisingly, was ignored). The suit asserts that the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund has also had its rights violated.

The organization, a non-profit that conducts voter registration for recently naturalized citizens in Florida (as well as other states), claims that the voter purge will derail its mission. Mi Familia Vota (Spanish for “My Family Votes”) fears its already restricted resources will be diverted from registering voters to helping them deal with ill informed election supervisor requests. If organizations like Mi Familia Vota are caught up helping U.S. citizens prove their right to vote, their efforts to register minority voters will, of course, be thwarted.

Election supervisors all 67 Florida counties have already suspended the voter purge, including Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Earl Lennard, who has admitted that the list includes eligible citizens (Murat Limage, for example). Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s voter purge, which has already yielded more than 2,600 names, now faces legal challenges from the citizen’s suit, as well as another suit initiated by the Department of Justice yesterday. But Detzner is still defending the purge—and announced that Florida will be suing the fed as well.

The Bizarre and Confusing Standoff Between Florida and DOJ Over Voter Purging

The state of Florida is defying orders from the federal government to cease a voter purging program it says it’s not conducting. Topping that, the state is seeking access to a federal database it already has access to. Still worse, Florida is saying that the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act actually denies people their right to vote. A love bizarre.

The confusion began when Governor Rick Scott’s administration introduced a program to the public last month that purports to identify “non-citizens” who might be registered to vote. Last week, the Department of Justice asked Governor Scott’s Secretary of State Kent Detzner to stop the program because it appears to violate federal civil rights and voter registration laws and because dozens of citizens eligible to vote kept turning up on the state’s “non-citizen” list. Scott and Detzner responded yesterday that they weren’t stopping anything, and that it’s the federal government who is violating laws by not granting Florida access to an immigration database so they can find more “non-citizens.”

The standoff has been all heat and no light around a poorly designed and poorly timed voter-purging scheme. Meanwhile, the votes of thousands of Floridian US citizens are threatened because of a pure hunch from Governor Scott that aliens might be voting.

The whole mess started last month, or at least that’s when Detzner announced a “new Initiative to remove non-citizens from Florida voter rolls.” But the real genesis for the program was early 2011, right after Governor Scott took office, when he had a side chat with his then–State Secretary Kurt Browning about “non-citizens” voting. Neither the governor nor Browning had any evidence of this actually being a problem, but Browning told Scott it was an issue anyway. So started a review of the state’s voter registration lists by state election officials.

So when did the program actually start? Well, it depends on who’s asking the question. A FAQ from Governor Scott’s website, posted yesterday, reads, “The process to remove non-US citizens from Florida’s voter database actually began in Spring 2011.” It wasn’t publicized until May 9, though, which is when the state sent out letters to county supervisors of elections, who were directed to forward the letters to about 2,600 people the state suspected were “non-citizens.”

It’s safer to say the program began when the county supervisors received the letters, which was mid-May, because that started the clock on a thirty-day deadline for the letters’ recipients to turn themselves in and prove their citizenship so that they wouldn’t be purged. Those 2,600 names came from a list of 182,000 people created by the Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). This process apparently did begin early last year when DHSMV used its database of Floridian driver’s license holders to find names of people who were not full citizens when they received their state ID.

According to Detzner’s May 9 announcement, the new program was “already proving to be successful” because of the information sent on the 2,600 “potential non-citizens” to elections supervisors “for review and, if warranted, removal from Florida’s voter rolls.”

The problem with this, though, is that DHSMV’s list includes plenty of people who’ve earned citizenship since obtaining their driver’s licenses. I asked DHSMV how many years back it searched to come up with their names. Did they just search people who got their license last year? Or did they check back to 2010? Or 2008? 2000? DHSMV spokesperson Courtney Heildelberg told me their list consisted of anyone in the system who ever received an ID at anytime in history when not a citizen. Their information is “only as good as a person’s last visit to the [DHSMV] office,” said Heidelberg, even if that last visit was five, 10 or 20 years ago.

This list has existed since last year, when Kurt Browning was still DOS secretary. He never released the list, though, because he had no confidence in it. Browning stepped down in January, and Detzner was appointed his replacement. Lacking the same judgment and caution of Browning, who is no stranger to voter purging schemes, Detzner plowed forward with the program.

County elections supervisors have refused to send out the letters, much to the chagrin of Florida Republicans, citing the problematic methodology of how DOS arrived at the names. Some supervisors checked the names themselves and found few reasons to believe the names were for non-citizens. As discovered by Think Progress and other media outlets, many of the people who were sent letters were in fact citizens, which threw the whole program into question.


Florida supervisors of elections had a conference in May where they expressly asked state officials if a non-response to the letters mandated a purge, and were told no.

In response to DOJ’s red-light warning on the voter-purge program, Governor Scott said state officials don’t do purges anyway. From Scott’s FAQ: “Florida’s Department of State isn’t removing anyone from the voter registration rolls. Only independent elections supervisors in each county may remove voters from the voter rolls.” So if the county supervisors aren’t implementing the program, the DOJ officials want the program stopped, and the state is denying that it wields the axe anyway, what’s the point?

DOS claims it’s been trying to access the federal Department of Homeland Security’s immigration lists to verify its “non-citizen” info but has been rebuffed. A letter that DOS sent to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on May 31 reads:

As you may be aware, my department has received credible and reliable information from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) indicating non-citizens may be registered to vote in Florida. While processing this new information, it became clear that our department’s ability to validate a person’s legal status as up-to-date was limited. To the best of our knowledge, the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program has the information we need, and by federal law, we are entitled to request and receive legal status information from the federal government. [Emphasis added]

More confusion: first Florida says it has “credible and reliable information,” but a sentence later it “became clear that” its information “was limited.” DOS then writes that “after nine months of requests, we have not been granted access to” the SAVE database nor “any other available DHS database.” But in a presentation DOS gave at the county elections supervisors conference last month it admitted using DHS’s Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) database to cross-check its non-citizen list. The department admitted the same in its May 9 press release. The ICE database is a DHS database.

For some reason, the Scott administration has been hellbent on accessing DHS’s SAVE database, which only lists names of immigrants eligible to receive federal public benefits (food stamps, housing assistance, etc.). Yesterday, Detzner sent a scathing letter responding to DOJ’s cease request, much of it accusing the federal department of stonewalling Florida’s request to access the SAVE list. Here’s a thread of e-mails between Florida’s state department and DHS. Detzner believes SAVE is the only database that can save the voter removal program and argues that a state agency can request access to it for voter registration verification purposes. A small line in this federal registry concerning SAVE usage appears to confirm Detzner’s argument.

But how about the fact that the state already has access to the database, through the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles—the agency that created the first list of 182,000?

It was just last week that Detzner’s spokesman Chris Cate described to me another new program that DOS was working on with DHSMV to check the non-citizen voter rolls against the SAVE database, at a cost of about fifty cents per name. Why have they been beating down DHS’s door for databases they already have access to? When I asked Cate this, he told me he needed another day to gather more information. The May 31 letter from Florida’s DOS to DHS Secretary Napolitano provided a partial explanation:

Our state partner, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), has access to the SAVE database and explored the possibility of using SAVE to update their information about the potential non-citizens, which would have given us the confirmation we need to identify ineligible voters. However, the agreement between your agency and DHSMV does not allow DHSMV to continually update their records, leaving my department, again, without a means to obtain directly or indirectly the information we need and are entitled to receive. [Emphasis added]

When I spoke with Cate earlier this week, he said that DHSMV was not authorized to use the SAVE database to update their non-citizen voter rolls on a constant basis. Still confused, I contacted DHS to flat-out ask if the department denied Florida’s DOS access to the its databases (which DOS appears already to have access to). DHS had no comment and referred me to the Department of Justice’s letter stating that the entire Florida voter-removal program may be in violation of the National Voter Registration Act because it falls within ninety days of an election.

Detzner responded to that letter by telling DOJ, No, actually it’s you who is violating the law. In probably the most confusing aspect of this whole narrative, Detzner wrote to DOJ:

If the effect of the NVRA is to force a state to allow never-eligible non-citizens the opportunity to vote, then the statute might violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which guarantees that the right to vote cannot be denied by a dilution of the weight of a citizen’s vote. If DOJ applies the NVRA in this manner, then presumably eligible voters in Florida have the right to bring a lawsuit in federal court to test whether their votes are being unconstitutionally denied by the federal government.

What? So Detzner wants DOJ to stop enforcing the law that forbids Detzner from carrying out a voter-removal program that Governor Scott says DOS can’t do. The Department of State can’t do it because only county supervisors of elections can remove voters, and they’ve said they won’t comply with the program. But Scott and Detzner say they still need access to federal databases that they can already access to verify information that is already “reliable.” …But it’s against the Fourteenth Amendment to stop Scott and Detzner from conducting this program that they can’t conduct because it could mean that all voters are denied the right to vote.

How about Scott and Detzner make it simple for everyone and just close the program?

Young and Black Voters Turn Out in Wisconsin Despite Suppression Efforts

A citizen takes to the poll to cast her vote in the recall election against Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 5, 2012. Reuters/Darren Hauck

It may not feel like there’s anything positive to make out of the unsuccessful bid to recall Governor Scott Walker in yesterday’s Wisconsin elections, but there were hints of optimism. Young voters and African-American voters did more than their part to show up, according to exit polls and early reports, despite significant efforts to confuse and challenge them from groups that profess to be fighting voter fraud.

In Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s seven-point loss to Walker, voters aged 18–29 increased their slice of the electorate from 15 percent in 2010 to 16 percent yesterday. Black voters came out mob-deep. John Nichols, who’s been covering Wisconsin inside-out for The Nation, reported, “Turnout was up dramatically, so much so that on election day election clerks had to be shifted to predominantly African-American wards.”

This was mainly true in Racine and Milwaukee, where young people and people of color have seen enough murder and lack of educational and economic opportunity to drive them to the polls, recall or not.

“We had several hundred youth out there showing that they are invested in their future, that they do understand the politics of today and that if folks are willing to listen to us we can help create meaningful change,” said the deputy director of the League of Young Voters, Carey Jenkins, who simply goes by “C.J.” He noted that in the last six weeks, League youth knocked on over 110,000 doors. “It felt like 2008 all over again.” A Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel graph shows the shift in youth votes between 2010 and 2012:

(From the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel online)

It wasn’t enough to carry the whole state, which mostly went to Walker. One takeaway from this election, though, is that massive grassroots organizing is no longer the exclusive domain of Democrats and their civil rights and labor allies. The right wing has found ways to go mob-deep in its own way, as evidenced by the presence of the Tea Party group True the Vote, a group that wants their “poll observer” activities to make voters feel like the police are following them.

True the Vote traveled all the way from Texas for this Wisconsin bout, stringing along hundreds if not thousands of poll observers from around the country. It’s worth examining how close they are working with the Republican Party.

By about 2 pm, Carolyn Castore, who coordinated an initiative between Wisconsin Election Protection and the state’s League of Women Voters to field voter complaints, said she’d taken about 140 calls, mostly from college students who were challenged on their right to vote. Many of those students were challenged by True the Vote poll watchers, said Castore. (True the Vote mocked those students on Twitter).

College students were hampered by a new voter residency requirement that says a citizen must live in one location for twenty-eight days in order to register to vote. Before the 2011 law went into effect, the requirement was only ten days. Many students graduated in mid-May, went home from campuses to live with their families and thus were affected by the twenty-eight-day rule.

Also, a photo voter ID bill that passed this year, but was blocked by two judges, was not supposed to be in effect. But students complained about being challenged on ID grounds anyway.

All of that was bad enough, but then there were reports of robo-calls to voters’ phones telling them that if they signed the recall petition they didn’t have to vote, which was totally false information. Reid Magney, spokesman for the state’s Government Accountability Board said they received “a significant number” of complaints about these robo-calls, despite numerous media reports that “no big problems” were occurring during elections. State Senator Lena C. Taylor has asked the GAB to launch an investigation into the mysterious calls.

Walker’s campaign denied having anything to do with the calls. Meanwhile, though, the Republican Party was having plenty of fun using iPhone and Facebook technology to keep Walker in office. Before yesterday’s election, the Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who hails from Wisconsin, swore that voter fraud was rampant in his home state. Governor Walker echoed such sentiments, despite there being only twenty-seven charges and convictions of fraud since 2004.

But after Walker’s win, Priebus unveiled a memo telling how they achieved victory:

We spearheaded a joint effort with neighboring states to drive grassroots supporters to Wisconsin, and we mobilized volunteers from across the country to get involved through our innovative online Social Victory Center and phone-from-home program. In the process, more than 3,400 Wisconsin volunteers have signed up to help the party. And the data collected by door-to-door volunteers for Governor Walker was all promptly added to the RNC’s data center, thanks to the use of iPads, iPhones, and iPods.

I’m not sure how you collect data with iPods, but the Social Victory Center is a GOP-created Facebook app that can send up to ten automatic messages from the Republican Party, from your cellphone. There’s no proof that Republicans used this app to spread misinformation in this election. But what their volunteer networks were up to yesterday, and what they’ll do through November will be worth watching.

Priebus’s “joint effort” with other states and “mobilized volunteers” sounds a lot like an effort deployed by True the Vote, who sent this message the day before the election:

True the Vote, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit grassroots organization focused on preserving election integrity, has joined forces with citizens from Wisconsin and around the country in an unprecedented effort, banding together to recruit, train, and mobilize Election Observers for Wisconsin’s June 5 Recall Election.

True the Vote will also sponsor command centers in key areas across Wisconsin to provide support for Election Observers on Tuesday, June 5.

Hopefully, protecting “election integrity” didn’t mean harrassing student voters. But Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Benjamin Sparks bragged that they made contact with 3.5 million voters, “the largest grassroots campaign Republicans have ever had in the state.”

It makes the League of Young Voters’ 110,000 number sound like chump change. That’s not to diminish the hard work the league did, going into Milwaukee neighborhoods to convince people who’ve been hardened by a brutal economy to register to vote. League canvassers were up at dawn, says C.J., knocking on doors, windows and air conditioners to engage urban folks, who are often the most distrustful of government, for understandable reasons. But the league doesn’t have the resources of the Republican Party and the Walker campaign, which spent almost $64 million on this election—$3 of every $5 coming from outside of Wisconsin.

So the Democrats were outspent, but it also sounds like they may not have made the most strategic use of the money they had. As Representative Gwen Moore of Milwaukee told John Nichols in The Nation, “You can’t spend all your money on television. You’ve got to spend it on the ground. That’s the most important thing to take away from Wisconsin.”

The league takes youth from the most violent and impoverished neighborhoods and gets them politically engaged. “You have young people knocking on doors in violent neighborhoods asking people to vote, and that needs to be invested in because these kids are risking their lives to make change.” Hopefully someone will take notice, while Republicans continue to invest in their version of change.


Federal Judge Overturns Draconian Voter Registration Rules in Florida

Florida scored a second big victory yesterday (here’s the first one) in federal judge Robert Hinkle’s decision to strike the forty-eight-hour deadline rule for groups handing in voter registration applications. Before Florida’s HB 1355 law was passed last year, completed registration applications could be turned in within ten days, allowing for those staging voter registration drives to do quality control checks to make sure forms were filled out accurately. But under HB 1355, a person wishing to register voters has to first register with the state to obtain an identification number—a provision left untouched by the judges ruling—and then had to turn in voter registration forms in literally forty-right hours after the minute it was signed. That last part is no joke—each voter registration form has to have the third-party registration organization’s state-issued ID number, date, hour and minute of form completion on it. If the form is handed in after the forty-eight-hour window, the registrar could face penalties, in some cases up to $1,000, even if the forms came late because of a natural disaster or car accident or got lost in the mail.

Judge Hinkle called this part of the law “unworkable” and “burdensome” on those practicing their constitutional right to register people to vote. Despite all of the entanglements that came with Florida’s law, the chairman of Florida’s Republican Party Lenny Curry couldn’t see what was wrong with it to begin with. According to news reports, he was disappointed with the judge’s ruling. When I spoke with him earlier this week, days before the ruling, to discuss the prickly details of Florida’s new voter registration rules, and why it may deter some, he said that registering voters in the state was actually “easy.” But the number of states with as many voter registration requirements to comply with: zero.

“It’s not something that’s not easy to comply with,” Curry told me, clearly comfortable with double negatives. “It is very easy to comply with. When groups are registering people to vote, it’s just good controls, you have to have good internal controls in place.”

When asked about the concern that having such a short window would make for less time to do quality-control checks, Curry said: “They ought to get it right on the front end. If you’re going to register voters and make sure that it is United States citizens who are the ones who actually have been registering to vote, you have to invest the time up front. This is how the real world works, how the private sector works and this is how government should work. The real world works on tight deadlines, and we should expect the same in government and on the right to vote.”

Judge Hinkle doesn’t seem to agree with this logic. He wrote in his ruling: “If ‘closed at the end of the 48-hour period’ is what the statute means, it still imposes an onerous, perhaps virtually impossible burden, at least in some instances. If a voter-registration organization collects a voter-registration application at 8:03 a.m. on Saturday and the appropriate voter-registration office is closed for the weekend, reopening at 8:00 a.m. on Monday, must the organization deliver the application to the voter-registration office between 8:00 a.m. and 8:03 a.m. on Monday? If the goal is to discourage voter-registration drives and thus also to make it harder for new voters to register, this may work. Otherwise there is little reason for such a requirement.”

It must be noted that if discouragement is the goal, then it has been working. The New York Times has reported that over 80,000 fewer Floridians have registered to vote as of May 2012 than during the same period before the 2008 elections. Meanwhile, the Brennan Center for Justice reports that black and Latino Floridians are more than twice as likely to register to vote through community-based voter registration drives than white voters, who tend to vote more by absentee ballot. Conservatives claim that these laws are needed to weed out voter fraud, but the ACLU in Florida shows that there more instances of shark attacks than there are fraudulent voting. Politi-Fact backed that up finding only forty-nine investigations—not even convictions—of fraud since 2008.

On top of striking the fo-hour window, the ruling also lifts requirements that anyone who’d be considered a “registration agent”—any employee or volunteer who randomly might stumble upon an occasion to help a group register people to vote—sign a form stating that if they didn’t comply with the law they’d be charged and penalized as a felon.

“This is not the law; the form is just wrong,” said Judge Hinkle in his ruling. “Requiring a volunteer not only to sign such a statement, but to swear to it, could have no purpose other than to discourage voluntary participation in legitimate, indeed constitutionally protected, activities. This is especially true for a person who merely hands out flyers; why must that person be warned of a possible felony prosecution?”

The judge also struck a provision mandating that any third-party voter registration organization keep an accounting of every voter registration form in their possession through monthly reports to the state. Said Judge Hinkle, “Requiring a voter-registration organization to count the applications it gives out and gets back from employees or volunteers and to file monthly reports on this imposes a burden for no legitimate reason.”

Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida and Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, both said they were eager to get back to work now, but that they needed to parse through the judge’s ruling some more with Brennan Center attorneys to make sure they knew with certainty what they would and would not be able to do moving forward. Florida’s HB 1355 voter law is a 158-page bill with thousands of lines outlining dozens if not hundreds of rules for how voting practices must be conducted.

Said Smith after the ruling, commenting that before this they had to stop a program that registered high school students to vote: “Our mission is to register voters. We are anxious to get back out there to do that.”

Before this ruling, Macnab told Al Sharpton, “These new laws frighten people from registering voters.” But after yesterday’s ruling she said, “We are so delighted and relieved with today’s court decision.”

Judge Hinkle stressed the urgency of now in terms of lifting the law, stating in his ruling that “when a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever…. Allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.”

This isn’t the last word. The state has thirty days to appeal, and there will be a hearing June 15 to determine how the case against Florida’s voter registration law will move forward.

DOJ Purges Florida’s Voter Purging Initiative

Democracy scored a split decision in Florida yesterday when US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle granted a preliminary injunction against key parts of Florida's HB 1355 law, a law passed last year that curtailed voter registration activities so much that civic organizations such as League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote suspended registration operations. Thanks to Hinkle's ruling, the mandate that all third-party registration organizations hand over voter registration applications to county election supervisors within forty-eight hours of completion has been lifted.

Another victory came the same day when the Department of Justice intervened in the great Florida voter purging controversy, which involved "a new initiative" by the Secretary of State of compiling a list of people the office suspects are "non-citizens" who might attempt to vote. DOJ said yesterday that the state must submit that initiative to them for approval as it may discriminate against voters based on race, ethnicity or language spoken, i.e. those who don't speak English. DOJ also told Florida that the initiative might violate the National Voting Rights Act, which prohibits changes in voting practices within ninety days of an election.

The Advancement Project sent a letter to DOJ last week urging that they immediately take steps to stop the purges. "We commend the attorney general of the United States Eric Holder for ensuring that the right to vote, the fundamental pillar of our democracy is protected for all American citizens," stated Advancement Project Co-director Penda Hair.

Added co-director Judith Browne Dianis, "We know Florida's shameful record of purging minorities off of the voter rolls as they did in 2000 and 2004 with flawed lists of people convicted of felonies that disenfranchised tens of thousands of mostly African American registered and eligible voters. It is essential for the integrity of our elections process that we stop the disenfranchisement from occurring again and not allow the state of Florida to stand in the way of legitimate voters trying to exercise their basic democratic rights."

A huge problem with the voter purging initiative is that the secretary of state's office has no way of accurately verifying whether the people on their list are actual "non-citizens" or not. They compiled a list of roughly 182,000 Floridians who applied for driver's licenses when they lacked full citizenship. You can obtain a driver's license while in the state under temporary visa situations. The state office applied that list against voter rolls to find about 2,600 names of people they suspected might attempt to vote as "non-citizens." The problem with that is those people could have earned full citizenship since applying for their drivers license and the state has no way of verifying that. Instead, the state sent out letters via supervisors of elections in various counties asking those 2,600 people to report within ninety days with proof of citizenship or face purging.

"I can't figure out the methodology they are using—were they just skimming, were they targeting, were they using racial or partisan profiles?" asked elections expert Daniel Smith of the University of Florida in a phone conversation. "The fact of the matter is they should do [citizenship verification] at the point when people are registering to vote, not ninety days before an election, which is in violation of the 1993 Motor Voter Act, which says you're not supposed to do any systematic purging ninety days before an election."

Some county election supervisors have refused to send out the letters until the state secretary gets their methodology straight, while other election supervisors will not participate in purging, even if people on the state's list don't respond to the letters within thirty days.

"A non-response in Leon County alone will not remove one from the rolls," said elections supervisor Ion Sancho of his county, who told me that at a supervisors of elections conference held last month it was determined that the state's "non-citizen" system was faulty. "We don't have heads around the accuracy of the state's database, so at [the conference] we ascertained that a non-response by a voter is not evidence of non-citizenship."

James O’Keefe Scams Voter Fraud and Voter ID Laws Into Existence

I told myself I wasn’t going to write about James O’Keefe, mostly because his sophomoric pranks are mostly for the net effect of making his pockets fat. He has his hands out, and I’m not trying to help him get paid. I no more want to discuss voting by reference of O’Keefe than I want to write about Middle East affairs by reference of Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator.

But his influence on voting rights opponents and legislators alike is particularly jarring. When you hear activists and state senators say we need voter ID laws because of voter fraud, instead of citing data, or even anecdotes, lately they’ve been citing O’Keefe. When I was in Houston at the True the Vote conference I was hardly surprised when the audience erupted in applause as O’Keefe took the podium. You would’ve thought Tim Tebow entered the room. And sure enough, he presented one of his “Project Veritas” videos of himself telling unsuspecting poll workers in Minnesota that he wanted to register “Timothy Tebow” to vote before given a stack of voter registration applications.


See? There is how fraud happens, O’Keefe told the crowd. What was surprising was that no one dared to speak up that no fraud had actually happened. What was O’Keefe’s point in showing this? Yes, it’s true. Someone can fill out a registration card with a fictitious name and address. It’s also true that election officials will verify that the person on the registration card exists, and toss those that don’t. Before that happens, if the person or party handling the registration cards finds something fishy—a dubious name or sketchy address—they’ll often report it to election officials themselves if they don’t discard it, as what ACORN did, contrary to popular opinion. But no crime has been committed, and photo voter ID laws wouldn’t prevent such registration problems anyway.

But O’Keefe isn’t looking for veritas or accuracy—he just needs the perception that something fishy is going on so that he can direct you to his page and have you contribute to his fairy tale fund. That’s how hustles work. Right now, on his website he invites people to fork over the dollars because “Our work in North Carolina as draining on our staff and funds—but we produced jaw-droppiong [sic] results once again!”

Here’s the jaw-dropping results: a Veritas actor assumed the name of a man, Michael Bolton, who died two weeks before North Carolina’s May 8 primary. O’Keefe’s actor went to Bolton’s polling place and attempted to fill out the dead man’s ballot. The poll worker asked the actor if he was Michael Bolton Jr., the deceased’s son, to which the actor responded affirmatively, but O’Keefe edits this part out. Instead, he presents the video as if his actor voted on behalf of a dead person, even though the actor never actually filled out the ballot.

This jaw-dropper left the Bolton family still grieving, and now fuming. The elections board is now investigating O’Keefe and Gary Bartlett, executive director of the board of elections, says the stunt may be a felony. You’d think a person who upset a mourning family would be apologetic. Not O’Keefe. His response to Bartlett: “Our elections process does rely upon honesty and transparency so investigations into whether our elections are being conducted properly can’t be harmful to the process—particularly ones that expose ballots being offered in the name of the dead or registered voters who refused jury service because they identified themselves as non-citizens.”

The “non-citizens” reference is to two individuals in the video they claim were non-citizens who voted, but Bartlett found those allegations false also. For those, O’Keefe wrote:

However, while our facts were correct in the report, the perception presented in the investigation—which highlighted the ease in which voter fraud can be committed—deserves correction in regards to the citizenship status of Mr. Romero and Mr. Gorzkowski.

But his facts weren’t correct. And the false “perception” he admitted deserved correction left the Bolton family’s mother with the conclusion that voter ID laws are needed so more people like O’Keefe won’t pull pranks. That’s the formula: manufacture fraud, hoodwink election officials and the electorate with it, and then exploit the resulting confusion as “proof” why voter ID is needed.

Bartlett told the News & Observer, “Election laws are based on honesty and self-policing, and when someone falsely brings validity of the process into question, that hurts the public’s confidence in the process.” It’s a con of the worst kind: intentionally molesting a person’s confidence, and then leaving them to feel ashamed because they think either they invited the molestation or weren’t smart enough to fend it off.

Such tactics, though, have infected legislators in New Hampshire, where an odious voter ID bill has passed the legislature propelled by voter fraud beliefs. O’Keefe, who produced a deceiving video there, took credit for that at True the Vote. Republicans in Congress have demanded Attorney General Eric Holder investigate the fake fraud as dramatized in O’Keefe’s videos. In Mississippi, after a photo voter ID bill was passed, the senate elections committee chairman Chris McDaniel cited O’Keefe’s videos. When people cite the polls that 64 percent of Americans believe voter fraud exists, it’s mostly because people like O’Keefe brought into existence.

This voter fraud madness isn’t new. In fact voter registration itself was created in the nineteenth century in part by people making fraud claims. But as Alexander Keyssar writes in his book The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, few instances of actual fraud have actually been recorded from that period. Then, as now, fraud was used strategically by political parties when they wanted to find ways to create lists of people thought ineligible to vote.

O’Keefe is serving the same agenda, which is why he was at True the Vote, showing off his latest hustle, kneeling in the Tim Tebow pose while people laughed at those who had been hustled. This is not the work of people who want to protect integrity or help Americans vote, it’s the work of scam artists who think so little of democracy that they’re willing to treat it like an episode of MTV’s Punk’d.

Speaking of Punk’d, when O’Keefe was sued by ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera for the video stunt that eventually dismantled the organization, O’Keefe tried to have the case dismissed by claiming his activities are no different than what’s performed on—Punk’d!

That motion was denied. Leaked deposition clips from that upcoming trial appear to show O’Keefe claiming deceased conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart paid him $65,000 to “Punk” ACORN. Seems O’Keefe might have other motivations.

D’Angelo and the Challenge of Black Men Maintaining Their IDs

Reading the GQ profile of soul artist D’Angelo, like the thousands others who read it, I was blown away by his story of self-destruction and redemption. One small detail stood out for me, though. When D’Angelo finally decided to clean up from years of drug and alcohol abuse he reached out to Eric Clapton to see if he could go to his treatment center in Antigua. One problem, though:

Getting D to Antigua was an odyssey in itself. First off, he had neither a driver’s license nor a passport—a challenge when trying to board an international flight.

Two things here: first, notice that D’Angelo’s lack of a license or passport didn’t prevent him from boarding the plane. It was only a “challenge,” wrote Amy Wallace. Here’s why this small detail was so interesting to me: voting rights opponents often argue that you need a photo ID to board a plane, so likewise you should to vote. But as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, and as D’Angelo’s handlers likely realized, you don’t actually need ID to board planes. This point has been made repeatedly also by Judith Browne Dianis at the Advancement Project, and Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center, who actually tested it out and was able to board without his driver’s license.

The other thing, though, and most important: Why the hell didn’t D’Angelo have a drivers license or passport? While it’s true that people without cars and of low income are among the most likely to not have a state-issued ID, a multi-platinum and much-traveled artist like D’Angelo wouldn’t fall in those categories. Perhaps the answer for this lies in what happened to him before he sought rehab. From the GQ story:

In January 2005 a bloated, bleary-eyed D’Angelo was arrested in Richmond and charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and driving while intoxicated.… The near fatal Hummer accident came in mid-September of that year, after D had received a three-year suspended sentence on the cocaine charge.

Traffic crimes like these, especially those involving drugs, usually end up with a suspended and/or confiscated driver’s license. This 2006 article from Richmond Magazine confirms that his license was at least suspended:

Just one week before his Sept. 19, 2005, Hummer accident, he was seen high-fiving his way out of a Chesterfield courthouse after a judge had handed down a three-year suspended jail sentence (and no fine to speak of) for cocaine possession. The singer had been pulled over for speeding in January 2005 and arrested on DUI and drug possession charges….

Sgt, Kevin Barrick, a Virginia State Police spokesman, shed a little light on the matter. “[D’Angelo] has never been served,” he said, of an arrest warrant issued on Oct. 11, 2005, to charge D’Angelo with driving on a suspended license during his September accident. The reason? “We haven’t been able to find him.” As Barrick tells it, the state cops need evidence of a suspect’s location in order to deliver a summons. If D’Angelo turned up talking to the local press, that might clearly place him in Richmond, which might land him in the clink.

I don’t cite all of this to put his bad history out there, or paint him as a criminal. But D’Angelo, who surely had his demons and troubles, is one of millions of African-Americans across America who, rightly or wrongly, have had their licenses revoked or suspended due to interactions with the law. A recent study out of Wisconsin states:

Minorities are much less likely to have a drivers license and if they do, they are much more likely to have a recent license suspension or revocation. Having a suspension or revocation could result in a large number of licenses not having a current address and licenses not being renewed.

As many as 78 percent of African-American men in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin don’t have a license, and a quarter of all African-American men in the nation lack photo ID, testified Brennan Center for Justice’s Wendy Weiser before the House of Representatives judiciary committee last month.

Don’t think that conservatives and voter ID proponents don’t know this. They’re counting on it. They hope that black men like D’Angelo stay hidden. And they know men like D’Angelo probably won’t risk interacting with government officials for an ID to vote. Some might say that a person with a criminal past like D’Angelo is a poor example. I’d then offer the New York example of over 684,000 people who were stopped and frisked by NYPD in 2011—87 percent of whom were black or Latino. There were more young black men stopped by New York police than there are young black men living in New York City.

Racial profiling happens all over the country and these kinds of interactions with the police often end in arrests where wallets and IDs are taken. Just as an experiment, next time you’re around a black man, maybe aged 18 to 35, ask him if he has a license, and if he has one, if it’s valid. Then ask him how does it feel to know he may need ID to vote.

Why We Still Need the Voting Rights Act

Articles on the Voting Rights Act are being filed in the “obituary” section, even though the act is less than fifty years old. Last week, a US Court of Appeals decision ruled against Shelby County, Alabama, which challenged the constitutionality of VRA’s Section 5. A three-judge panel ruled two to one that it was still constitutional, but the dissenting judge, Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams, asked some tough questions that will need to be resolved before the Supreme Court inevitably looks at it again (In 2009, SCOTUS punted on this issue, but expressed serious skepticism about Section 5’s vitality.) Wrote Judge Williams in his dissent:

Why should voter ID laws from South Carolina and Texas be judged by different criteria…from those governing Indiana? A glimpse at the charts shows that Indiana ranks “worse” than South Carolina and Texas in registration and voting rates, as well as in black elected officials. This distinction in evaluating the different states’ policies is rational?

South Carolina and Texas are “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5, while Indiana, which has a worse voting record, is not. As Williams pointed out, none of those three states are among the top ten worst offenders on voting rights. So the coverage formula needs to be reconsidered, Williams concluded. The coverage formula of Section 5 is the ankle bracelet for Southern states and counties (and a few Northern counties) that have been placed on house arrest for repeated voting rights violations mostly throughout America’s Jim Crow era. States like Alabama, Texas and South Carolina want courts to take that ankle bracelet off.

While those states claim they are no longer running errands for Jim Crow, Section 5 is set up to ensure that they never go back to doing it. How Section 5 works is that if a covered state or county wants to make election law changes, it needs pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or federal courts. To earn pre-clearance, the covered jurisdiction must prove that the law change won’t have “the purpose … nor the effect,” of racial discrimination. That’s important: It’s not enough to say you don’t intend to disenfranchise black or Latino voters; you must assure that racial disenfranchisement doesn’t become an unintended consequence.

In short, Section 5 is a precautionary principle agent. It forces certain jurisdictions to thoroughly think through voting legislation before implementation by proving first that it won’t harm, as opposed to allowing implementation first, and then dealing with any harm after it’s already been done. It prioritizes permission over forgiveness and recklessness, and yes, in some ways that limits some states’ and counties’ discretion, but our lesson learned from the twentieth century was that left to their own discretion, some states and counties will be reckless with voting rights and won’t even ask for forgiveness.

But Williams’ beef isn’t with Section 5, rather whom it’s applied to. If it’s true that some non-covered states are worse for voters of color than some covered states, then that’s problematic. If SCOTUS also finds it problematic, as they’ve already indicated they do, then that could be Section 5’s death knell. As Jeffrey Toobin observed in The New Yorker, “That melancholy observation led Williams to conclude that the Voting Rights Act should not apply anywhere anymore.”

Williams could have concluded that Section 5 coverage formula needed to be expanded. Someone with more Voting Rights Act history expertise than me can answer why Congress never expanded the range to include more states and counties. But Williams went the opposite way.

It would be dishonest to disregard progress made on voting matters, even in the South where the registration and turnout of voters of color has increased tenfold in some states since the pre-VRA era. There are certainly far more black and Latino elected officials than pre-1965, including an African-American president and attorney general.

But we can’t act like there aren’t still voting problems with racial implications. Voter caging and purging are ever-morphing demons and felony disenfranchisement continues to strip hundreds of thousands of African-Americans of their voting privileges, especially in Florida, which somehow was never covered by Section 5, save for five counties.

Then there’s the issue of voter dilution, where always controversial gerrymandering often attempts to place people of color in racially segregated voting districts, which on one hand might help urban voters elect candidates who share their skin color, and hopefully their best interests, but on the other hand also often secures suburbs and rural areas for white and Republican candidates. Section 5 is used often to protect “minority safe” districts, ensuring black and Latino Americans are represented in Congress. Depending on whether you think that’s still a good thing, or a needed thing, redistricting is either the reason Section 5 is still needed or why it should be abolished.

US Commission on Civil Rights vice-chairwoman Abigail Thernstrom has spoken out often on this, in her books Whose Votes Count? and Voting Rights and Wrongs, and just recently in the Wall Street Journal, where she accused civil rights activists of fighting for Section 5 in the pure interest of protecting minority seats. Said Thernstrom: “They know the clock is ticking. If you don’t have black ghettos—if 50% of the black population has moved to the suburbs, which is the accurate figure—you’ve got a problem creating a safe black seat….You’ve got Asians. You’ve got Hispanics. And none of them are residentially clustered enough so that you can draw neat little lines around them and create reserved seats for members of minority groups. Residential integration is not in the interest of voting rights advocates.”

While not entirely wrong—Hope VI is doing enough to change present racial residential dynamics before we even get to the suburbs—it’s obviously not that simple. Who gets to draw redistricting lines matters. But the fact that we’re already in the era where white babies account for less than half of all births shows that rethinking redistricting is at dawn.

But those babies haven’t grown up yet, and despite the integration we see today we’ve still not seen a statewide-elected African-American in South Carolina, Louisiana or Mississippi. And states are passing photo voter ID laws that could have a discriminatory effect on millions of voters of color. Some of those states—Texas and South Carolina—can be challenged, while others—Mississippi and Virginia—certainly will be, thanks to Section 5. But other states that have passed restrictive voter laws—Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kansas, Florida, Wisconsin—aren’t covered by Section 5, and why shouldn’t they be?

It was just 2008 that a county in Pennsylvania attempted to disenfranchise black college students. In Florida and Colorado, state officials are browsing lists to purge voters they suspect are “non-citizens.” Tea Party activists around the country are training poll watchers to make voters feel like the police are following them. These are reasons to not only let Section 5 live but to clone it.

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