Our Most Fundamental Right, Our Most Solemn Obligation

September 23, 2012 at 10:30 am | Posted in civil rights, Education, elections, Michelle Obama, Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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And make no mistake about it, change absolutely starts at home. We know that. It starts with each of us taking responsibility for ourselves and our families. Because we know that our kids won’t grow up healthy until our families start eating right and exercising more. That’s on us. We know we won’t close that education gap until we turn off the TV, and supervise that homework, and serve as good role models for our own kids. That’s on us. We know that.

But while we certainly need to start at home, we absolutely cannot stop there. Because as you all know better than just about anyone, our laws still matter. Much like they did 50, 150 years ago, our laws still shape so many aspects of our lives: Whether our kids have clean air and safe streets, or not. Whether we invest in education and job training and truly focus on the urgent challenge of getting folks back to work, or not. Whether our sons and daughters who wear our country’s uniform get the benefits they’ve earned, or not.

See, these are the types of decisions that are made by the folks in our city halls and our state legislatures, by folks in our statehouses, in our Congress, and, yes, in our White House. And who’s responsible for selecting those public servants? Who is ultimately responsible for the decisions they make — or don’t make? We are. That’s our job. As citizens of this great country, that is our most fundamental right, our most solemn obligation — to cast our ballots and have our say in the laws that shape our lives.

Michelle Obama
September 22, 2012
Congressional Black Caucus (Earthquake) Awards Dinner


The Most Powerful, Nonviolent Tool We Have To Create A More Perfect Union

September 7, 2012 at 2:28 am | Posted in civil rights, elections, politics straight up, Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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John Lewis being ushered into a police patrol wagon during a racial demonstration in Nashville, Tenn., as a number of people watch. c.1964

John Lewis gave a speech on Thursday night, in the first hour of the convention, that almost nobody saw, which is too bad, because it summed up the great unmentioned subtext of this year’s election — namely, that, between the new torrents of money that are overwhelming the system, and the rise again of voter-suppression legalisms in the various states, which are in many cases products of those same new torrents of money, the election is coming perilously close to becoming a puppet show. The Republicans didn’t mention that, because they have taken in so much of the new money, and because Republican governors and legislators in the various states are behind the new voter-suppression laws, and everybody knows that. The Democrats are caught in a bind, because they have to play in the new universe of campaign finance, too, and because they’re trying to keep up with a symphony of well-financed propaganda that seeks to make voter-suppression into a good-government initiative. John Lewis is not fooled. John Lewis has seen this before. And John Lewis told the convention what he’s seeing rising in the country out of his own past.

If I were running the president’s campaign, I’d shut the hell up about Simpsonp-fking-Bowles and put John Lewis on an airplane and let him tell his story in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and everywhere else this atavistic authoritarian nonsense is going down. There’s more at risk here than anyone knows.

If you did not hear John Lewis’s convention speech, you can do so at C-Span.

Was it just a beautiful dream?

June 24, 2011 at 1:19 am | Posted in civil rights, Economy, elections, Obituary, politics straight up, Reality Bites, Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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Benjamin Franklin signing the Declaration of Independence

In every way imaginable, the Right opposes both the inclusiveness and expansiveness that characterized the last three centuries of democratic advance. It is not coincidental that its two great avatars, Thatcher and Reagan, confirmed their political position by breaking strikes.

Mother and child of agricultural day laborers family encamped near Spiro. Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. 1939 June. Photographer, Russell Lee (Library of Congress)

The American polity is foundering in a perfect anti-democratic storm created by, in combination, a depth of inequality that appears unyielding to any prescription and that is maintained by a sclerotic political system; a state that can be mobilized only for self-destructive imperial adventures; a dangerously irrational subset of the citizenry fed toxic propaganda by an hypertrophied mass media; and a financial plutocracy that seems to have outreached all possibilities of containment. If this tendency continues, democracy will become less a contested terrain and more a land of myth and legend.

From Farewell to Democracy? by Philip Green

“This is how the right-wing echo chamber works”

February 4, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Posted in Historical, journalism, Reality Bites, Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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Cartoon showing Uncle Sam writing on wall, "Eddikashun qualifukashun. The Black man orter be eddikated afore he kin vote with US Wites, signed Mr. Solid South." c1879 (Library of Congress)

In early November 2009 John Fund, columnist and editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, addressed a group of fellow travelers, including Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), at a David Horowitz Freedom Center forum, warning them that Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) would be “ramming unpopular and destructive [universal voter registration] legislation down our collective throats.”

On January 14, 2010, from the House floor, Representative Frank called out John Fund and the rightwing echo chamber with respect to their propagation of lies, using as an example Fund’s false statements about “universal voter registration” legislation. (Video clip here.)

On January 18, 2010 John Fund “corrected” himself, saying that it wasn’t Barney Frank sponsoring “universal voter registration” legislation, it was John Conyers.

Given John Fund’s tenuous grip on reality, I still doubted Fund’s allegations, so I went about unraveling this particular pack of lies.

As I suspected, Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer and John Conyers have not written or sponsored any such legislation. In fact, no one has. How do I know? I made some phone calls and used the Google.

Here is what I have learned:

German-Russian farmers waiting to vote, election day, 1940. Beaver Creek precinct, McIntosh County, North Dakota. November 1940. (Library of Congress)

Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, of which Representative Conyers is also a member, has some jurisdiction over election issues when those issues involve constitutional rights or federal civil rights. According to a representative of the subcommittee with whom I spoke, there has been no legislation considered or marked by them with respect to voter registration during the current 111th session.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) — the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. “The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.” John Conyers, Barney Frank and Chuck Schumer are not now and never have been FEC board members.

McIntosh County, North Dakota. Schoolhouse where farmers are voting on election day. November 1940. (Library of Congress)

The Committee on House Administration, chaired by Robert Brady (D-PA), has primary responsibility for legislation regarding federal elections.

During the 110th Congress Representative Susan A. Davis (D-CA), a member of the House Administration Committee, sponsored H.R.1604, the Universal Right to Vote by Mail Act of 2009, to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to prohibit a state from imposing additional conditions or requirements on the eligibility of an individual to cast a vote in federal elections by mail, except for purposes of obtaining signature verification for acceptance and processing of a submitted ballot, or to the extent that it imposes a deadline for requesting the ballot and returning it to the appropriate state or local election official.” (It was placed on the Union Calendar but I can find no further trace of it, and it being after 5:00 p.m. Congressional offices are closed and I am unable to make further inquiry today. It is my belief that it has been subsumed within H.R.105, see below.)

Could it be that this is what John Fund was thinking of? Well, it’s doubtful, given it has nothing to do with voter registration.

Arlington, Virginia. Citizens lined up outside the firehouse waiting to vote in the national presidental election. 1944 November 7. (Library of Congress)

A search of Thomas using the phrase “voter registration” reveals 29 bills.

Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), a member of several House Judiciary Committee subcommittees, sponsored a bill (H.R. 59) “to secure the Federal voting rights of certain qualified ex-offenders who have served their sentences.”

Is this what Fund was referring to?

Well, no, it wasn’t sponsored by Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer or John Conyers and has nothing to do with “universal voter registration.”

There are, however, two bills sponsored by John Conyers among the search results: H.R. 103 and H.R. 105. The first is intended to “amend title 18, United States Code, to prevent the election practice known as caging, and for other purposes.” The second, “to protect voting rights and to improve the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes.”

"Help us to win the vote" c1914 (Library of Congress)

Ooh, “other purposes”!!!1!

Have we finally stumbled upon the nefarious plot that John Fund is so very concerned about?

Well, no. For one thing, the last time there was any “major action” on this bill was June 12, 2009.

What was Representative Conyer’s proposed “Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2009” about?

If passed, it would establish “(1) use of a national federal write-in absentee ballot; (2) verified ballots; (3) preservation of voting records; (4) requirements for counting provisional ballots; (5) minimum required voting systems and poll workers in polling places; (6) standards for establishing the minimum required voting systems and poll workers; (7) election day registration; (8) removal from voter registration list; (9) early voting; (10) voting systems and voter registration; (11) Internet registration; (12) voter identification; (13) election administration requirements; (15) required use of publicly available open source software in voting machines; (16) standards for conducting recounts; and (17) standards for prohibiting conflicts of interest of entities involved in manufacture, distribution, or other activities relating to voting machines.”

Olney, Maryland. Showing a Negro how to vote at the polls on election day. November 1942. (Library of Congress)

Additionally, it would “[amend] the federal criminal code to: (1) prohibit deceptive practices in federal elections; (2) modify the penalty for voter intimidation; and (3) prohibit voter caging and other questionable challenges.”

Oh, here we go — the registration of felons to benefit the “Democrat” Party:

States that the right of an individual citizen of the United States to vote in any election for federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense, unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.

Negro holding Democratic ticket over ballot box. Wood engraving after drawing by Thomas Nast. Illus. in: Harper's Weekly, v. 21, 1877 December 8. (Library of Congress)

What other horrible, anti-American, undemocratic horrors would be unleashed by this legislation?

It would make election day “a legal public holiday for purposes of federal employment” and “[express] the sense of Congress that private employers in the United States should give their employees a day off on the Tuesday after the first Monday in 2010 and each even-numbered year thereafter to enable them to cast votes in the elections held on that day.”

Oh, no! People would have the day off to vote and might take the opportunity to volunteer as an election worker for their local municipality or to assist others in getting out to vote!

And lastly, it would “[direct] the Comptroller General to study and report to Congress and the President on the impact of such treatment on voter participation.” Wow, how awful. Our government might find out whether election laws are effective. We can’t have that now, can we?

Men and women at voting poll, Oliver and Henry Streets, New York City. c1922 (Library of Congress)

As for Senator Schumer, a Thomas search of voting-related legislation that he has put forward reveals only one bill, S.1415, having anything to do with voter registration. It last saw any activity on July 16, 2009. What was the nefarious intent of that bill?

“[To] amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters are aware of their voting rights and have a genuine opportunity to register to vote and have their absentee ballots cast and counted, and for other purposes.”

Senator Schumer has a lot of nerve trying to ensure that members of the military and other American citizens overseas are able to vote unimpeded in federal elections.

Also, don’t Congresspeople understand how easily confused and alarmed people like John Fund get over the phrase “other purposes”? I’m going to suggest that they leave that out in future to avoid misunderstandings by the simple-minded.

So what have we learned today? One, that John Fund is indeed a liar. And two, that Barney Frank and Jon Stewart are correct, that
through their cyclonic perpetual emotional machine that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week … they have taken reasonable concerns … and turned it into full-fledged panic attack …

Men removing ballot boxes from the William S. Vare - William B. Wilson Pennsylvania senate election from truck at the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 1927 January 18. (Library of Congress)

It’s not just Fox. As Barney Frank points out, there is a right-wing echo chamber that makes up lies and repeats them and repeats them and repeats them. Unfortunately, the media never bothers to fact check or challenge any of this misinformation.

If a media organization would like to hire me to do fact-checking of the sort that I have done here, I would be more than happy to consider such employment. But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting.

Vote Rigging.

March 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Posted in Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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Townspeople going to vote by ballot on whether or not pinball machines should be allowed. Town meeting, Woodstock, Vermont.  1940 March.  (Photo: Marion Post Wolcott)

Townspeople going to vote by ballot on whether or not pinball machines should be allowed. Town meeting, Woodstock, Vermont. 1940 March. (Photo: Marion Post Wolcott)

The circuit court judge, the county clerk and election officers in Clay County (Kentucky) have been charged with “chang[ing] votes at the voting machine” and showing others how to do it.

The 10-count federal indictment charges them with using “corrupt tactics to obtain political power and personal gain.” They were all involved with changing votes cast in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

The Brad Blog is following this actual election fraud:

Clay County uses the horrible ES&S iVotronic system for all of its votes at the polling place. The iVotronic is a touch-screen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) device, offering no evidence, of any kind, that any vote has ever been recorded as per the voter’s intent. If the allegations are correct here, there would likely have been no way to discover, via post-election examination of machines or election results, that votes had been manipulated on these machines.

ES&S is the largest distributor of voting systems in America and its iVotronic system — which is well-documented to have lost and flipped votes on many occasions — is likely the most widely-used DRE system in the nation. It’s currently in use in some 419 jurisdictions in 18 states including Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

This makes me physically ill to read.

Sure paper ballots take longer to tabulate, but isn’t veracity more important than unverifiable instant results? Your vote is not just meaningless under the current system but can be turned against you, as happened in Clay County.

Local election departments are mostly used to reward staff and/or supporters of politicians. I know that’s how it works in Massachusetts. I would love to volunteer again as a poll worker, but I refuse to do so under the current broken system. The people running local election departments do not recognize or accept their actual responsibility but see it as an opportunity to move votes in a particular direction. Actual changing of votes is pretty extreme but there are a lot of more innocuous ways in which local election officials interfere with free and fair elections.

Congress and state legislatures need to get on this.

Election Reform

January 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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Yeah, I know … “election reform?”

After the election is over, everyone goes back to ignoring the enormous problems in the practical aspect of elections — the actual voting.

Sign on side of school bus NAACP voter registration drive ... (published between 1944 and 1962)

Sign on side of school bus "NAACP voter registration drive ..." (published between 1944 and 1962)

Shortly after the November election I called Senator Hillary Clinton’s office because I had heard that she was working on this issue. Imagine my surprise today to find that on the other end of my ringing telephone was a young man from Senator Clinton’s office responding to my inquiry.

Granted, he did not have any information — in fact, less than I was able to gain after spending a couple minutes post-call with “teh google,” but I am really pleased that someone called me back at all!

Three suffragists casting votes, circa 1917, possibly New York City.

Three suffragists casting votes, circa 1917, possibly New York City.

In a fit of pique some time in late November I deleted the folder of election-reform links I had collected over the previous 6 months and am having a bit of a problem reconstructing it now, so I can’t put my hands on exactly what it was I had read about Senator Clinton’s efforts that prompted my call, but I am reminded of the glacial pace of Congress.

The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 (“Legislation Would Enact Sweeping Reforms by Next Major Election Cycle in 2006”) died in committee.

Cartoon showing Uncle Sam writing on wall, Eddikashun qualifukashun. The Black man orter be eddikated afore he kin vote with US Wites, signed Mr. Solid South.  (1879)

Cartoon showing Uncle Sam writing on wall, "Eddikashun qualifukashun. The Black man orter be eddikated afore he kin vote with US Wites, signed Mr. Solid South." (1879)

I have worked as a poll worker in local elections but stopped after being chastised by the director of elections for my city for refusing to allow candidates or their workers to campaign inside the polling place while the election was occurring.

I asked the kid to email me with any information he could about who else in the Senate might be working on election issues, given that Mrs. Clinton is moving to the State Department. I hope he does.

There is much work to be done in this area. I hope that there will be progress made before November 2010.

Does Neatness Demand Electronic Voting?

November 20, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Office of the President, Voting Rights | Leave a comment
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Interior of the firehouse where citizens are voting in the national presidental election, Arlington, Virginia, November 7, 1944

Interior of the firehouse where citizens are voting in the national presidental election, Arlington, Virginia, November 7, 1944

Minnesota Public Radio has some of the challenged ballots up at their website. Readers can look at them and vote as to what they think the voter’s intent was, or if the ballot should be rejected.

People sure do funny things sometimes in that voting booth.

The question is posed as to whether problems with hand-marked ballots “make the case” for electronic voting.

I say nay.

Electronic voting, in my opinion, is open to more egregious, and undetectable, problems.

Ballots which are rejected because someone got ink on their finger and transferred their print onto the ballot, or because someone failed to mark their ballot in the manner in which it was designed, are only a problem because they are untidy.

Democracy is a messy business. Should we abandon it on that basis?

Again, I say nay.

(Photography courtesy of The library of Congress)

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