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.

“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.

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