Tag Archives: Voter ID

THIS!!

I generally shy away from basing my blogs–or my own opinions, for that matter–on material from partisan sources. Trump and his enablers may accuse traditional media of being “fake” or biased, but that’s a tactic, not an accurate description, so I try to limit my references to places like the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc.

But in the aftermath of Trump’s most recent–and arguably most breathtaking–departures from anything close to Presidential behavior/circumspection/sanity,  I’m breaking my rule, and sharing a Daily Kos post that spoke to me–loudly and clearly.

The obstacles to Democratic control of Congress are not emotional, and emotions are not the answer. We don’t require more “enthusiasm.” We’re not lacking in progressive ideas and candidates, nor are we shy on appropriately moderate options. We don’t need better explanations of our positions. We’re not even hurting for dough right now.

We need voters. And our opponents have done a damn good job for decades of blocking our voters.

Gerrymandering. Voter ID. Roll purges.

Our problems are structural. And they will take a great deal of work to overcome.

As regular readers of this blog know, when it comes to the importance of social and politicall structures, I’ve been singing that song for a long time. The author of this post goes further than diagnosis, however.

He has a prescription for what ails us.

Voter ID laws are unconstitutional poll taxes. That doesn’t get rid of them. The only way around them is to identify our voters and get them the IDs. We can’t just drive them to the polls, we have to drive them to the DMV six months earlier. And, if they can’t afford the new poll tax, we have to find a way to pay for those cards for them.

We have to make sure they are registered, and stay registered through the coming postcard purges, calling long before Election Day, checking for them and helping them re-register if they get booted.

And, on Election Day, we have to have already built those relationships. The phone calls can’t be, “Hi, I’m blah blah blah from the blah blah blah campaign reminding you to blah blah blah.” They have to be, “Hi, Phyllis, it’s Ashley. What time do you want me to pick you up?”

Admittedly, this is a lot of work. It’s so much easier to post a scathing remark to Facebook, to share a particularly pointed comment or article, and then feel as if we’ve done our part.

We can continue to preach to our choirs, engage in handwringing with those who already agree with us, and who already vote–or we can do the hard work of identifying non-voters, registering them, making sure they have what they need, and getting them to the polls.

Here’s the bottom line: there is only one way to save this country from the accelerating damage to our institutions and national defense (not to mention the raping and pillaging  that the Trumpers aren’t even bothering to hide). Democrats, scientists, moderate Republicans and all sane Americans must do two things simultaneously: we must delay and obstruct as many of their legislative assaults as humanly possible; and we must ensure that 2018 will be a wave election that will oust the Trump enablers from the House and Senate.

If we fail–if we give in to “outrage fatigue,” rely on the Democratic party or Common Cause or the ACLU to act on our behalf, or simply tell ourselves we’re “too busy” to find and equip that non-voter, we will wake up in January 2019 to a country we don’t recognize.. and definitely  won’t like.

 

A Political “To Do” List

Pretty much everyone I know is absolutely obsessed with this bizarre Presidential race. In one sense, that’s good—people paying attention are unlikely to break for Trump. But the intense focus on the national race means that the 2016 down-ticket elections aren’t getting the attention they deserve—not just the Senate, which is critically important, but also the House and especially state-level offices. A decent-sized Hillary victory is likely to tip the Senate. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is: If Hillary wins big, could Democrats take the House?

Conventional wisdom says no. After the 2010 census, Republicans dominated state governments in a significant majority of states, and they engaged in one of the most thorough, most strategic, most competent gerrymanderings in history. If you have not read the book “Ratfucked”—buy it and read it. (And yes, that’s the real name of the book.) The 2011 gerrymander did two things: as the GOP intended, it gave Republicans 247 seats in the House of Representatives to the Democrats’ 186. That’s a 61 vote margin– despite the fact that nationally, Democratic House candidates received over a million more votes than Republican House candidates.

But that gerrymander did something else; it destroyed Republican party discipline. It created and empowered the 80+ Republican Representatives who comprise what has been called the “lunatic caucus” and made it virtually impossible to govern. That unintended consequence has now come back to haunt the GOP and frustrate the rest of us.

The structural advantage created by the gerrymander was big enough to put the House out of reach for Democrats in any normal Presidential year. But this is not a normal Presidential year.

The author of “Ratfucked,” says that GOP control of the House was designed to withstand a Presidential-year loss “up to and including” 5% nationally. If Hillary Clinton were to win by more than 5%, Democrats could theoretically swing enough seats to control the House. Obviously, that depends on turnout, on the political culture of various districts, and on the quality of individual candidates, but theoretically, at least, it’s do-able.

As endlessly fascinating as the current electoral horse-races are, we need to pay more attention to the systemic problems that are at the root of our increasingly undemocratic electoral system; if we don’t address those, we will never regain a level playing field, and there will be no incentive for the Republican Party to grow up and abandon its current reliance on appeals to racial grievance. Both America and the Democratic Party need an adult, responsible center-right opposition.

Gerrymandering is the practice of partisan redistricting. The desired outcome is as many safe districts as possible: Pack as many members of the opposition party into as few districts as possible, and create less-lopsided but also safe districts for the party in charge.

Safe districts breed voter apathy and reduce political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why volunteer or vote, when it doesn’t matter?

It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it becomes increasingly difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. The result is that in many of these races, voters are left with no meaningful choice.  We hear a lot about voter apathy, as if it were a moral deficiency. Political scientists suggest that it may instead be a highly rational response to noncompetitive politics. People save their efforts for places where those efforts count, and thanks to the increasing lack of competitiveness in our electoral system, those places may NOT include the voting booth.

In a safe district, the only effective way to oppose an incumbent is in the primary–and that generally means that the challenge will come from the “flank” or extreme. In competitive districts, nominees know that they have to run to the middle in order to win a general election. When the primary is, in effect, the general election, the battle takes place among the party faithful, who also tend to be the most ideological voters. So Republican incumbents will be challenged from the Right and Democratic incumbents will be attacked from the Left. Even when those challenges fail, they leave a powerful incentive for the incumbent to placate the most rigid elements of each party. Instead of the system working as intended,  we get nominees who represent the most extreme voters on each side.

Lawmakers who are elected from safe deep-red or deep-blue seats respond almost exclusively to incentives from their districts. They are perfectly willing to ignore their party’s leadership if they think that will get them points back home, or help them avert a primary challenge. As a result, the ability to demand party discipline is a thing of the past. (Just ask John Boehner or Paul Ryan, if you don’t believe me.)

Even worse– reduced participation in the political process, and the feeling that the system has been rigged, diminishes the legitimacy of subsequent government action. Is a Representative truly representative when he/she is elected by 10% or 20% of the eligible voters in the district?

It isn’t just gerrymandering. Money in politics has always been a problem; Citizens United unleashed torrents of dark money, prompted the creation of SuperPacs, and added to the perception that America is no longer a democracy, but an oligarchy.

Particularly worrisome, at least to me, are the persistent efforts to suppress the vote of likely Democratic constituencies. Indiana has the dubious distinction of being the first state to pass a voter ID law. Voter ID, as you know, was justified as a measure to prevent in-person voting fraud—a type of vote fraud that is virtually non-existent. Voter ID laws are really intended to discourage poor people and people of color from voting.

The Voter ID law recently struck down in North Carolina is a case in point: as the court noted, photo IDs most used by African Americans, including public assistance IDs, were removed from the list of acceptable identification, while IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles—which blacks are less likely to have—were retained. Cutting the first week of early voting came in reaction to data showing that the first seven days were used by large numbers of black voters. Other changes made voting harder for people who had recently moved, and blacks move more often than whites.

Indiana not only has Voter ID, we are also one of only two states where the polls close at six, making it more difficult for working people to cast a ballot. We need to change these and other systemic disincentives to democratic participation.

  • We need to work for a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United.
  • We need to establish election day as a national holiday.
  • We need to work for redistricting reform, so that voters choose their representatives instead of allowing Representatives to choose their voters.
  • We should also look at alternatives to the way we conduct primaries, and
  • We need to investigate ways to mitigate the effects of residential sorting.

All of those reforms would help reinvigorate American democracy.

Of course, if Donald Trump becomes President, none of that will matter. The world as we know it won’t be the world as we know it; Canada will probably build the wall and pay for it, and I plan to volunteer for that mission to colonize Mars.

 

 

 

 

Why Hoosiers Don’t Vote

Yesterday, I took part in a “Pancakes and Politics” discussion hosted by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. There were three of us on the panel–yours truly, Beth White (former Marion County Clerk) and Abdul Shabazz (local radio personality and commentator/provocateur).

Abdul has actually posted the whole thing, so if you like beating your head against the wall, you can click here.

The panel was focused on civic engagement–especially voting–and as one might expect, there were a number of explanations offered for Indiana’s continaully abysmal turnout. (A pathetic 7% turned out for yesterday’s Indianapolis primary.) I’ll leave most of those for another day, but today I want to talk about a comment made by Beth White, because it really struck me.

Beth ticked off the numerous barriers that Indiana erects and noted that voting here is thus more difficult than it is elsewhere. Abdul disagreed. (Any election law expert will tell you Beth was right. Sorry, Abdul.) Her response was perfect: she pointed out that Indiana makes it easy to pay taxes, to get your auto license, and to do other things that policymakers want to encourage. It’s pretty clear– given the fact that our Voter ID law is the nation’s strictest, our polls are the first to close, we refuse to establish convenient voting centers or to allow vote-by-mail–that state government is not interested in encouraging people to vote.

Especially egregious is the refusal to allow the use of government-issued picture IDs to verify identity if those IDs don’t have an expiration date.

As Beth noted, it’s perfectly appropriate to ensure that voters are who they say they are–but that interest in preventing (virtually non-existent) voter fraud doesn’t require disallowing identification issued by government agencies that is widely accepted elsewhere. (According to the Secretary of State’s webpage, “noncompliant” identifications  include “An ID issued by the US Department of Defense, a branch of the uniformed services, the Merchant Marine, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (or Veterans Administration), or the Indiana National Guard.”)

It’s just another petty annoyance for those of us with drivers licenses (like Abdul), but a hassle–and a message–for the elderly or disabled or others who don’t drive.

The message? Stay home. (Thanks to the safe districts created by gerrymandering, there’s no contest in most parts of the state anyway.)

After all, if God had intended us to vote, She’d have given us candidates.

 

But Isn’t It All About Voter Fraud??

Yesterday, a Facebook friend who lives in Pittsburgh posted a story from the Pittsburgh Gazette about Sophie Maslow, the city’s feisty former Mayor. Now in her nineties, Maslow is anxiously awaiting the Pennsylvania court’s ruling on the state’s new voter ID law–turns out that if it is upheld, she will be unable to vote for the first time in her adult life.

As she says, when she could no longer drive, she cut up her driver’s license. Her passport is expired. She plans to go to a license branch to get a photo ID if the law is upheld, but is worried by her neighbor’s reports of long lines and confusion.

In Indiana, shortly after a federal court upheld our version of the voter ID law, a group of elderly nuns in South Bend was turned away from the polls for lack of  suitable identification.

Of course, it’s all for a good cause–the sanctity of the vote. A couple of weeks ago, a letter to the editor chastised critics of the new voter ID laws. They are necessary, the letter-writer insisted. He then recounted a recent example of fraud, a widely reported instance of a woman who had voted in two states. The problem with that example is that the voter ID laws would do nothing to prevent that particular type of behavior. Most simply require a government-issued identification that is current and has a photo. They don’t require proof of residence. A current passport can take you on vacation–or to polling places in more than one state. (The letter writer didn’t explain how the “fraudster” managed to get registered and on the voter rolls in multiple locations, but for argument’s sake, I’ll assume it’s possible.)

A number of credible sources have documented the extremely small number of instances in which there has been actual voting fraud. Furthermore, where it has occurred, it has overwhelmingly been in the process of absentee balloting, not in-person voting, and these laws do nothing about absentee voting.

It is easy to shrug off the burden these measures impose on the elderly and the poor. I have well-meaning friends who shrug off the requirements by pointing out that “everyone” has a photo ID these days. “How can you cash a check or board a plane without one?” They simply cannot picture (no pun intended) people for whom bank accounts and air travel are foreign experiences. They don’t know anyone personally who does not possess a birth certificate–although the lack of that document (necessary in order to obtain a voter ID) is fairly common among elderly and African-American folks who were born in rural areas.

As Sarah Silverman says, in a foul-mouthed but funny  You Tube that is making the rounds on the web, these laws cleverly target four demographics: the elderly, blacks, students and the poor.  I wonder what those demographics have in common….

Oh yeah. Sophie Maslow is a Democrat.

Circular Politics

We took our grandchildren to the Newseum today, and I would recommend it to anyone contemplating a trip to DC. It is a fabulous museum–not at all a dusty repository of newsprint, but an interactive, living testament to the practice of journalism. For our 8 and 10 year olds, there were numerous “games” and short films that buried instruction in entertainment–snapshots of the past as seen through the eyes of those who covered the events.

One of the short films focused on the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham boycott and Selma. Our grandchildren were shocked and uncomprehending, and we had a long talk about the treatment of African-Americans, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.

The film clip also showed President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. The voice-over explained that in many Southern states, ways had been found to keep black people from voting, necessitating a federal law securing their right to cast their ballots.

All I could think of was how contemporary this sounded.

Indiana passed one of the first so-called “Voter ID” laws, justified by a need to reduce a non-existent “voter fraud,” but actually intended to suppress the vote of the poor and minority citizens who vote disproportionately for Democrats. Other states have followed suit. Most recently–and most brazenly–Governor Rick Scott of Florida ordered a draconian “purge” of that swing state’s voter rolls–so draconian, and so indiscriminate (hundreds of eligible voters found themselves summarily removed from the rolls), that the state’s county election officials–Republican and Democrat alike–refused to implement it, and the U.S. Justice Department has sued to halt it.

States may not be able to employ the Poll Tax any more, but these measures have proved to be very serviceable substitutes.

I thought about that while I was assuring my grandchildren that the law signed by President Johnson secured the right to vote for all our citizens. What I didn’t have the heart to tell them was that when you close a door that is being used by dishonorable people, they’re likely to find an open window to wriggle through.

Jefferson was sure right about one thing: eternal vigilance really is the price of liberty.