By Doug Porter
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla did the right thing on Tuesday, withdrawing a challenge to the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated championed by his predecessor.
On Thursday, the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, President Obama along with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), will call for upon Congress for restoration of provisions struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Twenty-one Republican-controlled states have enacted laws making it more difficult to register or vote since the 2010 election.
These three examples are all aspects of the same phenomena: the act of voting is a proxy war for issues of class and race facing our society.
The California Call
The California Constitution and state election laws say only people imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony are ineligible to vote.
Last year the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of three individuals who had lost their right to vote. They were supported in this action by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, along with the League of Women Voters of California and All of Us or None, a nonprofit advocating for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and their families.
They claimed former Secretary of State Debora Bowen violated state law by issuing a December, 2011 directive to local elections officials stating that otherwise-eligible Californians were ineligible to vote if they were in two new and innovative local supervision programs for people sentenced for low-level, non-violent felonies.
An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled for the plaintiffs last last spring, but the decision was on hold, pending appeal. The Secretary of State’s decision to drop the appeal filed by his predecessor means tens of thousands of Californians convicted of low-level, non-violent felonies, who were subject to post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision were re-enfranchised.
Padilla’s move is part of a broader effort in the most populous U.S. state to reduce penalties for non-violent crimes and make it easier for former prisoners to integrate back into society. Last year, voters passed a referendum that reclassified numerous drug-related and other non-violent crimes as misdemeanors.
Nationwide, Democrats and Republicans alike have called for reform of prison and sentencing laws in the United States, where incarceration has soared since fears of gang and drug-related crime in the 1980s and 1990s led to strict mandatory sentencing laws.
Because the majority of those incarcerated are African-American or Latino men, calls for prison reform have become intertwined with concerns about civil rights in minority communities.
Obama Usurps the Faux Presidential Debate
While I’m sure the Top Ten debate on America’s “Fair and Balanced” News network will draw plenty of gawkers, the White House teleconference marking the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act will offer up some interesting contrasts.
From USA Today:
Obama’s event is the same day that Republican presidential candidates gather in Cleveland for their first debate.
Thursday also marks exactly 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the original Voting Rights Act into law, [White House spokesman Josh] Earnest said, describing the proximity of the GOP debate as a coincidence.
Or, as he put it: “I guess one person’s irony might be another person’s serendipity, and maybe there will be an opportunity for Republican candidates to discuss the importance of protecting the right of every eligible American to cast a vote, particularly in an election as consequential as the upcoming presidential election.”
A Fix is Needed
The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidating the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act made it clear a Congressional fix was all it would take to restore some teeth to the law.
Given that past extensions of the Act’s provisions (most recently in 2006) had been bi-partisan affairs, it was hoped the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 (VRAA) would address these issues. The language was crafted in a manner that should have appealed to legislators on both sides of the aisle. However, the House Republican leadership refused to schedule a hearing, let alone a vote, on the bill.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015
This year’s version would compel states with a well-documented history of recent voting discrimination to clear future voting changes with the federal government, require federal approval for voter ID laws, and outlaw new efforts to suppress the growing minority vote.
From The Nation:
“The previous bill we did in a way to try and get bipartisan support—which we did,” Senator Leahy told me. “We had the Republican majority leader of the House [Eric Cantor] promise us that if we kept it like that it would come up for a vote. It never did. We made compromises to get [Republican] support and they didn’t keep their word. So this time I decided to listen to the voters who had their right to vote blocked, and they asked for strong legislation that fully restores the protections of the VRA.”
The 2016 election will be the first in 50 years where voters will not have the full protections of the VRA, which adds urgency to the congressional effort. Since the Shelby decision, onerous new laws have been passed or implemented in states like North Carolina and Texas, which have disenfranchised thousands of voters, disproportionately those of color. In the past five years, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states, with half the states in the country adopting measures making it harder to vote. “If anybody thinks there’s not racial discrimination in voting today, they’re not really paying attention,” Senator Leahy said.
The Fraud About Voter Fraud
Republicans cite rampant voter fraud as the basis for more the restrictive voting laws in place in 15 states just in time for the 2016 elections.
A trial challenging North Carolina’s recently enacted voting restrictions included testimony from a Rutgers University political science professor.
From the Winston-Salem Journal:
North Carolina had two verified cases of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014 out of 35 million votes cast in municipal and presidential elections, an expert testified today in a federal trial over the state’s controversial election law.
Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said that voter fraud is rare nationally and in North Carolina.
Several groups, including the N.C. NAACP and the U.S. Department of Justice, are suing North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory over House Bill 589, which state Republican legislators pushed in 2013. McCrory signed the legislation into law in August 2013. The law eliminated same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting and reduced the days of early voting, among other changes. State Republican legislators said publicly that they pushed for the changes to ensure the integrity of the voting process and to stamp out the potential for voter fraud.
Despite the fact that there is scant empirical evidence for such claims, they continue to make them.
Where fraud has been found to exist, it was usually committed by election officials who would be unaffected by photo ID laws.
Despite this, the party of “less regulation” keeps pushing such regulations.
Democrats contend the GOP’s restrictions have the greatest impact on segments of the population – racial minorities and young people – who tend to vote Democratic and are less likely to have driver licenses or other acceptable forms of ID.
Making Voting Easier in California
Here on the West coast the move is towards expanding and facilitating voter access.
Oregon passed a law automatically registering people to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license or state identification card. (They do have the option of opting out, if they choose.)
Motor-voter type laws, election day registration and expanded balloting times have dramatically increased turnout in Colorado, even in off-year elections.
Here in California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is behind the California New Motor Voter Act.
Here’s how it works:
After determining resident eligibility, the Secretary of State would then provide information to county Registrars of Voters who maintain each county’s voter rolls. Qualifying residents would be contacted by the Secretary of State with the option of declining registration or adopting a political party affiliation. The bill would continue to protect those covered by existing confidentiality policies, and voters would retain their right to cancel their voter registration at any time.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla is urging the state to mail all voters a ballot and allow them to use it at any of several voting centers during a 10-day period before elections. Voters also would be able to drop ballots off 24 hours a day at secure locations during a 14-day period before elections.
You gotta admit this is quite a contrast to Texas, where a college ID is not considered proper identification to vote, but a gun permit is okay.
Veterans for Peace Convene in San Diego
Since 1985, ex-military personnel under the banner of Veterans for Peace have been active in opposing armed intervention around the world. They’ve opposed the use of force policies of the United States, NATO and Israel, along with military actions and threats to Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Libya and Syria. The local chapter has been active in efforts to educate the public about the role played by drones in warfare.
This year Veterans for Peace are holding their national convention in San Diego. This week marks the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 200,000 people. The convention theme is “Peace and Reconciliation in the Pacific.”
Supporters of the group in Eureka, California restored The Golden Rule peace boat and sailed it down the west coast, arriving over the weekend.
The Golden Rule, considered the first of the environmental and peace vessels to go to sea, gained notoriety in 1958 when they attempted to sail into a nuclear bomb test zone in the Marshall Islands. The incident inspired an international movement to stop the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.
Veterans for Peace originally asked for permission to dock the historic vessel at the Maritime Museum, but were denied.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego officially rejected the Golden Rule from docking at its wharf as a temporary exhibit yesterday, on the grounds that the ship’s values do not align with those of the museum.
What began as a debate between Veterans for Peace and the museum for available docking space has evolved into a battle over the Golden Rule’s historical significance.
Museum media representative Vincent Hernandez said the museum refuses to promote the Golden Rule because it has a clear political agenda.
“The boat’s history is seen as promoting civil disobedience,” Hernandez said. “This does not align with the mission of the Maritime Museum.”
Over the next few days at the Town and Country Resort and Convention Center and other locations there will be meetings, workshops and other activities.
Included among the speakers are Ray McGovern, Phyllis Bennis, Marjorie Cohn, Dr. Akiko Mikamo, and Ann Wright. Congresswoman Susan Davis will be among those attending the opening plenary.
Author and former MSNBC host Dylan Jason Ratigan will moderate a panel at the First Unitarian Universalist Church entitled Peace at Home, Peace Abroad.
Saturday night’s keynote speaker will be former New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh.
For more information: www.vfpnationalconvention.org
Biden’s Non-Campaign for President
The Union-Tribune ran an op-ed from a Dallas newspaper listing eight problems Vice President Joe Biden could face if he were to run for the top job.
Wait! Joe Biden’s running?
Not so fast. This is a classic example of pack journalism, whereby one story based on “sources” appears and is immediately followed by dozens of other reports exploring different angles on the same–unconfirmed–assumption.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who’s making a living these days out of her loathing and obsession with all things Clinton, wrote a story suggesting Biden was considering a run for President.
If you read the fine print in the story, it came down to wishful thinking. Maureen Dowd said it. It must be true. So now it’s a thing.
From The Hill: (emphasis mine)
Asked on Tuesday whether he will run for president, Biden joked to Wall Street Journal’s White House correspondent Carol Lee, “Only if you’re my running mate.”
It is the first time Biden has publicly addressed growing speculation he could challenge Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
OMG, OMG. He “addressed…speculation.”
Vice President Biden’s sister, who has led all of his past political campaigns, said Monday that she has not spoken to her brother about a run for the White House next year.
“I have not had a single conversation with him about it,” Valerie Biden Owens told The News Journal of Delaware on Monday.
A Quick Question on School Achievement
What is the only program ever proven to narrow the achievement gap between students of differing racial groups?
Bill Gates’ money, Pearson’s testing and instructional guides and charter schools have nothing to do with it.
If you guessed integration, you guessed right. And guess what?
Since 1988, the number of black students and white students who attend school together has decreased. And the achievement gap between black and white students has grown.
WBEZ’s This American Life podcast/radio program (heard locally on KPBS) on the subject is one of the most compelling stories on the subject I’ve ever encountered.
On This Day: 1921 – The first play-by-play broadcast of a baseball game was done by Harold Arlin. KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, PA described the action between the Pirates and Philadelphia 1931 – Using clubs, police routed 1,500 jobless men who had stormed the plant of the Fruit Growers Express Co. in Indiana Harbor, Ind., demanding jobs. 1963 – The Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. The treaty banned nuclear tests in space, underwater, and in the atmosphere.
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