Thursday, October 24, 2013

131.6 - Outrage of the Week: Voter suppression in VA and TX

Outrage of the Week: Voter suppression in VA and TX

It's not new, it's not just happening now, it's not even something I haven't mentioned before. In fact, I talked some about it just last week. It's on-going, so much so that it could be a topic every week. It's voter suppression - and it is again the Outrage of the Week.

Voter suppression doesn't seem to register much in Massachusetts, it just doesn't seem to have the same traction here as in some other places: For one example, either last year or the year before there was a move for a signature campaign for a ballot question to require voters to produce photo ID at the polling place in order to vote. The fact that I'm not sure what year it was is evidence of how badly the effort fizzled.

In fact, the state legislature recently advanced a state constitutional amendment to facilitate early voting and more widespread use of absentee voting here, concepts the those who want to suppress the vote oppose.

But you need to realize this and make no mistake about it: There is a nationwide, conscious, coordinated campaign by the right wing to restrict voting rights in America, to make it harder and harder for people to vote, particularly to make it harder for students, minorities, the poor, and the elderly - the first three of which groups lean left in their politics and the latter of which is the main support for two programs the reactionaries would love to bring down because they stand as symbols of progressive changes over the past 75 years: Social Security and Medicare. The main method has been to demand more and more specific means of identification in order to register and then to vote, means of identification that those four groups are less likely to possess.

But that's not the only way, which brings us to two events of the past week.

First comes news from Virginia that a federal district judge has refused to stop the state from purging up to 57,000 names from the voter registration rolls. This purge is being done through a system used by a number of states called Crosscheck. The purpose is to weed out those who are registered in more than one place, something the most usually happens when a voter moves from one voting precinct to another and the first precinct never removes their name so even though they never vote in the first place again they are still listed as a registered voter there. It's real purpose, that is, is to remove deadwood from the rolls.

However, this purge is occurring just weeks before state-level elections in Virginia, including for governor, and local election officials complained that they were not given sufficient time to research the names and find out if they really should be removed. As a result, some officials dropped people from the rolls without even checking.

Those who wanted to check were under the gun: Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown said she wanted to delay the purge because there wasn't enough time before the election to research the names. But her local election board ordered her to proceed. She had a week - and she's already heard from people who have actually been voting there for the last couple of years, meaning they should not have been on the purge list.

One registrar, Lawrence Haake of Chesterfield County, flatly refused to purge any voters after he conducted a preliminary review that found nearly 10 percent of the names given to him by the state for potential purging were, in fact, eligible voters.

The state Democratic Party sued to stop the purge and have the 38,000 names already removed reinstated, but despite the experiences of Brown and Haake and the rest of the evidence presented in the case, including county officials reporting error rates of 11% to 13% in the lists of voters to be purged provided by the state, District Court Judge Claude Hilton did his best Sgt. Schultz impression and denied the motion, claiming the evidence did not convince him that anyone had been disenfranchised.

Which when you think about it is a pretty creepy position since it means that you can't act to prevent your right to vote from being taken away, you can only try to get it back after the fact.

A particularly interesting aspect to all this is that the legal advisor for the Virginia Board of Elections is Attorney General Ken "Vaginal Ultrasound" Cuccinelli - who also happens to be the Republican candidate for Governor. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

As an aside, the good news here is that in polls, Cuccinelli has been consistently clearly behind Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. Not that I have any hots for McAuliffe, but he's not Cuccinelli.

Okay, moving from the right wing to the wacko wing, we move to Texas, which has a new voter ID law going into effect November 5. And credit where it's due, you have admit they've come up with something creative. They've already done their best to hinder the ability of blacks, Latinos, college students, and the poor to vote; now they've come up with a way to do the same to women.

The new law says that as of November 5, Texans must not only show a photo ID to vote, it must be a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34% of voting age women do not have ready access to a photo document that will satisfy Texas's requirements, largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names.

And for such women who lack ID, getting one is becoming more difficult: A birth certificate is not enough, because that's not your current legal name. They will have to show legal proof of a name change and they have to be the original documents. The inevitable result is that a number of women in Texas who as of today are legal voters in another week or so suddenly won't be. Like I said, give the devil his due for creativity.

But what puts the exclamation point to all of this is the utterly amazing, even stunning admission from Judge Richard Posner about the case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.

What was Crawford v. Marion County Election Board? It was the case arising from a challenge to a voter photo ID in Indiana, the case that lead to the Supreme Court upholding a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the law did not disenfranchise or unduly burden voters.

Who is Richard Posner? He was the circuit court judge who wrote that court's opinion, the one the Supreme Court upheld.

And what was his admission? They got it wrong. And he said it in so many words. Asked in an interview “Do you think that the court got this one [that is, Crawford v. Marion County] wrong,” he answered “Yes. Absolutely."

So the person who wrote the opinion that lead to the Supreme Court decision that has formed the basis for every legal defense of increasingly harsh voter ID regiments - many of which quote the case inaccurately - the person who wrote the opinion that initiated the entire superstructure of legal gobbledygook, double-talk, and baloney in service to the denial of the right to vote, that person is now shuffling his intellectual feet and going "golly gee whillikers."

Of course, though, it wasn't his fault. Of course not.

“I think we did not have enough information,” he said. “If the lawyers had provided us with a lot of information about the abuse of voter identification laws, this case would have been decided differently.”

Yeah, well, he should have paid more attention to the information he got: The Brennan Center, which does a lot of work on voting rights, filed an amicus brief describing how the Indiana law at issue could disenfranchise a significant number of voters. But even if he was aware of it, I'm not sure he would have cared, as he was rather dismissive of those concerns, saying in his opinion that the "benefits of voting to the individual voter are elusive."

That, I said at the time, means that as far as Posner is concerned, as an individual your very right to vote is an "elusive benefit" of little value - so it's not that important if it's lost.

Which, I have to say in fairness, actually makes his change of heart - he noted in that interview that photo ID laws are "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention” - all the more remarkable. It changes nothing about the case or the law or or the Supreme Court's decision or any of the other voter suppression laws, but maybe, just maybe, it can help to begin to turn the tide back to voting as a right to be exercised, not an obstacle course to be negotiated only by the chosen few.


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