Way to Go, Minnesotans!

Monday, November 19th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

It’s taken me a few days to just drink in the beauty of what happened here in Minnesota on Election Day 2012.  Lost in all the (legitimate) whoops and hollers of joy that resonated nation-wide, we here in Minnesota did something amazing.

Not only did we turn back a constitutional amendment on defining marriage as between one man and one woman, we romped and stomped on the “voter ID” amendment that was put on our ballot by a Republican legislator who is the Minnesota chairperson of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  That measure is nothing short of a victory of, by and for the people.  Never have I seen such hard work by a group called Our Vote/Our Future.  Minnesotans could never repay the debt of gratitude that is owed them.

This “voter ID” constitutional amendment started out at an 80 percent approval rating when it was first “introduced.”  Down the homestretch, this fabulous organization worked its collective butt off – hundreds of thousands of phone calls, door knocking, organizing and never, ever giving up hope that this horrible amendment could be defeated.

By the weekend before the election, the favorable rating for the “voter ID” amendment had dropped from 80 percent approval to 46 percent approval and it failed when Minnesotans went out and voted it down.

And as great as the work of one organization was, the individual work of former Republican Governor Arne Carlson cannot go unrecognized.  He was relentless in his efforts to educate Minnesotans about what this voter suppression was all about.  He traversed the state and gave unselfishly of his time and energy.

The individual and group efforts reminded me of something Sister Simone Campbell (Nuns on the Bus) said during an interview with us earlier this summer.

“I had a meeting with Paul Ryan, and he said the only reason he talks about individual responsibility and not about community is because the ‘other side’ talks about community,” Sister Simone said.  “But you see, I can talk about individual responsibility. We have an individual responsibility to build up community.  We are in relationship with everyone else. That’s how it works.”

Boy, did we prove that here in Minnesota.

The Lie of Voter Fraud Hits Minnesota

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

Other than the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling, there are few issues that tear at the basic fabric of democracy as much as the current assault by Republican-controlled state houses to enact voter photo ID laws. These laws, which have been written by the national American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and then “cut and pasted” into different state legislation are aimed solely at restricting and suppressing eligible citizens from casting their vote.

Recent news about estimates of more than 758,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania being unable to cast a ballot this November has shed a spotlight on what this law is all about – restricting access to the polls for eligible voters who tend to vote Democratic.

Does anyone remember what caused former President George W. Bush’s Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to finally resign? It was for the scandal surrounding the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for their refusal to prosecute non-existent voter fraud. The Republican Party tried desperately to make “voter fraud” an issue from 2005-2010 and it simply could not be found – anywhere. Not in any state in the nation.

Then in 2010 the Republicans took control of multiple state houses and POOF, like magic, back came voter fraud. The Republicans couldn’t make it happen through the courts and the U.S. attorneys, so they found a much easier way. Get Republican controlled legislatures to pass ALEC legislation. Since 2010, 10 Republican-controlled states passed voter ID laws (Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin).

The reality is voter fraud is a rarity in the United States, and voter impersonation at the polls, the only incident that could be prevented by these restrictive voter ID laws, is virtually nonexistent. Most instances of improper voting involve registration and eligibility issues, none of which would be prevented by a state photo ID restriction. One academic study found photo ID restrictions would prevent less than one fraudulent vote for every 1,000 legitimate voters who would be excluded from voting by the requirement.

Simply put: If you buy into the need for voter photo ID, you simply have fallen for the lie of voter fraud.

This ugly assault on democracy has made its way to Minnesota, where I reside, in a slightly different format. Although the 2010 elections brought a Republican controlled state senate and house to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton survived a recount vote – without either side alleging voter fraud – to take the governorship.

Running on that all too familiar jobs, jobs, jobs agenda, the Republicans turned immediately to trying to pass a voter photo ID law in 2011. Dayton vetoed it. After a shut down of the state government in July 2011, what was the first plan of action as the Republican legislature convened in January 2012? Voter photo ID again. This time though, they chose to bypass the governor’s veto and put it on the ballot in November as an amendment to the state constitution.

Minnesota – who continually leads the nation in voter turnout – now faces the possibility of limiting voter rights and forcing estimates of more than 500,000 eligible voters from casting their vote if this initiative is allowed to stand as written.

The law currently is in the hands of the Minnesota Supreme Court based on court challenges that contend the language does not represent the full impact of the constitutional amendment.

The current language as passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature states:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?

The Minnesota League of Women Voters does a magnificent job explaining what will really change and what’s not mentioned in the amendment language. Click here to see the document.

The BRADBlog provided one of the most in-depth analyses of how the amendment changes forever Minnesota’s rich tradition of voter turnout. Click here for more information.

To summarize:

1) Valid vs. ‘government-issued’ ID: The “valid” ID descriptor is misleading because it fails to inform voters that the proposed constitutional amendment would limit “valid” ID to “government-issued” ID, making Minnesota only the fourth state to limit acceptable polling place photo ID to “government-issued” photo ID. This could potentially eliminate student IDs, employee IDs, and tribal IDs.

2.) All voters: This would incorporate absentee ballots, forcing those who vote via mail, including many in rural areas, to be in jeopardy of casting their vote.

3.) Creation of provisional ballots: Minnesota same day registration and “vouching” for voters would forever be changed. No where does the language inform voters that by passing this amendment, the state’s proud legacy of same day registration would be abolished and we would be creating a new system of voting called provisional ballots.

4.) The cost: Nowhere are voters informed of the cost of the implementation of the new system. State officials estimated the overall first-year costs to be $32.9 million statewide, the bulk of that, $29 million, going toward new poll books that would be available at polling places, according to a Humphrey Institute study. About 85 percent of the cost would be paid by local governments. The report suggests there may be hidden costs, too. It notes that Indiana expected to spend about $700,000 for additional ID cards when it enacted its law but ended up spending $10 million.

The most noteworthy opposition to this voting rights limitation amendment came from former Republican Governor Arne Carlson and former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale. The two elder statesmen from opposing political parties came together for a joint new conference to articulate their concerns over its potential effect on Minnesota’s election system. The two penned an editorial in the state’s largest newspaper (The Star Tribune) in which they noted:

The overall goal of this amendment is largely to eliminate election-day registration, directly affecting more than 500,000 Minnesota voters. The new law will require a government-issued photo ID listing a voter’s home address. This can be challenging particularly for students, the elderly, the military, absentee voters or anyone who moves.

They also called out the obvious partisan nature of the bill and identified another major rub on this amendment. Legislators are elected to legislate – to do the work of bi-partisan bridge building to create laws. In their editorial, Carlson and Mondale said:

We in Minnesota lead the nation in voter turnout, and our elections are the most honest. We have recently gone through two very close elections (U.S. Senator Al Franken and Governor Mark Dayton) and recounts without a single case of fraud.

There is a reason why — our insistence that election laws be designed in a bipartisan fashion. That is key. No party should have an election advantage.

Unfortunately, the voter ID constitutional amendment was passed by the Legislature on a strict party-line vote. Not one Democrat in either the House or the Senate voted for it. Not one.

Further, this proposed amendment does not have its origins in Minnesota, nor does it come about as a result of legislative studies of recent elections. It is a product of an organization known as ALEC, which is the creation of the Koch brothers, who amassed their fortunes in oil and who live in Florida. The goal of ALEC is to influence legislators across the nation.

Our preference is for a return to a legislative process that studies a problem first and then creates a sensible and affordable bipartisan solution. This amendment falls short on all counts.

Anyone who supports these current ALEC-funded voter suppression bills has forgotten our strong history of expanding the vote for everyone. We dishonor the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the Suffragette Movement of nearly 100 years ago by even considering bills or state constitutional amendments to limit eligible voters from casting their ballots. There should be something deep within everyone’s patriotic soul that is repulsed at partisan activities that seek to keep eligible voters from the polls.

In Minnesota, our strong hope remains that the Supreme Court will toss out the language as insufficient for truly representing what the amendment would do. If they do, it will be up to the 2013 legislature to revisit the issue. Whether Democratic or Republican controlled, or split, voter photo ID laws should never see the light of day in a country calling itself a democracy.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list, we have an in-depth investigation showing that Texas almost certainly executed an innocent person, a report on how a stable middle class encourages economic growth, an article uncovering other organizations promoting corporate conservative state legislation, how Mitt “Severe Conservative” Romney is a servant of the right wing, and how profit-making has led Louisiana to have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

 

Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man – an article about the Columbia Human Rights Law Review’s 436-page article Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution which demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that Texas executed an innocent man, Carlos DeLuna, in 1989 for a murder that he did not commit.  The book and all of its supporting documentation are available online at thewrongcarlos.com

The American Middle Class, Income Inequality, and the Strength of Our Economy – a report by the Center for American Progress about the latest economic research demonstrating that a strong middle class is critical to economic growth, while inequality tends to undermine growth.

Mitt Romney, Servant of the Right – an essay arguing that Romney, were he to become President, would not govern as a moderate and instead would do the bidding of the right wing.   Winning Progressive has been making a similar argument, and we have started a new page of questions for Romney about the extreme views of the advisers and organizations that Romney is surrounding himself with.

Louisiana is the World’s Prison Capital – an in-depth assessment of how Louisiana’s system of for-profit prisons and local sheriffs who profit off of them have created an incarceration rate in Louisiana that is twice that of the US as a whole, triple the rate in Russia, and five times higher than the rate in Iran.

Uncovering the Other ALECs – a look at how state government “trade associations” such as the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures work to promote a corporate conservative legislative agenda on issues like school privatization, fracking, tort reform, and other issues

On Sustaining Hope

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

Maybe you’re reading this on a computer that, just thirty years ago, would have occupied an entire building. Or even more astonishingly, maybe you’re reading it on a cell phone. At your office, you can flick a switch and lights come on, turn a knob and have fresh water, or push a lever and flush your waste. In many public restrooms, you don’t even have to push the lever; a sensor sees when you stand up and flushes automatically. At your local market, you can find almost any kind of food at almost any time of year. Back at home, you can go online and chat with friends from anywhere in the world, share ideas, plan events, even fall in love. Humans have come a long way, at least in the developed world.

There are also seven billion of us now, heading toward nine billion by the end of this century. While most Americans have luxuries that would have dazzled kings just 200 years ago, and while a handful live almost beyond imagination even today, billions still lack basic necessities and wonder if they’ll have food tomorrow. As we saw last week, raising their standard of living will require more energy than we have and feeding them will push our climate to the brink. Just as we most need scientific breakthroughs, we find we’ve moved beyond the veil of cause, crunching data for patterns we cannot explain but dare not ignore. All of those amazing discoveries and inventions in the paragraph above were the “low-hanging fruit” of human innovation. The accumulated problem-solving that brought humanity to this century pales beside the problem-solving we’ll need to see the next.

Is There a Future?

When we look around at the problems that remain, hear the ticking clock of climate and environmental changes already underway, and meet the stubbornness of those who deny those problems … it’s easy to conclude that the clock may well run out, that we may be The Last Generation already pondering The World Without Us.

Even if we find solutions for agriculture and energy and slow or buffer the effects of climate change, we now know there are other dangers lurking. The Yellowstone Caldera is bulging, threatening a supervolcanic eruption causing a worldwide cataclysm. Eruptions in the Canary Islands or elsewhere could trigger megatsunamis. Laboratories now rush to develop nanotechnology to detect biohazards and pathogens, hoping to get warning time before a toxin or superbug spreads out of control. Add solar flares, stray asteroids, and geomagnetic reversals … and who would blame you for thinking we’re trapped on an unstable rock, waiting for a chaotic and dangerous universe to kill us. Unless we blow ourselves up first.

Watch Us Grow

All of those threats are real. Some we can’t even hope to prevent. But before you give up or start preparing for doomsday … take a breath and reread that paragraph about how far we’ve come as a species. Remember how we evolved to survive through communication and cooperation. Consider how much we can discover when we accept and learn from our mistakes.

Then take it out of theory and into the news around us. Look at what President Obama and Democrats accomplished over the past three years. Consider what activism accomplished in the past few months, from changing the story on income inequality to reopening the Trayvon Martin investigation, from protecting Planned Parenthood to pushing back ALEC.

Think about what it means that you can be part of solving problems like never before. You can donate a barnyard of hope to a family you’ll never meet, help finance their business, try to find a solution for a high-tech problem, and work to reelect our president … all with the same technology you used to read this essay.

Our challenges are bigger than ever before. But so are our tools, and our ability to support and encourage each other as we use them.

So yes … it still makes sense to hope.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

 

Keep Up the Pressure On ALEC and Its Supporters

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

There was big news Tuesday when the shadowy right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) announced it was shutting down its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which had pushed the controversial voter suppression laws and Stand Your Ground laws in state legislatures throughout the country.  Over the past few weeks, progressives, led by Color of Change and the Center for Media and Democracy, have brought significant pressure on ALEC’s corporate members to withdraw their support.  The result has been not only Tuesday’s announcement by ALEC, but also at least eleven major corporations, including Coke, PepsiCo, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and McDonald’s, have publicly announced their break with ALEC.

What’s nice about the ALEC story is that it shows that progressives are finally beginning to flex their political muscles again, and that it is working.  For years now, one of the big things that has enabled conservatives to have so much power is that they were more than willing to take down their opposition, whether they be politicians, organizations, businesses, or individuals. They understood that politics ain’t beanbag, but instead is a rough and tumble world in which you have to be willing to strenuously fight for your beliefs and interests, and go toe-to-toe with people who oppose you.

For far too long, progressives have been unwilling to engage in a similar sort of approach. We’ve been far more interested in rational debate, seeing both sides of an issue, and trying to reach common ground. Those things are all critically important. But some entities, like ALEC, are never going to be persuaded by debate and compromise – they have an agenda that is opposed to progressive values that we need to stop.  And we can only do so by taking them and their supporters on head on.

In flexing our political muscles we progressives must, of course, ensure that we are doing so fairly and based on facts, rather than following the conservative path of smears and distortions. But figuring out how to continue flexing our muscles while staying true to our values of fairness and reality-based decisionmaking is critical to the future success of the progressive movement.

The progress we’ve made so far on ALEC is wonderful and should be celebrated.  But even as ALEC purports to moves away from promoting voter suppression and other non-economic issues, the organization is committed to continuing to promote a radical right-wing economic agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, lax corporate oversight, and weakened environmental and public health standards.  And ALEC almost certainly made its announcement Tuesday with the hope that it would cause progressives to declare victory and move onto other issues.  We cannot let that happen.

Instead, now is the time to push our advantage and continue the pressure on ALEC and its supporters.  You can help do so by:

* Contacting ALEC’s corporate members and urging them to withdraw their support from ALEC

* Checking this list to see if your state legislators are members of ALEC. If they are, call them and urge them to drop their support of the organization.

* Contact ALEC’s Executive Director Ron Scheberle – 202-466-3800 – and let him know that the pressure on his organizations is just beginning (h/t to reader Ethan Oringel for this suggestion)

Please remember to be respectful when you make these calls.   If you’d like further information about ALEC before you make your calls, check out the website ALEC Exposed.

If you have NO VOTE, you have NO CIVIL RIGHTS

Friday, April 6th, 2012

(Editor’s Note – Winning Progressive is pleased to welcome back Fay Paxton as a contributor to this blog.  Fay contributed some posts to Winning Progressive in April and May, 2011, including our single most viewed post, Confessions of a Welfare Recipient.  Fay now has her own blog, The Pragmatic Pundit, from which she will be occasionally sharing posts.   Please welcome Fay and check out her blog.)

 

 (By Fay Paxton)

The ability to vote is one of the most cherished of our Constitutional Rights. It is the right to vote that people have fought for, marched for, and even died for.  It is the right to vote that allows citizens to determine, to some degree, their own future by electing officials who reflect their views and will speak for them in government.

After the 2000 Florida election debacle, Congress established a body called the Election Assistance Commission to improve voting and democracy in this country.  The bi-partisan committee spent a year doing research to produce a draft report, but after submitting the draft in July 2006, committee members were barred from further participation.

The research found widespread agreement that allegations of fraud through voter impersonation at polling places were greatly exaggerated. But the commission did find reasons to be concerned about voter intimidation.  Under pressure from Congress, the report was finally released, but only after the Republican general counsel assumed primary control over rewriting the report.

The report garnered very little attention because during the time of the commission, claims about voter fraud and efforts to advance the cause of strict voter identification laws were at a fever pitch in Congress and the states.  Perhaps you recall that some U.S. attorneys were fired because they failed to pursue poorly supported voter fraud cases.

State Requirements for Specific Voter Identification

Since the 2010 elections, many states have passed laws that will require voters to show a state-issued ID at the polls this November. That number could rise.  Personally, I do not take issue with individuals being required to identify themselves, but there should be more ways for one to identify than those specified.

Get the voting facts in your state:

American citizens Denied the Right to Vote

Judge Flanagan recently issued an injunction against Wisconsin’s photo ID law, stating that “he found that there was “no evidence of voter fraud that would have been prevented by” the photo ID law….The AG produced extremely little evidence of fraud and that which has been uncovered; improper use of absentee ballots and unqualified voters, would not have been prevented by the photo ID requirement.”

While evidence of fraud is virtually non-existent, a number of voters have already been denied their voting rights by new voter ID laws.  For example:

For 63 years, 84-year-old Wisconsin native Ruthelle Frank went to the polls to vote. But because of the state’s new voter ID law, 2012 will be the first year Frank can’t vote. Born at her home in 1927, Frank never received an official birth certificate. Her mother recorded it in her family Bible and Frank has a certification of baptism from a few months later, along with a Social Security card, a Medicare statement, and a checkbook.  But state officials informed Frank that, because the state Register of Deeds does have a record of her birth, the state Register of Deeds in Madison  can generate a birth certificate — for a fee. And because of a spelling error, that fee may be as high as $200.  “I look at that like paying a fee to vote,” Frank said.

Dorothy Cooper, 96 was born before women had the right to vote.  Cooper took a rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her voter registration card and her birth certificate to the Driver Service Center to get her free ID. Typewritten on the birth certificate was her maiden name, Dorothy Alexander.  She was denied a voters I.D. because she didn’t have her marriage license.

Lincoln Davis, a former U.S. Congressman who served two terms for Tennessee,  “they told me I was not a registered voter. I had been taken off the list … They didn’t offer me a provisional ballot, or anything, just told me I wasn’t registered.”

Finally,  The Brad Blog recently had an inspiring post about a former marine, Tim Thompson, who refused to show his photo I.D.  in protest of the new law.  Thompson said he feels that the Voter ID law prohibits the poor, many minorities and the elderly from the right to vote, a right that many have fought and died for.

“I’ve used this for 37 years,” he said showing his voter registration card, “This was good enough for my father, it was good enough for my grandfather and I refuse to show you a picture ID….When I took my oath, it was for all people, all Americans — Republican, Democrat, black, white. It didn’t matter what color you were or what religion you believed in. It didn’t matter. It was for all Americans. That’s what Marines fight for.”  Below is footage of Mr. Thompson testifying to the Tennessee state legislature against efforts to establish a voter ID requirement in that state.  In his testimony, Mr. Thompson said, “I want people to get off their asses and fight this law.”  When it comes to conservative voter suppression proposals, I couldn’t agree more.