Tag Archives: voting rights

Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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One bird with one stone

Trigger warning: racism, electoral discrimination

I have been sick most of this week and sadly stuck inside at home as a result. Probably the only good thing to come out of that, however, was that I was able to directly participate in a twitter conversation held by the organizers for VoterVOX on Tuesday. Hosted on that group’s hashtag, they had a discussion about, as they put it – creating “a polyglot democracy” through community-centered translation services. Part fundraising drive, part introduction of the new foundation, and part overture about the coming struggle to define and structure the 2016 US elections, there were a lot of interesting hints about what to expect to see more of.

One of the most enlightening stories shared in the twitter conversation was one by Sabrina Hersi Issa, who has had VoterVOX widely credited as her brainchild more than anyone else’s. She explained-

An essential and defining part of VoterVOX is that it’s a response to a type of racism built into the structure of US democracy. While there’s linguistic inequalities experienced by basically all people whose first or most comfortable language isn’t English, VoterVOX is designed to increase and improve participation for people who specifically speak languages originally spoken in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. As pointed out in the conversation and on VoterVOX’s fundraising page, people of Asian ancestry are one of the fastest growing demographics in a number of key states – Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. With the looming 2016 elections, VoterVOX is poised to address the shared needs of a diverse set of communities who may have quietly become a hugely important voting bloc.

Of course, there is a broader context here, as 2016 is likely to be a distinct electoral terrain for people of color. The protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) have come under fire, and the Supreme Court dismantled the standards of pre-clearance (which have long been a barrier to racial electoral discrimination). VoterVOX’s emphasis on specific forms of linguistic disenfranchisement seeks to expand the arsenal against racial inequality at the polls even while a broader protection for marginalized communities has been lost – which was an active force in among other states, Arizona and Georgia. The capacity of indigenous communities to use VoterVOX remains to be seen, as will whether it can create a political environment that reinforces the rights of largely English- or Spanish-speaking Black and Latin@ communities. The origins of VoterVOX are in different communities than those, and it has been shaped by those communities’ needs.

That said, a two-front fight of combating both access being compromised by linguistic discrimination and other attempts to discriminate against communities of color could be quite effective. That could challenge the types of electoral discrimination resurrected by the gutted VRA while also addressing the more subtle and namely linguistic-based forms that flourished even under pre-clearance. In short, there are two different fights for meaningful access to the polls for communities of color in the US as anxieties around the 2016 elections build. VoterVOX is an innovative attempt to tackle one of them, but only one of them. Its specialization means that it will be very effective at what its designed to do, but it also means that it’s only meant to address one of them.

Full disclosure, I am in the process of donating to VoterVOX myself. If you are similarly interested, here is their IndieGoGo page, which is where the featured image for this article is from.

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The Fourth Estate

keith simmons

From here.

President Obama is still making waves over his speech last week in Cleveland, where among other ways to dismantle the power of large donors over elections he noted:

In Australia, and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting.  It would be transformative if everybody voted.  That would counteract money more than anything.  If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country, because the people who tend not to vote are young; they’re lower income; they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups; and they’re often the folks who are — they’re scratching and climbing to get into the middle class.  And they’re working hard, and there’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.  We should want to get them into the polls.  So that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.

Demos immediately noted the accuracy to his statement with a statistical look at how both the typical electorate is wealthier than the general population and non-voters of all income levels are less invested in protecting that class’s interests. Quite a few critical responses were less rigorous, like Matt Lewis’ in the The Telegraph. Like most counterpoints it ultimately had one fear at the core of it. As Lewis put it, “While I don’t want to live in a nation where only land-holding white males get to vote, I also don’t want to live in a nation where my vote is effectively canceled out by someone who has neither the inclination nor the information to cast an informed ballot.” That’s a fairly emotional reaction born out of an assumption, that the comparatively wealthy, White, and conservative electorate (within which Lewis is fairly normal) is simply the best one to make political choices.

The American Spectator at least attempted to craft a logical defense of that assumption in their response. Their claim rested on two citations – a Pew Research Poll and a paper affiliated with the American Political Science Association. Both establish political “ignorance” in a fairly unimpressive way. Why should knowledge about the political party membership of historical (or even present) figures matter much in a country with individual candidate races? Why is an ability to define the three branches of federal government key to a political understanding of who is the best candidate? The latter even points out among less powerful groups women outperform men when it comes to “local politics and ―’gender relevant’ issues that are directly pertinent to women’s lives, such health care, abortion policy, or women’s representation in local, state, and national government.” It seems like these tests may be biased towards information that’s less relevant for the many marginalized groups both in their daily lives and in voting booths.

Education systems both in the US and around the world have long confronted this issue, from here.
Education systems both in the US and around the world have long confronted this issue, from here.

But even if we assume this presumption of ignorance among the less powerful is true (which it very well may be), there’s a very real concern to be had over journalists treating it as an inevitable fact. As members of the Fourth Estate, it’s arguable that they have a duty to inform the entire public, in a way accessible to and relevant for differing subgroups. How much of the “ignorance” gap is a reflection of an ineffective media, owned by influential interests, guided by dominant ideologies, and populated by members of generally empowered groups? If members of that group are unhappy with their impact on the electorate (particularly a highly participatory one), then they could always… do their jobs.

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Nimble, so nimble

TW: abortion

Much of today’s news coverage has been eaten up in discussing Texan State Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster against the extreme bill before the Texan Senate currently, which would ban abortions in the state that are scheduled for twenty weeks or more after conception. If you’re curious about that, here’s an on-going livestream and blow-by-blow. Given the national reception of this one, I think Davis has become fairly cemented in the public’s mind as the Texan Senator who filibusters questionable Republican policies, which I honestly hope she parlays into further success.

That said, I’m worried about what’s been overshadowed as a result. There’s some clear implications in how Republicans intend to continue governing in Texas from both their actions concerning this bill and others in the past few days. As RH Reality Check has reported, this bill is being pushed through now and within this twenty-four hour period because the Republicans and anti-choice Democrats briefly had the adequate percent of the body to pass the bill with minimal debate. That temporary status is the result of Democratic Senator Leticia Van De Putte being absent as “her father was killed in a car accident on Friday morning and she is attending to family matters in San Antonio today [June 24, 2013].”

Yeah, ew. Right? To take advantage of a colleague’s personal loss to further this sort of misogynistic agenda, that’s some cold blooded political calculation.

(Texan Senator Senfronia Thompson attempting to prevent the Texan Senate from bringing this bill to a vote, yesterday, prior to Davis’ filibuster. She carried a coat hanger to the podium with her. Image from here.)

This is fact not the only instance of rather convenient timing in Texan legislature news in the past few days. Within hours of the US Supreme Court striking down the fourth section of the Voting Rights Act, which required numerous states and counties to clear their voting regulations with federal authorities before implementing them, Texas changed its laws. They’ll be requiring voters to present photo identification, which disproportionately impacts low income voters, voters of color, and younger voters (who are both less likely to own cars and hence have a driver’s license… but also less likely to vote Republican).

Watch those Texan Senators, because goodness knows what’s next in the coming hours as new opportunities immediately present themselves…

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What if the VRA should do more?

Ryan Emenaker has an excellent piece over at SCOTUS Blog on the current challenge to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) before the Supreme Court, which lays out a very convincing case for the court to do nothing. I’m naturally of the opinion that we live in a society where Black individuals are effectively prevented from protesting how they are targeted for attacks and murders by an unfortunately large number of police officers. In that context, does it really make sense to suggest that racism is no longer a force in the United States and existing legal protections against discrimination can be rescinded?

Covered districts in the United States - the states of Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia
(The states in red, counties in blue, and townships in pink must currently clear any changes in voting procedure with the federal Department of Justice before implementation, from here. Click to see enlarged.)

Beyond the retention of the coverage system (which districts can leave after a decade without being found to have violated bans on racial, ethnic, or similar forms of voting discrimination), Emenaker notes that it’s “difficult to argue that Congress’s coverage formula has no rational relation to reducing infringement on minority voting rights.” He expands on that in multiple ways – including how the process deters states and counties from even drafting biased changes to voting systems.

Still, Emenaker explains how in spite of that currently covered districts are far more likely to have suits of racial discrimination brought against them. Missing from his argument, I think, is perhaps a challenge to how widespread indirectly discriminatory changes in voting procedures actually are. Most topically, we should talk about whether barriers to voting (such as new ID requirements) that we think of as independent issues are perhaps having a racially-distinct impact, even if without racist intent.

Perhaps now is not the time to dismantle the existing system, and also not only retain it, but expand it. Emenaker notes, that in the current case “New York, California, and Mississippi […] filed a combined amicus brief arguing that the preclearance requirement should be upheld.” since their covered “jurisdictions receive benefits from coverage; it grants a measure of protection against lawsuits and provides DOJ feedback on proposed election law changes.” Given that political representatives in parts of this country as distinct from each other as California, Mississippi, and New York can see their personal advantages from this bill, and in such a way that overtly benefits people of color who would like to vote without a hassle, why isn’t the conversation about expanding the coverage system and perhaps making it a universal process for all states, counties, and other districts?

What good is it to have laws against racial discrimination if we don’t actually do something about it when it occurs?

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You start skewing elections, you end up skewing reality

Here’s a query that’s been rattling around some people’s heads for the past week: is Arizona still a red state?

(“Todos somos Arizona!” – we’re all Arizona, originally from here.)

So, far the answer has been a resounding “no” from major media and polling outfits. Pew Hispanic makes that case in the most factual way possible, by compiling exit polls from various states and comparing them. Arizona fits into the same demographic class as North Carolina, more or less – with a White majority of which at most a third support Democratic candidates of color. An earlier portion of the same article notes that in spite of having one of the most conservative White majorities, Arizona has one of the largest Latin@ minorities of any US state.

Still, it’s worth noting that the same exit polls pegged the national Latin@ vote at 10 percent of all voters, which is funny, since they’re supposed to be 12.2 percent of us. Of course, it’s hard to say how much of that gap is just the product of voter apathy, as it always is, but noticing that small gap that may be important in places like Arizona, bring to mind the fact that hundreds of thousands of (mostly Latin@) ballots have yet to be counted.

These discrepancies and all the other blatant efforts to fix the electoral results, beg the question though: how will we know if Arizona is still a red state?

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It’ll get better, but only if you force it

TW: voter suppression

It would be cliché to say that for each eligible voter in the US the past months have led up to a single moment today. Perhaps more accurately, years of experiences have contributed to it. But for a single instant today, whether you cast it in person or they looked over the ballot you sent in weeks ago, what you decided to support counted and mattered (although, it must be said, not necessarily equally). At some point tonight, it will be your moment.

Unless, of course, that didn’t happen. There’s of course the many people, who although eligible voters in this country are for one reason or another unable to vote. For far too many, that choice is theirs alone, but it’s actually hard to say how many fall into that category. The vast majority of countries hold public elections on typically work-free Sundays, with several others also favoring the also often unscheduled Saturday. Among the few nations that favor weekday voting like the United States,  there often are many unusual efforts put into making voting easier in spite of it butting heads with work, school, and other weekly conflicts. In India, people can vote on either Wednesday or Thursday over the course of a four week period, allowing them to plan out when they will vote. In South Korea, although the Election Day is only a single day during the work week, it’s a national holiday.

South Korea ballot countingVoting lines in Mumbai, India, in 2009
(Ballot counting in South Korea and voting in India. Respectively from here and here.)

Having attempted to institute something akin to the system in India with early voting, the US has seen that backfire in many places as the number of hours a given precinct was open would be inadequate for demand.  For whatever reason, our infrastructure is inadequate to allow everyone to vote unless an entire day (and preferably several) of open polls which doesn’t conflict with work or school exists. In short, we need a South Korean-style national holiday to allow voters whose moment doesn’t have the chance to happen to vote in the future. With that in mind I suggest signing this petition for exactly such a solution to be put in place.

Unfortunately, there are many additional complications that can also serve to prevent some one from reaching the polls.  For our society to identify the reason some one couldn’t vote is key, as it will allow us to address the issue and allow more people to vote in the future. So, if you or anyone you know experienced a problem of any sort with voting this year, report it, report it, report it. If you don’t talk about it, no one can help you fix the problem. If the issue goes unresolved, your moment and the voice of potentially many others can’t ever come.

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