Of, by, and for the People!
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MID-TERM ELECTORAL PROGRESS & SETBACKS—WOMEN, NATIVE AMERICANS, MUSLIMS
By J.P. Linstroth
It is clear after these past mid-terms we need the United Nations to monitor our national elections to make certain they are democratically fair. Indeed, the elections proved Americans can be both progressive and regressive.
Not only were there voting irregularities on voting day—machine breakdowns, loss of power, long voting lines, voters turned away at polls—but there were significant efforts at voter suppression as well. When Republicans claim “fraud” in the voting process, the political strategy is to limit or even purge potential voters who may vote for the Democrats.
Yet, be reminded of our history. We are not discussing actual fraud here. No, here, it is the “potential” of fraud.
In the history of our politics, fraud was evident when a voter may have voted more than once, or a dead person’s name was used for voting. This happened most infamously in corrupt politics in the mid-to-late nineteenth century New York with Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall Democrat-party machine.
In our current politics, the idea is to prevent potential voters from voting because they may lean toward the other political party. This is done by both parties, predominantlyin recent decades by Republicans, with gerrymandering.
In the 2018 mid-terms, what we also saw were voting limitations placed upon minorities such as Native Americans and African Americans.
In a 6-2 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court in October, which required Native Americans to have proof of an actual street address in order to be able to vote. In rural Native reservations in North Dakota, there are most often no street addresses. This is no fault of their own. The Native reservations were never designed with street addresses in mind.
This was never a voting issue in North Dakota; Native Americans on any of the six large reservations have always just used P.O. boxes and they could vote. Then Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, won six years ago by small margins. ND Republicans knew she had the general support of the Native community so they passed a law requiring voters to have an ID with a street address.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. Efforts are being made across the country to suppress the vote. Since 2010, according to the Brennan Centerfor Justice, there have been 24 states which have introduced measures making it more difficult to vote. This new restrictive-voting legislation includes: more rigorous requirements of photo IDs, more limitations on early voting, and more stringent obligations on voting registration. Arguably, even though the Constitution declares it a right, many state officials are treating voting as a privilege. The difference is significant. States must legally justify restrictions on rights but not so on privileges.
Voter suppression in general damages our democracy. The more people we include in our democracy, and by giving more people the right to vote, the more representative government we have. Moreover, democracy is not simply about protecting the majority or how the majority rules but rather providing safeguards for our minorities as well.
Voting suppression is reminiscent of the “Jim Crow” South when it was acceptable to require African Americans to pay a “poll tax” in order to vote. Or, enforcing “grandfather clauses”—such as if your grandfather could not vote, neither could you. (For African-Americans who were former slaves, their grandparents were not allowed to vote!) And perhaps, worst of all, there were the impossible to pass literacy tests.
Today, in Georgia, the Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R), who also happens to be running against the African-American, Stacey Abrams (D), for governor—used his office to put 53,000 voter registrations on hold. At least three-quarters of these potential voters are African-Americans.
Kemp (R) has further raised the issue of fraud against the Democrats accusing them of hacking into the state’s voter registration system without any evidence whatsoever. Governor Rick Scott (R) in his Senatorial bid has also cried foul, calling out “radical liberals” for spoiling the electoral process, especially in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Such sentiments have been echoed by the President, when Trump cried foul about Hilary Clinton for rigging the 2016 election and the popular vote, utterly false claims seeming to misdirect from his own questionable machinations.
Why in 2018 are we still dealing with voter suppression? It is unconscionable.
Yet, not all was bad news from the mid-terms. There were some important positive take-aways as well.
Florida voted to allow former felons the right to vote with the exception of murderers and child abusers. More women were elected to the House of Representatives than at any other time in our history. At least 92 women were elected to the 435-member US House of Representatives and at least 10 women were elected as US Senators. (This will mean 23 women will now serve as US Senators out of 100 members.) In all, there will be 115 women serving in our representative democracy. (With some races still being decided, including more women.)
What is more, the first Native American women were elected to the US Congress, Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Ho-Chunk Nation, and Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico), Laguna Pueblo People. The first Muslim-American women were also elected to the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), a Somali-born refugee, and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Palestinian-American. For the first time in US history an openly gay person will serve as governor of a state, Jared Polis of Colorado. Additionally, the youngest woman to serve in the US House of Representatives was elected, Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) at 29 years old.
In sum, it is important to be hopeful about our elections. At the same time, we need to be wary of political strategies which are undermining our democracy and limiting our right to vote. Trump’s latest call for removing the 14thAmendment from the Constitution is just the most recent political installment of this drama. In other words, newly born new immigrants (so-called illegals) should not get the same rights according to the Trump administration.
It is time we all fight for our rights as Americans. It is time we call out our election officials for their false claims. It is time we take charge of our electoral process once more.
And if necessary, it is time we ask our elections be monitored by international observers like the United Nations to make them free and fair for all.
The Right to Vote Is the Foundation of Lawful Government—No Consent = No Government
By Kary Love
One of the great things about being a small-town country lawyer is you get to meet so many “ordinary” Americans going about their business, raising their kids, volunteering in their communities and working day after day to make a better tomorrow. One of the troublesome things about being a country lawyer is you encounter the contrast between those ordinary people and their so-called “leaders” and “law enforcers.” Though many of the latter reflect the good qualities of “ordinary” Americans, many, if not most, as taught by experiments in psychology, abandon their moral codes and embrace the psychopathology of those granted governmental power.
Power is dangerous. Unless constrained by law, there is no difference between the power of a police officer to shoot an unarmed person and that of a mafia enforcer. The sole difference is the police officer is only empowered to kill in accordance with the law. If he kills, like a mafia hit man, outside the law, then he is, too, an “outlaw.” So too, the FBI, the CIA, the US Army and every other governmental agent authorized to kill. Either it is done in accord with the law or it is illegal, possibly criminal. “Law enforcers” voluntarily swear an oath to the Constitution not to deprive persons of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Those who live up to it may rightly be considered heroes. Those who do not may rightly be considered Mafioso. I don’t make the law, but I have been trained to understand and interpret it.
In that training, I have learned American law has a principled foundation. It is known as the Declaration of Independence (DOI) passed by Congress July 4, 1776, it is the law that established America, and it remains in force to this day. Because America was going to “secede” from the British Empire, possibly to engage in “revolution” and war against the “mother country,” the American revolutionaries thought they had a duty to state the principles of law that justified such otherwise “treasonous” action.
The main justification was declared to be the fact that the English government was not based on the “consent” of the American people and was therefore “illegitimate” (which means unlawful). Not legal. How could the Americans claim that?
Simple. Americans’ did not have the right to vote for representatives in Parliament. Thus, the Americans argued, laws passed by Parliament were not lawful in America because they did not “have the Consent of the Governed.” The DOI declared government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without such consent government powers cannot be exercised “justly.” It that event the DOI continued, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it” (government).
The foundation of America is the idea that true representation of the people, meaningful consent to the laws its government passes, must be obtained by the government or it risks being “illegitimate” or a government of “outlaws.” This consent, in a republic such as the American, is derived from periodic votes of the people electing “representatives” or agents of the people representing the peoples’ input to lawmaking—since having direct votes was not technologically possible at the time—election of representatives (not “rulers”) was deemed prudent. But, should voting not be representative, consent would not exist, and government would be of questionable legitimacy.
Sadly, voting is apparently becoming less and less reflective of the consent of the people.
Keith Sellars, one of the 12 Alamance County, NC residents prosecuted for voting in 2016, tellingly wrote at Counterpunch:
For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same.
One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands.
As reported in the Guardian:
The two most recent Republican presidents have entered office despite receiving fewer votes than their opponent in a national election, thanks to the electoral college, which systematically over-represents small states. (California gets one electoral vote per 712,000 people; Wyoming gets one per 195,000.) With the presidency in hand in the run-up to the 2020 census, minority rule will be further entrenched by adding a citizenship question to the census. This will result in systematic undercounting of the population in heavily Democratic areas, which will in turn further reduce their influence as legislatures draw maps based on the data.
Then there’s the Senate. Because of its bias toward smaller, rural states, a resident of Wyoming has 66 times the voting power in Senate elections as one in California. Thus, in 2016, the Democratic party got 51.4 million votes for its Senate candidates. The Republicans got 40 million. And despite losing by more than 11 million votes, the Republicans won a supermajority (22 of 36) of the seats up for election, holding their majority in the chamber.
The hideously malapportioned Senate and electoral college permit the last piece of the minority rule puzzle to snap into place: the supreme court. In 2016, after losing the contest for the presidency and the Senate by millions of votes, the Republicans were able to install two supreme court justices. There may be more.
In fact, when the Senate confirmed Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, it was a watershed moment in American history. For the first time, a president who lost the popular vote had a supreme court nominee confirmed by senators who received fewer votes – nearly 22 million fewer – than the senators that voted against him. And by now, it will not surprise you to discover that the senators who voted for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh represent 38 million fewer people than the ones who voted no.
I am just a small-town country lawyer. But I am also an American. I have been honored to work with many ordinary Americans to build their communities, support the education of their children, raise money for charity, and I have learned they have a wisdom and a decency far beyond that of those who claim to be their “rulers.” I have witnessed their capacity for judgment as they sat on juries, small township Boards, and in private organizations doing good in their communities. The record of their success at self-governance is manifest all around us every day. I thank them for their service!
I have also witnessed the creeping suppression of their right to vote, and to have their vote counted and respected. It may not be my place to warn those who think they rule, who think they are above the law, and who believe they have power to disregard the “consent of the governed,” and so I do not. The Declaration of Independence does that. The dust bin of history is replete with the bones of failed governments that tried to rule without the consent of the people. “With a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence” the Declaration launched a government based on the consent of the people. Those who would undermine it, by imperiling the right to vote, do the work of another power that shall not be named.
Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point.
KEEPING RACISM ALIVE AT THE POLLS
By Robert C. Koehler
There’s almost no such thing as voter fraud, even though the Trump administration — and Republicans in general — affect to be so afraid of it they’ve had to develop a system guaranteed to purge voters from the rolls in enormous numbers.
They’re keeping America safe!
This, you might say, is the elephant in the room, politely unacknowledged even when the Republican system, very much embraced by the Trump administration, is critically analyzed. It’s called the Interstate Crosscheck System, developed by Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, and its flaws are unavoidably — indeed, grotesquely — obvious.
But before that matters, I think it’s crucial to establish the fact that voter fraud — bad citizens, or worse yet, illegals, voting twice, indeed, driving from one state to another (Georgia to Illinois, say) in order to do their part to swing a national election — is itself a complete fraud. However, trumpeting the fear of such non-existent behavior is absolutely brilliant.
It’s the current manifestation of minority vote suppression. It’s the new racism.
All this is made clear in investigative journalist Greg Palast’s irreverent new documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, which takes on Crosscheck and present-day vote suppression, no holds barred, linking modern racism with the old-fashioned kind. In the process, the film lets us know the real value of the right to vote, from the point of view of those who had to fight and die to attain it.
Here, for instance, is author Linda Blackmon Lowery describing her experience on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — Bloody Sunday: “When we got to the top of the bridge, then you could really see what was on the other side. And there were white people sitting on their cars with their Confederate flags and their banners. ‘Die nigger.’ ‘Go home, coon.’”
Suddenly she heard a popping noise, as teargas canisters went off all around her. “You couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t see. I ran into this big old thing of teargas. (A police officer) was running behind me with a billy club. (She makes a hand gesture describing being clubbed from behind.) When I woke up they had me on a stretcher, putting me in the back of a hearse. I just jumped up and before anybody could catch me I was heading across that bridge.”
A short while later, the film shows a protester holding a sign: “My vote has been paid for in blood.”
And this begins to create the context for discussing Crosscheck, part of today’s oh so politically correct racist gaming of democracy, which is — let’s be frank — an incredible inconvenience to people in power. It was then and it still is now. What’s a rich, powerful white person supposed to do?
Crosscheck is part of the answer. Kobach’s system is simplicity itself. In order to protect America from the horror of millions of people voting twice (risking prison time for committing this federal offense), Crosscheck collects the names on the voting rolls of all participating states, which at this point is 27, mostly under Republican legislative control, and conducts a computer search for matches, or quasi-matches. Those matches — all the Fred Jacksons, all the Jose Garcias, etc., etc. — become potential double voters. Note: The matching names are first and last only, with middle initials ignored. Allegedly, Crosscheck also compares birth dates, though such data is often missing from voter rosters.
A list of the matches are sent to the participating secretaries of state and state election boards, which can then purge their rolls of these folks. According to Palast, these states have so far removed 1,067,046 voters, not counting Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s recent “purge-frenzy,” removing 591,000 voters’ names in the current election cycle.
Here’s the thing. Most of the matched names belong to people of color. “Jackson, Rodriguez, Garcia, Lee, Kim — these are primarily minority names,” Palast explained. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this system is unbelievably racially biased.”
In the documentary, Palast points out that 90 percent of Washingtons, for instance, are black. In some states, “20 percent of minority voters . . . are on the Crosscheck list.”
So, as the Washington Post reported a year ago, the Crosscheck method is so utterly slipshod that way-y-y-y over 99 percent of the name matches the system reports to participating states “were unlikely to have anything to do with even attempted voter fraud.” But because of Crosscheck, a huge number of voters, mostly men and women of color, who tend to vote Democratic, will either be denied their right to vote or forced to vote provisionally, which usually means they won’t have their vote counted.
I repeat: There is virtually no such thing as voter fraud — certainly nothing at a level that could actually impact an election. As the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out last year, in its report “The Truth About Voter Fraud”: It is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
But keeping Americans of color — those who have truly paid with their blood for the right to vote — away from the polls by the millions, does indeed impact our elections. Look at who got “elected” president!
Palast, hardly content simply to expose this outrage in book and film, has teamed with Jesse Jackson and the two, with the pro bono help of the New York law firm Mirer, Mazzocchi and Julien, have filed suit, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, with every Crosscheck state to get the names — the million-plus names — of registered voters purged from the rolls. The public, after all, has a right to hold the state accountable for the games it plays.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.
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