Virginia is for Voters

Virginia has a nonpartisan election board. The rest of us ought to (though we need a backer for the cause).

Lots of people are talking about how likely election chaos in Florida and Ohio—by design; the Republicans in charge of both states (in the case of Ohio, the Secretary of State more than the Governor) have done everything they can to make it as hard as possible for people to vote, in the hope that this will disenfranchise far more would-be Democratic voters than Republican ones.

Nobody is saying that about Virginia. Why not? It has a nonpartisan election board , whose website seems unusually helpful and informative. It does have a Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, but it doesn’t supervise elections: it’s basically a personnel office that vets applications for state commissions.

Why don’t more states follow Virginia’s example? Every state with a partisan—or, to my mind, nonpartisan—election for the election-watchers is an anti-democratic train wreck waiting to happen. Many states, including California, have a long tradition of elected Secretaries of State who have managed elections impartially, ranging from glorified nonentities like March Fong Eu to people who went on to grander things like the current governor, Jerry Brown. But lots of states that thought they had long traditions to this effect rapidly sloughed them off once the new breed of Republican got elected Secretary.

People who propose federal-level uniformity in how we run elections need to read the Constitution, which leaves election administration to the states (and leaves ratification of amendments to the states as well, which are not likely to take kindly to the suggestion that the federal government can supervise elections more reliably than they). But state-by-state campaigns for nonpartisan election boards would face no constitutional problems. Their absence reflects, presumably, the lack of an interested constituency with money behind it. If only Molly Munger had a stronger sense of civic virtue than of her own importance..for now, calling Nicholas Berggruen?

Republicans are hoping that pictures like this one* will help them win this election.

GOP hoping that voter suppression will help them. It won’t be enough. And it has tarnished the Republican brand for years to come. hindering the efforts of low-income Democrats, Latinos, and African-Americans to cast their votes. Yet the efforts by Republican governors in battleground states have been so blatant and so baffoonish—in Florida, Colorado, Ohio, and elsewhere–that I believe this will have the opposite effect.

Everyone on all sides of the ideological divide understands what’s happening here. This strategy is deeply contrary to our nation’s core democratic values. It will have lingering after-effects.

Had Mitt Romney began the general election with some decent share of the Latino vote, he probably would be winning today. Instead, GOP tactics (along with harsh rhetoric regarding self-deportation and so many other matters) have alienated the fastest-growing constituency in America. Republican political professional watching the numbers in (say) Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado must be pulling their hair out as they grasp the full extent of this. And as David Weigel observes in Slate, voter suppression efforts may also have solved Democrats’ enthusiasm gap among key constituencies hurting in the current recession.

Sure, these shenanigans will suppress some Democratic votes. It won’t be enough. Republicans will still lose on Tuesday. They certainly deserve to. And the manner of their campaign will tarnish the Republican brand within many, many communities. You tend to remember when one party seeks political advantage by making your mom stand in line for six hours in the hope that she’ll decide it’s too much hassle to cast her vote.

I hope decent Republicans aim for a more honorable and inclusive strategy next time around.

*Tweeted by Ian Koski here. Yeah there are hundreds of others in Florida and Ohio today.

Guerrilla warfare

Republicans keep trying to cheat people out of their votes. Some Democrats are fighting back.

Update Turns out the call in Miami-Dade was made by officials working for the Republican mayor. So he promptly countermanded them, then relented. As one of the voters says, it’s a Third-World situation, brought to you by Gov. Rick Scott and his tame Republican legislature.

Republican officials keep making it harder for Democrats to vote, and some Democratic officials[*] are fighting back. In Florida, the Republican legislature and Governor cancelled early voting for today – the Sunday before Election Day – and loaded up the ballot with eleven constitutional amendments (four pages of legal text) in order to slow down the voting process. As a result, the early-voting lines yesterday kept people waiting as much as six hours to vote, with some lines not clearing until 1 am.

So the Miami-Dade Election Board decided that it would not only stay open today to accept absentee ballots, it would actually print absentee ballots for voters who hadn’t already received them. Hey, presto! Early voting restored.

The lesson here is simple: even with hundreds of millions of dollars of dark money and the Murdoch press empire, Republicans know they can’t win elections if everyone gets to vote. So they do everything they can to make sure that some people don’t get to vote.

Can anyone offer a single serious argument why early voting shouldn’t be available the Sunday before election day? No, I didn’t think so.

If you can’t convince ’em, cheat ’em

Republicans try to steal another election.

Republican officials – this time in Ohio – continue to work hard to make sure that votes aren’t cast or counted, even if they have to defy the law to do so.

Meantime, the Republican Party pays $3 million to a man with a history of voter-registration fraud (collecting registration forms and throwing them away if the new voter wants to register as a Democrat) to do it again, this time in Virginia and Florida. The con artist’s company shares an address with Karl Rove’s super-PAC. (Here’s the American Crossroads IRS registration. And here’s the Florida criminal complaint, showing the same address: not just the same street address, the same suite number.

If you don’t seriously hate these people, you’re simply not paying attention.

Update More legal detail here.

Sandy and the National Popular Vote movement

If this election were decided according to the national popular vote – otherwise a good idea – the storm might well have swung it to Romney.

The National Popular Vote effort attempts to get state legislatures representing at least 270 electoral votes (a majority) to change their state laws so that the state’s electors will be pledged to vote for the candidate getting a majority of the national popular vote. Since the Constitution assigns the choice of systems for selecting electors to the state legislatures, this would not require an amendment to the Constitution. NPV claims to have secured passage of the necessary bills in states with a total of 132 EV so far: about halfway to the critical value.

I’ve been more or less favorable to the idea: why should the system encourage Presidential candidates pander to Iowans and Ohians and ignore New Yorkers and Mississippians? (Or, put a different way, why should Californians be spared the relentless onslaught of “I approve this message” to which Virginians are subjected?)

But Sandy – which may well not be the last mid-Fall superstorm we see – points up a major problem with that idea. Storm clean-up will seriously depress the vote in New Jersey and New York. If NPV were in place, the storm would create a huge and undeserved advantage for Romney.

Of course, weather is always a factor; if the storm had hit Philadelphia harder that could have swing Pennsylvania into the Romney column; an early blizzard in Cleveland could have handed him Ohio.

But a state-based system is somewhat less vulnerable to weather accidents than a national system. So it seems to me that NPV needs to wait until we finish the process of moving voting away from physical appearance at polling places on a single Election Day. That would eliminate not only the weather problem but the not-enough-voting-machines problem.

What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.

Voter Suppression and DWB

I got a ticket on Wednesday for changing lanes without signalling. (Yes, Chicago’s coffers are in need of a refill.) Because I’m no longer a motor club member, I no longer have a bond card, the thing you can give the cop instead of your license. So she took my license, and now I’m driving on the ticket.

But here’s the thing: I want to vote early, and to do so in Chicago I’m required to show a government-issued photo i.d.–like, oh, say, my driver’s license, which I won’t have back until I complete traffic safety school and mail them $167. And even if I do that today, there’s very little chance I will receive my license back in the mail before November 6, much less in time to vote early.

Now, as it happens I have a passport, so I’ll be able to get around this difficulty. But when I realized the impact my ticket could have on my ability to vote, it occurred to me that this is another way in which voter i.d. laws help suppress voting by minority-group members, the young and the elderly.

We’re all familiar with the traffic offense of DWB: Driving While Black or Driving While Brown. Nonwhite motorists are more likely to be stopped for moving violations than whites, and more likely to be ticketed when they’re stopped. The ones who, like me, don’t have bond cards–whether because they can’t afford motor club membership or they just never thought of it–will have to surrender their licenses; and then, unless they happen to have passports (also less likely, statistically, than among white people) they won’t be able to vote in states requiring voter i.d. So combine discriminatory policing with photo i.d. laws and you’ve got a perfect tool for keeping black and brown people from the polls.

The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations because they’re actually driving badly; but once again, that shouldn’t deprive seniors of the franchise. And the same can be said for young drivers, who may be careless behind the wheel but are entitled to vote if they’re 18 or over.

So the next time someone tells you that voter i.d. laws are fine because “everyone has a driver’s license,” ask if s/he’s ever had to drive on a ticket. Then mention that this commonplace experience would mean the inability to vote, and see what s/he has to say.

Beyond objectivity to truth and falsehood

Tom Edsall dutifully reports that Republicans claim to believe that there is substantial voting by ineligible voters while Democrats believe that voter ID laws deny eligible voters the right to vote. But he doesn’t tell you that the Democrats are telling the truth and the Republicans are lying.

Tom Edsall continues to demonstrate the technique of “objective” reporting:

The most volatile combination of events on Nov. 6 would be a very close election in which Mitt Romney wins the electoral vote with knife-edge victories in states like Florida, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. If new voter ID laws survive legal challenges in those Republican-controlled battleground states, a marginal Romney victory would powerfully reinforce the belief on the left that some lawfully registered voters were denied the right to exercise their franchise.

Conversely, if local and federal challenges to voter ID laws are successful, and Obama wins a tight re-election race, the belief on the right that felons and illegal immigrants cast crucial ballots will be reinforced.


Almost a half century after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the question of who votes will not be resolved on the merits. The courts will address the dispute, and their rulings will matter. But the struggle over this fundamental citizenship right is intensely partisan and explicitly political. It can only be resolved at the ballot box.

In other news, friends of the shooting victim mourned a young life brutally cut short, while supporters of the shooter argued that the son-of-a-bitch had it coming. Which viewpoint will prevail with independent voters in the swing states remains to be seen.

There’s a difference between the belief on the right that elections are being stolen by ineligible voters and the belief on the left that eligible voters are being denied the right to vote. The former belief is, to use a technical epistemological term, false, while the latter, and the related claim that those voters are disproportionately non-white and poor, are demonstrably true.

That matters.

Footnote Even within his own canons, Edsall could have – arguably should have – reported that at least one prominent Republican has boasted that the Pennsylvania law was designed to help Mitt Romney carry the state, and that the former chair of the Florida Republican party claims that officials openly discussed suppressing minority voting.

Politics and physics

When I was in the eighth grade I had Mr. Nadrowski for science, and one day he called Stephen Chilcote up to the front of the class and told him to push against the cinder-block wall until it fell over.  As Chiclet obediently pushed and the rest of us watched, Mr. Nadrowski kept up a descriptive patter: “So there he is, beads of sweat are popping out on his forehead, his muscles all straining; but you know what?  He’s not doing any work!”  His point was that from a physics standpoint no work occurs unless the object responds to the force; if the wall didn’t move, Stephen’s efforts didn’t count.

This seems to be the definition of “work” Republicans are using to complain that President Obama isn’t doing enough to fix the economy.  They build a cinder-block wall of legislative refusal and then criticize him for failing to push it over.

And when he does manage to move objects despite the cinder-block—by the Executive Order modifying immigration or the administrative maneuvers necessary to maintain contraception as a component of basic health-care—his opponents hyperventilate about Obama’s terrifying expansion of Presidential power.  From the people who created the Constitutionally bogus “signing statement,” that’s chutzpah enough to topple the canonical instance: the boy who, having murdered his parents, asks for leniency because he’s an orphan.

So let’s do some real work of our own.  If you’re interested in actually moving objects—Obama canvassers from Illinois to Iowa, and Iowa Democratic voters from their homes to the polls—please join my Wednesday evening phone bank, beginning this week (July 11) and continuing through the election.  Contact me off-line for details, but bear in mind that Iowa votes early, beginning on September 27: if we’re going to knock over the wall, we’ve got to do it over the summer.