Tag Archives: disenfranchise

Wisconsin GOP leaders break their own law to suppress black vote

And the voter suppression continues.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration vowed to an appeals court that it would remove obstacles making it difficult for citizens to vote, even if those citizens lacked the usual required documentation, such as birth certificates. To prove it, the administration enacted a rule requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to mail a free photo ID within six business days to anyone who goes to a DMV office to set the registration process.

But with only a month left before a close presidential election, Walker’s transportation officials are nowhere near making good on that pledge, according to an independent investigation. U.S. District Judge James Peterson, who originated the decision leading to the administration’s new rule, has launched an aggressive investigation to learn why.

The Nation and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel both reported that the advocacy group Vote Riders sent voting-rights advocates to 10 area DMV offices, where they requested photo IDs.

Most of them were not given the correct information, and at least one was flatly turned down by a clerk who said birth certificates are required, even though signs on the premises stated otherwise. Only three out of the 10 offices abided by the rules.

This DMV chicanery isn’t the first time the state’s Republican leadership has been caught flouting election law to prevent citizens from registering. Shortly after Walker and the GOP took over state government, they began enacting a series of increasingly strict laws to keep suspected Democratic voters — blacks, Latinos, students, the elderly — away from the polls. Within months of Walker’s taking office, DMV clerks were told not to offer voter IDs for free, even though the law required them to do so.

Walker also began shutting down DMV offices and eliminating staff. He curtailed the operating hours of many DMVs, making it impossible for poor people to register without taking off work.

Walker said the cuts were needed to save money. But Republicans’ efforts to disenfranchise black voters have cost the state considerably. Walker’s onslaught of controversial voter-suppression laws has prompted one costly trial after another. The legal bills are likely to have drained millions of taxpayer dollars from state coffers.

Voting in Wisconsin is already hard. Only six other states — Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Kansas — have restrictions as prohibitive as Wisconsin. Yet, as we examined in our Sept. 22 issue, there is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem here or anywhere else.

There’s ample evidence — including revealing statements from backers of ID laws — that the GOP’s voting “reform” campaign seeks to keep African Americans and other likely Democratic voters away from the polls.

We applaud Judge Peterson’s commitment to get to the bottom of this current scandal. We’re counting on him to ensure there are consequences for the Walker administration’s latest despicable attack on democracy.

Voting rights is a bipartisan issue, and we urge Republican readers to join with Democrats and tell officials to stop trying to win elections by cheating. Remind them that it’s possible to win by providing responsible government to all Wisconsin citizens, no matter what their skin color or political affiliation.

They should try it sometime.

Judge orders probe of state’s failure to issue photo IDs to voters

A federal judge has ordered the state of Wisconsin to investigate reports that transportation workers are failing to issue temporary photo IDs for voting, as required by law.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued his order around the same time a civil liberties group filed a motion in a separate case demanding a federal appellate court invalidate voter ID requirements in Wisconsin because the state hasn’t abided by its pledge.

Under Wisconsin law, voters must show a form of government-approved photo identification at the polls. People who lack such identification can obtain free photo IDs at state Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles field offices.

The agency in May announced that people who want IDs but lack the underlying supporting documents such as birth certificates could get a receipt valid for voting. The move was designed to blunt a pair of lawsuits alleging that voters who lack such documents face tough challenges in obtaining free photo IDs.

Peterson ruled in July that the DOT’s petition process to obtain the receipt was a “wretched failure” because it still left black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs. He ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone who enters the petition process but lack the necessary documents, including birth certificates.

The Nation published a story last week alleging that DMV workers at a field office told a man named Zack Moore that he couldn’t obtain a temporary ID because he lacked a birth certificate and that the way IDs were being handled was still up in the air. The story went on to say that Molly McGrath, the national campaign coordinator with VoteRiders, visited 10 DMV stations where employees gave people a wide range of answers about how long it would take to get an ID.

Moore tried to obtain his ID on Sept. 22. That was the same day Attorney General Brad Schimel filed an update with Peterson saying all DMV field staff had been trained to ensure anyone who fills out an application to enter the petition process will get an ID mailed to them within six days.

“These reports, if true, demonstrate that the state is not in compliance with this court’s … order, which requires the state to ‘promptly issue a credential valid as a voting ID to any person who enters (the petition process) or who has a petition pending,”” Peterson wrote.

He ordered the state to investigate and report back to him by Oct. 7.

Transportation spokeswoman Patricia Mayers called the stories of problems at the DMV offices “concerning and … not consistent with DMV protocol.” She said the agency has already launched an investigation and will report its findings to Peterson, as ordered.

“DMV remains committed to working with all eligible voters to ensure they receive free identification, as required for voting,” she wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in a separate voter ID challenge before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The motion alleges that the DOT isn’t issuing voting credentials to people in the petition process and has violated its promise that anyone who goes to the DMV for photo IDs will get an ID with whatever documents they possess.

The ACLU alleged that DMV workers have failed to tell applicants the petition process exists, that applicants have had to make multiple visits to DMV offices and that workers have incorrectly told people that in order to begin the petition process, they need proof of identity such as a social security card — which can’t be obtained without a photo ID. As many as 1,640 eligible voters in Milwaukee County lack both ID and a Social Security card, the ALCU alleged.

The group also claimed that people who present birth certificates with misspellings haven’t been allowed to enter the process and DMV field offices offer limited hours. The motion asks the court allow voters who lack photo IDs to cast ballots by affidavit or completely invalidate the voter ID law.

“People who have started (the petition process) are supposed to get a temporary ID but as we’re seeing on the ground that’s not happening,” ACLU attorney Sean Young said in a telephone interview. “DMV employees aren’t implementing their own procedures. DMV cannot be trusted to this correctly.”

The state Department of Justice is defending the voter ID law in the case. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said agency attorneys are reviewing the ACLU’s filing.

— By Todd Richmond, AP writer

Disenfranchisement in Arizona, N.C. primaries

As we’ve seen in the Arizona and North Carolina primaries, the Shelby decision has ushered in a renaissance of voter disenfranchisement and Congress must step in to stop it before the general election.

The disenfranchisement taking place in these states since freed from Section 5 oversight is a canary in the coal mine, a sign of things to come, as we approach the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

In Maricopa County, Arizona – which is 40 percent people of color, a much greater percentage than the rest of the state — some voters waited more than five hours to cast their ballots after polling places were reduced from 200 to 60.

Under North Carolina’s restrictive and discriminatory voter laws that were rushed through immediately after the VRA was gutted, many low-income, minority, student, and elderly voters lost the right to have their voice heard in our democracy.

In a country that so prides itself on being a beacon of democracy to the world, that is a national disgrace. Congress has a responsibility to hold hearings on this voting discrimination and on the two bipartisan VRA restoration bills languishing from inaction.

For the sake of the integrity of the upcoming general election, we urge Congress to act now.

Wade Henderson is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Editor’s note: Arizona and North Carolina previously were covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act due to long histories of voting discrimination against Latinos, Native Americans and African Americans and both have restricted access to the vote since the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013. 

 

Fate of Texas voter ID law in federal judge’s hands

The fate of Texas’ tough voter ID law moved into the hands of a federal judge this week, following a trial that the U.S. Justice Department said exposed another chapter in the state’s troubling history of discrimination in elections.

State attorneys defending the law signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2011 urged the judge to follow other courts by upholding photo identification requirements. The most recent such case came this month when a federal appeals panel, without issuing a final ruling on the measure, reinstated Wisconsin’s law in time for Election Day.

Whether Texas will also get a ruling before then is unclear. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ended the two-week trial in Corpus Christi without signaling when she’ll make a decision, meaning that as of now, an estimated 13.6 million registered Texas voters will need a photo ID to cast a ballot in November.

The U.S. Justice Department, which is fighting the law, began closing arguments by flashing onto a projection screen how many eligible voters it says lack an acceptable form of ID: 608,470, a revised lower number than what the DOJ and other law opponents said when the trial began. It also argued that black residents in Texas are four times as likely not to have an ID as white residents, with Hispanics being three times as likely not to have an ID. Both minority groups are traditionally Democratic voters.

“It imposes punishing costs. The burden is far beyond what is usual to vote, and under the circumstances, unsupportable,” said Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department attorney.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took the unusual step of bringing the weight of his federal office into Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the heart of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which blocked Texas and eight other states with histories of discrimination from changing their election laws without approval from the DOJ or a federal court. Prior to that landmark ruling, Texas had been barred from enforcing voter ID.

The ruling freed those states from the federal oversight, but Holder still dragged Texas back into court to challenge the voter ID law under a remaining – but weaker – section of the Voting Rights Act. Known as Section 2, the provision requires that opponents meet a far higher threshold and prove that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters.

The office of Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is favored to win the race to replace Perry as governor next year, said law opponents didn’t clear that hurdle.

Several minority voters testified during the trial, including a black retired grandmother who grew up in the segregationist era of poll taxes who described hurdles to voting since the Texas law took effect last year. The voter ID law, however, “will not prevent from voting a single one of the 17 voters who testified,” said Adam Aston, Texas’ deputy solicitor general.

Nineteen states have laws that require voters to show photo identification at the polls, and Texas is among four states where legal fights are pending over the issue, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But opponents view Texas’ law as the toughest. Georgia, another Republican stronghold, also recently passed a voter ID law, but the Justice Department portrayed that state’s framework as reasonable in comparison. But unlike in Georgia, Texas’ list of acceptable forms of ID doesn’t include college IDs, but it does permit concealed handgun licenses.

The Justice Department also accused the Texas of intentionally skimping on voter outreach after the law was passed. The state deployed mobile voter card units after the law took effect, but those were on the ground for only 11 days. Texas has issued fewer than 300 free voter IDs since the law took effect, according to opponents. Georgia, meanwhile, has issued 2,200 voter IDs under a similar but more robust program.

Group wants Justice Dept. to send election observers to Wisconsin

The progressive group One Wisconsin Now has asked the U.S. Justice Department to send election observers to Wisconsin for the November general election.

The group wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, noting that election observers were in the state in 2012.

One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross, in the request to the attorney general, said recent changes to state law and the state GOP’s “record of animus” toward select types of voters make it necessary to again dispatch election observers. 

“Republicans in Wisconsin have intimidated legal voters in their neighborhoods, harassed legal voters in polling places and manipulated the rules on voting in pursuit of an unfair electoral advantage for themselves,” Ross said. “Sending federal observers for the November 2014 election makes clear that this behavior is not just un-American, it will no longer be tolerated.” 

Ross said:

• The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, headed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair, underwrote billboards designed to intimidate voters in heavily minority population neighborhoods.

• The state Republican Party conspired with right-wing organizations to conduct a voter-caging scheme.

• Election watchdogs documented cases of harassment and intimidation in polling places by so-called partisan “observers.” 

One Wisconsin Now also said the state GOP, beginning in 2011, used its legislative majorities and control of the executive branch to “manipulate the rules on voting,” including passage of a voter ID law that, if put into effect, could disenfranchise 300,000 legal state voters. More recently, the governor has signed measures to eliminate weekend and restrict evening voting. 

Wrote Ross, “The real voter fraud in Wisconsin today is being committed the Republican politicians manipulating the rules on voting and their partisan lackeys who attempt to carry out schemes to harass and intimidate targeted populations to keep them from voting. The people of Wisconsin have rejected these underhanded tactics in the past and with the help of the federal DOJ we can send a strong message that every legal voter will have the chance to cast their ballot and have their say in November 2014.”