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Justice Department to monitor polls in Milwaukee

The Justice Department announced that its Civil Rights Division will deploy more than 500 personnel to 67 jurisdictions, including Milwaukee, on Election Day.

Although state and local governments have primary responsibility for administering elections, Justice’s Civil Rights Division is charged with enforcing the federal voting rights laws that protect the rights of all citizens to access the ballot on Election Day.

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the department has regularly monitored elections in the field in jurisdictions around the country to protect the rights of voters.

“The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote, and the Department of Justice works tirelessly to uphold that right not only on Election Day, but every day,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement.  “We enforce federal statutes related to voting through a range of activities — including filing our own litigation when the facts warrant, submitting statements of interest in private lawsuits to help explain our understanding of these laws, and providing guidance to election officials and the general public about what these laws mean and what they require.

“On Election Day itself, lawyers in the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section will staff a hotline starting in the early hours of the morning, and just as we have sent election monitors in prior elections, we will continue to have a robust election monitors program in place on election day.  As always, our personnel will perform these duties impartially, with one goal in mind: to see to it that every eligible voter can participate in our elections to the full extent that federal law provides.  The department is deeply committed to the fair and unbiased application of our voting rights laws and we will work tirelessly to ensure that every eligible person that wants to do so is able to cast a ballot.”

Leading up to and throughout Election Day, Civil Rights Division staff members will be available by telephone to receive complaints related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws (Toll free at 1-800-253-3931 or 202-307-2767 or TTY 202-305-0082).

In addition, individuals may also report such complaints by fax to 202-307-3961, by email to   and by a complaint form on the department’s website: www.justice.gov/crt/votercomplaint.

Allegations of election fraud are handled by the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country and the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

Complaints may be directed to any of the local U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the local FBI offices or the Public Integrity Section at 202-514-1412.

Complaints related to disruption at a polling place should be reported immediately to local election officials (including officials in the polling place).

Complaints related to violence, threats of violence or intimidation at a polling place should be reported immediately to local police authorities by calling 911.

They should also be reported to the department after local authorities have been contacted.

On Election Day, the Civil Rights Division will monitor the election on the ground in 67 jurisdictions for compliance with the federal voting rights laws:

  • Bethel Census Area, Alaska;
  • Dillingham Census Area, Alaska;
  • Kusilvak Census Area, Alaska;
  • Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska;
  • Maricopa County, Arizona;
  • Navajo County, Arizona;
  • Alameda County, California;
  • Napa County, California;
  • Siskiyou County, California;
  • East Hartford, Connecticut;
  • Farmington, Connecticut;
  • Hartford, Connecticut;
  • Middletown, Connecticut;
  • New Britain, Connecticut;
  • Newington, Connecticut;
  • West Hartford, Connecticut;
  • Hillsborough County, Florida;
  • Lee County, Florida;
  • Miami-Dade County, Florida;
  • Orange County, Florida;
  • Palm Beach County, Florida;
  • Fulton County, Georgia;
  • Gwinnett County, Georgia;
  • Hancock County, Georgia;
  • Chicago, Illinois;
  • Cook County, Illinois;
  • Finney County, Kansas;
  • Orleans Parish, Louisiana;
  • Quincy, Massachusetts;
  • Dearborn Heights, Michigan;
  • Detroit, Michigan;
  • Hamtramck, Michigan;
  • St. Louis, Missouri;
  • Douglas County, Nebraska;
  • Mineral County, Nevada;
  • Washoe County, Nevada;
  • Middlesex County, New Jersey;
  • Cibola County, New Mexico;
  • Kings County, New York;
  • Orange County, New York;
  • Queens County, New York;
  • Cumberland County, North Carolina;
  • Forsyth County, North Carolina;
  • Mecklenburg County, North Carolina;
  • Robeson County, North Carolina;
  • Wake County, North Carolina;
  • Benson County, North Dakota;
  • Rolette County, North Dakota;
  • Cuyahoga County, Ohio;
  • Franklin County, Ohio;
  • Hamilton County, Ohio;
  • Allegheny County, Pennsylvania;
  • Lehigh County, Pennsylvania;
  • Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania;
  • Pawtucket, Rhode Island;
  • Providence, Rhode Island;
  • Bennett County, South Dakota;
  • Jackson County, South Dakota;
  • Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota;
  • Shelby County, Tennessee;
  • Dallas County, Texas;
  • Harris County, Texas;
  • Waller County, Texas;
  • San Juan County, Utah;
  • Fairfax County, Virginia;
  • Prince William County, Virginia, and
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The department will gather information on:

• whether voters are subject to different voting qualifications or procedures on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group;

• whether jurisdictions are complying with the minority language provisions of the Voting Rights Act; whether jurisdictions permit voters to receive assistance by a person of his or her choice if the voter is blind, has a disability or is unable to read or write;

• whether jurisdictions provide polling locations and voting systems allowing voters with disabilities to cast a private and independent ballot;

• whether jurisdictions comply with the voter registration list requirements of the National Voter Registration Act;

• whether jurisdictions comply with the provisional ballot requirements of the Help America Vote Act.

Last month, the Justice Department announced efforts to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted free of discrimination, intimidation or fraud in the election process.

Earlier this fall, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, Mark Pocan and Ron Kind sent a letter to the Justice Department asking for monitoring of the election in Wisconsin.

Moore and Pocan issued statement on Nov. 7:

“I take great comfort in knowing that personnel from the U.S. Justice Department will be on the ground in Milwaukee during this historic election,” said Moore. “Too many Wisconsinites, especially those in communities of color, face a host of unnecessary obstacles in their efforts exercise their constitutional right to vote. This is simply unacceptable. My colleagues and I in Wisconsin’s Democratic congressional delegation would like to thank the DOJ for ensuring that all voters, regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, have the right to take part in our democracy, free of discrimination or intimidation.”

Pocan said, “The decision by the Department of Justice, while welcome, is a bittersweet victory for those of us who want to ensure voting rights are upheld. Although the DOJ’s efforts to enforce federal voting-rights laws is essential to fending off the worst aspects of this relentless attack on the right to vote, my colleagues and I will fight to end the suppression and intimidation that have become normalized in this election. The bedrock of democracy is the robust participation of all of us in the political process—this has always been a core Wisconsin value. We cannot and will not tolerate the continued threat of disenfranchisement against hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites.”

On the record… Reaction to the marriage equality ruling in Wisconsin

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb on June 6 issued a ruling that Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution,” she wrote in her 88-page opinion.

The responses:

“Today I join my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends in Wisconsin and across the nation as we celebrate a profound victory towards giving the LGBT community the fairness they have long deserved. No one should be barred from marriage due to sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a great day in Wisconsin history, as we have officially declared that love is love.”

— Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Milwaukee

“The federal district court in Madison took another step toward ensuring full equality for every American. It is clear the growing momentum of support for marriage equality will put an end to discriminatory laws that treat LGBT couples as second-class citizens. In ruling after ruling, it has become unmistakable that the promise of America is everyone should be treated equally and with dignity.  Today’s ruling brings us one step closer to fulfilling that promise.”

— openly gay U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who married his husband in 2006

“I have been waiting decades for this day to finally arrive and we won’t make loving couples wait longer than they want to to get married.”

— Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

“I am proud of today’s decision that ends the ban that has kept LGBT couples from legally expressing their love for one another. Wisconsin has finally joined the wave of states across the country who have maintained the freedom to marry. My own brother, Jacob, was recently married to his husband because of the overturning of the ban in Oregon. I hope the ruling is maintained, as our state must never stand in the way of love.”

— Jonathan Brostoff, candidate for the 19th Assembly District

“Today is a great day for Wisconsin and committed couples who love each other across the state. Every loving couple should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, and the fact that this freedom is now available in Wisconsin is something we all can and should be proud of.”

— Mary Burke, Democratic candidate for governor

“In our country’s history, the courts have often been the place oppressed citizens go for justice. Usually, the system works, because, as a wise civil rights leader once said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Today, we see justice.”

— Ron Zerban, Democratic candidate for Congress in

“Across the country, the courts agree: same-sex couples and their families need the dignity of marriage, and anti-marriage laws are indefensible. With over 70 marriage cases now making their way through the courts, today’s decision in Wisconsin underscores that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry. It’s time now for the Supreme Court to bring resolution nationwide.”

— Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry

“I always felt like we were second-class citizens in not being able to get married. And now I feel good about my state in a way I haven’t before.”

— the Rev. Andrew Warner, who married Jay Edmundson in Milwaukee

Senate approves ENDA, focus turns to the House

For session after session, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has died in committee. That may not be the bill’s fate in the 113th Congress.

On Nov. 4, the U.S. Senate voted 61-30 to move forward with debating ENDA, which would ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace with exceptions for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, religious institutions and the Armed Forces.

Debate followed the procedural vote and, on Nov. 7, the Senate made history, voting 64-32 to pass ENDA. 

Going into the big week, the bill had 54 Senate co-sponsors and at least 60 senators — including all the Democrats in the chamber — who were confirmed “yes” votes.

The civil rights legislation, in some form, has been introduced in every congressional session since 1994 except the 109th. 

In the 113th Congress, Colorado Democrat Jared Polis is the chief sponsor in the House, where ENDA is before the Judiciary; Education and the Workforce; and House Administration, Oversight and Government Reform committees. The measure has 186 co-sponsors, including Wisconsin Reps. Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan.

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley is the chief sponsor in the Senate, where ENDA gained approval from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in June. Three Republicans on that committee — Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah — backed the bill. The bipartisan support led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to say, in the midst of the summer’s partisan feuds, that he would seek to bring ENDA to the floor in the fall.

Throughout the dog days of August, equality advocates lobbied for votes in key states where Democratic senators hadn’t signed on to ENDA or where moderate Republicans were considering support.

In October, Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition of civil rights and labor groups, brought citizens to the Capitol to press for ENDA, a campaign overshadowed by the partial government shutdown that began just days before the scheduled lobby day.

In a floor speech on ENDA, co-sponsor Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said, “Every American deserves the freedom to work free of discrimination. And passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act strengthens this freedom by recognizing the right to be judged based on your skills, talents, loyalty, character, integrity and work ethic.”

Merkley added, “I think back to Martin Luther King’s commentary that the great arc of the universe bends toward justice and I feel that our notion of fairness about employment, how central that is to pursuit of happiness, how central it is to equality, how central it is to the golden rule …. means that we will accomplish this. But I do hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

Kirk delivered his first floor speech since returning to the Senate after a stroke to encourage support for ENDA.

Though there were votes against the bill, there was no spoken opposition on the floor in the procedural vote on Nov. 4. 

And in the vote that sent ENDA to the House, 54 Democrats and 10 Republicans backed the bill.

”All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a chief sponsor of the legislation.

President Barack Obama had praise for “common sense” and bipartisanship in the Senate.

Many others who cheered the Senate actions also stressed bipartisanship — and encouraged members of the House to take note of the GOP votes for the bill, as well as conservative support for equal opportunity at work. House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly has stated his opposition to ENDA, putting him at odds with a majority of Americans and a majority in his party.

“Most conservatives believe people in the workforce should be judged on their merits. They shouldn’t be judged on characteristics that are irrelevant in a productive employee,” said Jeff Cook-McCormac, a senior adviser to the GOP-focused American Unity Fund.

The fund is led by Republican Paul Singer, who has pledged $250,000 to Americans for Workplace Opportunity to pass ENDA this year. Democrat Jonathan Lewis of Miami also has pledged $250,000 to the campaign.

The funding commitment, said Americans for Workplace Opportunity campaign manager Matt McTighe, “is yet another indicator of the unusual partnerships —conservatives and liberals, Fortune 500 companies and labor unions — who are uniting behind this year’s effort to pass ENDA.”

Lewis and Singer “realize there is simply nothing partisan about protecting every American from discrimination on the job,” said Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Each and every person in this country should be able to go to work without fear of being fired because of who they are or who they love. That’s not a Democratic value or a Republican value, it’s an American value.”

A recent national survey by TargetPoint Consulting, where Republican pollster Alex Lundry is the chief data scientist, found that two-thirds of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, support passing a federal law to ban workplace bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And 86 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “We should all follow the Golden Rule and treat others as we’d like to be treated, including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.”

The percentage stayed about the same when Republicans were asked about equality in the workplace: 86 percent agreed that “everyone has a right to earn a living — including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans — and workers should be judged on the job they do, nothing more, nothing less.”

Lundry said supporting ENDA is smart policy and smart politics. Lundy said GOP support for the bill “is a testament to the conservative values at the heart of the proposed law.”

Workplace equality opponents tend to be on the far right of the political spectrum — such as the national Family Research Council and Traditional Values Coalition and regional Wisconsin Family Action, which before the Senate vote circulated the FRC’s false claims that ENDA would give special status to LGBT employees and that it threatens “the free market, undermines employers’ rights and violates the free exercise of religion.”

Heritage Action for America also opposes the bill, claiming it would “severely undermine civil liberties … and trample on religious liberty.”

Out for equal

Thirty-four percent of LGBT adults who are closeted at work would become comfortable coming out if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed Congress, according to a Harris poll released in October and commissioned by Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. — L.N.

U.S. bill to protect same-sex binational couples introduced

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Feb. 5 reintroduced the Uniting American Families Act to protect binational same-sex couples at risk of being broken apart by current U.S. immigration policy and an anti-gay federal law.

Nadler introduced the legislation with support from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and U.S. Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.),Charlie Dent, R-Pa., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., John Conyers, D-Mich., Jared Polis, D-Colo.,DavidCicilline, D-Rhode Island, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Mark Takano, D-Calif., Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.), Mike Honda, D-Calif., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

The legislation would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for legal residency in the United States, a right currently provided only to married heterosexuals under immigration law. Because the federal government does not legally recognize gay and lesbian couples and their children as families, many same-sex bi-national couples are torn apart, Nadler said.

He added that the bill – U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont plans to introduce companion legislation – should be considered in any legislative proposal for immigration reform.

“Today, thousands of committed same-sex couples are needlessly suffering because of unequal treatment under our immigration laws, and this is an outrage,” Nadler said in a press statement.  “Our Constitution guarantees that no class of people will be singled out for differential treatment – and LGBT Americans must not be excluded from that guarantee. Moreover, any serious legislative proposal for comprehensive immigration reform absolutely must include gay and lesbian couples and their families.”

Pelosi added, “We must continue to strike down the barriers of discrimination wherever they exist. As we work toward comprehensive immigration reform, we must ensure that the value of all families is valued, respected and recognized in the eyes of the law.”

Gutierrez, who has long championed comprehensive immigration reform and LGBT equality, said, “Our laws ought to reflect reality and the full diversity of what family means in the United States today. I will fight for UAFA because it is the right thing to do and because it protects the interests of all families.”

The legislation had co-sponsorship from the openly gay and bisexual members of Congress, as well as leading LGBT and immigration rights groups.

“Today’s bipartisan reintroduction reminds us that LGBT immigrant families live in Democratic and Republican districts,” said Rachel B. Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality. “Voters sent a clear message in November: they support treating everyone – gay and straight, citizen and immigrant – with dignity and respect.  These are true American values.  As Congress moves forward on long overdue immigration reform, lawmakers must include UAFA as part of that effort.  Our immigration laws must reflect the diversity of our beautiful country and must protect families and family unity.  We are grateful to Congressman Nadler for his decades-long leadership on this issue and to his House colleagues from both parties who have joined our efforts.”

Nadler’s office said at least 31 countries allow citizens to sponsor gay and lesbian permanent partners for legal immigration, including Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Both France and the UK now are considering legalizing same-sex marriage.