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Voter "Fraud", College Debt, & Prison Crowding

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Voter "Fraud", College Debt, & Prison Crowding

Increasing Democracy

by J. Mijin Cha

Defying Partisan Voter "Fraud" Propaganda, Same Day Registration Advances in North Carolina

As we've highlighted before, North Carolina has been working toward adopting a form of election day registration. HB 91 would allow for one stop registration and voting during North Carolina's early voting period and help increase the state's low voter turnout.  It passed through the House back in April and just passed the Senate, but not before facing a last minute propaganda assault waving the charge of "voter fraud."

Just as the bill was about to be voted on by a key senate committee, Republican state auditor Leslie Merrit, issued a cryptic email to legislators warning them that he "had information" that might change their mind about the bill.  Yet, the auditor refused to release his office's data and instead presented "preliminary findings" and waved supposed information from the U.S. Department of Justice that hinted at voter fraud.  However, this vague charge of fraud was definitively refuted in a 10-page letter by Gary Bartlett, the executive director of the State Board of Elections. 

Partisan DOJ Attack in North Carolina: As the Institute for Southern Studies explained, this attack is part of national partisan attack on voting rights driven by a politicized U.S. Justice Department:

The Department of Justice's dubious crusade against "voter fraud" -- which despite looking at millions of votes since 2002 has only netted 24 fraud convictions -- isn't just a federal issue. It's also being used at the state level to push restrictive voter ID bills and -- most recently in North Carolina -- to stop momentum for same-day registration of voters, a popular reform that would boost voter turnout...

[Yet] no one -- neither the DOJ nor the NC state auditor -- has proved that a single person has committed voting fraud, which is the only relevant fact for the NC Senate to consider as it looks at same-day registration at early voting sites.

The recent U.S. Attorney General scandal highlighted how the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys, in part because some of them refused to go along with the partisan search for nonexistant cases of voter fraud.  The reality is that five years of investigations have revealed scant evidence of voter fraud.

In the end, even the North Carolina state auditor admitted that he "didn't have anything that should stop you passing the (same-day registration) bill." Keeping people from voting is an ugly trick and as state Senator Clodfelter said, "I would hope in the future that when a public agency decides to intervene to stop the legislative process, that they would be able to explain why they are making that intervention."  The truth of the matter is the right-wing pushs the myth of voter fraud to enact anti-democratic measures, like requiring photo ID for voter registration, to keep people from voting. 

A Final Stumbling Block: The North Carolina Same Day Registration bill is not in the clear, though.  A last minute floor amendment in the Senate added an "English Only" clause to the bill barring ballot materials in any language other than English, a provision clearly illegal under federal voting rights law but adding a new hurdle in negotiating final passage of the bill.

More Resources

Rewarding Work

by Adam Thompson

Aiming to Ease Crush of College Debt, "Opportunity Maine" Passes Maine House

Students who make it to college graduation then usually face a new struggle: the crushing debt of college loans.  Responding to a citizen initiative to address that problem, the Maine House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would provide loan repayment tax credits to college graduates who remain in Maine after graduation.  The State Senate had supported the bill in earlier votes, so the law looks likely to move toward enactment.

The energy for the original citizen initiative, called Opportunity Maine, was driven by the fact that while Maine has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the country, the state's residents are 30% less likely to have a post-high school degree than other New England states-- partly because of lower college enrollment and partly because of a "brain drain" as college graduates leave the state seeking higher-paying jobs that allow them to pay off their loans.

The new program, as approved by the House, would address the problem by making college more affordable -- paying off $2100 in debt each year after graduation for four years after college -- while encouraging higher-wage employers to locate in Maine by expanding the pool of college-educated workers staying in the state.  By generating new economic development, the campaign projects that the taxes paid by both the students and their employers will over time generate the revenues to pay for the initiative.

Other states have enacted loan repayment programs for students earning professional degrees in teaching, law or other professions when they stay in state to serve the public good, but Maine would be the first state to enact a program aimed at all college graduates.

More Resources

Strengthening Communities

By Nathan Newman

Prison Crowding Makes States Look to Rehabilitation

State spending on corrections grew to $35.6 billion in 2006, a 10% increase over 2005 spending levels.  This level of increase was higher than state growth in education or Medicaid and is due in large part to overcrowding, high rates of repeat offenses, or recidivism, and correctional employee health costs.  In response, states are putting more funding behind rehabilitation programs, efforts to prevent recidivism, and reforming sentencing guidelines to make the time better fit the crime.   

Kansas:  Recognizing that incarceration without rehabilitation programs leads to higher rates of recidivism, Kansas enacted a law in May that will give grants to communities that reduce prisoner admissions by 20%, such as by reducing parole or probation violations which are leading causes of prison overcrowding.  The law also allows some low-risk inmates to reduce their sentences up to 60 days for participating in education or counseling while in prison.

Supporters of the new legislation estimate that the $4.4 million investment will help the state put off new prison construction until 2016, rather than 2009 as estimated by officials.

Texas: Texas, which is second to California in prison population, has included in the state budget a plan to divert thousands of low-risk prisoners to rehabilition facilities.  Many of these prisoners are DWI offenders and don't currently receive substance-abuse counseling.  The plan will free up bed space in prisons and put off new construction.

Conversely, in California, where overcrowding and a 70% recidivism rate could soon cause the state to spend more on prisons than it does on higher education, the state has approved a plan to build facilities for an additional 40,000 inmates.  While supporters of the plan say it includes rehabilitation services, such as education, job training, and counseling, reform advocates are unconvinced.  The rehabilition services are far from assured because the state has not yet approved its budget, leaving many in the corrections community worried if politicians will follow through on funding commitments. 

Elsewhere, states are revising their sentencing policies and focusing on rehabilition to reduce overcrowding and recidivism.  At least 22 states have implemented sentencing reforms between 2004 and 2006 that aim to reduce incarceration rates.  Efforts include drug treatment for abusers rather than incarceration, alternatives to jail time for non-violent offenders, and reforms to parole and probation policies to reduce both time served and recidivism.

More Resources

Research Roundup

Research Roundup

Increasingly, exploitive unregulated work conditions are not just at the fringe of the economy, but are often a consistent part of industries ranging from supermarkets to child care to restaurants to manufacturing, according to a new report, Unregulated Work in the Global City, produced by the Brennan Center for Justice.  Policymakers need to deal with the pervasive violations of the federal, state and local laws that are supposed to protect workers-- but too often don't.

Highlighting how low-income students are underserved, a report, "Their Fair Share: How Teacher Salary Gaps Shortchange Poor Children in Texas," by The Education Trust finds that poor districts had lower-paid, less experienced teachers and recommends new incentives and budgeting rules to increase the number of experienced teachers in those needy districts.

Challenging overblown claims of economic growth gains from new proposed trade agreements, the Economic Policy Institute in Marketing the Gains from Trade argues that promoting inflated estimates of trade benefits undermines the democratic debate needed in understanding the positive and negative effects of trade deals on our economy.

Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Defying Partisan Voter "Fraud" Propaganda, Same Day Registration Advances in North Carolina

One Stop Registration, House Bill 91

Institute for Southern Studies: Facing South

State Board of Elections response to fraud claims

New York Times: In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud

Aiming to Ease Crush of College Debt, "Opportunity Maine" Passes Maine House

Opportunity Maine

League of Young Voters, Opportunity Maine

Maine Compact for Higher Education
ABA, State Loan Repayment Assistant Programs (LRAPs)

Maryland Higher Education Commission, Loan Assistance Repayment Program (LARP)

American Federation of Teachers, Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Scholarship Programs

Prison Crowding Makes States Look to Rehabilitation

NCSL - State Funding for Corrections in 2006 and 2007

Stateline - States seek alternatives to more prisons

Public Safety Performance Project

The Sentencing Project - Changing Directions? State Sentencing Reforms, 2004-2006

Eye on the Right

North Carolina's John Locke Foundation, spurred by a recent opinion editorial in The Wall Street Journal, is decrying the expansion of "family leave" acts to include modest pay requirements. Their beef is not with the cost, but with the government intervention in employment contracts. If we listened to these sorts of arguments, we would probably be working 7 days a week for half our pay.

These "government dictates" in fact spring from people's desires for a more civilized and humane life and are expressed through democratic representation. Every other western industrialized nation has found it a worthy "intrusion" to allow time for workers to care for a newborn, sick spouse, or an ailing parent. If we can't, what does that say about how we value families?

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Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

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Please shoot me an email at jbacino@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

John Bacino
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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