Voting Protection Victories and Voting Rights Threats

Voting Protection Victories and Voting Rights Threats

Thursday, October 17, 2008



Voting Protection Victories and Voting Rights Threats

First The Victories

  • Fallout from Montana Voter Challenge Plan Continues:  Last week we highlighted the tremendous job that Forward Montana and other local advocates did in bringing a massive attempt to challenge voters in Montana to a stop.  In just a few days the plan was abandoned amid serious public backlash.  This week there has been additional fallout as the executive director of the state GOP has stepped down.  Clearly trying to keep people like deployed soldiers from voting wasn't a popular activity in the big sky state.   

Dramatic events like these don't happen by themselves; in this case Forward Montana used a variety of means to get the word out.  One important tactic was posting the list of challenged voters on their website, along with information on how to fight a challenge.  This allowed regular folks to look at the list and decide if there was merit to the GOP claims.  When peoples' deployed relatives, recently departed college age children and ailing parents relocated to a nursing home were on the list, the voter suppression campaign was stopped in its tracks.

  • Michigan District Court Rules that Voter Caging Violates Federal Law:  In a case that stems from the Macomb County, Michigan Republican Party's plan to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters at the polls, a District Court judge for the Eastern District of Michigan has ruled that the state's process for purging voters whose voter registration cards are returned as undeliverable violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.  That law requires that states wait two years between flagging a voter as inactive and removing that voter from the rolls.  Returned mail is often used, erroneously, as a basis for challenging voters' qualification.  This process is termed "caging" and has been a favorite voter suppression technique of right wing operatives for decades.
  • GOP Efforts to Prevent Early Voting Fail: Three separate judges ruled in quick succession that they would not intervene to prevent early voting in Lake County, Indiana (see here, here, and here).  The Indiana Republican Party (IRP) had sought an injunction after the board of elections in the heavily Democratic county had voted to open early voting sites in the cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago.  The IRP argued that satellite early voting sites could only be authorized by a unanimous vote of the county board.

But Voting Rights Still Under Assault

  • Ohio Ordered to Report Unverified Voter Registration Applications: In yet another case brought by the Ohio GOP against the Secretary of State, a federal judge has ruled that Ohio election officials must directly report voter registration applicants whose personal information does not match with information in government databases to county boards of election.  The Sec. of State says 200,000 out of 666,000 registrants in 2008 have mismatching data.  Previously such voters were merely flagged in the voter database and counties were free to investigate the eligibility of the voter if they chose.
  • ACORN Target of Coordinated Conservative Attacks: After last weeks raid of ACORN's Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas, they have been the victim of a multi-prong attack by right wing forces across the country.  The McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee have held numerous conference calls accusing the organization of engaging in voter fraud.  In addition, the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank where former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow, has filed a RICO suit against ACORN accusing them of engaging in a conspiracy to violate election laws.

    ACORN has by far registered the most voters of any independent organization involved in voter registration, with over one million registrations this year.  By targeting low-income and minority voters they are in large part responsible for the dramatic increase in Democratic-affiliated voters since 2004.  And while some bogus registrations have been submitted as part of their massive registration drive, such registrations are flagged by ACORN and reported to election officials as they are discovered. 

    Given ACORN's apparent compliance with election law, the coordinated attacks against them seem to have two purposes: generating bad publicity for the Obama campaign by trying to tie him to the group, and delegitimizing the massive Democratic turnout, fueled by new voters, that is expected in November.  Though even McCain surrogate Gov. Crist of Florida, ground zero in the voter registration struggles this year, doesn't believe ACORN is aiding or perpetraing any voter fraud.




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Immigration Raids vs. Enforcing Labor Rights - States and local communities in Iowa seek alternatives to broken families and communities after a Federal raid 

The federal government is fixated on raiding workplaces in search of immigrant workers, but they have practically abandoned punishing irresponsible employers violating wage, workplace safety and child labor laws.  Demonstrating a remarkable commitment to punishing the victims, they've left it up to states to take action against the more pervasive problem of sweatshop labor conditions.

The federal immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which was the site of the nation’s second largest workplace raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a perfect example of a failed policy that has left a community “topsy-turvy” according to the mayor. A local priest is upset that it has come down to his parish feeding, housing, and clothing the families who have been left behind and torn apart.

Ouderkirk, who came out of retirement after the raid, says it's costing his church $80,000 a month, and the church only has enough money to keep paying through the end of the year. "It's pathetic when you have what was labeled by the man who directed the raid here as a 'very successful raid.' How successful is this when it does this to the children and breaks up families?" Ouderkirk says.

State AG Steps in to Prosecute Child Labor Violations: The federal government's actions were narrowly focused, only looking at employees' immigration statuses.  Iowa's Attorney General, however, stepped forward to prosecute the owners and senior management of Agriprocessors over the broader and more pervasive issue: mistreatment of all workers at the plant.

Local authorities found over 30 underage children toiling at the plant in unsafe conditions. Between 2001 and 2006 OSHA had found health and safety violations that led to five amputations, dozens of reports of broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss.  The company has been charged with an astounding 9000-plus child labor law violations alone, not to mention other labor violations and abuses including wage theft, sexual abuse, drug production and fraud, physical abuse, numerous health and safety violations, and food safety and environmental violations. The Attorney General’s charges mark a path forward for those who believe in standing up for the rights of all workers — immigrant and native-born alike — and in punishing exploitative employers. Despite years of documented abuses, Agriprocessors officials have pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The deeper problem is that government agencies have, in the past, turned a blind eye to the company’s long history of worker abuses.  In fact, the agencies have even reduced fines that the Iowa Department of Labor had levied for dangers to workplace safety, including the improper storage and handling of hazardous chemicals and inadequate training in the use of respirators and handling of blood-borne pathogens.

Federal Actions Undermines State Prosecution of the Employer: Complicating the ability for state prosecutors to make their case, is that the federal government wants to deport all the immigrants arrested during the raid.  The state, however, needs these individuals as witnesses in their case against Agriprocessors’ owners. In the wake of the raids, most of the meatpacking workers quickly pled guilty to felony charges that they didn’t understand for using false Social Security Numbers that were given to them by company personnel. A federal court interpreter has spoken out, saying that the workers didn’t understand that they were taking other people’s identities: "The federal court got taken for a ride," says Erik Camayd-Freixas, a federal certified interpreter who was there. "There was no presumption of innocence."

Rabbis Take Action: In the wake of the raid at Agriproccesors, a supplier of kosher meat, religious groups and other corporations have stepped in an attempt to ameliorate the situation. A group of rabbis formed a task force on kosher food and labor, Heksher Tzedek, to ensure that religious values, food safety and workers’ rights are maintained at all kosher plants.  Furthermore, other, more responsible employers from Minnesota have even come recruiting for employees, promising better working conditions and pay, especially after hearing about the atrocious situation that workers have faced. Recent polls show that a majority of Iowans believe that employers should also be punished, and are in support of undocumented immigrants who work.

The story of Agriprocessors has a definite moral: greater government oversight and stronger wage and worker safety law enforcement can help prevent situations where corporations can so easily manipulate and take advantage of their employees. States are increasingly forced to lead on cracking down on employers in the face of federal immigration officials who are only concerned about workers’ immigration statuses, instead of punishing employers who have systematically undermined work standards for all workers.  Last session, the Iowa Senate approved a wage enforcement bill, which would have increased the tools for state officials to punish illegal acts at the Agriprocessors plant.  Hopefully, the full legislature in Iowa, along with other states, will step into the breach left by a failed federal approach to immigration and sweatshop work conditions and approve wage enforcement bills that benefit both immigrant and native workers alike.

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Gay Marriage - In the Courts, On the Ballot

Last week, Connecticut's high court struck down the state's civil union law and ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  Connecticut joins Massachusetts and California as the only states that recognize gay marriage.  As the New York Times reported, the Connecticut ruling is notable because it found for the first time that a state civil union law, while providing all the legal rights of marriage to gay couples but limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, violated the state's "constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law."

Writing for the majority in the 4-3 decision, Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote:

Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice.  To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.

Speaking directly to whether civil unions provide the same constitutional right to "equal protection under the law" as marriage, Justice Palmer wrote:

Although marriage and civil unions do embody the same legal rights under our law, they are by no means equal.  The former is an institution of transcendent historical, cultural and social significance, whereas the latter is not.

Opponents of gay marriage are working to make the constitution a discriminatory tool by enacting a constitutional ban on gay marriage.  They hope to use a procedurally complicated state constitutional convention to enact a ban, but first need voters to call the convention.  However, a new poll shows that Connecticut residents support the court's decision by a margin of 53-42 and even the state's Republican Governor, Jodi Rell, who opposes same-sex marriage, does not support a constitutional ban. 

Gay Marriage on the Ballot: The marriage rights of gays and lesbians in California, however, are much more tenuous.  After the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year, opponents mobilized the ever-potent "forces of bigotry and bias" to place a constitutional ban on gay marriage before voters next month.  A recent poll shows support for the ban, on the ballot as Proposition 8, 47% to 42%, with 10% undecided.  Currently, opponents to gay marriage are outspending its supporters "2 or 3 to 1" and are, predictably, using baseless fear to mobilize support for the ban. 

Similarly, voters in Florida will vote next month on a question whether to amend the constitution by defining "marriage as between a man and a woman."  Michael Schiavo, who battled with conservative Christians over his wife Terri's feeding and hydration tubes, is actively campaigning against the initiative.  And, after rejecting a gay-marriage ban in 2006, Arizona voters will decide whether to amend the constitution by defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, even though, as the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center points out, state law already denies marriage to same-sex couples.


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Feds Approve Broadband Data Improvement Act

Congress has passed — and President Bush has signed — the Broadband Data Improvement Act.  The Act, which had been pushed by Senate Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and supported by a coalition of organizations, such as the Communications Workers of America, has as its explicit purpose "to improve the quality of Federal and State data regarding the availability and quality of broadband services and to promote the deployment of affordable broadband services to all parts of the Nation."  

The legislation requires the Federal Communications Commission to "conduct annual studies on the status of broadband deployment throughout the country, in order to better assess the levels of residential computer and high-speed Internet use."  Under the Act, the feds will (1) collect demographic information for areas underserved by high-speed Internet services; (2) conduct a "Consumer Survey of Broadband Service Capability" which  requires collection of real-world information on what's happening with broadband services in the United states--including collecting data on the amounts consumers pay per month for their services and the actual data transmission speeds of such services; (3) provide in-depth international comparison of broadband service levels, speeds, and pricing; (4) create a study of the impact of broadband speeds on small business; and (5) provide grants to identify barriers to broadband adoption.

A Plan for Funding Partnerships in the States to Overcom the Digital Divide:  For states looking to overcome the digital divide, the Act will encourage private and public partnership efforts that identify barriers to broadband adoption. According to Connected Nations, under the the Act competitive grants will be given to "eligible entities" to:

  • Identify and track areas in each State that have low levels of broadband service deployment; the rate at which residential and business users adopt broadband service and other related information technology services; and possible suppliers of such services
  • Increase broadband availability by working with broadband providers and the public sector
  • Increase broadband adoption using grassroots demand aggregation
  • Conduct research to assess the barriers to technology use
  • Establish programs to improve computer ownership and Internet access for unserved areas and areas in which broadband penetration is significantly below the national average

Ben Scott, Policy Director for Free Press said, "our current broadband data collection system has had serious problems for years.  The absence of accurate information about the price, speed and availability of high-speed broadband has crippled our government's ability to advance innovative technology policies." Overall the Broadband Data Improvement Act is a good step, yet just a first step, in addressing the lack of access to and adoption of broadband in the United States.  The Act, by acknowledging the role state initiatives can play in increasing access to and adoption of broadband, provides positive momentum towards addressing the digital divide. 


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Research Roundup

Economic crisis, Helping the working poor, Helping ex-prisoners and the children of the incarcerated, Health care reform strategies

The economic crisis is severe and getting worse, as these policy reports highlight:

  • Economic Snapshot for October 2008- The Center for American Progress presents analysis and graphs highlighting the economic crisis, from how businesses can't finance investment to rising costs for homeowners on loans to mounting jobs losses to the longer-term trend of families losing health care coverage and lost jobs to the trade deficit. They have a related video explaining the effect of the financial crisis on American's retirement income and a better way to build retirement plans.
  • Underemployed Workers- When you include workers forced into involuntary part-time work and workers who want a job but not actively looking to those officially unemployed, this snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute shows an 11% underemployment rate, or over 17 million people underemployed in September 2008, the highest in more than 14 years.
  • The burden of outsourcing: U.S. non-oil trade deficit costs more than 5 million jobs-  Even before the financial crisis hit, states across the country have been losing jobs to the trade deficit, as detailed in this report by the Economic Policy Institute.
  • How Is the Economic Turmoil Affecting Older Americans?- the Urban Institute examines the impact of the crisis on the retirement savings, home values and retirement decisions of older Americans.

Helping the Working Poor: A number of reports suggest policy reforms to help poor children and low-income families succeed:

  • Bridging the Gap: Reshaping Poverty Policy in America- The Neighborhood Funders Group compiles six essays detailing potential strategies and solutions to poverty in America, with an emphasis on how philanthropists can better support campaigns that address crital issues facing the poor.
  • Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short- Highlighting the problems of the 42 million low-income working families with children, this report by the Working Poor Families Project provides state-by-state rankings on low-income working families, the problem of rising income inequality in our country, and what policies at the state and federal level could help.
  • More Equity and Less Red Tape: Rethinking the Comparability and Compliance Provisions in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act- Title I is supposed to provide federal funds to make funding fairer for poor students, yet as this Center for American Progress report details, it often does little to accomplish that goal but does impose red tape of school districts.  The report suggests coupling a greater demand on states to achieve funding equity in exchange for loosening specific mandates on how state and local schools achieve that goal.
  • Build Supply of Quality Child Care- Part of a series of briefs on child care by the Center for Law and Social Policy, this brief highlights the need by working families for a supply and funding of quality care settings.  A related brief, Supporting a Diverse and Culturally Competent Workforce, emphasizes that a diverse workforce trained to deal with racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity is a key part of providing quality care. And its Stable, Quality Subsidy Policy details policy tools for state policymakers for achieving better funding structures for care.

The Urban Institute has a couple of key reports on helping both ex-prisoners and the children of the incarcerated:

  • Release Planning for Successful Prisoner Reentry- This guidebook for communities by the Urban Institute explores key policies to meet the needs of ex-prisoners and reintegrate them into our communities.
  • Mapping Community Data on Children of Prisoners- Often forgotten in policy debates, the 1.7 million children of incarcerated parents can be better served through mapping where they live using map and data analysis, according to the Urban Institute which suggests strategies for doing this effectively.  

Health Care Reform Strategies: Can a Public Insurance Plan Increase Competition and Lower the Costs of Health Reform?- Sen. Obama and a number of states have proposed developing a publicly-run health care plan to compete with private insurers, an approach the Urban Institute argues can lower administrative costs and actually enhance competition in insurance and hospital markets.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Kayla Southworth, Privatization and Contractor Accountability Policy Associate
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

Please shoot us an email at if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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