Tag: voting rights
Abortion And Voting Rights At Risk In Wisconsin Supreme Court Election

Abortion And Voting Rights At Risk In Wisconsin Supreme Court Election

The fate of abortion rights, voting rights, and fair congressional and legislative districts depend on the balance of conservative and liberals on the court.

Voters will head to the polls on February 21 to determine the two candidates who will face off for an open seat on the Wisconsin state Supreme Court. The outcome of the general election for the seat in April will have sweeping consequences for abortion rights, voting rights, and whether Wisconsin will continue to have congressional and legislative district maps that disproportionately benefit Republicans.

Currently, conservatives have a 4-3 majority on the court. However, conservative Justice Patience Roggensack is retiring. If a liberal justice wins the seat she is vacating, it will shift the court's balance of power to liberals for the first time since 2008.

Since the Supreme Court is likely to hear a case challenging a law enacted in 1849 that bans abortion in Wisconsin, the outcome of the election could determine whether it will remain illegal to perform an abortion in the state.

The two liberal justices running for the open seat, Everett Mitchell and Janet Protasiewicz, support abortion rights. The conservative justices running for the seat, Jennifer Dorow and Daniel Kelly, do not support abortion rights.

EMILY's List, a group that works to elect pro-abortion rights Democratic women to all levels of government, has endorsed Protasiewicz.

"The rights and freedoms of millions of Wisconsinites hinge on a Wisconsin Supreme Court committed to reproductive freedom, democracy, and voting rights for all," Emily's List President Laphonza Butler said in the statement. "Protasiewicz has been a champion for Wisconsinites for over 35 years, and we have full confidence in her dedication to fairly interpreting the law and standing up to extremism. We are proud to support her in this race."

Dorow told a right-wing radio host that she supported the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization in June that overturned the affirmation of a constitutional right to abortion in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, paving the way for states to ban abortions before fetal viability, which is considered to be around 24 weeks' gestation. In a 2012 blog post, Kelly wrote that he believes abortion "involves taking the life of a human being" in order to "preserve sexual libertinism."

Also at stake is whether Wisconsin will have fair state legislative and congressional district maps.

In the last round of redistricting, the already gerrymandered Republican state legislative majorities drew maps heavily skewed to benefit Republican candidates. In fact, the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project gave the state's map an F grade for partisan fairness.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed the maps, but in April 2022, the 4-3 conservative majority chose a map drawn by Republicans, which, University of Wisconsin–Madison law professor Robert Yablon said, means Democrats will in the next decade "have virtually no chance of taking control of the Legislature."

If liberals win a majority on the court, the maps could once again be challenged.

Protasiewicz, who has raised the most money in the race, has called the maps rigged.

"My values are that I protect democracy, that I believe everybody's vote should count, that currently I don't think that the maps are fair — I actually think they're outrageously unfair," Protasiewicz told the Washington Post.

Voting rights are also at stake in the state Supreme Court race.

In 2022, the 4-3 conservative majority banned ballot drop boxes for mail-in ballots, ruling that they are "illegal under Wisconsin statutes."

Republicans had challenged the use of ballot drop boxes in the 2020 election, after former President Donald Trump baselessly linked them to voter fraud. However, an Associated Press review of the 2020 election was among the studies that found drop boxes were not a part of the supposed widespread voter fraud that in fact did not exist.

A liberal majority on the court could overturn the ban on ballot boxes should voting rights advocates bring a challenge.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

You Have The Right To Vote -- Maybe Even If You're In Jail

You Have The Right To Vote -- Maybe Even If You're In Jail

They’ve been eligible to vote since 1974. That year, in the case of O’Brien v. Skinner, the Supreme Court of the United States held that “misdemeanants” or accused people who haven’t been convicted of felonies are eligible to vote just as they would be were they not in custody.

Casting a ballot from jail is nice work if you can get it. The ballot that is.

In theory, about 547,000 incarcerated people should be voting on November 8. Most have to vote through an absentee ballot just like they would if they were out of town on Election Day.

But ballots are hard to come by, and usually for specious reasons. A witness at the October 10, 2019 hearing on Washington DC’s Restore the Vote Amendment Act — the first law in the country to actually re-enfranchise incarcerated people since the two states that allow prisoners to vote never took away their rights in the first place — described situations where prison mailrooms failed to deliver the absentee ballots to the inmates. Even if they get the ballot in their hands, inmates have to pay for the postage to return it. Commissary purchases can take as long as two weeks in some places; stamped envelopes aren’t guaranteed.

Of course, barriers start well before the distribution of ballots. In Houston, Texas, Harris County Sheriff Eddie Gonzalez recognized that his jail confiscates the photo ID needed to register and vote.

The same was true in the city and county of Denver, Colorado. It frustrated the voting of the detainees so broadly that the county changed its voter registration rules to allow photocopies of licenses and photo ID’s rather than requiring detainees to have them in hand, as they’re technically contraband.

The solution to these problems was to turn jails into actual polling stations — and that’s exactly what seven jails have done, according to the advocacy and research nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative. Now those seven facilities — the jail in Washington D.C., two in Illinois, including Cook County Jail, one in Los Angeles, two in Colorado, and Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas — will act as polling places on Election Day. That basic right to vote and the logistics to implement it are coming together

But the challenge of getting pretrial detainees to vote goes beyond coordinating how it's done. Ward Six Councilman Charles Allen of the District of Columbia City Council, who chairs its committee on the judiciary and public safety, wondered whether formal civics education was necessary to get detainees to vote; he even speculated whether that would include having a dedicated member of the city's board of elections stationed at the jail.

According to Allen, 73 unsentenced people voted in the primary at the D.C. jail and 127 in the general election in 2018. Those numbers amount to about one percent of the average daily population when it was at its lowest.

To be fair to Washington, the District may be the hardest place in the country to implement detainee voting. Inmates in the city may not be in the facility long enough to vote; the average length of stay for men is 136 days and 70 days for women.

After that, if a sentence is imposed, the federal government ships them out of the city to federal prisons across the country, in states with different laws. About 3700 people — two thirds of incarcerated D.C. residents — vote from somewhere else. That distance requires that they receive a traditional absentee ballot to mail in.

But the results aren’t that great in other jurisdictions. While about 40 percent of Cook County Jail detainees voted in the 2020 presidential election, the exceptional circumstances of that year — reduced inmate populations because of the pandemic and four separate days of early voting over two weekends — enhanced participation.

During the June 2022 primary, only 25 percent of detainees voted, even though same day registration should have made it easier for many more to participate in the democratic process. It was still a higher turnout rate than for citizens at large — and it’s up from seven percent in 2018 — but jail voting participation rates should top 85 percent when the facility becomes a polling place with on-site registration.There’s no concern about transportation, not making it in time, or even competing obligations. Turnout is solely the responsibility of the constituents.

And that’s what proves that it’s not convenience of voting that brings about participation; it’s knowledge of the right. And most incarcerated people don’t know about their rights, even when the voting booth gets installed in the lobby of their building.

An advocate with Speak Up and Vote in Illinois said those detained in jail frequently “didn’t realize they’re eligible to vote, so they didn’t try”-- as did someone working with the Denver Sheriff’s Department, who said that detainees “told us this was their first time voting and they had no idea they had the right the vote.” Harris County Sheriff Gonzalez essentially conceded the “majority of people involved in the justice system don’t vote due to a lack of information on voting.”

The task of turnout is educating people on rights they’ve always had but either didn’t know or didn’t care about.

No matter what the participation level is, putting voting booths inside jails is a bold move. We think of the laboratories of democracy as sterile places, crucibles that cook up only the purest policies. To let detainees and their voluntary behavior — ballot casting isn’t required — teach corrections administrators how to implement these rights takes a lot of trust.

It’s especially brave since granting voting rights for prisoners isn’t a favored political move. James Carville, political consultant and former lead strategist for the Clinton campaign in 1992, complains about it a lot, but his essentially bigoted stance isn’t totally out of touch. A HuffPost//YouGov poll surveyed a group of 1000 US citizens and found that 63 percent favored voting rights for people when they complete their sentences. That support then plummets by more than half, to 24 percent, when the topic of re-enfranchising prisoners comes up.

The opposition to voting rights for incarcerated people is outdated, for sure; our nation’s highest court has allowed unconvicted detainees to vote for almost 50 years. That we’re just figuring out how to let them do that in 2022 is both heartwarming and disheartening at the same time.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

Massive Petition Fraud Roils GOP’s Michigan Governor Primary

Massive Petition Fraud Roils GOP’s Michigan Governor Primary

The primary race for governor in Michigan proves once again that if there’s going to be election fraud happening, Republicans are going to be doing it. In this case, it’s five—five—Republicans who have been found to have turned in enough fraudulent signatures for the primary ballot to be disqualified. Among them is presumed frontrunner and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. When conducting a review of qualifying petitions, the state Bureau of Elections staff “identified 36 petition circulators who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures.”

That leaves five candidates—half of the current field—without sufficient signatures to qualify for the Aug. 2 primary ballot, elections staff wrote. This is not a normal thing. At all. “[T]he Bureau is unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures, nor an instance in which it affected as many candidate petitions as at present.” That includes, again, petition sheets made up entirely of fraudulent signatures.

The five candidates the board found don’t have enough qualifying signatures, along with Craig, are Perry Johnson—a millionaire who has already spent millions of his own money in the primary so far—Michael Brown, Michael Markey Jr., and Donna Brandenburg. The board doesn’t make the final decision; the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers will meet on Thursday to consider the recommendation that the candidates are disqualified. If they end up tossed from the ballot, expect lawsuits.

The elections bureau “does not have reason to believe that any specific candidates or campaigns were aware of the activities of fraudulent-petition circulators,” staff wrote. They identified 30 individuals who submitted the fraudulent petitions for at least 10 campaigns, and six others who are accused of forging signatures for just one campaign. They are all apparently associated with the firm First Choice Contracting LLC, which is headed up by Michigan resident Shawn Wilmoth. According to a link to a news story included in a footnote in the report, Wilmoth was convicted on two counts of election fraud in 2011.

Michigan Democrats and one other Republican gubernatorial candidate, conservative Tudor Dixon, had filed complaints challenging the signatures. Dixon has a major endorsement in his race, by the way: the DeVos family. Dixon also had enough qualifying signatures: 29,041 valid signatures, 199 invalid signatures. However, the fraud was discovered by the elections bureau in their usual verification processes, not as a result of those complaints.

Johnson, the self-funder, is attacking Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the signature gatherers both. Campaign consultant John Yob released a statement saying the “staff of the Democrat secretary of state does not have the right to unilaterally void every signature obtained by the alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns.” Which isn’t how this works anyway; the four-person bipartisan canvassers board decides that. “We strongly believe they are refusing to count thousands of signatures from legitimate voters who signed the petitions and look forward to winning this fight before the board, and if necessary, in the courts.”

Candidates for governor need at least 15,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, with 100 from each congressional district. Johnson submitted 13,800 valid signatures, with 9,393 invalid. Craig had 10,192 valid signatures, and 11,113 invalid ones. All in all, the 36 petition circulators submitted 68,000 invalid signatures.

The petition circulators apparently used outdated voter lists to find names, meaning that there were lots of dead voters on the petitions, as well as outdated addresses for voters. The elections board also noted that many of the sheets were too pristine, showing no signs of being exposed to weather, folded, scuffed, or passed among hundreds of hands. Some sheets looked like they had been “round-tabled,” or passed around a group of individuals with every person signing one line on the sheet “in an attempt to make the handwriting and signatures appear authentic and received from actual voters.”

The staff of the elections bureau checked petitions for all the races and found two identical sheets submitted for two different judicial candidates. So Wilmoth’s people didn’t even try particularly hard to obfuscate the fact that they were committing fraud.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

When Worries Haunt Jim Clyburn, It's Time To Fear For  America

When Worries Haunt Jim Clyburn, It's Time To Fear For  America

When I interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn in 2014 about his memoir Blessed Experiences: Genuinely Southern, Proudly Black, the South Carolina Democrat was confident in America’s ability to find its way, no matter how extreme the political swings might appear at any given time.

“The country from its inception is like the pendulum on a clock,” the congressman told me. “It goes back and forward. It tops out to the right and starts back to the left — it tops out to the left and starts back to the right.” And remember, he said, it “spends twice as much time in the center.”

I have always appreciated Clyburn’s wisdom, his passion, and his commitment to his constituents. But most of all, I have admired the optimism of this child of the South, who grew up hemmed in by Jim Crow’s separate and unequal grip, yet who believed in the innate goodness of America and its people. Clyburn put his own life on the line to drag the country — kicking and screaming — into a more just future.

He was convinced, I believe, that no matter how off balance America might become, the country would eventually right itself.

A lot has changed since that afternoon, when he sat at a long table, signing books and chatting in the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina, right beside his beloved wife. Emily Clyburn, a passionate civil rights activist, died in 2019, though Clyburn often references her wise words.That optimism, however, has lost its glow.

Clyburn’s worries drove our conversation in July 2021, the second of two times he was a guest on my CQ Roll Call “Equal Time” podcast. The topic was voting rights, and Clyburn had opinions about the Senate procedure that would eventually stall legislation to reform those rights and restore provisions invalidated by a Supreme Court decision in 2013.

“When it comes to the constitutional issues like voting, guaranteed to Blacks by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that should not be filibustered,” he said. And about restrictive laws being passed in states? “I want you to call it what it is. Use the word: nullification. It is voter nullification.”

“This isn’t about just voting; this is about whether or not we will have a democracy or an autocracy.”

With those remarks in the back of my mind, it was still startling to hear Clyburn last week on MSNBC, talking about his GOP House colleagues, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and their waffling about complying with subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack.

When asked if the government and Capitol Hill could “be fixed,” Clyburn, known for his philosophical “this too shall pass” mantra, instead replied, “I don’t know.” He talked about threats to undermine democracy and said the country is “teetering on the edge.”

And that was before the shooting in Buffalo that claimed the lives of ten beautiful Americans doing something as routine as Saturday supermarket shopping. African Americans were targeted by an 18-year-old who wore his “white supremacist” label like a badge of honor in a heavily plagiarized racist screed, a man whose stated goal was to “kill as many blacks as possible.”

Is it any wonder Clyburn’s optimism has been waning in these times?

Among Clyburn’s current House colleagues sits Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the number three House Republican, whose Facebook ads echoed the “replacement” conspiracy theory swallowed hook, line and sinker by the Buffalo shooter. “Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION,” was one message shared by the once moderate congresswoman, who replaced Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney in House leadership.

Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) has said many Americans believe “we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans — to permanently transform the political landscape of this very nation.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), someone you can always count on to say and do the very worst thing, has co-signed the near nightly rantings of a Fox News host, once tweeting, “Tucker Carlson is CORRECT about Replacement Theory as he explains what is happening to America.”

While most Republican House members skirt the edges of the most incendiary claims, you don’t hear them loudly denouncing or disavowing them.

The accused Buffalo shooter was straightforward in his intentions as he found heroes in the racist and conspiracy-driven murderers who have cut a hateful swath through Norway, New Zealand, El Paso, Pittsburgh and Clyburn’s own home state of South Carolina, at places of worship, whether they be church, synagogue, or mosque.

The problem is much deeper than the availability of guns, and it didn’t surface in just the past few years, though the Obama family in the White House woke those uncomfortable with an evolving country and President Donald Trump cannily dug into a “Make America Great Again” slogan that looked back, not forward.

An accurate reading of history might have taught the shooter that scapegoating African Americans for his own emptiness and rot is not new, and that online conspiracies crumble when bombarded with truth. But many of the same people dismissing Saturday’s planned killing spree as the aberrant act of a disaffected and deranged “youth” would replace real history with rose-colored propaganda in the nation’s classrooms. Many Americans could use an education when polls show a third of them — and nearly half of Republicans — buy into the “replacement” lie.

It was the ugly truth, not fantasy, when President Joe Biden on Tuesday became counselor in chief, a role I’m sure he wishes he never had to play. When he and first lady Dr. Jill Biden traveled to Buffalo, the president blessedly took the time to note each individual — beloved wives and husbands, daughters and sons, brothers and sisters — emphasizing the humanity a shooter wanted to erase.

“In America, evil will not win, I promise you. Hate will not prevail. White supremacy will not have the last word,” he proclaimed.

But when it’s stoked by the rhetoric of fear and blame of the other, hate too often finds a way.

Maybe that is what’s haunting Clyburn, hero and longtime fighter, because he has seen so much. Now, when democracy is at stake, where will the pendulum stop?

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is currently a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.