Texas Lunch links is a daily collection of Texas-related news and views, with a heavy focus on happenings at the Texas Legislature.
OBAMA IN WEST: "We may not all live here in Texas, but we are neighbors, too," said President Obama on Thursday during a memorial service for the victims of last week's West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Watch Obama's speech below.
(The past two years have seen an unprecedented assault on American voting rights, from decreasing early voting locations and hours to requiring a poll tax in the form of a photo voter ID. Here with some further commentary on this issue is the Texas Civil Rights Project. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
In the not too distant past, America did much to make it easier for people to vote. The national government passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act to undo the vestiges and practices of voter suppression based on race and ethnicity; state and local governments instituted early voting, facilitated absentee ballots, lengthened polling hours, and made electoral registration as easy as mailing a postcard.
Expanding the franchise has been long and painstaking, extending back more than a hundred years. The15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution started off this tedious process in 1870, enfranchising men, regardless of race (although Jim Crow undermined that right). It then took 50 years to establish the same right for women, with the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Carmen Limas of LUPE - Rio Grande Valley (lupergv.wordpress.com)
Voting is the most important action we do as Americans. Elections are how we fashion our society, set our values, and govern ourselves. Some countries are so committed to democratic participation that voting is mandatory.
Yet, in the last few years, politicians have moved to make voting more difficult, reversing decades of progress. We have seen a pattern of voter-suppression laws and actions across the land. These methods are aimed at certain groups of people, whose interests would be significantly different from those in power. But denying the franchise is un-American. We all have to live by what the majority speaks, and we must do all we can to have as many speak as possible.
Since 2011, 19 states have passed laws to make voting more difficult. Thirteen states now require voter ID, six of them with very strict laws. Altogether, these ID laws affect 10 percent of the electorate. Six states have reduced early voting; and six states have tightened voter registration laws, making it more difficult for groups, such as the League of Women Voters, to conduct registration drives.
The argument is that this is to control fraud, although in reality there are extraordinarily few incidents of fraud, and absolutely none on any large-scale.
Not only is there scant evidence of voter fraud, but those who rail against this make-believe reality show little concern about paperless balloting. E-voting is fraught with error and the real possibility of hacking and manipulation, as has happened already in numerous polling places around the country. Nor without a paper trail can there be a recount, if needed. E-voting is far greater threat to electoral integrity than any voter fraud.
There are other dangers to elections. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision unleashed a torrent of money so that millionaires and corporations shamelessly far outspend the average citizen and now can tell their employees how they should vote.
Some $2 billion has gone into the 2012 presidential campaign so far, with more to come. This grossly disproportionate power endangers and undermines a democracy. And that money could have been better spent on educating kids, setting up job skills training, improving medical care in the poor and rural areas of our nation, and so on.
If we want a democracy that works and flourishes, we have to reverse course and facilitate voting for everyone. Early balloting, weekend-end voting, and same-day registration are all worthy of strengthening. We might even consider a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and limit campaigns to 60 days, as do many countries.
We need to return to encouraging and assisting people to vote, not impede them. Our democracy depends on it.
From a press release from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee:
I was very concerned when I was informed of multiple incidents in which voters in predominately minority neighborhoods of my congressional district were intimidated and harassed. These incidents were documented by both the electronic and print media.
Accordingly, I shared my concerns with the Department of Justice and the Harris County Attorney’s office, who are investigating these incidents. I even visited with some of these voters who experienced intimidation and went to polling locations to view firsthand the way voters were being treated. The right to vote is a fundamental right enshrined by our Constitution, and my interest is to ensure that every person’s right to vote is protected.
It seems extraordinary that Americans must still struggle for their right to vote. A new group in Texas - the Diversity League of Houston - is leading the struggle there. More about this group in a moment. But it's staggering that after all these years there are still reactionary forces working to suppress the voting rights of those they suspect of opposing their radical, right-wing policies.
African-Americans were given the right to vote with 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870. After a century, many blacks were still barred from voting by lynch mobs, bigoted literacy tests, poll taxes and such. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, adding further guarantees. Women in America were finally granted the franchise in 1920. And yet the struggle continues election after election as right-wing thugs take to the streets (and to the offices of their co-conspirators among voter registration officials) to deny the franchise to qualified American citizens.
Last month I posted a piece at HuffPost detailing the lies of a group in Houston, Texas - the King Street Patriots -- who have raised a substantial anti-voting rights war chest. Conspiring with the Harris County voter registrar, Leo Vasquez, the group doctored photos and made up stories about people registered to a vacant lot. It is all part of a plan to deny the right to vote to American citizens.
The group unveiled its plan just prior to a suspicious fire that destroyed all of Harris County's voting machines. There's still no word on whether the fire was intentionally set.
The group, the Diversity League of Houston, has put up an excellent video everyone should watch:
The Indiana Court of Appeals today declared Indiana's voter ID law unconstitutional because it does not apply uniformly to all voters.
The three-judge panel unanimously held that the requirement that voters present government-issued identification at the polls runs afoul of the Indiana Constitution's "Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause," which provides: "The General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens."
Two reasons were cited by the Court of Appeals: the law doesn't require absentee voters to provide an affidavit affirming their identity even while requiring photo identification for in-person voters; and the law exempts residents of state-licensed care facilities from the ID requirement if their facility happens to be a polling place.
Texas Republicans have fought tooth and nail to suppress our voting rights, and they've continually pointed to the Indiana law as "proof" that it works. They have some serious egg on their face today, as the party of "No" learns what it means to be shot down for their illegal and dishonorable efforts to suppress voting rights.
Recent studies show that a more diverse electorate turned out last November, including historically underrepresented young and minority voters. Since the election, Republican operatives have continued to use the specter of voter fraud to loosen regulations on voter suppression activities while pushing policies to make voting more difficult for the crop of new voters.
As several states enter critical phases in their legislative sessions, the debate for one of the most controversial election reforms continues to dominate headlines and legislative hearings. This year, more than 26 states introduced legislation to go above and beyond federal election law relating to voter ID, despite near consensus among voting rights advocates that it hurts the process far more than it helps. Last week, the hysteria around voter ID reached an all time high in six states, evoking public concern from advocates and citizens alike.
(Putting this excellent post back atop the page. - promoted by Phillip Martin)
Airport Security Checkpoint or Polling Place?
Here is an honest and easy-to-understand statement of a Republican belief that lies behind their efforts to place burdensome and bureaucratic barriers between citizens and the ballot box:
Few citizens have the formidable intellectual and moral capacities (let alone the time) required for the role that [popular democracy] assigns to the citizenry, although defenders of the concept believe that participation in democratic political activity strengthens these capacities, enabling a virtuous cycle.
That quote is from Judge Richard Posner, of the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals. It's in his book, "Law, Pragmatism and Democracy." Posner wrote the appeals court opinion approving Indiana's restrictive voter identification requirements. The restrictions on voting, he said in that opinion, would harm many citizens. But we shouldn't care.
Let the quote sink in.
Because so many of us lack the intellectual and moral capacity to participate in our governance, restrictions on voting are no big deal to Posner and his ilk.
In Texas this week, debate opens on a proposal that places extraordinary identification requirements on citizens who wish to vote. The proposed law's ambiguous language appears to grant part-time, amateur polling place officials the absolute power to accept or reject a would-be voter based solely on that citizen's appearance or other subjective judgments. For the first time since women and blacks were granted the vote, appearance alone may disqualify a would-be voter. We'll return to this in a moment.
Posner is an open opponent of popular democracy. Most anti-democrats simply lie, not wishing to fuel what is the ultimate "wedge" issue in a democracy: should all citizens share equally in the decision-making of their communities and country? Some Republican backers of restrictions on voting may not share Posner's belief in the inferiority of many citizens. They simply want to use the law to reduce the number of people inclined to vote against them.