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General News    H3'ed 1/17/18

Press Conference Heralds Formation of New Commission to Combat Voter Suppression

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A press conference attendee illustrates its theme.
A press conference attendee illustrates its theme.
(Image by Marta Steele)
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As the disaster of the Department of Homeland Security's new role of chasing down "voter fraud" has replaced the Pence/Kobach "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity"'s former task, a window of opportunity opened up in front of the SCOTUS building this morning.

Barbara Arnwine, co-chair, president, and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, will also co-chair a commission to strike back with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, absent today due to illness. She addressed a press conference to herald the establishment of the National Commission for Voter Justice (NCVJ), or the People's Commission, "a nearly two year examination into voter suppression across the United States."

In that the new head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, has specified that all relevant election-related activities and measures will occur "in secret," Arnwine later said, the only information states will be able to obtain from them will be whether a voter is "legal" or not, for example, an immigrant--something Arnwine called ridiculous. She added that Nielsen said that voting rights issues are the province of the Department of Justice.

They concern all of us actually, which was again and again emphasized at today's press conference, sandwiched between SCOTUS, notorious for the 2013 decision that gutted section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Capitol building, representing the largely negligent attitudes of both the executive and legislative branches of the government toward election integrity.

The People's Commission will be working at the local level, where the real power resides and must be activated despite the bullying federal muscle. They will tap into the oldest and newest methods of reaching We the People: canvassing door to door and using social media and the Internet. The people must be educated, several speakers emphasized, and every effort will be made to reach them. A March 3 conference in Texas, for example, precedes the state's primary by four days, and publicity has been dismal. The People's Commission will use outreach to counter this roadblock. In Texas the deadline for registering for the March 6 primary is February 5, a well-kept secret so far.

All other rights cave in once the people's right to vote is tampered with; evidence for this need go no farther than the long line on the steps of the SCOTUS building this morning to witness the debate over the survival of DACA. A small protest was being held across the street as well by the population concerned--the dreamers whose future life here is so jeopardized.

The weather was freezing today but spirits, inspiration, and determination were hot, said Arnwine. She introduced the new NCVJ commissioners and other speakers, including John Nichols, the well-known writer for The Nation as well as author, with whom she just co-authored an MLK Day article in that publication on MLK's lesser-known but equally powerful 1957 speech "Give Us the Ballot."

Barbara Arnwine
Barbara Arnwine
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Other speakers included another new commissioner, Pennsylvania state senator Vincent Hughes, and National Bar Association president Juan Thomas. Please note that this organization, not to be confused with the ABA, was founded because of the other's refusal to admit African Americans. The immediately past president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Terry O'Neill, spoke, along with the current president, Toni Van Pelt.

After introducing all of the speakers, Arnwine reminded us of her 2011 Map of Shame, the restrictive legislature passed in the wake of Election 2010, much of it based on an ALEC-designed template. Fully 710 laws were passed in 30 states targeting millions of minority voters in the area of the voter ID requirement, which 25 million eligible voters lack; 1.5 million were purged from voter lists; 3 million special-needs voters were kept from the polls; 2.1 million felons or ex-felons were similarly repressed; new poll taxes are in the works in New Hampshire; long lines in front of inner-city polls and elsewhere remain to block Democratic voters from their share in their democracy; and then there is Russian and other tampering with our cybersecurity

One hundred percent of eligible voters should vote, speakers later added; our numbers are dismal compared with other democracies in the world. How can this reflect the People's will?

Collaboration with existing organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, the NAACP, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law is vital and will advance the project. Such networking will "reinvent the wheel," said Nichols later.

John Nichols
John Nichols
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Nichols spoke of migrant workers freezing in his home state of Wisconsin as they work to sustain this country's dairy industry--many of them in danger of deportation. He stressed NCVJ's nonpartisan membership: We the People must be represented by as many segments as are willing to cooperate. What of the District of Columbia and other U.S. territories that lack full voting rights?

Hughes reminded the group that his state managed to defeat the push toward mandatory voter ID via a protracted battle.

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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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