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General News    H2'ed 11/22/16

"America will be . . . ": What Have We Learned from E2016? The First Election Since VRA Was Gutted in 2013

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A postmortem on the disastrous outcome of Election 2016, the first presidential one held since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013, was a panel subject on November 16 in the Longworth Building of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. The disastrous 2013 SCOTUS Shelby County v. Holder decision effectively legalized racism in voting regulations.

The states and jurisdictions "freed" by SCOTUS jumped into the muddied waters the minute Shelby became the rule. The ways to prevent Democratic votes from being counted multiplied exponentially. As of November 16, the estimate was that 2 million registered voters were prevented from voting, and HRC's total of popular votes--all votes are still being counted as of today--is approaching this same figure, 2 million.

The standing-room-only panel was sponsored by the newly created Congressional Voting Rights Caucus (consisting of 73 members of Congress), the National Election Defense Coalition, and the Transformative Justice Coalition. The caucus's principal goal is to reinstate the murdered section 5, the heart and soul of the VRA [note that one of the agenda points of Congress in 2017 is to gut the next most effective section of the VRA, section 2]. So far, the desired legislation has never reached the floor.

The panel session, introduced by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX), one of the four caucus chairs, was moderated by CNN political commentator Symone Sanders. Several members of the caucus began with brief statements: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Rep. Bobby Scott, another caucus co-chair (D-VA), Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The panel discussion followed, featuring Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP and founder of the Moral Monday movement; Maria Urbina, a vice president of Voto Latino; Ari Berman, a senior writer for The Nation; Barbara Arnwine, former executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights under Law and founder of the DC-based Transformative Justice Coalition; and Ben Zion Ptashnik, former state senator in Vermont and co-founder and executive director of the National Election Defense Coalition.

Election 2016 confirmed our worst fears, Rep. Veasey began. Many were kept from voting by familiar impediments including early poll closings, stricter voter ID requirements, purged registration lists, for a few examples. Though the Texas voter ID requirement, first to be stiffened after Shelby, had been recently mitigated, seven counties still enforced the previous draconian version. Golden Week in Ohio was eliminated, a week during the early voting period when citizens could register and vote at the same time.

Rep. John Conyers, next to speak, offered some consolation when he looked around the crowded room and said that this amount of attendance alone indicated that 1) we haven't given up on the blatantly questionable election results and 2) there are more of us than there are of them. Mistakes were made. The longest-serving Representative now in office, since 1965, said he loves his work and still wants to get better at it. "We have a great challenge ahead of us."

Rep. Gwen Moore called her district, Milwaukee, the "Selma of the North," crippled by discrimination and segregation. Votes there are still being counted [as of today]. The voter ID requirement there was installed on August 16, despite zero cases of voter fraud in the Badger State ever. The votes of 300,000 were in jeopardy. Moore regretted not having run for the seat the popular former senator Russ Feingold lost. As a black and a woman herself, she said that she might have brought in more votes for HRC.

Ari Berman, who had traveled all over the country witnessing election 2016 activities, saw an 85-year-old woman turned away because her driver's license was outdated. Also in Wisconsin, 41,000 ballots lacked a presidential vote ["undervotes" is the term used], and Hillary Clinton lost the state, as of November 16, by a mere one percent. An additional 41,000 Wisconsin voters stayed home altogether. A democratic Senate seat was lost.

Rep. Bobby Scott next recalled the recent 3-judge panel decision in his state to add a Democratic district so that the balance of partisan representation advanced from 8 to 3 to 7 to 4, the lower number representing Democratic districts. Too many blacks had been compressed into his own third district, he said, until this decision. This large GOP advantage exists even though the party's majority in the state is only 0--5 percent, according to Wikipedia citing from Gallup.

Rep. Terri Sewell commented on the huge certainty of pre-election polls that HRC would triumph.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee congratulated Rep. Veasey for having been the main plaintiff in the lawsuit in Texas that mitigated the draconian voter ID law there. She referred to section 2 of the VRA as "getting knocked out and then going to court" because, unlike section 5, the burden of proof is on the government rather than the jurisdictions, so that suit can only be brought after the fact--"the fact" in this case being stolen elections.

In the panel discussion that followed, Barbara Arnwine thanked the caucus for their efforts to revive section 5 of the VRA. She next described the call center manned by her new organization as having been deluged by complaints of long lines; a huge number simply left without voting. Nationwide, she said, 738,000 voters had thus far similarly given up on voting.

We need a new voting rights movement, Ari Berman next observed (Arnwine had referred to the large new coalition of advocacy organizations allying toward election integrity, the Voting Rights Alliance. Fourteen states were victimized by voting restrictions for the first time, he said. In North Carolina there were cuts to the early voting period and the number of polling places was reduced. He then related the tragic story of an indigent voter who had moved to Wisconsin from Illinois: after a ridiculous back-and-forth process of attempting to comply with red-tape requirements, he gave up on voting in Wisconsin and returned to Illinois to live. In this sadistic experience he had been forced to spend between $400 and $600 just to change the name on his birth certificate from Eddie Jr. Holloway to Eddie Lee Holloway Jr.

Symone Sanders noted that eight out of 10 Latinos in this country had voted for HRC. Many first-time voters, millennials, had bad experiences and thus scared away their peers from even attempting to show up. We will miss this generation as part of our civic life, she said.

Rev. Barber, next to speak, recalled that the Electoral College owes its origins to fear of blacks; that soon after the VRA was passed, Nixon's "southern strategy" worked to eliminated African Americans from voter rolls in the South; that without Obama there could be no Trump; that during the presidential debates voting rights were not once discussed; the "surgical precision" with which black voters had been disenfranchised in North Carolina: in 2012 in Guilford County there had been 16 early voting sites while in 2016 this number plummeted to one; elsewhere in the Tarheel State polling places had been removed from college campuses; and in Guilford County there had been 60,232 early voters in 2012 compared with a total of 7,916 in 2016. In short, Barber didn't know how many were disenfranchised, but busloads of black church congregants enroute to the polls on Sunday saw swasticas painted on the roads.

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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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