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Claim Democracy Conference - D.C. Report

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No NASCAR Moment
Just "Seeking Common Ground"

By Michael Collins
Washington, D.C.

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Seventy five voting rights groups are meeting at the Claim Democracy Conference. Rob Ritchie and Fair Vote developed a series of workshops and discussions that make this event well worth attending. Registration is still open. conference, November 9 through 11, at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington D.C.

The conference opened with two major presentations this evening.

The main attraction was a panel discussion which included with hard right activist Grover Norquist. For political junkies, this offered the prospect of a NASCAR moment – you know a big crack up over the scam concept of voter fraud involving a riled up Norquist and a passionate voting rights activist. It didn't happen. The hall reeked of civility. More on that later.

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The first panel featured two committed, in-the-trenches activists, the executive director of DC Vote and the other the Rainbow Push representative for New Orleans.

DC Vote's Executive Director Ilir Zherka made his point immediately: "Welcome to the last colony of the U.S.A." Zherka pointed out that Congress must approve D.C.'s budget, retains veto power over its budget, and yet denies citizens of the district the vote. DC Vote has a rapidly growing membership, a solid base of support in the city, and outreach efforts which include a caravan across the country to get some real democracy for the nation's capital.

Sheila Williams spoke of reclaiming the franchise for Katrina's refugees scattered across the United States along with those remaining in the devastated city. She was assigned to New Orleans by Rainbow Push and soon realized that the biggest issue was reclaiming the right to vote.

The story of voting after a catastrophe was offered as a cautionary tale. The mayoral election shortly after Katrina faced major obstacles. Citizens lobbied the Secretary of State, Governor Blanco, and the legislature. They got some (not enough) special accommodations for that election. But in 2006, the state shut the door. Jim Crow's generosity had run out. The citizens are not giving up and neither is Rainbow Push.

"What we got here is... failure to communicate." Guard to "Cool Hand Luke," 1967

The second panel consisted of two activists from the right, Grover NorquistNorquist) and David Keating of the Club for Growth. From somewhere just to the left of the middle, we had Spenser Overton, law professor and author, and Hedrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker magazine and one time speech writer for President Carter. The panel was moderated by the co executive directors of Reuniting America. The "about" section of their web site says: (yes, that

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Reuniting America convenes leaders from across the spectrum in transpartisan gatherings. Our goal is to build trust and deepen relationships among national leaders in order to identify and support collaborative action on issues of national concern.

The assumption is, if we can only sit down together and talk in a civil tone, things will be all right. It's a style over content thing.

We heard about making presidential elections more representatives from Hertzberg. He explained how the Electoral College reduces campaigning to five or ten states and kills the incentive to vote for many. Spencer Overton, author of a scathing indictment of voter suppression, Stealing Democracy, didn't have much time for the subject. When an opening came to slam the Republican false claims of a voter fraud epidemic, he said both sides had to agree on the data before there was a rational discussion. Norquist was witty on occasion and treated respectfully by the audience. No NASCAR, not much passion.

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