Finally, A Full-Throated Call for Universal Voter Registration

electiondayvoting_getty011213New Orleans   Well, now we’re talking!  Finally, we may see find some politicians speaking up and taking a chance on more democracy, rather than just hoping for more rich people and campaign donations.

In a speech at Texas Southern University, a largely African-American institution in Houston, where she was getting an award of some kind, Hillary Clinton, in the current pole position for the Democratic nomination for President called for universal voter registration.  Simple as that, just like Selective Service and a million other big data intrusions, when someone turns 18-years old, bam, they are registered to vote.

As we’ve advocated here, there, and everywhere for years, there’s only one real reform that will cure all of the problems of voter registration and the mishmash and mayhem that states and local jurisdictions have made out of the process, and that’s automatic registration.  I’m sure it’s too much to acknowledge the irony that we both claim to be a democracy in the USA, yet then seem to do everything possible to keep people from being able to register and from being able to vote.  Oregon took the smaller step of registering people when they got their driver’s licenses and, whoops, added 300,000 voters.

Clinton also called for some action on that front from all reports of her remarks.  She advocated a 20-day early voting period, including nights and weekends for goodness sakes.  In those states where it’s allowed, 40% or more of the votes are coming in early.  For good measure she even threw in some remarks about finally allowing former felons to vote after they had paid their debt to society, but I’m sure that’s a bridge too far at this point, so I won’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Truth is, we need universal registration and compulsory voting, and if not compulsory, something that is so easy that it would be inescapable and unavoidable.

But, here’s the rub.  Even though it is great news that big dog democrats might finally be coming out for making it easier to register and vote, as long as they are half-stepping and the other party wants to do the exact opposite and that party happens to control both houses of Congress, we’re just pitching words at a wall.  The Republicans want to hold onto what they have, and they understand full well that even though economic trends have been going their way, demographic trends are moving against them, so a day of reckoning is coming.  Their interest is expressed clearly:  put up barriers, restrict access to voting, discourage new voters, and make registration more cumbersome and difficult.

Maybe some states will get the message and open up the rolls and the voting booths, if there’s enough shouting, but otherwise it’s going to take picks, shovels, and dynamite to dig out the opposition to more democratic access to voting in America, and not some speeches every blue moon when some politicians remember that votes are actually counted every four years or so.


Please enjoy Alive in that Sound by Lace & Lead.  Thanks to KABF.


Voter and Community Suppression Coming to United Kingdom

biteLondon    Talking to someone in the United Kingdom the other day, they made a comment that any new “bad” idea in the USA germinates for a couple of years and then pops up in a modified form in Britain.  Yikes!

One good, bad example can be found in the new voter suppression policies that are debuting next year in time for the national elections.  Previously, the head of a household could automatically register everyone under the roof.  In the name of “reform,” the Conservative government turned the tables with a lot of fancy rationalizations all of which mean that now everyone has to individually register to vote.  Who gets hurt?  Who do you think?  Young voters, old voters, tenants, lower income families and others that don’t have the time, money, information, and so forth to crawl over the obstacles deliberately put in their path to be able to vote.  And, what does it matter, as conservatives in all countries say, they probably didn’t want to vote that much anyway?!?

The unions have collectively funded some social media and networking efforts to try to get younger voters to register.  One is called “Bite the Ballot “for example.  The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also has a collective effort for the labor in this area.  Individual unions say they are working to register their own members.  Having lived through the USA experience, I worry that the impact of not launching a massive effort to simply assure that everyone maintains their right to vote will mean an increasing gap that will be harder to bridge later once the impact is realized.  One official told me that if Labour returns to power, then they will get rid of this, but that’s a big bunch of “if’s,” and the point of voter suppression is likely to also be a factor in any future success of progressive governing coalitions.

The other new “twist” coming to the United Kingdom are called the “gagging” rules by progressives.  Individual committees for nonprofits are limited in expenditures in a race to about 5000 pounds and nationally to about 20000 pounds.  The rules are complicated.  I know, since I’ve read them!  There are also various provisions to “chill” the rights of nonprofits to participate even in campaigning for change.  If the commission determines that an organization is campaigning for a position that is aligned to or espoused by a political party, then the organization would be forced to limit its voice on the issue to the ceilings prescribed which is why they are speaking of such groups being gagged.  Charities and other so-called “third sector” groups are wringing their hands, especially because unlike a union or an ACORN, they don’t have members per se.  From what I could tell – and gather in conversations thus far – there still are no particular limits on communications to your direct membership about issues, so unions are not as affected directly though they are in terms of general issues and community issues where they and others would want to communicate with the public.

This is all new stuff in the UK.  Unions don’t have political action committees for example.  Community-based organizations are not as familiar with “independent expenditure committees” and the other hurdles US organizations have had to learn to jump.  Lawyers are no doubt working overtime on all sides of the political spectrum.

The learning process is going to be painful!



White People Power

nyt-southern-fold-600x365New Orleans    Reading the papers this morning, I could see the future, and it was very scary!

The New York Times was speculating in the wake of the Republicans beat down of the Democrats in the midterm elections about where the Republicans might find a path to victory at the presidential level that has seemed to increasingly elude them with the changing demographics of the United States. Not to put too fine a point on it, but surprising no one, the path leads right through white people.

Yes, I know you thought it was already all about white people, didn’t you? Well, here they come again.

Even as the majority in the United States tends increasingly towards minorities and white people become the largest minority in the country, they are steadily becoming their own monolithic voting bloc. When the statisticians analyzed the path to electoral power in some of the elections where there were surprises, like Iowa, they found that rural white voters, even those that had been traditionally Democratic voters were going Republican now. Additional information indicates that the same conundrum exists in the Southern states which are now leeching themselves of Democratic Party representatives. The traditional political rule-of-thumb had been that if a Democrat in the South got 40% of the white vote, then with huge support among African-Americans and solid support among Latinos, they would win. Now it appears that Democratic candidates are lucky to be able to figure the math at 30% and are only winning 25%.

It gets worse!

Where Democrats and many Republicans had assumed the presidential electorate was stacked heavily in their favor with a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and women, this white people power thing is a problem. Experts are noting that too many of the soothsayers were discounting the fact that President Obama in his two victories actually polled very well among whites outside of the South and in rural areas, especially in the northeast and Pacific states. A Democratic candidate would have to do about as well with whites to hold that coalition together even with the increased voter turnout that comes with a presidential election.

So the bottom line is that rather than it being a laugh line that the Republicans are a party of old, white men, this could be their ticket into the White House, especially if they have a candidate who doesn’t stink with Latino voters, who are more conservative than African-Americans, and make the mistake of wearing their misogyny on their sleeves.

It could happen, despite the numbers. We always knew in New Orleans that even with a solid 65% African-American majority that a conservative African-American that appealed to the business community and could pull 90% of the whites and a third of the black vote could win, and that’s how we got C. Ray Nagin as mayor for two terms. A Republican candidate like Jeb Bush or Mark Rubio who wasn’t crazy and polarizing could erode Latino support and confuse some of the other voting blocs with the big “if” being whether they could get through the primaries. A Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton, who many have already conceded the nomination, could make it tricky because of her age with young voters, her baggage with all voters, and the 10-year hiatus on whether or not she could erode the white people power bloc of the Republicans.

Nothing looks easy for anyone today going into the 2016 contest. We’ve lived with white people power for years in the United States, so the notion that it could be back will provoke many screams in the night from sound sleepers throughout the country.


Bosses Intimidating Their Workers at the Ballot Box

2008_BIPACNew Orleans      A lot of this is an old story, but there are enough new twists and turns that it settles disturbingly, especially if you care about democracy and understand the subtle things that can become significant in razor close elections with huge consequences. I know the freelance reporter and investigator, Spencer Woodman, who often is published by The Nation, largely as a phone pal. He calls every six months or so when he’s working on a story or to talk about what’s going on in case I might know something or say something that sheds a small light on some big story he’s following.

Months ago when he called he said he was working on a story about something called BIPAC, the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, a political outfit with a huge footprint but a small public profile, funded not surprisingly by business and industries including of course the Koch Brothers. I wasn’t very helpful other than to contribute the information that the name was surprisingly close to the Louisiana-based LABI, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which had led one fight after another over the last 40 years in Louisiana against unions, most notoriously in their signature victory at forcing through the right-to-work law in the mid-1970’s. Turned out, as Spencer and I talked and searched the web simultaneously, that LABI in fact was directly affiliated with BIPAC, so one could just imagine the mischief and mayhem that such a ruthless outfit could create.

Woodman’s story is now out and that turns out to have been the tip of the iceberg. It’s available now on and elsewhere and worth a look, if you worry, like I do about what happens when a company’s so-called “freedom of speech” crosses the line and becomes coercive in these difficult and dangerous economic times for workers.

Speaking of the “tip of the iceberg,” Woodman’s story on BIPAC starts in Alaska and the gang up of three BIPAC affiliated big energy companies Conoco Phillips, British Petroleum, and Exxon Mobil on their workers during a recent initiative vote, which is especially worrisome given the importance of the Alaska Senate in determining who and how the Senate is run for the next two years. Of course BIPAC is everywhere given its base that it claims reaches 25 million workers in the USA. Past any specific contest, Woodman points out that the ambitions of BIPAC are more disturbing, because it’s…

“…primary aim isn’t to help individual candidates win office; rather BIPAC’s goal is to turn as many private employers as possible into “employee political education” machines for business interests. BIPAC urges major companies to transform their workforces into a voting bloc and provides sophisticated tools that show employers how to do it.”

BIPAC, unlike Americans for Prosperity, and other business fronts, specializes more in hiding its hand as it throws the rock, but the directions of the toss aren’t hard to follow. Woodman got to be a fly on the wall in a training session they ran in North Carolina and the message was clear as their representative…

“…reminded the business crowd of the uniquely advantageous position bosses have in influencing their employees’ votes. “Employers are the most credible source of information for employees about this type of material as it affects their jobs, their own prosperity. They’re susceptible to the information. They’re a willing audience.” He advised that political messaging should appeal to employees’ sense of economic insecurity, or as he put it, their “kitchen-table economics.”

You get the drift. It’s worth following this story more closely.

Employers have always tried to sway their workers, who often have very different self-interests, to vote their way, since their own votes are few, and their workers are many. Nothing new there. But the level of bombardment, coercion both direct and implied, and increasingly intrusive pitches meant to capture their votes for the bosses interests are crossing more and more lines and moving towards the point where they are violating the protections workers need to feel for their votes.

This BIPAC business is scary stuff and worth closer attention as its messages come pouring out of the mouths of big businesses over the coming weeks for this election and coming years for many more to come.


Suppressing the Vote and Keeping in Simple in Arkansas

imagesDallas         The Republican voter suppression efforts around the United States are such a yo-yo between legislatures, courts, and more courts that god only knows how much the voters in many of these states will be confused as they go to the polls in November or, as likely, as they stay home, which is what voter suppression is all about.

In Texas, voter identification will be required because the courts argue they don’t have time to really straighten it all out before November. This is the one where a hunting license can allow you to vote, but not a student ID, isn’t it? Although that could also be half a dozen other states.

North Carolina, a battleground state for control of the US Senate, is a mishmash. Some parts of their voter ID law are taking effect in 2014, but the picture ID requirement has been delayed until 2016, so look forward to more shenanigans there. Meanwhile the Justice Department has sued over the whole shebang being racial discrimination, but that won’t come to court until after the election.

Kansas under Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a world class immigrant hater and vote denier, and Governor Sam Brownback, now in a mess in this election, pushed through a tough ID policy already. There was an interesting challenge by two older voters who didn’t have records available to allow them to vote, but when it was scheduled for trial after the 2014 election they got out of the suit. There is still an ongoing dispute over whether the Kansas voter-hater laws can change the standards for federal elections. It’s pretty clear that as long as Kobach and his crew are in charge of voting in Kansas the best way for a lower income voter with a name that sounds different and a bit of a tan to have their vote counted would be to vote absentee in some other state, because if they keep trying to vote in Kansas, they’re going to be sucking air.

And, then with great relief there is Arkansas. The Arkansas Supreme Court tossed the controversial voter ID law passed over a veto by the Governor. The ruling was straightforward. The Arkansas state constitution was clear that there were only four things required to vote and was specific enough to list them. “The Constitution says that a voter must be a United States citizen, a resident of the state, at least 18 years old and lawfully registered to vote in the election. “These four qualifications set forth in our state’s Constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement,” the ruling said.”

You can see why ACORN always adopted as its own the Arkansas state motto: the people shall rule. It may have been written in Latin to look fancy, but we always understood what it meant, and it seems the judges there are still clear about its meaning as well, even if the voter suppressors wanted to try and pretend otherwise.

This election is going to be a fight all the way to the ballot box, way before the actual ballots are finally counted.


Please enjoy David Bowie’s Sue (or in A Season of Crime) and Smooth Me from New Orleans Suspects.  Thanks to Kabf.


Voter Suppression Spreading to the United Kingdom

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 9.17.37 AMNew Orleans      There’s a new virus spreading. This time it’s not Ebola or something from the Middle East or Africa, but the pernicious attacks on democracy through voter suppression now leaping from the United States to United Kingdom.

Not surprisingly, it starts easily enough with some seemingly small tweaks in voter registration. In the United Kingdom the government pushed through an Individual Electoral Registration Scheme, as they called it. Simply put, the old registration system meant that one person from any household registered everyone in the household: one and done! The new system means that every qualified individual in a household has to individually register in order to be able to vote. The first test comes in six months or so in the May 7, 2015 national and parliamentary elections.

Compared to the United States voting has been relatively robust with 60% voting in the 2010 general election in the UK, although that still means that 6 million voters were left by the wayside. Younger and usually more alienated voters between 18 and 24 years old not surprisingly are well represented in the missing voters column since statistics indicate that less than half are registered and less than half of the registered actually turnout to vote.

Invariably any new registration system, as the United States proves resoundingly during every election cycle, puts a disproportionate burden on minorities, the elderly, the young, and lower income voters once something semi-automatic is replaced by a new system requiring some motivation and effort. In what is now called “choice architecture,” creating hurdles and creating choices without incentives or motivations produces predictably poor results.

There are now various catchy campaigns to try and reverse the tide. One is called “No Vote, No Voice,” sponsored by the Daily Mirror newspaper, Unite, the UK’s largest union, and others. Another striving to be hipper is called “Bite the Ballot,” but let’s not go there.

Additional roadblocks to registration include banning third-party registration, where ACORN and Project Vote excelled, which allowed an individual or organization to submit a validly completed registration form qualifying a voter for the election and easing the process. Of course if there was interest, this problem is likely solvable with wirelessly activated iPad type mobile computers or even smartphones that would allow individuals to register on-line which is legally permissible throughout the United Kingdom and tied to each person’s national insurance number so highly individualized.

ACORN organizers in the United Kingdom took a quick look at the elections returns in the past election and 72 seats were determined by 5% or less of the votes. Either restricting or increasing voter registration, particularly since first time registrants always vote in high numbers at their first opportunity, and increasing get-out-the-vote field programs could shift political alignments from the top to the bottom.

Surely, this was not a unique insight, which may explain the suppression efforts themselves.