Optimism in the Face of Voter Suppression

New Orleans     It is impossible to deny that there is a huge, concerted effort to suppress voters in the ostensibly democratic process of elections in the United States.  Voter identification laws have proliferated more widely than fetal heartbeat bills.

The blatantly racist and partisan effort to embed a citizenship question into the 2020 Census, now pending before the Supreme Court, has now been complicated by from-the-grave revelations.  Making a lie of the Commerce Department’s claim that they needed a question on citizenship status for voters rights enforcement, documents, from the files of the late architect of the plan, show that their gerrymandering expert (Thomas Hofeller, whose role the Trump administration did not disclose to the courts) wrote a 2015 study saying his scheme (to use voting-age citizens for redistricting rather than total population) would require a “radical redrawing” of legislative districts that would “be advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.” This “would clearly be a disadvantage for the Democrats,” he wrote, packing Democratic voters into fewer districts and “strengthening the adjoining GOP districts.”

Nonetheless, talking to Joshua Douglas, Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law on Wade’s World, gave current events a different twist.  In these darkening storm clouds for democracy, he found reasons for optimism by looking away from the national scene and examining some inspirational examples of local efforts at reform that have gained some hard-won traction.  Among the points of light cited by Douglas:

  • He likes the experiments in Maryland suburbs with lowering the voting age to 16 years.
  • He is bullish on the ability of felons to finally have the vote in Florida thanks to the overwhelming approval of the electorate and worries less about the legislature’s efforts to continue to disenfranchise them by adding a “poll tax” of fine repayment before balloting.
  • He likes registration from taco trucks in Houston, and of course, what’s not to like when you combine tacos and voting!
  • He’s big on the State of Oregon using the “nudge” philosophy and allowing voters to automatically register to vote unless they expressly opt-out as voters, rather than asking them to opt-in.
  • He’s encouraged by the Larimar County, Colorado initiative in creating “voting centers” central location in order to make voting as “easy as food shopping.”

Douglas is the half-full guy you hope to meet in a mostly empty glass world.  Who can argue with these big, thumping heartbeats of hope in communities around America that Douglas explicates in his book, Vote for Us:  How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting?   

Not me!

Inherent in his message:  go and do likewise!

Good luck with that!

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Democracy is Getting in the Way of Legislatures around the Country

Angry protesters

New Orleans  The Freedom House in its annual ranking of democratic practice pushed the United States down the list again this year.  Pundits argue that this is a direct result of life under the autocratic whims of President Trump.  Sadly, that would be a simpler problem to solve with a fixed date in 2020 to take care of the job, but a greater problem has to be closer to the root than that branch of government and can be found in the states where recalcitrant legislatures are refusing to abide by the will of the people.

Of course, for years we have been contending, albeit poorly, with the restrictions on voter access in state after state under Republican control.  After the midterms we saw legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan try to follow the playbook of their buddies in North Carolina by taking away some of the traditional powers of newly elected Democratic governors.  Normally, I would have thought it was harder to do that on an issue, as opposed to an individual politician, because the peoples’ will is expressed so clearly in the votes on such initiative ballots.

In Arkansas, where voters overwhelming approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage that will see $11 per hour in the future, we now have a Republican legislator pushing forward a bill that would take the minimum wage back to $7.25, create a sub-minimum for teens, and probably bring back bonded labor, but I haven’t read the full bill.  He may have overreached so vastly that he tripped himself up.

More than 53% of the voters in Utah approved expansion of Medicaid for people up to 138% of poverty about $16,750 a year for an individual to cover 150,000 people.  In Idaho 60% of voters approved an expansion of Medicaid.  Legislators in both states are now trying to undo the voters’ will and either cap the expansion differently, add barriers, or make the entitlement contingent on state resources like sales taxes.

Reportedly a bill is being rushed through the Utah legislature that would limit the expansion to the poverty level rather than the 138% figure that adds more lower waged working families.  Their plan would knock an estimated 60,000 in the state from the coverage.  In fact, they want to add a work requirement on top of that as well, both in Utah and Idaho.  All of the bad news from Arkansas is that a stringent work requirement is super successful at knocking thousands off of Medicaid.  These western legislatures may not have read the fine print on all of the litigation in Arkansas challenging this clawback.

Washington and Trump’s Center for Medical Services have to give waivers to allow these shenanigans to take effect.  All of the pols claim they are getting good vibes from Washington, but we can hope this is fake news.  Arkansas comes up again like a bad penny in these stories since the state also has a request to be able to cut back the ACA expansion to the poverty line as well. There is nothing about the Affordable Care Act that defines the expansion as only a measure to benefit people at the poverty line.  The heart of the reform is the additional coverage past that line.  If anything, we need to expand the definition of poverty, not push people farther back into poverty.

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