Want Our Vote, Talk to Me about Tenants

New Orleans        It’s a crowded field for the Democratic nomination for president this time around, but some of the candidates are wising up a bit and realizing that, if you want to win and push new and different voters to the polls, you better have a real plan for renters and affordable housing, not just more hollow platitudes about homeownership and white picket fences.  It even seems more urgent when the business pages of the Wall Street Journal start to write warnings for their readers that rent control is gaining traction.

On the rent control front, the passage of some limits, even very high ones in Oregon statewide, has sent tremors throughout the industry.  New York is also weighting a cap on rents now with a firmer Democratic legislative majority.  A bill that would allow local communities to enact rent controls in Colorado is moving forward.  Real estate interests won’t be able to hold back change in California forever.  I wouldn’t call it a movement yet, but if businessmen and real-estate investment trusts, are worried, I’m already happier about the prospects.

Some of the candidates are advancing proposals that speak to tenants and affordable housing, so let’s give some props to the ones that are standing up, even if some of are not yet measuring up.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and her campaign have focused on policy prescriptions, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she leads in this area.  She introduced a bill, also sponsored by another candidate, Senator Kristen Gillibrand from New York, that would raise the estate tax to push money to nonprofit housing developers and raise about $50 billion.  The New York Times quotes a Moody’s analysis that claims such an infusion of new units would lower rents for a decade.  Warren’s bill would also provide more assistance to homeowners willing to buy in areas that were traditionally red-lined.

Warren and Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey advocate changing zoning laws to allow more density, though I’m pretty sure that’s a local issue.  To get around local real estate and developer cartels, Warren wants to increase the pot of Community Development Block Grant monies to force the issue.  Booker wants to deny CDBG money to communities that don’t change.

I’m disappointed that California’s Senator Kamala Harris, who I find has a lot of appeal, has placed such a small marker on such a huge issue.  She advocates, along with Booker, a tax credit for renters, but, frankly, that just doesn’t get it for lower income renters or for a bigger supply of affordable units.

It’s early in the game, so all of these candidates can improve their stakes in this issue and others may come forward strong as well, but believe me it’s going to be a litmus test that any winner will have to pass.  The past is a prologue for the future when it comes to voters that will matter.  As the Times notes,

Renters heavily overlap with key Democratic constituencies, including younger adults, African-Americans and Hispanics, and urban residents. Voter turnout of renters in 2016 was about 12 percentage points lower than that of homeowners, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. But that year they favored Hillary Clinton by 28 points (homeowners preferred Donald J. Trump by 11 points).

If you want tenants, you’re going to have to put some serious stuff on the table.  Elizabeth Warren seems to get that.  The rest of the field needs to bring their A-game on these issues.



Interstate Crosscheck May Have Removed One-Million Legitimate Voters from Election

Al Jazeera's Greg Palast looks over the Crosscheck list, searching for these supposed double voters.
Al Jazeera’s Greg Palast looks over the Crosscheck list, searching for these supposed double voters.

New Orleans   There’s a saying in almost every language that the “devil is in the details.” There’s a lesson in that expression though, and it’s one we all need to learn more carefully about how to work the levers of intricate bureaucracies at every level of government in order to implement our programs.

The particularly infamous devil who is teaching these lessons about details includes the notorious and dangerous Secretary of State in Kansas, Kris Kobach, who we have seen recently in conference with President-Elect Trump on how to establish a registry for Muslims. Previously he has not only been in the thick of litigation to repress the human rights of immigrants, but the prime mover in voter identification and other efforts to block access to the ballot particularly for poor and minority voters. Kobach has long been on my radar, but I had still missed some of the incredible damage he wrought.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office was an early adopter of a small program around 2005 with four neighboring states participating: Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. The intention of the program, called Interstate Crosscheck, was to identify people who might have been voting in more than one state. Ray Thornburgh was the Secretary of State when the annual use of Interstate Crosscheck began, but its use exploded in recent years since Kobach took office as Kansas’ Secretary of State in 2011. According to his reports, the number ballooned up to 15 states in 2012, 22 in 2013, and 29 in 2014, and according to some reports 30 in 2016, all of whom were involved in a shared data dump and list purging annually. The roster of states in 2014 included many red states, but several important blue states as well. The 29 include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Although ostensibly checking for duplicate voting, what may or may not have been realized fully in each state is that Interstate Crosscheck, according to investigative reporter Gary Palast, was removing hundreds of thousands of minority voters from the rolls. This was a brute tool which was unable to distinguish between common names in minority communities like Jose Sanchez or Joseph Johnson and so forth. Virginia was unique in reporting the number of voters it dropped using Interstate Crosscheck and the number was significant at 12.1% of the rolls, almost one of every eight registered voters. Nationally across the thirty states, seven million names were identified. If the Virginia data were replicated at the same percentage nationally among the participating thirty states as many as one million legitimate voters may have been disenfranchised.

Does this mean the election was stolen? No, because this was just one of many ways that millions of voters were disenfranchised across the country through various efforts to deny legitimate voters access to the ballot because of income, language, or information. Kobach and his crew are on to something. A wolf in sheep’s clothing can deny voters and tilt the even playing field of an election by sneaking in the back door, as surely as some of the more pronounced – and successfully challenged – legislative efforts can do that were more widely publicized.

We need to learn how to operate more successfully in the darkness of the little reported bureaucracy over coming years. We also need to look at this list of states and take action to disengage as many as possible from vote purging software apps like Interstate Crosscheck being manipulated by conservatives. Not easy perhaps, but certainly necessary on our “to do” list pretty darned quick.