MSNBC host Rachel Maddow warned that voting won’t be easy for minorities and other Democratic constituencies on Tuesday thanks to the GOP’s clever methods to keep them from casting a ballot.
She discussed Texas’ strict, new voter ID law, which requires voters who have no valid photo ID to prove citizenship with a birth certificate or passport, plus two other forms of ID, like a social security card or driver’s license.
The poor and the elderly have conceivable trouble meeting these requirements. Even former House Speaker Jim Wright, 90, was denied a voter ID under the new law.
Maddow said in the last few elections in Texas, Latinos and African Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democrat.
“Texas Republicans are thinking, ‘There’s got to be a way to keep these folks from voting,’” she said. “There’s got to be a way to keep them away.”
She said similar laws are being put forth in Virginia, New Jersey and Minnesota for the same reason.
She spoke with Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) on “The Rachel Maddow Show” about how conservatives in his state are attempting to discourage minority voters.
Veasey said it used to be easy to vote in Texas, especially with a nearly two-week-long early voting period and vote-by-mail for senior citizens. He is suing Texas over the new voter law, calling it “a tragedy.”
“Republicans are seeing the growing numbers of Latinos in the state, the growing number of African Americans and they are beginning to be concerned,” Veasey said, “because they haven’t made any sort of outreach into the black community or the Latino community. So they’re trying to skew the elections their way.”
“For a state like Texas that is growing so fast, that has such a good reputation as a place to live and do business, it’s sad that now because of this law that was passed by Republicans we are known as a state that’s trying to make it harder for people to vote just so it can favor the Republican party,” he added.
“That dynamic that is at work in Texas, that is about ‘Who’s going to be allowed to vote?’” said Maddow. “That dynamic is happening all over the country.”
Maddow said the Republicans’ only hope to get Ken Cuccinneli into the governor’s office in Virginia is to make sure voters “stay home.” Almost 40,000 voters in Virginia were purged by the State Board of Elections without any instructions for those people who have been purged when they show up to vote Tuesday.
Former House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, was denied the identification he needs in order to vote under the state’s strict new voter ID law.
Wright told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he was denied an ID on Saturday when he and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” he said.
The 90-year-old, who served as Speaker from 1987 to 1989, only has an expired driver’s license and faculty ID card from the Texas Christian University, neither of which are valid to vote under the new law.
He plans to returned to the DPS on Monday with a certified copy of his birth certificate, but said these hurdles will probably deter others from voting and decrease voter turnout on Tuesday.
“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright said. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”
The Texas voter ID law is more strict than those in other states. A Texas voter who has no valid photo ID must prove citizenship with a birth certificate or passport, plus two other forms of ID, like a social security card or driver’s license.
Wright, who has been a long-time voting rights advocate, says many people won’t be able to meet the qualifications, like minorities and low-income voters.
“I’ve been thinking about the people who are in retirement homes,” Ritchson said. “I’ve read that this is the lowest early voter turnout in a long time and I wonder if this [ID requirement] is the cause. We’ve tried so hard to make voting easy, and now the Texas Legislature has made it harder by making you have a photo ID.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) was among the most vocal proponents of the state’s new voter ID law, which requires all voters to present valid identification at the polls.
But when Abbott showed up to vote, there was a problem: although he is registered to vote as Greg Abbott, his driver’s license identifies him as Gregory Wayne Abbott. Thus, under the law he staunchly defended, he would be unable to vote.
Thankfully for Abbott and others in similar cases, he was still able to cast his ballot thanks to a provision added by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. According to Davis’ amendment, voters whose names are similar on their voter registration and ID card may still vote if they sign an affidavit confirming their true identity.
Davis’ provision reads as follows:
If in determining whether a voter's name is on the list of registered voters the election officer determines that the voter's name on the documentation is substantially similar but does not match exactly the name on the list, the voter shall be accepted for voting as otherwise required by this section if the voter submits an affidavit stating that the voter is the person on the list of registered voters.
Abbott fought against this provision when Davis introduced it; now, he needed it to vote.
Davis herself was forced to sign an affidavit at her polling place because her name appears as Wendy Russell Davis on her driver’s license.
Judge Sandra Watts also had difficulty voting because she uses both her married and maiden names She went public, expressing fear that women would now be alienated from Texas elections.
Said Watts, "I don't think most women know that this is going to create a problem.”
The voter ID law has mainly been criticized for discriminating against minorities, poor people, students and the elderly, who are less likely to have drivers’ licenses. These groups vote heavily Democrat, so the law could skew elections in favor of the GOP.
At a press conference on Friday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) revealed that he was not entirely familiar with certain details of the controversial voter ID bill that he plans to sign into law.
When questioned about the bill’s provision that would prohibit pre-registration of underage voters, McCrory replied, “I don’t know enough…I’m sorry, I haven’t seen that part of the bill.”
Along with restricting pre-registration, the bill also requires voters to display particular forms of government-issued photo identification, cancels same-day voter registration, and cuts the period available for early voting by one week. The bill was passed by the North Carolina legislature after the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in late June to strike a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
Although McCrory and other supporters of the North Carolina bill claim that it will aid in the eradication of voter impersonation and voter fraud, recent research suggests that neither issue is a significant problem in North Carolina or anywhere else. New data collected by North Carolina’s Board of Elections discovered only 121 alleged cases of voter fraud out of the nearly seven million ballots cast in the state in the 2012 elections. In 2010, only 28 out of the 3.79 million votes cast were found to be cases of fraud.
Critics of the bill argue that the legislation is simply an attempt by the state’s Republicans to keep Democratic voters from the polls. Voting rights activists suggest that the bill will disenfranchise many individuals of their voting rights, particularly young voters, minorities, and the poor. Director of research and policy development for the North Carolina Policy Watch, Rob Schofield, called the bill an “omnibus elect-conservatives” measure. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has intimated that the Department of Justice may file suit should they find the law to be discriminatory in any way.
Virginia officials said on Monday that a plan has been outlined to restore voting rights to thousands of former nonviolent felons in the state. Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) campaigned with the restoration of voting rights as a central party line, and his administration continues to face the issue with only six months left in his term.
The project will not be easy—Virginia has no statewide felon database or electronics extending past 1995, which means that there are thousands of former nonviolent felons without voting rights that are not accounted for in the state’s penal system. “The biggest challenge involved locating felons who had been out of the legal system for years or even decades,” said Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth, Janet Kelly.
“We could easily find the felons who were currently in the system or who had previously expressed an interest in getting their rights back,” Kelly continued. “However, there is no accurate comprehensive database of felons who are not currently in the legal or corrections system and have been released from probation, and the stakeholder group helped us to find creative solutions to meet that challenge.”
But regardless of the difficulties faced in undertaking such an extensive project, McDonnell maintains that it is a necessary step for the state. “For past offenders, our goal is to grant civil rights back to as many as possible,” he said in a statement. “This is the right thing to do for all Virginians to help make the commonwealth a safer and better place.” McDonnell offered that the restoration of voting rights would keep former offenders from “committing another crime and returning to prison” and allow them to regain their lives as productive citizens of Virginia.
In the state, former felons can only regain their voting rights through written consent from the governor. In 2010, McDonnell approved a rule that would mandate decisions on voter restoration to be made within 60 days of application completion and submission. Since then, the state restored voting rights to 5,235 former inmates. After receiving criticism from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on May 28 that he could do more to streamline the process, McDonnell then stated that he would automatically restore voting rights to any individuals with non-violent felonies that had completed their sentences, paid all fines, and had no other pending felony charges on their record.
As of Monday, applications for voting rights restoration will be available online at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s website, and online submissions will be accepted beginning August 1.
A city council proposal in New York City is considering offering voting rights to some non-citizens living in the city.
Hearings for the proposal, which currently has a veto-proof majority vote, are scheduled to begin Thursday, and advocates say they hope the proposal will become law before the end of the year. If the proposal passes, New York will become the first major city to pass a law allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections.
“It’s going to be huge, and just imagine the implications that are involved here,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm, one of the proposal’s co-sponsors, to Talking Points Memo on Wednesday.
The legislation would only apply to immigrants “lawfully present in the United States” and who have lived in New York City for more than six months. They must also not be “in prison or on parole for a felony conviction” in order to vote under the new law. Registration would include a somewhat lengthy process proving residency and legal status, and would only allow eligible non-citizens to vote in local, not state or federal, elections.
“This is extremely important because it’s based on the founding principle of this country and that was, ‘No Taxation Without Representation.’ All of the people who would be included in this and would be allowed to vote are paying taxes, they’ve contributed to society,” Dromm said.
Though the bill has strong support, especially from representatives of boroughs with more than 50 percent immigrant populations, New York City May Michael Bloomberg does not support the bill. Bloomberg has been a strong advocate of immigration reform, but contends that voting is a right that should be reserved for citizens only.
“The Mayor believes voting is the most important right we are granted as citizens and you should have to go through the process of becoming a citizen and declaring allegiance to this country before being given that right. That being said, this bill violates the State constitution and the Administration does not support it,” Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman for the mayor said.
Nevertheless, the law seems imminent, which could be an excellent improvement for civic engagement, according to Dromm.
“Having the ability to participate in elections would create a lot more civic engagement and, on a political level, I don’t think communities like the community that I represent, which is 68 percent immigrant, would ever be able to be ignored again by anybody running for major citywide office in New York City,” Dromm said.