Tag Archives: elections

Sharing the right to vote — The right, the reason, some resources

Intentional suppression of the right to vote is an overt travesty we abhor; as a democratic society we establish laws and regulations that facilitate, not impede, access. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a quarter century ago has open the election process to millions of Americans by requiring physical accommodations ranging from ramps to Braille ballots to wider voting booths and audio instructions.   Over the years, focus has been on reaching the disabilities community with information about their voting rights and accessibility.

The great good news is that, in its first 26 years ADA has changed the lives of millions of Americans. More good news is that the changes implemented by federal mandate reap powerful benefits for all Americans. In some ways we are just beginning to realize the broader implications of ADA – the 2016 Election offers a challenge and an opportunity to build on ADA as a powerful tool for universal suffrage.

The first challenge is to assure that everyone who needs accommodation is aware of the range of possibilities and their legal right to expect access. Clearly, focus of ADA is on the disabilities community, a community that is itself expanding as Americans age and incur physical challenges that go with the territory.’

Which leads to the need to share information about the right to access with a broader public. This demands collaboration with agencies of every stripe that is in a position to share information about access with members of the public who do not identify with the disabilities community. There are countless Americans who do not identify as “disabled” for whom physical and mental challenges present unrecognized impediments to voting.

Basically, we all need to know more about the laws and procedures that ensure that every American is free and able to exercise the right to vote – and that all Americans are aware of the legal rights and accommodations accessible to every citizen for whom physical or mental access may present a barrier.

A basic step is to ensure that every eligible voter is registered. An earlier post describing the REV-UP initiative focused on voter registration as an Election 2016 priority. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/rev-up/) Sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities the REV-UP campaign continues to hone in on public awareness and support materials – a great starting point for learning what’s happening this election season. http://www.aapd.com/our-focus/voting/

Voter registration not only opens the door but also offers the ideal opportunity to share the vast information resources about the voting rights of people with disabilities. It’s important to remember, too, that absentee voters who may not need information about access at their precinct, still need to have ready access to registration procedures.

The general public and agencies that serve people with access challenges need to know the law.

The legislation that codifies the voting rights of people with disabilities is the Help America Vote Act. (HAVA) Enacted in 2002 HAVA can seem as complex as it is fundamental. The straightforward basics are spelled out here: (http://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx) For more comprehensive information on background and provisions of HAVA check Ballotpedia, the indispensable guide to all things voting related. Ballotpedia offers a good overview of the law and the process of implementation – a solid starting point for understanding the intent and the possibilities ensured by this federal legislation: https://ballotpedia.org/Help_America_Vote_Act_(HAVA)_of_2002

At the state level the right to vote for people with developmental disabilities is contained in Minnesota State Statute §204C.15, subd. 1. The basics are spelled out in detail in this publication from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

Municipalities have created their own systems for meeting the needs of voters who need assistance. As an example, Minneapolis residents who are visually impaired or hard of hearing are given this directive: For reasonable accommodations or alternative formats please contact the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department at 612-673-3737. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to call 311 at 612-673-3000. TTY users call 612-673-2157 or 612-673-2626.

The U.S Department of Justice offers a useful guide more specifically geared to the information needs of those charged with responsibility to implement HAVA: http://www.dspssolutions.org/resources/section-two-ada504-compliance-ocr-letters/us-department-of-justice-ada-links-documents. Written for compliance people, this may be more than mere mortals need to know about HAVA….

During the past election Access Press ran a very accessible guide on the topic of voting rights and accommodations for people with disabilities. It’s a great introduction, the only problem being that not everyone who serves the disabilities community reads Access Press or knows the story http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2014/10/10/voters-have-the-right-to-ask-for-assistance/?utm_source=Access%20Press%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=006cae818b-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7c7ff77da6-006cae818b-418448557

In spite of legal requirements and the unstinting work of the disabilities community it remains to the vigilant to monitor the implementation of federal, state and municipal laws. There is concern among these groups that people with disabilities are “invisible,” thus not included or even identified in exit polling or election analyses. Another concern is that absentee voting solves all the voting problems for the disabilities community. The contention of some polling monitors is that, if people with disabilities were to vote at the same rate as non-disabled, there would have been 10 million more votes cast in the past election.

The fact is that the responsibility to know and share information about the voting rights of and accommodations for people with disabilities is “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.” The general public who are not immediately affected must begin to take a more active role in reaching a broader constituency who may not be fully aware of the comprehensive legislative requirements that accommodations be made for voters who face physical or mental barriers to voting.

As always, ignorance of the law is no excuse. In truth we as a society have not harnessed the human, political and communications resources at our disposable to inform people who need assistance to exercise their right to register and to vote.  It is only through broader understanding of the law and the possibilities that we can share the basic facts about the registration/voting assistance to which every voter has a right. We also need to acknowledge – and counteract – the sad fact there are some Americans who think that their vote doesn’t really matter!

During this election season we need to ramp up the pitch, to share the word with and through mainstream agencies.   Those who serve the public – which includes just about everyone — need to seize the opportunity to learn about HAVA and the accessibility of registration/voting resources. It will take the combined energy and attention not only of the disabilities community but also of institutions, e.g. neighborhood associations, health care providers, small businesses, libraries, the faith community, advocacy and good government groups, to assure thatchallenged voters know their rights and needs, that mandated accommodations are readily accessible to every potential voter, and that every voter knows how much his or her vote counts!

Election officials who take their positions seriously are committed to conforming to the law and meeting the needs of every voter.   The missing link seems in many cases to be that people with disabilities, their families, care providers, and others in their lives don’t fully understand, and thus do not make fully clear, that access to the polls is within the reach of every eligible voter.

Fortunately, there are rich resources for people with disabilities and for election officials who want to better meet the requirements. Though my interest is as a concerned citizen, not an expert, my shallow dive into the possibilities came up with some, certainly not all, helpful resources that demand to be known and shared by more public and nonprofit agencies:

United States Election Assistance Commission http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx

National Disabilities Rights Network http://www.ndrn.org/en/contact.html

Center for an Accessible Society http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/voting/

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm

 

Minnesota Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

National Federation for the Blind – Voting, Accessibility, and Law https://nfb.org/hava-legislation

National Association of the Deaf

https://nad.org/issues/civil-rights/help-america-vote-act/be-prepared

https://nad.org/issues/civil-rights/help-america-vote-act/making-polls-accessible

Voting and Alzheimer’s Disease http://www.alzheimersblog.org/2014/11/03/

 

 

Politics by the Numbers: Stats Tell the Tale of the 1% of 1%

Political junkies, more attuned to counting votes than comparing and contrasting statistics, are furrowing their frazzled brows these days as they parse the implications of the 1% of the 1%.   Sunlight Foundation started it all with their ambitious study and reports on the elite political donors, the .01% of the U.S. population who call the electoral shots.

Basically, that’s 31, 385 individuals who forked over a whole lot of money to influence the 2012 presidential election. The heavy hitters are 1% of 1% in a nation of 313.85 million people, nearly 66,000,000 of whom voted in the 2012 presidential election.  In sum, total political giving by the 1% of the 1% in 2012 was $1.7 billion.

It may surprise some Minnesotans to learn that Wayzata is #5 among the nation’s cities with the highest percentage of 1% of 1% donors.  Fifty Wayzata donors scraped up a total of $3.7 million in campaign contributions.

This is but one local stat extrapolated from a mountain of figures aggregated and interpreted by the Sunlight Foundation.  To wit:  Nearly 72% of the donors were male; the top five employers were Goldman Sachs (85 donors, $4.6 million), Blackstone (49 donors, $2.2 million), Kirkland & Ellis (40 donors, $1.5 million), Morgan Stanley (38 donors) and Comcast (37 donors) tied for fifth place with a measly $1.2 million each.  The median contribution from the 1% is $25,484 which researchers note is “a little more than half the median family income in the United States.”

Of these major contributions approximately 85% of the donors contributed 90% of their money to one or the other party only.  Lobbyists, it seems, are the most egalitarian in their distribution of political wealth and access.

Researchers caution “the 1% of 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reached new small donor frontiers.  In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase.”

The Sunlight Foundation reports are replete with graphs and charts, infographics, even a video describing the process and findings.  For the mathematically gifted, opportunities to drill down – and rant – abound.

Learn more on the Sunlight Foundation blog: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/tag/one-percent-of-one-percent/

 

 

 

 

Devil in the Details of the Nation’s Democracy

“Less than 48 hours after the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, six of the nine states that had been covered in their entirety under the law’s “preclearance” formula have already taken steps toward restricting voting.”  Joseph Diebold, ThinkProgress, 6/27/13

In the fragile infrastructure of voting rights the devil is inexorably mucking in the details.  The devil of voter suppression is on the prowl not only in those immediately affected states but also throughout the nation, including sacrosanct Minnesota.

And so we gird our loins for the post-Supreme Court blow to the Voting Rights Act.  The pattern of pernicious tactics we saw in the 2012 election is unleashed.  The well-orchestrated and funded drive to suppress the hard-won rights of American citizens marches on its swift and steady course to thwart the will of the people.

An early challenge – and opportunity – is the vigorous campaign to elect a new Secretary of State.  Mark Ritchie who has been unswerving in his commitment to fair and free elections, has announced he will not run again for this complex and powerful position.  The list of announced candidates suggests just how important the office is.

In fact, a critical challenge to voters is to understand the authority of the Minnesota Secretary of State position.   (http://www.sos.state.mn.us/index.aspx?page=4) Management of elections is just one of a roster of responsibilities of the office.  Still there are countless ways the elections process for which the Secretary of State is responsible can be manipulated intentionally or by benign neglect.

As in every aspect of government, technology is shaping the electoral process. Suppressors, working in concert state to state, would inhibit the process under the devilish guise of efficiency or security. Voters need to pay attention to the ways in which such pernicious Ideas flow with alacrity and momentum through the states.

Minnesotans are justifiably proud of having trounced the Voter ID Amendment to the State Constitution.  Now, complacency is the enemy of the people.  The ID requirement was just one arrow in the quiver of the determined vote suppressors.

Eroson of Voters’ Rights – A Slow Rising Tsunami


The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people.   (Thomas Jefferson)

Over time the founding fathers, women, Native Americans, African Americans, felons who have paid their debt to society have placed great value on the hard won right to vote.  In the wake of the Voting Rights Act the electorate focused on exercising right rights;  good government groups and state officials  moved on, focusing on getting out the vote – voter registration drives, collaboration, poll watches, elimination of barriers ranging from the responsibility of employers to allow workers leave time to accommodations for language or physical impediments to voters’ exercise of their Constitutional right.

That was the calm before the storm.  Today we are experiencing a sea change in voter rights – actually not so much a visible tsunami as a mighty undercurrent that scoops up the debris of race and class – even age – discrimination.   Largely dispersed beneath the relative calm of the electoral process, voter suppression surfaces as “white caps” – primarily state-level initiatives that are, in fact, a determined drive to purge  those whose vote might stem the tide favored by the have’s.

In its waning days the Minnesota Legislature passed the law that places the Voter ID Amendment on the ballot for November.  In spite of valiant efforts on the part of good government groups such as the League of Women Voters, church groups, the AARP and the ACLU – even Jesse Ventura – the Amendment failed to set off storm warnings among the well-credentialed populace.   The subtle campaign to winnow voter ranks was maneuvered in large part by State Representative Mary Kiffmeyer (IR Big Lake) whose years as Secretary State taught her just how to steer the voting process.

At this writing several groups (ACLU, LWV, Jewish Community Action and Common Cause Minnesota) have petitioned the state Supreme Court to strike down the proposed Constitutional Amendment; the opponents argues on the semantic confusion that the ballot question falsely declares that the state will provide free ID to eligible voters.  Far more pernicious is the implicit presumption that the Amendment, if approved by the voters, will threaten hard-won voter rights such as same-day registration and possibly restrict voter registration initiatives.

Precedent abounds.  Aggressive limits in a host of states sound the alarm that voter suppression, clothed in the innocent garb of voter ID, is a driving and coordinated force.  Florida lives up to its justified reputation for election shenanigans, well-earned in the Gore-Bush debacle of 2008.  The ruckus in Florida swirls around the diabolical initiative to halt voter registration drives while 180,000 Floridians have learned from authorities that they are off the roles because they are not citizens.   Though Florida takes the lead in voter suppression it is a bellwether of national campaign that is well-organized, coordinated and financed.  At close view it looks a lot like a tsunami in slow motion.

In truth this is not about voter ID but “electorate cleansing.”  The effort is insidious, implicit, ubiquitous and amorphous.   A serious probe of the depths of the well-orchestrated campaign exposes Minnesota as more of a pawn than a player.  Showing an ID at the polls is not much of a bother for the have’s – until we see it as the tip of an iceberg that shuns the sunshine of an open process.

In Minnesota voter rights supporters can find countless refuges in the storm.  It is useful, if risky, to cite but a few;   — the state and local League of Women Voters have decades of experience and a local presence for voter information and support.  The Voter Participation Project sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits educates and promotes through their network of nonprofit organization. Faith communities are taking action across denomination lines to defend voters’ rights.

As always, the Secretary of State is the pivotal player in organizing and monitoring the electoral process.  Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will launch MCN’s 2012  “Promote the Vote” campaign on Wednesday, June 13, 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Wilder Center, 451 Lexington Avenue North, St. Paul.  Free and open to all.

Elections and Nonprofits

Recently I was working on a series of public events to be sponsored by a 501©3 wannabe organization that intends to apply for tax exempt status in the near future. My thought was that these summer events pose a great opportunity to invite candidates and to share heaps of information about early primaries, voter registration. absentee voting and logistics. I was appalled, disappointed, but totally sympathetic when the chair of the project rejected out of hand any involvement in the political arena. Her fear was that the organization would jeopardize that essential tax exemption. It’s not the first time I’ve met such resistance.

It is totally understandable that nonprofits are skittish. The threat is not so much losing tax exempt status but lack of valid information and an abundance of misinformation widely disseminated by those who may not welcome nonprofits or their open communication with those they serve.

When I got honest with myself, I realized that I have lingering questions myself and that it is not so easy to find the answers. What I found was a richness of information geared to voters, but not enough information for the intermediaries – e.g. my colleague planning these Summer events – who are the most effective link to the voter the non-voter.

I turned to a long-time colleague, Jeff Narabrook. the well-informed and generous point person for the Minnesota Participation Project, a project of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Building on my own ignorance, I posed a series of questions to Jeff.
By turnaround email I received a response who quickly acknowledged that, though nonprofit managers are understandably skittish about “nonpartisan voter engagement.” Then Jeff quells program planners’ angst with precise and comprehensible affirmation of nonprofits’ appropriate role.

Jeff’s answer to my first question promptly set me back on the proselytizing path with renewed passion for the cause.

Q (MT): Can a nonprofit offer voter registration information?
A (Jeff) Absolutely! Not only is it legal, but nonprofits that receive state funding are required to conduct voter registration activities. Voter registration must be conducted in a nonpartisan manner. The MN Participation Projects offers a great toolbox for those who may be considering or planning a voter education, participation or registration project.

And so the Q & A continued:

Q (M) : Can a nonprofit offer absentee voter info?
A: (J) Yes, nonprofits can provide information on any aspect of how voters can participate, from absentee voting to Election Day registration, to vouching, to special programs for victims of violence to remain anonymous on the voter rolls.

Q (M): Can a nonprofit provide information about the early primaries?
A (J) : Yes, as with the general election, nonprofits can help individuals become aware of the primary, how to register for it, and other logistics items involved in with primary.  Again, this just must be done in a nonpartisan fashion and the organization cannot try to influence how the person will vote.

Q (M) : Can a nonprofit invite candidates (challengers and incumbents) to visit their event or program?
A (J): Yes.  The golden rule:is that all candidates are treated equally.  If one is invited, all must be invited.  If not all candidates invited can attend, you may or may not choose to cancel.  Generally, if two are invited and only one can attend, it’s best to cancel.  If more than two are invited and at least two can attend, you may decide to go forward. Candidates may not be given preferential treatment and the organization may not attempt to make one candidate look better or worse, explicitly or implicitly, for example by asking leading questions.

Q (M): Can a nonprofit invite incumbents only to visit an event?
A: (J)   If they are invited as candidates, they may not only invite incumbents. If they are invited to speak in their capacity as a legislator, that is fine. It should be made perfectly clear, in writing or email, that the individual is being invited as a legislator, NOT as a candidate, and ask that the legislator not use the visit as an opportunity to campaign (please, no campaign literature, buttons, etc. during the visit).

It’s common to remind the legislator politely that the organization is forbidden from explicitly or implicitly endorsing a candidate, and that a violation of this could harm the organization and that’s why it’s important they only wear their hat as a legislator.  But if your intent is really candidate education, you should invite all candidates, not just the incumbent.    I’m less clear on what to do if the candidate has no challengers.  Can you still invite that person as a candidate to educate them?  I will look into this.

Sometimes people ask a question as to whether you need to invite ALL candidates who have filed, which sometimes can be quite numerous.  It is acceptable to limit invitations to candidates of major parties as long as the organization documents why that decision was made. At a minimum all major party candidate – in Minnesota these are the Democratic Farmer Labor Party, the Republican Party and the Independence Party – need to be included if there is someone from that party running for the seat in question.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is the elected official responsible for implementation of this and a zillion other election rules and procedures. The Secretary of State’s website provides more than you ever wanted to know about the process – polling places, rules, dates, forms and my personal favorite, the list of all candidates who have filed.

Primary election – August 10, 2010 – absentee ballots due August 9
General election – November 2, 2010 – absentee ballots due November 1