Potential Chaos in Voting Hours

There was a great decision last week by Federal Judge Peter Economus to open up early voting including the preservation of Golden Week.  We wrote about this on our voting update section of our website.  Just click on the VOTE button on any page of the website.  This week, Judge Economus has allowed the state to join the lawsuit in their appeal.  We thought that Golden week was dead and had no hope in being resurrected especially when the case drew an extremely conservative judge.   The NAACP and League of Women Voters' lawyers successfully made the case that this is just an extension of the 2012 early voting case to get Judge Economus to decide on the case.   Now, we are scrambling to get homeless people to use Golden Week. 

One area that is going to be touchy this week is what happens at the local level.  The judge forcefully said that the Secretary of State should not block local expansions of voting hours, but he has a vote. I would recommend reading the 71 page decision, because Economus really went after the State of Ohio for limiting voting.  Full disclosure: the Judge quoted my testimony against the loss of Golden Week earlier this year when it was in legislative committee.  Economus's decision says:

The Court likewise concludes that SB 238’s elimination of Golden Week itself similarly burdens the voting rights of lower income and homeless individuals. The record reflects that in 2008, 12,842 voters utilized Golden Week to register or update their registration and vote; in 2010, 1,651 voters did so; and, in 2012, 5,844 voters did so. While these figures may be small in comparison to the millions of votes usually cast in Ohio elections, thousands of voters have utilized Golden Week during each of the last several elections.

What happens if the local board splits with the two Democrats wanting evening hours and the two Republicans want no evening hours?  The Secretary of State breaks all local tie votes.   Would he cross the federal judge and vote to limit early voting or cross his party and allow urban communities with large African American voters to open in the evening for voting?  Would he see that equality does not mean stuffing hundreds of thousands into the same building with only 5 hours of off work hours available a week to vote in person?  

There is also the matter of the appeal of this case that could cause chaos.   There is so little time left for boards to get ready for early voting, the State needs to drop their appeal and let us have the same hours we had in 2012.  Small counties were not been adversely impacted by different voting hours.  Cuyahoga and the other big counties did not have voter turnout far greater than the other counties.  The world did not end because each County had a different schedule.  Right now, we are planning for evening hours, weekend early voting and Golden Week.  If we have to change course again, voters are going to be so confused.  This appeal of the case can only be viewed as exclusively political and not helpful to voting in Ohio.  The Secretary of State is certainly not providing certainty in voting and allowing the local community to set their own hours based on the needs of their citizens; he is protecting the goals of his political party to limit access to early voting.  We need to allow the local experts to decide on the hours for their voters.

By the way, we are collecting volunteers for Early voting both with registrations and driving people to the Board of Elections.  Here is a copy of a flyer that you can print out or send around to family and friends...  Contact NEOCH if you want to volunteer.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry and not the Board or other staff of the agency.

Identification Collaborative Out of Money

Cleveland has one of the few Identification Collaborations in the country.  It is a small often overlooked matter for most to get that card in your purse and wallet, but it is often the ticket to nearly everything we do.  A few non-profits came together seven years ago with the help of an AmeriCorps VISTA member at NEOCH to create a fund to provide identification for homeless people. St Colman's Catholic Church and West Side Catholic took the lead with the project, and NEOCH honored Eileen Kelly earlier this year because of her efforts to keep the project going and including advocacy as a key component of the collaboration.    The project is temporarily out of money and this puts all those trying to get a state identification card or their birth certificate at a disadvantage. 

This is a horrible time to be out of money with two months left before the upcoming election.  Remember that if you want to vote in person on Election Day you must show identification.  Most of the ID that is required is tied to housing and a residence (utility bill, government mail to an address, etc.), and of course homeless people do not have a solid residence.   Even though early voting is available in Ohio, there are many who want to vote on Election Day with everyone else.  In fact, some do not think that it is really voting unless they vote on the first Tuesday in November.  Most will not be able to get their birth certificate in time for the registration deadline in Ohio, but it does not hurt to try. 

State identification is necessary for getting into housing, starting a job and obtaining health insurance.  It can take months to get a birth certificate back from some states, and the expense can be up to $60.  We have a system in place to streamline the process for obtaining the birth certificate and they have a law firm that helps with processing the paperwork.  The staff and volunteers with the ID Collaborative have a well developed system for paying for the identification and making sure that the individual has all the documents they need for each state.  One of the major accomplishments of the ID Collaborative was to hire an advocate to push for better public policy regarding identification.  It should be that homeless and low income people should not have to pay for their own document proving they are who they say they are. 

The ID Collaborative is a great partnership and involves nearly every social service provider in Cuyahoga County. We hope that in the next month local government officials will announce additional funds to help with identification.  There are a few agencies kicking in money for their own clients and the schools and Downtown Cleveland Alliance are still helping with identification.   It is such a small hurdle to be able to prove you are who you say you are, but it can be the difference between staying in housing and sleeping outside. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Do We Believe the State Will Not Disenfranchise Voters?

There was nice coverage of the hearing yesterday in federal court by Associated Press Reporter Ann Sanner in the Akron Beacon Journal and the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer.  Why, in the home city of the lead plaintiff, NEOCH, was there no coverage?  I do not know.   But anyway, it was an interesting court hearing down in Columbus.  Our lawyers were in Federal Court asking for an extension of the agreement we finalized with the State of Ohio in 2010.  We have signed an agreement with the State over voters use of Identification before every election since the law was passed in the lame duck session of 2005. 

The attorney for the State of Ohio had the nerve to argue that we could not present one person who was denied the right to vote.  This should be our position for why to keep the agreement not the State's position.  We have had an agreement every election since 2006, and if we had found people who were denied the right to vote this would have meant that the state was in contempt of court.  This would mean that they were violating our agreements.  Thankfully, this has not happened, and nor have we ever been asked to come up with a person who was denied the right to vote.  The State was basically arguing that they do not need court supervision anymore in allowing people without identification to vote.  Basically, "trust them to keep people without identification from being disenfranchised."

Our wonderful attorney, Subodh Chandra handled the argument for SEIU and NEOCH the two lead plaintiffs argued that we cannot go back to the "Wild, Wild, West days" when the court was not strictly supervising the election.  In discovery, we found that many of the jurisdictions were not following the state directive in accepting Social Security numbers for the purpose of provisional ballots or were requiring people to come back to prove their identity in conflict with the directive from the State. This presented a problem where voters in Delaware were living under different voting rules than those residents of Cuyahoga County.   The court had already issued a permanent injunction forcing the state to accept voters who were told to vote at the wrong precinct within a polling place with multiple precincts.  With all the lawsuits against the State of Ohio in 2012 (weekend voting, early voting hours, id, etc), it is a tough argument to make, "Trust us; we want everyone to vote."

There was a great deal of back and forth about the reason for an extension and does it meet the district court guidance for extending court supervised agreements.  NEOCH and the other plaintiffs thought that the State would have corrected all this vague language in the original 2005 by this point.  We never could have imagined that the State legislature would have allowed all these problems with the definition of a veteran's ID or active military or what is a utility to persist for 8 years.  The State's attorney, Richard Coglianese representing the Attorney General said in open court that the current Secretary of State was committed to keeping the directives defining identification in place even without the agreement.  This again seemed strange since that would argue for our side that there is no reason to extend the agreement since the State is pledging to keep the directives contained in the agreement in place. 

We have asked for an indefinite extension or at least until 2021.  We tried mediation and the state was unwilling to extend the agreement.  It is almost certain that the decision will go to the Appeals Court. There was a good back and forth in the Beacon Journal article over Husted's commitment to letting all voters cast a ballot. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the agreement.

 

A Huge Setback in the Struggle for Civil Rights in America

Homeless people in Ohio care about voting rights and the Voting Rights Act.  In Cleveland, around 78% of the homeless population are African American, and there are similar numbers in most of the large American cities.  The VRA is important because homeless people do vote, and NEOCH has always made voting a priority issue.   We have been engaged in a lawsuit with the State of Ohio over identification issues since 2006, and we are working to extend that lawsuit for the next few years to protect access to voting in person on Election Day for those without identification in the statewide election of 2014 and the national 2016 Presidential Election. 

On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was overwhelmingly renewed by Congress in 2006.  According to the Supreme Court across the United States we have fulfilled the goals of equal access to the ballot box and the main section of the Voting Rights Act is not needed.  This despite the mountain of evidence that communities regularly purge voter roles (sometimes in error) thus cancelling the registrations of minority voters or reducing polling places in certain neighborhoods forcing minority votes to wait hours to cast a ballot. This law has often been viewed as one of the most successful in American history and maintains strong support in most of the United States.  While the issue before the court will have dramatic impact on the nine Southern states who had a history of poll taxes, suppression, and manipulation of the voting laws to disenfranchise voters, it will weaken minority voting power across the United States. 

We have seen dramatic increases since 1998 in gerrymandering, limiting voter registration activities, disenfranchising felons, and limiting voting by putting in place restrictions directed at minority and low income voters such as ID requirements.  With super computers never envisioned in 1965 now able to carve up districts in order to push all minorities into a small number of districts, it is much easier to discriminate in the voting booth.  For example, the mostly white Ohio state legislature divided up the state into four minority federal Congressional districts such as the one that meanders across Toledo all along the lake to expand again into Cleveland or the one which starts on the east side of Cleveland and then moves down to Akron in order to blunt the impact of minority voters.  These nine states with a history of voting shenanigans as recently as 2012 will not have to ask the Justice department to make any changes in voting procedures or laws, and it will be necessary for a disenfranchised voter to go to court after they were denied the chance to vote. They will have to prove in court that the identification laws, purging of the voter roles, or moving of a polling place to a distant part of the ward is based on a racist motivation.  Having struggled with the state for years on the ID lawsuit, we know what a big hurdle this is to sustain over six years.   How many will have access to attorneys who are willing to stick with this for a decade with little shot of compensation in the end. 

The US Supreme Court overturned a law repeatedly passed by the legislative branch and supported by the every President since 1965.  They declared that Congress needs to update the law with new maps knowing that in a dysfunctional Congress this will be impossible.  They know that no state will want to be put on this list that they have to get clearance from the Justice Department before changing state or local voting rules.  The Supreme Court did not accept that there was a way for a community to petition to be let out of the oversight if they could prove they have not engaged in racist behavior for 10 years.  Instead of keeping the law in place while Congress made changes, they threw open the door to allow any voter suppression activity to be passed by mostly white state legislatures.  These former Confederate states can then put state resources into defending these voter disenfranchisement activities in court against individual challenges. 

Maybe this will prompt Congress to adjust the pre-coverage maps to include all the states that have engaged in racist voting laws.  Maybe states like Ohio which have reduced the power of minority voters will be included in a future voting law.  Maybe there will be renewed effort to get a national voting law in place to protect voters access to the polls everywhere.  Maybe the Palestinian conflict will be resolved.  Maybe the dreams of Tiananmen Square will be realized.  Maybe West Virginia officials will accept a carbon tax and realize coal is a dirty form of energy.  All of these seem impossible at this point in our history, but who would have ever predicted that Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi would be serving in her country's legislature and Muammar al Gaddafi would be violently overthrown.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Voting Success in Last Election

Homeless People Do Vote

We are working on compiling the numbers from the last election, and so we are looking at homeless participation in the 2012 Presidential election.  We had a great response to voting by those sleeping in the shelters and were newly registered.  The NEOCH staff signed up 322 voters from July through October, and 93%  of those we registered actually voted.  This is a powerful number proving that homeless people do in fact vote.  To show how important it is to have as many early voting hours as possible only 2 out of the 322 people voted on Election Day.  Nearly all the homeless individuals voted by mail or at the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County. 

These were the registration cards that NEOCH staff handled.   We are also looking at the voters registered by the shelters in Cleveland.  We will have those numbers in the next week.   These individuals who have lost their housing, their jobs and most of their material possessions took the time to register to vote and then they showed up to be counted.   Almost everyone who registered while staying in a shelter then showed up to vote.  

We took a Vietnam era who had never voted in the past over to vote during Golden week when his buddies at the VA Hospital Transitional shelter were also going.  

We took a woman who got into housing between the registration deadline and Election Day.  We took her over to vote on Election Day and she was terrified that she would not be allowed to vote.  She had never voted before and she was a devout Muslim who wore a vail.  She was worried because her ID did not have her new address and she did not want to take off her vail to prove her identity.   The poll workers were great and kind to her and she had no problem voting.  She started crying on the way back to her apartment. 

We had a voter who cast an early vote at the Board of Elections and almost talked himself out of being able to vote.  He had become homeless in between the time he had registered and when he was voting.  He kept trying to clarify with the poll worker that he was homeless now and so was not at that address.  He finally voted after not having voted for years.

We had homeless people who waited in line for 45 minutes on the Sunday before the election to vote, and a woman who made sure that her roommates at the Community Women's Shelter all completed their mail in ballot as soon as they arrived at the shelter. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinions of those who sign the entry

Civil Rights Activist John Lewis Talks About New "Poll Tax"

We are a not for profit organization and therefore do not get involved in partisan politics.  We have to mention the speech at the Democratic National Convention on voter ID laws.  Since this has a disproportionate impact on our constituents who are largely minority and almost entirely poor.  Representative John Lewis was a leader in the struggle for civil rights and shed blood to protect voters who do not happen to have white skin.  He is an honorable man who offers a unique personal perspective.  Lewis is up for re-election this November.  If his opponent, Howard Stopeck, wants equal space to explain his position on voter ID laws, we are willing to offer the same space to him here.  I am not sure how many people in the Georgia Fifth District are reading our blog, but we are willing to offer the space. 

My dear friends, your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots.

Today it is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state's new voter ID law is "gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state." That's not right. That's not fair. That's not just.

And similar efforts have been made in Texas, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina. I've seen this before. I've lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered and died to make it possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.

And we have come too far together to ever turn back. So we must not be silent. We must stand up, speak up and speak out. We must march to the polls like never before. We must come together and exercise our sacred right.

There is no way to say this better, and this is why we are in court working to expand access to the ballot box. 

Brian Davis

The opinions reflect the views of those who sign the post.

Voting Hearing Part 2

The second panel that spoke were comprised of both supporters of the Ohio voting changes as well as those opposed to the legislation. Rick Nagin has a nice summary of the hearing here.

Daniel Tokaji--OSU Professor of Law and expert on voting

Professor Tokaji testified in opposition to the HB 194 in Ohio, which he identified as the "wrong direction."  He was especially critical of limiting early voting  and eliminating the ability to vote on Sunday at the Board of Elections offices, because African American and Hispanic voters turn out on Sundays.  He was concerned that allowing poll workers the choice to direct people to the correct precinct is "essentially giving poll workers the discretion to discriminate."  Professor Tokaji said that as many as 40,000 provisional ballots did not even get counted in the last election that probably should have been counted.  He said, "We should be making it easier not more difficult to vote."

David Arrendondo--Lorain Community College International Student Services Director and Lorain County Republican Party Vice Chair and a member of Romney for President

The Republican members of the committee (who did not attend) were able to select witnesses to appear, and the first to speak was David Arrendondo of Lorain County.  He spoke in support of the Ohio legislation as a way to provide "fair and honest elections for everyone."  Arrendondo did not have a problem with identification to protect against "fraud."  He called for a more uniform system of voting across the United States as was described in the Motor Voter Law of the 1990s.  He was concerned about college students with multiple registrations.  It was unclear if he indicated that a college student he knew was encouraged to vote even though he was a foreign national and had no legal right to vote or Arrendondo was saying that this student had been offered the chance to register and was unsure about the rules.  This was the basis of his support for identification because it would assure that only US citizens were voting.  Arrendondo repeatedly cited Mexico as an example of a democracy that knows how to administer an election.  Evidently, they do not allow early voting and a sizable majority vote on the same Sunday in Mexico.  He never explained, however, why he supported eliminating Sunday voting in Ohio if it is so popular in Mexico.  Arrendondo also mentioned Iraq as an example of an electoral process that Americans could use as a model.  He indicated that if there are any fraud in the system it casts doubt on the whole foundation of democracy. 

Carrie Davis of the ACLU and the League of Women Voters in Ohio

Before summarizing her testimony we have to disclose that Carrie represented NEOCH in a voting rights case upholding Golden Week in 2008.  She characterized the Ohio, Florida, Georgia and other state law changes as an "unprecedented attack" on voting rights.  She worried about another disputed national election, and identified all these rule changes as "suppression activities."  From voter ID laws to the shortening of early voting, she went through each of these changes and pointed out their flaws.  All these changes in the law coupled with the county cuts to boards of elections carries a tremendous risk that we will see long lines and problems at the precincts as we experienced in 2004.  Davis called for more voter education activities and poll worker training to avoid the problems we saw in previous elections. 

Dale Fellows: Lake County Republican Party Chair and past President of the Association of Elections Officials in Ohio

Fellows is another selection of Minority Chair of the committee Lindsey Graham.  Fellows indicated that the Association of Elections officials had issued a report on voting in Ohio and that was the basis of the changes from HB 194.  He does not agree with all of the law that was passed, but there is a lot of it that will be halpful.  He defended closing the weekend before the election because Board members and in smaller counties employees need to get ready for the Tuesday vote and do not have time to also conduct early voting.  He somehow justified the provision of the law that allowed poll workers to not tell people the correct precinct as a liability issue.  I cannot explain this, and when questioned by Senator Brown neither could he.  He asked that instead of fighting this law, people should volunteer to work the polls so there will not be problems in this election.  Fellows was also only interested in fair and honest elections, and was concerned about the disjointed system that exists currently. 

Greg Moore of the NAACP National Voter Fund and the Ohio Fair Elections Campaign.

Moore championed the effort by black clergy to get enough signatures to block HB 194.  He mentioned the lines experienced in the big cities on Sunday to show the need for 35 days early voting.  Moore said that the Ohio legislature was in full retreat over this voting bill.  He urged Ohio legislators to listen to the will of the people and overturn the entire HB 194 including reinstatement of early voting on the weekend before the election.

Questions for the witnesses.

Durbin mentioned that fraud is extremely rare and asked Arrendondo if he has recommended prosecution for voting fraud.  Arrendondo said that the County Prosecutor refused to prosecute cases of voter fraud.  Arrendondo continued to insist that despite all the problems with government corruption in Mexico, they knew how to run fair and fraud free elections.  At one point, this defense of Mexico as a bastion of voting utopia did elicit a laugh from the audience.   Davis insisted that by closing the boards of elections the final weekend before an election that would just force the 100,000 who took advantage of that time in 2010 to vote on election day.  This would be fine except many communities have had to cut back on precincts and election workers due to budget cuts.  One of the Republican defenders of Ohio reform law did say that the Board of Election's staff are overworked especially in small counties and they need to print the voting list to distribute to the precincts so that they will know who has already voted. 

Senator Brown countered that the 2010 election was the least eventful of the elections over the last 10 years in Ohio, and so why the need for a change?  He received no response to this rhetorical question.  Senator Durbin questioned the witnesses about "fraud" in the system.  He challenged anyone to explain why a person would vote multiple times throughout the state on election day if those two, three or four votes would not make any difference in the big picture, but that multiple voter could go to jail for up to five years.  Professor Tokaji talked about the disproportionate impact on minority voting all these rules have on turnout.  He mentioned the long lines in traditionally African American neighborhoods.   He equated the shut down of early voting the weekend before the election as the same as a department story shutting down the last three days before Christmas.  Arrendondo wanted consistency in the voting process, and so all counties should mail early voting request forms to assure that Congressional elections which cross counties are fair.  There was also some discussion about the attempt to ban notification by the Boards of Elections about the option to vote by mail, and how this only depresses the vote.  Professor Tokaji said that early voting was more secure because there is more time to verify the validity of those votes.  No one on the panel could point to any example of fraud during Golden Week, and yet this was eliminated in the legislation passed by the Ohio State legislature. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry