Race & Ethnicity

Remember that Provisional Ballot Problem?

(Flickr/Joe Hall)
Ohio has finally begun to tally provisional ballots. This was supposed to be the moment we were all waiting for—back when the presidential election was going to be airtight and everyone was worried about elections administration in the ultimate battleground. Instead, the Obama campaign won a decisive victory, so few kept following the counting in Ohio. But even without an audience, the state's court battles continued well after Election Day. While the presidential race may not hang in the balance, the outcomes of two legislative races will determine a whether Republican lawmakers have a supermajority—which would allow them to easily pass a conservative agenda, including more attempts at voter suppression. “I think Ohio dodged a proverbial bullet,” said Ned Foley, the head of Ohio State’s Moritz Law Center. Still, Foley is quick to point out, “The focus has gone away but that doesn’t mean the vulnerabilities don’t exist.” The most recent fights have been over how to count provisional...

Who Counts in Arizona?

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) Arizona Democrats celebrate as President Barack Obama is declared the winner of the presidential race at Democratic Party gathering, Tuesday, November 6, 2012, in Tucson, Arizona. W hen Arizona's secretary of state announced, one day after the election, that more than 600,000 early and provisional ballots remained uncounted, Viva Samuel Ramirez wasn’t concerned about what the news meant for the state’s close U.S. Senate race or two Congressional races that remained up in the air. (And still do, incredibly enough, one week later.) Ramirez's worry was for the tens of thousands of voters he and others in the One Arizona coalition had registered to vote. Many were Latino, and already suspicious of a state government that passed SB 1070, Arizona’s infamous “papers please” law. The 2012 election was the first time many of them had ever cast a ballot, and Ramirez had hoped it would be the start of a new wave of civic participation in the state. Now he's worried...

Southern States to the Supreme Court: We've Changed

Critics of the Voting Rights Act say its time has passed, but as the recent spate of voter-ID laws shows, that's hardly the case.

(U.S. National Archives)
(U.S. National Archives) President Lyndon Johnson meets with civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, shortly after signing the Voting Rights Act (1965). O n March 7, 1965, peaceful protesters advocating for the right to vote were brutally attacked by Alabama authorities. A little more than a week later, President Lyndon Johnson declared in a message to Congress that "experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books ... can ensure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it." LBJ subsequently introduced legislation that would provide an effective right to vote, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. Less than 50 years later, the Supreme Court appears poised to cut out the heart of one of the greatest triumphs of the civil-rights movement. Last Friday, the Court agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act. The...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

The Battle for Voting Rights Isn't Over

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
Sean Barry showed up at the same polling place in Mount Airy, Pennsylvania, where he cast his ballot for Barack Obama in 2008. But when he got there, the poll workers informed him that his name was nowhere to be found on the voter rolls. They also told him he wasn’t alone; other regular voters had arrived only to find their names missing. All of them had to submit provisional ballots. Allegations of an illegal voter purge were already swirling, and Barry felt uneasy. “I feel unsteady about my vote being counted,” he said. But in the end, with or without Barry’s vote, Obama won Pennsylvania easily. Voter suppression was only going to have an electoral impact if the race got within spitting distance, and in the end, the attempted voter purges, voter ID laws, and partisan decision-making by elections administrators were not enough to swing the 2012 presidential election to Republicans. It was supposed to pick off the votes of poor and minority voters who vote disproportionately...

Four Things to Look for at the Polls on Election Day

(Flickr/seanmcmenemy)
Earlier this year, the outlook for voting rights was downright terrifying. Across the country, Republican legislatures had passed strict voter-ID laws, which reports showed could disenfranchise millions of voters . The political motives were clear: The people most likely to be without ID are poor and of color—groups that tend to vote for Democrats. By the summer, there was another threat to voter participation: purges of voter rolls. In Florida, and later in Colorado and Texas, voters began receiving letters saying their registrations were being questioned. While many who received the letters responded, activists worried about those voters who missed them or threw them away without responding—what if they arrived on Election Day only to discover their names had been deleted? Now, two days from Election Day, election proceedings appear significantly sunnier. When it came to voter ID, judges forced states to broaden acceptable forms of identification or delay the laws until the...

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

In Minnesota, Voting Blind on Voter ID

(AP Photo/The The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse, File)
The fifth in a Prospect series on the 174 ballot measures up for a vote this November. Across the country, most voter-ID wars have unfolded in legislative chambers and courtrooms. But in Minnesota, a whole new battleground has opened as voters decide whether to put a photo ID-requirement into the state constitution. The constitutional amendment passed through the Republican-controlled legislature, but was foiled by a veto from Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Now, it's up to voters to decide whether they want to put new burdens on themselves and fellow voters. The catch? Voters won't get any say about what those burdens will look like—flexible, with several forms of photo ID allowed, or super-strict, with only one or two kinds acceptable? Whichever party wins the state legislature in November will likely get to set the rules. If the Democrats win, the law could be relaxed, whereas conservatives would likely push to make the law as restrictive as they possibly can without incurring...

Making Prisoners Count

For legislative districts, inmates are considered part of communities where they’ll likely never live as free citizens.

(Flickr/AJstream)
(Flickr/AJstream) With a prison population in the millions, the current method of counting inmates skews how representative democracy operates. A dd these two facts together: (1) To the United States Census Bureau, where prisoners have their “usual residence” is the prison in which they’re incarcerated and (2) The findings of the decennial census are used to draw political boundaries. The sum of those parts does strange things to the notion of how Americans elect people to represent us in state and local governments. “Our system for making political decisions in this country,” says Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, “is being distorted by the miscounting of two million people.” In an era obsessed with political data— Microtargeting! Swing-state polling! Data.gov! —and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now...

True the Vote's True Agenda

(AP Photo/Matt Houston)
This is the second and final part of our series on True the Vote. Check out our earlier piece on just how effective the group will—or won't—be on election day. I n 2010, before most reporters had heard of True the Vote, the group put out a video introducing itself. As epic battle music plays, far-right activist David Horowitz comes on screen. “The voting system is under attack now,” he says. “Movements that are focused on voter fraud, on the integrity of elections are crucial. This is a war.” Horowitz goes on to claim: “A Democratic party consultant once told me that Republicans have to win by at least 3 percent to win any elections.” Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s founder, recounts that True the Vote poll watchers went out and “saw corruption everywhere.” "The left has been focused on this now for decades,” says Horowitz, as photographs of black voters lining up to cast ballots flash by. “Obama’s very connected to ACORN, which is a voter-fraud machine. ACORN is the radical army...

What's the Truth about True the Vote?

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Gage Skidmore Catherine Englebrecht of True the Vote speaking at the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. This is part one of a two part series on True the Vote. Next, we’ll examine allegations that the group has partisan goals. T wo years ago, the week before Election Day, I drove to Harris County, Texas. More specifically, I drove to the Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, a polling location for early voting in one of Houston’s poor, predominantly black neighborhoods. After alleging that Harris County had a widespread problem with voter fraud, a Tea Party group called the King Street Patriots had launched a project called True the Vote, which had trained hundreds of volunteer poll watchers. As the early-voting period began, reports had begun to trickle out about white poll watchers arriving at minority precincts and intimidating voters. In Texas, poll watchers, appointed by a political party to watch the proceedings, aren’t allowed to do much; they’re barred...

Color-Blinded

(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Imagine a college whose orchestra was missing a bassoon player, or whose football team was down a running back. It would go without saying that this school could admit an applicant who plays the bassoon over a candidate who plays the French horn, even if that French horn player had slightly higher grades, or that its admissions officers could give preference to a high school’s star running back over its equally talented defensive lineman. The entire university community benefits from a full orchestra or a football team with a complete offensive lineup, and college admissions officers routinely take similar considerations into account when they think about how to build an incoming freshman class. Nine years ago, in its landmark Grutter v. Bollinger decision, the Supreme Court recognized that race is just like an orchestra. Contrary to the common view that affirmative action is a zero-sum game—in which each seat given to a minority must be taken from a...

Courting Chaos in Ohio Elections

Ohio's elections haven't exactly been known for being smooth affairs—ask anyone who was around in 2004, when a shortage of voting machines in heavily Democratic precincts caused extremely long waits and cries of foul play . But this year, things could be even more chaotic. Early voting is already underway in the battleground state. With only four weeks to go, elections officials should be making sure poll workers are aware of every procedural detail for Election Day. The trouble is, two key details are still up in the air: whether early voting will extend to the weekend before November 6, and whether certain provisional ballots will be counted. These aren't new issues—both have been hotly contested for months now. But the legal battles are still unresolved. On Friday, a panel of judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state would have to allow early voting on the weekend and Monday before Election Day, as it did in 2008. That was a huge win for the Obama...

Refugee Reality Check

Israeli policy on asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan is denial

(AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)
(AP Photo/Oded Balilty) African refugees share breakfast at a shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel Thursday, February, 16, 2012. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. A growing number of African migrants say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel. L evinsky Park is where you meet a friend if you're an African refugee living in South Tel Aviv. One recent afternoon, I found around 50 Sudanese and Eritreans sitting on the small stretch of lawn in groups of two or four or five. Nearly all were men in their twenties or thirties. Most were remarkably thin. They wore faded jeans and T-shirts or polo shirts, and talked softly amid the traffic roar. The park is across Levinsky Street from Tel Aviv's central bus station, the hulking gateway through which those who had to abandon their country entered the strange city...

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)
Diane Ravitch receiving a National Education Association award in 2010. Click here to read part 1 of the Prospect 's interview with the former assistant secretary of education. When Diane Ravitch changed her mind about education reform, she became one of the leading critics of a movement that dominates American policy. For the most part, both Democrats and Republicans now push to make school systems resemble economic markets. They want fewer teacher protections, more testing, and more charter schools for parents to choose from. President Barack Obama's Department of Education, headed by education reformer Arne Duncan, shares many policy goals with those of George W. Bush's administration. Ravitch herself was once part of the movement, promoting student assessments and helping to create voluntary academic standards. After serving as assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, she held positions at the pro-school-reform movement Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and was a member...

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