Race & Ethnicity

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Over 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 taxes, the Republicans have long used their just-over-one-third representation in those houses to block all tax increases, decimating the state’s schools, colleges, and parks in the process. Now, the Democrats have finally overcome that hurdle—and have become the first party with two-thirds representation in both houses since 1933.

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.

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.

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)

If you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask Jose Lopez. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union, Lopez 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 Lopez, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between Lopez’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 Lopez, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.”

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.

Making Prisoners Count

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

(Flickr/AJstream)

Add 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 corrupts the very equations upon which representative democracy is built.

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. 

What's the Truth about True the Vote?

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Two 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 from communicating with voters. But these poll watchers, foreign to the neighborhoods they were working in, were apparently not all observing the rules.

As I walked into the building, I asked one of the custodians how to spot the poll watchers. “Just look for the white people!” he told me. He said that he’d heard about people who were afraid to bring elderly relatives to vote because “first thing [they’d] be thinking about is 1960.”

The stories I wrote for The Texas Observer explained why voters could easily feel threatened: “Around the lines of voting booths, ramps into the building created a mini-balcony, from which two poll watchers looked down at the voters. Both older white men, they maintained a serious expression for the entirety of the two hours I was there. Sometimes they wandered amidst the voting booths. Since everything was crammed together, it wasn’t hard to imagine how one of the watchers could feel intrusive to a voter. There was barely room for people standing in their rows.”

Color-Blinded

(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 white student—Grutter recognized that a university’s entire student body, white students included, benefit from a more diverse campus in ways that simply cannot be replicated in a homogenous community. As the Court explained, “‘classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting’ when the students have ‘the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.’”

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.

Refugee Reality Check

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

(AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Levinsky 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.

Diane Ravitch on the "Effort to Destroy Public Ed"

(Flickr/Kevin Lock)

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 of the Koret Task Force at Stanford's Hoover Institution, which focuses on school choice and "accountability." But in 2009, Ravitch left both positions and wrote a book announcing her move to the other side of the debate.

Reaping What Elections Sow

(Flickr/ BKM_BR)

In 2010, Tea Party mania influenced elections at every level—congressional races and governorships, most famously. But the biggest impact was on state legislatures, where 21 house or senate chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In states like Texas, Republican majorities turned into supermajorities; in the Texas House, Democrats were no longer needed to make up a quorum. All the legislative energy was on the side of Tea Party Republicans. They made sweeping, historic changes—to labor laws, to health care, to reproductive rights, and, most of all, to state budgets and public school funding.

Free at Last?

(U.S. Archives)

150 years ago yesterday, President Abraham Lincoln released his draft Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that on January 1, 1863,  “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." NPR has a brief exploration of some little-known history here, including this:

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