Some people claim that Barack Obama’s election has ushered in a “postracial” America, but the truth is that race, and racial discrimination, are still very much with us. The Supreme Court should keep this reality in mind when it considers a challenge to an important part of the Voting Rights Act that it recently agreed to hear. The act is constitutional — and clearly still needed.
Section 5, often called the heart of the Voting Rights Act, requires some states and smaller jurisdictions to “preclear” new voting rules with the Justice Department or a federal court. When they do, they have to show that the proposed change does not have the purpose or effect of discriminating against minority voters.
When Congress enacted Section 5 in 1965, officials in the South were creating all kinds of rules to stop blacks from voting or being elected to office. Discrimination against minority voters may not be as blatant as it was then, but it still exists. District lines are drawn to prevent minorities from winning; polling places are located in places hard for minority voters to get to; voter ID requirements are imposed with the purpose of suppressing the minority vote.
After holding lengthy hearings to document why the Voting Rights Act was still needed, Congress reauthorized it in 2006 with votes of 98 to 0 in the Senate and 390 to 33 in the House. Now, a municipal utility district in Texas that is covered by Section 5 is arguing that it is unconstitutional, and that it imposes too many burdens on jurisdictions covered by it.
If the Supreme Court — which is expected to hear arguments in the case this spring — strikes down Section 5, it would be breaking radically with its own precedents. The court has repeatedly upheld the Voting Rights Act against challenges, and as recently as 2006 it ruled that complying with Section 5 is a compelling state interest. It would also be an extreme case of conservative judicial activism, since the 14th and 15th Amendments expressly authorize Congress to enact laws of this sort to prevent discrimination in voting.
A perennial criticism of Section 5 is that it covers jurisdictions it should not, or fails to cover ones it should. There is no way to construct a perfect list, but Congress has done a reasonable job of drawing up the criteria, and it has built flexibility into the act. Jurisdictions are allowed to “bail out” if they can show that they no longer need to be covered, and courts can add new jurisdictions if they need to be covered.
In last fall’s election, despite his strong national margin of victory — and hefty campaign chest — Mr. Obama got only about one in five white votes in the Southern states wholly or partly covered by Section 5. And there is every reason to believe that minority voters will continue to face obstacles at the polls.
If Section 5 is struck down, states and localities would have far more freedom to erect barriers for minority voters — and there is little doubt that some would do just that. We have not arrived at the day when special protections like the Voting Rights Act are not needed.
Velvet Revolution (“VR”), a non-profit dedicated to clean and honest elections, today offers a $100,000 reward for hard information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person or persons who helped to rig the 2002 Senate race in Georgia in favor of Saxby Chambliss. That election pitted the war hero Max Cleland, a popular incumbent, against far-right novice Saxby Chambliss. The pre-election polls showed Cleland with a comfortable lead–and yet Chambliss “won” by a wide margin.
To date, the truth behind that upset “victory” (and the equally surprising win by Sonny Perdue, the rightist candidate for governor) has been confirmed by three different whistle-blowers–including Chris Hood, who worked for Diebold in 2002.
A candidate for Supervisor of Elections in Broward County, FL, was arrested yesterday, following threats and orders from her opponent, the current Broward SOE, Dr. Brenda Snipes.
Ellen H. Brodsky, the county’s first non-partisan candidate for SOE, had previously been barred from public counting and oversight on a number of occasions, at the county’s official Canvassing Board site and voting machine warehouse in Lauderhill, Florida.
After being taken into custody yesterday afternoon by three uniformed police officers, Brodsky was held overnight at the Broward County Jail even though the $25 — that’s twenty-five dollar — bail had been posted for her by her son by 8pm last night. She was finally released well after 5am this morning.
(Note: An account of the arrest posted this morning on the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s blog incorrectly reported that Brodsky was “released on bail Thursday evening.” A report later filed on their website by the same reporter correctly noted that she “was released from jail at 5:40 a.m. Friday.”)
Brodsky is a longtime member of a number of election integrity advocacy groups in Florida, including the Broward Election Reform Coalition, which she also founded. Earlier this year, she determined to run against Snipes as a non-partisan candidate.
Brodsky is the latest in a string of election integrity advocates around the country who have been arrested in the course of attempting oversight of our election procedures — although she is the first, to our knowledge, who also happens to be a candidate on the ballot.
The action has brought condemnation from a number of other election watchdogs and even other election officials in Florida who have characterized the arrest to The BRAD BLOG as an outrage and an abuse of power by Snipes and her office…
“For a candidate, or a member of the public who wishes nothing more than to observe the process, to be taken into custody would be outrageous absent really extraordinary reasons — none of which I’ve heard articulated in this matter,” Leon County (Tallahassee) Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho told The BRAD BLOG this afternoon.
“I’ve been an election official for twenty years. Not even one time has it become necessary to even threaten someone’s removal by law enforcement at any kind of meeting that I’ve ever attended,” said Sancho who has spoken with Brodsky “on many occasions” and met her “a couple of times in face to face meetings.”
Ellen Theisen, of the non-partisan election integrity watchdog organization VotersUnite.org, was similarly troubled by the arrest.
“It’s outrageous that Ellen Brodsky was arrested and kept in jail overnight,” Theisen wrote via email today. “Her work toward election integrity in Broward County has been dedicated, creative, effective, and respectful to the law. The idea that she would be ‘disruptive’ is nonsense. I’m convinced that was fabricated by those who appear to be threatened by her requests for transparency and accountability in the Broward County election process.”
Filmmaker David Earnhardt, who earlier this year released the award-winning documentary Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections, calls Brodsky “a remarkable woman who has dedicated the better part of the decade to demanding fair and honest elections.”
He told us that she hosted a screening of his film in Fort Lauderdale in late September. “It’s offensive that she was arrested for this and kept in jail overnight. I have no doubt that she was assertive in demanding her rights – but it’s ridiculous they would have even called the police in the first place, much less arrest her,” he said.
Brodsky was arrested, according to the inmate summary she was given upon release (on which her name is misspelled as “Bordsky”), for “TRESPASS/STRUCTURE OR CONVEYANCE” and “DISORDERLY CONDUCT.” The bond for the trespass claim was set at $25, no bond amount was attached to the disorderly conduct charge, according to the summary.
“A total abuse of power”
“It was horrible,” Brodsky told us by phone today, concerning “the whole process of being in jail overnight.”
“The arrest was a total abuse of power on Brenda Snipes’ part. She had given the orders. The buck stops with her.”
“I didn’t do anything. They just want to eliminate any kind of critics,” she explained, following a number of weeks when she had occasionally been allowed to monitor testing, counting and recount processes by the county Canvassing Board.
“They wanted to eliminate me from the process, because I’m the only one who is on top of these things. I go out of my way to be an expert on this, to watch what’s going on,” she said in a detailed recounting of the problems she’s faced with Snipes and her deputies over the last several months.
At times she was barred from oversight of testing and counting, other times she was allowed in under strict rules, often accompanied by a number of armed guards, she told us. In the meantime, a number of public records requests she’s made have gone unanswered, including information she sought after noticing that voting machines had been opened for use beginning on October 1, even though early voting was not scheduled to begin until weeks later.
During her last visit to the Canvassing Board to monitor counting and the processing of ballots of November 7th, she was evicted after asking a number of questions to Canvassing Board judges, even though she raised her hand, as instructed, and even waited a full hour and a half before being allowed to ask her questions, according to her account.
“The first question I asked on the 7th,” she says, Lauderhills officer C.Y. Bell “jumped on me.” Literally, she says. “She was standing there the whole time ready to pounce on me. Her taser thing was right in front of my face. It was very scary. She jumped on me, grabbed my arm, she was ready to throw me out then and there.”
“Then I screamed ‘Help, canvassing board, I didn’t do anything.’ This was like that ‘Don’t tase me, bro’ thing.” she explained. “That got their attention. I then waited an hour and a half, and then they took a break and I reminded her [Judge Zeller, President of the canvassing board] that I was told I could ask a question.”
She asked three questions, the last of which concerned why she was not allowed in the building the night before, at 7pm, when she believes the counting board was in session, which should have required the ability for public oversight under Florida’s Sunshine Law.
She then says she was ejected from the counting room, and told by Officer Bell, “if If you ever come back here, we’ll have a warrant for you. If you ever come back to this voting machine warehouse or canvassing board, we’ll have you arrested.”
After discussing the matter with her attorney, Brodsky returned yesterday with a friend for a 1pm counting that was listed on the county’s website. She says she recorded much of what occurred on her cell phone’s recorder.
“We saw the notice on the door, proceeded to ask, ‘can we come in?’ because the Canvassing Board was supposed to meet at 1pm. But the first thing I was told was ‘we don’t want you in the building, you’re not allowed in the building.’ Next I was told the canvassing board is not meeting, even though it was posted on the door, and on the website.”
“While I’m trying to inquire about the canvassing board meeting,” she says, Snipes deputy Fred Bellis “is busy photographing me, calling on his cell phone to who knows where.”
Soon two officers arrived and suggested there was a warrant out for her arrest. But “after they researched, they said ‘yeah, there is no warrant out for your arrest.'”
Then Officer Bell arrived, met with the other officers, and “all three, in a concerted effort, handcuff me and throw me into the back of a police car.”
Latest in a string of such arrests
Brodsky’s arrest is the latest such detention of an election integrity advocate.
In September, activist John Brakey of AuditAZ was arrested during a mandatory post-election “audit” in Pima County (Tucson), AZ, after questioning officials about dozens of ballot bags that had missing or broken security seals.
In August, Phil Lindsey of ShowMeTheVote.org was arrested and thrown in jail in Jackson County, MO, when he refused to show a photo ID to pollworkers who had wrongly insisted he could not vote without one. The demand by the election officials was in violation of state law.
“I will tell you, my feeling from a lot of officials is they don’t like being questioned,” explained Tallahassee’s Sancho, who was chosen by the Florida Supreme Court to oversee the 2000 Presidential recount in the state.
“I would caution officials over the removal of any observer from the elections process, because only by keeping the process as open as possible can we maintain credibility within the elections process,” he says.
“Elections officials in Florida,” he continued, “really are uniquely placed, because of the power we have over the process — and it’s pretty immense — so there’s a tendency, a lot of times, for election officials to act in an autocratic manner. I’m not saying [Snipes] did, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“The power that we as elect officials have, has to be used very, very, veryjudiciously,” he added.
“What this has to be about is, fundamentally, the process. Quite frankly, I’ve never found the use of police powers an effective answer to people who are looking for the truth,” Sancho told us.
For Brodsky, she now wonders what will become of her ability to oversee her own election which, according to the results reported by officials, show that she lost in a landslide. “It was a difficult time to run as an independent, with Barack Obama on the ballot,” she noted. Her opponent, Snipes, ran as a Democrat.
But it’s now virtually impossible for Brodsky to know if her election was conducted fairly. “I’m gonna have a hard time auditing my own election if I’m not allowed to be there, and if my public records requests aren’t getting answered,” she said.
Additional note, it was too late this afternoon on the West Coast to contact Snipes for her point of view on all of this, but we refer you again to the Sun-Sentinel’s coverage for some of that here and here.
From John Gideon:
As we suspected tabulation of ballots has revealed problems with voting systems from all of the vendors. Hillsborough Co Florida is rethinking their contract with Premier/Diebold for $6M after having big problems counting votes. Manatee Co Florida also had a problem with Premier. Palm Beach Co had bad memory cartridges from Sequoia. Counties in Pennsylvania and South Carolina had problems with their ES&S system. We also have a run-off for senator from Georgia and a recount for senator from Minnesota. This election will last for another month at least.
National: Malfunctioning Machines, Ballot Glitches, Election-Law Litigation — and a Busy Day for Lawyers
National: Voting Rights Watch: Relatively few e-voting problems, but GOP still readies for possible action
AZ: Pima County: 10 precincts and number of early, provisional ballots still uncounted
CA: Santa Cruz County – Vandals hit Santa Cruz County polling places, campaign offices
FL: Hillsborough County – Count Resumes With Hillsborough Elections Chief Race In Limbo
[Johnson said Premier, which he hired for $6 million this year, was dishonest with him and at fault for much of Tuesday’s problems with voting machines.]
FL: Hillsborough results tied up by software glitch
FL: Hillsborough vote count likely to continue until Thursday
FL: Count Resumes With Hillsborough Elections Chief Race In Limbo [Diebold/Premier admits the system was bogged down and stalled due to overload]
FL: Manatee County – Manatee solves vote-counting problem [Premier/Diebold]
FL: Manatee County – Small glitch causes big problems in Manatee
FL: Palm Beach County vote results still incomplete [Bad Sequoia memory cartridges]
GA: The OTHER Election Night Story in Georgia: No Early Votes Included in Reported Results
GA: Chambliss and Martin prepare for another four weeks
GA: Gwinnett County – Gwinnett Officials Still Counting Ballots Day After Election
KY: Kenton Co. Judge Rules For Vote Recount
KY: Madison County – Local turnout heavy as computer glitch delays count
MN: Ritchie: Senate recount will involve hundreds, cost $90K
MN: E-Voting Machines Used in Franken, Coleman Race Failed Tests
NC: Onslow County – Padgett wants recount
NH: Long night of ballot snafus marks voting in Kennebunk
OH: Montgomery County election results delayed until late this evening
PA: Centre County Recounts Ballots After Discrepancy [ES&S M-100 precinct based op-scan]
PA: Northumberland County – PA County’s Voting Machines Impounded Following Complaints
SC: Charleston County suffers voting problems on Election Day [ES&S problem. The county had to hand input the results from 17,000 ballots]
Attorney Cliff Arnebeck, cyber-sleuth Steven Spoonamore and author Mark Crispin Miller explain the background the ‘Connell Anomaly,’ named for Mike Connell, allegedly Rove’s IT fixer, who, in a late-breaking story, has been ordered by District Judge Solomon Olive to testify on Monday.According to Arnebeck’s press release,”Connell was a key inside IT contractor for Ken Blackwell in the administration of the 2004 and 2006 elections, while managing the IT function for the Bush Presidential campaigns andother Republican partisan campaigns in 2000, 2004 and 2006. Plaintiffs’ counsel and Plaintiffs’ cyber security expert Stephen Spoonamore in the King Lincoln case before US District Judge Algenon in Columbus have identified Connell as a key witness to Karl Rove’s various maneuvers affecting elections during this decade.”
Remember: Mike Connell, Rove’s boy, is the guy who said he helped steal the election to “Save the babies.”
A growing database of Voter Assemblies is here:
You should register the Voter Assembly you are organizing here:
Here is the plan. Regardless of the declared presidential victor, this Wednesday, we will gather in Voter Assemblies, and we will act:
B. If it is unclear whether voting rights violation rise to the level of election theft, as was the case in Ohio 2004, we will mobilize everywhere to demand a full and complete count of the vote.
C. If it appears that the election result was defined by the rigging of the process, we will rally nationwide to press for progress in enacting democratic reforms.
But first comes a different kind of crunch: Local courts already are seeing an influx of people who, for whatever reason, are not listed as registered voters and are petitioning a judge to be enrolled.
While county boards of election typically have judges available on Election Day to rule on such cases, voters this year are heading to court days or even weeks ahead of time.
In Saratoga County, they’ve even set aside mornings to settle registration disputes.
“We’re letting them come in from 8:30 a.m. to noon,” said Saratoga County Judge Jerry Scarano. “We think election day is going to be very busy.”
“They’re being swamped,” agreed Michael Guiry, a retiree who this year moved back to Edinburgh, in Saratoga County, from Florida to be near his family.
Guiry and his wife registered to vote when they got their New York driver’s licenses, but when Guiry applied for a hunting license a few weeks ago and double-checked his voter status, he wasn’t listed. So he drove to Saratoga for a hearing before Scarano, who put him on the voter rolls.
“We have to go after school,” said Jean Harsen of Kinderhook, who plans to take her 18-year-old son, Johnathan, to Columbia County Court this week.
Harsen said Johnathan registered at a booth set up by Barack Obama supporters at the Columbia County Fair, but the county Board of Elections never got his registration.
There are lots of reasons why registrations don’t show up: Sometimes they’re simply lost, or the people running the voting drives forget to turn them in.
“It’s incumbent upon the people who are doing these drives to bring these forms in,” said Geeta Cheddie, acting election commissioner in Columbia County.
She recounted several stories in which people claimed they had sent in registration cards, but after double-checking realized they hadn’t – or had misplaced the cards altogether.
Geddie said she wasn’t sure what happened with Harsen’s registration.
“The courts are always a recourse,” she said, adding that she’s already referred a few unregistered people to the courthouse in Hudson.
Nor is it the presidential race alone that’s sparking the increase in court visits.
The state Board of Elections last year put registration lists online so that voters can check their status. But even that good work has been complicated by the fact that the state board in Albany was swamped last month with thousands of mail-in registration cards that people printed out from the Web site of Rock the Vote, a nationwide campaign to boost voting by young people.
Normally, individuals register at their local county board of elections, since those are the official repositories for voter rolls. But Rock the Vote had people send registrations to the state, which is required to accept all received before the Oct. 15 deadline. The state office was then obliged to sort and send the cards to the individual counties.
“Every day we would send out a shipment to each county,” said state Board of Elections spokesman Bob Brehm.
The upshot was that registrations may have been in the mail, but they weren’t yet listed on the Web site – creating another reason for nervous voters to head for the courts.
Election lawyer Henry Berger said many voters are figuring they can avoid Election Day hassles by going to court in advance if they have doubts about their registration status.
“Some people are getting more sophisticated about this. They are going in early,” he said.
Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Video Your Vote If possible, plan ahead for any problems by bringing a video camera with you to Video the Vote. Then, spread it around (send it to us and we’ll help). Remember, the focus should be on gathering evidence and not telling stories. So, use video, audio, photographs, get names and phone numbers of witnesses, as well as voting machine serial numbers, names of poll workers, and document the time of day.
2) At the First Sign of a Problem, Stop* At the first sign of a problem with your machine (or if you have any other problem listed below), stop what you are doing and ask to speak to the supervisor (skip the poll worker) at your polling location. Explain your problem. If they try and waive you off, call your main election commission numberand ask to speak to the election commissioner until your problem is satisfactorily addressed. Keep in mind that many poll workers/supervisors will try and blame the voter aka “operator error.” Do not leave your polling place until your problem is well-documented and addressed to your complete satisfaction and, if the problem is with the machine, that the machine is quarantined. Oh, and you get to vote.
3) File a Report. File Several Reports. Your local polling place will have incident reports available to you. If they do not, call the main election commission for your county and ask for someone to bring one to you. Make sure that both you and the supervisor sign it. An example of a report is here (Hat tip: Wake Up and Save Your CountryVoters Guide). The U.S. Election Assistance Commission also lists on their website where you can find out how to file a report in! your state. Again, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote can also help with any questions in this area.
4) Call the Election Protection Hotline Report you incident to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-Our-Vote, especially if you feel you are being bullied or your incident is not being taken seriously. The ACLU has a hotline as well at 1-877-523-2792. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Greg Palast offer suggestions as well in their comic StealBackYourVote.org.
5) Pledge to Stand Up to Stolen Elections Go to NoMoreStolenElections.org and pledge to not concede until every vote is counted – and counted as cast.
WASHINGTON – House Republican leader John Boehner on Wednesday urged President Bush to block all federal funds to a grass-roots community group that has been accused of voter registrationfraud.
“It is evident that ACORN is incapable of using federal funds in a manner that is consistent with the law,” Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote Bush, saying that funds should be blocked until all federal investigations into the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now are completed.
ACORN, a group that has led liberal causes since it was formed in 1970, this year hired more than 13,000 part-time workers to sign up voters in minority and poor neighborhoods in 21 states. Some of the 1.3 million registration cards submitted to local election officials, using the names of cartoon characters or pro football players, were obviously phony, spurring GOP charges of widespread misconduct.
ACORN has said it was its own quality-control workers who first noticed problem registration cards, flagged them and submitted them to local election officials in every state that is now investigating them.
To commit fraud, a person would have to show up on Election Daywith identification bearing the fake name.
Local law enforcement agencies in about a dozen states are investigating fake registrations submitted by ACORN workers and theFBI is reviewing those cases.
Boehner said his office had determined that ACORN had received more than $31 million in direct federal funding since 1998. He said the group had likely received far more indirectly through federal block grants to states and localities. “Immediate action is necessary to ensure that no additional tax dollars are directed to ACORN while it is under investigation,” he wrote Bush.
Boehner said he and other Republicans were also asking the Justice Department to investigate ACORN’s connections to the home mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying ACORN “appears to have played a key role in the irresponsible schemes that led to the current financial meltdown.”
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has asked if ACORN, which he accused of perpetuating voter registration fraud, was “destroying the fabric of democracy.” ACORN and other advocacy groups have suggested that Republicans are exaggerating the issue to keep the underprivileged, who tend to vote Democratic, from casting ballots.
Oh, the irony. Accuse ACORN of voter fraud when you, yourself, have hired a shady operative to commit voter fraud on behalf of the GOP.
As the McCain camp attempts to tie Barack Obama to claims of registration irregularities by the activist group ACORN, campaign finance records detailing the payment to the firm of Nathan Sproul, investigated several times for fraud, threatens to derail that argument.
The documents show that a joint committee of the McCain-Palin campaign, the Republican National Committee and the California Republican Party, made the payment to Lincoln Strategy, of which Mr. Sproul is the managing partner, for the purposes of “voter registration.”
Mr. Sproul has been investigated on numerous occasions for preventing Democrats from voting, destroying registration forms and leading efforts to get Ralph Nader on ballots to leach the Democratic vote.
In October last year, the House Judiciary Committee wrote to the Attorney General requesting answers regarding a number of allegations against Mr. Sproul’s firm, then known as Sproul and Associates. It referred to evidence that ahead of the 2004 national elections, the firm trained staff only to register Republican voters and destroyed any other registration cards, citing affidavits from former staff members and investigations by television news programmes.
One former worker testified that “fooling people was key to the job” and that “canvassers were told to act as if they were non-partisan, to hide that they were working for the RNC, especially if approached by the media,” according to the committee’s letter. It also cited reports from public libraries across the country that the firm had asked to set up voter registration tables claiming it was working on behalf of the non-partisan group America Votes, though in fact no such link existed.
The career of Mr. Sproul, a former leader of the Arizona Republican Party, is littered with accusations of foul play. In Minnesota in 2004, his firm was accused of sacking workers who submitted Democratic registration forms, while other canvassers were allegedly paid bonuses for registering Bush voters. There were similar charges in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oregon and Nevada.
That year, Mr. Sproul’s firm was paid $8,359,161 by the Republican Party, according to a 2005 article in the Baltimore Chronicle, which claimed that this was far more than what had been reported to the Federal Elections Commission.
Mr. McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have been linking allegations of registration fraud by ACORN, the community group, to theObama campaign.
ACORN has been accused of registering non-existent voters during its nationwide drive, with reports of cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse being signed up.
The organization insisted that these are isolated incidents carried out by a handful of workers who have since been dismissed.
However, the Republican nominee insists that the group is involved in fraudulent activities, noting that Mr. Obama, before leaving the legal profession to enter politics, was once part of a team which defended the organization. At last week’s debate, he said that ACORN was “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history”, a claim which the Obama campaign says represents political smear.
The revelation of Mr. Sproul’s involvement with the McCain campaign – he has also donated $30,000 to the ticket and received at least another $37,000 directly from the RNC – could undermine his case.
“It should certainly take away from McCain’s argument,” Bob Grossfeld, an Arizona political consultant who has watched Mr. Sproul’s career closely, told the Huffington Post. “Without knowing anything of what is going on with ACORN, there is a clear history with Mr. Sproul either going over the line or sure as hell kicking dirt on it, and doing it for profit and usually fairly substantive profit.”
In May this year, both ACORN and Mr. Sproul were discussed at a hearing of the House subcommittee on commercial and administrative law. One Republican member, Congressman Chris Cannon, concluded: “The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”