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- 08/20/12--08:58: _Slideshow: Felons f...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Video: Voting right...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: A...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _FACT CHECK: Attack ...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Former governor win...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Student ID cards fa...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Voting turns into f...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: R...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Dissent among Repub...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Arizona and feds cl...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: V...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Kentucky death case...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Voting rights battl...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Daily Disclosure: C...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _GAO report supports...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Our new name has a ...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Florida once again ...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Disabled and elderl...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _OPINION: GOP Medica...
- 08/20/12--08:58: _Mystery group goes ...
- 08/20/12--08:58: Slideshow: Felons face uphill fight to regain voting rights
- 08/20/12--08:58: Video: Voting rights denied
- 08/20/12--08:58: Daily Disclosure: AFL-CIO targets Romney, Ryan and Nevada’s Heller
- The Republican National Committee reported spending $3.7 million on anti-President Barack Obama ads on Saturday.
- Restore Our Future’s ad “Another Month,” which debuted yesterday, hammers Obama on the economy and for making “shameful” and “dishonest” attacks on Romney, who is backed by the super PAC. It is part of a $10.5 million ad buy in 11 states beginning today and running for seven days. Factcheck.org said the ad “twists [Obama’s] words way out of context.”
- A new super PAC called Defend Paul Ryan, was launched to respond to “Radical Left” attacks against vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the conservative blog Breitbart.com reported. The super PAC is led by former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
- Liberal super PAC Friends of Democracy reported spending $116,000 on web ads opposing Republican Reps. Raymond “Chip” Cravaack of Minnesota, Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Charles Bass of New Hampshire and Dan Lungren of California. This adds to their $585,000 ad campaign reported Monday in the Daily Disclosure. The super PAC is financially backed by Jonathan Soros, son of liberal financier George Soros.
- “Really Out of Touch” from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund attacks Romney and Ryan on their positions on women’s health and Planned Parenthood.
- Four new super PACs based in New York City registered with J. Bailey Morgan as treasurer: Restore American Labor Force, Americans for Prison Reform, Peaceful Americans Against War, Violence and Gun Proliferation and Americans for Affordable Housing and Assisting the Shelterless. Morgan runs Global Advertising Services, a corporate promotional advertising company, and he is the treasurer of at least two other super PACs, as well. He did not immediately respond to request for comment.
- 08/20/12--08:58: FACT CHECK: Attack ad backs off its harshest claim
- 08/20/12--08:58: Former governor wins GOP Senate nod in Wisconsin
- 08/20/12--08:58: Student ID cards far from sure ticket to the voting booth
- 08/20/12--08:58: Voting turns into frustrating ordeal for college student
- 08/20/12--08:58: Daily Disclosure: Republicans say Americans bummed out by Obama
- The Republican National Committee also released “Not Working” an ad that focuses on a quote from Obama: “We tried our plan and it worked.” This line has been the focus of several independent advertisements, including one from pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. But as FactCheck.org found, the quote “twists Obama’s words way out of context.” Obama was not referring to his economic recovery plan, as the ads imply, but rather he was contrasting the Democrats’ approach to taxes (á la former President Bill Clinton) and the Republicans’ (á la former President George W. Bush).
- The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is wasting no time going after staunch conservative Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who won the GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat Aug. 7. The DSCC spent $512,000 on ad production and airtime for a yet-to-be released spot. Akin faces vulnerable Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in November in the Missouri contest.
- Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century released a new ad online called “Romney's Cayman Daydreaming,” which shows a 60 Minutes interview with Romney and Ryan. While Ryan discusses eliminating offshore tax shelters, the ad has an animated dream bubble above Romney’s head showing shots of the Cayman Islands while calypso music plays over the interview.
- The 60 Plus Association, the conservatives’ answer to AARP, began a series of ads, starring Pat Boone, in Ohio, Florida and Montana. There are three versions of the ad, each targeting a different Democratic senator: Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bill Nelson in Florida and Jon Tester in Montana.
- The Service Employees International Union released an anti-Romney, Spanish-language ad called “Mitt Romney: Past, Present and Future.”
- Twenty-five super PACs associated with humane treatment for horses, were established by treasurer Julie Caramante, FEC records show. Each super PAC represents a different state. The super PACs join seven other horse association super PACs registered by Caramante last week. Caramante is an animal cruelty investigator, and Politico reported that the super PACs will oppose horse slaughter.
- 08/20/12--08:58: Dissent among Republicans over defense spending
- 08/20/12--08:58: Arizona and feds clash over voter registration
- 08/20/12--08:58: Daily Disclosure: Virginia politics is for haters, not lovers
- In addition to the Virginia anti-Kaine ads “Cost” and “Pledged,” Crossroads GPS introduced ads in five other states at a total cost of $4.7 million, according to The Hill.
- Also in Nevada, Patriot Majority USA, a Democratic nonprofit, spent $239,000 on “Know,” an ad opposing Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, who is challenging Berkley.
- Many of Crossroads GPS’s ads urge voters to “support the New Majority Agenda,” the group’s conservative platform of “pro-growth tax policy, a renewed commitment to the power of free enterprise, and restrained spending.” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s “The Truth about Karl Rove’s ‘New Majority Agenda’” criticizes the “dangerous” platform as well as Crossroads GPS’s lack of transparency — as a nonprofit, it isn’t required to disclose its donors.
- “Too Extreme for the Senate,” from the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacks Baldwin for what the party calls her liberal positions on health care reform and other issues.
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wasted no time in putting up a stitched-together mini-video of public statements aimed at painting him as an extremist, called “Meet Tea Party Republican Andrew Roraback.” Roraback won Tuesday’s primary to become the GOP nominee for U.S. House in Connecticut’s 5th district.
- “Achievement,” an ad from the Republican National Committee, paints the president as a threat to Medicare, a program that is dear to the hearts of Democrats everywhere. The ad quotes the campaign, out of context, referring to the “$700 billion cuts in Medicare the president has achieved” as part of his health care plan.
- The Conservative Majority Fund spent more than $416,000 on anti-Obama phone calls to voters on Tuesday.
- “Anger and Division” from the Republican National Committee highlights some of most controversial comments from the Democrat presidential camp — Vice President Joe Biden’s comment about putting “y’all back in chains,” super PAC Priorities USA Action’s ad that implies Romney and Bain Capital were responsible for a woman’s death from cancer and others.
- New super PACs: Americans for Gary Johnson in Aventura, Fla., and nine more horse protection super PACs, bringing the total to 41, all headed by animal rights activist Julie Caramante.
- 08/20/12--08:58: Voting rights battles re-emerge in the South
- 08/20/12--08:58: Daily Disclosure: Crossroads GPS hits North Dakota's Heitkamp
- Pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future spent $10.1 million on ads opposing President Barack Obama. This is the super PAC’s largest single buy ever. It goes towards airing “Another Month,” which will air in 11 battleground states, according to Mother Jones.
- Pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action spent $1.1 million on TV ads opposing Romney.
- Conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity spent $7.5 million on anti-Obama ads “Still Believe” and “Fighting For.” On Thursday, the group also released “Stop Wasteful Spending,” an ad opposing Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is running for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin against newly minted GOP nominee Tommy Thompson.
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released an ad attacking the record of Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., on Medicare. The fishing-themed ad is the first Democratic ad to attack House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan since he was tapped as Romney’s running mate, according to Politico.
- Democratic nonprofit Patriot Majority USA’s ad “Know” criticizes Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for his votes on Medicare and taxes.
- Republican super PAC Friends of the Majority spent $209,000 opposing Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who faces fellow GOP Rep. Ben Quayle in an August 28 primary. According to documents filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, one of the super PAC’s top donors is Corinne Quayle, Ben’s sister, who gave $50,000 to the super PAC in later July. Slightly more than half of the $475,500 that the super PAC has raised has come from out-of-state donors, a Center for Public Integrity analysis found. Among the non-Arizonans to contribute? Wyoming investor and GOP super donor Foster Friess, who gave $25,000 to the group in June.
- New super PACs: Animal rights activist Julie Caramante registered four more anti-horse slaughter super PACs, bringing the total to 45 state horse super PACs; Political Action Cartoons in Washington, D.C., also registered as a super PAC.
- 08/20/12--08:58: GAO report supports science behind black lung rule
- 08/20/12--08:58: Our new name has a familiar ring to it
- Just last year we helped spur the U.S. Department of Education to change rules on how colleges address sexual assault.
- Our reporting on the failed undercover gun program “Fast and Furious” led to the reassignment of the acting director of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives department and the resignation of the Arizona U.S. attorney.
- Our Looting the Seas series on global overfishing has helped tighten controls for the Atlantic blue fin tuna trade, started government investigations in Europe and called attention to rampant over fishing of the lowly jack mackerel in the Southern Pacific.
- And just a few weeks ago, federal regulators assembled a team of lawyers and experts to figure out how to bolster coal mine dust enforcement given the systemic weakness revealed by our investigation into the resurgence of black lung.
- 08/20/12--08:58: Florida once again at center of debate over voting rules
- 08/20/12--08:58: Disabled and elderly voters face new hurdles at polls
- 08/20/12--08:58: OPINION: GOP Medicare plan means older Americans will pay more
- 08/20/12--08:58: Mystery group goes after Dems in Senate races
- The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) gave the group $300,000 in 2010 according to a Center for Public Integrity report.
- Bruce Rastetter, founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, provided seed money in 2008, according to The New York Times. Rastetter has given at least $253,000 to Republican political candidates and committees since 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rastetter and his company, like the American Future Fund, are based in Iowa.
- The Center to Protect Patients’ Rights gave $11.7 million in 2011, according to Center for Responsive Politics. This group is also a nonprofit, so it is unknown where its money comes from. An investigation by CRP concluded that the group is cloaked in “layers of anonymity.” Its director Sean Noble was described as a “Koch operative” by Politico, referring to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
- “Small-Minded” from Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting President Barack Obama, goes after GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on his taxes. Romney proclaimed he has never paid less than 13 percent, but the ad claims that under the plan of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, millionaires would pay only 1 percent. The ad features Romney and Ryan inside a hand-drawn heart.
- Women Vote!, the super PAC affiliated with EMILY’s List, an abortion rights organization, criticizes former Wisconsin Gov. Thompson for being a “Washington insider” in the ad “Riding High.”
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hits North Carolina state Sen. David Rouzer, a Republican, with a new attack ad. Rouzer is running for Congress in a competitive race against Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre.
- The Republican National Committee spent $3.3 million on advertisements opposing Obama.
- Friends of the Majority, a conservative super PAC, spent $230,000 opposing Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., who is running for election in the state’s 6th district. Schweikert, who has the support of the tea party, faces Ben Quayle in Arizona’s GOP primary on August 28. More than half of the super PAC’s contributions have come from out of state, including from GOP super donor Foster Friess.
- The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $635,000 on media buys opposing Democratic Reps. John Barrow of Georgia, Mark Critz of Pennsylvania, Ben Chandler of Kentucky and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.
- Conservative Majority Fund spent $119,000 on voter telephone calls nationwide in opposition to Obama.
Hear these individuals tell their story at votingrights.news21.com.
Workers’ Voice, the super PAC of the AFL-CIO, is going on the offensive this week with a series of direct mail and online advertisements attacking presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
The new ads, which focus on Medicare, coal and worker safety, mark the union-backed super PAC’s entry into the presidential race.
The mailer, published online by Politico, targets coal miners in Ohio. It highlights the growing risk of black lung disease and Republican efforts to block regulations that would increase worker protections.
The ad will be distributed to 100,000 mailboxes and is intended to counter Romney’s campaign appearance at a coal facility in Ohio later in the week.
In addition to Romney and Ryan, the online ad, to be displayed on the website of the Las Vegas Sun, strikes at Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who was appointed to replace John Ensign and is in a contested race to keep his job. It claims the “Romney-Ryan-Heller plan” will “double seniors’ costs, raise the retirement age and throw seniors into an Rx donut hole.”
CNN reported the online ads cost around $50,000. Romney has yet to endorse Ryan’s sweeping plan to overhaul Medicare.
No response from the Republicans yet.
Workers’ Voice receives its primary financial support, not surprisingly, from unions, both directly from union treasuries as well as from union political action committees.
Top donors (counting both direct treasury and PAC contributions) include the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, UNITE HERE (representing women in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries), and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Before these ads published, Workers’ Voice only reported independent campaign spending had been $2,400 in support of Rep. Mark Crtiz, R-Penn., in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary which, thanks to redistricting, pitted him against another incumbent for the House seat.
However, Workers’ Voice has spent much more than a few thousand dollars on advertising, just not on ads urging a yes or no vote for a candidate. The Sunlight Foundation reports Workers’ Voice has already spent around $7 million.
The expenditures include a $500,000 online ad buy to energize progressive activists against Romney, the Huffington Post reported in May, and a $50,000 Olympics-themed mailer sent to 250,000 mailboxes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin at the start of the Olympics, Politco reported.
Workers’ Voice had $1.9 million on hand at the end of June, according to its monthly FEC report.
In other outside spending news:
New super PACs: Secretive Politics in Sugarland, Texas, American Crosswords in Washington, D.C., The Foundation for Innovation, Research and Education in Jacksonville, Fla., Progressive Independent Committee in Franklin, Tenn.
After yanking an ad with a false claim off the air in North Dakota, Crossroads GPS is back with an amended version that is technically accurate, but still grossly misleading.
Despite a torrent of negative attacks, former four-term Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson won the state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary for the open seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl Tuesday.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Thompson captured 34 percent of the vote while wealthy hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who himself was hurt by a misleading ad in the final week of the contest, received 31 percent of the vote. Former Rep. Mark Neumann wsa third with 23 percent. Both candidates enjoyed pockets of support among tea party activists. State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald was fourth with 12.4 percent.
Roughly $3.4 million was spent by super PACs, nonprofits and other independent groups advocating for the election or defeat of Senate candidates. About three-fourths went to harsh attacks, mainly focused on Thompson and Hovde, whose poll numbers surged toward the end of the race.
An anti-Hovde, $650,000 attack ad paid for by the nonprofit group Americans for Job Security may have helped Thompson. Hovde called the ad "patently false" and threatened legal action. The group altered the ad, called "Says and Does," after the protest. The group's nonprofit status means it is not required to reveal its donors.
Thompson’s victory came despite being outraised by his opponents.
Over the course of the campaign, Thompson raised about $3.1 million, including $500,000 of his own money during the final two weeks of the race. Meanwhile, Neumann raised about $3.8 million and Hovde raised more than $5.5 million, nearly all of it from his own pocket.
Thompson, who served as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, was backed by GOP leaders including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. But Neumann and Hovde challenged his conservative credentials.
Neumann was the favorite of the anti-tax Club for Growth and influential Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), while Hovde, a political neophyte, won the backing of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks group.
The super PAC Club for Growth Action alone outspent all other non-campaign groups in the hotly contested race, pouring $1.6 million into ads supporting Neumann and attacking his opponents. Just over $900,000 of those independent expenditures were made in the two weeks leading up to the election.
“The amount of outside money is striking, especially the Club for Growth’s support for Neumann,” said Charles Franklin, a visiting professor of law and public policy at the Marquette University Law School who oversees the school’s polling.
Thompson’s win bucks a national trend in which candidates favored by the party establishment have been defeated by more conservative challengers. Republican in-fighting earlier this year contributed to the loss of establishment contenders in U.S. Senate races in Indiana, Texas, Nebraska and Missouri.
In the November general election, Thompson will face Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has already been subjected to negative ads.
In late July, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — a pro-business trade group and one of the most active political spenders — unleashed ads critical of Baldwin, totaling nearly $850,000.
Overall, outside groups have spent a combined $4.5 million on the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race — a figure that will continue to climb during the next three months as it remains a top target for both parties.
To date, independent groups have spent more than $300,000 on ads supportive of Baldwin. On Tuesday, a pro-lesbian super PAC called “LPAC” also pledged to spend at least $100,000 on “strong TV ads” during the general election.
Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and a lower-court ruling, nonprofits, such as the Chamber and Americans for Job Security, as well as super PACs, may accept unlimited funds from corporations, unions and individual donors and spend that money on advertising attacking or supporting candidates as long as they aren't coordinated with the candidate.
Tuesday’s GOP primary was largely overshadowed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s weekend announcement that Rep. Paul Ryan — another Wisconsinite — would be his running mate.
“The Ryan announcement took the Senate race completely off the front pages and the television news,” said Franklin, of Marquette University. “I’m sure all three campaigns wish Romney had waited for Wednesday.”
John Dunbar contributed to this report.
Update (Aug. 15, 9:31 a.m.): This story was updated to include final vote percentages.
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Morehouse College students can use their ID cards to buy food and school supplies, use computer labs and get books from the library, but they can’t use ID from the historic Atlanta school to vote. A few miles away, Georgia State University students use their ID in the same way, but their cards allow them to vote.
Across the country, college students are facing new questions about their voting rights. In some states, communities are debating whether students can vote as state residents or vote absentee from their hometowns. In others, legislators have debated whether student IDs can be used at the polls.
In Georgia, the debate started with the state’s voter ID law, which accepts student IDs from state colleges but not private institutions such as Morehouse.
College students, who led a record turnout among 18- to 24-year-old voters in 2008, could play a major role in this November’s elections, but their impact could be blunted by states’ voter ID requirements.
In Georgia, for example, legislators have rejected student IDs from private schools, saying the lack of uniformity among school IDs would be a burden for poll workers. There are 198 accredited postsecondary schools in Georgia, including beauty academies and music institutes, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
Even many ID cards from public colleges are rejected under some state laws, because the cards do not include addresses, issuance and expiration dates.
In Wisconsin, some colleges paid for new, state-acceptable student IDs while others charged students for new IDs.
Groups that advocate on behalf of young voters say restrictions against school IDs could drive down student turnout.
“They’re another one of these suppression laws that affects disabled, older and younger voters on equal levels, but the older population is in the habit of voting,” said Sarah Stern, a spokeswoman for national advocacy group the League of Young Voters.
Georgia state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a Democrat, has introduced three bills since 2008 to accept IDs from all accredited schools, rather than just public schools. All three bills failed.
Morgan got the idea in 2008 from one of her office interns. Aubrey Patterson, who also worked as a poll worker in Chatham County, told Morgan that in the 2008 elections, he saw private college and university students told that they could not use their school IDs at the polls.
“There was a lot of frustration from students attending private schools,” said Patterson, a Morehouse alumnus who is now a graduate student at Georgia State.
Accepting student IDs makes voting more convenient, Patterson said, because many students don’t have driver’s licenses and don’t have a reason to carry another form of ID.
“Some students don’t carry around too much money and stuff like that,” Patterson said. “The card is almost like an ATM.”
Jared Thomas, spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, said Kemp supported Morgan’s bill and worked with her on it.
Thomas said he didn’t believe Morgan’s bill would be difficult for the secretary of state’s office to implement, and that they would support similar bills in the future. Thomas said he thought the law was clear about its ID requirements, even without adding private school IDs.
“It’s very clear right now that if you’re at UGA (the University of Georgia), it’s a state-issued ID, and if you’re at Emory (University) or Mercer (University), it’s private and would not count by any stretch as state-issued ID,” Thomas said.
On a national scale, voter ID laws could have a significant impact on student voters in the November elections. Stern said college students were one of the demographics targeted by voter ID laws because students are likely to vote for Democrats.
“It definitely will affect turnout,” Stern said. “And people know that. It’s a concerted, partisan strategy.”
President Barack Obama won two-thirds of the vote among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2008, according to exit polls. That was the only age group to significantly increase turnout over 2004.
Mahen Gunaratna, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the campaign was making young voters a priority again this year and that voter ID laws worked against turnout.
Arizona state Rep. Martin Quezada, an Obama campaign surrogate, said young voters were just as important now as they were four years ago.
“The youth vote is critical after the 2008 election,” he said. “It’s a different group of 18- to 24-year-olds now, but they have the same reasons to be excited.”
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s campaign did not respond to requests for an interview. Regardless of whether student IDs are accepted, voter ID laws might put young voters at a disadvantage.
A 2005 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute study found that white, black and Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds in the state were less likely to have a driver’s license than the general voting population. The study found that 78 percent of black men in Wisconsin in that age group did not have a valid driver’s license.
Despite the obstacles they present, voter ID laws haven’t received much opposition from students. A poll by the nonprofit Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which advocates on behalf of environmental and social issues, found that most Minnesota college students support that state’s proposed voter ID amendment, even though the majority of them do not have the necessary identification.
Some states, such as Georgia and Indiana, accept student IDs from public schools because they are issued by the government. Others, such as Kansas, accept student IDs from all accredited schools. And some, like Wisconsin, might exclude many public and private universities by requiring dates when the cards were issued and when they expire. The University of Wisconsin system, with more than 181,000 students enrolled, did not include that information on student IDs when the bill passed.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been blocked twice in court, but the state would have some of the strictest ID requirements in the country if injunctions are lifted.
After the law was passed, the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire provided new, optional student IDs including the necessary information. To offset the cost of the new IDs, the university will charge $2 for each, a cost that Democratic state Rep. Gary Hebl calls unconstitutional.
“It’s a poll tax, obviously,” Hebl said. “The purpose of the card is to vote with it.”
And Hebl said the low cost of the IDs didn’t make a difference.
“To charge people to vote is unconstitutional,” he said. “If it costs a nickel, it’s unconstitutional; $2 could be the difference between buying a loaf of bread or voting.”
Paydon Miller, president of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire Student Democrats, said that although the cost for the new student IDs is low, it is wrong to make students “jump through hoops.”
“We are placing a burden on the student body that doesn’t exist for other people,” Miller said.
In Texas, student IDs might be rejected at the polls while gun permits are accepted, depending on a lawsuit over the state’s voter ID law. Texas’ law passed the legislature but has been blocked by the Department of Justice. If the state wins against the Justice Department, no student IDs from public or private schools would be accepted at the polls.
Natalie Butler, a 2012 graduate and former student government president of the University of Texas–Austin, said the law would have a negative effect on students. She is particularly worried about local elections in Austin, where student turnout rates already are low.
“If we’re going to make it even harder for students to impact city politics, that’s a huge problem,” she said.
In addition to restrictions on using school IDs, students face challenges based on residency. Out-of-state students must choose which state they want to vote in — their home state, where they may have to file an absentee ballot, or at school, where they face scrutiny from local residents.
In New Hampshire, Republican state Rep. Gregory Sorg tried last year to bar college students from voting in the state unless they lived there before enrolling. And state House Speaker William O’Brien, a Republican, received national attention when he mentioned voting restrictions that would affect students, such as same-day voter registration, and then attacked how he presumed students would vote.
“Voting as a liberal, that’s what kids do,” he was recorded saying at a New Hampshire Tea Party event. “They lack the life experience and they just vote their feelings.”
Sorg’s bill, which did not pass, included provisions that would have let students prove their state residence if they really planned to stay there, but Sorg said most college students live on an isolated campus and have no community ties.
“It distorts the way a community is run,” Sorg said. “Transients could descend on a community and take it over.”
In Maine, state Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster accused 206 out-of-state college students of committing voter fraud. That prompted Secretary of State Charlie Summers to investigate.
Summers, also a Republican, found no cases of voter fraud or double voting, but he mailed letters to all the students, asking them to either cancel their registration in Maine or apply for a state driver’s licenses.
Despite these challenges to out-of-state students, Stern said the League of Young Voters encourages college students to vote in the state where they go to school because the process of receiving an absentee ballot is so complicated.
“The likelihood of students registering at their parent’s house and then correctly filling out the application for an absentee ballot is low,” Stern said.
Lizzie Chen, Alia Conley, Emily Nohr and Alex Remington of News21 contributed to this article.
Jack Fitzpatrick was a Hearst Foundations Fellow this summer for News21.
ELON, N.C. — With just a couple of weeks to go until the North Carolina primary, I was fired up and eager to vote. Amendment One was on the ballot. If passed, it would amend the state constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. The issue polarized the state, and many students, myself included, were motivated to register to vote in our college communities rather than requesting absentee ballots from our home states.
After weeks of watching local organizations duke it out with lawn signs, billboards and YouTube videos, it was time. Just to be sure everything was set, I logged on to the state board of elections website and plugged in my name.
The system couldn’t find me.
There must have been a mistake. I clearly remembered registering to vote, and wondered if my name had been misspelled in the system. It wouldn’t be the first time. But searches for the usual misspellings didn’t find anything, either. I worried.
The error was mine. I had listed my apartment address, but neglected to include my mailing address on the registration form. Because my off-campus residence did not receive mail, two attempts to send me a voter registration card had failed.
Anyone can register and vote on the same day during the one-stop voting period. Photo ID isn’t necessary, but proof of address, a lease or phone bill, is required. Because I was subletting and didn’t have my name on a lease, I had zero acceptable documents to prove my Alamance County residency. I was devastated that I might not vote.
On two occasions, I spent nearly half an hour on the phone with the county board of elections. Ultimately, I was referred to a state elections specialist and spent another half-hour on the phone. For the third time, I was read a long list of acceptable documents, none of which resolved my problem.
The state official told me I could cast a provisional ballot, which, by law, should be offered to all who aren’t registered to vote but think they are eligible. This was the first time I was offered a provisional ballot.
Finally, I had a breakthrough. I realized I might be able to update the address on my car registration, vote provisionally, and take the new registration to the county the following week. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with the Division of Motor Vehicles to change my address, and was late for class.
That Saturday, I spent about two hours at the early voting site at the Graham, N.C., Public Library. I told the poll worker I needed a provisional ballot and was sent to the voter registration line. I completed another voter registration form and more than half an hour later I explained my situation, again, to another poll worker. I was sent to someone else and finally was able to cast a provisional ballot.
The process was draining and frustrating. The poll workers clearly were confused; one was obviously annoyed, even hostile. Several friends were with me, and we all talked about leaving.
My boyfriend was registered to vote in another North Carolina county, and showed his on-campus address by using his iPhone, but was told he needed a document. Several other friends from his building had similar problems, and they all had to step out of the long line. One woman applied for a library card, and then each student paid to use the printer.
Three students from my apartment building — permanent residents from other North Carolina counties — went to vote and were told to return with proof of residency. They were never offered provisional ballots. Only one returned with proof in time to vote. Another was not told she needed to return during early voting, and had planned to go back on Election Day. By the time she realized this, it was too late for her to travel three hours to her hometown, where she was registered.
When my car registration finally came, only my mailing address was on the document, and I spent another half hour on the phone with the DMV.
The DMV told me that the only document with my residential address would be a history of my car’s registered addresses. To get that, I would have had to drive more than 60 miles each way to downtown Raleigh, apply and pay $1, and then show it to the Alamance County Board of Elections. I didn’t have a full day to drive around the state.
My vote was not counted.
After an onslaught of overtly negative attack ads, conservative independent spending groups have taken a new tone in their criticism of President Barack Obama — disappointment.
The Republican National Committee and the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity released ads Tuesday that highlight voters who did not get the “hope and change” from Obama they wanted.
The 60-second spot from Americans for Prosperity features a handful of voters — all 2008 Obama supporters — explaining why the president has not earned their vote in 2012.
“I think he’s a great person,” a woman named Maria says. “I don’t feel like he is the right leader for our country, though.”
“I still believe in hope and change. I just don’t think Obama’s the way to go for that,” Robin says.
AFP President Tim Phillips told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that the spot — the second in the group’s $25 million express advocacy campaign — cost about $7 million. Starting today, the ad will air in 11 swing states for one week.
The RNC’s new ad, “Hope and Change,” opens with a clip of Obama standing before a massive crowd shouting his name at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
“What if it had been your name they were chanting?” the narrator asks. “What if America had given you the power? Their hope?”
“Would you have spent trillions overhauling health care while millions were without work?”
While the narrator presents various what-if situations, apparently disappointed Americans stare into the camera.
“You do have the power — the power to make a change,” the narrator concludes.
The theme of disappointment among past Obama voters has been emphasized in recent weeks by other GOP-leaning groups. The Republican Jewish Coalition launched the “My Buyer’s Remorse” campaign at the end of July, which also highlights disillusioned Obama voters.
In that vein, Republicans have been trying to reposition GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as America’s new source of hope and change.
In other outside spending news:
Grover Norquist, an influential Republican lobbyist in Washington, is advising his party's lawmakers to cut the defense budget deeply to avoid a major federal tax hike.
His remarks on Monday were another sign of splintering views in Republican ranks about spending on national defense that presently consumes about half of the discretionary federal budget — with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney going in one direction and some Republican lawmakers and lobbyists headed in a different direction.
Norquist, a long-time anti-tax crusader in Washington, said in a talk at the Center for The National Interest that Republicans should not be pushing for increased spending on defense when the national deficit has ballooned. Instead, he said, lawmakers should embrace the need to balance the budget and cut wasteful projects, which he said could be done without negatively impacting national security.
“You need to decide what your real defense needs are,” said Norquist. “That doesn’t mean chairmen of certain committees get to build bases in their states. That’s not a defense need ... [but] a political desire.” The debate so far, he said, has been marked by a lack of “serious conversation” on the Hill. However, he predicted that many of the Republicans unwilling to cut defense spending would either retire or be replaced in the November elections.
Norquist, expressing views typical among more isolationist Republicans, decried foreign interventions such as Iraq and Afghanistan. “Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States,” he said. “He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences.”
Mitt Romney, in contrast, has called for spending a minimum of four percent of the GDP on national defense — even more than preferred by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But Ryan's opposition to the Obama administration's plan to keep defense spending mostly level has led him into conflict with some of the nation’s top military leaders. Early this year, Ryan asserted that Pentagon officials were lying to Congress to fall in line with President Obama’s desire to forgo a planned military spending hike.
“We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice. We don’t think the generals believe that their budget is really the right budget,” Ryan said in March. His statement drew a quick rebuke from Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, and Ryan later apologized.
A joint poll conducted by The Center for Public Integrity and the Stimpson Center earlier this year found widespread public support for defense cuts. Around three-quarters of those surveyed called for cuts to the air, ground and naval forces, and over eighty percent supported a statement that current defense spending includes much waste.
The Obama administration, however, has had difficulty selling some of its proposed military budget changes to Congress — including a proposed cut in spending on the M1 Abrams Tank. Many lawmakers predict that the military budget debate will not be even partially resolved until after November’s election.
Arizona, already at odds with the federal government and civil-rights groups over immigration, is adding voter ID and the Voting Rights Act to the disputes.
Arizona’s voter ID law, a portion of Proposition 200, was partially struck down in April by a federal appeals court that said the state can’t require proof of citizenship for people who use a federal form to register to vote. But the court said Arizona can continue to require proof of citizenship for those who register using a state form and the state can still require voters to show ID at the polls.
Federal voter registration forms, which must be accepted in all 50 states, were created as part of a 1993 federal law meant to make voter registration easier.
The federal motor voter law — so named because it allows registration upon renewing or applying for a driver’s license — does not require applicants to prove citizenship. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states can require proof of citizenship for their own registration forms, but not for federal forms.
Arizona is appealing the court ruling against its restrictive voter ID law, and the state plans to sue over the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires federal permission for any changes to state and local elections.
Arizona has asked the Supreme Court to allow the state to require citizenship proof on federal registration forms.
Even though voters can choose between the state and federal forms — and avoid the proof-of-citizenship requirement by doing so — Arizona elections officials still can tell voters they must prove their citizenship, as long as they don’t mention the federal forms.
The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office website still directs voters to prove citizenship, but does not notify voters they can register federal by using forms.
Tammy Patrick, a federal compliance officer at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, said if a voter tries to register without proof of citizenship, an election officer is not obligated to inform them of the federal form option. However, if a voter asks specifically for that form, the officer is required to provide it.
“Any single voter that comes in that says, ‘I want to register to vote but I want to use a federal form,’ … will get a federal form, no questions asked,” Patrick said.
The website advises, “If this is your first time registering to vote in Arizona or you have moved to another county in Arizona, your voter registration form must also include proof of citizenship or the form will be rejected.”
Communications Director Matthew Roberts said he did not believe the secretary of state’s website misleads voters by saying they must prove citizenship, because the website only addressed state registration forms, which still require proof.
Roberts also said he did not believe it was misleading for the website to only mention state registration forms. He said the court ruling was made recently and that the website’s instructions were written when the law was passed in 2004. He said he did not know if the office would change the website.
“I don’t see how people would be confused as to how to register,” Roberts said. “It’s relatively simple. I think there’s more awareness of the state form simply because … various groups all use the state form.”
Since 2010, 37 states have passed or considered laws that require photo ID at the polls. All were passed by Republican legislatures except Democratic Rhode Island. Arizona has a voter ID law in effect.
Supporters of ID laws say they prevent voter fraud, but civil-rights organizations say they disproportionately affect minority, poor, young and elderly voters who are likely to support Democrats.
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, said the state’s voter ID law is the latest legislative effort to suppress minority turnout.
“It is an additional barrier to keep eligible voters away from the polls,” Soler said. “It is a solution in search of a problem.”
Soler said minorities, including Latinos and Native Americans, often do not have a driver’s license, which can be used as ID for voting, and cannot afford to get one.
Former state Senate President Russell Pearce, who wrote the law, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
Arizona also is in the national debate over voting rights. Democrats say the increasing Latino population could put the state within reach for President Barack Obama in November, and that Arizona’s voter ID and immigration laws motivate Latinos to vote.
“We have all the ingredients to make Arizona in play for Obama,” said Luis Heredia, executive director of the state Democratic Party. “We have a sizeable amount of independent voters and an even more engaged Latino population.”
The state is suing the Department of Justice over Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal government permission to make any changes to state and local elections in certain states, including Arizona.
This preclearance gives the Justice Department the authority to block even minor changes, such as relocating a polling place.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said preclearance is an unnecessary burden on election officials.
“The federal government has no business trying to micromanage what we do,” he said.
Horne opposes the preclearance requirement on the grounds that it should not have been applied to Arizona in the first place, and that there is no discrimination that warrants the requirement today.
“It’s totally unjustified,” Horne said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to prevent anyone else from voting in 2012. They probably did in 1950 in the South, but in Arizona in 2012 no one is trying to prevent anyone else from voting.”
Horne filed the lawsuit earlier this year, dropped it in April because of scheduling conflicts, but he said he plans to refile.
James Garcia, chairman of the Phoenix-based nonprofit advocacy organization Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, cites the state’s voter ID law as proof that the state should not be let out from under the preclearance requirement.
“We are still at a place where the state of Arizona’s institutions need to show and provide evidence that they are willing to treat people fairly and respect their voting rights,” Garcia said.
Clint Bolick, vice president of litigation for the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative advocacy group, disagrees. Bolick, who is working with Horne on the lawsuit, said federal oversight of the state’s elections was an excessive use of authority.
“(It is) outrageous that states remain supplicant to the federal government in terms of basic governmental decisions,” Bolick said.
The Supreme Court struck down most of the state’s controversial immigration law in June, the Justice Department is suing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over allegations of racial profiling, and a recent state law forced a Tucson school district to end its Mexican-American studies program in January.
Nine states and 66 counties in seven other states are required to seek federal permission on election changes and to prevent discrimination.
Other states that have argued against the preclearance requirement in the last three years include Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said publicly that the provision “continues to be a critical tool in the protection of voting rights.”
Justice Department Press Assistant Mitchell Rivard said no department officials would comment on the lawsuit.
Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad were Hearst Foundations Fellows this summer for News21.
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The closely watched Virginia Senate race attracted an advertising deluge by some of the 2012 election’s biggest outside spending groups Wednesday — five ads in 24 hours.
The election pits former U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican, against former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine to decide who will replace U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat, who is not running for re-election.
The race, which has already seen $4.7 million in outside spending, drew five new ads paid for by super-heavyweights the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads GPS, Majority PAC and the League of Conservation Voters.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit business trade association, spent $276,000 on an anti-Kaine ad Wednesday that suggests he favors “union bosses” over Virginia jobs. (The Chamber released a similar ad the same day attacking Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on the same front).
Among seven new ads released by Crossroads GPS Wednesday, the conservative nonprofit focused two on criticizing Kaine. “Cost” hits Kaine for “not putting Virginia first” by voting to cut back spending on defense, an industry that employs many Virginians. “Pledged” criticizes Kaine for “higher taxes, reckless spending (and) skyrocketing tuition.”
On the Democratic side, the Democratic super PAC Majority PAC and the nonprofit League of Conservation Voters attacked Kaine’s opponent.
“Worked for them,” which was jointly produced by the two, criticizes Allen’s relationship with oil and gas companies. “Wrong,” paid for by Majority PAC, criticizes Allen for supporting tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.
The Chamber, Crossroads GPS and the League of Conservation Voters are nonprofit organizations and are not required to reveal their donors to the public.
Majority PAC is what’s known as a “super PAC,” and does disclose its donors. Among its top funders are super donor Fred Eychaner of NewsWeb Corp., James Simons of Euclidean Capital and union the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Virginia is the third most expensive outside-spending Senate race in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Chamber, Majority PAC and Crossroads GPS, along with its sister super PAC American Crossroads, have been the top outside spenders.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan group tracking elections spending in the state, Richard Gilliam is Virginia’s top super PAC donor, having given $750,000 to American Crossroads and the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. Gilliam is the founder of Cumberland Resources Corp., a private coal mining company in Virginia.
State super PACs in Virginia have also been active. Top donors to state super PACs include Dominion, an electric utility company, with $250,000 to groups supporting of Allen, and the Virginia affiliates of the AFL-CIO with $85,000 to groups supporting Kaine.
In other outside spending news:
“No Dice” opposes Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
“Doing” opposes Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
“Cost You” opposes Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
“With a T” opposes Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is running for U.S. Senate in that state.
“Business” capitalizes on the investigation into alleged corruption by Sen. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is running for re-election.
Around midnight on June 1, 2007, Tina Hall was finishing her shift in a place she loathed: the mixing room at the Toyo Automotive Parts factory in Franklin, Ky., where flammable chemicals were kept in open containers.
A spark ignited vapors given off by toluene, a solvent Hall was transferring from a 55-gallon drum to a hard plastic bin. A flash fire engulfed the 39-year-old team leader, causing third-degree burns over 90 percent of her body. She died 11 days later.
After investigating the accident, the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Department of Workplace Standards cited Toyo for 16 “serious” violations and proposed a $105,500 fine in November 2007.
“You’re disappointed because you think, that’s all they got fined?” Hall’s sister, Amy Harville, of Moulton, Ala., said in a telephone interview. “But then I thought, at least they got 16 violations. I was thinking they’d stick, as severely as she was burned.”
The violations didn’t stick. Every one of them went away in 2008, as did the fine, after Toyo’s lawyer vowed to contest the enforcement action in court. Last month, in a move believed to be unprecedented in Kentucky, the Department of Workplace Standards reinstated all the violations because, it said, the company hadn’t made promised safety improvements.
The case was another black eye for state-run workplace health and safety programs nationwide. In all, 26 states administer their own programs under federal supervision. Several have been criticized in recent years for capitulating to lawyered-up employers, performing subpar inspections and shutting out accident victims’ families.
Officials in Kentucky didn’t tell Harville and Hall’s husband that the Toyo violations had been dismissed. They found out in 2010 only because Ron Hayes, a fellow Alabamian who runs a nonprofit advocacy group for families of fallen workers, had taken an interest in the case and checked in regularly with the Department of Workplace Standards.
Hayes — whose son, Pat, died in a Florida grain elevator accident in 1993 — lodged a formal complaint against Kentucky with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which concluded in June 2011 that the state had erred.
“Deleting citations in their entirety sends a signal to employers that they need only contest to alleviate the burden of history,” OSHA’s regional administrator in Atlanta, Cindy Coe, wrote to Hayes.
In a written statement, Kentucky’s Department of Workplace Standards said it dismissed the violations after determining that “the case would not have withstood legal challenge.” Instead, the department and Toyo entered into a settlement agreement, which provided for follow-up inspections. Toyo’s alleged failure to meet the terms of that agreement led to the reinstatement of the violations last month.
The reinstatement showed that the violations never should have been dropped in the first place, Hayes said. “It’s vindication, because we said all along this was wrong,” he said.
The president of Toyo Automotive Parts did not return calls seeking comment. In a 2008 legal filing, Toyo denied responsibility for Tina Hall’s death, calling the accident “the result of unforeseeable, isolated acts undertaken by an individual employee.”
Problems in the states
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, states that choose to regulate workplace health and safety must ensure that their programs are “at least as effective” as the federal one. OSHA pays up to half the cost of such programs and is supposed to keep tabs on them.
By some accounts, it hasn’t done a particularly good job. After press reports about a rash of construction worker deaths in Las Vegas, OSHA reviewed the Nevada program in 2009 and found a long list of flaws. Among them: State inspectors weren’t sufficiently trained to identify construction hazards and were discouraged by managers from issuing “willful” violations — which suggest an employer showed “plain indifference to the law” and can lead to stiff penalties — to avoid protracted court battles.
OSHA looked at the programs in the 25 other states that administer their own, finding deficiencies such as uncollected penalties in North Carolina and misclassified violations in South Carolina. Kentucky, OSHA found, was taking too long to issue citations and wasn’t making complainants aware of “specific official findings.”
In 2011, the Labor Department’s inspector general reported that OSHA hadn’t found a suitable way to measure the effectiveness of state programs. In his response to the IG, OSHA chief David Michaels wrote that the agency was developing a new monitoring system that would involve, among other things, reviews of state enforcement case files.
Still, Hayes believes that “systemic problems” persist. “Oversight from federal OSHA has been lacking for the past 42 years,” he said. “There are so many different problems from state to state.”
Indeed, Hawaii’s program — described as “poor” in a 2010 OSHA report — has been severely hampered by budget and staffing cuts for the past three years. Things got so bad that state officials recently asked the federal government for help.
‘The Five Commitments’
In its 2007 annual report, Toyo Tire & Rubber Co., a Japanese conglomerate that makes tires, auto parts and chemicals in plants around the world, lists what it calls “The Five Commitments.”
“We make safety our highest priority in the provision of products and services,” reads Commitment No. 2.
Tina Hall thought otherwise, according to her husband. At the time of the accident in June 2007, she was trying to transfer out of the Franklin plant’s adhesive department because the job required her to spend time in the mixing room, where toxic and flammable chemicals were stored.
“She talked about how bad the fumes were in that room,” said L.V. Hall, who lives in Bremen, Ala. “She said something about the disposal of chemicals — they weren’t doing it right. I’d been wanting her to get out of that mess.”
Tina Hall and other team leaders would go into the mixing room to fill plastic bins, known as totes, with solvents such as toluene. They’d clean gummed-up machine fixtures in the totes. Team leaders also would fill five-gallon buckets with solvents and carry them to adhesive machines on the factory floor. The solvents were used to take residue off the machines.
Kentucky’s Department of Workplace Standards would later cite Toyo for obstructing exit routes in the mixing room, not keeping flammable liquids in covered containers when they weren’t being used, failing to control vapors and having inadequate fire-protection equipment.
On the night of the accident, Tina Hall was cleaning fixtures by herself when a spark, likely caused by static electricity, ignited toluene vapors and set off an explosion in a 55-gallon drum of methyl isobutyl ketone, another solvent.
Then a General Motors assembly line worker, L.V. Hall was awakened at home in Auburn, Ky., by a call from a Toyo team leader around midnight. His wife, on fire, had managed to get outside and roll on the ground. “How she got outside I don’t know,” Hall said. “It was like an obstacle course to find the exit door.”
Tina Hall was taken to a local hospital, then to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, about 45 minutes away. L.V. had a brief talk with her before the doctors put her into a coma to shield her from the pain. “She said, ‘I did everything the way I was supposed to do it,’” Hall said. His wife drifted off and never regained consciousness. She died on June 12, 2007.
'Travesty of justice'
Not long afterward Tina Hall’s younger sister, Amy Harville, was directed to Ron Hayes by an acquaintance. Burly, white-bearded and tenacious, Hayes lives in Fairhope, Ala., and runs the FIGHT Project, which helps families navigate the bureaucracy of workplace fatality investigations. Hayes counseled Harville and L.V. Hall as the state’s inquiry into the Toyo accident progressed.
When the Department of Workplace Standards issued 16 serious violations against the company in November 2007, “I was OK with it,” L.V. Hall said. “I didn’t realize that once that’s done, these attorneys can get in there and just do away with it.”
Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity under the Freedom of Information Act show how Toyo’s lawyer, Mark Dreux of Arent Fox in Washington, D.C., fought the state of Kentucky from the beginning. Dreux declined to comment on the case.
In March 2008, the state offered to reduce the penalty from $105,500 to $74,000. Dreux refused. In June 2008, the state proposed a further reduction, to $15,000, for three violations. Dreux said no. In November 2008, Dreux got what he wanted: No violations and no fine.
It was Hayes who first learned, in July 2010, that all the violations had been deleted. He alerted Harville.
“I was devastated,” she said. “It takes you back all over again, like Tina was killed for the second time.”
She called L.V. Hall, who reacted similarly. “I was just shaking I was so upset,” he said. He called the Department of Workplace Standards and finally reached “the lady attorney who was over the case. I basically told her, ‘I cannot believe y’all dropped every one of those citations.’ She said, ‘Well, Mr. Hall, I am an attorney and there was not enough evidence.’”
Hayes knew what to do. He filed a CASPA — Complaint About State Program Administration — with OSHA’s Atlanta regional office, calling Kentucky’s dismissal of the citations a “travesty of justice.”
After an investigation, Regional Administrator Cindy Coe, in essence, agreed, writing in June of last year that “the violations were well documented and legally sufficient and there was no definitive evidence in the file that indicated that they could not be supported.” Deleting all the citations, Coe wrote, erases an employer’s safety history and deprives regulators of critical information should subsequent enforcement actions commence.
“It also signals to compliance staff that their efforts are for no good end, if the point is to drop everything at the threat of going to court,” the administrator wrote. “It further signals to employees in the workplace that there is no entity on their side.”
In his response to Coe, the commissioner of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, Michael Dixon, wrote that the state “does not retreat from litigation” but didn’t believe it could defend the case before the Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an appeal body.
In May, a state inspector returned to the Toyo plant in Franklin to see if the company had done all the things it said it would do after Tina Hall’s death — making sure supervisors were trained in the correct way to clean fixtures, for example. It hadn’t.
In a July 5 letter, Susan Draper, then director of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Compliance, notified Ronald Wyans, president of Toyo Automotive Parts (USA), that the 16 original citations had been reinstated, as had the proposed $105,500 penalty. The Tina Hall case had come full circle.
Sometime in the next few weeks, Amy Harville, L.V. Hall and Hall’s lawyers expect to meet with Dixon and Toyo counsel. They expect to learn whether Toyo intends to accept its punishment or continue fighting.
“When somebody gets killed in one of these workplaces, it shouldn’t be this way,” L.V. Hall said. “I had Ron Hayes on my side and he knew what to do. Most people don’t have Ron. These citations never would have been brought back without him.”
Raymond Rutherford has voted for decades. But this year, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to cast a ballot.
The Sumter, S.C., resident, 59, has never had a government-issued photo ID because a midwife’s error listed him as Ramon Croskey on his birth certificate. It’s wrong on his Social Security card, too.
Rutherford has tried to find the time and money to correct his birth certificate as he waits to see if the photo voter ID law is upheld by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel, scheduled to convene in Washington, D.C., in late September.
In June, South Carolina officials indicated in federal court filings that they will quickly implement the law before the November election if it is upheld. Voters without photo ID by November would be able to sign an affidavit explaining why they could not get an ID in time.
South Carolina’s photo voter ID law is similar to a series of restrictive election measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures in states of the former Confederacy, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. North Carolina’s General Assembly failed to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a photo voter ID bill.
Thirty-seven states have considered photo voter ID laws since 2010. In November, five states — Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas and Pennsylvania — will vote under new strict photo voter ID laws. A judge soon could decide whether the Pennsylvania law violates the state constitution, as voting rights advocates claim.
Supporters argue the laws are important protections against in-person voter impersonation fraud, but civil rights organizations and election historians see evidence of a more sinister legacy. Obtaining certificates of birth, marriage and divorce needed to get a proper photo ID can be an obstacle for otherwise eligible and longtime voters like Rutherford.
“Today, there are more laws restricting access to polls since those that were against the initial passage of the Voting Rights Act,” said J. Morgan Kousser, professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology and author of two books on race and voting rights in the South.
The Voting Rights Act requires local governments with a history of voting rights discrimination to get U.S. Department of Justice approval for changes to their election laws. The federal law faces a sustained legal challenge. Voting-rights supporters call those challenges an uncomfortable reminder of the poll taxes and literacy tests that prompted the law in the days of Jim Crow.
States such as Georgia and Indiana point to increased turnouts across all demographic categories in the 2008 election compared to elections immediately before the states passed photo voter ID laws.
Kousser said such comparisons are moot because of the unprecedented enthusiasm that Barack Obama generated among young and minority voters. A July 2012 National Urban League study showed that black voters tipped the election for Obama in North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and Florida.
“People died for the right to vote — friends of mine, colleagues of mine,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., said in a May 9 House floor speech on an amendment to cut federal spending for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The amendment was withdrawn.
Lewis was a pivotal figure in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. He was beaten severely on March 7, 1965, called Bloody Sunday for the attack by Alabama state troopers on about 600 voting rights marchers after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the way to Montgomery. The attack on the nonviolent protesters was so brutal that historians credit the day with swaying votes in favor of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The fight today is in federal court. The state of Texas and the Department of Justice clashed over that state’s photo voter ID in U.S. District Court and it could go to the Supreme Court. In another case, an Alabama county attorney said he would take his legal challenge of the Voting Rights Act to the highest court possible.
A July report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a public policy group that opposed many of the voting rule changes nationally, estimated that more than 10 million eligible voters nationwide live more than 10 miles from a state center that issues IDs.
Seven of the 10 states with photo voter ID are among the lowest-ranked states for public transportation funding. ID centers in many Southern states have limited or reduced hours in rural counties with high concentrations of minority residents.
“I reckon it’s like back during the days when they were slaves and couldn’t do nothing unless their masters signed for it,” Rutherford said. “They didn’t have proof what their name was, they took whatever name their masters gave them. It seems to me they’re trying to send us years back where they can control who we vote for.”
The tide of Southern election changes began in Georgia in 2005. Former state Rep. Sue Burmeister, a Republican, introduced a photo voter ID bill that quickly became the target of Democratic attacks and lawsuits.
“It was never my intent to try to make it harder for people to vote,” Burmeister said in an interview. She had heard stories of fraud in the state from members of both political parties, she said.
“I just grew up believing that it was very important that all people voted,” she said. “Yet, I didn’t want people voting two or three times to take away the votes.”
Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law in January 2006. Georgia, which falls under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, adopted changes to the law intended to avoid getting blocked by the Justice Department. Free voter identification cards and an expansive voter education program were among the changes Georgia lawmakers used to win the approval called preclearance. The state increased election education funds from $50,000 to $500,000 in 2008, when the law first took effect, according to the secretary of state’s budget.
The Georgia law was cleared by President George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
South Carolina’s 2011 photo voter ID law became the first election law to be blocked in nearly 20 years. The Texas law also was blocked by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department. Hans von Spakovsky, the former Bush Justice Department lawyer who approved Georgia’s law, has become a leading advocate for photo voter ID laws.
“These are laws to protect voters,” said Matt Carrothers, media relations director for the Georgia secretary of state. And voters largely agree. A March 2012 Elon University poll of 534 people showed that nearly 75 percent of North Carolina residents supported the state’s photo voter ID bill.
North Carolina Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory has campaigned on photo voter ID. He pledged to enact the failed legislation as a part of his administration.
“The polling is so strong on that issue that it’s easy to build some support when you note that in a long list of issues,” said John Dinan, a political scientist at Wake Forest University. “If you’re in support of voting rights and upset that your party has blocked it, you might look at McCrory.”
Sid Bedingfield, a journalism professor at the University of South Carolina, said the South’s changing demographics tell a different story.
“There is certainly something to be gained from those in power now, especially in states with Republican legislatures, in trying to limit turnout from certain demographic groups,” Bedingfield said.
Most of the states in the South have been sure Republican bets in presidential races since President Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ in the 1972 election. State and local races have been more mixed. The 2010 election placed North Carolina and Alabama legislatures under Republican control for the first time since Reconstruction. Political party caucus shifts moved Louisiana’s House of Representatives to Republican control.
Bedingfield said photo voter ID laws are an attempt to solidify that power shift for years to come in view of an increase in black and Hispanic voters who traditionally vote for the Democratic Party.
“In the long-term, it’s a dead-end strategy that will only cement Democratic Party support among these new groups and create a winning coalition,” Bedingfield said.
Republicans are painting themselves as anti-minority through photo ID laws and demands for citizenship proof to vote, Bedingfield said. That will push even more minorities into the Democratic Party.
Minority voters in the South face additional hurdles this election year.
An extensive purge of suspected ineligible voters that disproportionately targeted minorities in Florida was halted by the Justice Department in June, and a nonpartisan investigator will be appointed to determine why thousands of voters were removed from voting rolls in Tennessee earlier this year.
Florida cut its early voting hours almost in half to save money, state officials said. The state also eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day in November, what had become known as “Souls to the Polls” for the large number of black voters who went straight from church services to vote.
In North Carolina, the Republican-controlled General Assembly used the 2010 congressional and state legislative redistricting process to create controversial minority-majority districts that concentrate black voting power in a reduced number of legislative seats
“They stacked and packed and bleached black voters out of districts for strictly partisan reasons,” said the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Courts have intervened 24 times in the last 30 years to alter North Carolina redistricting plans, and new lines this year divided hundreds of voting precincts into different districts. This means that neighbors voting in the same precinct may have different people running on their ballots for state and federal races. In some precincts, there were 30 or more different ballots offered during the May 8 primary.
“One precinct in Wake County has more than 17 different kinds of ballots,” said Carol Hazard, a precinct judge in Orange County, N.C., which includes Chapel Hill.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and his office have worked to show opponents that targeted demographic suppression is more talk than reality. According to state records, the 2008 election saw Hispanic turnout increase by 140 percent and black voter turnout up 42 percent over 2004.
“These claims that our law is ‘akin to Jim Crow,’ that there is not voter fraud — these are disgustingly racist claims,” said Carrothers, Kemp’s spokesman.
Kemp has promoted the bill to other Southern states. Carrothers is in regular contact with the secretary of state’s office in Tennessee, he said, where a similar photo voter ID law took effect in January.
Tennessee, which is not subject to Section 5 preclearance, has followed a different path to photo voter ID.
Tennessee state Rep. JoAnne Favors already has heard from several voters who don’t have photo ID. The two-term Chattanooga Democrat, who is black, strongly opposed the bill, which could prevent residents — including Favors’ elderly mother — from voting because they lack a birth certificate or government-issued photo ID.
“Most of the people who began to call me when the law was first enacted were elderly white women,” Favors said. “I think that might cause concern for some of the people who did support that bill. They might not realize what they’ve done.”
A report from the Durham, N.C.-based Institute for Southern Studies — a nonprofit research group for activists, scholars and policy makers — estimates that more than 380,000 Tennessee residents lack the photo ID required in the law. Many of them are elderly voters who have opted for an older, separate state law allowing residents older than 60 to get driver’s licenses without photos.
Legislators passed that law out of concern for “frail” elderly voters unable to easily renew their driver’s licenses. But the photo voter ID law, which permitted “no questions asked” absentee ballots for voters aged 65 and older, left Tennessee voters between 60 and 65 disadvantaged. The “no question” absentee age was lowered to 60 after the state’s March 6 presidential primary.
“What I’m really concerned about are those folks that don’t ask or don’t call and you don’t know where they are,” said Madeleine C. Taylor, executive director of the NAACP in Memphis. “They just say, ‘Well, hey, I’m not going to all the trouble. I’m not going to vote.’”
Unless Favors and other Democratic activists in Tennessee can prove that voters are facing insurmountable difficulties at the ballot box in November, the state’s law will go unchallenged. This frustrates lawyers such as George Barrett of Nashville. He has worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on civil rights cases. Identifying plaintiffs has been nearly impossible, he said.
“It’s more difficult if you’re not under the Voting Rights Act,” Barrett said. “You’ve almost got a prima facie case if you’re under the Voting Rights Act.”
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU, said this difficulty stems from the photo ID law’s “chilling effect.” Many people shy away from voting or trying to get an ID because they presume they do not have the correct documents.
“Just because we can’t present the individual to you, doesn’t mean there isn’t a pretty serious problem taking place,” Weinberg said.
Opponents of photo ID warn of potentially hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised voters. Supporters allege there’s a great potential for voter impersonation.
Both Carrothers and Kemp in Georgia said that they were surprised to see so few free photo voter ID card applications — 26,506 as of February.
“When the bill passed, opponents said there were hundreds of thousands of citizens who would be unable to vote,” Carrothers said. “Opponents of photo ID keep changing the way they oppose the law, and now they know they can’t oppose the law in Georgia by claiming ‘disenfranchisement.’”
Those legal and public challenges to voter ID laws might be less frequent very soon if lawsuits against the Voting Rights Act in Alabama and Texas go to the Supreme Court.
Frank Ellis Jr., attorney for Shelby County, outside of Birmingham, Ala., has said that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is outdated and unconstitutional. Although local demographics in many of the municipalities named in the Voting Rights Act have changed in the nearly 50 years since the law passed, few adjustments have been made to Section 5 preclearance.
“To require governments to spend tens of millions of dollars — local governments that need that money for other purposes, for education, for police protection, for facilities and infrastructure — it’s archaic and out of date,” Ellis said.
Brenda Williams, a physician and civil rights activist in Sumter, S.C., has spent thousands of dollars helping more than 100 local voters prepare for the photo ID law.
For the majority of voters who do not have photo ID, applying means they must pay for required personal documents.
Donna Dubose, 63, was delivered at home by a midwife who recorded her name as Baby Girl Kennedy. She attended college for three years, aided by federal grants. Although financial strains prevented her from graduating, Dubose was trained as a nurse’s aide and retired about a decade ago.
“My life wasn’t a pleasant road,” Dubose said. “But in my mind all I wanted to do was take care of people.”
With the help of Williams and attorney Murrell Smith, a Republican state representative who voted in favor of photo voter ID, Dubose obtained a corrected birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID.
Williams is now helping Dubose’s husband, James, who lost his personal documents when his childhood home burned. James Dubose, a former railroad worker who is illiterate, has voted for the majority of his life and said he has never been asked to show a photo ID at the polls.
“It makes me really frustrated to not be able to vote all of a sudden,” James Dubose, 75, said.
Williams has been registering voters with her husband, Joe, for the 30 years she has owned the Excelsior Medical Clinic. Many elderly, rural voters in and around Sumter do not have access to photo ID, Williams said. The majority of these voters were born at a time when hospitals refused black patients and babies were delivered at home, and their births were not recorded accurately.
“I know scores of people who have never had government-issued photo identification,” Williams said. “They’re not criminals, never broken any laws, never been incarcerated. They don’t have photo ID because of rules made years, decades ago.”
Williams carries an NAACP membership card issued for $2 to her father, Frederick Chapman, in 1961. A message printed on the back, part of the association’s mission, is particularly close to her heart: “To secure a free ballot for every qualified American citizen.”
Half a century later, Williams said she is still willing to fight for that right.
“It’s so frustrating trying to help poor people, people who are indigent, people who have low self-esteem, people who have a low sense of self-worth,” she said. “The majority of our society and nation couldn’t care less about poor folk.”
Raymond Rutherford, a Sumter, S.C., said he has let checks go uncashed because he didn’t have a photo ID. With Williams’ help, the Sumter, S.C., Walmart store employee, isn’t waiting for courts and legislatures to agree on the legality of photo voter ID.
“As a citizen, I think everyone should vote,” Rutherford said. “If you don’t get out there and vote, who’s going to talk for you? We can’t talk for ourselves because nobody is going to listen, so we have to put someone there to help us.”
In a one-two-punch, dark money group Crossroads GPS is back with a new ad — the second in as many weeks — hitting Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic contender for U.S. Senate in North Dakota.
“Forgot” comes a week after Crossroads GPS voluntarily pulled another Heitkamp attack ad for what a spokesman called “content issues.” The ad accused Heitkamp of spending taxpayer dollars on private airplanes when she was attorney general of the state, a claim Heitkamp denounced as “completely false.” The planes were, in fact, donated to North Dakota in 1993 by the Department of Defense.
Heitkamp faces Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., in the U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad.
The new ad accuses Heitkamp of establishing a pay-to-play relationship with an out-of-state trial lawyer when she was attorney general, a position she held from 1993 through 2000. Heitkamp tapped Jack McConnell, Jr., a Rhode Island attorney, to help the state implement its settlement in the Big Tobacco lawsuit of the 1990s, in which 46 attorneys general, including Heitkamp, sued major tobacco companies to recover tobacco-related health care costs.
The ad misleadingly suggests the firm got paid millions from the state’s coffers, when, in fact, the attorney’s fees came via the settlement, paid by the tobacco companies, according to Forum, a North-Dakota based media company.
Forum’s fact-check found that many of the claims in the ad are not completely true.
“Forgot” cost $162,000, according to a press release from Crossroads GPS, and is slated to run statewide for one week.
Heitkamp fought back immediately after the ad’s release, calling the claims “absolutely not true,” the Bismarck Tribune reported.
Heitkamp will get some support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has its own ads in the works. Last week, the DSCC reported spending more than $180,000 in support of Heitkamp’s campaign, records show.
Crossroads GPS is a “social welfare” nonprofit organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code and is not required to publicly disclose its donors. Co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS is affiliated with the super PAC American Crossroads.
Michael Beckel contributed to this report.
Research supports an Obama administration plan to reduce coal miners’ exposure to the dust that causes black lung, a much-anticipated Government Accountability Office report released Friday found.
Last December, House Republicans inserted language into an appropriations bill requiring the study. No money could be used to implement a proposed coal mine dust rule until the GAO evaluated the research underpinning it, the rider said.
The GAO report lends support to one piece of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to address a resurgence of black lung, particularly in parts of Appalachia. A Center for Public Integrity-NPR investigation in July found that the disease has returned amid widespread cheating on required dust sampling by some mining companies and enforcement lapses by MSHA.
In October 2010, the agency proposed cutting in half the amount of dust to which miners could be exposed, but the proposal has drawn opposition from some in the mining industry and Congress. Some miners’ advocates worry the rule could die, as previous reform attempts have, if it isn’t finalized before the coming election.
“Black lung is a growing health crisis,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said in a statement Friday. “But special interests and their congressional allies have repeatedly tried to stop the mine safety agency from updating its rules to address this disease. The GAO’s report shows that the latest line of attack was groundless and, as a result, unsuccessful. Opponents of the proposed rule attacked the science, but the study they called for shows the science to be sound: the proposed rule would reduce coal miners’ risk of developing black lung.”
National Mining Association spokeswoman Carol Raulston said the GAO report hasn’t changed the organization’s position that the proposed rule is unnecessary. “The data do not seem to indicate that you’re going to get the kind of results you’d hope for with this approach,” she said.
The increase in disease, the association contends, is confined to pockets of central Appalachia and is the result of miners breathing more dust from ground-up rock, not coal. What’s needed, Raulston said, is increased enforcement of standards meant to curb exposure to silica, the mineral in much of the rock surrounding coal seams that can cause a faster-progressing form of disease.
The association has previously criticized some of the coal mine dust studies that the GAO determined were sound. In the report released Friday, the GAO concluded researchers “took reasonable steps to mitigate the limitations and biases in the data” and “used appropriate analytical methods.”
Since last December, House Republicans have continued to attack the rule. A paragraph in this year’s appropriations bill, written by Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, would bar MSHA from using any money to continue work on the rule. Democrats on the committee objected, citing the Center-NPR investigation.
Rehberg did not respond to a request for comment Friday. A spokesman for Rep. Hal Rogers, R.-Ky., chairman of the House appropriations committee and a longtime champion of the coal industry, said in a statement, "Our office understands that the House Appropriations Committee is reviewing the report, but it doesn’t appear that GAO answered the very specific questions posed by Congress.”
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The Center for Public Integrity is, once again, The Center for Public Integrity.
Actually, we always have been. But in April 2011, as part of a new business plan that included a top-to-bottom redesign of our website, we also gave ourselves a new digital address — www.iwatchnews.org — to go along with our new look.
It sounded good at the time and looked good on paper, but it never fit quite right. And frankly, it led to some confusion about who we are — which is and always has been The Center for Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations.
Granted, the name we were born with doesn’t sound like your typical journalistic organization. But we’re not typical and we’re proud of it. Since former 60 Minutes producer Charles Lewis started The Center for Public Integrity from his home in 1989 — when the first George Bush had just taken over the White House from Ronald Reagan and the Clintons were still living in Little Rock — we have published thousands of hard-hitting, in-depth stories that have appeared in thousands of print and online publications and TV and radio programs around the world.
And we’ve had impact. Many of our investigations not only have won some of the most prestigious awards in journalism, they have also produced concrete results:
In the last year, we’ve broadened the scope of our reporting to include shorter, daily accountability stories to complement our trademark long-form investigative reports. That will continue.
And we are constantly interacting with communities on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest. We continue to build distribution partnerships with media outlets all over the world that ensure our most important information finds its way to the audience where it can have the greatest impact.
What we learned in the last year is that our website isn’t a product of The Center for Public Integrity — it is The Center for Public Integrity. That’s why we have decided to reclaim our name and be known by a single identity. By embracing our given name, we’re taking the confusion out of who we are and reaffirming what we stand for.
We will continue to do our work on a not-for-profit basis through grants from foundations and donations from individuals who share our passion for journalism in the public interest that shines a light on the failures of institutions and people in positions of power. We want to share that passion daily with you, and we think we can do that best as www.publicintegrity.org.
That’s not a publication. It’s an institution.
Florida’s hanging chads and butterfly ballots in 2000 ignited the divisive battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court denying an election recount, effectively declaring that George W. Bush won the presidential election by 537 votes.
Another potentially close election is ahead, and the nation’s largest swing state is again at the center of a partisan debate over voting rules — this time, a fight about the removal of non-citizens from Florida’s voter roll and how the state oversees groups who register voters.
It is set against a national backdrop of a bitter fight between Democrats who say voting rights of students and minorities are endangered and Republicans who say that voter fraud is widespread enough to sway an election.
While many other states have considered laws that would require that people show a photo ID before they can vote, Florida has taken a different tack. Republicans there wrote a law in 2011 that they said would eliminate voter registration fraud by more closely controlling third-party registration, early voting hours and voter address updates.
“With the old law, some things weren’t illegal or designated as fraud,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican and funeral home owner who sponsored the bill.
Voting rights advocates were most concerned about these features of the new law: reducing from 10 days to 48 hours the time that third-party groups had to hand in voter registrations and cutting early voting days from 14 to eight, including eliminating the Sunday before Election Day. Those whose address has changed to another county since they registered, must cast a provisional ballot and confirm their new address within two days.
Of the roughly 22 million Florida votes cast since 2000, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received only 175 complaints of voting-related fraud, 11 of which led to convictions, according to data obtained by News21.
Baxley said his bill was a proactive step. “We wanted to prevent mishap and mischief.”
For Navene Shata, a 21-year-old south Florida college student, the changes meant she would have to update her address at least a month before voting. She works 30 hours a week around a busy class schedule and involvement with student government.
“I do keep watch and want to see what the candidates have to say,” Shata said, “but voting is frustrating when these pointless things get in the way.”
No Democrats voted for the final version of Florida’s 2011 election law changes. Two Republican senators, Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano, opposed the measure, Fasano said, when supporters didn’t present much evidence of fraud.
“The whole process was poor. Major changes were made in committee, and none of it was vetted,” Dockery said. “When one party has two-thirds of the vote, you can overrule anything. People go off to extremes.”
Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the 2011 law, took an interest in voter rolls when an analysis by the Florida Departments of State and of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles found 180,000 Floridians were registered to vote, had driver’s licenses but had not confirmed their citizenship status.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner discussed the issue with election supervisors in April. The state cut the list to 2,700 voters before sending it to county officials to verify citizenship status.
The problem? The shorter list included many citizens.
What’s become known as the voter purge worried many — from legal voters who were incorrectly targeted, to county officials to voting rights advocates.
Again, there is uncertainty in Florida, a state with troubled election history. Poll taxes were required until 1937, and voting rule changes in five counties are subject to federal review because of a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Department of Justice in June unsuccessfully sued in federal court to stop the voter removal, and another suit from four civil rights groups is pending.
Federal law prohibits sweeping state voter removals within 90 days of a federal election, and Florida has an Aug. 14 primary. But a federal judge in late June said the state can remove confirmed non-citizens.
“It’s the timing, it’s the fear-mongering,” said Myrna Perez of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a public policy group that opposed many voting rule changes nationally. “This scare tactic that there are hordes of non-citizens voting is wrong.”
Neither the 2000 presidential election controversy nor the current disputes much mattered to a group of Miami high school students who registered to vote in May.
“Eh, kinda. That was like 12 years ago. I was 5,” said Kristena Swanson, 17, a Southwest Miami High School senior and one of 318 students who registered May 30 in the school’s auditorium. “But, yeah, I know how bad the voting issues have been here before.”
Miami-Dade Public Schools became a Florida third-party voter registration group in March. Sixty district schools registered more than 10,000 high school students on April 4. They held a second drive May 30, and at school year’s end, 12,514 Miami-Dade students had registered — Florida’s third-largest registration group total.
Under the 2011 law, voter registration groups that formerly had 10 days to turn in completed registration forms were given just 48 hours to do so. They faced a $50 fine for each form turned in more than two days after completion, among other restrictions. But organizations statewide developed strategies to turn in voter registration forms within 48 hours, as the 2011 law required.
“When the law changed,” said Millie Fornell, a Miami-Dade associate superintendent, “we at the district office sat down and said, ‘How do we take the onus away from the schools?’”
The day after Miami-Dade’s second voter drive in May, however, a federal judge threw out the 48-hour rule, reverting to the previous 10-day period.
Baxley said he wasn’t that upset with the decision. “I don’t think they got much for their money on the lawsuit,” he said “If they want 10 days instead of two, fine.”
“They” are the League of Women Voters, the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Rock the Vote, federal lawsuit plaintiffs. The league and Rock the Vote suspended registration drives for 13 months.
“We need the state to settle down and make sure people can be proud of Florida’s elections,” said Deirdre Macnab, the league’s Florida president. “Registering voters is our most popular job, and it was the first thing we did in 1939.” Its efforts were more informal door-to-door canvassing until the 1970s when counties first started deputizing registrants.
About 100 other third-party groups, including the nonpartisan National Council of La Raza, which advocates for Latino civil rights, continued registering voters throughout the past year.
“We don’t tell people who or what to vote for. We just want them to register,” said Natalie Carlier, La Raza’s regional coordinator. And its canvassers do not only register Hispanics.
On a humid May afternoon, about 20 La Raza canvassers gathered in an upstairs room of their nondescript office building near downtown Miami. Carlier stood in the middle of the canvassers’ half-circle, speaking to part-time workers who cover parts of Miami several hours a day, five days a week.
Carlier fielded questions and problems that the canvassers recently encountered. Charts on the wall noted each day’s voter tally. A paper cutout of a thermometer’s mercury showed how many voters her group has to register to reach its goal of 35,000-plus before November.
Through July, La Raza had registered more than 35,000 voters, according to the Florida Division of Elections.
Barbara Johnson, 36, was born in Cuba to an African-American father and Cuban mother. She joined La Raza two years ago on a whim — quitting a retail job — and became dedicated to the work.
Hundreds of times a day, any time someone walks past her spot outside a Little Havana supermarket, she has a rapid-fire approach.
“Hola! Como esta? Esta registrada para votar?” she gets a curt nod in return from an older woman. “Any updates? Change of address? New voter card?” Johnson, like other canvassers, moves easily between English and Spanish.
Angelica Arroyo, 36, came out of a Publix supermarket and filled out a card with her teenage daughter watching. “I wasn’t registered and wanted to vote,” Arroyo said in Spanish. “I would have tried to register, but I’m happy I found her just now.”
County-to-county address changes
Navene Shata was up early during the school year, in class all day at Palm Beach State College and worked almost full time at a nearby CVS.
Her schedule is typical of many working college students without much free time.
Shata recently moved from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach — moving from Palm Beach County to Broward County in the process — which will help accommodate her new studies in pharmacy at Nova Southeastern University. Before the 2011 law, voters could change counties, update their address on Election Day and vote. Now, voters who don’t change their county registration before Oct. 29 can cast a provisional ballot and must return to the elections office within 10 days of voting and prove their new address is valid if they want their provisional ballot counted.
It was not an issue in January’s closed primary, when only Republicans could vote.
In Broward County, where Shata now lives, voters cast 4,222 provisional ballots in 2008; 3,958 were not counted — one of the worst acceptance rates in the state for that election.
Voters who recently moved between counties and don’t update their registration could face problems in November. Shata said she’ll make time this summer to update her registration, although “I don’t understand why the law was changed.”
The purge, the election
The governor continues to defend the state’s non-citizen voter purge.
“We’re doing the right thing,” Scott said on CNN in June. “I can’t imagine anybody not wanting to make sure non-citizens don’t dilute a legitimate U.S. citizen’s vote.”
The process began well ahead of the 2012 election. For months, Florida’s Department of State requested access to a federal database with better information about citizenship than the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied access, claiming the database was not designed as a voter-roll maintenance tool. The state sued, claiming that federal law requires the database be shared.
The U.S. Department of Justice countersued to block the purge. The same judge who reversed the 48-hour third-party registration law said Florida is allowed to remove non-citizen voters, but most county officials refused to do so because they do not trust the state’s list.
Homeland Security agreed in July to share its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, a system that Detzner said updates every 72 hours.
“Keep in mind,” Detzner said, “if we have a name that we run across the SAVE database and it’s a citizen, that person will never be processed on down to the (county election) supervisors. Supervisors are ultimately the ones that make a decision about taking someone off of the rolls.”
Michael Ertel, supervisor of elections in Seminole County, just north of Orlando, is concerned about the dispute’s effects on voters: “What I don’t want to see is people reading these stories and then saying, ‘You know what? The process doesn’t work. Forget it. I don’t want to vote.’”
Ertel supported the law’s changes and voter-roll maintenance — presuming it’s conducted properly — but said he fears the fight could disillusion voters.
“When they don’t go to the polls,” Ertel said, “that’s a sad bit of collateral damage.”
Andrea Rumbaugh and Joe Henke of News21 contributed to this article.
Joe Henke was a Hearst Foundations Fellow this summer at News21.
Sami McGinnis remembers walking into a polling place and casting her vote for the first time.
“It was a wonderful feeling to have that freedom,” she said.
McGinnis, 67, whose vision is impaired, gave up that freedom eight years ago after her husband died. That’s when she first voted by absentee ballot. Having no family near her Mesa, Ariz., residence, she found it difficult arranging transportation — especially on Election Day.
She wishes it were possible for her to physically vote inside a polling place because she questions whether her absentee ballot is counted.
“It’s better than nothing,” she said, “but live my experience and tell me it’s better than nothing. It’s not the same.”
One in nine voting-age Americans is disabled, according to Census data. Of the 17 percent of voting-age Americans who are 65 years or older, at least 36 percent are disabled.
At a time when 37 states have considered photo ID legislation, some disabled and elderly Americans may face difficulty voting this November because they often don’t have a valid driver’s license. The result is that voter turnout among these groups likely will decrease, according to Rutgers University research.
“Voting is a big deal. It’s a big highlight of their years,” said Daniel Kohrman, a senior attorney for AARP in Washington, D.C.
“It’s really unfortunate, and indeed tragic, that this emphasis on restricting participation is presented in so many states,” Kohrman added.
Eighteen percent of Americans over 65 do not have a photo ID, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, a public policy group that opposed many of the voting rule changes nationally. The Census estimates at least 7 million seniors don’t have driver’s licenses.
Many people with disabilities also don’t have a driver’s license. Beyond physical disabilities, persons can have learning disabilities — dyslexia for example — or poor hand-eye coordination.
“They’ve stopped driving because of vision or reflex issues. They, for reasons of various disability issues, have moved in with family who drive them around, or they’ve moved into an assisted living center,” said Jim Dickson, leader of the Disability Vote Project. The nonpartisan project of the Washington, D.C.-based American Association of People with Disabilities, encourages political participation by those with disabilities.
AARP has opposed voter ID legislation in Missouri, Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota because the organization says “states should not impose unreasonable identification requirements that discourage or prevent citizens from voting.”
Voter ID requirements aren’t the only problem disabled and elderly people may face at the polls. People in these groups often have trouble accessing traditional polling places.
All polls are supposed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Among other things, the sweeping law says that people with disabilities shall not face discrimination at the polls. But, just under one-third of polling places are 100 percent barrier free, according to a 2009 Government Accountability Office study of the 2008 election.
Many states skirt the accessibility to polls by allowing absentee voting, mail voting or voting from curbsides, where a poll worker comes to a disabled person’s car with a ballot.
All states allow absentee and mail voting, but not all — Tennessee, for example — allow curbside voting.
“People with disabilities should have the same options as everyone else has. Voting in a polling places is an important and symbolic ritual,” said Lisa Schur, a Rutgers University associate professor who researches disabilities issues in employment and the ADA impact on public policy.
Leaving the disabled with only alternative voting methods “sends a clear message that people with disabilities are not fully welcome in the political sphere,” she said.
The convenience of absentee voting is appealing to Karin Kellas of Glendale, Ariz. She suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of a rollover car accident in 1966. In the ’90s, her legs were amputated above the knee.
“I’ve heard a lot of (disabled) people feel their voice doesn’t count,” she said. “We need to make our opinions known and vote because that’s how we make any kind of change.”
Kellas votes absentee so she can skip the lines and volunteer to work the polls. If she wanted to vote in a traditional polling place, she’d find a way to get there as she did in the past.
She wants voting to be “as easy and accessible for able-bodied people as it is for disabled people.”
“I’m the exception to the rule because I don’t take no for an answer,” Kellas said. “There has to be a way I can vote.”
Inaccessible polling places can have “psychological consequences that say, ‘I don’t really want you here,’” Schur said.
“I see absentee voting and voting by mail as a convenience and it can help a lot of people with disabilities,” she said, “but I don’t see it as a substitute as making polling places accessible.”
Voter turnout among disabled people is a clear reflection of that, according to a Rutgers University study from the 2008 election.
The study showed turnout among voters who have disabilities was about 7 percentage points lower than those without disabilities.
And that’s not because disabled people are less interested in voting, said Douglas Kruse, a Rutgers University professor and director of the doctoral program in industrial relations and human resources. He and Schur co-authored the study.
Kruse, who uses a wheelchair, has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University. His research has found that disabled persons are less likely to be recruited to vote or participate in political activities.
“You’re not expected to participate,” he said, adding that such an attitude “probably reflects a lot of the polling place difficulties and the message that is sent by a polling place.”
It’s important for persons with disabilities to vote because political and social issues deeply affect them, McGinnis said.
“We take the time to get to know the issues because we live them,” she said.
When you look closely at GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s proposals to restructure Medicare, it’s clear he agrees with many health insurance company CEOs that Americans — especially older Americans — don’t have enough “skin in the game” when it comes to medical costs. If his proposal to largely privatize Medicare becomes a reality, those not already 55 and older will be putting far more “skin in the game” than current Medicare beneficiaries do, and they’ll be required to peel off increasing amounts of skin every year for the rest of their lives.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard my former CEO and other industry executives say that, in addition to the ever-increasing cost of a stay in the hospital, new drugs and new medical technology, a big reason why premiums keep going up is because those of us who make a tiny fraction of what they make are not paying enough out of our own pockets (i.e., “skin”) for medical care.
They use that rather crude term when they talk to Wall Street financial analysts and policymakers to justify their strategy of moving more and more of us into what they euphemistically refer to as “consumer-directed” health plans that are in reality are high-deductible plans that require us to pay far more of our own money for medical care than we have had to pay in the past.
Ryan would change Medicare from what is known in industry jargon as a “defined benefit” plan to a “defined contribution” plan. Medicare beneficiaries would no longer have the assurance of knowing that the government would always pay the lion’s share of the cost of coverage (defined benefit). Instead, the government would give them a set amount of money in “premium-support” payments (defined contribution) every year to buy coverage from private insurers. (The 2011 version of Ryan’s proposal would replace the traditional Medicare program entirely by private insurance plans. In the 2012 version, traditional Medicare would remain an option.)
Critics of Ryan’s proposal have charged that the premium-support payments provided by the government would not be nearly enough in future years to pay for the level of coverage today’s beneficiaries have. That’s because the annual increases in those payments would be tied either to changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), plus .05 percent. Because medical inflation has consistently outpaced either of those measures, beneficiaries would find that the value of the premium-support payments likely would diminish every year.
In practice, beneficiaries would never touch those premium-support payments. That money would go straight into the bank accounts of the insurance companies they chose to provide their coverage.
This windfall for insurance companies could be a catastrophe for the many senior citizens who aren’t wealthy enough to absorb the additional costs of rising premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the median income of Medicare beneficiaries was $22,800 in 2006.
By contrast, in 2005, former Aetna CEO John Rowe, who never missed many opportunities to talk about the need for people to put more “skin in the game,” was paid $35 million. That same year, Rowe’s successor, Ron Williams, pulled in $31 million. Five years later, Williams’ compensation more than doubled, to $72 million.
Williams was considered a darling of Wall Street during most of his time as a top executive at Aetna. Noting that it was Williams who led Aetna’s move toward higher deductibles plans to reduce its medical costs, Sanford Bernstein analyst Anna Gupte was quoted as saying in a 2010 Bloomberg story, “He [Williams] was a leader in really adopting that model and moderating the medical-cost trend by shifting more cost to the members and having them put more skin in the game.”
Keep in mind that as our insurers were making us put more skin in the game, our premiums kept going up too. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, they increased 113 percent between 2000 and 2010. To make matters worse, people who get their coverage through their employers saw their share of premiums shoot up 159 percent during those years. And during just the first half of that time frame (2001-2006), total out-of-pocket costs per insured person increased 45 percent, according to the Commonwealth Fund. Meanwhile, the CPI increased just 26 percent between 2000 and 2010, and health care costs grew 48 percent. Now you see why big insurance firms were so profitable during the recent recession, when millions of us saw our incomes, net worth and home equity plummet, and why the premium-support payments in Ryan’s proposal likely would not come close to covering the costs of care for future senior citizens.
There is no historical evidence to support Ryan’s suggestion that private insurance companies could do a better job of controlling medical costs than the traditional Medicare program. To be fair, the way Medicare currently reimburses health care providers — on a fee-for-service basis — undoubtedly has contributed to medical inflation and the rising percentage of total federal spending that the Medicare program consumes. And even under provisions of the Affordable Care Act and other laws enacted by Congress in recent years, many of the 17 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who have purchased Medigap polices to cover their co-insurance obligations will also see their out-of-pocket expenses go up in future years.
But private insurance companies have absolutely no track record of making health care more accessible and affordable. When you consider their failure to tame medical inflation and the fact that their business practices have resulted in 50 million of us being uninsured and another 30 million of us being underinsured, why would anyone have any reason to believe private insurers would be a good deal for future senior citizens?
What their track record does show is that they know how to do one thing very well: pay their top executives very handsomely, in part by being able to shift more of the cost of care — the skin they talk about — to the rest of us.
The conservative, free-market nonprofit American Future Fund announced the release of attack ads to run in Florida and Wisconsin, battlegrounds for control of the U.S. Senate.
In Florida, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is facing $1.9 million in independent from conservative independent spending groups, which favor Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In Wisconsin, Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin faces former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who won a hotly contested Republican primary and is vying to replace retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. Even before the primary concluded, Baldwin faced a slew of attack ads from conservative super PAC Club for Growth Action and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
American Future Fund’s “1979” attacks Nelson’s tenure, noting “Bill Nelson’s been in Washington since 1979.”
Well, not quite. Nelson was a member of the House from 1979 to 1991, when he ran for governor. He then won election as insurance commissioner and served until 2000 when he won his Senate seat.
“What’s he done in more than a third of a century?” the narrator asks. “Not a balanced budget but a $2 trillion health care law and $15 trillion more in debt.”
The anti-Baldwin ad takes a lighter approach, featuring the state flag. The flag features illustrations of a miner and a sailor who represent Wisconsin’s connection to both land and sea. The two come to life in an animated feature discussing Baldwin’s votes for “big spending bills.”
“I’m going to call Tammy Baldwin and tell her to stop spending away our children’s future,” the sailor decides.
The American Future fund is a nonprofit organization and won’t reveal its donors; however some sources of its income are known.
For example, American Justice Partnership, also a nonprofit, gave the group $2.4 million in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group says it is a “legal reform group” that “stands up to greedy trial lawyers.”
American Justice Partnership has teamed up with numerous conservative nonprofits including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Center for Individual Freedom, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, according to its website.
The group is a vehement opponent of liberal financier George Soros* and has been tied to alleged voter suppression laws.
American Justice Partnership was founded by the National Association of Manufacturers, according to the Daily Beast, and has received significant funding from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues Mobilization Inc., according to that group’s tax filing and first reported by RepublicReport.org, a website that investigates the corrupting influence of money in politics. WMC Issues Mobilization Inc. is also a nonprofit and does not release its donors.
Among some of the other funders of American Future Fund:
The American Future Fund has spent more than $234,000 on campaign activity this election cycle, according to CRP. The group was founded by Nick Ryan, once campaign advisor to former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, and it is run by Sandra Greiner, a Republican Iowa state senator and farmer.
The group has been the subject of complaints made to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission for not disclosing its donors.
In other outside spending news:
*The Center for Public Integrity has received financial support from Soros’s Open Society Foundation. See the Center’s list of donors here.
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