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voter suppression

trump18(In Part 1 I blogged about the Great American Stupid. In Part 2, about voting numbers and trends. In Part 3, about the foul antics of corporate media.)
Voter suppression is a despicable, unconscionable thing. Voting is a fundamental right in a democracy, so if it was up to me, leaders of the “voter ID” movement would face federal prosecution for denial of civil rights. But it’s not up to the likes of me. Bummer.
That being said, the actual, practical effect of voter suppression in elections so far is tough to figure. Wisconsin has been noted as a place in the last election where the result may have been swung because of it.

While states with no change to voter identification laws witnessed an average increased turnout of +1.3% from 2012 to 2016, Wisconsin’s turnout (where voter ID laws changed to strict) dropped by -3.3%. If turnout had instead increased by the national- no-change average, we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016. For context, Clinton lost to Trump in Wisconsin by only 20,000 votes.
(Priorities USA)



Republican strategy after gutting the VRA

by Eric Ferguson on July 6, 2013 · 2 comments

elephantAfter writing a bunch of posts on Democratic electoral strategy and why progress has been made on some issues but not others, I started wondering if I could do that the other way around. I started wondering if the punditry on what Republicans should do next might be shallow or blinkered enough that a bit of deep thought might find what they’re missing. I don’t want to help Republicans solve their strategic problems, but if we can see their options, maybe we can get in the way a bit. Who knows, with some effort and smarts, maybe we can box them in where we’d prefer that they go.


And then, before thoughts turned into words, the Shelby County decision gutted section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, effectively ending pre-clearance. Well, that changes everything.


Wait. No, it doesn’t.


The Republicans’ options haven’t changed at all. Only their incentives have changed. The Shelby decision has made voter suppression much more tempting, but it was always an option. Ironically though, pursuing it might take away other options.




Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has one surprising result

by Eric Ferguson on September 25, 2012 · 1 comment

life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness --- amendedThe Star Tribune published results of its Minnesota Poll Sunday on the anti-marriage amendment and the voter restriction amendment, and Monday on the presidential race. Mostly they confirmed what other polls have found, but there is one piece of substantial news. They found support for the voter restriction amendment is way down to 52%. Opposition is up to 44%, and 4% were undecided.

h/t Tony Petrangelo who points out two substantial caveats on calling dropping support a trend. One is the last time they polled on restricting voting rights was May last year, when the question was just a bill, not a constitutional amendment. Also, the Star Tribune changed pollsters, so even if everything else was the same, that makes comparisons difficult.

My own response was to dismiss it because it shows the amendment passing by a much narrower amount than prior polls, plus my normal skepticism about believing what I want to be true, evidence aside. My skepticism on this result weakened, however, considering the marriage and presidential results.
I noticed that the marriage result is about where the other polls are, showing a tiny lead for the pro-amendment side. It found the same age divide, with younger voters being strong against the amendment. It also showed what we’ve seen consistently on polls about marriage equality, that civil unions would pass easily and maybe even win a majority of Republicans, but the word “marriage” is a big hang up for a substantial number of people, enough to explain why civil unions would pass easily but marriage struggles. The poll didn’t ask whether those supporting one but not the other understand that religion aside, looking just at legality, civil unions and marriages just aren’t the same.

Likewise, the presidential result, 48-40 for Obama looks like other polls. Combining that with the decrease in support shown by other polls, my skepticism is fading and I’m finding it plausible the voter restriction amendment could be beaten. Not likely yet, but possible, and the improvement is welcome.

The poll discovered the drop in support has been almost entirely among Democrats. Early on, discouragingly for those of us who already familiar with the issue when the legislature took it up last year, even most DFLers supported it. Now DFL support is down to 22%, even a touch lower than the marriage amendment’s support at 24%. They found DFLers support Obama 93%, and this suggests where the sweet spot may be for beating these amendments.

Roughly 10% of DFLers plan to vote for Obama, but also for the amendments. These are presumably the most persuadable voters we have. Just getting all DFLers planning to vote for Obama to also oppose the amendments ought to be enough to let us beat the marriage amendment. It’s not enough to beat the voter restriction amendment, but it gets it in range. We’ll still have to persuade either some Republicans or some independents.

There’s also an obvious place to start persuading Obama supporters. Point out that though the president hasn’t said anything specifically on Minnesota’s amendments, he has consistently opposed photo ID and other restrictions on voting rights, and he endorsed marriage equality. That might make a voter open to the arguments on the specific amendments, and the odds are we’re talking to people who don’t know much about the issues, and probably much of what they know is wrong.

One last point on assuming people know the basics. I had a conversation recently where I was asked if leaving the amendments blank would count as “yes” votes. This person had heard this from another amendment opponent, an audience member at a forum who was interested enough to attend but yet had this bit wrong. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered someone wrong or unsure on something very basic, even someone I’d assumed would be informed. So just to not make that assumption, a non-vote on a constitutional amendment counts as a “no”. It requires a majority of all people who vote at all. Since it takes just a simple majority of each house of the legislature to put an amendment on the ballot, this is the only thing we have in the way of a supermajority requirement for changing the constitution.

{ 1 comment }

theuptake2 on Broadcast Live Free

The question is whether the ballot question is misleading enough to an average voter as to be unconstitutional. The misleading parts are

1) The question says “all”, yet the real constitutional amendment sets two standards for in-person voter and not in person voting.  “Substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” is the standard for not in-person voters. No one has defined “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification”. Most people think that absentee ballots, military voting and same day registration is eliminated. The fact that no can say for sure makes the case that this question is misleading. I think that people would want to know before voting if absentee ballots, military voting and same day registration are eliminated by this constitutional amendment.

2) Valid photo ID and valid government issued photographic identification are very different levels of ID requirements. Government ID requires birth certificates that may not be accessible. There are the born-at-home issues, foundling issues and name mis-match issues. Does a expired drivers license with a yellow sheet count?

3) No mention of the provisional voting system and no definition of what that process is in the ballot question. This is a huge change.

Interestingly, many questions involved remedies which suggested that the judges were searching for a remedy.

Text of ballot question and constitutional amendment below the fold for comparison.  

The constitutional amendment says:

(b) All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law.
(c) All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.

The ballot question says:

“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”


In introducing a segment on the 5-4 decision by the US Supreme Court that strip searches can be conducted with no suspicion of the person being searched being required, Kerry Miller mentioned a phrase used by a critic, that “All risk be eliminated at the expense of those who pose little risk”. Most commentary on that decision has focused on the potential for abuse of power by police and guards, but another aspect is that such reasoning provides an insight on conservative thinking that makes no sense to liberals, including on photo ID, and other issues too.

The specifics of Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington involved strip searches of a man arrested for an unpaid traffic fine. The odds someone arrested for a traffic fine is planning to sneak anything into jail seems vanishingly small, but is it absolutely impossible such a person would not have hidden something in a body cavity? No. Might never happen, but could. So the thinking is it’s OK to remove any risk, even at the cost of strip searching people arrested for any petty offense. The thinking seems to be that removing a risk, however small, justifies any problems caused thereby.

Sound at all like photo ID? Sound at all like the case for invading Iraq?  
Certainly some photo ID proponents are in denial about the rarity of voter fraud, but most seem to know and not care (relax conservatives, just my impression from listening to some of you, in case you strongly feel that doesn’t describe you). They’ll usually respond with the claim we have no way of knowing for sure there isn’t fraud. A silly argument certainly (when the resources of the DOJ can’t find it in years of searching, it’s pretty sure it’s not there), but it’s an argument they believe, which is the important part. Because there could be fraud, we have to respond to the threat the same as if we knew it was rampant. Any risk at all must be avoided, even if doing so creates victims who didn’t cause the problem. Ever notice how conservatives seem utterly unconcerned that legitimate voters will be disenfranchised? They claim it won’t happen but even when confronted with proof it is happening, they don’t care. That’s because disenfranchisement is an acceptable cost for eliminating all risk.

I don’t suggest everyone who supports photo ID is thinking this way, but listen to photo ID supporters. With some of them, you’ll hear this thinking.

When I mentioned Iraq above, what I actually had in mind was Ron Suskind’s book, “The One Percent Doctrine”. Suskind wrote about how Dick Cheney thought a 1% chance of a country being a threat justified invading it:

“Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It’s not about ‘our analysis,’ as Cheney said. It’s about ‘our response.’ … Justified or not, fact-based or not, ‘our response’ is what matters. As to ‘evidence,’ the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn’t apply.”

Was there a chance Iraq was working with Al Qaida and developing WMDs? Forgetting that we now know it wasn’t, given the evidence at the time, both what the Bush administration presented to the public (the supporting evidence) and what it held back (the contradictory evidence), could we have said there was a chance the administration’s charges were true? Sure. Not a good chance, but a chance. That, in this mindset that all risk must be eliminated, justified the invasion.

We see this at work now in the drive to attack Iran. We don’t know for sure Iran won’t use its atomic bomb if it develops one. The odds seem incredibly puny, given that they haven’t actually built a bomb yet, they haven’t said they intend to, they would have a tiny fraction of what we have and even merely a fraction of what Israel likely has, and they haven’t shown any suicidal tendencies to make us think deterrence wouldn’t work like it’s worked with every other nuclear-armed nation. Still, from a conservative mindset, puny isn’t zero, and that tiny risk is why all the arguments about why attacking Iran is a bad idea are getting nowhere. Until the risk is zero, opposing arguments will fall on deaf ears.

Will conservatives like being characterized this way? I doubt it. They would presumably argue that the risks are a lot higher, or that the ramifications of the risks coming to pass are so awful that they’re justified in tolerating no risk. I assume they won’t like the implication that they don’t care about the lives of Iranians or Iraqis, the dignity of innocent people subjected to strip searches, or the voting rights of poor people, and maybe they aren’t conscious they even hold that attitude. But there they are. I suspect this thinking is behind the perpetual drive to make life miserable for welfare recipients — any humiliation or deprivation is OK to prevent any small amount of fraud; and maybe behind their opposition to contraception — whatever medical conditions are being treated, there might be someone using them to have sex without consequences.

Perhaps a reason left and right talk past each other so much isn’t just the fact-free world modern conservatives inhabit. After all, we can have trouble accepting something sometimes too despite a preponderance of evidence (though I have to think the awareness that we do this is some sort of advantage). It could be that when we rate risk, we give higher consideration to the victims of the measures taken to avoid a risk, like the odds of a person stopped for a traffic offense having contraband that will be found only through a strip search is much lower than the odds the stripped person will be humiliated or even traumatized by the experience.

In other words, we rate the effect on the victims highly, while conservatives rate the risk highly. We know about 10% of eligible voters don’t have a photo ID, but what if enough people are able to get photo IDs that we get down to a small number of people who would be disenfranchised. Would we change our minds about how terrible the disenfranchisement would be? If the photo ID amendment would disenfranchise 100,000 Minnesotans instead of the estimated 200,000 who now don’t have photo IDs, would we still oppose it? How about just a thousand? A hundred? I know the answer immediately for myself: voter fraud is so rare and photo ID so unlikely to stop any, that even 100 disenfranchised people is an intolerable violation of voting rights.

Likewise my opposition to invading Iraq wasn’t based on knowing the evidence was cherrypicked — I didn’t. I just demanded a high level of certainty before inflicting war on somebody, and the publicly available evidence didn’t give me that.

To a liberal, the certainty there will be victims of the measures taken to avoid the risk demands a high level of certainty about the risk, whereas conservative thinking is that the possibility a risk could have bad consequences makes the odds of that happening immaterial. I don’t know how we talk them out of those policy positions, but maybe knowing where they are gives us a place to start, and a way to understand what cognitive processes are occurring when their arguments work.


Parry limits debate on photo ID amendment

by Eric Ferguson on February 24, 2012 · 0 comments

During yesterday’s hearing on the Republicans’ photo ID amendment, Sen. Mike Parry, who is running against Tim Walz in CD1, allowed testimony just on putting the amendment on the ballot, not on the merits, even though senators and witnesses kept telling Parry that the issue itself needs a hearing. Especially in light of new technology and the experience of other states, they badly need to do that. Jeff Hayden mentioned that it doesn’t help to say other committees will discuss it when the senators aren’t on those committees.

Maybe Mark Ritchie was asked to testify specifically on the mechanics of putting an amendment on the ballot, but senators wanted to ask questions like how this would work for soldiers posted overseas. They could probably ask Ritchie privately or in writing, but the point is to have this heard in a public setting. The mechanics of how the law would work if the amendment passes seems just a bit germane, yet witnesses can’t testify nor senators ask questions on perhaps the hottest political issue this year?


Expecting some technological solution to resolve a political dispute seems far-fetched — but it’s not unknown, as could be attested to by the people trying to solve the horse poop problem in our big cities that threatened to make large areas unlivable — until electric streetcars and internal combustion engines suddenly came along and horses became scarce (as did smelly and unsanitary horse poop). This isn’t a perfect comparison (even though in big cities, horse poop is now as rare as, say, voter fraud) but the point is there might be a voter registration system that could satisfy both the believers in voter fraud who think photo ID could fix it, and those of us trying to protect the right to vote even for people who can’t get a photo ID.


Secretary of State Mark Ritchie explained it to a Senate committee:

During a Senate hearing on Friday, Ritchie described the electronic poll books made by Datacard, a Minnesota company. Like photo ID, the system puts a photo of the potential voter in front of the election judge who can decide whether the person is who they say. But instead of the voter providing the ID, which could be forged, the photo is securely pulled up from Minnesota’s drivers license photo database. The poll book could be on paper or on a computer.

If a person isn’t in the photo database, the person could register and have a photo taken on the spot. Because voting twice in an election is a felony, it’s very unlikely someone would risk being photographed committing the crime.


“The thing that’s important for me is that, number one, it keeps Minnesota number one in terms of leadership in election administration,” Ritchie told a Senate committee. “And number two, it creates that standard of broad bi-partisan support which Representative Benson referred to and Governor Carlson and Pawlenty – all the Governors before – have talked about.”


Ritchie estimates such a system could be implemented in Minnesota for about $10 million. That’s about $30 million less than the estimated cost of a voter photo ID system advocated by Republicans last legislative session.


The Uptake has shorter and longer videos of the hearing on the linked page. The gist is election judges would have photos of the voters right there in the poll books (the books the election judges have in front of them with voters’ addresses and a place for their signature), which should satisfy advocates of photo ID, and they should appreciate that this eliminates one of the objections of those of us opposing photo ID requirements, namely that photo IDs can be forged (I sometimes wonder that advocates seem to have never heard of fake IDs). It also eliminates the argument that a current technology is getting enshrined in the constitution, assuming, that is, that electronic poll books aren’t just added to the amendment bill.


Setting this up is still an unnecessary cost since it accomplishes nothing. I can also imagine the delays, especially the first time, as voters without photos have to have them taken and election judges struggle with unfamiliar equipment with the predictable technical issues. If the poll books connect to a central database, and it goes down on election day, well, every computer person reading this just shuddered. However, since the voter doesn’t have to acquire a photo ID regardless of their ability to do so, it gets rid of the disenfranchisement argument. This assumes the rules for voter ID remain as they are, namely that non-photo ID remains acceptable for registering. Such being the case, I could live with the rest. Yes, it still seems unfair and pointless to make people without photo IDs go through the delay of getting their photo taken, at least when lines are long and there are equipment or operator problems (if this is set up and you need a photo taken, go vote in the primary for local elections or special elections — no lines), but at least they won’t be told they can’t vote.


So photo ID advocates, what is your real goal? There you go, if that’s really what you want, photos without disenfranchisement. We could both be happy, or at least able to live with it. If your goal is just to suppress people who tend to vote Democratic, then you’ll keep pushing for the older photo ID technology — and we’ll keep fighting to protect the right to vote, deficits in opinion polls be damned.


TeaBagger Wants To Wear His Shirt And Button

by TwoPuttTommy on November 3, 2010 · 7 comments

Eden Prairie has a large immigrant population.  Always has, and probably/hopefully always will.  Way back when, when the City laid out the master plan, city residents and city planners worked to ensure there would be ample affordable housing in Eden Prairie.  We’ve seen years ago Hmong come and go; then Russians; now it’s Somali refugees turn to be welcomed.

Except these days, today’s GOP doesn’t seem so pleased for them to come – and many of ’em sure seem like they’d like to see them go.  Precint 11 in Eden Prairie is home to many Somalis, so I went there to see if the TeaBaggers would be up to no good.  To no surprise, they were.  When I got there, four white guys were hanging out on the corner entrance to the Church hosting the election poll; I saw a KSTP Channel 5 vehicle.  The following picture is of Bill Reichert, the Communications Director for the Minnesota Voters Alliance:

They wanted to get a guy wearing a Tea Bagger shirt with their all-seeing eye button to vote whilst wearing his shirt and button; apparently, they were having problems; not sure ’cause they didn’t really want to talk to me.  They huddled, and then a crew with a video camera showed up so they went back to the corner to shoot some film.  So I went up to the entrance to the poll, and paced off 100 feet.  The KSTP vehicle seemed a miht bit close to me…. but, that’s a tangent.  What’s important was the hand I shook at the door, a distinguished gentleman exceedingly proud to, as he put it, “vote.” “In Somalia, I didn’t get to vote.  Now I do.”  

The crew walked on up , this guy was going to go in with his teabaggeer shirt and all-seeing eye button and “exercise HIS right” to vote:

He walked in, the KSTP Reporter followed, and into the poll he went.  Not sure if he had to cover up or not; what’s clear is the email that had been sent out to the TeaBagger Faithful, as discussed by The Big E, here:

For now, we are recommending that you proceed with wearing your Election Integrity buttons or Tea Party apparel to the polls, knowing you are within your rights, but don’t allow yourself to be disenfranchised. If you are challenged by an election judge because of what you are wearing, you’ll have a decision to make. You can simply remove or cover the challenged item and you’ll be allowed to vote, or you can refuse and demand your right to vote and the election judge will allow you to vote, while also recording your name and you could be charged with a petty misdemeanor.

Now, the point I’d like to make is that a judge ruled, as I understand it, essentially to “take the stuff off.”

Personally, I think the stuff is intimidation – pure and simple.  Be that as it may, I also think the stuff IS electioneering; it seems obvious to me that this whole Tea Bagger “movement” is part and parcel of the GOP.

I’ll follow up tomorrow and see if I can get a comment from Eden Prairie Election Officials and find out what happened in the poll.

What I know is that the guy went in with his Tea bagger shirt and all-seeing eye button; when he came out he still had it on. And I also know that the election judges work hard and have plenty to do already; why these TeaBaggers couldn’t just follow the rules and leave the stuff at home is beyond me.


One more trick to watch for

by Eric Ferguson on October 28, 2010 · 0 comments


Here’s a new one. It’s in Houston, but I never heard of a the Republicans keeping their voter suppression techniques to one state. Handing out disinformation in minority precincts is a standard, but this a new. They’re claiming that voting a straight Democratic ticket will be counted for Republican. The flier says to vote just for governor in order to vote a straight ticket.

The group named on the flier doesn’t actually exist. That’s normal. There’s never anyone real to contact. I assume that’s how whoever puts these out protects themselves from criminal charges.

As far as what to do, I don’t know who brought it to the news department of the local TV station whose clip is in the TPM article, but they had a good idea. It worked. So yes, if you see this, contact media, but also contact the election judges for that precinct’s polling place so that they can watch for disinformed voters. Contact the DFL — the DFL challenger at the polling place should work — so they can try to get the information into the media. Contact law enforcement, because this isn’t just unethical, it’s illegal.
One bit of recommended reading, making an argument I’ve made too, but maybe this is better put. Voter fraud requires too massive of a conspiracy of a lot of people taking too much risk. Maybe this will get through to people who don’t know about the issue, but are still rational:

Perhaps the strongest evidence against claims of widespread voter fraud is that it would make no sense. Imagine what you’d have to do to perpetrate such a scheme. You’d first have to recruit a large number of voters willing to cooperate, each of whom would risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Then you’d have to get them all registered, which would require fake IDs and mailing addresses. (The mailing address would have to be real so they could receive their registration cards.) The names and addresses would then get checked against a central state database. If the database fails to find a match, the voter’s registration gets flagged for a follow-up check of their Social Security Number or driver’s license number. Then on Election Day, they’d have to show their fake ID again and lie to a poll worker’s face. At each point-registration, the database check, voting-they’d run the risk of getting caught. And the more people involved in the scheme, the more likely someone slips up. All it would take is one unlucky person for the whole plan to unravel.

There’s nothing wrong with preventing voter fraud, just as there’s nothing wrong with preventing alien attacks. First make sure the problem is worth your time.


Election Watch Watching Update

by Eric Ferguson on October 28, 2010 · 4 comments

There are reports from North Carolina of problems with poll watchers, much like the ones in Houston I mentioned in my post on watching Election Integrity Watch. It sounds like some complaints could be voters unfamiliar with poll watchers or unaware their presence is legal. It also sounds like election judges have been able to cope with untrained or wrongly trained poll watchers, though I’m sure they’re going through a lot of aspirin until the election is over.

These are early voting states, which Minnesota isn’t, so we won’t know until election day how bad it’s going to get. So as an addition to the watch list of our own I put in that earlier post, make no assumption the poll watchers have been trained or been trained correctly. Don’t mistake certainty for correctness. If you’re at all unsure the poll watchers have the right to do what they’re doing, bring it to the DFL challenger or the election judges.

I won’t repeat the whole list of some things the poll watchers might try to pull, except for one thing. Remember each party gets one challenger at a polling place, and that challenger has to have party credentials submitted to the head judge. Any other poll watcher within 100′ of the polling place is illegal.

I’m advising against avoidable contact but if you have contact with them, bear in mind that they likely don’t share our view that Republican leaders cynically drum up voter fraud hysteria, knowing there’s nothing to it, to suppress Democratic votes. They also won’t see anything sinister in the coincidence the charges of fraud and the placement of poll watchers are aimed at precincts with many non-white voters. The volunteers will be at their watching sincerely, even if with more zeal than training.

A couple other things to be aware of:
First, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman told TPMMuckraker that the buttons Election Integrity Watch has been asking conservatives to wear constitute electioneering, just like a candidate’s button, and won’t be allowed. I don’t know how that will apply outside Hennepin County.

Second, Freeman also issued a public letter to County Commissioner Jeff Johnson saying his office found no evidence of organized fraud. In fact, out of 899 names of people Minnesota Majority accused of voter fraud, only 40 turned out to be prosecutable cases. That made 47 with what the county had already found, and aside from four instances of double-voting, they were all felons whose rights hadn’t yet been restored.  Given how unlikely it seems a felon would risk returning to prison just to cast an illegal vote, probably those 43 thought their rights were restored.  

As obvious as it is felons can be confused about when they have their rights back, it’s also obvious how to clear it up. Allow felons to vote once their out of prison. If you’re in prison, can’t vote; if out, you can. Surely the people who claim they’re just concerned about election integrity are therefore concerned that felons whose rights have been restored might refuse to vote out of fear of going back to jail. I mean “surely” in the fat chance sense of the word.

And maybe they should notice that without the felons voting illegally, there were four illegal votes in a county with about a quarter of the state’s population. Four. The total percentage of illegal votes was .00006, and the non-felon illegal votes .000005. As much I as I decry the claims of voter fraud as paranoia, even I wouldn’t have guessed the illegal votes were that low. Wow. Moreover, if we assume Hennepin has the same rate of fraud as the whole state, the 47 prosecutable (but note, mostly not yet convicted) voters makes about 188 votes statewide, still not enough to overcome Franken’s winning margin — if we assume all illegal votes were cast for Franken. Which would be silly.

Hey conservatives, you wouldn’t want to be silly, would you?

Just for full disclosure, Freeman is running for reelection and has DFL endorsement. I don’t know what Republicans think of him, but after today’s news, I have a guess.