Always a pleasure to see their brilliant tactics end up… maybe not so brilliant

A dilemma arises:

Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele on Wednesday continued his critical talk of his successor, wondering how current RNC chair Reince Priebus can mesh the organization’s much-ballyhooed minority outreach with the GOP’s push for tougher voter registration laws widely viewed as discriminatory.
“How does Reince Priebus reconcile his approach and his agreement with voter registration policies that many in the black community view as anti-black, racist, whatever the term happens to be,” Steele said. “You’ve got to reconcile how people feel about your policies, not just the fact that you’re going to show up. You can show up any time. It’s what you say and what you do when you get there that matters most to people.”

I’m always gratified when a short-term conservative political and procedural tactic to win elections comes back and bites them in the ass, longer term, and threatens their ability to win elections. As I’ve said here before, I agree with Michael Steele. They have a problem with their position on voting.

I don’t think Republicans are actually reaching out to minority voters, so I disagree with Steele there. I think Republicans want to appear less bigoted and backward so they appeal to a larger, younger group of more tolerant white voters. But there is a real, practical and political problem with that. They’ve sold these voter ID laws so successfully the last 10 years that now the GOP base completely buy that voter fraud is a huge problem. They have an additional political problem along with their voting laws at the state level, and that’s the court cases brought by libertarians joining with conservatives. The Voting Rights Act is the most high profile case but there’s another case on the voting laws that target Latino voters.

Decisions in the Supreme Court won’t immediately become part of the discussion at the ground level, but these are important cases for voting rights advocates as a practical matter and those advocates will bring those decisions down to ground level. They’ll be doing that in the midst of the GOP minority outreach campaign.

The political and media side of the conservative movement set this voter fraud lie in motion, then they wrote it into law. I’m pleased it’s now headed back to the political side, no longer an effective rhetorical and political and procedural tactic, but a potential liability. Full circle.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas…

I went to the OFA organizing meeting in DC today. We’re staying in Baltimore and the original plan was to just roam around among the crowd in DC for the inauguration tomorrow, but then we got tickets for the swearing-in and a ball and that all led to the OFA meeting.

Here are some pictures:

final ofa 2

final ofa

My usual impression at these Democratic political gatherings is that the people from southern states are the most enthusiastic and that was true in this room, too. The North Carolina contingent was really celebrating.

Here’s the official description of the preliminary plan. I edited this some:

I’m Jon Carson, the new executive director of Organizing for Action…

And the way we’ll get it done can be summed up in one word: local….
That means each city or region will have its own OFA chapter, and you’ll decide the issues your community cares about most, the work you want to do to make progress on them, and the kind of support you’ll need to get it done…
At a neighborhood and regional level, OFA members will grow their local chapters, bringing in new leaders and helping train a new generation of volunteers and organizers to help fight for the issues at stake.
There’ll be times when we pull together at the national level to get President Obama’s back on passing major legislation, like reducing gun violence or immigration reform. And we’ll all work to help transform Washington from the outside while strengthening our economy and creating jobs.
But for the most part, the direction our work takes will be completely in your hands — with the support of this organization behind you every step of the way….

If I had to give you the one word I heard most often from the people on the stage as far as administration policy priorities the word would be “immigration.” So Rick Santorum is wrong, again.

I don’t know what I think about the OFA organizing plan yet. It takes me a while to figure these things out, so I’ll just leave you with what Messina told the group this morning:

“We played too much of an inside game in 2009 and 2010 and got away from what we’re good at.”

Help me out here, I’m not that creative

I’ve been reading comments along the lines of “how do we repeat 2012 in 2014?” and I’ve been thinking about that, too. Here’s the thing, though. The 2012 effort was huge, even the small section of it that I witnessed. We had a full-time organizer staying at the house beginning in May, I think, although it may have been earlier. We had canvassing shifts every spring weekend where we ID’ed voters for both Obama and Sherrod Brown. After that, we had people in blue states making phone calls so we could concentrate exclusively on knocking doors to get the “sporadic voters” we had identified out and early voted. We had really, really good lists that were updated constantly, so much so that I had this nice middle aged woman go into fits of laughter election day at 6:30 PM when I was the third person to knock on her door. She was giggling at the lunacy of it all: “I just got back from voting! I swear I did!” We basically followed that woman until she voted. Luckily she liked us and had a sense of humor. That’s separate and apart from the whole voter protection element what with the regional teams of lawyers and all. I’m not clear how that would go in 2014. We had great volunteers, but we also had a full-time organizer who worked 12 hours a day.

My only other experience with folding OFA in where Obama was not on the ballot was 2010-11 in Ohio, and the collective bargaining fight. The collective bargaining effort was run by labor groups and was deliberately and carefully planned as non-partisan and issue-oriented. We were told early on that labor groups did not want a “partisan identifier” on the effort, because Ohio is a 50/50 state and framing it as a partisan issue would repel GOP voters who might otherwise have supported protecting collective bargaining. The thinking was they would dig in if the thing was tied to Obama and reflexively oppose. That turned out to be true, because there were obviously a lot of crossover voters in this 50/50 state with a 61% final result.

But, OFA ran a petition drive at the same time as the collective bargaining petition drive where we gathered signatures to repeal Ohio’s 2010 (latest version) voter suppression law. Everybody won there, because OFA wanted to repeal the voter suppression law in anticipation of 2012 and re-electing Obama and labor wanted to repeal the voter suppression law in anticipation of 2011 and overturning the union-busting law.

A controversial new Ohio elections law was suspended on Thursday as a coalition of Democrats, voting-rights and labor groups submitted over 300,000 signatures to put the law on the fall 2012 ballot. That means the Nov. 8 election — and probably next year’s presidential election — will be run under the same early-voting laws that benefited Democrats in 2008.

So are we talking about campaign organizing in 2014 or issue organizing?

If we’re talking about issue organizing, I personally might be interested in protecting those parts of the health care law that benefit low wage employees. I liked this description of that part of the law, and I think it’s now clear there’s going to be a coordinated effort to resist implementation by large, low wage employers and their lobbyists, legislators and media personalities:

The debate, unfortunately, got bogged down in a lot of nonsense about death panels and socialism rather than focusing on the brass tacks stuff that matters. Low-income workers—the kind of people likely to be working as servers at Denny’s—really will see huge benefits from the law. And the kind of people who own dozens of chain restaurant franchises really will suffer, at least a bit.
The main issue facing chain restaurant owners is the law’s “employer responsibility” provision. If you’re a small employer with fewer than 25 employees, the Affordable Care Act is extremely generous to you and you’ll get special subsidies to help make an insurance plan for your workers affordable. But if you have over 50 employees, then it’s another matter. If everyone on your payroll already gets group health insurance, you’re in the clear. If they don’t, but they’re all paid enough to buy insurance on the new insurance exchanges without a subsidy, then you’re also in the clear. But if you’re employing low-wage workers who’ll get subsidies for their new insurance plans, then you’re going to get taxed to the tune of $2,000 a worker.

We see a lot of low wage workers come through this law office, and low wage uninsured actually pay a lot for health care. There seems to be some sort of myth floating around that they go to the emergency room or clinic and just wave their hand on the way out and the medical care they received is now categorized “uncompensated care” but that isn’t how it works for them. They’re billed for whatever last-ditch medical care they may be lucky enough to get, and a lot of them work out payments with the provider. If they don’t work out payments with the provider the bills go to collection and if the provider sues and gets a judgment they’re subject to having their wages garnished. There’s plenty of uncompensated care received in this country, that’s true, but low wage workers are also paying plenty for health care right now.

My sense is that these employees will be barraged with negative stories and threats from their employers and media on the terrible things that may happen to them if their employers have to pay 2 grand towards subsidized health insurance. I would consider it a real win if we could even make the people who stand to benefit most from the law aware of the facts so they might support implementing the law as written in states like mine. What might OFA/local people do there?

True the Vote

Thanks to commenter Burns for this piece on a legal theory that could be used to protect voters from True the Vote:

In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout. . . .

In 2009 and 2010, for example, the group focused on the Houston Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat. After poring over the records for five months, True the Vote came up with a list of 500 names it considered suspicious and challenged them with election authorities. Officials put these voters on “suspense,” requiring additional proof of address, but in most cases voters had simply changed addresses. That didn’t stop the group from sending dozens of white “poll watchers” to precincts in the district during the 2010 elections, deliberately creating friction with black voters.

And here’s the legal theory:

When I mentioned these concerns to University of Toronto Law Professor Simon Stern, he noted the following by email:
The editorial describes a scenario that appears to fall under 42 USC § 1985(3). As the editorial explains, True the Vote identifies “largely minority precinct[s] and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error.” These details are used “to challenge voters at the polls” so as to “frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.” Section 1985(3) addresses conspiracies that use “force, intimidation, or threat” to attempt to stop “any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote.”
A series of confrontations at the polls, choreographed to take place in minority precincts, and ostensibly based on the voter’s eligibility, fits within the core of this provision (as the editorial explains, one of the group’s leaders hopes that their “poll watchers” will make the targeted voters feel as if they are “driving and seeing the police following you”). Where the group, rather than acting directly, seeks to have election officials challenge these voters, this conduct falls within another provision in section 1985(3), which prohibits conspiracies aimed at “depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws.” Both forms of voter intimidation are aimed at creating the kind of irreparable injury that justifies a preliminary injunction.

You’re going to hear “both sides do it” on this issue and that’s not true, so I thought I’d compare what voter protection lawyers and others actually do on the ground in Ohio with what True the Vote has done in past elections in Texas and Massachusetts:

Read more

See what you think

This is Sherrod Brown’s “Both From Ohio” ad:


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I asked my focus group of one person, my just-turned-19 year old son, what he thought about this ad when we saw it on tv and he thought it was funny and memorable but only because it looks like an ad for the car, rather than a political ad.

This son describes himself an independent, although he has been eligible to vote in only one election, 2011, and in that election he voted against Governor Kasich’s union-busing initiative.  He also says he will vote for Obama in November.

He is working this summer as a temp at a local plant that has a huge auto industry contract and he’s getting lots and lots of overtime, money he is saving to buy a car, so I thought he would be receptive to Sherrod’s ad in particular and the auto industry rescue in general. I don’t know that he is making the connection.  As I said, he’s not really a politically-oriented person, and it isn’t like he had an auto industry job and then feared losing it.  Prior to this job he was in high school and working part-time at Wendy’s.

Do you like the ad? I do, but I’m hardly a neutral observer on Sherrod Brown at this point.

He’s sorry if he created any confusion in that regard

Good for Sherrod, and good for the FOP for remembering who supported them when they were under attack by former Fox News personality John Kasich:

The Ohio Fraternal Order of Police today endorsed Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown for re-election to the United States senate.
“Senator Brown was one of our strongest allies in the fight against SB5, Issue 2,” said FOP president Jay McDonald, referring to the collective bargaining law that was repealed by voters last November thanks in part to heavy opposition to it from organized labor, including Ohio’s first responders.
Brown “is also one of the strongest supporters of law enforcement issues in the United States Senate and our members of the FOP in Ohio are proud to stand with Senator Brown for his re-election,” McDonald said.
Brown is the first Democrat to be endorsed for the senate by the FOP since Howard Metzenbaum in 1988.

Our paralegal is married to a police officer. Her husband kept a Bush-Cheney sticker on his bumper until it weathered off BUT he was locally active in the fight to repeal SB5. It was the first time we’ve been on the same side of a political issue. I haven’t asked him if he’s “switched sides” and I won’t, but maybe he’s reconsidering which Party actually supports decent wages for middle class people, now that Republicans went after his ability to remain in the middle class.

Now, I know all police officers in Ohio won’t become liberal Democrats, or even vote for Sherrod Brown because Brown got the union endorsement, let alone taking that giant leap and voting for Obama at the top of the ticket but if we can get them to break the GOP voting habit we can peel off a few permanently.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mitt Romney’s position on collective bargaining. He took one position when he was standing in Ohio and then took a completely different position when he was standing in Virginia (but only after Rick Perry yelled at him) so I’ll let you figure this mess out:

Remember when former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney went to a call center of conservative faithful in Ohio, as volunteers were dialing on behalf of the efforts to save SB 5, the state’s new union-busting bill? And then when asked by reporters, said he wasn’t going to take a position on the issue?
Well, that was yesterday.
Today it appears Romney does have a position: he supports Gov. John Kasich’s efforts to curtail public employee unions in the name of tightening Ohio’s budget. Romney said as much at an event in Virginia, as reported by NBC’s Mark Murray and the Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner.
The Romney campaign confirmed the account, and sent along the video which you can watch below. When a reporter asked about Romney’s response to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s attacks on him over his non-support of SB 5, he went straight for it.
“Oh, I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard, I fully support Gov. Kasich’s—I think it’s called Question 2 in Ohio,” Romney said. “But what I was referring to was I know there were other ballot questions there in Ohio and I wasn’t taking a position on those. One of them for instance, relates to healthcare and mandates, I’ve said that that should be up to individual states. I, of course, took my state in one direction. They may want to go in a different direction. I don’t want to tell them what I think they ought to do in that regard, that’s up to them. So, it was with regards to that issue that I didn’t want to make a commitment. And I didn’t even know what their Question 1 is, if there is a Question 1. I don’t know what that one is.
“But with regards to Question 2, which is the collective bargaining question, I am 110% behind Governor Kasich and in support of that question,” he said.

Mitt Romney also supports a national right to work (for less) law, so Romney opposes private sector unions too. Although… I don’t know which state he was standing in when he said that, so we may need verification on whether that is still his position. Maybe we should just ask Rick Perry what Mitt Romney thinks.

They’re under observation

Enter the lawyers:

President Barack Obama’s campaign has recruited a legion of lawyers to be on standby for this year’s election as legal disputes surrounding the voting process escalate.
Thousands of attorneys and support staffers have agreed to aid in the effort, providing a mass of legal support that appears to be unrivaled by Republicans or precedent.

ACORN, The New Black Panther Party, Dead Zombie Voters, did I miss anything? Let the paranoia and misinformation begin.

I do election protection in Ohio and I’ve been doing that in this county since 2006, so I thought we could discuss this in a calm and rational manner. I also know a lot of commenters and readers do this work too, so please speak up about your experience in your state.

First, the difference between voter access people (Democrats and liberals) and voter fraud people (Republicans and conservatives) on the ground is this: access people concentrate on the state role in voter suppression (whether intentional or not) and fraud people concentrate on the voter role in defrauding the state. The two sides are always portrayed as doing the same thing, but that’s not true. We’re watching the state and they’re watching individual voters. We start with the assumption that voters are acting in good faith. They don’t. Big difference, if you’re a voter.

In Ohio, there is a state code process to volunteer and enter as a poll watcher. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but I file an entry with the county Board of Elections and then each polling place that I visit, and am sworn in with a slightly different oath than that of a poll worker. I hit those precincts where I have noticed problems in the past, submit the copy of the entry, get sworn in, and observe. I was a poll worker so I know a lot of the poll workers and I live and work here. They can always find me later. This makes the whole thing easier and less hostile because I’m accountable for my actions.

What I am looking for and listening for is a voter being given information that is incorrect or incomplete, particularly on provisional balloting. I am watching the process used to determine whether a voter is given a provisional ballot and then looking for poll worker error on instructions for how to complete the ballot properly so it will be counted. I want to stress something here. Any errors that I have observed are not malicious on the part of poll workers. The provisional balloting rules are complicated and they either don’t know them or apply them in ways that are arbitrary and, well, personal. In my observation, there is a “belt and suspenders” attitude that crops up frequently in GOP poll workers. If demanding one piece of paper is GOOD, demanding two is BETTER, hand out a provisional ballot just to be on the safe side, like that. Whoa there, drunk-with-power Republican. This isn’t an interrogation or an obstacle course. Back off or we’ll have to demote you to handing out the “I Voted” stickers.

None of what I do is directed at the voter. I am speaking, always, with the head poll worker. If there were a legal issue that required a court, I would know enough to be able to respond to that quickly because of the training we take, but I’m not an election lawyer. If it became necessary to pursue a legal challenge I would be quickly replaced with someone who knows what they’re doing.

Finally, I get asked in emails where to donate for voter registration, education and protection. Donate to the Obama campaign, or your state Democratic Party. The Obama campaign are doing all the voter contact on the ground in Ohio and it makes a lot of sense to do voter registration, education and protection while they’re talking with voters anyway. In my experience (which is based on the 2004 Kerry campaign in Ohio) outsourcing nuts and bolts voter stuff to an alphabet soup of outside orgs is a chaotic and error-ridden disaster.

I can confidently predict that the Tea Party group True the Vote will be a mess, judging by their performance in 2010:

True the Vote said they weren’t responsible for the actions of individuals, who they said were properly trained.
“Any alleged actions that may have occurred of that nature were purely individual actions, and not in any way representative of, or connected to, True the Vote,” the group said in the statement. “True the Vote conducts extensive citizen training of poll watchers and makes it explicitly clear in the training that poll watchers are never to impede, interact, challenge or interfere with any voter.”
Hiram Sasser, a lawyer representing True the Vote, referred TPMMuckraker to the statement, and said he couldn’t know for sure if those accused of voter fraud had been trained by the organization. “We don’t know the answer to that question,” Sasser said. “We would like to know but we don’t know that answer to that.”

They’re not responsible for their actions and they know nothing, but they would LIKE to know. Great.