U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled that Texas’s new voter I.D. law is invalid and made it sound like any similar voter I.D. law would be ruled the same. It’s the fifth time a voter I.D. law has been ruled invalid, and it’s because the laws were created with “discriminatory intent.” Since this law’s predecessor was created with discriminatory intent, all reincarnations of said law would also be created with the intent of taking voting rights from people without access to photo I.D. services. Judge Ramos has basically said for a third time, “These are not anti-voter fraud laws. These are anti-voter laws.”

You might wonder why someone wouldn’t have a photo I.D, but in a lot of places they’re prohibitively expensive. In Texas, acquiring a photo I.D. can cost between $78 and $390 (“The High Cost of ‘Free’ Photo Voter Identification Cards,” p. 54). How? Even if the photo I.D. is free, the trip to the DMV isn’t. Some people have to take a bus or cab to visit the nearest grocery store, and the closest DMV is likely further from home than food. If they don’t have a birth certificate, that’s another document they have to pay to get. If they can’t find their marriage certificate and took their partner’s name, they’ll need to acquire that document, too.

Judge Ramos went so far as to suggest Texas elections be subjected to Department of Justice oversight, which hasn’t been the case since 2013, when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. So if there are judges with the same sense as Ramos in other states that have adopted voter I.D. laws (there are 32 of them), they could use Ramos’s decision as precedent to bring back DOJ regulation of elections that was specifically part of the Voting Rights Act to make sure this type of discrimination didn’t happen. Instead, states have adopted Jim Crow laws and passed them off as a defense against voter fraud. If you were wondering what the possible voter fraud was in Texas, it was .000038 percent in 2012.

So this is all a big win for voters, right? Well, if you haven’t noticed, Jeff Sessions isn’t exactly fond of brown people voting. When the Voting Rights Act was gutted of sections designed to protect the minority or impoverished voter, Sessions called it “Good news...for the South.” His home state of Alabama tried to close 31 DMVs, mostly in majority-black neighborhoods, right after passing laws that required a photo I.D. to vote.

Even if Texas, or any other Southern state, was again subject to elections with DOJ oversight, what kind of oversight do you think Sessions would provide? By controlling the ballot to elections in the world’s most powerful country, Sessions would become more powerful than the President, because he will have been responsible for electing the President. That makes him the most powerful man in the world.

But will Sessions be the attorney general in power when all this goes down? Given the fracturing of the Republican Party by Donald Trump and his record-low approval rating for a President this far into his first term, it’s highly unlikely Sessions and Trump remain in office after 2020. But if the Texas appeal is heard before the 2018 midterm elections, Sessions could keep minorities and impoverished voters from the polls to preserve a Republican majority in Congress. Saving Trump might be too tall a task for even the most powerful man in the world, though.

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Published in News & Information
Tuesday, 20 June 2017 22:36

Gentrification is the old gerrymandering

The United States Supreme Court will rule on partisan gerrymandering for the first time since 2004, deciding whether Wisconsin Republicans drew electoral district lines with the unfair intent of strengthening their political presence in the state. Gill v. Whitford will be heard by the Supreme Court in the fall and could result in a ruling that will set the boundaries for drawing electoral district boundaries.

 

The case at hand is pretty straightforward. While 51 percent of Wisconsin voters were Democrats in 2012, Republicans won 60 of the 99 seats in the state’s Congress. Republicans say that’s because Democrats have the disadvantage of living in metropolitan areas like Milwaukee and Madison, which is true. Metropolitans are generally underrepresented given the populations in their districts compared to the populations of rural districts, and that’s not Republicans’ fault.

 

But there’s more to the story. Thanks to the work of University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, there’s a new way to measure whether district lines are fair representations of representation or partisan gerrymandering designed to be advantageous to the political party drawing the lines. The efficiency gap measures “wasted votes,” or the number of votes wasted in a district where one party wins an election easily.

 

For example, take those metropolitan voters in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin’s fourth Congressional district, which includes parts of Milwaukee, incumbent Democrat Gwen Moore won 77 percent of the vote in a race that didn’t feature Republican opposition. You could argue that Moore wouldn’t have required all those votes to win even if there was a Republican challenger. Those would be considered wasted votes, and voters living on the edges of Milwaukee should have instead voted in neighboring first, fifth and sixth districts to make races more competitive.

 

The same could be said for Wisconsin’s second district that contains Madison. Incumbent Democrat Mark Pocan wasted votes beating Republican challenger Peter Theron by almost 150,000. Move 100,000 of those wasted votes to the sixth district and Wisconsin would have one more Democratic Senator. And we haven’t even started looking at the state assembly.

 

If we look at the Milwaukee area again, there are two districts, the 14th and 21st, that had competitive races Republicans won in 2016. Each race was decided by about 5,000 votes. Wisconsin's 14th district is bordered on the east by the 12th, 17th and 18th districts. Those districts are closer to Milwaukee and all went Democratic. In fact, there was no Republican opposition in any of those races, so the Democrats needed just over 5,000 votes of the 58,000 wasted votes they got in those three races to take the 14th district. Had the east boundary of the 14th district been drawn closer to Milwaukee, the Democrats would have likely won that district.

 

Wisconsin’s 21st district is neighbored by the 20th district to the north, which went to the Democrats unopposed. Another 21,222 votes were wasted in the 20th district, and Democrats needed just 5,000 to take the 21st district.

 

It’s a similar story for Wisconsin’s 42nd district, which is neighbored by the 79th and 81st districts, which went Democrat by a combined 16,000 wasted votes. Democrat George Ferriter needed just 5,000 of those votes to swing the 42nd district blue.

 

The point is Wisconsin Republicans probably gained seats by drawing the district lines where they did, which is not supposed to happen. This is the Republicans’ fault because they were last to draw the districts, and the Supreme Court could rule that the districts must be redrawn to make races more competitive. That was the ruling in the lower court.

 

If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court, it would set the efficiency gap as legal precedent when determining whether partisan gerrymandering has taken place. It would also give the party disadvantaged by the gerrymandering a better chance of righting the wrong and achieving more accurate representation throughout states. That’s no small accomplishment, but it’s not a solution by any means, because gentrification is the old gerrymandering.

 

Gerrymandering has been around almost as long as America, but even older than America is gentrification, which will continue to weaken the power of the minority vote despite a ruling on gerrymandering. While gerrymandering is the drawing of lines around communities, gentrification is actively creating communities by displacing other communities.

 

There’s nothing stopping a city council our county commission from purchasing land to build whatever they want to “improve” their city or county. Cities, counties and states don’t need your permission to build “improvements.” They can just buy you or your landlord out. If you live in a metropolitan area, you’re likely familiar with these projects and might have been displaced because of them.

 

New research by the University of Minnesota found that “over a third of low-income census tracts in Minneapolis underwent gentrification...and about a quarter of low-income census tracts in St. Paul gentrified” from 2000 to 2014. Northeast Minneapolis is the best example of gentrification in the area, which tends to happen in downtown areas near public transit. So the people who actually need the bus and train to get to work no longer have access to it or have to walk/ride even farther to work.

 

But brown people moving to suburban or rural areas should even out the vote there, right? Wrong. Minorities had a voice in metropolitan areas because they had power in numbers. Those numbers being spread around suburban and rural areas dissipates the power of that collective vote. Those displaced people also lose local representation that’s been dedicated to their interests. They were a member of the majority when it came to their local community, and they are now a minority in a new community. Just like the local elected officials in the cities, the local elected officials of the suburbs and rural areas have the interests of the majority in mind.

Those same Wisconsin Republicans who allegedly committed partisan gerrymandering will simply resort to “improving” their communities and spreading the minority vote around into suburban and rural districts via gentrification in the future. Even if the Supreme Court rules the Wisconsin Republicans were in the wrong, gentrification makes gerrymandering unnecessary, because if you can move the people instead of the lines there’s no need to move the lines. Moving the lines is just cheaper and easier, for now. That’s why gentrification is the old gerrymandering.

 

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Published in News & Information

The success of the Republican Party depends on certain people not voting, and now that the courts are striking down laws suppressing black votes with “surgical precision,” Conservatives need a new way to make sure they don’t vote. Enter Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission.

Donald Trump seems to think he won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential Election due to illegal ballots. He did not. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School measures voter fraud, and incident rates of voter fraud are between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than come across someone impersonating a voter, and most instances of “voter fraud” are really just clerical error.

In order for Donald Trump to have won the popular vote, the voter fraud/clerical error rate must have increased nine times to .0222 percent given his 2.9 million popular vote deficit to Hillary Clinton. Of course, Donald Trump’s complete lack of evidence in support of his claim is no reason not to spend taxpayer dollars looking into voter fraud.

While it was reported by White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that the commission will look into voter fraud and voter suppression, the people Donald Trump is putting in charge of the commission have not shown an interest in voter suppression, but are obsessed with voter fraud despite it being nearly nonexistent.

Donald Trump’s new commission to investigate voter fraud is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, who cheered the actions of state police and the secretary of state's office to shutdown a major voter registration drive in Indiana. The vice chair of the election commission is Kris Kobach, who as secretary of state in Kansas pushed for a proof-of-citizenship requirement to prevent illegal immigrants from voting. You can expect this sort of legislation to continue being passed in Conservative states in an effort to make it harder for the impoverished, minorities, youth and the elderly to vote, and now that Donald Trump has an opportunity to appoint judges who will uphold even stricter voting laws, you can expect fewer people to vote, which gives Republicans an edge.

While states with strict voter ID laws offer voter IDs for free, there is still a high cost associated with obtaining one. A Harvard Law report found that obtaining a “free” voter ID costs between $75 and $175. The author of the report, Richard Sobel, wrote: “paying the cost needed to meet voter ID requirements means spending the equivalent of more than a week’s worth of groceries.”

Republicans know better than anyone that there’s no such thing as a free anything. There are documentation, travel, loss of work and waiting time expenses associated with obtaining a voter ID. Hell, if Republicans really wanted people to vote, they’d make Election Day a holiday like Bernie Sanders wants to so most Americans wouldn’t have to take off work to vote. The fact this bill wasn’t passed by Congress immediately is indicative of how little Republicans want Americans to vote. The original bill was introduced on Nov. 12, 2014, and the Senate Judiciary committee, consisting of 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, has not allowed the bill out of committee, which is the easiest way for the majority party in Congress to kill bills. The majority party always has a majority in every committee, which is a big problem with Congress. These committees should be half Republican and half Democrat so something is accomplished every once in awhile. I trust Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission will also feature a majority of Republicans and minority of Democrats.

So Donald Trump has created a counterfeit commission designed to uphold the integrity of the American election process that will secretly suppress voting in key states for Conservatives by enacting legislation forcing expensive voter IDs on people who could just as easily provide a combination of a birth certificate, social security card and mail to their address in order to prove their citizenship. Frankly, all that should be required is a tax return with the dollar amounts blacked out, because if you pay taxes in this country you should be allowed to vote. But we all know how Donald Trump feels about tax returns.

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