Coming soon to your state—voter harassment and intimidation

Last Friday (August 12), Donald Trump told a nearly all-white crowd in Altoona, Pennsylvania that he was concerned about voter fraud in their state. In dog-whistle language he said he’d “heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful.”

Trump went on, warning that Pennsylvania doesn’t have a voter ID requirement (it was struck down by the courts) so “Maybe you should go down and volunteer or do something.” About Election Day, he said: “We have a lot of law enforcement people working that day…. We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement. We’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Trump’s campaign followed this by asking supporters to sign up to be a “Trump Election Observer.” His website asks them to “Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!”

The purpose of this blog is not to rag on Trump, it’s to point out that voter harassment and intimidation is nothing new. Over the last few election cycles, campaigns have tried to suppress the vote of millions of Americans. Just a few examples:

  • Two years ago, Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) campaign sent official-looking mailers to low-income voters saying “Election Violation Notice” and warning that “You are at risk of acting on fraudulent information.”
  • College students in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Kentucky were falsely told that they were not allowed to vote.
  • Sheriff’s Deputies in Siskiyou County, California went door-to-door to houses of Asian Americans of Hmong descent, armed with rifles, telling residents the punishment of voter fraud.
  • Alabama tried to suppress minority voting by closing down 31 DMV offices in rural, majority-black counties across the state.
  • In Philadelphia, flyers in low-income neighborhoods warned that people with outstanding warrants or unpaid parking tickets could be arrested at the polls.
  • In Fayetteville, North Carolina, black residents who walked from an Obama rally to a nearby early voting center were heckled and harassed by white protesters.
  • For more, see this brand new op-ed in the New York Times.

Today, more than 50 years after the historic Voting Rights Act was enacted, voter suppression is still fairly common. This is in part because the Act is limited in scope and in part because most violators are never punished. Federal law also does nothing to prevent mistakes by election officials.

In the short run, progressives and government officials must vigorously defend voters’ rights. But in the longer run, states should adopt legislation that goes beyond federal law—a statewide Voter Protection Act.

Our model Voter Protection Act combines the best practices of laws in California, Connecticut and Illinois. It employs three avenues to ensure that every eligible voter is allowed to vote:

  • Penalties for intimidation and suppression—Heavy penalties would be imposed for both voter intimidation and suppression. Most states currently prohibit voter intimidation but not fraudulent suppression. Many state voter intimidation laws also have inadequate penalties.
  • Voter’s Bill of Rights—Every polling place would be required to post a Voter’s Bill of Rights. Seven states (CA, CT, FL, IN, MN, NV, NJ) currently have a Voter’s Bill of Rights.
  • Election Day Manual of Procedures—A book that clearly sets out election rules would be available to both voters and officials at the polls. New Jersey and Washington have laws requiring an election manual.

In the United States, the right to vote should be sacrosanct, because without that right we don’t have a democracy. Our election system must be completely free, fair and accessible.


Notwithstanding Hillary, why aren’t more women in public office?

by Alexandra Didenko, PLI Policy Intern

Nowadays we get used to hearing that women can do or be anything. In fact, that’s true only in theory. Certainly, the role of women has increased in all aspects of life, including politics. And this is not surprising: women are at least as capable as men to be stable, tolerant, and perseverant, especially in critical situations. Yet, according to a World Value Survey, almost 20 percent of Americans agree that “on the whole, men make better political leaders than women do.”

That’s one reason why only 20 percent of the Members of Congress, 25 percent of statewide elected officials, 25 percent of state legislators, and less than 19 percent of mayors are female. But there are many other factors as well.

There is a history of social expectations that women remain passive in society; for a long time, they were expected to remain strictly in the roles of homemakers and mothers. This gender stereotype is still present in many cultures to this day, including certain areas in the U.S. And some continue to believe in gender stereotypes, for example, that being a good political leader is like being a good driver, and women are not good in both. And it gets even worse because women are sometimes valued more for their beauty instead of their experience and intelligence. For example, in 2009, Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, wanted to, “line up some ‘fresh faces’ for the 2009 European parliamentary elections” by running models and actresses as legislative candidates for his party.

Research conducted by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that when evaluating a female politician, the American voter tends to analyze two components: the personal appeal of a woman (if she is attractive or not) and her achievements in the professional arena. Even if a woman has achieved outstanding professional success, but the voter does not find her attractive, he will most likely not give her his vote. When it comes to a male candidate, a voter would assess him as a man and a political leader simultaneously. Moreover, even if a male candidate’s track record is far from perfect, the voter will likely support him if he likes him personally. Furthermore, if a female politician belongs to the Republican Party, she is treated as a Republican first and then as a woman. In case of Democrats, the perception is the opposite: gender comes first. Independents, though, tend to prefer women candidates.

Still another factor is that women are often underestimated because of their perceived lack of experience in policy whereas men are considered to be more skillful, as in military or economics. On top of all of this, female politicians are often considered to be too soft and flexible based on their ‘natural’ qualities. This perception incorrectly leads many to believe that a female leader would be too weak defending their position and making difficult choices. Thus, the perceived lack of ruthlessness can be one of the obstacles that prevents women from being seen as full-fledged professionals in the political sphere.

Following this logic, men would have enough toughness for drastic measures. But the majority of countries are ruled by males, and if we consider all the wars and conflicts (Syria, Ukraine, etc.), wouldn’t it be better to have someone who will not immediately act drastically but have the capability to use diplomacy and find a compromise? A study conducted by Huddy and Terkildsen (1993) showed that female candidates can, in fact, win national office but they need to possess masculine traits and manage to convince voters about this by demonstrating competence in “male” policy issues. In order to succeed, the study says, it is vital for women to demonstrate two “male” qualities – strength and toughness.

There has been real progress in establishing gender equality, but much more needs to be done. Authentic democracy requires the full participation of all constituent groups, especially the largest group of underrepresented citizens – women.


Texas can’t get enough of harassing women over abortion

by Gloria Totten and Aimee Arrambide, Op-Ed in the Austin American-Statesman

After last month’s milestone decision by the Supreme Court to strike down anti-abortion laws in Texas, there was a communal sigh of relief across the country from abortion rights supporters — a majority of Americans today. But those celebrations were soon muted when the conversation shifted to what’s next for the anti-abortion movement, with many sensing it was only a matter of time before a different game plan emerged.

It didn’t take long — just a few days — and once again, it’s happening in Texas.

Last week, Texas health officials proposed new rules that would require abortion providers to either cremate or bury fetal remains. These new rules were published in the Texas Register on July 1 with no announcement and are unlikely to require lawmaker approval. This means that absent a legislative process, these superfluous, invasive rules are being ushered into law by Gov. Greg Abbott himself. While other states have introduced bills like this since the now-widely discredited Committee for Medical Progress videos surfaced last summer, Texas is using the rule-making process to push this through under the radar. In light of the House Bill 2 decision, we can only expect Texas and other states to do this more often.

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Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution

by Aimee Z. Arrambide, JD
Program Manager & Reproductive Rights Policy Specialist

My father was an obstetrician-gynecologist in Texas. Shortly after Roe v. Wade, until he passed away ten years ago, my father performed abortions in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Laredo.

He wore a Kevlar vest to work every day, we had an FBI Agent assigned to us, and my family had to live in gated communities because he was threatened almost daily. People tried to trick me into giving out his home address. I was told that my father was a baby killer.

I now work as an Austin-based policy specialist on abortion rights and a board member for Fund Texas Choice. My office is in one of the abortion clinics that was closed by HB 2 and my dad’s Kevlar vest sits across from me as a reminder of his heroism.

So the Supreme Court’s recent abortion rights ruling—Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt—was personal to me.

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Group identification, rather than policy, explains the 2016 election

Political activists have a notion that there is something beyond logic and self-interest that drives the choices of average voters.

We know that low-income Whites often vote against their own economic interests. We know that very religious Americans often support unreligious and even immoral candidates. “What’s the Matter with Kansas” is nothing new. And yet we still cite candidates’ policies to explain the 2016 election.

Yes, people who read articles about politics—you and I—tend to pick our candidates based on the policies they trumpet. That’s reasonable because the point of governance is to adopt and enforce a set of policies. But you and I are not average voters.

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American Culture Is Threatened by Hate Speech

America is not really a nation of laws. Our legislative system governs only the most egregious behavior. The way Americans treat each other day-to-day—attitude and etiquette, willingness or wariness, prejudice or tolerance—is driven mostly by our national culture.

Our culture is a set of beliefs, customs and behaviors accepted by the great majority of citizens, in part because they consider it a matter of right and wrong, and in part because they fear condemnation by society at large.

Since the end of the “segregation now…segregation forever” era, the open, unapologetic use of bigotry has been suppressed. But now, a presidential candidate is about to become the nominee of a major party in large part because people encourage his use of hate speech and falsehoods. For example:

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Now more than ever, we need to give voice to our progressive values

Americans who avoid politics are far more likely to pay attention in a presidential election year. This is our chance to persuade.

I suspect you may want to talk about single-payer health insurance, a financial transaction tax, the TPP, and the need to reverse Citizens United. But that’s a conversation that only works within the progressive base.

Our non-political neighbors and friends are not particularly interested in listening to a laundry list of policies. But they are willing to hear us describe our progressive values. To these sometime voters, it’s not a question of where we’d like to take our country, it’s a matter of why.

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New poll illustrates confirmation bias, Trump less popular than lice

A just-released Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey found that Donald Trump supporters inhabit an alternate reality. They believe in obvious falsehoods. Why is that and what does it mean for political discourse?

The poll, released on May 10, found that Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump by a margin of 47 to 41 percent in a head-to-head matchup. That’s just a snapshot and not a very interesting one.

But PPP went further. It found that only 34 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Donald Trump. Among that group:

  • 65 percent believe that President Obama is a Muslim and only 13 percent think he's a Christian, 22 percent are unsure.
  • 59 percent believe President Obama was not born in the United States and only 23 percent think that he was, 18 percent are unsure.
  • 24 percent believe Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered while 42 percent think he died naturally, another 34 percent are unsure.

Millions of Americans are living in a political fantasyland. But that’s nothing new. In 2012, fully 63 percent of Republicans still believed that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” when the United States invaded in 2003. In a 2013 PPP poll, 58 percent of Republicans believed “global warming is a hoax,” 33 percent of Republicans were still convinced that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attack, and 20 percent of Republicans said they “believe Obama is the Anti-Christ.”

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Both states and localities can curtail job piracy

Does anybody like job piracy? By that we mean tax breaks and subsidies to a few corporations for the supposed purpose of enticing them to move jobs from another jurisdiction.

As Good Jobs First points out, these subsidies are “wasteful because the costs are high and the benefits are low: a tiny number of companies get huge subsidies but the net impact of interstate job relocations is microscopic. It is [also] incredibly unfair to [all the other local] employers….”

We can curtail job piracy. All it takes is some political will and the Job Piracy Cease Fire Act, which is a binding offer from any state or locality saying, in effect, our jurisdiction won’t steal jobs from yours if you promise the same back to us.

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How to find logical fallacies in opponents’ arguments

Since Aristotle in the 4th century B.C., educated people learned the rules of rhetoric and how to identify opponents’ fallacies. Although Americans don’t often learn the intricacies of rhetoric today, political organizations and individuals routinely employ fallacious arguments.

Let us consider just a few of the many informal logical fallacies—the most common debaters’ tricks that sound convincing but are based on a flaw in logic.

(1) Red Herring Fallacy

Also known as: misdirection, smokescreen, clouding the issue, beside the point, and the Chewbacca defense.

A Red Herring argument is one that changes the subject, distracting the audience from the real issue to focus on something else where the speaker feels more comfortable and confident.

EXAMPLE: It may be true that the minimum wage should be adjusted, but the real solution is to eliminate burdensome government regulations so businesses can grow and are able to pay their employees higher salaries.

Your response should be: It's not an either-or question. Right now we’re debating specific legislation before the legislature/council to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. I’m saying it provides hard-working families with income to spend on their basic needs. Let’s focus on that.

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