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In Colorado, The Fight For Better Election Systems Continues

GOP lawmakers in Colorado are trying to put a two year hold on HB-1303, placing a yet another obstacle between voters and the polls. 

 

Remember how awesome it was when Gov. Hickenlooper signed the historic Colorado Voter Access and Modernization Election bill into law (HB 1303), which set the pace for modernizing the election systems in the state and make voting easier for Colorado citizens?

Well today, there's a hearing on SB 14-141, a GOP sponsored bill that would put an unnecessary hold on the law for two years and essentially put Colorado's election process back in the dark ages. The hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee starts at 1:30pm MT.

2013 was a watershed year in Colorado electoral history with the passage of HB-1303, which provided a wide range of positive and comprehensive changes to the election process in the state. For example, voters now receive ballots in the mail and have the choice to vote by mail or in person, which aided a large influx in voter participation, with almost 400,000 more voters than 2011, according to the Colorado County Clerks Association. The law also made it easier for voters to change their addresses and adjust their registrations, which is an issue that impacts tens of thousands of people. Between October 15, 2013 and November 6, there were 29,155 voter registrations changes made, including 23,509 individuals who moved their addresses within their county.

HB 1303 received praise on the national level, including from conservative former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor Potter. And based on the recent Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Colorado has already satisfied almost all of the listed "best practices": online registration, early voting, vote centers, choice of mail ballots or in-person voting, live e-poll books and others. Public policy think tank Demos made similar recommendations in their report, entitled “Millions to the Polls”, and also recommended allowing voters to vote or change their registration information through Election Day.

A two-year hold on HB-1303 would serve as a unnecessary step back and roadblock between voters and the polls. We urge the Senate State Affairs committee members to kill SB 14-141. 

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Kicking Off Another America Votes State Summit

The 2014 America Votes State Summit, our fifth annual, kicks off tomorrow afternoon.  For more info about the Summit, the agenda and featured speakers, visit our Summit page here

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The Monster Laws: Suppressing the Vote in Texas and North Carolina

The right to vote is supposed to be guaranteed to Americans. But since the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act in June, that has not been the case for many voters in Texas and North Carolina.

As Americans, we are guaranteed certain rights. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, petition. Right to a speedy trial. Right to bear arms. And one of those rights, perhaps the most important right of all, the one that allows us to determine the people who make laws, declare war or peace, and represent our country to the rest of the world, is the right to vote. American men and women of all races and walks of life are supposed to be able to cast their vote. But since the nearly complete destruction of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court earlier this year, that right has been increasingly infringed upon across the country.

In North Carolina, the number of days allotted for early voting has been cut down and voters cannot cast their ballots without showing an ID.

In Texas, biased redistricting has disenfranchised minority voters and voter ID has hurt both minorities and women.

The Department of Justice is suing both of these states but even if the laws can be overturned without the backing of the majority of the Voting Rights Act, in the meantime they will continue to suppress voters.

On Monday, with the beginning of early voting for Texas's November 5 election, the Voter ID law officially went into effect. Already reports of problems at the polls are streaming in.

On Tuesday, a state judge was almost stopped from casting a ballot because her middle name on her photo ID was her maiden name instead of her actual middle name. It was the first time she'd had trouble voting in 49 years. Eighty four-year-old Dorothy Card has been voting for 60 years but may have trouble this year because she was denied a voter ID despite having ample identification. They are just two of the 34 percent of Texas women who are likely to be affected by the new law.

The women are only a small portion of the voters being disenfranchised in Texas. Students and minorities especially Latinos are also being disproportionally hit. However, the Department of Justice has a stronger case against Texas than against North Carolina.

From the News & Observer:

The government's case in Texas potentially has been strengthened by an earlier federal court ruling that the state's redistricting plan wrongfully singles out Latinos and other minorities. The finding of "discriminatory intent" has also been bolstered by the discovery of anti-Latino emails sent by legislators while the district lines were being drawn.

The North Carolina voting regulations that have been passed are considered so awful by the opposition that the package is now regularly referred to as "The Monster Law." And election expert Rick Hasen said it was "the largest and most restrictive" set of voting regulations to be in place since the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The News & Observer detailed the ways the regulations are set to affect voting:

The changes include everything from requiring voters to present a government identification card, to cutting back the days - but not the hours - of early voting. They also eliminated same-day registration and put new restrictions on voters who turn up in the wrong precinct.

Some of the new laws will start next year. The voter ID takes effect in 2016, when the state helps elect a new president.

The changes follow general elections in 2008 and 2012 where, with Obama at the top of the Democratic ballot, the percentage turnout of the state's African-American voters exceeded that of whites.

A disproportionate number of black residents used early voting, which has been cut back by a week. Grass-roots efforts to get out the black vote relied on the state's annual voter drive and same-day registration, which allowed residents to register and vote early at the same time.  Both have been eliminated.

But North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) and his supporters continue to claim they are fighting voter fraud. Voter fraud that is virtually nonexistant. McCrory says,"I firmly believe we've done the right thing. I believe this is good law. And I strongly disagree with the action the attorney general has taken." He went on to call the laws "common sense" and has even taken measures to officially request that the cases against the state be dropped.

As anyone with real common sense can tell you, these laws are not about voter fraud; they are about voter suppression. They are about preventing the people who would vote you out of office from casting their ballot; they are about cheating to get ahead. That is what lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina are trying to do.

In both of these states, changing demographics point to a move towards progressive values. More minorities and women are moving into positions of power and the older set of lawmakers, the conservative white males, are being pushed out. They are panicking.

What they don't see is that if they had listened and held themselves to a higher standard they wouldn't be on the verge of losing their place. If instead of kicking and screaming and throwing tantrums in the form of shutdowns, they'd stood up for the American people as a whole and not just their loudest constituents, maybe they wouldn't need to rig the system at all.

But they didn't do that. And they are rigging the system. They are suppressing voters. And until the DOJ cases are heard, the McCrorys and Perrys will be taking away one of the most basic, one of the most important rights in America, the right to vote.

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No More Names Rally, Demand Action

Join us at the No More Names Rally tomorrow, Thursday, September 19th at 10:30AM at the US Capitol Building. 

Columbine, Fort Hood, Aurora, Newtown and now Navy Yard. How many more lives must be lost before Congress takes action on gun control? How many more names will be added to the list of people killed in mass shootings?

Many of these shootings might have been prevented, fewer lives might have been lost, if only our government passed common sense protections like universal background checks.

Our lax gun laws have made us a supplier of criminals and terrorists. One member of Al Queda even recommended that terrorists come to America to purchase guns. He said, "America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show... and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and, most likely, without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"

So what are our lawmakers waiting for? Common sense gun laws that protect Americans are past due. We must demand action.

Join us at the No More Names Rally tomorrow, Thursday, September 19th at 10:30AM at the US Capitol Building.

It is past time to make a change. Every day the government waits to pass common sense laws is another chance for more lives to be lost to gun violence.

For more information on the rally, visit nomorenames.org.

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All is Not Lost in the Colorado Recalls

A victory in Colorado for the NRA does not mean a total loss for progressives.

Two progressive champions have been ousted from the Colorado state Senate in its first ever state recall. State Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron lost their seats yesterday to their Republican challengers. The senators faced recall after voting for common sense gun safety laws that would institute universal background checks and limit the number of rounds a gun magazine can hold to 15. These results do not change everything though.

The recall does not affect the common sense legislation that passed earlier this year. 
The gun safety laws were supported by an overwhelming majority of Coloradans. Because of Morse and Giron's votes, now it is harder for criminals to get their hands on guns. These laws are on the books, and no amount of bullying will change that.

Democrats are still the majority party.
Despite the loss of two seats to Republicans, not much has changed in the command of power. Both the legislature and the governorship are still held firmly by Democrats.

The voters that turned out do not necessarily accurately reflect their districts.
Throughout the recall election, Republicans worked their hardest to suppress voters. As a result, the election had a very low turnout rate. Republicans did everything they could to disenfranchise voters. Mail-in ballots and information on voting locations were not available until just two weeks before election day.

Many voters are upset about the costliness of the recall.
This was a symbolic win for extremists, but moderate voters are frustrated with paying the bill. Taxpayers, not lawmakers, will be footing this bill. The elections cost up to $500,000. In fact, this recall was the costliest election to date in Pueblo County.

We must be diligent.
Morse and Giron had the courage to stand up for what's right. We can help others do the same with our support. The NRA and many other pro-gun organizations believe using scare tactics like a recall will prevent progressive lawmakers from passing gun safety laws. We can't let them be right. In her concession speech, Giron said she had no regrets about the votes she made. She went on to say, "I'm a fighter. We will win in the end, because we are on the right side."

We might have lost the recalls, but the fight is not over.

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On the Ground in Colorado: E-Day GOTV Kicks Off Bright and Early

America Votes sent several staff from our national office to Colorado to help with the recall elections. Our staff will be reporting from the ground.  Today is Election Day and the door knocking continues.

It has been an energetic GOTV so far despite the heat (90+ degrees), and now we've finally reached Election Day. Yesterday our canvassing crew of four knocked on nearly 400 doors in central Pueblo, where there was an encouraging number of "Vote NO" yard signs.
 
Volunteers were at the staging location at 6:30am this morning ready to go - including Sen. Angela Giron. This morning we've already dropped off overa 160 door hangers with Election Day reminders and will finish our final 70 doors in the next hour.
 
With the urgency of Election Day, we'll be returning to at least half of the doors where we didn't get a chance to connect with voters before 1pm today. We'll continue this cycle until the polls close at 7pm MT tonight.

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PICTURES: CO Recall Elections Today

Today, voters in two Colorado Senate districts will go to the polls to vote on whether or not to recall two state Senators for supporting common-sense gun violence prevention legislation.  America Votes and its partners are working hard to stop the recalls -- here are some pictures from the last few days of GOTV.  More updates to come!

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Update: Colorado Recall

Voting is in full swing in Colorado's recall of two Democratic state senators. State Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron both face being recalled on Tuesday September 10th.

The recall comes in response to the common sense gun safety laws both lawmakers supported. The laws implement universal background checks across the state and lower the maximum number of rounds an automatic weapon can hold to 15. The elections are only taking place in two districts in the state but both have quickly earned national attention.

Donors from across the nation have contributed roughly $3.5 million. The National Rifle Association has given a reported $360,000 to groups in favor of the recall, a number that is expected to go up once final reports are submitted in October.

Early voting has already begun in the pivotal election with more than 20,000 constituents voting in Pueblo County, Giron's district, since August 30. In Morse's district, an estimated 9,500 voters have cast their ballots since early voting's start on Thursday.

Today, Governor John Hickenlooper released a statement saying he was concerned about potentially "unlawful" behavior at the polls:

"We are hearing disturbing reports that some people are being encouraged to go to the polls, not to legitimately vote, but to disrupt the process," Hickenlooper said. "That would be unlawful and makes a mockery of the democratic process. We urge the county clerks in Pueblo and El Paso counties to make clear that people engaged in attempting to disrupt the elections are open to criminal prosecution. We've also reached out to the attorney general to help us ensure fair elections take place this week."

America Votes and several of its partners are currently on the ground in both Pueblo and Colorado Springs. For information on how you can help and where to vote, visit www.coloradovotesno.com.

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We Stand With Wendy Davis

Yesterday and into last night, Wendy Davis, a Texas state Senator, completed a filibuster of a draconian anti-women's health bill that the Texas Senate was attempting to push through during a special session, which ended at midnight last night.  As protestors made their voices heard in the gallery, Republicans tried to pass the bill before the session closed after they cut off Senator's Davis' filibuster on procedural grounds.  They did not succeed. 

Read more here, and take a look at this quick video from Planned Parenthood President, and former America Votes President Cecile Richards, who was in Texas supporting Senator Davis.

 

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A Progressive's Quick Guide to Shelby County v. Holder

There's a lot of information floating around about SCOTUS's decision that struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). But what does it mean for voting rights advocates and the work of the progressive community?

After SCOTUS released its decision on Shelby County v. Holder saying Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is unconstitutional, the progressive community was shocked. The Supreme Court essentially made it easier for states to enact voter suppression laws such as voter ID. But let's be clear: the decision today is not all doom and gloom for the future of voting. Here's a quick preliminary guide for what you need to know about next steps for progressives in the aftermath of today's decision:

What did the Shelby County v. Holder decision really do? In short, it is okay for the federal government to "preclear" new election laws to ensure they do not discriminate against minorities (Section 5 of the VRA), but the Supreme Court determined that the existing guidelines that target states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination at the polls (Section 4 of the VRA) was unconstitutional. 

But Section 5 of the VRA is still constitutional. Why are people so upset? It's great news that Section 5 of the VRA was ruled constitutional - we would have a much bigger problem on our hands if it wasn't. But Section 5 is essentially useless if the federal government has no guidelines or means to act on it, which is what Section 4 did. 

What does this mean for voting rights? It means that states that were previously subject to preclearance in order to enact new election laws are now free to enact suppressive voting laws, such as voter ID, without the federal government intervening. In fact, the Texas Attorney General wasted no time today to announce that voter ID is effective immediately throughout the state. The maps here show proposed and effective voter suppression laws, many of which were (or would have been) subject to preclearance before today's decision. Let's put it this way: the outlook is pretty grim for voting rights in many states. 

How can we fix this problem? Will it be difficult? Congress needs to pass a law that will set new guidelines for the federal government to identify election laws that should be precleared. With the intense legislative gridlock in Congress these days, it's easy to speculate that it will be difficult to move a bill through. But voting rights advocates aren't without hope; the urgency of this problem, widespread negative consequences and bipartisan support of the VRA mean there is at least a possibility to pass a law sooner than later. 

What can voting rights advocates and the progressive community do in the meantime? We're not going to hold our breath waiting for Congress to fix the problem. We're going to keep doing the same things we've been doing for a long time: educating the public on the consequences of suppressive voter laws and fighting to protect voting rights in the states. Federal government preclearance is an important oversight to protect access to the ballot, but the root of the problem is elected officials on the state and local levels who enact voter suppression laws in the first place. 

The Leadership Conference Education Fund has already launched a site to help build a movement to restore of the VRA: http://restorevotingrights.org/. For more updates on protecting voter rights in the states, stay connected with America Votes through our blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. 

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