Governor Evers Correct: Wisconsin Needs Nonpartisan Redistricting

For the second day in a row Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers made for smiles.  Not necessarily from just partisans, either.  All those who take pride in smart governing that is process-driven have ample reason to feel positive about his recent actions.

On Monday Evers pulled Wisconsin National Guard troops from the southern border, while making it clear keeping the borders safe and protecting immigrants seeking asylum is the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s job.  I strongly urged that move earlier this month, and applauded the executive action by Evers, due to our need to value the reasons these state residents signed up for duty in the first place.   It was not to demonize people fleeing violence and economic privation.

Now there is another strong and central reason to nod with deep approval for an action taken by Evers.  A new proposal will be offered to do away with the state’s partisan redistricting process and give the responsibility of drawing the state’s political maps to a nonpartisan agency.   I have blogged and commented on this need for a change in how political boundaries are crafted since I had all my hair.  The reason for my abiding conviction is due to the fact many of the problems we see in much of our dysfunctional politics can be traced back to the way political boundaries are drawn.   If you shake your head in derision when congress balks at even the most lukewarm gun control measures, or the lack of common-sense measures for immigration reform chalk it up to the way district lines are designed.  Redistricting reform may appear ‘boring’ at first glance, but it is central to much of the discord in the state and nation today.

We know Evers speaks in soft political tones on most issues.  That style is one that endears him to voters.  But if one listens to the average conversation on the street, or in a coffee-shop, the language can be more blunt when it comes to the issue at hand.  Voters are tired of being the pawns of power-hungry lawmakers, and are now fighting to take back the map-making process.  The more cynical citizen even will ask just how rank does a redistricting plan have to be before it runs afoul of the Constitution?   That is not what we wish for voters to feel when it comes to how district lines are drawn.  That is why this move from Evers is bound to be very popular around the state.  People who understand the problems with the current system want redistricting reform.

The Evers plan is aimed to solve the central issue that drives so much controversy over redistricting.  We cannot have a functioning republic if the politicians choose their voters.

Evers’ proposal would give responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an existing state agency, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, at the direction of a newly-formed, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. The state Legislature would still vote on the redistricting bill, but it would be restricted in the changes it could make.

There really should be no partisan stones cast when it comes to drawing boundary lines.  BOTH parties deserve criticism for the secretive and stubborn way they handled redistricting.  Wisconsin Democrats had the majority power during the time of Governor Doyle to create a commission for redistricting reform and chose not to proceed.  We know elected Republicans would not even hold a hearing in 2013 on a proposal to create a commission to deal with district lines.  Newspapers from around the state came together in their weekend editions to urge a hearing on bills then proposed in the legislature.  Perhaps the most concise writing that summed up the mood then–and now–came from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Competition among political ideas is good for democracy. But the opposite also is true. When districts aren’t competitive in general elections, the real election occurs in the primary, which typically is dominated by partisans.

The result: Candidates play to the partisans — to the wings of their parties — and the debate moves away from the center, where the real work used to get done in Madison and Washington.

I suspect that most voters from Ashland to Beloit believe that redistricting should not be partisan, but rather what is best for the process of governing.

If it seems like we have been fighting this issue for a long time, well, we have.  Political boundaries and the drama they create are as old as the nation itself.  In 1789 Patrick Henry helped draw the lines in Virginia in such a way as to place his enemy, James Madison, in an anti-Federalist district.  In fact before the term ‘Gerrymander” was in vogue there was a term called “Henrymander”.   Times change but the desire of partisans to control power does not.  That is what needs to be bridled.

This issue is not one that only currently resonates in the Badger State.  The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) found 71 percent of voters (nationwide) oppose permitting politicians to draw election districts crafted to assure the election or defeat of one party’s candidates.  Many people locally have spoken with sincerity over the need for a redistricting commission.  Todd Berry, former president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, was one of them.

But the problem with our elections goes deeper. Because of how legislative districts are drawn and because of where people choose to live, few districts are competitive with seats regularly changing party hands. That makes August party primaries pivotal. They are low-turnout affairs dominated by “true believers” and party activists, and subject to monied intervention by special interests. To win a primary in Democratic Dane County, a candidate moves to the far left; to win a primary in Republican Waukesha County, the reverse is true: GOP hopefuls compete for a subset of voters on the right.

I had hoped during last year’s gubernatorial campaign that someone would take up the torch for needed process reforms and run with it to all corners of the state.  Evers not only did that, but now is holding firm to his mission from the East Wing.  I am most confident that a growing mass of vocal fellow citizens will soon materialize to help urge this matter forward.  We need to again think back to our civics lessons as to why being a process (small d) democrat matters. Unless the way we elect people is based on a more equitable and level-playing field all the grand ideas we may hold about building a stronger society will be left in drafting folders on a shelf.

What Wisconsin Democrats Need To Do

One night last week as the winds howled I had a late dinner at my favorite Chinese restaurant.  Since the place was nearly empty and the wait staff in a relaxed and chatty mood the topic that dominates every conversation these days soon started.   Where are we now politically in this country and more importantly where are we headed?

After several minutes the question was asked about what can be done to reverse the direction we are now headed.  Without missing a beat, and with three fingers raised, I quickly stated we need to have political boundaries established by a special commission, better regulate campaign donations, and use merit selection for openings on the state’s high court.   These are the same points that are stressed over and over on this blog.  Each of them is most important if we are to provide a stronger foundation to our political institutions and allow for more faith to be felt by citizens in their government.

As if following up on that conversation there appeared this week a column offering Democrats advice, from of all places, the Op/Ed pages in The Wall Street Journal.

Democrats need a precise strategy for reversing the extreme gerrymandering that the other side has implemented in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. David Daley’s recent book on the topic exposes the dark but shrewd tactics Republicans used to achieve these perverse outcomes. It also explains how difficult it will be to win back state legislatures to fix redistricting.

There’s a better approach. Since 2008 voters in California, Florida and Arizona have approved independent redistricting commissions, taking authority away from gerrymandered state legislatures. Democrats must fight to get such referendums on the ballot in other states. Borrowing a page from the Republican playbook, they need this effort to be run by people who aren’t employed by the Democratic National Committee and aren’t based in Washington.

I noted among the several people engaged in the restaurant conversation on that blustery night a desire to think about ideas to make our democracy stronger.  The topic of political boundaries is not a sexy topic and surely not one that often pops up in random conversation–without someone like me (or you) to introduce it.  But when offered for pondering it does make an impression on others, and for obvious reason.  Because it is the right thing to do.

Much has been written and stated about the deep hole Wisconsin Democrats now find themselves.  Many have offered ideas for the future of my party.  But I have not heard anyone state what  must be a priority as we move forward.

Wisconsin Democrats must be willing to engage on the issues that deal with the foundations that are essential to making our government stronger.  It is not good enough to talk only of better jobs at better wages, or why continued investment in our schools is vital.  It is no longer good enough just to be Democrats, we need to also stress why being a process (small d) democrat matters.   Unless the way we elect people is based on a more equitable and level-playing field all the grand ideas we may hold about building a stronger society will be left in drafting folders on a shelf.

Elected Democrats across the state need to speak of how political boundaries are drawn with every coffee shop gathering, civic-club luncheon, and press interview.   We need only look a short distance away to see why this idea is worthy of our attention.

Since 1981 Iowa’s congressional and state legislative maps have been drawn by nonpartisan legislative staffers without considering voter registration numbers or the location of incumbents. Their main considerations are keeping districts compact and uniform in population.  And this effort has been met with bi-partisan applause.    Both the Iowa House and Senate overwhelmingly approve the maps.  The outcomes over the decades proves a healthy competitiveness between the two parties can exist on a level playing field.

The problem is that too many partisans in the Wisconsin Legislature are not able to think beyond their narrow interests, or consider the greater good when it comes to redistricting.  That certainly was the case a few years ago when there was not even the ability to have a public hearing in our statehouse about the method employed by Iowa!

Political parties have for too long used the boundaries of districts to inoculate elected officials from the need to truly compete about ideas at election time.  One of the more outstanding figures offered  over the past two years about immigration reform is that 70% of Republican congressional districts around the nation have less than 10% Hispanic/Latino voters.  In some cases that can be explained, but in many others it is due to crafty manipulation of district maps.  That type of political chicanery from both sides of the aisle creates far more problems when it comes to solving issues than perhaps anything else other than the heavy amounts of campaign money that is allowed to be raised.

Wisconsin Democrats are in the legislative minority.  But they can still be loud and focused on what can bring them out of the wilderness, and more importantly address a foundational problem in our state. 

What Motivates And Guides Caffeinated Politics?

I was reminded this past week that with over 2,500 posts on this blog, there are some over-riding themes and principles that are repeated over and over.  I thought it might be fun to think of the guiding issues and principles found on this blog, and write them down.

…. The process of governing is more important than the politics of any issue.  In addition a  fair and orderly atmosphere both in electing officals, and creating legislation is required to insure a fair and equal playing field.

….Campaign money, and the ever-consuming need for more and more of it,  pollutes the political process, and undermines the enactment of sound public policy.

…. The Supreme Court (both state and national) requires the highest and most ethical standards applied to applicants.  In the states, it is more appropriate to appoint justices through the merit selection process than to have elections for the judiciary.

…. Drunk driving is a most troubling  problem that will require tough-minded legislators being more interested in doing what is right, than  carrying alcohol for the Tavern League.

…. Tough anti-smoking laws are just common sense.

…. Going with principle (Dubai deal) is more important than following the prevailing political mood.

…. Torture is wrong, and spawns more terrorists while undermining a nation’s moral code.

…. Darfur needs the world.  Sadly, history will severely judge the  majorityfor not caring.

…. Preventive wars are a waste  of a nation’s  treasured resources.

….Israel needs to stop the illegal settlement policy, and Palestinians should have, must have, and will have a homeland to call their own.  When it comes to Israel the tail must stop wagging the dog.

….Polar bears are needing us to care more about them, and to reach an understanding about the need to address climate change.

…. Gun control is needed to insure the safety of the citizenry.  Strict regulations on the manufacture, sale, registration, and usage is the means for a safer nation.

…. Marriage matters, for all.   Period.

…. Cheating on a partner, married or otherwise, is smarmy and wrong.  Getting preachy about this issue is still OK.

…. Books are some of our best friends.

…. Just because a singer is older does not mean that they have less value or creative ability.

…. History is in need of more study and understanding, not only in our schools, but also with the average citizen of this nation.

….Never underestimate the lack of humor from Mormons.

…. Never underestimate the damage one Bishop (Molrino) can cause.

…. When it looks like it is a slow news day check in on the antics of Sarah Palin and the Clampetts of Palinland.

…. Newspapers are the foundation for long-form investigative reporting, and an essential ingredient to democracy.

….Journalists are as vital to the nations democracy and well being as our soldiers, sailors. and air force.

….Radio and TV personalities should be considered guests in our house, and when they offend should be rejected from our premises. 

…. Elvis is still The King.

…. So is Roy Acuff.

…. The Grand Ole Opry is a national treasure, and true slice of Americana.

Find Out What Is Wrong With California?

My beef with the political process in California was put into a few perfect paragraphs in a newspaper that was thrown by accident onto my stoop this morning.  I do not get the Financial Times but found myself reading, and agreeing, with their story about the budget woes of California. I have long argued these points, and am glad to see I am not alone in my thinking.

One cause of the problem is the state’s dysfunctional political system. California is one of only three in the US that requires a two-thirds majority in its legislature to approve a budget. With the state’s upper and lower houses evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, securing a two-thirds majority on all but mundane matters is practically impossible. A two-thirds majority is also required to raise taxes, which limits the ability of the governor to balance the books.

California’s system of direct democracy, while laudable in aim, is another headache. “Ballot initiatives” were introduced in 1911 by Hiram Johnson, then governor, who wanted to curtail the influence of the mighty Southern Pacific Railroad and return power to the people. Since then, any issue can be put to a state-wide vote, provided half a million or so signatures are gathered to support a change in the law.

Ballot initiatives were intended to give a voice to voters. “It was supposed to be about mom and pop talking about something around the dinner table and then getting all their friends to sign a petition,” says Dan Mitchell, professor emeritus at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the School of Public Affairs. “But most initiatives on the ballot don’t start that way.” Instead wealthy individuals and special interest groups “pay a couple of million dollars to employ people to collect signatures outside of supermarkets”.

Ballot initiatives have resulted in controversial laws being passed, such as the amendment to California’s constitution that outlawed gay marriage in California last November. The state’s constitution is bursting with such amendments, which can often impose huge constraints on financial planning, such as the 1998 proposition that committed the state to spending 40 per cent of its annual budget on education.

Mr Schwarzenegger admits the two-thirds majority rules and the ballot proposition process have been a hindrance. “It’s governing with your hands tied behind your back,” he says. The final link in California’s fiscal chain is its tax system. “It’s flawed,” he adds. “It has failed us over and over again when we have a downturn. We in California rely very heavily on rich people paying taxes – income taxes and capital gains.” This imbalance is partly because of legislation passed in 1978 – via a ballot initiative, naturally – that set strict limits on property taxes.

Another Reason I Voted For Obama: Signing Statements

Another promise that President Obama is keeping.

Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of them to bypass a statute.

“In exercising my responsibility to determine whether a provision of an enrolled bill is unconstitutional, I will act with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded,” Mr. Obama wrote in a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies in the executive branch. The document was obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Obama’s directions marked the latest step in his administration’s effort to deal with a series of legal and policy disputes it inherited from the Bush administration. It came the same day that Mr. Obama lifted restrictions Mr. Bush had placed on federal financing for research that uses embryonic stem cells.

Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements — official legal documents issued by a president the day he signs bills into law, instructing executive officials how to implement the statutes — led to fierce controversy.

The way that President Bush abused signing statements is one that has confounded me for years.   In July of 2006 I wrote the following.

Over the past six years President Bush has added signing statements to hundred of bills that passed Congress, and as such Bush has stretched his authority and ushered in a real test of the American Constitution. In essence what Bush can do as a result of adding statements to bills he signs is to circumvent the will of Congress and disregard portions of laws he does not want to follow.  In fact, Bush does not even cite his legal reasoning for such actions in the statements. 

In the Bush era this is applauded behavior and even was discussed during the Supreme Court nominee hearings recently.  The idea of ‘unitary executive’ is one that certain strict constructionists like to throw around.  The idea that the President alone could supervise, direct and control the operations of the executive branch is bizarre and dangerous. In the theoretical arena it is fun to discuss, but in the hands of Bush and Company the dangers are all too real.  It should be noted that this broad based abuse would be just as dreadful if a President to my liking were in the White House.   

Other Presidents have used signing statements but never to the extent in either number or force that this former alcoholic and drug user has.  Bush has raised constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions of more than 100 laws.  In his first term alone he had 505 constitutional objections.  Scholars and constitutional lawyers have urged Congress to pass much need legislation to remedy this abuse and reign in this growing menace on our democracy. 

 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi Gets Tough, GOP Miffed

This is the type of political move that needed to be done in order to insure that the nation’s business gets done without the Republicans attempting to derail legislation.  Too often we have seen efforts by the GOP in Congress to slow down needed legislation, not in order to make the bill in question better, but to totally torpedo the intent of the proposed bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear those days are over.

House Democrats are poised to approve new rules that will significantly increase their authority while taking the bullets out of the few legislative weapons Republicans have in the lower chamber.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has approved the changes from the last Congress, when House GOP members frustrated their Democratic counterparts by winning over two dozen amendment battles on the floor.

Pelosi’s move has set up a divisive mood on the first day of the 111th Congress, which Republicans say runs counter to the tone set by President-elect Obama.

Republican leaders intend to fight the rules changes, which would curtail their ability to delay legislation by forcing Democrats to take politically difficult votes.

“This is not the kind of openness and transparency that President-elect Obama promised,” the GOP leaders wrote Monday in a letter to Pelosi.

Republican leadership aides say the changes will make it easier for the Speaker to run the House and protect vulnerable House Democrats.

But Democratic leadership sources dispute the GOP characterizations, noting that Republicans will still have an opportunity to offer an amendment to bills on the floor, though they won’t have the ability to invoke an arcane rule that would in effect kill the entire underlying measure.

Democrats say GOP assertions that Republicans would not be able to offer a “motion to recommit” are false. They say they are removing the “Catch-22” that Republicans have exploited to force embarrassing votes on issues such as gun control and illegal immigration.

Barack Obama “Will Enter Office As Most Powerful President Ever To Sit In White House”

When it come to the process of how government should run and operate I am quite conservative.  While I have liberal policy goals, and have much fun cranking Republicans on my blog, I have a very narrow view for what constitutes the proper procedures that government should abide by when conducting the nation’s business.  As such, I was not pleased with the lack of public discussion in the recent campaign over a most important issue, that being the amount of executive power that resides with the President. 

Over the past eight years there has been a massive effort to expand the powers of the executive.  That does not bode well for the nation.   I would make that same statement about the issue had Barack Obama been in charge for the last two terms.  (And I am sure to raise this issue again as the months go by under an Obama Administration.)  This issue is not one of Democratic or Republican partisanship, but instead should be viewed as an American issue.  The results of a stronger executive branch undercuts the legislative, and ill-serves the very people they all claim to work on behalf of.

The goal for greater executive reach and power contained within the Patriot Act, Iraq War, and interrogations of those deemed to be terrorists, are just a few headline examples of what can go wrong when the legislative branch is treated like, or acts like, a doormat.  And let us not forget the infamous ‘signing statements’ that are just plain wrong, I would argue, on constitutional grounds.

This past weekend a long and brilliant piece about the excessive growth of executive power was written by Johnathon Mahler,and as such it demands a read.  I will post a few sections here, and while I realize that this topic is not ‘sexy’, I think it worthy of everyone’s attention.  I sat up late last night and read this piece, and hope for some constructive feedback from my readers.  If not, I hope at least it starts some more discussion where ever you are.

As it turned out, the power of the president soared to new heights under Bush. Many of the administration’s most aggressive moves came in the realm of national security and the war on terror in particular. The Bush administration claimed the authority to deny captured combatants — U.S. citizens and aliens alike — such basic due-process rights as access to a lawyer. It created a detention facility on Guantánamo Bay that it declared was outside the jurisdiction of the federal courts and built a new legal system — without any input from Congress — to try enemy combatants. And it argued that the president’s commander-in-chief powers gave him the authority to violate America’s laws and treaties, including the Geneva Conventions.

The assertion and expansion of presidential power is arguably the defining feature of the Bush years. Come January, the current administration will pass on to its successor a vast infrastructure for electronic surveillance, secret sites for detention and interrogation and a sheaf of legal opinions empowering the executive to do whatever he feels necessary to protect the country. The new administration will also be the beneficiary of Congress’s recent history of complacency, which amounts to a tacit acceptance of the Bush administration’s expansive views of executive authority. For that matter, thanks to the recent economic bailout, Bush’s successor will inherit control over much of the banking industry. “The next president will enter office as the most powerful president who has ever sat in the White House,” Jack Balkin, a constitutional law professor at Yale and an influential legal blogger, told me a few weeks ago.

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The Senate is a different place now, though. Consider this telling bit of institutional history, as related by Robert Caro in his continuing biography of Lyndon Johnson. When Johnson was elevated to the vice presidency in 1961, he suggested to Senator Mike Mansfield, his successor as Senate majority leader, that he be permitted to continue presiding over the Democratic caucus. Mansfield initially agreed — but the rest of the caucus revolted. The vice president might be the ceremonial president of the Senate, they argued, but to empower him to attend their caucuses, let alone run them, would create a dangerous precedent.

By contrast, in recent years, you could set your watch by the arrival of Vice President Cheney’s motorcade on Capitol Hill for the Republican caucus’s weekly strategy sessions. He was at times known to bring Karl Rovewith him as well. “You can imagine the amount of dissent that goes on with the two of them sitting there,” Leahy told me.

As Leahy sees it, these weekly trips to Capitol Hill were part of the administration’s strategy to marginalize Congress by encouraging Republican senators to put party loyalty ahead of institutional loyalty. He draws a sharp contrast between Cheney and vice presidents like George H.W. Bush and Walter Mondale, who made an effort to get to know members of both parties and ensure that their voices were heard inside the Oval Office. “I think in a way this administration set out to make the Republican Partyon the Hill an arm of the White House,” Leahy told me.

But the politicization of the Senate didn’t begin with Bush. Norman Ornstein, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, traces the roots of the trend to the Congressional elections of 1994, when the Republicans took back the House after 40 years in the minority. Led by Newt Gingrich, a new group of fire-breathing freshman lawmakers arrived on Capitol Hill with an ambitious, highly partisan agenda. Finally in the majority, the House Republicans gleefully wielded their newfound subpoena power to harass the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, by, for example, taking dozens of hours of testimony on whether he abused the White House Christmas-card list for the purposes of fund-raising.

According to Ornstein, the Senate, and in particular its leader through 1996, Bob Dole, was at first skeptical of Gingrich and his ideological minions in the House. But Dole’s successor, Trent Lott, was more partisan and thus more willing to engage in the politicization of Senate actions like the confirmation of Clinton’s judicial appointments.

It was the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, though, that finally pushed the Senate into the trenches of political warfare and polarized the institution once and for all. Senators now saw themselves as members of their respective political parties first — and representatives of their constituencies second. After George W. Bush’s election in 2000, many Republicans on Capitol Hill saw it as their duty to protect him from their Democratic colleagues. “The Republican leaders in both houses of Congress made the decision that they were going to be field soldiers in the president’s army, rather than members of an independent branch of government,” Ornstein says.

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You need not look any further than Senator John McCain’s efforts to give Congress a voice in the treatment of detainees to grasp the difficulty that the legislative branch faces trying to push back against a determined president.

McCain first got involved in the torture fight in early 2005, when it was by no means a popular cause, particularly inside his own party. “At a time when there was not a single person in the United States who had any influence who was willing to take this issue on, he took it on,” says the executive director of Human Rights First, Elisa Massimino, who worked with McCain on the torture bill.

The White House did everything it could to stop McCain, Warner and Graham from going forward with their torture bill. Bush repeatedly threatened to veto the legislation, and Cheney met behind closed doors with the three senators on three separate occasions to persuade them that limiting the president’s power to authorize coercive interrogations would hurt the war against terror.

McCain dug in his heels, though. When Stephen Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, called Warner to urge the senators to at least soften the language of the legislation, a Warner aide alerted a McCain staff member. In a matter of minutes, McCain was bounding down the hall toward Warner’s office. He emerged triumphantly a few minutes later, joking to Warner’s staff, “I had to go in there and waterboard him.”

After months of work, the senators succeeded in getting the torture bill passed with a vetoproof majority, 90-9. But the president subsequently undid all of their efforts with a stroke of the pen. The language of the bill required that all military interrogations be conducted according to the United States Army Field Manual, which defines what methods can and can’t be used and outlaws “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment of prisoners. When Bush signed the bill into law at the end of 2005, he issued a presidential signing statement asserting the right, as commander in chief, to determine what constitutes “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment. For good measure, he reserved the power to violate the torture bill itself if he thought it necessary for the purposes of national security.

Missouri Hopes To Make It Harder For Poor, Disabled, Elderly, Minorities To Vote

The idea that we should work to find ways to make it more difficult to cast a ballot seems like a past-time for the Missouri State Legislature.  The Missouri voter ID requirement, which the Supreme Court ruled to be constitutional, and which many of us understand to be better labeled as disenfranchisement, seems to be but the start of their efforts to stymie voting.  Now they want proof of citizenship. (Why don’t Missouri Republicans just vote for the entire state and be done with it?  Why even pretend that they care about the will of the voters and want them to even show up on Election Day? ) This new proof of citizenship idea smacks me of being so un-American.  I think perhaps the Missouri Legislature should instead show proof that enough oxygen is getting to the brains of their members.

The battle over voting rights will expand this week as lawmakers in Missouri are expected to support a proposed constitutional amendment to enable election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote.

Sponsors of the amendment — which requires the approval of voters to go into effect, possibly in an August referendum — say it is part of an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process. Critics say the measure could lead to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it difficult to prove their citizenship.

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“Three forces are converging on the issue: security, immigration and election verification,” said Dr. Robert A. Pastor, co-director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. This convergence, he said, partly explains why such measures are likely to become more popular and why they will make election administration, which is already a highly partisan issue, even more heated and litigious.

The Missouri secretary of state, Robin Carnahan, a Democrat who opposes the measure, estimated that it could disenfranchise up to 240,000 registered voters who would be unable to prove their citizenship.

In most of the states that require identification, voters can use utility bills, paychecks, driver’s licenses or student or military ID cards to prove their identity. In the Democratic primary election last week in Indiana, several nuns were denied ballots because they lacked the required photo IDs.

Measures requiring proof of citizenship raise the bar higher because they offer fewer options for documentation. In most cases, aspiring voters would have to produce an original birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport. Many residents of Arizona and Missouri already have citizenship information associated with their driver’s licenses, and within a few years all states will be required by the federal government to restrict licenses to legal residents.

Critics say that when this level of documentation is applied to voting, it becomes more difficult for the poor, disabled, elderly and minorities to participate in the political process.

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