Getting Up And Out For Voting Rights!

All at once, the entire Texas Statehouse Democratic Caucus is the focal point for protecting election rights in the nation. I must say, the spirit and spine they show remind all of us what we need to do in upping our game in the fight to save our democracy.

In the midst of an onslaught of legislative moves by Republicans from coast-to-coast to restrict voting following the 2020 historic voter turnout and the unprecedented use of vote-by-mail, it goes without saying it is essential strong-willed Democrats and independents wage a battle to stop the undermining of the right to cast a ballot.

Some of my Republican readers would argue that the bills under consideration, or the ones already passed, only strengthens ballot integrity and free and fair elections. The rest of us would contend that no matter what coat of paint is applied to the bills they are still voter repression efforts.

One part of the Texas proposal under consideration, that is not in any way defendable, is the removal of drive-through voting. As an example, Harris County first tested drive-thru voting in a summer 2020 primary runoff election with little controversy, but its use of 10 drive-thru polling places for the November general election created Republican outrage. Voters remained in their cars and showed a photo ID and verified their registration before casting ballots on portable voting machines. There was nothing different about the voting other than they might have been listening to the radio as they made their balloting choices.

As a person on the national news last night quipped, ‘We allow drive-through pick up for alcohol sales, but not for voting!”

Another regressive move by Republicans would prohibit local election officials from sending unsolicited applications to request a mail-in ballot. Harris County’s attempt to proactively send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters last year was blocked by the Texas Supreme Court. Under the bill mailing unrequested applications to voters in the future would also be blocked. After all, why encourage voters to exercise their rights!

As of June 21, 17 states enacted 28 new laws that restrict access to the vote. With some state legislatures still in session, more laws will certainly follow. But if the Democrats in the Texas Legislature have anything to say about it their state will not be adding constrictive laws to the statutes.

I honestly can say the willpower and steadfastness of the Texas Democrats are inspiring. For the second time this year, they have staged a walkout in an effort to block Republicans from passing new voting restrictions. You might recall they walked out of the Capitol building in May.

Now they have left the state!

That bold move reminded me of the days in February 2011 when religious leaders in Illinois and Wisconsin offered their congregations and homes as a sanctuary for Wisconsin Democratic senators who walked out of the legislature to block a vote on then-Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to roll back collective bargaining rights for public employees.

The goal of the Texas Democrats is, of course, to deny the legislative special session the quorum of members it needs to pass massive changes based on lies about the 2020 presidential election. Texas Republicans are pandering to the base that supports Donald Trump, but in so doing are eroding at the foundations of the republic.

Those Democrats who have left the state will continue to work. At least 50 of the 67 Democratic lawmakers flew to Washington, where they will meet with other legislators to push for federal voting protections. It is my hope that the gutsy move they are making will, in contrast, showcase the lack of resolve and backbone among several Democratic senators who have not been agile enough in protecting our democratic (small d) values.

Republicans can’t win elections unless they cheat by suppressing votes. (Or rig district boundaries with gerrymandering.) Democrats in Texas are calling the GOP out with a national headline-making move.

We need to now press our calls and emails to members of Congress to be as mindful of the right to ballot access as the Texas Democrats are doing.

And so it goes.

Why Are Republicans Sore Losers?

I do not mean to start another post with a personal touch, but the topic of voting does touch very close to home for me. My dad was elected for 40 continuous years to the Hancock Town Board. Having served in WWII, the Pacific Theatre, and feeling a connection to his hometown area and the people, meant he had a sense of public service. But I know if Dad had been defeated at the polls he would have taken it in stride, thanked the people for the opportunity to serve, and went back to the garden where he took pride in his potato patch.

What I know he would not have done is kvetch about the election, who voted, who did not, or whine about the voting procedures. The reason would have been due to knowing such behavior was not decent. I would phrase it because he was above such behavior, but dad would not have cared for the idea that he was somehow better than others. That sentiment, too, is a reflection of the man he was.

So it really does touch a nerve to read of the continuing assaults on voting access across the country which are being created by Republicans. (And, yes, my dad was a Republican until President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. I was so proud of him for telling people why he had switched parties, and even watching him hang up the phone on attempts to raise money for the GOP.) The latest episode that simply confounds me with attempts at voting manipulation by conservatives are the new restrictions in Florida. Recall that Donald Trump won that state in 2020.

What makes the GOP nervous in the Sunshine State is that 680,000 more Democrats than Republicans voted by mail in Florida in 2020. That makes for anguish when the party leans more in tune with autocratic foundations than ones rooted in democratic ideals. The new Florida law would limit the use of drop boxes by having them available only when early voting sites are open instead of 24 hours a day.

But the blowback from losing the White House does not end there. Florida Republicans have also gone after absentee balloting in several ways, too. There are now more needless ID requirements, above and beyond what is already regarded as the safeguard for protecting the voting process. The new laws get rid of the standing absentee voter list and force voters to ask for an absentee ballot for every election! That is absurd.

And not to be outdone for meanness and to be akin to Georgia, it doesn’t let voters standing in line to be given water or food. Perhaps the brainy ones in the GOP base are fearing microchips will be in the cold water and make a voter become a raving socialist by the time they enter the voting booth.

The bottom line in Florida, like so many other states where Republicans are showing their true Brown Shirt character, is that they are doing everything they can to stop people who are likely to favor Democrats from voting.

Perhaps the Republican Party should follow the path my dad took those 40 years in public service. Act with honor in office, help people understand the issues, and never be petty about the will of the voters.

And so it goes.

Biden Press Conference Refreshing For Facts, Empathy, Calm

If I were to write a short summation of President Biden’s hour-long press conference it would be as follows.

Fact-filled, lengthy, multi-issued, empathetic press conference…and no rudeness or bombast. Refreshing.

I suspect the nation will view it that way, too. Getting back to having mature, reasoned, and experienced hands on the reins of government are a good look for the world’s superpower. During the first press briefing of his presidency, Biden handled a variety of topics from his administration’s US-Mexico border response, gun control, and COVID-19.

But it was when Biden talked about the need to protect children at the border, and the thinking process which any family would undertake when sending loved ones on a long journey just to reach the border was when he proved to be the antithesis of the previous one in the White House. The regard Biden has for the least among us has long been a reason I have championed his career over the decades. His calm, reflective, and human nature was clear for all to see from the East Room.

The nation’s migration policies were upended by Donald Trump with new and purely racist ones implemented starting in 2017. Those policies did not end the numbers of migrants who came to the border over the past four years, just made the human misery deeper. Having children huddled on the other side of the Rio Grande is not a moral policy.

“He (Trump) in fact shut down the number of beds available. He did not fund HHS to get the children out of those border patrol facilities where they should not be.”

“He dismantled all that.”

We now have a moral leader in the White House.

The other issue that reached out to me was when Biden answered a reporter’s question that dealt with voting rights in the nation.

It’s sick. It’s sick” he stated as he then cited examples of some states proposing restrictions on bringing water to people standing in line waiting to vote, or to prohibit absentee ballots even under the most rigid of circumstances. Or shutting down voting at 5 PM when workers get off their jobs.

This White House press conference was akin to what this nation has long known, with the exception of the distance between reporters due to the pandemic. But the substance of the questions and responses, the decorum, the respect for the process of reporters doing their job and the President his, was so refreshing. There was no bombast or crude remarks or needless chaos.

Joe Biden was just doing what we elected him to do.

Be President.

Senator Ron Johnson Is No Senator Arthur Vandenberg

The latest word salad from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is another example of what is terribly wrong with the Republican Party, at a time when there must be a higher appreciation for the needs of the nation.

Our divisions are deep, but it is incumbent on elected officials to rise above their partisan nature to mend fences following a rough election season. Instead of unifying words Johnson veered off in the other direction. He stated half the country will not accept the outcome of the presidential election should Joe Biden be sworn into office.

The senator also implied voter fraud is taking place, but when pressed for evidence, like others who have made similar allegations, could offer no evidence or proof of what was claimed. Johnson even went further by refusing to say if he thought the election was legitimate.

Let us all acknowledge that undermining the integrity of the voting booth and the process for counting ballots is dangerous to our democracy and political institutions. What is happening to our nation based on this type of reckless language needs to be addressed.   

For partisan purposes a most determined attempt is underway to besmirch the electoral process. Johnson has added his words to that effort. This is happening at a time when there is much to be proud of given the huge turnout of voters who cast ballots. We must have a national conversation about better access to voting locations, and stopping voting suppression efforts, but the process that played out during a pandemic this fall speaks to the hopes of a nation, and should not now be impugned.

Which brings me to Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, and why Johnson’s words do not echo with what history tells us is a far better road to travel in Washington.

President Franklin Roosevelt had played tough political ball during the creation of the needed New Deal. Some Republicans felt that upon his death, and his replacement being the novice Harry Truman, that it might be political payback time. But Vandenburg saw things differently.

Vandenberg wrote to Democratic President Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”

The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II.

It seems quaint to write of political opposites seeing their role on the national stage being about the higher requirements of the nation. Upon the the death of Vandenburg the former president described him as “a patriot who always subordinated partisan advantage and personal interest to the welfare of the Nation.” Can there be a better tribute for a senator?

I fully grasp the highly-charged atmosphere that exists following this election. But with the people so divided means it is critical that leaders in each party step up and place the needs of the nation above partisan whims.

It is vital we not crash through the barriers of common sense with baseless allegations that will result in still more erosion of faith among the electorate in a national political institution. The price for the undermining of electoral integrity is too high to pay.   Politicians need to get their tongues under control.

As such, Wisconsin’s senior senator might take a lesson from one of Michigan’s shining examples of how to pull back on the partisanship so to meet the larger needs of the nation.

The 19th Amendment 100 Years Later…The Work Continues For Voting Rights

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News shows and newspapers are making a play today for attention surrounding the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which secured voting rights for women.  Make no mistake the passage of that amendment is mighty historic and vitally important.

But like so much of how history is taught, as Paul Harvey might say, there needs to be ‘the rest of the story’.  The quick version taught in high schools is that women worked long and hard to attain the most precious right one can have and use in a democracy.  But the quick story is not the whole story.  As a history buff, I am often dismayed at the lack of depth and insight taught about our past, and therefore a large segment of the nation has no understanding of the larger circumstances of the country.  Simply put, the 19th Amendment was but a start.

States could use poll taxes and other voter suppression tactics — already used across the country to deny voting rights to Black men — to keep Black women from voting. They could, and did, use those same tactics against Latina women. Indigenous women and many Asian American women lacked citizenship in 1920, meaning they couldn’t vote in the first place. All in all, the 19th Amendment was essentially for one group of women and one group only: white women.

That was by design. White suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton may have championed equality for women, but in practice, they often meant women like themselves. And in the drive to get states to ratify the 19th Amendment, white advocates wanted the support of Southern white women — and their husbands and fathers — and were willing to sacrifice Black Americans’ voting rights in order to get it. They were also willing to set aside the rights of Native American and Asian American women, even though they sometimes invited these women to appear at events as a way to build interest in their movement.

I am thoroughly enjoying reading These Truths by Jill Lepore (presently at the end of WWII) as it is a book where the totality of history is allowed to be dived into, and it is not always, as so many others books attest, the sugary narrative taught in public schools.  The women’s movement was not always the best higher light.

CNN made the point in their reporting this week.

While Frederick Douglass, a noted Black abolitionist, orator and writer attended, Black women weren’t present at Seneca Falls — but their voices and perspectives on women’s rights, which for them necessarily included the abolition of slavery, are part of the long history of suffrage activism as well. Both interracial cooperation as well as tensions stemming from anti-Black racism and anti-immigrant sentiments existed in the woman suffrage movement from its inception. The tensions between White suffragists and suffragists of color, primarily African American women, intensified post-Emancipation and after the passage, ratification and adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The work for voting rights is not over–in fact–on this 100th anniversary, the argument can be made the fight is being engaged by more people than ever before as Donald Trump and some of his Republican base seek to thwart the right and freedom to cast a ballot.  Then there is the irony and attempt to attach himself to the women’s movement which is so smarmy that it reeks.

Trump said he would pardon Susan B. Anthony, who fought for a woman’s right to vote.  , on the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

“She was never pardoned … and you know that she got a pardon for a lot of other women, and she didn’t put her name on the list, so she was never pardoned,” Mr. Trump said during a White House event commemorating the 19th Amendment.  “She was guilty for voting.”

This is a classic example of what this post has commented upon.  The simplicity of knowing just the surface of history can not be the only knowledge we have about our past.

Below is the flip side of the poster which wrapped my New York Times this morning.

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Wisconsin Will Vote Tuesday, Sun To Rise Wednesday (And A Few Words From Abe Lincoln)

As the hourly news headlines changed on Monday in Wisconsin regarding the April Election there were all sorts of emotional responses from those who felt vindicated and from those who felt undermined.  The COVID-19 pandemic has set all sorts of feelings loose in the land, and adding a thick layer of partisanship to the mix, only intensified all the remarks which made social media even more tricky to navigate.

While the statewide news is most intriguing I have been absorbed over the weekend with Sidney Blumenthal’s first volume about Abraham Lincon.  A Self-Made Man is many hundreds of pages, and three books away from 1864, but in the face of the current fracas about how to hold our state’s election, or even if one should be held as scheduled, makes me aware of the mood that existed at the time of Lincoln seeking a second term.  History, however, proves that election was a supreme example of the resilience of the democratic process.  Like then, we too are experiencing our example of uncertainty and chaos.  After the ballots are counted Tuesday night I trust reflective citizens will see the wisdom of holding the election.

The drama on Monday started with Governor Tony Evers signing an executive order suspending in-person voting for the state’s spring election.  Within hours the Wisconsin Supreme Court, by a 4-2 vote, overturned the election’s delay, allowing balloting to take place Tuesday.

Within a short time of that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court amended a lower federal court ruling that allowed absentee ballots to be received by next Monday in order to count, clarifying that they need to be postmarked by Tuesday (April 7th)  or dropped off in person by the time polls close in Wisconsin.

I agree with both of these rulings as the process of our elections must not be manipulated.  An attempt was made to turn a pandemic into a partisan fight over casting ballots.  With such a scenario there was only one acceptable outcome, and that was to allow for the established election process to continue. That is what happened Monday, and for that democracy scored two victories.  Elections are not to be toyed with, and when an attempt is made it needs to be squashed.  I am much aware of the chicanery that is often at play in elections, and how in this case I am siding with Republicans.  But we must be consistent in calling for a fair process regarding balloting, or none of what we say matters.   

I have taken a consistent view that this election needed to be held on Tuesday.  While advocating for voters to cast absentee ballots I rejected the notion of postponing the vote. In these times it is most important to have some norms continue, especially ones that strike to the foundations of our democracy. It is important citizens know they have a stake in our future, and a say in our governing process, especially when things seem most dire.

Over the past week, I have become very aware, as the sun lifts higher in the sky and warmer temperatures take hold, that even with knowledge about the virus there are many folks out and about.  At the same time, dire warnings abound about what will happen if people are asked to venture to a polling place to cast a ballot, in a very safeguarded manner.   The walkers, bikers, hikers at state parks, and shoppers to stores are testimony to the fact people do go out and take risks for all sorts of reasons, but we are to believe that the risk of voting is too high?

This weekend WISC News reported a story showing a full parking lot at a Woodman’s grocery store, to underscore that people are not staying home.  And not self-distancing.  That story can be viewed at 8 minutes into the show.  (To be clear, I am a strong advocate of following government and medical guidelines to curtail the spread of this virus.  James and I have been self-distancing at our home for over a month.  We both voted absentee with the time lapse between picking the mail up, voting and placing the ballot back in the box to be 20 minutes.)  What concerns me is the lack of all-out civic acknowledgment an election is sacred, not to be dismissed even when chaos abounds.  That some of my fellow citizens have no problem with a need to buy cookies and beer but shrink back from casting a ballot, with polling safeguards, makes me wonder where we are headed as a state and nation.

I am not being cavalier with the health and safety of any voter in this state.  Rather it is the larger point about our state (and republic) I want to press forward.  Let me take you back to 1864 and words from President Lincoln.  Do not dismiss the significance of that election underscoring the firm foundation of this nation.

In November 1864 Lincoln said, “We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”

Change rebellion to COVID-19 and a national election to our state contests and the point is most clear.  Our Spring Election must be one of those avenues when we send a concerted message about unity and purpose, and it can be done with the safeguards at polling places.  As I have stated before, given the crisis at hand, I frankly do not care which person or issue wins at the polls.  I sincerely want to see, when it comes to the core values in our state, we all agree civic duty is very much alive!

And conquered the damn virus!

Now go vote!

Wisconsin Voters Need To Be More Like Packer Fans

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The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew their signatures might very well land them at the end of a rope for treasonous actions.  In 1864, when our nation warred with itself, a presidential election was held.  In 1918, when another pandemic plagued the globe and killed over 600,00 people in our nation, mid-term elections were successfully held.  In the most vexing of circumstances, the wheel of politics and democracy in this land rolled onwards.  That very spirit, from the birth of this nation through the pandemic we now face, must continue with Wisconsinites making sure the Spring Election takes place, and in numbers that make far more than a political point. 

A couple weeks ago I marveled at the spirit of those living in portions of Tennesse, where tornadoes had leveled swaths of communities.  The morning ‘hell-from-on-high’ storms lashed down but did not close polls for that day’s primaries.  As I watched the returns that evening on the cable channels it was uplifting to see the resolve of the citizens who still participated in the most fundamental responsibility we have as citizens.  Voting.

The coverage reminded me how more uneasy the folks in Tennessee might have felt had the storms undid the local elections.  When governments postpone, for example, elections, it allows for more of a panic mode to hover about.  In these times it is most important to have some norms, especially ones that strike to the foundations of our democracy, continue.  It is important citizens know they have a stake in our future, and a say in our governing process, especially when things seem most dire.

There is no denying the potent nature of COVID-19 or understanding the absolute necessity for social distancing.  Heeding advice from our government, and following the directives from health experts is a necessity.  But at the same time, the need for collective action to demonstrate that the underpinnings of our state (and country) remain strong must continue.  Our Spring Election must be one of those avenues when we send a concerted message about unity and purpose, and it can be done safely.

It is obvious that almost every facet of our lives has been upended due to the virus.  From workplaces to music venues, restaurants to gyms, our world has shrunk to the homes we live in and lawns outside our picture windows.  Hunkering down is the best way we fight back against the virus.  But we must not allow for the virus to attack the very underpinning of our governing process, and the most essential of that framework is our elections.

Absentee balloting is the most appropriate way to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections. We all can be enormously heartened that so many of our fellow citizens have exercised their right in this manner.  In so doing they are using caution but also limiting the hardships which will be on the shoulders of the poll workers the day of the election.  To assist in making same-day voting easier there will be curbside balloting.  Special precautions for those who choose, for whatever reason, to cast a ballot in-person April 7th will be provided.  As it should be.

We all can have our views regarding the efficacy of mail-in ballots for the whole state and how best to ensure safe elections.  We all can line up with either Governor Tony Evers or the leadership of the state legislature.  We can have strong opinions, and should!  For the record, I come from an old-school way of thinking about elections.  To the extent that our state now–and our nation as this year proceeds–can conduct our elections in the manner that is most familiar to my fellow citizens—as well as for the poll workers (which I was one)–it should do so.

But at the end of this debate, it is absolutely essential that the election process not be upended by the virus.  We simply can not allow one of the causalities of this pandemic to be the glue of our democracy.  Our elections.  And the right to cast a ballot.

Wisconsinites are a hearty band of folks.  Consider that no snowstorm or cold front is too much for Green Bay Packer fans at Lambeau Field.  Packer fans do not go in light clothes but instead bundle up in layers galore.  That same spirit of overcoming the odds is precisely what we must employ now as we cast our ballots in the Spring Election. We can create a statewide touchdown by having a huge voter turnout that the whole nation will notice!

Given the crisis at hand, I frankly do not care which person or issue wins at the polls.  I sincerely want to see a huge turnout through absentee ballots that prove, to one and all, that when it comes to the core values in our state we all agree civic duty is very much alive!

And conquered the damn virus!

Wisconsin Voters Should Not Be Pawns To Elections Commission

The desire by conservatives to limit some citizen’s ability to cast a ballot in Wisconsin is very unsettling.  It is most appalling to watch play out.

I come to this issue the old-fashioned way, which I suspect in one way or another, is how most of my readers also approach this topic.  My earliest memories about elections are not for any particular candidate or party.  Instead, they are of Dad telling his family the importance of making sure we always went to the polls, along with the reason we have the right to select our leaders.  He always took voting as most important.  He was not a civics teacher but came home from World War II with the knowledge that our freedom came with responsibilities.  It is a lesson I carry very close to me.

This past week there was another judicial slap-down to efforts of undermining the registrations of thousands of voters the Elections Commission determined likely had moved and therefore do not remain valid.  That the Commission is playing partisan games with one of the foundations of our republic should make us all cringe, regardless of which party we call home.

No one needs to have more than a rudimentary appreciation of math to see what is happening.  Removing voters from the rolls could have a significant effect on upcoming elections since major Wisconsin contests are often decided by one or two percentage points.  Donald Trump, for example, won Wisconsin by only about 23,000 votes in 2016.  Governor Tony Evers eked out a victory in 2018.

But more to the point than math comes the fact that nothing nefarious has been happening in our elections.  There are no bands of people changing the outcomes due to voting more than once, or impersonating other voters, or living in one region and casting ballots elsewhere.  Data supports the credibility of our elections.  Every single election!

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty is the driving force in the legal hunt for a way to remove names from the voting rolls.  The partisan organization has as its mission, in this case, something that is most sinister to the requirements of a well-functioning republic.  The only reason to see voting rolls purged and voters disenfranchised comes as a direct result of voting trends that do not favor the Republican Party.

Over and over we have seen efforts by Republicans to tinker with voting laws, or now with voting rolls.  There is never an intent to in some way improve voting procedures, but rather to undermine the other party at election time.  It troubles me greatly that limiting voter participation has become an accepted trait among conservatives.  All Americans should be most peeved at this practice.  I would like to think that some Republicans…somewhere… might understand the larger and nobler calling at making sure elections are open and accessible to all voters.  I wish they would stand up to their party.

Enshrining any form of voter suppression into law is not the way Wisconsin’s proud history should be written.  We have the means–through the courts–to roll back this tactic of partisanship that dangerously feeds on the very foundation of democratic ideals.  In so doing we can again prove our state can lead the nation.