North Carolina election fraud case evokes a history of U.S. election scandals (UPDATE)

With Donald Trump’s campaign support, Republican Mark Harris thought he was a winner in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District. But his victory is on hold in the face of charges of absentee vote tampering.

What looks more and more like blatant election fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District is being seen as a case of how to steal an election. But that wouldn’t be the first time in American history that such outright election fraud had occurred.

Despite the constant screeching by Donald Trump and other Republicans about the virtually non-existent “problem” of voter fraud, Republicans are now faced with a juicy scandal involving the alleged stealing of votes via absentee ballots. Working on behalf of Mark Harris, the Republican “winner,” (the state board of elections has refused to certify the results) was Leslie McCrae Dowless, a local Republican operative with a criminal history of these kinds of shenanigans. Dowless oversaw a crew of workers who collected absentee ballots from voters, even though such ballot collections are illegal in North Carolina.

Harris (who, by the way, is a former Baptist minister) earned an inordinate amount of votes from absentee ballots, especially in rural Bladen County, which seems to have the strongest evidence of vote tampering. “Only 19 percent of mail-in absentee voters were registered Republicans, yet 62 percent of those ballots went the Republican way,” said a Washington Post story praising the shoe-leather local journalism that uncovered the details of the scandal.

There are only 905 votes separating Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. Besides the possibility of vote tampering, there are charges that some of the collected absentee ballots, especially those from African-Americans and Native Americans, never got delivered.

North Carolina election officials are investigating the possible election fraud. There are calls for a do-over election, and Democrats in the House are threatening not to seat Harris in January until the state investigations are over and the issues are resolved and even hold their own hearings. Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, now says he is open to holding a new election, although instead of the obvious election fraud, he’s giving early voting as the excuse. Democrat McReady has withdrawn his concession, and he and his staff are gearing up for a possible new election. Even Harris now says he would agree to a new election if evidence of election fraud affected the outcome.

But such dishonesty is not new. This is not voter fraud, this is election fraud. And there are instances of election fraud throughout U.S. history, going back to the time of the founders.

A story in Slate, with details from Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition — 1742-2004, by historian Tracy Campbell, offers some tidbits:

George Washington won his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 by spending 40 pounds on booze for his neighbors. The passage of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 appears to have been the work of election thefts, concluded historian Samuel Eliot Morison in 1916. In the early days of the Union, Whigs encouraged passage of registry laws “since they felt Democrats resorted to importing voters in a large number of elections,” Campbell notes. Democrats, of course, opposed registry laws because they discriminated against citizens who had recently relocated. In one Michigan city, Republicans co-opted a registry law by declaring scores of Democrats as improperly registered and allowing Republicans, “registered or not,” to vote.

A compilation of some of the most infamous — and downright weird — instances of U.S. election fraud was put together by the website Grunge, whose mission seems to be putting together odd facts. Here are just a few examples.

The Know-Nothing riot and rigged election of 1856. The Know-Nothing Party came into existence not because its members were ignorant; they merely promised to say, “I know nothing but my country” during an interrogation. The men who founded the party, also called the American Party, were xenophobes and nativists who looked down on recent immigrants (hmm … sounds familiar). Besides boasting eight governors, five senators and 43 congressmen, the Know-Nothings took over Baltimore politics in the 1850s, preventing newly naturalized citizens from voting or forcing them to choose Know-Nothing candidates.

By the time of the municipal election of 1856, there was open violence between political factions. There were actual riots on Election Day in October as partisans attacked with other with guns, axes, picks, and bricks. Several people were killed in the Know-Nothing riot, and scores more were injured. The winner of the election was the Know-Nothing candidate Thomas Swann, whose victory by a margin of 9,000 votes was not seen as legitimate. Swann’s victory that year and subsequent years were always accompanied by violence and accusations of vote-rigging.

Tammany Hall’s “cheat machine.” For more than a century, the Democratic New York City political machine of Tammany Hall earned the loyalty — and the votes — of New York’s expanding immigrant population by promising them jobs, places to live, and citizenship. But Tammany Hall counted on more than immigrants to keep their candidates in power. According to the Slate story:

Tammany Hall “imported inmates from the Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary to vote in Democratic wards” in an 1843 contest. Tammany was known to employ “floaters” who cast multiple ballots, “thugs” who intimated opposition voters, and “colonizers,” illegal voters who could be summoned from another city or state to swell the registration rolls at the last minute and throw a close election.

The ballot box with the hidden secret compartment. In the early days of San Francisco in the 1850s, the city’s political machine was controlled by a Democratic political operative named David Broderick, who had cut his electoral teeth on Tammany Hall methods. Besides employing thugs to “persuade” voters and handing out lucrative political jobs to his cronies (from which he collected part of their salaries), Broderick guaranteed his electoral wins with a special ballot box with a false bottom that could hold any amount of votes deemed necessary to guarantee a win. Extra ballots could be released into the main compartment by moving a hidden panel.

By 1856, local residents, angered by political corruption and the killing of a crusading newspaper editor, formed what was called the Second Committee of Vigilance to take back power. They found the infamous ballot box in the home of a local Democrat and delivered their own form of vigilante justice, rounding up some 25 of Broderick’s political hacks, giving them a swift “trial” on charges of political fraud and ballot-box stuffing, and sending them off on ships in San Francisco Harbor.

Broderick, however, became a U.S. senator from California.

To my mind, though, the truly weirdest story of election fraud is from Oregon.

The cult that tried to prevent people from voting — through food poisoning. In the 1980s, a religious cult (and we’re using the term loosely) led by a charismatic figure named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was kicked out of India and settled in a rural section of northeastern Oregon. The 2,300 or so Rajneeshees, as the mystic’s red-, orange-, and purple-clad followers were called, settled into a 64,000-acre ranch in Wasco County, incorporating their new supposed utopia as Rajneeshpuram. The Rajneeshees (also called sannyasins) believed in peace, free love, and, apparently, lots of sex.

The nearby small town of Antelope objected to the new and growing enclave, especially as the Rajneeshees plotted to take over Antelope and the county government in an attempt to fight Oregon land-use laws that hampered their expansion. As elections approached, cult leaders decided to spread salmonella-laced liquid at salad bars in local restaurants to try to keep voters away from the polls. Some 750 people were sickened. The cult also bused in some 2,300 homeless people from cities across the country to swell the voting rolls—a tactic that didn’t go unnoticed by local officials. Ultimately, the cult collapsed, some leaders went to jail, and the Bhagwan went back to India.

There are many more sordid details about this strange chapter in Oregon’s history, involving the Rajneeshees’ attempting to murder state officials, wiretapping, setting fire to a country planning office, and more. A complete five-part series of the cult’s time in Oregon ran in The Oregonian. The story of the cult also was told in a recent Netflix docuseries called Wild, Wild Country.

And I thought the Chicago mantra of “vote early and often” was bad.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 9, 2018.

UPDATE: It took a while, with days and days of hearings, but the North Carolina Board of Elections has ordered a new election for the 9th Congressional District. Here are the dates: There will be primaries on May 14. If no candidates receive at least 30 percent of the vote, there will be runoffs on Sept. 10, with a general election on Nov. 5. If no runoffs are needed, the general election will be Sept. 10.

But one name won’t be on the ballot: Mark Harris. The Republican says he will not run in the new election — likely he figures his name is so tainted that he would lose anyway. Democrat Dan McCready, however, is ready for another round.

NEW UPDATE: After the May 14 primary, McCready is again the Democratic candidate, having run unopposed. The GOP primary winner is state Sen. Dan Bishop, who received 48 percent of the vote, thus negating the need for another runoff. McCready and Bishop will face off on Sept. 10, the same date as municipal primaries in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Bishop is best known as one of the authors of the so-called “bathroom bill” that voided anti-discrimination protections in Charlotte for LGBT people and directed transgender people to use public bathrooms and showers that matched their birth gender.

Why Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ should be the Democratic woman

These are just a few of the faces of candidates in 2018. They’re female, they’re almost all Democrats, they’re not all white, and many of them won.

Each December, Time magazine announces its Person of the Year. It’s the individual (or group) who, “for better or for worse,” as the magazine puts it, had the greatest influence on the events of the year.

This year, it should be no contest. The greatest influence in America this year came from Democratic women. They were the millions of women who marched, who ran for office, who voted, and who demanded that their voices be heard. And we all saw the results in the midterm elections.

Time has been choosing the year’s major person of influence since 1927, when aviator Charles Lindbergh graced the magazine’s cover for the first time. It was usually a Man of the Year (Wallis Simpson broke through in 1936 as the Woman of the Year because of her romance with British King Edward VIII, prompting his abdication). In 1999, the magazine realized it had better get with the times and designated the achievement as Person of the Year.

Displaying his typical (yet undeserved) over-the-top egotism, Donald Trump announced that “I can’t imagine” anyone other than himself as Time’s Person of the Year. Time usually picks the winner of a presidential election as Person of the Year, so he got the call in 2016, as did Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and other presidents before him.

Too bad the public disagrees. In Time’s readers’ poll (no doubt social media-driven) on who should get the honor, Trump got only 2 percent of the vote. He was beaten out by 23 other candidates, including Robert Mueller (that’s gotta sting), Christine Blasey Ford, Michelle Obama (hey, her book Becoming outsold any of Trump’s books—bigly), Colin Kaepernick, and Jeff Bezos (owner of the “failing” Washington Post). Also getting 2 percent of support were Maxine Waters and Stormy Daniels—like that company, Trump? At least he got more votes than Melania. The top vote getter was the South Korean boy band BTS, so that’s how seriously we should take this survey.

This year, Democratic women made the difference. It’s not just one woman but a female Democratic collective: the candidates, the voters, the canvassers, the phonebankers, the marchers, the resisters, the legislators.

And they’re just getting started.

The candidates: We’ve all seen and read the numbers: Emily’s List got inquiries from more than 42,000 women wanting to run for office in 2018, up from 920 in 2016. Out of that total, upwards of 5,000 received candidate training, and 500 were endorsed by Emily’s List.

There was a record number of women running for state and federal office. In total, there were 235 women running for the House and 22 for the Senate. Of those, 182 House candidates were Democratic women and 15 Senate candidates were Democratic women. Not all of them won, but 60 percent of Democratic women won in House seats that flipped from red to blue. As a story in The New York Times put it:

It is the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House in its 116-year history. And it boasts an avalanche of firsts, from the first Native American congresswomen to the first Muslim congresswomen. …

[M]any of the members of the freshman class [are] blazing a trail for other candidates of color. Several of the freshmen-elect are the first African-American women to be elected by their states, and voters in Kansas and New Mexico will send the first-ever Native American women to the House.

With Nancy Pelosi (who raised boatloads of money for Democratic candidates to help them win) headed to another term as House speaker; Democratic women making more media appearances and becoming more influential on social media; and some Democratic women possibly gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, it’s clear that women legislators will have growing influence in coming months.

Across the aisle, on the GOP side? Not so much—there were only four newly elected Republican women.

The voters: Traditionally, more women than men turn out to vote, and that likely held true in 2018, although numbers are still being crunched. What is clear is that women boosted overall voter turnout to 49 percent in the 2018 midterms. Midterm turnout usually averages about 40 percent.

The gender gap showed that 60 percent of women voted for Democrats, while only 47 percent of men voted blue. So all those new Democratic officeholders have women voters to thank: “Democrats won women’s vote for Congress by the largest margin seen in midterm exit polls” was a post-election headline in The Washington Post.

There is further breakdown by age, race, and education level. According to another story in The Washington Post:

White women without college degrees moved modestly toward the Democrats, more so than white men without college degrees. But a far greater proportion of white college-educated women swung to the Democrats, even beyond their previous support for Democratic candidates in previous elections.

Key to the Democratic successes were the most reliable Democratic voters of all: black women. According to figures from Pew Research, 92 percent of black women voted Democratic, and they turned out in huge numbers, just like they always do. But they weren’t quiet about their role—they wanted to make sure candidates sought their input and spoke to them directly.

Stacey Abrams knew that in Georgia. While she might have fallen short in the governor’s race (voter suppression was obviously a major factor), she knew she needed to court black women voters and talk about the issues most important to them. According to a story in Essence magazine:

[Abrams] has been firm and consistent in her message from the jump, detailing plans to address health care and education, issues that she knows are important to Black women.

“We are leveraging the enthusiasm and support of the African-American women’s community to motivate and galvanize the communities that they touch — and that means every community in the state of Georgia,” Abrams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And it is a level of outreach that has not gone unnoticed. Paula Benton, a resident of Stone Mountain, said that she is happy that Abrams is actively targeting black women.

“It’s time black women started getting the recognition they’re getting,” Benton told AJC. “We’ve always been the backbone of everything.”

Latinx women voters also played a big part: According to data from Pew, 73 percent of Latinas voted Democratic in congressional races.

The marchers, the resisters, and the organizers: Millions of people—not only women, but a big majority of them were female—turned out in January 2017 to register their feelings about Trump’s presidency in a Women’s March that exceeded all expectations in marches across the country. The second march in January 2018 also attracted millions, with a focus on running for office and voting. All of that energy turned into the Resistance, but that’s only one part of it.

After the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17, masses of people—again, the majority of them women—joined local chapters of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Now, along with the affiliated Everytown for Gun Safety, it’s 5 million members strong. The organization backed candidates in state and federal races across the nation, registering voters, knocking on doors, phonebanking, and performing other GOTV efforts. The gun reform groups proudly claimed after the election that their volunteers had helped to deliver a “gun sense majority” to the House. No surprise: Nearly all of the people wearing those recognizable red T-shirts are women.

And just in case you were wondering, there already are plans for a Women’s March on January 19, 2019, which is being dubbed the #WomensWave. It makes sense: The Blue Wave wouldn’t have been possible without a Women’s Wave.

All of the energy from Democratic women was the driving force in taking back the House and in electoral wins across the country at all levels. And whether or not the editors at Time take my advice in naming the Democratic woman as the Person of the Year, I can’t wait to see what Democratic women accomplish in 2019 and beyond.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 2, 2018.

#GunSafety proposals taking shape for new Democratic House (UPDATE)

Lucy McBath was one of several Democratic candidates whose campaigns stressed gun reform. Now she’ll have a chance to influence policy as a new member of Congress from Georgia’s 6th District.

Although Democrats won’t take over the majority in the House of Representatives until January, they’re already spelling out an ambitious agenda. Democratic leaders and incoming representatives have been giving details about some of the issues they hope to tackle, such as a broad ethics reform package, which would include campaign finance reform, voting rights, and ethics and accountability.

Of course, Democrats will have oversight authority, which various committees will use to investigate the many misdeeds of the Trump administration. Already, incoming committee chairs are announcing their agendas:

  • California’s Adam Schiff aims to support the Robert Mueller investigation and look into the Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign as chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
  • California’s Maxine Waters is ready to take on the big banks and insurance companies as head of the House Financial Services Committee.
  • Maryland’s Elijah Cummings is likely to head an ethics investigation as the new chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
  • Impeachment, if it happens, would be under the auspices of New York’s Jerry Nadler as head of the House Judiciary Committee, although he says his first move will be to protect the Mueller investigation.
  • As head of the House Ways and Means Committee, Massachusetts’s Richard Neal says he has every intention of going after Trump’s tax returns.
  • Several new members, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are backing a Green New Deal to combat climate change. There’s some pushback from veteran Democrats slated to head committees that normally focus on the environment, who worry that the ambitious plan might not be realistic, but a few other House Democrats are on board. Perhaps the Fourth Annual Climate Assessment released (reluctantly, I’m sure) by the Trump administration will change Democrats’ minds about the need for urgent action.

Another big initiative could be legislation on gun safety, which many newly elected Democratic members of Congress stressed in their campaigns. By all accounts, Democrats aim to start with common-sense gun laws backed by big majorities of Americans—support for universal background checks of all gun buyers is nearly universal itself. These bills could include background checks; a “red flag” law, in which police or family members could ask a court to take weapons away from someone deemed a danger; a repeal of the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 provision that restricts federal funding for research on gun violence; a ban on bump stocks; and more.

There were major congressional victories by advocates of gun reform over Republican opponents with high ratings from the National Rifle Association. Everytown for Gun Safety boasted an 83 percent win rate among its 66 endorsements in federal races. There were three times as many gun reform ads this election cycle as in 2016: 125,879 pro-gun control ads for House, Senate, and governor races. That was also true in campaign spending: Gun reform groups spent about $2.4 million more than gun rights groups on 2018 congressional races.

One such gun reform victor is Democrat Jason Crow, an Army veteran and gun owner who beat incumbent Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th District. Crow is aiming for a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, and more background checks. Coffman received more campaign contributions from the NRA than any other GOP candidate in Colorado this year and often had been described as “bullet-proof.” Not this time: Crow beat the five-term incumbent by over 10 points.

In one of the more satisfying wins, Lucy McBath, a former spokeswoman for Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who lost her son to gun violence, will be the new congresswoman for Georgia’s 6th District. McBath beat GOP incumbent Karen Handel, who also had an NRA endorsement. McBath’s campaign website listed the following as her gun safety legislative priorities: implementing background checks for all firearm purchases; raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21; working to defeat concealed-carry reciprocity measures; and introducing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other criminals.

Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch’s 22nd District includes Parkland, where 17 people died in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Valentine’s Day. Deutch credits the #MarchForOurLives and the #NeverAgain movements started by the shooting’s survivors for many victories by advocates of gun reform. Establishing common-sense gun laws was seen as important issue for 72 percent of Democratic voters overall in 2018 and was a prime motivator in getting young people to register to vote and turn up at the polls.

Deutch has a list of his priorities on gun safety legislation. According to a CNN story:

Deutch said implementing universal background checks, a “gun violence restraining order,” which allows law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily take guns away from people who are deemed a threat, and banning so-called “bump stocks” are at the top of his list, along with other school safety and mental health initiatives.

Another new voice on gun safety in Congress will be Democrat Kim Schrier, a pediatrician who won a traditionally GOP seat in Washington State. Getting rid of the Dickey Amendment and advocating for federal funds to study gun violence is one of her top priorities. As she said in an NPR story:

“It’s different to come at this as a pediatrician and not a career politician,” said Schrier, who ran an ad during her campaign talking about the risks of having a gun in the house around depressed boys. “My goal here is to keep our children and our communities safe, and I don’t think there is anything radical about that.” …

Schrier says health care was undoubtedly the most consistent policy concern she heard from voters on the campaign trail this year, and that’s consistent with most polling. But she said she also heard a lot about gun safety, particularly from women and mothers.

“Women had a big say in the election, and I think the issue of gun safety resonates there,” said Schrier. “I know it does.”

“The gun movement took a bruising hit on Election Day,” wrote Francis Wilkinson in a Bloomberg opinion piece with the headline, “The NRA Doesn’t Seem So Invincible Anymore.”

More than two dozen House races around the country flipped from Republicans to pro-regulation Democrats. A Kentucky Democrat, John Yarmuth, was spotted in the Capitol wearing an “F” pin to advertise his NRA rating. “We unseated 15 A-rated NRA members with F-rated members,” he told a reporter. “So I’m going to have to get some more pins made.” …

Politically, the NRA now lives by the GOP, dies by the GOP. It has absolutely no protection in states with Democratic majorities or, starting in January, in the House, where Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has already promised to introduce gun-regulation proposals. …

In exit polls, voters registered support for “stricter gun control measures” by 59 to 37. A CNN poll taken after the election found that registered voters preferred Democrats in Congress to Trump on gun policy by 54 to 37.

What will House Democrats do, since it’s likely that their bills will face opposition in the Senate, if they’re even brought up for a vote at all? Consider any piece of legislation on gun reform as a chance to put down their markers: This will remind voters what Democrats can do when they control both houses of Congress and the presidency.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 25, 2018.

UPDATE: The House has now passed two major pieces of gun legislation. One bill would require all gun sellers to conduct background checks on firearm buyers, and the other would extend the review period for background checks on firearm purchases. Both bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, and Trump has threatened to veto the bills if they became law.

This is just round one.

#ClimateChange report restates the obvious: Time is running out

The Camp Fire destroyed almost the entire town of Paradise, California. Climate change is making all extreme weather disasters worse, including wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and more.

A new report on climate change released (believe it or not) from the Trump administration delivers more bad news about what mankind is doing to the planet.

Too bad we’ve heard it all before. But we need to start listening — and acting.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress, was due to come out in December but was released early by the Trump administration on the traditionally busy shopping day of Black Friday after Thanksgiving. No doubt Donald Trump and the fellow climate deniers in his administration thought they could bury the report’s bad news in a Friday news dump, but, because there was so little actual news, it’s been picked up everywhere. Oops.

Here are just some of the descriptions of bad news and predictions from the report:

  • Weather. More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events will damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities. That means drier droughts, higher-temperature heat waves, more severe wildfires, and hurricanes that bring even more rain.
  • Economy. Climate change will mean the loss of “hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century” to the U.S. economy because of growing losses to American infrastructure and property. This is similar to another recent report that estimated the U.S. loss at $250 billion, but that estimate could be measured against the annual economy before too long.
  • Water. Rising air and water temperatures and changes in precipitation are intensifying droughts, increasing heavy downpours, reducing snowpack, and causing declines in surface water quality.
  • Health. Rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme weather events will “increase exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, affecting food and water safety.” This is on top of higher instances of heatstroke, more asthma, and more environmental allergies. And too many other health concerns to mention.
  • We’re not doing enough. Current actions by governments and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

The report was compiled and written by 13 federal departments and agencies and stretches for more than 1,000 pages. There are 12 main areas in the report, and they’re all depressing.

Many news organizations are doing comprehensive stories on the new report. This is from a story in The Washington Post:

While it avoids policy recommendations, the report’s sense of urgency and alarm stands in stark contrast to the lack of any apparent plan from President Trump to tackle the problems, which, according to the government he runs, are increasingly dire. …

The authors argue that global warming “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” And they conclude that humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes “to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

“Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks and increase opportunities for these populations in the longer term,” the report says it its summary.

Instead of acting aggressively on man-made climate change, we have a leader who tweets about cold weather and asks the snarky question, “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” Answers from the country’s scientists overwhelmingly disagreed with Trump’s usual clueless cracks that confuse climate and weather. The general attitude from the scientists was “He’s a clown.

Check out the Atlantic shores at Mar-a-Lago, Donnie-the-denier. They’ll be underwater soon, just as rising sea levels are causing more flooding all along the Florida coast and up and down the Atlantic seaboard.

This is a fairly famous quote about climate change. It was brought up again in light of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released in October. It should be stressed again now.

In January, the U.S. House of Representatives will be run by Democrats. They should — and no doubt in time will — take seriously the recommendations of the “Green New Deal” that is being championed by incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, other progressive groups, and (so far) a handful of House Democrats.

What are we waiting for? For the Earth to get too hot for our children and grandchildren?

Mercy Hospital shooting: A domestic dispute, more gun deaths. When will it stop?

Emergency physician Tamara O’Neal, one of the victims of the shooting at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, one of the worst attacks on hospitals in the U.S. in two decades.

It started, as do so many fatal shootings, as a domestic dispute.

A mass shooting at a Chicago hospital ended with four people dead, including the suspected shooter. He confronted his ex-fiancee in a hospital parking lot and shot her, leaving her for dead. He entered the lobby of Chicago’s Mercy Hospital, ready to keep shooting, while frightened staff and patients ran for cover. He shot a police officer responding to the scene and a pharmacy technician who just happened to be on an elevator with doors that opened into the gunman’s line of fire. By the end, the three victims were dead, as was the gunman, who was shot by police before he shot himself.

We can’t even say that was the latest mass shooting in the U.S., because there were five such incidents yesterday. That we know about.

The Washington Post rounded them up with the headline, “This just tears at the soul: 1 day, 5 cities, 11 killings.” Besides the Chicago shooting:

  • Someone shot into a group of crowd of homeless people in Denver, apparent motive unknown. Five were injured, one fatally.
  • Police found four people dead in a Philadelphia basement in an apparent execution-style slaying.
  • Just outside St. Louis, a gunman burst into a Catholic Supply store, sexually assaulted several women, then fatally shot one woman in the head. He fled the scene and is still at large.
  • Two were killed and a third was injured after a shooting and stabbing at a Boston housing complex. The incident took place just outside a children’s center.

It’s not surprising that people feel numb at news of another day of mass shootings. These incidents come only weeks after the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California. Mass shootings are defined as incidents in which four or more people are shot. So far in 2018, there have been at least 316 mass shootings.

The killings at Mercy Hospital in Chicago paralyzed the city, especially as it saw a young police officer killed along with the emergency physician and pharmacy tech. But more than half of all gunmen (and yes, they are men) who perpetrate mass shooting are also guilty of domestic violence. Some have police records, yet they still have access to firearms, even when they are legally prohibited from owning one. More than half of such shootings are related to domestic or family violence. This was true for so many mass shooters — Business Insider reports that “Nine of the shooters on this list of the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern America committed violence against women, threatened violence against women, or disparaged women.”

So when emergency physician Tamara O’Neal was shot and killed outside Mercy Hospital, it wasn’t a surprise that it was by her domestic partner.

As dangerous as domestic violence is for women, it also is lethal for police. The most dangerous kinds of calls police respond to are ones involving domestic violence. The family of Samuel Jimenez, the officer killed when responding to the Mercy Hospital shooting, learned that all too well, as he left behind a wife and three young children. According to a story in USA Today:

In 2017, more officers were shot responding to domestic violence than any other type of firearm-related fatality, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. From 1988 to 2016, 136 officers were killed while responding to domestic disturbances such as family arguments, FBI data show. By comparison, 80 were killed during a drug-related arrest in the same period. …

The pattern of repeated abuse makes domestic violence calls particularly dangerous for officers. A 2008 study by the National Institute of Justice determined that victims of domestic violence are more likely to call the police after repeated assaults have already taken place — which puts police officers in an even more volatile situation when they do respond.

We can’t let ourselves become numb to gun violence. The National Rifle Association started (and lost) a social media skirmish with the nation’s physicians when it told doctors to “stay in their lane” when they called for action on gun reform. Doctors everywhere responded with #ThisIsOurLane when they told personal stories of treating gunshot victims. An editorial in The Annals of Internal Medicine states clearly that treating victims of gun violence is the lane of doctors — one that too many have to navigate daily.

Firearm-related injury in the United States is a public health crisis. …

Doctors have a responsibility as health care professionals and scientists to seek the answers to questions related to health and safety. And we won’t be silenced in using what we learn to better care for our patients. Those who seek to silence progress toward finding solutions to the crisis of firearm-related injury are traveling a lane that leads, literally, to a dead end. We’re going to stay in our lane and keep moving forward.

After Dr. O’Neal’s death, many physicians across the country said, “Enough.” According to a story in The Washington Post, doctors across the country are issuing calls to action, asking their colleagues to speak out and demand laws that will fight gun violence.

A column in The Denver Post summed it up: “None of us should be willing to wait for that catastrophe to force our elected officials to take action on common-sense gun safety like banning high-capacity magazines, requiring universal background checks, banning bump stocks and enacting strong red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who are dangerous.”

When will it stop? How many more victims will it take?

Rising Arctic temperatures trigger new alarms about climate change

The higher Arctic temperatures in this map by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies will have widespread effects beyond the region.

Higher temperatures during winters in the Arctic are more than just a temporary rise — they’re further signs of the warming of the Earth, and they’ll affect more than just polar bears.

Last year’s temperatures in the Arctic were the warmest on record. “Of nearly three dozen different Arctic weather stations, 15 of them were at least 10F (5.6C) above normal for the winter,” said a story in The Guardian. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

When we experience heat waves in the summer (no matter where we are in the world), the consequences of the high temperatures are often immediately obvious: drought, multiple health issues, higher death tolls from heatstroke, more severe wildfires, and crop failures, just to name a few.

When temperatures are abnormally high in the Arctic, the general population in the rest of the world doesn’t notice the effects immediately. The higher temperatures can have an immediate devastating effect on local inhabitants and the wildlife in the area, but they will hit us all in the long run.

The rest of the world will feel the consequences of warmer winters in the Arctic soon enough. Some of those consequences will be rising sea levels from melting glaciers and ice caps, which could be catastrophic for the millions of people living in low-lying areas, especially in Asia; increased release of trapped carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere as permafrost thaws; less salinity in seawater, causing a change in ocean currents; changes in precipitation patterns; and greater likelihood of extreme weather throughout the Northern hemisphere.

“The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and the world is already feeling the effects,” explains a website from the World Wildlife Federation on how climate change affects the Arctic.

Among the species affected by warming Arctic temperatures, many of which depend on Arctic Ocean sea ice cover to survive: polar bears, which could face starvation and reproduction problems by the year 2100, as thinning sea ice isn’t strong enough to sustain their weight; walruses, which are forced to come ashore and can’t find food; caribou, which have less lichen to feed on; and many species of birds, whose migratory patterns are being disrupted and, in the case of Arctic sea birds, whose natural habitat is diminishing. As the seas grow warmer, fish are moving north, which poses a risk for commercial and subsistence fishing.

What about the species Homo sapiens? As air over the Arctic warms up, it pushes frigid air south, and we all feel it in extreme weather. As the World Economic Forum put it in a report:

The really bad news is that scientists have recently linked rapid Arctic warming to extreme weather farther south. Be it frigid cold spells, prolonged floods, persistent warmth, or long dry spells, it’s the persistence of weather patterns that is the connection.

We all know why this is happening. The lack of concrete steps to fight climate change, lessen the reliance on fossil fuels, and promote renewable energy is causing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with a projected global increase in temperature. The recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of the need to limit the rise in global temperatures by 2030, or it will be too late. The report by the World Economic Forum gives a more urgent deadline: “There’s really only one treatment to cut our carbon emissions any way we can do it. We need to bend the emissions curve by 2020.”

The average daily temperature in most parts of the Arctic from December through March historically is -20 degrees F, with the usual coldest temperatures occurring in February. So scientists were alarmed when last February’s temperatures reached 45 degrees above normal at one point. The Bering Sea in Alaska lost one-third of its ice in just eight days.

The problem is, these abnormally high temperatures are not a one-year occurrence and have been happening more frequently. In November 2016, for instance, the temperature at the North Pole was 36 degrees above normal. This is going beyond being just a weather anomaly.

Climate scientists worldwide said they have been “stunned” by the abnormal temperatures. According to a story from Live Science:

Weather conditions that drive this bizarre temperature surge have visited the Arctic before, typically appearing about once in a decade, experts told Live Science. However, the last such spike in Arctic winter warmth took place in February 2016 — much more recently than a decade ago, according to the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And climbing Arctic temperatures combined with rapid sea-ice loss are creating a new type of climate feedback loop that could accelerate Arctic warming, melting all summer Arctic sea ice decades earlier than scientists once thought.

story last February in Inside Climate News explained it this way:

The Arctic is often referred to as the world’s refrigerator—cool temperatures there help moderate the globe’s weather patterns. This winter, which has seen deep freezes at lower latitudes while temperatures have soared in the North, it seems like the refrigerator may have come unplugged.

The last two years were the Arctic’s warmest on record as the region continued to warm at about twice the global average. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted in its annual Arctic Report Card in December that Arctic sea ice has been declining this century at rates not seen in at least 1,500 years.

Winter in the Arctic is just getting started. The weather forecast for the next week included a low of -4 degrees F and highs in the 40s. The weather pattern is being described as a period of “unusual warmth,” with measures of sea ice being the third lowest on record.

Looks like it could be another long, warm winter for the Arctic — one that could be way too warm. And we’ll all end up paying the price.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Nov. 11, 2018.

Lessons from the midterms: Count every vote

Election season lasts a long time. Why not wait a little longer until all the votes are in?

Republicans seem to have come up with a new strategy to win elections when gerrymandering and voter suppression aren’t doing the trick — just don’t count all of the votes. We’re seeing some of these arguments play out in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona.

Americans are impatient to a fault. On any given Election Day, we want to know the results almost as soon as the polls are closed. And many news organizations fulfill that urge, giving projected winners in some states almost immediately.

Many of those projections are based on exit polling, and in many cases, those projections hold up. For instance, in the midterm elections on Nov. 6, every news organization was justified in reporting that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren had won reelection just moments after the polls closed, and that expected result came true. After all, she had been given a higher than 99 percent chance of reelection by On the evening of the election, with 88 percent of the votes counted, public radio station WBUR reported that she had won 61 percent of the vote — an insurmountable lead.

Note that there was only 88 percent of the vote counted. While the outcome of that particular contest wasn’t in doubt, the outcomes of other races around the country where votes are still being counted are in doubt.

Many Americans vote by visiting their polling places on Election Day. As states change voting practices, more and more voters are voting early, voting absentee, voting by mail, and voting by dropping off their ballots in secure vote collection boxes. All of those methods make it much more convenient for voters to cast ballots and increase the percentage of people taking part in elections. They don’t have to wait in line for hours, as many voters did in Georgia this year. The downside is that all of those voting methods add to the time it takes officials to count votes.

To which we should say, so what? What’s the rush? The new Congress isn’t sworn in until January, and state officials don’t take office until then, either. It’s more important to get it right than to get it quickly.

Three states — Washington, Colorado, and Oregon — do all of their voting by mail. Many states have expanded their use of absentee ballots. As long as a mailed-in ballot is postmarked on Election Day, it counts. But those mailed-in ballots must be gathered and tabulated — a process that can take weeks. Voters in states with a lot of voting by mail are used to the process and know that tight races won’t be decided right away.

Three days after Election Day, CNN reported that 10 House races, most of them in California, which also has a lot of mailed-in ballots; two Senate races; and two gubernatorial races are still up in the air. A Senate seat and the governor’s race in Florida are headed for a likely recount, and the governor’s race in Georgia is still not settled.

But many of the Republicans in these races want to be declared the winners — now. If officials are still counting votes, they claim, it must be voter fraud, which only exists in the mind of the GOP.

Part of the trouble is how the two parties’ voters are distributed. As Josh Marshall writes at Talking Points Memo:

Democrats are concentrated in large urban counties. Almost everywhere in the country, these counties take longer to count the vote than more sparsely populated exurban and rural areas. That’s hardly surprising. It’s not new. We’re seeing it in Arizona and Florida. In fact, we’re seeing it across the country. It’s just that those are states with Senate and governors races that remain undecided. If you stop counting the votes before the blue regions are done counting, that obviously helps the Republican candidates quite a lot. That’s exactly what Rick Scott is trying to do as of last night, just much more openly and brazenly than even Republican candidates have done in the past.

Rick Scott, the outgoing governor and would-be senator, and his allies are declaring the election over. Donald Trump is on one of his tweet-rampages about election “fraud,” claiming that Democratic election officials must be “creating” votes. Scott’s campaign is even suing officials in two Florida counties, arguing that “unethical liberals” are trying to steal the election.

No, they’re counting ballots.

Absentee ballots get checked against voter lists by hand, which is time-consuming. The trouble is, disproportionate number of votes cast by younger and minority voters get rejected, according to a report by the ACLU and Dr. Daniel Smith, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Florida and President of ElectionSmith. Smith is one of the nation’s leading experts on voting and election administration.

“By contrasting the rates of rejected VBM [vote by mail] ballots in the 2012 and 2016 Presidential election, we found that younger and racial and ethnic minority voters casting VBM ballots were at least twice as likely as older and white voters to have their VBM ballot rejected,” stated Dr. Daniel Smith. “With this revealing information, we need to work towards ensuring all Florida voters’ ballots are counted regardless of the method they choose to vote.”

Needless to say, younger and minority voters tend to vote for Democrats more. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has filed a lawsuit of his own, challenging the state’s “signature match” law.

The state of Georgia became Ground Zero in voter suppression this year, with gubernatorial GOP candidate Brian Kemp also in charge of elections in his role as secretary of state. During his time in office, he has purged some 1 million voters from the rolls, mostly by enforcing a “use-it-or-lose-it” law for voters who hadn’t cast a ballot recently. He also rejected 53,000 voter applications because of the state’s “exact-match” law, in which an application can be rejected for any difference between the name on the application and a name on a government data base, even if that difference is as small as a hyphen. In addition, there are still thousands of uncounted provisional ballots all over the state, which Kemp doesn’t want counted. His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, obviously does, and a federal judge has ordered that the tally of statewide provisional ballots be disclosed, mainly to see how that total compares with previous elections. Even though Kemp leads and has declared himself the winner, there could be a runoff election if the vote totals change and Kemp’s lead drops below 50 percent.

In Arizona on Election Night, it looked like Republican Martha McSally was winning over Democrat Krysten Sinema. But since three-quarters of Arizonans vote by mail, much of the vote was still outstanding. Several days later, the lead has flipped, Sinema is in the lead, and there were still half a million votes to be counted in the state. Republicans figured that their only hope to squeak out a McSally win was to file a lawsuit asking that the outstanding votes not be counted. UPDATE: Now state Democrats and Republicans have agreed on a strategy that could help both candidates: Voters whose signatures on absentee ballots caused those ballots to be flagged will have a chance to “cure,” or verify, those votes up to five days after Election Day. That will hold true in both urban and rural areas of Arizona.

When we hear news of elections in other countries, the news reports usually say that “we might not know the results for a few days.” The population doesn’t freak out — they just wait.

It’s time that Americans — and especially GOP candidates — learned to wait as well. Count every vote.

#Midterms2018: Women are ready to win the fight

Millions of women woke up after the 2016 election, and they’re not going back to sleep again any time soon.

Ever since November 2016, women in this country have learned what it really means to be resilient.

That resiliency started with multiple protests post-election, with large crowds chanting that “Love Trumps Hate.” It came to a crescendo with two Women’s Marches a year apart, both numbering several million participants in cities and towns, large and small, across the country and around the world. Besides the anger against Donald Trump and the thousands of pink pussy hats (not to mention the truly excellent signs), the focus of all of those marches was threefold:

  • Register to vote.
  • Run for office.
  • Vote.

Most important, all of that resiliency ratcheted up the political involvement of women across the country as they realized that they, too, had a choice to make to involve themselves in the political process. Resiliency, it turns out, is contagious.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, many of us worked through the five stages of grief. There was initial denial (this can’t be happening), anger (are you KIDDING me?), bargaining (I’ll trade a loss for a Senate seat if it means a Clinton win), depression (oh, was there a lot of depression) and acceptance (my God, this lying, pussy-grabbing Orange Menace is actually going to be president).

But there’s a sixth stage that we’ve reached, and we reached it quickly. It’s the stage of picking yourself up and bouncing back, stronger than ever.

How do we know women have bounced back? In 2016, the political action committee Emily’s List attracted interest from 920 women who considered running for office. In the two years since, the number of women who contacted the organization, which helps to elect pro-choice Democratic women, kept growing and growing. Emily’s List now reports that the grand total of interested women candidates for this election cycle has skyrocketed to an eye-popping 42,000. Out of that total, over 5,000 women received training on running for office.

Not all of them ended up on a ballot, and some of them ran against each other. They ran at all levels, from school boards to library boards to state offices (both for legislatures and for governors’ mansions), and for the House and Senate.

There is a record number of women running for state and federal office. In total, there are 235 women running for the House and 22 for the Senate. Of those, 182 House candidates are Democratic women and 15 Senate candidates are Democratic women. There also are 12 Democratic women candidates for governor. In addition to the marquee national races, Emily’s List endorsed 500 women running for state and local offices.

Besides this election, Emily’s List is concentrating on Focus 2020, which aims to shift state legislatures and governorships to Democrats to make drawing up new congressional districts fairer in 2021. A good head start on that is the 43 state legislative seats that already flipped from red to blue since Trump took office.

Even the women who chose not to run for office got involved in multiple ways. They became part of the resistance. They joined Indivisible chapters all across the country. They swelled the ranks of Moms Demand Action groups in communities across the U.S. to fight for common-sense gun legislation. They have become more politically active, volunteering for campaigns, attending town halls, and calling and writing their representatives. The movement is being described as the pink resistance, or the pink wave. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post: “I suspect that 2018 will be the first election, but certainly not the last, in which brigades of women, spurred by righteous anger, play a role far weightier than their numbers would suggest.”

Not all of the women candidates are going to win. Some are facing uphill fights in red districts in red states. We won’t know the results of this election until all the votes are counted, which, in the case of some tight House races in California, could take a few weeks, after all of the mailed-in ballots are received. With so many close races, it’s possible that too many Democrats could end up in the just-missed-it category. There are many wonderful Democratic candidates who will fall short and whose campaign supporters will end up deeply disappointed. And Democratic candidates and voters face more entrenched voter suppression tactics than ever before.

But many signs point to sweet, satisfying victories. Traditionally, more women than men turn out to vote, and the voting gender gap between men and women could be record-breaking, all to Democrats’ favor. Democratic turnout was way up in this year’s primaries. Donations to Democratic candidates also reached new highs, many from a record-high number of women donors.

The huge early voting numbers show the expected greater numbers of women voters and older voters, but, compared with 2014, they also show a nearly 500 percent increase in the number of young voters (granted, their 2014 turnout was dismal), a 165 percent hike in the number of African-American voters, and a nearly 600 percent increase in the number of Latinx voters.

The blog Margaret and Helen (everyone’s favorite octogenarians) is written by two feisty women in their 80s who have been “best friends for 60 years and counting.” After the 2016 election, they issued a call to arms that rings just as true today as it did in November 2016:

They say Trump woke a sleeping giant, but maybe that giant didn’t wake up before the election. Maybe it woke after the election when we all finally realized that everything we hold true and dear about this nation can indeed be taken away. Maybe, just maybe, the sleeping giant is actually the millions who trusted in hope and love instead of those who walked into a polling booth and secretly voted for hate and fear. …

Whomever we are and whatever color we are, and whatever age we are, and whatever gender we are, and whatever sexual preference, religious belief, city or town, church, mosque or synagogue … we are awake now. And this is our country.

We are battle worn but not battle weary. Someone has to watch that skunk Trump and keep him in line. And someone has to watch the Republican powerhouse and make sure they don’t overreach. Our elected Dems need us now more than ever.

My favorite ad of this election cycle (and there have been many terrific ones) is “Women Rising,” a kick-ass video of eight Democratic women running for the House in six states. They are military veterans who served in combat. They flew fighter jets. They commanded troops. They worked for the CIA. They worked in the White House.

Let’s not wake up disappointed Wednesday morning. Let’s get this done.

The heroes fighting voter suppression

Everyone deserves a chance to vote. Period.

When the voting deck is stacked against Democrats, it’s time to fight back.

I’m not talking about bringing in high-profile speakers like President Obama to rally the base at candidate rallies, although that certainly helps. I’m talking about taking concrete actions to help people whose votes are being suppressed or voters whose access to the polls is being severely limited.

Donald Trump and Republicans keep harping on the “problem” of non-existent voter fraud. It’s the scare tactic the GOP keeps using to make it harder to cast a ballot. Voter suppression can mean the difference between victory and defeat. It’s why the Georgia Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp (also coincidentally the guy in charge of voting rules as secretary of state) is frightened of Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams’ voter turnout operation, “especially if everybody uses and exercises their right to vote,” as he was recorded saying at a fundraiser.

There are groups across the country going above and beyond the usual efforts to challenge voter suppression in the courts, to help voters get the needed IDs, and to aid voters in actually getting to the polls on Election Day. Many groups have always helped in those efforts, but as Republican-controlled legislatures pass more draconian voter-ID laws, voter suppression efforts, and voter access hardships, more and more have stepped up to try to ensure that every voter has a chance to have his or her voice heard. These are just a few of those efforts.

Let’s call them the voting heroes.

A new report by three political scientists from Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University, and China’s Wuhan University studied factors about ease of voting in each state and how those factors affected voter turnout. They created a “Cost of Voting Index,” or the time and effort it takes to vote, which takes into account 33 different variables dealing with registration and voting laws. The study is published in the September issue of the Election Law Journal.

Differences in registration deadlines carried the most weight in developing the index. For the most part (but not universally true), it was easiest to vote in states led by Democrats, and hardest to vote in states led by Republicans.

Oregon led the pack for ease of voting with its automatic voter registration and its ballots that are mailed to every voter. The state with the most barriers to voting is Mississippi, with required ID, no early voting, and no “no-excuse” absentee voting.

The higher the Cost of Voting Index, the lower the voter turnout, and much depends on laws designed to suppress voting. As a story on the study in The Washington Post pointed out:

What sort of effect do these laws have on voter turnout? Some quick calculations suggest that the effect is potentially quite large: The five most restrictive states had turnouts in 2016 that were, on average, nearly nine percentage points lower than turnout in the five easiest states to vote in. …

Those findings strongly suggest that high turnout in some states is at least partly a direct consequence of choices made by policymakers to expand access to the ballot box. The converse would also be true: The low turnout rates seen in places like Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas are in part a result of lawmakers’ deliberate efforts to make voting harder.

Let’s look at a few examples of voter suppression and the voting heroes who are fighting back.

Fighting for Native Americans’ right to vote in North Dakota. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a state law requiring all voters to have IDs with street addresses, causing disenfranchisement for many living on the state’s five tribal reservations — over five percent of the state’s voters — who have only P.O. box numbers. “Roughly 35 percent of that population doesn’t have an acceptable ID with a residential address,” said a story by ABC News. Four Directions, a Native American voting rights advocacy group, has worked out a plan so that Native American voters can get a letter on tribal letterhead that will serve as an ID with an address. Whether that’s acceptable to GOP officials in the state remains to be seen, but many tribal leaders say this voter suppression is motivating Native American voters in North Dakota to show up at the polls. “It’s real simple,” OJ Semans, Four Directions’ executive director, told ABC. “At the end, you tell them — Standing Rock will vote. Spirit Lake will vote. Turtle Mountain will vote. Sisseton-Wahpeton will vote. All of the tribes are united in ensuring that our tribal members are able to participate in this democratic process.”

Fighting back in Georgia. Things are not peachy for voters in the Peach State. The aforementioned Brian Kemp and his GOP allies are trying to suppress votes on multiple fronts, and several groups are finding ways to fight back:

  • Kemp has blocked 53,000 new voter registrations from being processed, calling them “pending.” Kemp cites the “exact match” requirement, passed by the GOP Legislature in 2017, in which a signature, a hyphen in a name, or a typo is enough to stop a registration from being processed. It’s also no coincidence that 70 percent of those “pending” registrations are for African-Americans. A coalition of voting advocacy groups, including the Campaign Legal Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has filed a lawsuit. A spate of negative publicity forced Kemp to tweet that those 53,000 voters could still vote, and several media reports are telling voters to show up at the polls and bring ID to prove who they are. They can still cast a regular — not provisional — ballot. “Voters who prove ‘substantial match’ between their voter registration and ID can cast normal ballots, not provisional,” according to a story in Atlanta Magazine.
  • Besides the new voter registrations, Georgia election officials also were rejecting absentee ballots based on the “exact match” requirement, an action challenged by several groups, including the ACLU. A federal judge has now blocked the state from throwing out those absentee ballots, issuing a temporary restraining order allowing those voters to confirm their identity by the “substantial match” standard. Georgia officials announced plans to appeal.
  • The NAACP filed complaints alleging that some old voting machines in two Georgia counties were changing votes that were cast for Abrams into votes for Kemp.
  • Officials in Jefferson County, Georgia, ordered black voters off a bus taking the senior citizens to an early voting site. The county officials gave a series of contradictory excuses for their actions. Candidate Stacey Abrams joined them for a voting rally, and several of the voters went to the polls on their own. And the action proved to be nothing but bad publicity: The voting advocacy group Black Voters Matter reports that most of the seniors removed from the bus have now voted.
  • Kemp (again!) and voting officials recently erased the voter registrations of over 100,000 voters just because they hadn’t voted in recent elections, the result of a “use it or lose it” voting law. This is on top of a purge of half a million voters in 2017. Voter action groups responded by reminding people to check and re-check their voting status, and re-register if necessary.

Suing officials for purging voters. At least nine states, most under GOP control, now have “use it or lose it” voting laws. A story from American Public Media Reports says states “have purged an estimated hundreds of thousands of people from the rolls for infrequent voting since the 2014 general election. States with these policies are removing voters at some of the highest rates in the nation, no matter the reason.” Infrequent voters, the story adds, tend to be younger, poorer, and people of color who are more likely to favor Democrats. A report from the Center for Media and Democracy estimates that as many as 700,000 voters may have been purged in Wisconsin alone since 2016. There have been multiple suits challenging such laws — most famously in Ohio — but the Supreme Court ruled that the laws were not illegal. It will take a change in the makeup of state legislatures to reverse those laws.

Fighting cuts to access to polls. There are way too many stories of GOP state officials conveniently (for them) closing polling places or limiting early voting in areas more likely to vote Democratic. These areas include college campuses, urban areas, and areas with higher concentrations of minority voters.

Here’s one example: In Texas, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sued Waller County for limiting early voting opportunities for students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college. The students have only five days of early voting, with no voting on evenings or weekends. Even though there are more students at Prairie View A&M than there are white residents of the city of Waller, Texas, Waller has early voting for two weeks, plus evening and weekend voting hours.

Will the suit do any good? Well, it is Texas, and the U.S. Supreme Court already has shown it has no interest in helping voters in underserved areas. But you’ll never get anywhere without a fight.

Free rides to the polls. For weeks, the ride-sharing service Lyft has shared the message through social media that it will offer free rides to the polls for voters who otherwise would have trouble getting to their voting stations. It teamed up with Voto Latino, the Urban League, and the National Federation of the Blind to offer free rides on Nov. 6, and worked with, Nonprofit Vote, and TurboVote to offer half-off coupons. Not to be outdone, the ride-sharing service Uber joined the free-ride train. Uber has partnered with Democracy Works and #VoteTogether to share that message through social media.

Uber and Lyft could get big usage on Election Day. Pew Research data from 2015 reported that only 15 percent of Americans used ride-sharing. But lest anyone thinks Uber and Lyft are used only by the wealthy, millennials, or those in urban areas, estimates of who uses ride-sharing services (tracked by credit card usage) is now as high as 43 percent of Americans.

One of those places where the offer will come in very handy is in Dodge City, Kansas. There, the idea of making it ridiculously hard for voters to get to the polls went to a whole new level.

For years, Dodge City, a city of 27,000 residents that is now majority Latinx, had only one polling site. Now it doesn’t even have that. The polling place has been moved outside city limits and is more than a mile from the nearest bus stop. It’s no coincidence that Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running for governor in a tight race with Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, is conveniently in charge of voting in the state.

Lyft and Voto Latino to the rescue. And there’s a donation link to help the effort.

The most insidious effect of voter suppression is to discourage voters from coming to the polls for fear that the effort won’t be worth it. Despite the advances in voting by several states, such as online registration, automatic registration, and mailed-in and dropped-off ballots, there remains the practice of erecting voting hurdles for those who are seen as likely to vote for Democrats. As legal scholar and campaign law expert Richard L. Hasen wrote in Slate:

These laws are always unacceptable, whether or not they swing elections. If the state is going to put a hurdle in front of voters who wish to cast a ballot, it should offer a good reason for doing so. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the states are not really even trying to offer those reasons anymore.

It’s outrageous, and it deserves everyone’s condemnation. It takes resources away from campaigning and get-out-the-vote efforts. It undermines the equality and dignity of each voter.

One day, maybe we won’t have two Americas, but a single America, where every eligible voter will be able to easily register and cast a ballot that will be fairly and accurately counted. One might have expected we would have had that by 2018.

We must keep fighting and — above all else — keep voting.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 28, 2018.

Coal is dying, and Trump knows it

West Virginia coal miners listened intently at a Donald Trump rally in August. By September, Trump wasn’t talking about bailing out coal anymore.

Of all the empty promises Donald Trump made on the campaign trail in 2016, perhaps the cruelest one was the vow he made to coal miners that the coal mining industry would come roaring back.

It hasn’t. And it never will.

In the first year of the Trump presidency, the administration announced with much fanfare that it would develop plans to prop up and subsidize both the coal and the nuclear industries. That was supposed to be a project run by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who proposed several plans over the last year to force power companies to keep coal plants running, all in the name of national security.

But none of the bailout plans went anywhere, and it seems that the administration has thrown in the coal-stained towel (at least for now) in the move to subsidize the failing industry. The main concern was who would pay for the multibillion-dollar bailouts.

On top of that, electricity generated from coal-powered plants has hit a 35-year low. Coal company bankruptcies in states such as West Virginia and Colorado also are increasing. The main thing keeping the industry going right now is coal exports that go overseas to make steel, not to produce energy at home.

Using less coal is good news for the environment, as coal is one of the dirtiest sources of energy. “Coal generates the most CO2 emissions of any fossil fuel and yet remains the world’s dominant energy source,” according to the World Resources Institute, mainly because so much coal is still burned in China.

But it’s bad news for people hoping for jobs in the industry, especially the miners who lined up behind Trump in droves in places like West Virginia.

At an August campaign rally in the state, Trump touted his vague coal industry plan to a friendly audience. He bragged that he had a “military plan” to save coal. One month later, those claims seem to have disappeared. According to a story in the Washington Examiner:

“We are working now on a military plan that’s going to be something very special” for coal, Trump said while addressing a rally in August.

But when he arrived in West Virginia last weekend, there was no reference to anything close to a military plan. He instead made references to supporting transmission lines and coal exports.

The Examiner story also pointed out that “The White House has also been struggling with the legal justification for the plan, as well as questioning whether there is a real need for the plan to make the grid more resilient.”

In 2016, Hillary Clinton got hammered over and over again for a quote she made during the presidential campaign—always taken out of context—that “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Trump and Republicans turned the quote into Clinton’s “war on coal” and, by extension, coal miners. It became known as the best-known “gaffe” of her campaign, and it turned many voters in coal country against her. Trump went on to win West Virginia and its five electoral votes with 68.5 percent of the vote—the highest vote share in any state.

What Clinton meant, of course, was that coal is a dying industry, and that the country needed to invest in new jobs involving clean and renewable energy for those out-of-work coal miners. Never mind the fact that her campaign proposed a $30 billion plan to help coal miners and their communities. The message was baked in; she was against coal, and Trump would be its champion.

Too bad that reality shows a different set of facts.

Employment in coal mining has been going down steadily for years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, over the last 10 years, the industry has gone from slightly over 80,000 coal industry jobs nationwide in 2008 to slightly over 50,000 jobs now. There was a tiny uptick of 1,000 or so new jobs after Trump’s election, but that’s essentially leveled off.

Of course, that didn’t stop Trump and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt from claiming that there had been “50,000 jobs” added in coal—statements rated false by Politifact, even if there’s some quibbling about what exactly constitutes a job in the coal industry.

Trump’s so-called military plan for coal never went anywhere because there was nowhere for it to go. It was opposed by groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the Electric Power Supply Association, and Perry’s proposals were rejected unanimously by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. There also has been pushback from Trump’s own advisers on the National Security Council and National Economic Council, as the bailouts would cost billions. Also objecting were the oil and natural gas industries. According to a story from Politico:

Perry’s proposals — which would also keep aging nuclear power plants operating — have riled up the oil and gas industry, which has prospered as inexpensive natural gas has increasingly eaten away at coal’s share of U.S. power markets. Other critics include consumer groups worried about rising power bills for customers, environmental organizations concerned about the threat to wind and solar power, and conservative policy organizations that oppose what they see as heavy-handed federal intervention in the economy.

Leave it to the Trump administration to bail on a bailout policy not because it would further poison the environment, but because conservative groups didn’t like it.

Coal is just not competitive any more. According to a story from Reuters:

Most coal-fired power plants still in operation were commissioned in the 1970s and 1980s, when surging oil prices caused a shift from oil-fired to coal-fired generation.

Most are now 35-50 years old and as a result of corrosion and fatigue require expensive replacements of steam generators and other large pieces of equipment. …

Coal-fired power plants have been losing market share for 30 years, with their share of total generation falling from a peak of 57 percent in 1988 to just 30 percent in 2017.

Coal is losing market share to natural gas and to renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and geothermal. Fossil fuels still make up about two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S., but the renewable share has been growing and made up 17.6 percent of all electricity production in 2017 (the rest is in nuclear). Renewable energy is now the fastest-growing source of electricity production in the U.S.

And what about all of the coal miners waiting for a mining miracle? Unfortunately for them, they’ve rejected numerous attempts at job retraining, instead putting their faith in Trump’s shallow promises. The reality is that the Appalachian coal mining region “has lost about 33,500 mining jobs since 2011,” according to another Reuters story.

Maybe they can feed their families by reselling their MAGA hats on eBay.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Oct. 21, 2018.

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