New rules will make it harder for many elderly, poor, black and Latino voters to cast ballots

New rules created ostensibly to stop voter fraud are making it more difficult for poor, black, Latino and elderly Americans, particularly in the South, to register for elections, Sari Horwitz reports for The Washington Post. “In November, 17 states will have voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. Eleven of those states will require their residents to show a photo ID. They include swing states such as Wisconsin and states with large African American and Latino populations, such as North Carolina and Texas. Many of the residents struggling to obtain a valid photo ID are elderly and poor and were born in homes rather than hospitals. As a result, birth certificates were often lost or names were misspelled in official city records.”

Supporters of the laws argue that everyone should easily be able to get a photo ID, while “opponents say that the laws were designed to target people more likely to vote Democratic,” Horwitz writes. “Many election experts say that the process for obtaining a photo ID can be far more difficult than it looks for hundreds of thousands of people across the country who do not have the required photo identification cards.” (Post map)

In Texas, which has one of the strictest voter laws in the nation, a federal court found that “608,470 registered voters don’t have the forms of identification that the state now requires for voting,” Horwitz writes. Overall, “about 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo identification cards, such as a driver’s license or a passport, according to Wendy Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.”

University of California at San Diego researchers analyzed turnout in elections between 2008 and 2012, finding “substantial drops in turnout for minorities under strict voter ID laws.” The study’s authors wrote: “These results suggest that by instituting strict photo ID laws, states could minimize the influence of voters on the left and could dramatically alter the political leaning of the electorate.”

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Ask Einstein

Yesterday, a New York Times editorial pointed out that  the federal district judge who upheld the most egregious voting restriction law in the country was a George W. Bush appointee, a conservative Republican who accepted the state’s arguments in favor of the law. The opinion piece went on to note the Republican-led roll backs destroyed fifteen years of  making voting easier.

The 2013 North Carolina law not only added the requirement that voters show acceptable photo identification at  the polls; it eliminated same-day voter registration; ended preregistration for young voters who will be eighteen and eligible to vote in the next scheduled election; cut back on early voting and Sunday poll hours; and put a stop on out of precinct votes being counted.

It’s true this case is the most recent damage the Supreme Court of the United States did in Shelby v. Holder by striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The second act of a voting rights tragedy which started in 2008 with Indiana’s voter ID case which upheld rulings by a Federal District Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit throwing out challenges to the law.

Republicans are quite open about their motives. Voter ID laws and other restrictions create hardships for the traditional base of Democratic-leaning voters.  Fewer voters seems to mean better election results for Republicans. Now we are on to the next step in the litigation chain with an appeal to the Fourth Circuit, with hopes from voting rights advocates that this decision will be overturned before November’s presidential election. None of which is a promise of anything more than more litigation. And that takes time.

Meanwhile, it’s been a struggle to find funding for the mitigation work the Voter ID Project has been doing while litigation has been fully embraced, even though proving time after time there’s an obvious double whammy needed in the remedy department.  Time is not our friend with a critical presidential cycle in full swing.

There are some bright spots in doing the quiet work of getting people the information and the identification they actually need in order to vote. You’ll find Kathleen Unger’s baby at work in Wisconsin, and joining the line up is All Abut the Vote. These are two more efforts with the same goal as RuralVotes’ collaborative efforts with South Forward in North Carolina as well as introducing an innovative new program for the Voter ID Project in multiple states.  There are few organizations with a specific mission that tries to help people understand and comply with the laws as they are in effect now.  I can count them on one hand.  We are among those who believe in grassroots change that includes practical on the ground help to get voters what they need to vote now in addition to pursuing legal remedies.  It’s a new understanding of what it will take to change, and a willingness to admit we need to mitigate as well as litigate. Doing the same old thing just won’t cut it.

Rural voters were the difference on Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho

Rural voters continue to be the difference in the presidential race, with Republicans that scored big this week in rural areas in Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi also winning the state, while rural Michigan was the deciding factor in the Democratic primary, Bill Bishop and Tim Marema report for the Daily Yonder. (Yonder map)

Democrat Hillary Clinton collected 11,000 more votes than Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in urban areas in Michigan, beating him 49.6 percent to 48.6 percent in cities, but it was rural areas and micropolitan areas that carried Sanders to the upset, Bishop and Marema write. Sanders beat Clinton in rural areas by 8,000 votes—earning 55.3 percent of the votes to 42 percent for Clinton and also got 22,000 more votes in micropolitan areas—59.9 percent to 37.9 percent—to finish with 19,000 more votes than Clinton.

In the Republican race in Michigan, businessman Donald Trump won 42.9 percent of rural votes, compared to 25.6 percent for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and 18.2 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Bishop and Marema write. Trump, who also won in cities and micropolitan areas, finishing with 36.5 percent of overall votes, to 24.9 percent for Cruz and 24.3 percent for Kasich. Trump also took rural areas in Mississippi, beating Cruz 50.7 percent to 36.6 percent. Overall, Trump won the state with 47.3 percent of votes to 36.3 percent for Cruz.

Cruz had a better experience in Idaho, where he edged Trump among rural voters, 39.5 percent to 36.1 percent, Bishop and Marema write. Cruz, who also won in cities and micropolitans, finished with 45.4 percent of the vote, to 28.1 percent for Trump. A Republican caucus will be held today in the Virgin Islands. Northern Mariana Islands holds a Democratic caucus on Saturday, while Guam and Washington D.C. hold Republican conventions on Saturday. (Read more)

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Sanders backers going to rural places no campaign has gone before, to win New Hampshire big

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is taking rural to the extreme in preparation for Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, where Sanders, a senator from adjoining Vermont, is the clear favorite over Hillary Clinton. “We are knocking doors in places where people have never gotten their door knocked before—and the experience is so unexpected that people are calling the police because a stranger is showing up their door,” so the campaign has started calling police in such towns to they can reassure callers, Sanders’ state primary director, Julia Barnes, told Sasha Issenberg of Bloomberg News.

“Much of New Hampshire is considered difficult to canvass, given the sparse population in the northern half of the state and the mountainous terrain that mottles it throughout,” Issenberg reports. “A surfeit of Sanders volunteers is pushing into parts of the state past campaigns would have considered inefficient to walk—even recruiting so-called driving teams of up to four people to team up on rural roads and snowy driveways.”

It’s difficult to reach New Hampshire voters by phone, Issenberg writes. “Over the week of Jan. 25, Sanders volunteers completed 11,000 phone conversations out of 250,000 calls placed—and 15,000 face-to-face conversations out of 60,000 attempted doorstep visits. The problem is particularly acute for Sanders, whose young get-out-the-vote targets often lack landlines and have not provided the campaign other methods of reaching them. Within that group, Sanders is making a concerted effort to mobilize those who would register for the first time on Tuesday, in line with New Hampshire’s same-day registration rules, meaning that there is not yet any trace of them on voter rolls.”

Fresh off a narrow loss to Clinton at the Iowa caucuses, Sanders is looking to reach as much of the state as possible in an attempt to score a big victory. Polls have Sanders leading Clinton in New Hampshire by anywhere from seven to 23 points, according to RealClear Politics.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Iowa caucuses give rural voters an opportunity to be heard

Photo retrieved from archives at

In Iowa, where rural areas “make up more than three-quarters of the state’s 99 counties and are home to 40 percent of its population,” the caucuses give rural voters the chance to have their voices heard and get face-to-face time with presidential candidates, Alicia Parlapiano, Brent McDonald and Larry Buchanan report for The New York Times. “Party leaders in rural areas are well aware of the power they hold, whether they vote as a bloc to tip the result in one direction or provide just enough support to cut into a candidate’s margins from the bigger cities.”

“Iowa often has its first-in-the-nation voting status called into question, in part because its demographics (the state is 92 percent white) don’t represent the country as a whole,” reports the Times. “But Iowans will proudly defend their position, citing their deep commitment to the process and the lengths to which they will go to scrutinize the candidates.”

“Caucuses are run by the parties, not the state, so the bulk of the organizing falls to volunteer committee members, who are driven by a passion less for individual candidates than for their parties’ values and the grass-roots political process,” reports the Times. Jordan Pope, chairman of the Decatur County Democrats, who, at 18, is the youngest county chairman or chairwoman in Iowa, told the Times, “I think being in a rural area, you’re able to step up to the plate and take more responsibilities, which is awesome and a little scary also. I have friends in Texas and Alabama, and they’re always jealous when they see me taking selfies with presidential candidates. Yeah, you have primaries there, but the main way they see their candidates is on a TV screen.”

One of the strengths of the caucuses it that they “are not designed for anonymity: Everyone arrives at once and can make a pitch for their favorite candidate in front of the entire group,” reports the Times. “While the Republicans vote secretly on scraps of paper, the process for Democrats requires caucusgoers to declare their preference by physically standing in a candidate’s designated corner.”

One problem is that “Iowa’s 99 counties have shrunk in population since 1990, with the most rural areas hit the hardest,” reports the Times. “The 18- to 34-year-old share of the population has decreased in all but four counties in the state, rural and urban alike. The shedding of Iowa’s rural population has made it more difficult for the parties to recruit and maintain leaders for their county committees. At the same time, a growing dependence on out-of-state paid staff members in election years has left many counties without local volunteers who have the skills to maintain their organizations in non-election years.”

Another problem has been technology, reports the Times. Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucus in 2012, but results were not released for two weeks when Mitt Romney “was said to have won.” Officials have worked to curb that problem, this year “replacing their paper and landline vote reporting system with a digital one” that will verify totals within 48 hours. Still, some are worried that a lack of high-speed Internet in some rural areas could hamper results.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Buckle up.

If your county government is approached by a company selling something called DirtGlue for gravel roads, what happened in Montgomery County, Virginia, may interest you and your local officials.

In an attempt to save money from “the usual $1 million per mile cost of building a new paved road, or $500,000 per mile cost of improving one to ‘rural road rustic’ standards,” the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors pushed for a company that uses DirtGlue to pave the mile-long stretch of Old Sourwood Road, Mike Gangloff reports for The Roanoke Times. The polymer was designed to “fuse the road’s unpaved surface into a hard material similar to asphalt.” The road “would not be officially classified as paved, but it wouldn’t have the maintenance costs typical of unpaved routes.”

The move was approved, and Montgomery County and the Virginia Department of Transportation split the $183,365 cost of the DirtGlue treatment, Gangloff writes. Board chairman Jim Politis told Gangloff, “We invested a little money to see if we could save a lot of money.”

Trying to save a few dollars cost the county big time when the gluing didn’t take on most of the road, Gangloff writes. “Potholes and washboarding quickly developed. There was heavy dust, according to residents and the highway department. Residents’ complaints set off a round of finger-pointing between company, county and state officials. DirtGlue blamed a contractor for applying their product during a rainstorm and said that VDOT did not prepare the surface properly. VDOT said that a company representative had been present when the DirtGlue was spread.

“Residents said that they endured an increasingly bumpy ride to and from their homes as officials wrangled about what to do next,” Gangloff writes. “Earlier this year, the company said that it planned to apply more DirtGlue but needed to coordinate with the county.” Instead, in August, the county and VDOT split the $16,000 cost to have “the road de-glued, grinding up the remaining DirtGlue and covering it with new stone,” returning the road to its original gravel state.

Update from RuralVotes: A glimpse into DirtGlue’s product claims can be found here.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim Mandell. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Political differences are never a justification to insult the president.

You don’t need to look further than your internet browser to find the answer to whether the Confederate battle flag is a remnant of racism. The evidence points to it being a vile reminder of all the injustices of slavery.

In 1863, William T. Thompson, the editor of the Savannah Morning News, proposed a design that became the Confederate battle flag, the Stainless Banner recently removed from government grounds by South Carolina’s state legislature in the aftermath of horrendous tragedy. Nine people, attending Bible study, were murdered by a disturbed young man obsessed with that flag and its true meaning.  One of the flag’s designers, Mr. Thompson was a strong supporter of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.  His words leave no room for doubt what that battle flag stood for when he wrote and published multiple editorials.

“As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.… Such a flag…would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as the white mans flag.… As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism.”

And so, all these many years later, most of us have finally acknowledged the truth.

With full protection under the First Amendment, there are individuals who decry the banning of the Stainless Banner. Some of those people chose to put the Confederate flag on display in Oklahoma as President Obama arrived to visit. Protected free speech. No law against it. Still, Tom Cole, Republican Member of Congress who hails from Moore, Oklahoma, stood tall against the bigotry and disrespect those flag wavers showed to the President of the United States. His words, in a statement released earlier today, make clear his honorable intentions as well as his sense of decency.

“I was shocked and disappointed by those who showed up to wave Confederate flags soon after President Obama arrived in Oklahoma.” Read Representative Cole’s entire statement here.  You’ll feel better about our nation’s leaders – on both sides of the aisle. Thank you, Congressman Cole. We needed that.

Improving health through better nutrition? Fuggedaboudit says the GOP.

Putting the fat back into America’s food policy is a loud and clear priority for the new majority in Congress this year.  First Lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move” initiative in February 9, 2010.  A widely acclaimed first step to taking on childhood obesity, the First lady hasn’t been shy about wielding her considerable influence in order to make healthier kids, with healthier parents along with healthier seniors, a priority. The Department of Agriculture (USDA), under the guidance of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, has been a willing partner in Obama administration efforts to help create a healthier America. As recently as August 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new updates in labeling to make it easier for consumers to glean nutrition information about food items they purchase.

Rolling back healthier school menus are on the table. The new Republican Congress has been busy laying groundwork to push back on better nutrition standards in 2015. Don’t be surprised to see GOP lawmakers take on school nutrition from Day One. Provisions to allow states more flexibility to exempt schools from the Department of Agriculture’s whole-grain standards, and to halt future sodium restrictions are just the beginning. The battle over new reforms championed by Mrs. Obama is expected to escalate.

The guy in charge is U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. It’s interesting to note that Alabama has the nation’s highest rate of obesity among high school students. Still, Rep. Aderholt’s been leading the charge on school lunch backsliding nutrition standards.  Go figure.  And his cause is set to receive a boost from the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), and the Senate Agriculture Committee soon to be chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), as they begin the re-authorization process on the law governing school nutrition programs. Republicans openly voice dissatisfaction with the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a law with many of the reforms triggering complaints among school food service providers, and Republicans who argue the rules are too prescriptive and costly.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) seems a misnomer for a group that went to war with the White house over new regulations to limit sodium, fat and sugar as well as the mandate that grain products are whole grain-rich, and that kids take a serving of fruits or vegetables. SNA’s request to drop the half cup serving of fruits or vegetables is strongly opposed by nutrition advocates, the White House, and the produce industry which has seen sales gains in produce sales because of the program.  SNA claims the requirement has led to skyrocketing waste and costs, creating dire financial consequences for some school nutrition program providers. SNA will host a fly-in to Washington and Capitol Hill to talk to lawmakers the first week of March. Close to 1,000 member lobbyists will be armed with talking points against the higher standards and stories arguing that having vending machines and a la carte lines with better nutrition requirements has led to lost revenue for schools — reducing sodium is emerging as a sore point, too. Never mind the high medical costs from our nation’s not so secret killer in the form of high blood pressure fueled by high salt intake.

As for consumer nutrition labeling advances, the FDA can expect to feel the heat on its rule requiring calorie labeling on menus at chain restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters nationwide. The grocery and convenience store industries are especially upset about being included in the rule, mandated by a provision in the Affordable Care Act. FDA included calorie counts for alcoholic beverages. That seems to have really stirred the pot (or should I say martini) for the new majority with GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers says the FDA’s menu labeling rule is “suffocating America’s economy.” She countered with the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, HR 1249, a bill to roll back an assortment of the new requirements. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) expects to champion a Senate version this year.

“The Food and Drug Administration has acted recklessly, mandating regulations without considering the impact they will have on American employees, business owners, and our economy,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “Adhering to these burdensome requirements will be extremely costly — in both time and resources — for restaurants, grocery stores, delivery chains, and movie theaters across the country.”

She forgot the lost revenue at neighborhood bars where patrons will certainly be counting calories before ordering that beer after work.  There is no doubt the reasons for continuing healthier practices by the food industry in allowing consumers to make choices has broad implications on our nation’s future health, and the back end of those choices in the cost of health care delivery as we grow older. The notion that America’s families don’t want or need to know what’s in their food or drink products seems more like Big Brother legislation than increased awareness of the products we consume.

For the better part of the last year, RuralVotes and South Forward have been working together on voter protection and ballot access issues. Too many voters stayed home in 2014, many stating they don’t believe their vote matters. Many people also do not believe anything changes in their personal lives based on who gets elected.  But when things like limiting our right to know about what we eat and drink are on the legislative table, it’s as personal as it gets.

Why vote?

“As we move forward, let us also look back. So long as we remember those who died for our right to vote and those like John H. Johnson who built empires where there were none, we will walk into the future with unity and strength.”  – Dorothy Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010) was an American civil rights and women’s rights activist.

The following informational ad is currently being aired in select North Carolina radio markets.  I like to think that Dorothy would have approved.


Brushes with Inequality: A Blog Action Day 2014 essay

by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The girl was eight, in third grade, when she was introduced to inequality. She didn’t know the word, but she had a strong feeling that could be summed up as “That isn’t fair.”

Her teacher was telling the class that since colonial times, America had led the world in treating all people as equals. To prove her point she read from the Declaration of Independence the immortal phrase, ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

Never shy in class, she raised her hand. “Why just men?” she asked. “What about women?”

“’Men’ means both men and women,” the teacher explained, with an air that invited no further discussion. Unconvinced, the girl burned to know why the person who wrote that couldn’t have written “all people” instead. She didn’t see how she could be considered a man.

Now that she knew men were all that mattered she began noticing little things that made her feel dismissed: only the boys got to roll the wind-up record player from the storage closet to the classroom. Only the boys got to wind it up and place the needle on the record.The girls got to listen to the music. Only the boys got to take mechanical drawing and wood shop. The girls had to take home economics and cooking, which she got enough of at home.

Gradually she started recognizing other things that determined a person’s status and degree of privilege: skin color, how rich one’s family was, even height and weight. She learned that inequality had many facets, and that being on the low side of the equality see-saw had implications more far-reaching than most people seemed to realize.

By the time she reached her teens she was a confirmed activist, determined to call to people’s attention every instance of inequality she discovered.

Now seventy years past her first brush with inequality, she is still noticing. In the recent past she has noticed:

  • A well-known TV sports reporter was arrested for arguing with his wife in public. Someone called the state police and said he was choking her. There were no marks or bruises on the woman’s neck, not when the man was arrested, not in the police report, and not in court the next day when the woman sat next to her husband. She did not file a complaint; the police, who had nothing to go on but the anonymous phone caller’s word, did. The rest of the story is here.
  • Three young black men, one holding a sandwich, one a bag of candy, and one a toy air rifle in the toy department of a large store, were shot dead by white police officers in the last few months.
  • Hundreds of armed men, all white, held off a team from the Bureau of Land Management in support of a Nevada rancher who grazes his cattle on land owned by the U.S. government for which he is supposed to be paying rent. What do you think would have happened if the armed men were all black?
  • Research done at the University of Massachusetts finds that disadvantaged populations suffer more from pollution inequality than from income inequality.
  • The disparity in treatment of a black man from Liberia who went to an ER in Dallas complaining of a fever and was sent home with an anti-biotic, later to die of Ebola, and the white people who contracted Ebola in Liberia and came home to the US to be treated with an experimental anti-Ebola drug, is emblematic of the disparity of care between black and white, and between the insured and uninsured.
  • A state representative described a woman running for Congress in his state as “ugly as sin…and I hope I haven’t offended sin.” The opposing candidate, a member of his political party, no surprise, he said was “one of the most attractive women on the political scene anywhere, not so attractive as to be intimidating, but truly attractive.” Inagine his saying the same thing about two male candidates.

This list could go on indefinitely. There is no end to the inequality of treatment between black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and even thin and fat.

In her 79th year, the woman’s activism has diminished some, partly because of age but also because she is acutely aware of how little effect her activism has had. She is also acutely aware of the injustice that inequality engenders, and believes that without justice there will be no peace.

She still believes in the words of Theodore Parker, the 19th Century abolitionist Unitarian minister: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” She doesn’t expect to see the arc and justice intersect in her lifetime, but she’ll die with hope in her heart.

With this essay she hands the baton to another generation.

#BAD2014 #Inequality #BlogAction2014 #BlogActionDay #Blogaction14, #Oct16