Illustration copyrighted and used by permission of Randall Enos (website and bio, archive)
Happy Election Day! I hope you've voted or will get to the polls by closing time (in an hour here in Virginia.) Then around eight join some of us at Cellar to watch the election results.
Here are some tips from Brad Friedman to protect your vote and that of others. Kate Sheppard over at Mother Jones warns some of them may be illegal in your state. Sigh. Someone with a computer should be at every polling place at Montgomery County, Virginia helping folks look up the proper polling place if they didn't do so before they left home. Here's why...
Adventures in voting
Last night, I looked up my voter registration record online and learned that the Virginia Election and Registration Information System listed my precinct as, F-2, while my voter registration card issued last month by our registrar, said I should be voting in E-2.
Although I am not much of a morning person, I drove, soon after the polls opened at 6:00 a.m. , to the place the registrar listed on my voter registration card card (St. Michael's Lutheran Church). After I waited in line, the woman person with the polling book on computer told me I wasn't on the rolls because I had an "old" registration card. False. I showed her the post mark on the envelope, but she insisted.
She said she couldn't tell me where I was supposed to be and wanted me to step out of line and go over to the other side of the room. I'm guessing she would have made me use a provisional ballot. I told her no, I would just go to the right polling place, according to the state board of elections site. The gentleman ahead of me at St. Michael's had the same problem. The official told him, "You're a student, your polling place changed, this is a 2008 card." As far as I know he went along with them. I don't know if he got to vote.
When I got to the correct place according the site, Blacksburg Middle School/High School, the official there was very nice. Since I had already waited in one location, he let me check right away to confirm I was in the correct place and then the second official with the voter roll offered to check me in and let me vote without waiting a second time. I had no trouble with the touch screen machine, but they still make me leery.
Virginia is one of the states with a new voter id law
A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School found that voter ID laws disproportionately affect poor, minority and elderly voters. The Justice Department cleared our law because, on its face, it appears fair. Anyone can vote, with a registration card provided at no cost by the State.I am here to tell you that things are not as peachy as they seem.
I had been unable to find shared housing in Blacksburg. Students don't want a roommate that reminds them of their mother (or grandmother.) I thought an apartment on my own busted the budget, so in order to vote, I planned to move back to property I own in the County, although it has only a shack off of a gravel road with a privy and no running water.
In Virginia, you are supposed to be able to register to vote if you can describe where you live
The County real estate records show me as the owner
You have to register to vote in Virginia by October 15
It wasn't until October 10, when I picked up a receipt for my real estate taxes so that I could register, that I learned that the property no longer has an 911 address on Derby Road, but is instead listed on Coal Hollow Road with no street number. No, the registrar's assistant said, I needed a street address; I wouldn't be able to register to vote. The Assistant Commissioner of Revenue and County Administrator were very helpful in trying to get me the address. The Administrator's secretary suggested that I call the registrar, rather than his assistant. He, too, said I needed a street address.
By October 11, I was willing to rent an apartment
Even if it busted my budget, since landlords here require long leases. No luck, though; it would take until Monday to get an appointment to view my options with an agent. It would take another week to process my application, and the rental agent for one dumpy efficiency told me that if the apartment cost more than a third of my attachable income, I would have to get a co-signer, despite a good credit history.
By 4:35 p.m. on October 12, I received confirmation I couldn't obtain an address from the county's Director of Planning and GIS Services:
Thank you for your email. At this time we are not able to assign a 911 address for a dwelling on this parcel. Our records indicate that there is a structure on the property however it does not appear that it has been occupied for over 10 years.... In order to assign a 911 address for a residential dwelling on this property, we will need for you to apply for a zoning permit and provide documentation of an approved well and septic system by the VA Department of Health or documentation from the Montgomery County PSA that the dwelling is serviced by public water and/or sewer services. In addition, the dwelling will need to be approved for occupancy by the Montgomery County Building Official. I have attached a copy of the zoning verification form as a guide to help you through this process.Despite the law, rural poor and homeless apparently need not apply to vote in Virginia
I apologize for the problem that this may cause with your attempt to obtain voter registration. Feel free to contact me directly (see contact info below) if you should have any questions or comments about the process to obtain your new 911 address for this property.
My housing is similar to some poor people in this County. And there are others who live in trailers with no 911 address, who, like me get their mail in town at the post office. A friend on the school board told me of one person she knows who thinks he can't register because of living in such a trailer, although he is a native--by comparison I'm a newcomer--I've only owned property here since the 1980s and I suspect that I lost the 911 address in 2000 or 2001 when the adjoining property changed hands.
I asked about the registrar about the Virginia registration form which said that rural residents should be able to vote by describing their location and giving a post office box if the address was not served by the post office. No, he said, I needed a street address.
I asked him about the third question on the form, that even the homeless are allowed to register.
He repeated that I couldn't vote without an address and that my post office box and drivers license wouldn't do. I asked him what if I registered as homeless and after he called the State Board of Elections or some such, he called back to say I would have to use a church address as a residence and he would mail the card there. By now it was Friday, October 12.
By October 12, I was willing to say I was homeless
I wrote the registrar back at 5:23 p.m. to confirm:
Thank you for your phone call. It appears that since I cannot get a 911 address, I am "homeless" unless I move back to Giles County. You advised that I would either need to obtain a lease by Monday at a rental property or get a church or synagogue to accept my mail. You said that I may not get an individual homeowner to accept my mail.I was openly copying the American Civil Liberties Union and Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. I got no response from the registrar: I did get one from a representative of the Lawyers Committee.
There are no properties for rent on this short notice. [My friend] tells me that her church cannot accept mail on short notice as it would have to go before a care committee. Blacksburg Jewish Community Center receives its mail at a Post Office Box. Which churches in Montgomery County are currently providing mailing services for the homeless?
Soon it was as October 13
I called the pastor of the church where I had voted and although I am a total stranger, he agree to accept my registration card. I wrote back the Lawyers Committee to let the representative know.
On October 15, the last day to register I was still having problems
I drove over to Christiansburg. Since the registrar wasn't there, I filled out the form and called and asked to speak to him. He wouldn't come to the phone.
The Lawyers Committee representative told me he wasn't a lawyer and all he could do was call himself. I told him I needed legal muscle. He didn't offer to contact a lawyer with his organization. I wouldn't hear back from the ACLU until two days after the deadline.
I drove over to Christiansburg for a second time ad sat down in the registrar's office
When he came out to meet me, he smirked and said there was no such church or pastor. I had mis-written the name of the church (writing St. Mark's, not St. Michael's) but had the address correct. I had written the pastor's last name correctly (it was the same as his) but he pretended he couldn't read my handwriting. He told me the planning department had showed him on a map where my property lay, but that it wasn't sufficient. Nor would he approve the application, without talking to the pastor, whom he had been unable to reach.
I refilled the form, although he said it wasn't necessary. I didn't want him to disqualify it. I asked for a copy signed and dated that it had been received. He waffled about whether he was going to register me. I tried to pin him down and put what he had said in an email to the pastor and cc'd the registrar.
At 4:41, nineteen minutes before the deadline, the registrar wrote back:
I still have not heard back from ..[the pastor]. I cannot approve this application until I get confirmation from [him] that he has agreed to accept your mail. When I hear from him, I will let you know my decision on your voter application. As we have discussed a voter must be able to receive mail at their address so they can receive their voter registration card and other mailing from my office and State Board. As soon as I hear back from [the pastor] I will phone you with the results of our conversation.I am not the only one having problems with this registrar
I know one woman who changed her voter registration to a country a couple of hours away at the Division of Motor Vehicles website. She received a new card at her post office box in that county, but it had her voting here in Christiansburg. She tells me all she had to do was show her registration card and she was allowed to vote.
This registrar has been criticized in national publications for discouraging student voting. (A friend says he was sued, but I can't find a newspaper story to that effect and the reference librarian hasn't found anything for me either. I wonder what he thought about the 5,000 forms that got delivered to his office by the deadline, according to Democrats.org.
This same registrar has been censured for errors and yet reappointed by the Board of Electors.
Is it a coincidence that the Board of Elections appointments are political?
The sitting Governor gets to appoint a majority. And the sitting Governor in Virginia is a Republican, a party accused of voter suppression in the form of techniques it says are necessary to prevent fraud that
A Virginia Republican operative stands charged with throwing out registrations
In the Harrisonburg area (another jurisdiction with a large student population) has been charged with throwing away registration forms and it took outside pressure for the Republican Attorney General to investigate.
Conservative activist O'Keefe pulls another sting--in retaliation?
Weeks later, James O'Keefe released a video of his efforts to entrap the son of a liberal Virginia Congressman, James Moran. O'Keefe, of course is the man who brought down ACORN with his undercover video and has been sued for violations of privacy. As Jon Healey writes in an LA Times opinion piece which includes the whole video,
The younger Moran doesn't tell the man that what he's planning is illegal, immoral or wrong. Instead, he tells him it would be "tough" and that he'd be better off spending his time and energy getting those 100 voters to the polls. He also encourages him to help Obama's get-out-the-vote efforts in Northern Virginia, which his father represents.Former John McCain 2008 presidential campaign adviser Steve Schmidt calls fraud a myth
But as the man persists, Moran gets drawn in...
Well, I think one thing you always want to be for, whether you’re Democrat or Republican , is you want everybody who’s eligible to vote to vote, and that’s how you want to win elections. And, so, I think that all of this stuff that has transpired over the last two years is in search of a solution to a problem—voting fraud—that doesn’t really exist, when you look deeply at that question, It’s part of the mythology now in the Republican Party that there’s widespread voter fraud all across the country. In fact, there’s not.
(Quote starts at 1:43 on this complete clip on MSNBC, which sn't embeddable on this blog platform.)
Former Republican Governor of Florida Charlie Crist criticizes Republican suppression
Now an independent, Crist wrote in July:
He went on to complain that his successor had conducted voter purges, curtailed voting hours and employed other means of taking away the vote.
For better or worse, the central principle behind the unlimited contributions to super PACs that will dominate this election cycle is simple: Money is speech, and we cannot limit speech. Yet many who hold this freedom as an article of faith are all too willing to limit an equally precious form of speech: voting.
If we don’t speak out against these abuses, we may soon learn the hard way the danger of that double standard. And a dozen years after the 2000 recount that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, my state of Florida threatens to be ground zero one more time.
Meanwhile it's a nail biter
I'm loathe to make predictions or even cite those who do. What I will say, though, how does winning at all costs constitute leadership or patriotism?
Or to quote Crist again, while we go off and inspect corrupt elections in
"banana republics...[i]t’s time to look right under our noses. It’s happening here at home. And it’s our responsibility to honestly assess the root of the problem — which requires doing so with as little partisan bias as we believe belongs in the administration of our elections.
We can’t be surprised every time it turns out that politics are involved in our politics. But neither can we be silent when our democracy is threatened in its name.
There are lines that should not be crossed; meddling with voting rights is one of them. It is un-American and it is beneath us.