Download a smarphone app to check voting rules in your state

Election ProtectionThe Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law and others have joined together “to deploy the Election Protection Smartphone Application to provide all information and resources, in English and Spanish (branded “Ya Es Hora”), that voters need to fully participate in the 2012 elections.” Download this free Android app to register to vote, verify your registration, see the voting rules for your state, and to get contact information to report a voting issue. (It does not appear that this app is available for iOS products.) Use this app to get voter ID information for your state, as well as voter registration and absentee voter information. The website also offers state voting information.

Election Protection


What is behind the modern vote suppression movement?

ALEC ExposedIn 1973, in response to what they viewed as President Richard Nixon’s bias toward “big government,” conservative legislators, led by activist Paul M. Weyrich, formed the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) think tank to promote business-friendly laws on a state level. ALEC would convene state legislators, advocacy groups and businesses to craft template “model legislation” to be used throughout the country.

ALEC has been described as described as “the collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators,” (Nichols, John. December 9, 2011. The Koch Brothers, ALEC and the Savage Assault on Democracy. The Nation. Retrieved Sept. 9, 2012.) It is primarily supported by donations from corporations, who, because of ALEC’s charity status, can claim these contributions as tax deductions.

Since its inception, ALEC has crafted and promoted a variety of legislation that ranges from harsh anti-immigration laws, efforts to privatize social security, Medicare, schools and prisons, caps to worker rights and pay, the throttling of broadband internet access, the promotion of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws and measures that reduce voter access to the polls.

The advocacy of these bills to states across the nation seems to fit the definition of lobbying, which would nullify ALEC’s tax-exempt status. Yet, although ALEC agrees that its activities do fit some states’ legal definition of lobbying, it insists that the organization itself does not engage in the practice.

Bob Edgar, president of the watchdog group Common Cause (, disagrees. “We know its mission is to bring together corporations and state legislators to draft profit-driven, anti-public-interest legislation, and then help those elected officials pass the bills in statehouses from coast to coast. If that’s not lobbying, what is?” (Mcintire, Mike. “Nonprofit acts as a stealth business lobbyist.” New York Times 22 Apr. 2012: A1(L).Retrieved Sept. 10, 2012.)

ALEC Exposed

Another consequence of ALEC’s non-profit status is that it does not have to reveal its donors nor its members. In 2011, Common Cause, citing the Freedom of Information Act, obtained records of state legislators who are members of ALEC. At the same time, over 800 pieces of ALEC’s “model legislation” were leaked. In addition to the drafts of laws, the documents revealed that ALEC pays the travel expenses of public officials to attend its “educational” conferences and provides free support materials to help get its bills passed. The Center for Media and Democracy and The Nation magazine joined forces to distribute information about ALEC’s secretive activities on this wiki. Explore ALEC’s work to thwart voter rights on this page:,_Voter_Rights,_and_Federal_Power.

Pressure from voter advocate groups caused ALEC to officially abandon its “task force” for voter restriction in April 2012. However, that cause was immediately taken up by another conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research, which subsequently announced its “Voter Identification Task Force.” (

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. The 2010 election saw a wave of conservatives elected to Congress as well as to state offices. These new statesmen expressed the concern that “voter fraud” committed by illegal immigrants was skewing election results. Subsequently, 37 states introduced strict new laws demanding that voters prove their identity and/or citizenship before casting a ballot. These laws eerily mirrored the model put forth by ALEC in its leaked documents. Ten states enacted the laws, including Texas and South Carolina, two states that still fall under the purview of Section V of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Modern voting restriction techniques include requiring proof of citizenship at registration and identification cards at the point of voting, often very specific documents that can be difficult for some people to obtain. In addition, poll hours have been shortened in many areas, making it harder to cast a ballot in person. Because these techniques effectively disenfranchise out-of-state college students, the elderly and frail and minorities, the new voter ID laws have been compared to Jim Crow regulations.

Gabriel Sanchez, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of New Mexico, notes that obtaining an identification card becomes a barrier, a kind of “cost” of voting. “One consistent finding in political science literature is that whenever you increase the costs of voter participation, participation goes down, particularly among vulnerable segments of the population.”

He notes that the tangible benefits of voting are miniscule, particularly for those who feel marginalized in society. “Any time you tweak the costs for folks that aren’t mobilized to a great extent to begin with, you’re going to impact turnout.” (Katel, P. (2012, May 18). Voter rights. CQ Researcher, 22, 449-476. Retrieved from

Supporters of voter ID laws say that their purpose is to preserve “integrity in voting,” that is, they wish to thwart voter fraud. Yet, in July of this year, when the state of Pennsylvania defended its new voter ID laws in to the federal Justice Department, it conceded that the state “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere,” nor will it “offer argument or evidence that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.” In other words, there was no evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. ( Indeed, in June, Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader in the Pennsylvania state senate, crowed about the political nature of voter suppression in his state when he bragged, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania: Done.” (

Out-of-state college students, ensure your voting status at Campus Vote Project

Campus Vote ProjectCollege students living away from their home state face particular challenges in some states when they try to register to vote. In Florida, for example, all voters must present proof of permanent residence, which is difficult for out-of-state university students. The Campus Vote Project is a non-profit organization that works “with students to remove barriers to voting on campuses across the country.” If you are an out-of-state college student, visit this site to see what you must do to make your vote count.

Campus Vote Project

Learn about changes in voting laws that will affect the November elections

Map of voting law changes in the U.S.The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University of Law keeps us abreast of rapidly changing voting laws. In the last two years, “17 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election,” they point out. “These states account for 218 electoral votes, or nearly 80 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.”

2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes

Occupy and Tea Party: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

OWS and Tea Party rallies

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are both populist movements that have angrily taken to the streets over perceived injustices about how the government handles money. Is there any room for common ground?

Why Occupy Wall Street Is Bigger Than Left vs. Right
In October 2011, Matt Taibbi wrote that, “Occupy Wall Street and the millions of middle Americans who make up the Tea Party are natural allies and should be on the same page about most of the key issues.” Specifically, the “incestuous political and financial corruption on Wall Street and in Washington. “

Occupying the Tea Party

Andrew Prokop, in November 2011, describes what happened when members of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street actually encountered each other. There was shouting and pushing. Two older women fell. “By the next day,” writes Prokop, “The story of the ‘attack’ by the Occupy movement had already entered conservative lore, and the ‘natural allies’ seemed further apart than ever.”

“If they could get over their biases, they do have a lot in common,” writes Julia McDermott (no relation), professor of speech in northern California. She notes that the Tea Party and Occupy not only share a sense of grievance but of powerlessness. “What good is a vote, when it seems that the politicians are for sale to the highest bidder rather than responsive to the concerns of the electorate?” she asks.

Occupy Wall Street regroups

Occupy TogetherOccupy Wall Street remained in Zuccotti Park from September 17, 2011 until, shortly after midnight on November 15, police moved in and cleared it. They arrested protesters who did not leave willingly. Over the next two weeks, other cities moved in to clear similar encampments in their public spaces. The movement seemed to go quiet as the winter passed. Though it has dropped out of the media limelight, Occupy continues to plan marches and other actions leading up to the fall election. Here is a website that distributes information about their plans.

Occupy Together

The Occupy movement is anarchical, yet its 1400 groups coordinate with each other via this website. Search the Occupy Directory ( or browse its interactive with map with links to the web sites of individual groups. Click the “InterOccupy” link to find out about upcoming meetings between Occupy groups.

The Origins of the Occupy Movement

AdbustersThe Occupy movement kicked off with a march on Wall Street in New York on September 17, 2011. The planning for the demonstration began in June as a brainstorm of two Canadian advertising executives, Micah White and Kalle Lasn, who was originally from Estonia. The pair runs the anti-consumerist Adbusters Media Foundation.


Vancouver’s Adbusters magazine urges awareness of, “the erosion of our physical and cultural environments by commercial forces.” Inspired by the events of Arab Spring, the relatively peaceful overthrow of the Egyptian and Tunisian governments early in 2011, Adbusters organized and promoted the September march and “occupation” to speak out against the influence of money on politics, the lack of punishment for the perpetrators of the financial meltdown of 2008, and growing income inequality.

Although Adbusters does not run the Occupy movement, it does offer news of upcoming events on its website.