Posted In: Educator Voices, Ohio, Uncategorized, Voter Protection, Workers' Rights

Bus tour with teacherken: In Cleveland with labor and seniors

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Ken Bernstein is a recently retired National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher who was a 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher. Nationally known for his blogging as teacherken at Daily Kos and elsewhere, he served until his retirement as the lead building representative (NEA) at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD.

On Monday afternoon the East bus for Patriot Majority USA’s Stop the Greed Agenda Bus tour stopped near a complex of union offices in Cleveland. Several groups hosted us, with the stop organized by AFSCME, along with the Ohio Education Association, the AFL-CIO, and especially the Laborers Union, outside of whose offices our bus was parked and we held our rally.

Mariah Hatta of Patriot Majority USA begins the event:

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Mariah is a native of the region, having grown-up in nearby Oberlin. Both her mother, a social worker, and her father, a retired teacher, were present.

Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary, North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor spoke next:

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We were blessed with the presence of Patricia Frost-Brooks, President, Ohio Education Association:

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She reminded us that OEA represents 124,000 teachers and that 90% of school-aged children in the Buckeye State attend public schools.

I was also able to talk with President Frost-Brooks after the event and will describe that conversation a bit later.

Darlene Hardimon, President, National Council of Negro Women, Cleveland Chapter, addressed the gathered folks briefly:

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Wynne Antonio, Alliance for Retired Americans, who is a retired teacher, was next up:

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One point MS Antonio strongly emphasized is that we can make Social Security financially sound by lifting the cap on the taxes subject to payroll taxes. This is a far better solution for the American people than the Greed Agenda approach of privatizing the program.

Our final speaker was Jeffrey D. Johnson, Councilman, Ward 8, City of Cleveland:

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The Councilman began by congratulating the bus telling the assembled “They are sending out the word!” Having served in the Ohio Legislature he assured those gathered he fully understands the conspiratorial nature of the legislation being pushed to further the Greed Agenda, which is why we must be active and organized to prevent that from happening.

Patricia Frost-Brooks, the President of the OEA, told me she was very proud of effort that repealed Senate Bill 5, which had stripped collective bargaining from all public employees in Ohio, including teachers. While this was an important defeat for the greed agenda, she does not think the battle is over. She expects to see the battle over collective bargaining continue, conceivably local by local. Teachers very much need collective bargaining in order to be able to advocate for students, to be able to obtain updated materials for teachers, who also need time for teaching not just to the tests, but things relevant to the students. And she said this,

Parents send us their very best to our schools every day. Teachers are prepared to deliver their very best to the students every day so that we can have continued improvement.

Whatever we do with policy should not interfere with that improvement in learning for the students.

A key part of the Greed Agenda is voter suppression. One tactic about which we have heard a lot is requiring government issued voter identification. Voter ID laws have been propagated across the country, even though such picture ID is useful in preventing only impersonation fraud, of which there is very little – Pennsylvania could not offer a single example of such impersonation fraud in the past ten years, which is part of the reason when the State Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Court of Common Pleas judge who had originally upheld that state’s law he temporarily enjoined preventing voters without such id from voting through the regular balloting process. The inability of the state to be able to guarantee that it could successfully issue such identification to perhaps 750,000 current voters who did not have an acceptable government ID was a greater factor. Even as Pennsylvania kept tweaking its rules, ultimately it had to acknowledge such problems that the judge ruled against the law for this cycle. A veteran’s card from someone who had honorably completed military service on behalf of this nation was not a qualifying ID because it lacked an expiration date. Other states have followed similar patterns. In Texas your concealed carry permit qualified as a government issued ID for voting, whereas an identification card from a state college or university did not. One by one such laws have been struck down by state and federal courts.

In Ohio the approach being taken was somewhat different. A deliberate attempt was being made to restrict the ability to vote by rolling back access to early voting. Those reading this need some understanding of the history of restriction of voting in the Buckeye State. The 2004 Presidential election came down to OH, which George W Bush won by less than 120,000 out of a total vote of about 5/6 million. While there are questions about the integrity of the machines used to tabulate the vote, there is no doubt of obstructions placed before some groups of voters, specifically those in minority communities and those in college towns. In such locations there were often a paucity of voting machines, whereas in suburban precincts there were an abundance of voting machines. Thus if you were in a White middle class suburban precinct there were no lines, but if you were attempting to vote at Kent State, you might have to wait on line for more than 7 hours. To compound the issue, often several precincts would be in the same physical location, with separate lines. When you got to the front, if you were in the wrong line you were given a choice of casting a provisional ballot – which would probably not be counted – or getting on the back of the correct line.

It is perhaps also pertinent to remember that Ohio had a history of problems with voting not only in the 2004 election, but also in 2008. Some have argued that the problems in 2004 were worse as a result of the Help America Vote Act enacted into law by the Congress after the debacle in Florida in 2000.

For lower income voters, for many seniors and those with health issues, for students who had classes to attend, standing on line even for more than a couple of hours was simply not possible, and they left without voting.

By 2008 there was a new Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, who not only addressed the inequity of the distribution of voting machines. She oversaw an expansion of early voting. She attempted to replace all voting machinery – which failed integrity tests – with optical scan paper ballots, but the legislature refused to appropriate the funds to do so. The argument for optical scan paper ballots is that one can physically recount the paper ballots themselves in the case of questions or a very close election, whereas some of the machinery had no paper trail to be recounted.

Ohio has been a battleground on voting issues in Presidential elections for several very simple reasons. First, it is a relatively large state, still with 18 electoral votes, the 6th largest number of any state. Second, Ohio almost always votes for the winning Presidential candidate, having last been wrong in 1948 and before that in 1884. Third, no Republican candidate for President has ever been elected without Ohio.

A key in the election of 2008 was early voting, especially in the African-American community, where churches would organize “souls to the polls” events on the Sunday immediately before the election. The Ohio Secretary of State John Husted had issued regulations that would have prohibited early voting in the last three days before the election except for military and overseas voters, arguing that they had unique challenges. When this was challenged in Court, the State of Ohio lost and early voting was restored – that is, all voters were to be treated the same with respect to early voting. The Appellate Court, however, did not order any county to allow early voting at all on the last three days, thus as of the time I am writing this it is not clear that all Ohioans will have access to early voting on the last three days. Again, the restriction of early voting disproportionally affects minorities, the elderly who do not drive and cannot stand in long lines, and in many cases students. It is true that this has a disproportionate affect on a partisan basis, but that should not be the issue: in a democracy we should be encouraging all to vote and all political parties should compete vigorously for votes. That will result in choice that more clearly represents the will of the people.

In Ohio there is one other form of voter suppression, and that is intimidation. For example, there is this now well-known sign. The sign appears near housing projects containing African-Americans. It does not specify what constitutes voter fraud, which is why supporters of the sign see nothing wrong with it. Yet such signs never appear in suburban white neighborhoods. The clear intent, with the sign declaring that voter fraud can result in a $10,000 fine and a 3 ½ year sentence, is to discourage voters in the community – which is African-American – from voting for fear they might be prosecuted. As it happens, one can be a convicted felon in Ohio and as long as one is not incarcerated one is able to vote. Unpaid taxes or parking tickets are not a barrier to voting.

Another method of interfering with voting is attempting to knock people off the voter roles. There have been massive efforts in some states, notably Florida and Colorado. Here some history is relevant. In 2000 Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris – who was simultaneously chair of one candidate’s presidential campaign in the state – generated a purge list by matching names of registered voters with lists of those convicted of felonies in other states. Florida requires proof that voting rights have been restored for convicted felons. But the matching algorithm Florida used was so loose that thousands of people were falsely struck from the rolls. In a state whose electoral votes were decided by a margin of 537 votes, could the Presidential election have been turned as a result of people being improperly struck from the roles without notification? This cycle the lists from the office of the Florida Secretary of State were so shoddy that most election supervisors refused to purge based on them. In Colorado, the Secretary of State’s attempt to purge thousands of voters failed miserably. As one can read in this article at Think Progress,

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) has decided not to pursue a voter purge he initiated by sending letters asking almost 4,000 voters to prove their citizenship. After 482 people responded with proof and almost 90 percent of the suspected non-citizens were verified through a federal database, Gessler planned to challenge 141 names still in question, but does not have enough time to handle the hearings before Election Day.

America has an unfortunate history of attempting to prevent some people from voting. Often these are members of minority groups. As it happens, if their vote can be suppressed, a partisan effect results. Historically we have seen such efforts from both political parties, although nowadays the efforts to suppress and intimidate come almost completely from one side of the political divide. Such efforts are often done using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has both Democratic and Republican members. Yet such laws only seem to appear in states controlled by only one of the two political parties, which should cause fair-minded people to wonder what the real intent of such efforts are, especially absent any evidence of wide-spread voter fraud of any kind. In fact, in the current cycle, the only clear evidence of fraud is by a firm hired by the National Committee and several state committees of the very party pushing for striking voters, requiring picture ids, limiting early voting. It is ironic that the firm in question, now being investigated for fraud in several states, is headed by someone previously accused of improper actions in 2008, although neither he nor his firm were charged. He has said that he was asked to change the name of his firm for this cycle to avoid the taint of the previous accusations.

Interfering with the right of eligible people to vote is wrong, regardless of who does it. That laws to accomplish that are part of the Greed Agenda should not surprise anyone. If the people were fully informed about the Greed Agenda and what those behind it are attempting to do, they might well rise up and vote for people to represent them who would better represent the people and not the interests of the greedy wealthy.

Because of the stakes of this federal election, we are paying closer attention to interference with and suppression of the people’s right to vote. After all, we have memories of 537 votes in Florida deciding a Presidential election, and control of both chambers of Congress are also at issue in this election. We should also remember that flipping the result of many state and local elections can also be an issue – for state legislatures that write the laws, and for school boards that decide on policies.

If we are going to Stop the Greed Agenda, we have to first ensure that all eligible people are able to register and vote, then persuade them to do so, after we help them fully understand the issues and what is at risk.

Reread that last sentence and you will know why I took 9 days out of a busy period to participate in and write about the Stop the Greed Agenda Bus Tour.

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