Tag Archives: League of Women Voters

About That War On Women….

I’m a woman of a “certain age”–in other words, old–and I’ve lived through some fairly significant social changes, especially changes in the status of women. And I’ve seen enough to recognize a backlash when I’m experiencing it.

I’ve written before about how important reproductive autonomy is to women’s emancipation–not to mention their health. Without the ability to control their own childbearing decisions, women are hobbled in innumerable ways–returned to a time when they were economically dependent on their husbands/partners, and a time when they were far less employable.

There are plenty of other reasons to be outraged by the decision in Dobbs– not least because it elevates dogma held by one religious sect over equally sincere and longstanding beliefs held by others–but it is the decision’s attack on women’s equality that is most egregious.

Dobbs is just the most visible part of a wider war on that equality.

I recently became aware that among the books being attacked by self-described “conservatives” is a popular middle-grade book series “Girls Who Code.” The books are about–duh— girls who code, focusing on the adventures of a group of young girls who are part of a coding club at school.

According to a report in Daily Kos, the series was added to PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans, a nationwide list of restricted literature.

After hearing about the book ban, Reshma Saujani, founder of the Girls Who Code nonprofit organization, shared her thoughts with Business Insider.

“I was just shocked,” Saujani told Insider. “This is about controlling women and it starts with controlling our girls and what info they have access to.”

She added: ”In some ways we know that book banning has been an extreme political tool by the right—banning books to protect our kids from things that are ‘obscene’ or ‘provocative’—but there is nothing obscene or provocative about these books.”

According to the website associated with the Girls Who Code organization, the goal is to “change the face of tech” by closing the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs.

“Moms for Liberty”–the group that has been actively trying to ban books that focus on topics like critical race theory, sex education, and inclusive gender language–is said to be responsible for adding the series to the banned books index.

The Girls Who Code books are used to reach children and encourage them to code, but because of how “liberal” they seem due to the diverse characters and the message that girls can do anything, conservatives are looking to ban them.

Saujani noted that removing the books not only hinders visibility for women in technology fields but also diversity in the industry, as most of the characters in the series are people of color.

“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said. “They don’t want girls to learn how to code because that’s a way to be economically secure.”

Apparently, showing girls of various races engaged in coding is “woke”–and as we all know, being “woke” horrifies the White Christian Nationalists who want to take America back to the “good old days.”

According to PEN America, books were banned in 5,049 schools with a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students in 32 states between July 2021 and July 2022. About 41% of banned books on the list had LGBTQ+ themes or characters who are LGBTQ+. The other majority of banned books featured characters of color or addressed issues of race.

The Republican determination to return America to those (mis-remembered) “good old days” explains a lot of other things, including Congressional votes against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and against the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act among others. The Party even opposes the League of Women Voters, insisting that the League’s stands on behalf of women and against gerrymandering have remade the organization into a “collection of angry leftists rather than friendly do-gooders.”

Today’s GOP labels anyone–male or female– who supports gender (or racial or religious) equality–as “angry leftists.”

Forty-two years ago, my husband and I met as part of a Republican city administration. When we married, a reporter told me we were considered “nice, but a bit right of center.” Our political philosophies haven’t changed–but the GOP has. Dramatically. Today’s Republicans now consider us part of that “angry leftist” mob–along with most of the then-Republicans with whom we worked.

Make no mistake: today’s GOP is a radical, dangerous cult that bears virtually no relationship to the political party that was once home to people like Richard Lugar and William Hudnut–or even Ronald Reagan. Its war on “woke-ness” and women is part of its hysterical effort to return America to a time when White Protestant males ruled the roost.

November 8th is about whether we are going back.

 

Vote Suppression Goes Sophisticated

Tuesday evening, I will facilitate a Zoom conversation sponsored by the League of Women Voters. (If you are interested, the link is to registration–it’s free.)The conversation will follow the showing of a film (“The Fight to Vote”) documenting the methods state legislators and Secretaries of State currently employ to keep “those people” (groups likely to vote for the other party, in this case, mostly Democrats) from casting their ballots.

They’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated since they turned vicious dogs on Black folks, demanded poll taxes and “constitutional tests”–but the new tactics are very effective.

Here is a general outline of the remarks I plan to make introducing the discussion.

________________________

What we’ve just seen shows the ways in which vote suppression has become more sophisticated—and less visible—since Reconstruction. There are actually two main methods of discouraging the vote. The first method is primarily aimed at minorities and poor people, who tend to vote Democratic. The tactic, as you saw in the film, is making it as inconvenient as possible for those people to cast their ballots. The second is gerrymandering, which—among other pernicious things—suppresses the votes of members of the minority party in a particular district by convincing people in that party that their votes won’t count anyway.

And recently, just in case those methods don’t work, they’ve come up with another tactic, triggered by belief in the “Big Lie.”

The film you just saw focuses primarily on the first method: making it more difficult to vote. Some of those tactics, which have been the focus of recent legislation in a number of states, include shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots, making it harder to remain on the voter rolls, not sending mail ballots unless people specifically request them (or “losing” them in the mail), limiting drop box locations and early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods and ensuring that the ones that remain open will have horrendous wait times because they haven’t been supplied with enough voting machines. There are a wide number of bureaucratic moves that can make it much more onerous to cast a ballot if you are in a targeted community. The film gave you a good overview of those moves.

The second method is gerrymandering, which is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

Gerrymandering, as you undoubtedly know, is the process of creating districts that will favor the party that controls the state legislature during redistricting. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans. Thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana doesn’t have “one person one vote” because the rural areas where Republican voters live are vastly overrepresented.

Gerrymandering allows the GOP to control our state legislature with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by thousands of votes statewide. We are not unique; In 2021, the Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a competitive Congressional District.

It isn’t hard to see how gerrymandering suppresses the vote. A lack of electoral competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduces political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to or campaign for a sure loser? Why vote at all?

It’s also very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the general election ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal candidate who offers no genuine challenge. In a depressingly large number of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed even by a token candidate. If you don’t have a candidate to vote for, why go to the polls?

Now, there’s something new to threaten American democracy and the vote. Recently, in several states, Republicans who purport to believe in the Big Lie have embarked on yet another method of ensuring the victory of their candidates—placing partisans in the offices responsible for counting the votes.

If they succeed, the danger won’t come from people casting improper votes. The threat is that the people controlling the voting rolls and counting those votes will be dishonest partisans, which is why a recent report from the Brennan Center is so concerning. This year, races for Secretary of State—the offices charged with administering the vote– are attract­ing far more atten­tion than in recent memory. And in state after state, those campaigns are focusing on elec­tion denial—Trump’s “Big Lie” as a cent­ral issue.

Money is flow­ing into these races at a rate not seen in recent memory–more than two and a half times the amount raised by the analog­ous point in 2018, and more than five times that of 2014. Elec­tion deniers in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Nevada are currently either in the lead or running a close second in fundrais­ing. National groups and donors are spend­ing on these races, includ­ing Donald Trump’s lead­er­ship PAC and others with ties to efforts to chal­lenge the 2020 result. Donors who haven’t previously given to secret­ary of state candid­ates are suddenly making major contri­bu­tions.

If this effort is successful, partisans won’t have to come up with creative ways to suppress the vote. There will be an actual “big steal.”

Obviously, all of this activity is inconsistent with American democracy. All of it rejects the notion that “We the People” elect our representatives. Instead, partisans—who are mostly but not exclusively Republicans these days— decide which people deserve to have their registrations honored and their votes counted.

As Common Cause folks put it, we voters are supposed to choose our legislators—our legislators aren’t supposed to choose their voters.

Answering Your Questions

On February 4th, I participated–via Zoom– in a panel discussion on gerrymandering sponsored by Indiana’s League of Women Voters. The program concluded with several questions still pending, and the moderator subsequently sent me the ones we hadn’t had time to address.

There were some I couldn’t answer: what is meant by a “paper trail,” for example. I rather imagine it varies depending upon the technology being employed, but I have no helpful information. And I have no data on the number of voters who found themselves moved to  new legislative districts during the last round of redistricting.

Some of the “questions” were really comments: one person bemoaned the generational effects of safe seats–the reluctance of “long in the tooth” politicians to address issues (marijuana reform, for example) that are relevant to younger voters, and another was concerned with the dominance of rural representation and the lack of genuine home rule in Indiana. A third emphasized the importance of the courts. I agree with all of them.

As for the questions: I have previously explained why the Fairness Doctrine would not be applicable to most sources of today’s disinformation. The study that found Indiana to be the fifth most gerrymandered state was conducted by scholars at the University of Chicago.  Cases challenging the constitutionality of gerrymandering have indeed been filed–and have lost at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Someone asked what incentive might appeal to both parties to end the practice, and someone else wondered how HR 1 proposed to provide that incentive, especially since states like Indiana have constitutional provisions requiring legislative line-drawing. To answer that question, I am turning the remainder of this post over to the Brennan Center.

The biggest change under H.R. 1 would be that all states would be required to use independent citizen commissions to draw congressional districts. These 15-member commissions would include five Democrats, five Republicans, and five Independents or members of smaller parties, ensuring that all interests are represented equally when lines are drawn. Strong conflict of interest rules would prevent lobbyists, staffers, and political operatives from serving on the commission, and screening processes would ensure that qualified commissioners are selected.

The process for approving a map also would be transformed. In contrast to the current practice in most states, maps could no longer be approved along party lines. Instead, for a map to become law, it would need to win support from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and members of third parties on the commission

Partisan gerrymandering would be expressly banned

H.R. 1 would give voters an important advantage by creating the first ban against partisan gerrymandering in federal statutory law.

This statutory ban would let voters use H.R. 1 to challenge gerrymandered maps under H.R. 1 instead of having to rely, as is the case presently, on claims brought under various parts of the Constitution. Having a statutory remedy could be an especially important tool for voters given uncertainty about how far the Supreme Court will go in allowing partisan gerrymandering claims brought under the Constitution.

Importantly, the ban could be implemented for maps drawn in 2021, even the passage of H.R. 1 does not come in time for independent commissions to be set up.

The rules for drawing maps would be made uniform across the country

H.R. 1 would create a comprehensive, uniform set of rules for mapdrawing

H.R. 1 would create a comprehensive, uniform set of rules for mapdrawing.

Currently, the only requirement in federal law for drawing congressional districts is that states must use single-member districts. Some states impose additional requirements in their own laws, but many do not. This has created an unlevel playing field and opened the door to all kinds of manipulation.

Under H.R. 1, mapdrawers are required to avoid the unnecessary division of communities, neighborhoods, and political subdivisions. Protections for communities of color also would be strengthened to ensure that the political power of those communities is not undermined by mapdrawers.

Mapdrawers also would be required to issue written reports evaluating proposed maps’ compliance with these rules before any voting on maps could commence.

As with the ban on partisan gerrymandering, these rules could be put in place for 2021 even if passage of H.R. 1 does not come in time for implementation of commissions.

HR 1 would give the public the right to review the maps, and the right to mount an expedited challenge.

Constitutional provisions giving the legislature responsibility for redistricting can be met by having the legislature adopt the maps drawn by the commission. That provision was included in previous–unsuccessful– Indiana bills that addressed gerrymandering.

HR 1 is one of the most important measures currently pending in Congress. It would go a long way toward restoring a system that encourages, rather than discourages, voting–and an even longer way toward allowing voters to choose their representatives rather than keeping the gerrymandering that currently allows representatives to choose their voters.

Tune In To These Presentations!

In lieu of a post today, I am indulging in some PR.

I will be participating in one of three upcoming, free Zoom presentations on gerrymandering, sponsored by the Indiana League of Women Voters. As longtime readers know, I have blogged repeatedly about the anti-democratic impacts of gerrymandering, and I’ve published a couple of articles about it in academic journals (you know, those journals that no one reads). This is your chance to hear from other voices, to see some illuminating films, and to benefit from the experiences of others.

Below is the information about the series, and a link at which to register. DO IT. (Please?)

Documentary Film Series with Panelists and Q&A on Voter Suppression, Gerrymandering, and the Need for Redistricting Reform

Thursday, Jan 28, 7:30-9:00 p.m. EST

Suppressed: The Fight to Vote by Robert Greenwald.
Produced by Brave New Films, this 35-minute documentary chronicles the 2018 midterm election in Georgia where people faced polling place closures, voter purges, missing absentee ballots and extreme wait times —disproportionately preventing students and people of color from voting.

Panelists: Sarah Ferraro (election official, Calumet LWV)
Olisa Humes (President of NAACP chapter, Columbus, IN)

Thursday, Feb 4, 7:30-9:00 p.m. EST

UnCivil War: U.S. Elections Under Siege Produced & directed by

Indiana native Tom Glynn
This 45-minute documentary exposes the web of threats facing our elections today. The film includes a segment on Indiana’s fight to reform redistricting, featuring interviews with Common Cause’s Julia Vaughn and Debbie Asberry of the Indiana League of Women Voters, co-founders of All IN for Democracy, Indiana’s Coalition for Redistricting Reform.

Panelists: Sheila Kennedy (Retired Professor of Law and Policy, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI)
Paul Helmke (former Ft. Wayne Mayor, now Director of the Civic Leaders Center at IU).
Peggy Welch (IN State Rep. gerrymandered out of her district in 2011)

Thursday, Feb 11, 7:30-9:00 p.m. EST

Line in the Street Created by film makers Robert and Rachel Millman, this award-winning film on gerrymander reform is about citizen activists and a landmark win for voting rights in the 2018 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, League of Women Voters Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This first of its kind lawsuit held that partisan gerrymandering violated Pennsylvania’s State Constitution, irrespective of federal law, or federal courts.

Panelists: Jesse Kharbanda (Hoosier Environmental Council)
Jennifer McCormick (Former IN State Superintendent of Public Instruction)

REGISTER HERE FOR ONE, TWO OR THREE FILMS: You will receive a registration confirmation email containing information & a unique link to attend the programs.

If you have wondered how on earth people like Jim Jordan and Louis Gohmert manage to hang onto their seats in the House of Representatives, this series will explain that phenomenon.

If you live in a state like Indiana, where the lines have been carefully drawn to ensure dominance by rural voters over urban ones, this series will explain why Indiana’s laws are so retrograde and why our state is so firmly located in the “Red” column when election results are being tabulated.

And P.S.While this series is focused on gerrymandering, don’t forget the anti-democratic Electoral College. The Electoral College is the reason that, in a Senate that is split 50-50, the 50 Democratic Senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republicans represent.