a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

“The other folks are voting”

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st November 2008

Assume, for the sake of argument, that America’s previously most important election campaign is now a mortal lock.  Then America’s newest most important election campaign is in Georgia. From “Heavy Black Turnout Threatens Georgia Senator,” Carl Hulse, New York Times:

Nearly 1.4 million Georgians have voted, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, and more than a third were black. (Blacks make up just over 29 percent of registered voters in the state, which keeps track of racial data under civil rights laws.) Early voting began Sept. 22, and this week the state opened extra polling stations and extended their hours. The development is not lost on [Senator] Chambliss. “There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early,he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. “It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening,” he said.

From “Obama shakes up Georgia Senate race,” David Rogers,

[Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss] is outwardly confident, but there’s urgency in his voice as he tours North Georgia, trying to boost turnout in his predominately white base: “The other folks are voting, he bluntly tells supporters.

(Via A. Serwer (TAPped), brownsox (Daily Kos), and ultimately a friend I’ve never met, Isaac Smith.)

Dear good people everywhere: this, too, is why we fight.  So excuse my language, but please help blow this asshole out of the water — give to the Jim Martin for Senate campaign, if you can’t go door to door for him.

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Fighting back for Troy Davis

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 20th October 2008

I’ve been conflicted about this, but there certainly isn’t much time and I don’t really have any better ideas.

As I’ve written, I believe it’s almost certain from accounts like the one built by Amnesty International USA that Davis didn’t commit the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.  Nevertheless, he’s scheduled to be executed for that on Monday, October 27. There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, and the great majority of supposed witnesses have recanted their testimony about what they supposedly saw at the time or claimed to have heard from Mr. Davis.  The seven recanting witnesses cite great police pressure to confirm the story investigating Savannah police officers were sure of; by contrast, one of the two witnesses who haven’t recanted their testimony would be  a prime suspect himself were the case to be reopened.

My friends Mick Arran, eRobin and by now likely others are picking up on an idea by Mark Gisleson to “BOYCOTT COCA COLA” effort because of Troy Davis’s looming execution.   Gisleson explains:

I don’t have the clout to get this thing rolling, but how long do you think Sonny Perdue would remain governor if Coca-Cola was hit with an international boycott?

Let’s do it. Let’s boycott Coca-Cola. If you drink that sugar water crap, you’re better off without it. This is also an excuse to get your kids to stop drinking that piss water.

Now it’s surely true that the state of Georgia will be responsible for Troy Davis’s execution.  I’ve hesitated, however, because it’s also surely true that Coca Cola isn’t really responsible for it, nor does the company benefit from that execution in any way that I can see.  So while it can seem a little ridiculous to care very much about fairness to a multibillion dollar corporation, this would verge on threatening collective punishment in the sadly likely event that Davis’s execution takes place.

There are other things to look at closely at Coca Cola about.  While it seems a stretch to condemn Coca Cola for something one might also hold against, say, Ben and Jerry’s, many of its products can contribute to health problems.  Unlike Ben and Jerry’s, though, Coca Cola may sometimes be marketing its products too aggressively, such as with school soda machines.  More seriously, some argue that the company and its bottlers have benefited from anti-labor violence in South America; while I don’t know enough to have an opinion on its direct involvement in such violence, it does seem clear that they have engaged in union-busting tactics there, though my quick search showed “only” examples from around 2004 and earlier.

But none of this is connected to the Troy Davis case.

On the other hand, Coca Cola may be one of the few organizations in Georgia capable of successfully intervening with Republican governor Sonny Perdue on Davis’s behalf. Will threatening a boycott will convince them to do so?  Will a boycott gather enough force to be noticed?  I don’t know.

But I figure people should be thinking about this, whatever they decide to do.  For my part, I’ll write and ask the company to ask for clemency for Troy Davis, without threatening a boycott for failing to do so.

However, I’ll also take a closer look at Coca Cola generally.  I try not to drink the flagship beverage so much any more — but Coca-Cola makes a lot of stuff, from Minute Maid to Nestea to Fresca to Dr. Pepper’s.  A boycott is thinkable, but it’s a big undertaking — and it might be something to hold in reserve for things Coca Cola really can do something about.

UPDATE: October 23 is a “Global Day of Action for Troy Davis,”, with vigils in Fort Collins, CO, Hanover, NH, Norfolk, VA, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, London, and Montreal. Meanwhile, my first email to Coca Cola:

Dear Coca Cola,

Please urge Governor Sonny Perdue to commute Troy Davis’s death sentence, set for next Monday, October 27.  It seems clear to me that were Davis put on trial today with the evidence still available, there would be much more than a reasonable doubt that he committed the crime he’s accused of.

Please use your good offices with the governor to ask for mercy and justice for Mr. Davis.

Thank you.

I probably should have said the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles as well or instead.

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7 p.m.

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd September 2008

This can’t be happening.  Well, it can, but it shouldn’t be happening.  Troy Davis, a man who’s almost certainly innocent, is about to be executed today, but the New York Times’s Bob Herbert is reporting:

The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to make a decision on whether to hear a last-ditch appeal by Mr. Davis on Sept. 29. That’s six days after the state of Georgia plans to kill him.

As I wrote two weeks ago, Davis’s murder conviction has been cast in doubt by the recantations of many witnesses, who say police pressured them into identifying Davis as the killer of Officer Mark MacPhail of Savannah, Georgia.  One of the two remaining witnesses has reportedly confessed he was the real killer.  But the Georgia State Board of Appeals has already rejected a bid for clemency, unmoved by appeals from the pope, Jimmy Carter, and former FBI director William Sessions’s opinion that a closer look at the case is warranted.

The Georgia board can still change its mind; please urge them to do so here (Amnesty International USA).  Meanwhile, if you’re the praying sort, now’s the time to start.  Troy Davis’s execution is set for 7pm today.

Further reporting: Atlanta Journal Constitution, NPR, Guardian. Updates via Google News search here.

UPDATE, 5:30pm: CNN reports “The Supreme Court called an emergency session to hear the petition” for a stay of execution.
UPDATE, 5:45pm: WXIA: “Stay Of Execution Granted For Troy Davis.”
UPDATE, 9/25: The best major media rundown
I’ve found of the legal status and issues at this point is by Robbie Brown of the New York Times. As others have reported, if the Supreme Court decides not to hear the appeal on Monday, it’s over. The basis of the appeal is what it should be: if new evidence appears to acquit Mr. Davis, is it constitutional to execute him? Brown (links added):

Mr. Davis’s lawyers have asked the court to use his case to decide whether the Eighth Amendment bars the execution of the innocent. The case, his lawyers wrote in a petition to the justices in July, “allows this court an opportunity to determine what it has only before assumed: that the execution of an innocent man is constitutionally abhorrent.”

In a 1993 decision, Herrera v. Collins, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court that “we may assume, for the sake of argument in deciding this case, that in a capital case a truly persuasive demonstration of ‘actual innocence’ made after trial would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional.” The death row inmate in that case, Leonel T. Herrera, had not made a sufficient demonstration, the court ruled. He was executed the same year.

While a footnote in Herrera v. Collins finds fault with Herrera’s claims in that the affidavits potentially exonerating him were not produced under cross-examination(!), Davis’s case may be different in that witness recantations directly undermine the case made against him. Still, the 1993 decision also asserts a “need for finality in capital cases” that doesn’t augur well for Mr. Davis.

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Georgia voter ID law on hold

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th October 2005

Via Brett Marston, I learn that a federal district judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the Georgia voter photo ID law. That law — see “The new Jim Crow: brought to you by Georgia, approved by Bush” in this blog — ended the use of alternative identification such as Social Security cards, utility bills, or birth certificates. While the order’s effect is simply to keep photo ID requirementss out of next month’s Georgia elections, it seems likely the judge will eventually go farther. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Bill Rankin reported:

In a 123-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy of Rome temporarily barred the state from requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Even though Murphy ruled only on the injunction, his strongly worded denunciation of the ID requirement law suggests that he may ultimately find it unconstitutional.

Dan Tokaji, an election law expert whose commentary Brett points to, explains that Judge Harold Murphy’s order

…relies heavily on the lack of evidence that voter fraud at the polling place is common. In fact, the evidence includes a statement from the state’s chief election official, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, that she “cannot recall one documented case of voter fraud … that specifically related to the impersonation of a registered voter at the polls.” In other words, the only problem that the Georgia law purports to deal with is a non-problem. This supports the conclusion that the voter fraud arguments we’ve heard so much about are a pretext for disenfranchisement. […]

Georgia ID law amounts to an impermissible poll tax, in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While Georgia of course hasn’t labeled its ID requirement a tax, the Court concludes that labels aren’t dispositive. The fee for getting a photo ID card functions as a poll tax, by imposing a greater burden on those of lesser means.

Regarding the lack of strong evidence of in-person fraud, the order also echoes objections made by former Justice Department official David Becker in a late summer Washington Post op-ed. Becker pointed out that absentee ballots were exempted from the requirement, despite being obviously and measurably easier to commit fraud with. I thought Becker raised another good point here:

[I]t is surprisingly difficult to obtain a photo ID in Georgia. Though the state has 159 counties, there are only 56 places in which residents can obtain a driver’s license, and not one is within the city limits of Atlanta or within the six counties that have the highest percentage of blacks.

But Murphy’s order appears to have avoided the ‘unequal racial voting burden’ issue.* Tokaji:

Judge Murphy finds the evidence that African Americans have lower incomes and are less likely to have a car insufficient. He leaves open the possibility, however, that this claim could be supported by additional evidence later.

Brett Marston observes:

It’s not hard to see why courts should be more suspicious of legislative restrictions on voting rights than of legislative regulation of local industries. Legislative majorities are always going to be tempted to use regulation of the franchise to solidify their majorities. In order to prevent that kind of self-dealing, some kind of strong judicial oversight is appropriate…

I agree, and think that legislative self-dealing is yet another reason to oppose stripping courts of their jurisdiction over cases involving the rights of marginalized groups, such as those working for a more general, inclusive notion of marriage. “Orthodoxist dead-enders” of whatever stripe should not get to reserve legal and social advantages to themselves by legislative fiat or nonbenign neglect.

That is to say, to win “Jim Crow” fights, one can’t just rely on gradual changes in public opinion — that opinion can be all but immobilized in amber if the political and legal climate prevents people from ever seeing a successful black official or university student, or from ever seeing a stable gay couple. Principled judicial findings like Murphy’s are crucial, too — all the more so when a popularly elected legislature has the gall not just to pass vote-suppressing laws, but to fabricate the alleged problem being “solved.”

* In single quotes here only because that’s undoubtedly not the right term of art.
EDIT, 10/24: “all the more so…” added to final sentence.
UPDATE, 10/24: ACLU press release.

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"Georgia’s New Poll Tax"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th September 2005

It’s not often enough that I want to say it, but right on, New York Times! They’re coming out strongly against the voter ID law in Georgia (mentioned previously in this blog) on their editorial page. From Georgia’s New Poll Tax:

Until recently, Georgia, like most states, accepted many forms of identification at the polls. But starting this month, it is accepting only government-issued photo ID’s. People with driver’s licenses are fine. But many people without them have to buy a state ID card to vote, at a cost of $20 for a five-year card or $35 for 10 years. The cards are sold in 58 locations, in a state with 159 counties. It is outrageous that Atlanta does not have a single location. (The state says it plans to open one soon.) But the burden is also great on people in rural parts of the state.

The Republicans who pushed the law through, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, who signed it, say that it is intended to prevent fraud. But it seems clear that it is about keeping certain people away from the polls, for political advantage. The vast majority of fraud complaints in Georgia, according to its secretary of state, Cathy Cox, involve absentee ballots, which are unaffected by the new law. Ms. Cox says she is unaware of a single documented case in recent years of fraud through impersonation of a voter at the polls.

Citizens who swear they are indigent are exempt from the fee. But since the law does not define who is indigent, many people may be reluctant to swear and risk a criminal penalty. More important, the 24th Amendment, which outlawed poll taxes in federal elections, and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down state poll taxes applied to all Americans, not just to the indigent. A Georgian who votes only in presidential elections, and buys a five-year card to do so, would be paying $10 per election. That is no doubt more than many people on fixed incomes, who struggle to get by but are not legally indigent, are willing to pay to vote.

I think it would be a great idea to ask John Roberts what he thinks about this.

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The new Jim Crow: brought to you by Georgia, approved by Bush

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 30th August 2005

Last Friday, in “Justice Department OK’s Georgia’s Voter ID law,” the AP’s Jeffrey MacMurray reported:

The Justice Department on Friday approved a controversial Georgia law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, and opponents immediately vowed to challenge the measure in federal court. […]

The measure would eliminate the use of several currently accepted forms of voter identification, such Social Security cards, birth certificates or utility bills, at the polls.

No other state has gone as far in eliminating alternative IDs at the polls. David Becker, a former Justice Department official, titled his op-ed about Georgia voter ID laws with a succinct question — Reviving Jim Crow? — and pointed out:

[I]t is surprisingly difficult to obtain a photo ID in Georgia. Though the state has 159 counties, there are only 56 places in which residents can obtain a driver’s license, and not one is within the city limits of Atlanta or within the six counties that have the highest percentage of blacks.

(Via Mark Kleiman) Becker points out that the exemption for absentee ballots — also disproportionately underused by black Georgians — gives the lie to claims the law’s motivation is to reduce fraud. State Senator Tyrone Brooks addressed this issue today in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, arguing that both absentee ballots and paperless electronic voting are more frequent sources of questions and fraud than are voters misrepresenting themselves or others at the ballot box. Brooks adds:

A recent opinion column by Sen. Bill Stephens was headlined “Democrats hardly innocent of fraud” (@issue, Aug. 19). This is an interesting headline that leads to a curious implication: Is it now someone else’s turn at fraud?[…]

Voter fraud is wrong on each side of the aisle. Whether practiced by racist segregationists in 1946 or right-wing conservatives in 2006, it is equally repugnant and un-American.

(All emphases added.) There are other provisions worth pointing out — for instance, the “Radical Georgia Moderate” noticed that if no one wins 50% of the vote in (nominally) nonpartisan elections (judges, school board, etc.), runoffs are to be held during Thanksgiving week, praise the Lord and pass a little more voter suppression.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about this. The state of Georgia is fast distinguishing itself as a laboratory for every kind of vote suppression and democracy-undermining tactic — from partisan re-redistricting to voter ID to deceptive ballot measures (added bonus: in the service of homophobic marriage and civil union restrictions) to paperless electronic voting.*

True, it’s not dogs and beatings any more — Georgia’s rulers are too genteel and savvy for that, and it’s just bad for business. No, much better to find bloodless, computerized, complex, but always dishonest ways to disenfranchise unwanted voters and get the election results you want.

If this is American democracy, the hell with it. And the hell with those who’ve advocated these measures. And shame on the rest of us who do nothing about it. As Kleiman reminds us: qui tacet, consentit — who remains silent, consents.

Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials
ACLU-Georgia; ACLU-Voting Rights Act (“Renew. Restore.“) (Meanwhile, I’d settle for “Enforce.”)
The Democratic Party of Georgia

* I’m guessing the next round will be a fight against Georgia’s obligations under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — in which case such folk can probably count on would-be Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ enthusiastic help.
UPDATE, 8/29: Gary Farber was discussing this with John Cole over the weekend, and fleshes out reasons to oppose Georgia’s restrictive photo ID rules.

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Georgia Power Grab

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th February 2005, a Democratic Leadership Council blog, sounds an alert about a looming redistricting power grab in Georgia, directing readers to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report by Tom Baxter and Sonji Jacobs:

Putting aside their reluctance to draw new political districts, Republicans in the House and Senate rolled out competing versions of a new congressional map Tuesday.

“We want to begin the process of making it easier for Georgians to know who represents them in Congress,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens (R-Canton), who last week characterized the remap as low on the Legislature’s list of priorities.

The GOP also hopes to increase its share in the state’s 13-member congressional delegation, which currently includes seven Republicans.

NewDonkey says that the result may arguably be even worse than what happened in Texas last year — and may have a point:

In Texas, the fig-leaf justifications for the Power Grab were that (a) the Dem majority in the House delegation did not reflect recent partisan results in statewide elections, and (b) the map they were throwing out was drawn by judges, not legislators. In Georgia, (a) the current 7-6 GOP advantage in House districts is a pretty fair reflection of recent election results, and (b) the map they are throwing out was duly drawn by the legislature, signed by the Governor, pre-cleared by the Bush Justice Department, and upheld by the courts.

I wonder what Georgians — especially independents like Reid Stott — will think of this.

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Not protecting marriage — attacking gays

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 19th November 2004

Last week Patrick Oliphant pointed out in the Boston Globe out that many of the so-called anti-gay marriage initiatives (8 of 11, to be exact – Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah) went much farther than ‘merely’ denying gays the right to be married. From “The Gay Marriage deception,” via the Washington Monthly:

In pivotal Ohio, for example, the voters may not have realized it but they voted to strip people of the right to contractually arrange distribution of assets, child custody, pensions, and other employment benefits. They most definitely were not ‘protecting’ marriage; they were attacking gay people. That is why the political and business establishment there, including Republicans, opposed the measure.

The evidence is that the voters who approved it also opposed its actual contents. In the official exit poll Tuesday night, 27 percent of the voters said they support full marriage rights, 35 percent supported civil unions, and only 27 percent oppose any legal rights for same-sex couples. In other words, to underline the importance of artifice and deception in our sound-bite culture, the voters approved a measure opposed substantively by 62 percent of the very same voters.

…and by a 62-38 margin, by the way.* Put differently, these initiatives made it impossible for gay couples to avail themselves of even the “legal incidents” of marriage — to use the words of the Musgrave Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Not surprisingly, this gives the lie to Bush’s purported openness to civil unions:

President Bush embodies this incoherence while he manipulates the sentiments cynically. Just before the election he tried to say he supports the rights of states to have civil unions, though he would have opposed them as governor of Texas. He also supports a federal constitutional amendment that would both limit ‘marriage’ to man-woman couples and permit states to ban civil unions.

Finally, note that even the redrafted second clause of the FMA would arguably prevent Ohio voters from ever overturning their decision: “Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.” (emphases added; state laws had been included in the prior draft.) Since most state ballot measures including this one amend state constitutions, the FMA threatens to make anti-civil union/gay marriage initiatives a machine that can only go in one direction.

Your president is George W. Bush, and he approves of all of this. But even now he won’t come right out and say so. Is he a hypocrite and a coward?

* Via the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. — Answer: 24. The question is left as an exercise for the reader. (Alternative answer: 52.88, but let’s be charitable.)

UPDATE, 11/19: According to a blogger from Georgia, the ballot itself was deceptive in that state: voters saw only the question“Shall the Constitution be amended so as to provide that this state shall recognize as marriage only the union of man and woman?” even though the actual wording included a longer section (b)also denying the “benefits of marriage” to same-sex couples. See also this dishonest description on the Georgia state web site. According to a 11/4 Washington Post article, Lambda Legal, a gay legal rights group, is planning to challenge the Georgia election results on this basis, and similar challenges may occur in other states.

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