As the date approaches for the scheduled execution of Terrance “Terry” Williams, who was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania for killing two men that he says sexually abused him, the state’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously today to “hold the case under advisement” in light of new evidence. The board had initially voted to deny clemency for Williams. It was expected that the board would make a final decision today, and the board did not indicate whether it would indeed hold a new vote before Williams’ Oct. 3 execution date.
Ajannah was one of approximately 120 attendees at Tuesday’s meeting in downtown Houston to become an a volunteer deputy registrar and help others register to vote. Thanks to a Texas law passed last year putting new restrictions on voter registration groups, only people who have attended a training are allowed to assist others in their registration applications.
Though Republicans claim to oppose enacting new bureaucratic rules, new regulations designed to make voter registration more difficult are a key exception. Republican legislators in Texas (as well as in Florida) passed legislation last year making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters to register people to vote. In the Lone Star State, new rules ban people who are not eligible Texas voters from helping others to register to vote, undermining legal immigrants and people with disabilities. The law also imposes mandatory trainings on anyone who wants to help register others.
Prior to March of this year, groups like the League of Women Voters trained their own volunteers, quickly and easily showing them how to register people to vote. Under the new law, volunteers must get certified by the state to do so, making it more difficult and time-intensive for registration groups to operate.
There are a limited number of opportunities to get certified, typically 2-3 per month in Houston’s Harris County. Because of budgetary constraints, Tuesday was the final training in Houston; anyone wants to help register voters but hasn’t attended a training yet will have to wait until the next election cycle.
“As usual, we have a larger than expected crowd,” Suzanne Testa of the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office said, opening the training. At 120 attendees, the meeting was standing-room only. But two weeks earlier, Testa told ThinkProgress, a massive overflow occurred when 350 people showed up to get their certification.
As required by the state, Testa explained on Tuesday each minute detail ad nauseum, such as how to fill boxes on the form like name and address, and counting off five days from a given day when the forms needed to be turned in.
When Testa informed the crowd that their deputy registrar certification would expire on December 31, 2012, groans spread across the room. “I have to come back and get re-registered again in 4 months?” one woman complained.
“If you don’t like the new rules, talk to the legislature,” Testa said.
Most attendees ThinkProgress spoke with afterwards were not pleased to have to drive downtown and sit in on the training that one called “self-explanatory.” Attendee Erica Burnette said she wished there “should be a more streamlined process,” including the option of completing it online. “It’s a bit burdensome to come down here,” she said.
At the end of the meeting, a Nigerian man who’s been a legal resident of the United States for 11 years and hopes to become a citizen next year, approached Testa to ask whether he was allowed to help register voters. She informed the man, who didn’t want his name used for this article, that because of the new law, it was now illegal for him to do so. He told ThinkProgress, dejectedly, about how he’d been inspired recently by a friend of his to “get up and not be an armchair critic, to do something.” Though he cannot vote, he had hoped to take part in the political process by helping others exercise their voice.
Members of an Ohio tea party group are taking it upon themselves to individually police alleged voter fraud, launching challenges to a targeted list of voters that includes hundreds of college students, trailer park residents, homeless people and African Americans in counties President Obama won in 2008. In all, the group has sought to remove from the voter rolls at least 2,100 registrations in 13 Ohio counties, nine of which Obama won in 2008, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The alleged perpetrators of this voter fraud include Lori Monroe, a 40-year-old recovering from cancer, whose apartment for the past seven years was allegedly listed as a commercial property; and eight members of an African American family, whose four-bedroom home where the family has lived since the 1980s was allegedly listed as a vacant lot. The group has also focused on challenging college students for failure to specify a dorm room number, a claim that every election board has thus far found invalid.
The group behind this crusade has dubbed itself the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, an offshoot of Texas-based True the Vote, which champions voter purges and voter ID laws and has been building a “poll watcher” network, an effort documented by Colorlines’ Brentin Mock:
[True the Vote National Elections Coordinator Bill] Ouren and Americans for Prosperity gathered these recruits in Boca Raton in July to instruct them on how they could become “empowered” vessels for True the Vote’s poll watcher program. True the Vote is most widely known for its advocacy of restrictive photo voter ID laws. But while that might garner headlines, the group’s real focus is on policing the act of voting itself. As Ouren declared during the group’s national summit in April, and repeated again in Boca Raton, his recruits’ job is chiefly to make voters feel like they’re “driving and seeing the police following you.” He aims to recruit one million poll watchers around the country. […]
True the Vote encourages recruits to “build relationships with election administrators” because “they control the access to the vote,” as Ouren told a gathering in Houston. In 2010, the group was able to get a list of voter registration data from Republican Harris County registrar Leo Vasquez, who reportedly refused the same to the Democratic Party, for which the party sued. When the King Street Patriots submitted to him their list of fraudulent actions they claimed to see at the polls, Vasquez accepted them without verification and held a press conference with Engelbrecht asserting Harris County polls were “under a systemic and organized attack.”
Of course, these phony charges of voter fraud – a wildly exaggerated phenomenon — do more than harass legally registered voters; they provide an artificial justification for the real and considerable threats to disfranchisement that come from new restrictive voter suppression laws, such as the move to limit early voting in Ohio, now embroiled in litigation.
Nevada Has The Highest Rate Of Women Murdered By Men | As the Violence Against Women Act flounders between the House and Senate, new chilling statistics have been released about male-on-female murders in the United States. Nevada, for the third year in a row, has topped the list with a rate of 2.62 murders of women by males per 100,000 people. This marks the fifth year of six that Nevada has ranked first. South Carolina came in second with 1.94 per 100,000, then Tennessee, with 1.91; Louisiana with 1.86; Virginia with 1.77; and Texas with 1.75.
In just six weeks, Colorado will vote on Amendment 64, an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol. A new report commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance outlines how legalization would affect the state’s criminal justice system:
A study conducted by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy estimated that police forces in Colorado spend about 4.4 percent of their budgets enforcing marijuana prohibition, that the judicial system spends 7 percent on marijuana cases, and that 2 percent of the corrections budget also is spent on marijuana-related incarcerations. [...]
Economist Chris Stiffler, who wrote the CCLP report, told the Colorado Independent that his best estimate is that 5 percent to 6 percent of all arrests in Colorado are marijuana related. All told, the study concludes that legalizing small amounts of marijuana will save Colorado taxpayers $12 million a year in the beginning and up to $40 million a year in later years.
Though the taxpayer savings are relatively modest, the human cost of the drug war led the NAACP to endorse Amendment 64. Almost half of all drug arrests in the country are for marijuana possession — more than 500,000 a year. In Colorado, the number is ballparked around 10,000 to 12,000 arrests a year. According to Tom Gorman, who heads a federal program to coordinate regional drug trafficking in the Rocky Mountain, state police do not go out of their way to make marijuana possession arrests. A retired police officer told reporters that it made sense for cops to support legalization:
Law enforcement officers know better than anyone that keeping marijuana illegal and unregulated means the gangs and cartels that control the illegal trade win, and the rest of us lose. Our current marijuana laws distract police officers from doing the job we signed up for — protecting the public by stopping and solving serious crimes. They also put us at risk by forcing us to deal with an underground marijuana market made up of gangsters, cartels and other criminals.
The state capital, Denver, has already legalized petty possession, though police can still make arrests based on state law. Medical marijuana is also legal in Colorado, and full legalization is favored by 51 percent of likely voters. Governor John Hickenlooper (D), however, has come out staunchly against the amendment.
Montana Ice Cream Company Refuses To Serve Muslim Customer, Telling Him They Don’t Deliver To ‘Pakistan’ | An ice cream company in southern Montana told a Muslim customer on Facebook that they wouldn’t serve him because they don’t deliver to “Pakistan”. The incident occurred when the customer inquired on Livingston-based Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream’s Facebook page about whether the gelatin in their cookies-and-cream ice cream contained pork. They responded: “We don’t deliver outside of Montana, certainly not Pakistan”. However, Gawker flagged an article from earlier this year where it was noted that “Wilcoxson’s not only delivers outside of Montana, they specifically deliver to Sheridan, WY,” where the customer lives.
State Rep. Jim Murphy (R) told ThinkProgress on Monday that if he had his druthers, Texas would “purge the rolls sooner or suspend voters.” Murphy, who last year authored some of Texas’s new restrictions on voter registration groups, argued that if a voter hadn’t voted “in some time,” that person’s registration should be suspended unless they respond to a letter from the state.
KEYES: What do you see coming down the pike as the next wave of legislation on election integrity? Are there other things that come to mind that you’ve been percolating with, trying to make happen but maybe the timing’s not quite right?
MURPHY: I would like to see us purge the rolls sooner or suspend voters. We have places where you have over 100 percent of voters in the county register. When you move, you don’t un-register yourself, you just move. We ought to have a way if someone hasn’t voted in some time that you can be put on suspense and you can send them a letter that says, ‘Are you still there? Are you still around?’
Listen to it:
Texas has already taken steps to try to disenfranchise infrequent voters. In June, the state began targeting 300,000 eligible voters in a purge, but the process relied on outdated information and procedures that were riddled with error. These problems led one Houston election official to refuse to purge voters because the state didn’t “provide any assurance of the accuracy of their list.” Texas already has one of the lowest registration rates in the country, without purging eligible voters.
Murphy, who represents a Houston-based district, spoke on Monday at a candidates’ forum put on by the King Street Patriots, a tea party group recently profiled by the New York Times for its efforts to challenge largely-minority voters at the polls. After narrowly losing his race in 2008, Murphy prevailed in a 2010 rematch, allowing him to push anti-voter legislation during the 2011-12 session. He told ThinkProgress that King Street Patriots, and their subsidiary True The Vote, were “absolutely helpful” in his 2010 race and he was “thankful” for their poll-watching efforts.
San Francisco Police Stop Classifying All Asians As ‘Chinese’ | Up until this month, nearly all Asians were classified as “Chinese” in the San Francisco Police Department’s outdated data entry system because the department only had four choices for noting the race of a person arrested: either white, black, other, or Chinese. After complaints from community leaders, the Bay Citizen reports that police officers started identifying people who are arrested using 18 ethnic categories from the California Department of Justice according to how people who are arrested identify. One local activist told the Bay Citizen that the incorrect data has likely led to a misallocation of city funds to fight crime by making the number of crimes committed by the Chinese American community appear higher, and it is unclear what will happen to the decades of incorrect data.
Seven years ago, conservatives were widely perceived as being much more concerned with the judiciary than their progressive counterparts. Leading religious right groups held “Justice Sunday” rallies supporting President Bush’s most ideological judicial nominees, and Republican senators threatened “nuclear” tactics to eliminate judicial filibusters altogether (a tactic that, in retrospect, many Democrats now wish had succeeded). Yet a new report by Media Matters suggests that, at least among television news hosts and producers, this enthusiasm gap on judicial issues has reversed itself:
To be sure, 24 minutes of air time is nothing to write home about, but the nearly half-an-hour MSNBC spent discussing the election’s potential impact on the Supreme Court dwarfs all the other networks’ contributions. The Republican Party’s news station, Fox News, didn’t mention the topic at all.
In the years between the Bush judicial wars and today, the conservative Supreme Court gave wealthy corporations nearly limitless ability to spend their fortunes to influence elections. It gave corporations an instruction manual on how to scam their consumers out of a few dollars at a time. It slashed workers’ rights. It told women they shouldn’t be trusted to make health decisions they may later “come to regret.” And it came within one vote of tossing out the entire Affordable Care Act despite no basis in the Constitution’s text or precedent for doing so. The Media Matters report suggests that this effort to reshape the law into a Tea Party fantasy is not going unnoticed by progressives in the media, even if it is receiving far less attention on other television outlets.
To learn more about how President Obama could reverse the conservative justices’ crusade in his second term, or how Mitt Romney’s potential appointees could intensify this crusade, read this Center for American Progress Action Fund report.
Welcome to Justiceline, ThinkProgress Justice’s morning round-up of the latest legal news and developments. Remember to follow us on Twitter at @TPJustice
- The latest challenge to the Arizona immigration law’s “show me your papers” provision was turned back by a federal appeals court in a brief order. The Ninth Circuit rejected civil rights groups’ argument that the law fosters racial profiling, and cannot be enforced without unfairly targeting Latinos.
- Another decision out of the Ninth Circuit held that green card applicants whose parents filed for “derivative visas” on their behalf did not “age out” of the system when they turned 21 without their application having been processed. United States Citizen and Immigration Services had been removing applicants from the queue who turned 21, some of whom had been waiting for years, reasoning that they had to start the application process over as an adult.
- The U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant a fourth stay to a death row inmate in Texas who alleged he received ineffective legal assistance. Cleve Foster became the 30th person to be executed in the United States this year, and the ninth in Texas.
- The New York Times features the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant in jail for the death of a child she babysat, who has become a symbol for the poor legal representation available to immigrant defendants.