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Leo W Gerard: Goon-Busters Prepare For Trump’s Poll Trolls

Republicans have conjured for Americans a monster more frightening than any Hollywood has ever produced for Halloween. It pales “The Shining.”

It is a two-headed beast Donald Trump calls voter fraud and rigged elections.  Like Hollywood creatures, though, this goblin is completely imaginary. It’s fake like the sasquatch and chupacabra. There’s no scientific evidence of its existence.

The GOP antidote for its imaginary monster is horribly real, however. It is voter suppression and intimidation. That is a tangible two-headed beast of appalling proportions. Fearing they could not win fair and square, Republicans took steps to prevent young, old, black and Hispanic people – people likely to vote Democratic – from reaching the polls. This GOP Frankenstein threatens democracy itself.


Image by Ryan Merkley on Flickr

Two statistics are important to know when trying to detect which election monsters are real and which are not. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, an expert on civil rights, has tracked allegations of in-person voter fraud for years. In-person fraud is the kind Republicans are talking about, someone pretending to be someone else, or a dead person, to vote.

Levitt, who is on leave from the law school to serve as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, tracked down and validated 31 instances of that happening since 2000.

It’s probably 32 cases now, since police in Iowa charged a 55-year-old Des Moines woman Thursday with felony voter fraud. The Republican admitted casting two early votes for Donald Trump.

That is 32 cases out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. That’s fraud, but it’s not a real problem.

Republicans across the country insisted on “solving” this non-problem by forcing all voters to obtain very specific types of identification. In Texas, for example, the GOP said an open-carry gun permit would be fine, but a student ID card from a state university would not. That would help keep those pesky young people, who tended to vote Democrat, away from the polls.

In many states, civil liberties groups like the ACLU sued to overturn the voter ID laws, forcing the GOP to search for voter fraud cases to justify their legislation. In Pennsylvania, the state had to stipulate in court that none existed, and the law was overturned. Not surprisingly, the GOP failed to dig up cases in Wisconsin or Indiana either. Thirty-one in 1 billion is kind of few and far between.

The second statistic is this: if Pennsylvania’s voter ID law had taken effect, it could have prevented more than 1 million citizens from voting. That’s the number of registered voters in just one state who did not have the required ID. Again, that’s a state where Republicans could show not one single case of voter fraud.

While the ACLU and other civil liberties groups continue to try to overturn unnecessary voter ID laws, the Democratic National Committee asked a federal judge last week to prevent Republicans from intimidating voters, particularly at minority polling places, as Donald Trump has encouraged his supporters to do.

The Democrats requested an injunction, saying Trump’s threats violate a 1982 consent decree that Republicans entered into after they stationed pseudo-guards at minority polling places in New Jersey to intimidate voters. Some of the guards were off duty police officers, were armed and wore arm bands marked “Ballot Security Task Force.”

Trump has repeatedly contended the election is “rigged” against him and asked his supporters to wear red shirts and stand as sentinels at the polls to prevent dead people from voting. Speaking in Altoona, Pa., in August, he said he wanted uniformed officers like the GOP had in 1982: “We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching.”

He added, “We have a lot of law enforcement people working that day. . .We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement — we’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio. “I’ll look for. . .well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans, Syrians. People who can’t speak American,” he said. “I’m going to go right up behind them, I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”

Despite Webb’s assertion that he’s not going to do anything illegal, deliberately attempting to make racially profiled voters “a little bit nervous” while they are attempting to exercise their most basic right as citizens violates federal law as well as the terms of the consent decree.

In addition, the lawsuit notes that the Pennsylvania GOP has attempted to reverse a state election law requiring poll watchers to be registered voters in the county where they are monitoring balloting. That law makes it impossible for Trump’s rural white supporters to guard the polls in inner city Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to ensure that the undead from George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” filmed near Pittsburgh, don’t vote repeatedly there.

There’s no reason to reverse this state law, the lawsuit says, except to license Trump supporters to intimidate and harass minority inner-city voters.

Republicans tried to wriggle out from under the constraints of the consent decree in 2009. But Federal Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise thwarted them. He wrote then: “It does not appear that the RNC’s incentive to suppress minority votes has changed since 1982. It appears that the RNC has been largely unsuccessful in its efforts to attract minority voters. Until it is able to do so, it will have an incentive to engage in the type of voter suppression that it allegedly committed in the actions that led to the enactment and modification of the consent decree.”

Judge Debevoise dismissed GOP arguments that voter fraud is a problem. By contrast, he said that suppression of minority voters is a serious issue.

That was seven years ago. But it was a point the DNC repeated in its arguments last week. It acknowledged that Trump keeps harping about a rigged election and dead people voting. And it provided lengthy proof that these are fears without basis in fact. They are boogeymen.

“On the other side of the ledger,” the DNC wrote, are the “constitutional rights of all Americans to cast their ballots without fear of intimidation or harassment . . .This is therefore a case of a real, impending harm balanced against an imaginary one.”

The DNC asked the court to extend the consent decree another eight years and to issue an injunction forbidding intimidation at the polls. Election Day is just a week away, however. Even if the court rules for the DNC, it’s not clear that every Trump supporter with a red shirt, a gun and ill-intent will hear about the decision before Nov. 8.

So civil liberties groups are preparing for the worst. If a red-shirted goon shows up at your polling place, call the ACLU at 866-OUR-VOTE or the Department of Justice Voting Rights Hotline at 800-253-3931. They have goon-buster teams nationwide. Don’t let anything frighten you from voting on Nov. 8.

National Civil Rights Organizations Ramp Up Election Protection 2016 to Protect Voting Rights

Washington, D.C. – With the 2016 general election just one month away, Election Protection, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, is ramping up its efforts to safeguard voting rights across the country. Multiple states have attempted to impose severe restrictions on the right to vote.  While courts have batted down many of these efforts to limit the franchise, the confusion surrounding recent rulings and the lack of accurate information could disrupt voting this election cycle. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is spearheading Election Protection’s efforts to protect voters this election cycle, using hotlines, field monitors and voter education, as well as its expansive network of national partners and state advocates, to respond to any questions or concerns voters may have.

“The 2016 presidential election cycle makes clear that voting discrimination and voter suppression continues to rear its ugly ahead across our country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “Election Protection and its central 866-OUR-VOTE hotline are available to help voters nationwide to overcome the barriers that stand between them and the ballot box.  Our goal through the Election Protection program is to ensure that all voters are able to exercise the most important right in our democracy.”

Specifically, the program will address:

How recent voting changes have the potential to impact the 2016 election: Although officials in numerous states have proposed measures that would increase the efficiency and inclusiveness of voting procedures, introducing measures such as automatic voter registration, others have turned back the clock on the voting process. Voters in 14 states face new voting restrictions, several of which have drastically impact minority voters. Courts have successfully struck down some of these regulations, but the threat to equal access to the ballot box remains. Election Protection is particularly concerned about the following:

  • Implementation of voter ID laws and recent court decisions concerning voter ID like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin
  • Voter registration issues in Georgia and Ohio
  • Improper challenges and voter intimidation at the polls

How pollworkers, volunteers, and voters can combat challenges to voting rights: Pollworkers, volunteers, and fellow voters are best able to gauge situations unfolding at polling places on Election Day. Ultimately, this group forms the first line of defense in ensuring voting rights for eligible voters, and Election Protection aims to equip them with the resources and information they need to do so. In the weeks leading up to November 8, Election Protection will continue training volunteers nationwide to monitor Election Day activities and will provide detailed analyses and explanations pertaining to the latest legal decisions on state-specific voting laws.

How minority voters can exercise their right to vote: Given that this year’s election will be the first without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, it’s essential that voters who have historically faced discrimination at the polls can fulfill their civic duty without fear of intimidation. Election Protection simplifies the voting process by offering three nonpartisan voter helplines where trained volunteers are available to address voters’ questions or problems with voter registration, early voting, voter I.D. requirements and other related voting issues to ensure that every vote counts. Voters can seek answers to their questions through the hotlines at the following times:

  • Toll-free English-language hotline: The Lawyers’ Committee’s 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) is currently staffed live on weekdays from 10 a.m-6 p.m. EST and will expand hours and days as Election Day nears.
  • Toll-free Spanish-language hotline: NALEO’s 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) is live year-round.
  • Toll-free Asian-language hotline: Voters needing assistance during election season in various Asian languages can call and leave a message to AAJC and APIAVote’s 888-API-VOTE (888-274-8683), and a volunteer will return their call.

“Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy, yet not all citizens have equal access to voting,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.  “Asian Americans face a number of barriers that impedes our access to the ballot box. The challenges of discriminatory voting laws and lack of access to in-language voter resources are just a few of the obstacles that contribute to lower civic engagement and keep our community from exercising its full political power.”

“For the first time in more than 50 years, Latino voters will cast ballots in a presidential election without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act,” said Arturo Vargas, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund executive director.  “With more than 13.1 million Latino voters expected to make their voices heard at the ballot box this year, the Latino electorate will play a decisive role in the race for the White House and contests nationwide.  NALEO Educational Fund will be here for the Latino community in the lead up to Election Day, working tirelessly on the ground and through our toll-free bilingual hotline 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) to ensure Latino voters have the information necessary to vote and a resource to report any problems they may experience at the polls.”

“As we head into to the first presidential election since 1965 without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the 888-API-VOTE hotline is even more critical to protect and serve our electorate,” said Christine Chen, Executive Director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote). “This election hotline not only provides AAPI voters essential in-language assistance, it ensures that all voters, regardless of proficiency in English, will have equitable access to the ballot box. This is especially important as we know from polling that turnout of limited English proficient voters in 2012 was 9 percent lower than English proficient voters. Our voter education and protection efforts across the country are amplifying this hotline through the elections to ensure equity for our communities at the ballot box.”

About Election Protection

Election Protection is the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its suite of hotlines, including the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline (866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee, 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) administered by NALEO Educational Fund, 888-API-VOTE (888-273-8683) administered by APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and a dedicated team of trained legal and grassroots volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting. The coalition has more than 100 partners—including Advancement Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, League of Women Voters of the United States, NAACP, National Bar Association, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, State Voices, Rock the Vote and Verified Voting Foundation—at the national, state and local levels and provides voter protection services nationwide. For more information about Election Protection and the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, please visit www.866ourvote.org.

Troubling The Ashes: A Tale Desegregation In Governor Wallace’s Alabama

Troubling the Ashes_CoverI just finished reading a wonderful new book, Troubling the Ashes, that highlights the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South.  The fictional story follows the life of a white woman, Marley, and her family, living through the turbulent times of the 1960’s.

Marley’s husband Winston was offered a job as a football coach in the small town of Natasugla, Alabama. The town was still reeling from when the school was burned to the ground just two years prior. Curious about what happened to the school, the school principle, Hunter,  tells the story of how the school was burned down to prevent the black children from the nearby town of Tuskegee from being allowed to attend.

Hunter told them about the first day students from Tuskegee came to Natasugla. He told them of how the mob of segregationists beat a white photographer in the streets for supporting the integration all while the county sheriff watched.

Marley and Winston eventually decided to stay and raise their own children in Natasula. The next few years are filled with attacks, false accusations, and the KKK.  Marley, Winston and a growing group of “public school supporters” work together to lessen the racial tensions that erupted over the past few years always hoping that one day they would be gone forever.

Shirley Aaron, author of Troubling the Ashes, does a masterful job of weaving the fiction characters and historical events.  At times the book reads more like a historical autobiography than a work of fiction.

The release of this book could not be prudent as some have noted the eerie similarities between Governor George Wallace and Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump.  While many political pundits on the right claim that racism and segregation ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, it is simply not true.

According to a new Pew Research Study, 61% of Americans believe that changes must be made in order to achieve racial equality.  It also reveals that black-white gaps in social and economic well-being persist across several measures. So how far have we come?

Shirley Aaron, author of Troubling the Ashes

Shirley Aaron, author of Troubling the Ashes

“Of course, we’ve seen many great changes since the turbulent 1960’s,” says Aaron. “But racism still lingers in closets, under beds, and inside the mind. Today, it just wears a different mask.”

With the current rise of the Black Lives Matter movement many Americans are learning that systemic racism still hinders blacks from getting a quality education, a good paying job, and that blacks are routinely targeted by law enforcement.

George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Troubling the Ashes is the prefect way to stop and look back to see how far we have come in the last fifty years only to see that there is more work to be done.

NH Senate Votes Down Online Voter Registration

Concord, NH –Senator Bette Lasky (D-Nashua) released the following comments after the Senate voted down SB 507, authorizing online voter registration.

“I’m disappointed that my Senate colleagues did not support what was originally good, bipartisan legislation. SB 507 would have made registering to vote more consistent and accessible, while lessening the burden of same-day registration on our municipalities,” said Senator Lasky. “Allowing our citizens to register to vote online would have helped to create a more accessible system and increased the number of citizens exercising one of our most important rights.” 

23 states have already implemented online voter registration and 5 more states will be added to that list this year. Research has also shown in these states that online voter registration has sustained or increased voter registration.  

“New Hampshire has built a strong reputation for voter participation, but we can always do more to help busy Granite Staters take part in our elections. New Hampshire needs to continually move forward as technology advances and find new and creative ways to make voting more accessible. I am very disappointed that the Senate killed a bill that would have created a more effective and efficient election process for our Granite State citizens.” 

See also the statement from the New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights.

NH Senate Democrats Blast Republicans For Passing Bill To Restrict Voting Rights

Senate Democrats’ Statement on Passage of Unconstitutional Legislation to Restrict Voter Rights 

CONCORD — Senator Bette Lasky, Senator David Pierce and Senator Molly Kelly condemned the passage of Senate Bill 4, which imposes an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote. Senate Bill 4 as amended by the Senate is identical to Senate Bill 179, which was vetoed by Governor Hassan in 2015.

“As we have been stating since last year, this legislation will only serve to further complicate the voting process for New Hampshire citizens. SB 4 proposes a new standard for what constitutes a domicile that is more confusing and less concise than the current law,” said Sen. Bette Lasky. “Voters need consistency and clarity in their voting laws and this bill fails that test. It is unfortunate that our Republican colleagues continue to push legislation that discourages and disenfranchises our citizens from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

In 1972, the Supreme Court clearly ruled in Dunn v. Blumstein that durational residency requirements for voting in state and local elections were unconstitutional.  

“I am disappointed to see my Republican colleagues support such legislation even though the Supreme Court has been clear on this issue,” said Sen. David Pierce. “These unconstitutional assaults on our constituents’ right to vote in free and fair elections have got to stop. Unfortunately, the Republican majority continues to push these attacks to disenfranchise Constitutionally-eligible voters in order to produce election results that are more to their liking.”

“Unlike other states, New Hampshire’s Constitution explicitly guarantees the equal right of every citizen to vote,” said Sen. Molly Kelly. “As we approach the 100th anniversary of our cherished First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary, we should be encouraging all eligible citizens to vote instead of making the process more confusing and disenfranchising Constitutionally-eligible voters.”

NH League Of Women Voters Newsletter: Registering To Vote In The NH Primary

League of Women VotersProtecting our right to vote is crucial to a healthy democracy. For generations the League of Women Voters have been working to protect our rights as voters and stop legislation aimed at taking our most fundamental right away.

The NH League of Women Voters just released their January newsletter and it is full of great information about registering to vote in the NH Primary as well as upcoming legislation that either protects or attempts to limit your voting rights.

Below is one excerpt from this months newsletter from the President of the NH League of Women Voters.

Presidential Primaries – February 9

The wait is nearly over. The secretary of state announced that Tuesday, February 9, is the date for New Hampshire’s “first in the nation” presidential primary voting.

If you are fleeing NH for warmer climes, or if for health or work reasons you are unable to get to the polls on February 9, you can request your absentee ballot, now through Feb. 8. Pick up an application at your town or city clerk’s office or download an application from the state’s website: http://sos.nh.gov/ElectForms.aspx

When you receive your absentee ballot, plan to fill it out and deliver or mail it back so it reaches your town clerk’s office by 5 pm on election day. A family member with ID can hand-deliver your ballot to your town clerk. You are not allowed to hand-deliver your own absentee ballot on election day.

Primary tidbits:

On this year’s primary ballots for President, there are 30 Republicans and 27 Democrats listed.

As of Sept. 2015, there were 872,171 registered voters with nearly 381,000 “undeclared.” They can vote in either primary on Feb. 9. Registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats by about 32,000.
Helping others vote:
● Share your knowledge of voting with others who may be new to NH or just deciding to vote for the first time.
● Remind them that they can register to vote at their town/city clerk’s office through January 30, or they can register on election day itself.
● If people are worried about not having a photo ID or they leave it at home on election day, remind them that they can still vote by signing an affidavit at the polling place. A poll worker will take their photo and attach it to the affidavit for verification. Their ballot will be counted with all the others.
● Remind your friends 65 and over that an expired driver’s license or passport “counts” as voter ID.
● Suggest that people who don’t know where they should vote should call their town/city clerk in advance to find out.
● Refer people to our Elections page of LWVNH.org, for fliers and brochures that explain voting in NH.

– Liz Tentarelli, President

Check out the League of Women’s Voters -NH recently printed Newsletter

NH Campaign For Voting Rights Launches Three-Pronged Platform To Innovate Voting

NH Coalition(1) 

Concord, NH — New Hampshire advocacy groups and legislators announced a three pronged plan to strengthen integrity and build transparency into the voting process and improve access to the ballot box. The New Hampshire Campaign for Voting Rights currently includes America Votes-New Hampshire, Open Democracy, New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters-New Hampshire, NextGen New Hampshire, New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, People for the American Way, NAACP New England Area Conference, Granite State Progress and Fair Elections Legal Network.

The campaign’s platform includes three state legislative bills being introduced in the 2016 session:

  1. Implementing a statewide online voter registration system in 2017;
  2. Ensuring every voter has the same opportunity to vote on Election Day by standardizing polling hours from 6AM until 8PM;
  3. Creating an innovation grant system administered by the New Hampshire Secretary of State to support towns and cities to ensure they have the supplies, voting equipment for voters with physical impairments, absentee ballot envelopes and technical support to implement streamlined polling place and registration processes.

Former New Hampshire Charitable Foundation President and Open Democracy Advisory Board Member Lew Feldstein noted, “As the First-in-the-Nation primary state, New Hampshire has a strong reputation for voter participation. Nonetheless we have seen just one in five eligible voters consistently cast ballots in local elections, as documented in the Open Democracy Index. This campaign believes New Hampshire can become a model for the nation to administer inclusive, transparent and high integrity elections. We believe voting must be equally accessible to all citizens regardless of their income, race, gender, age or zip code. We support a voting system that is accessible and consistent for all.”

Plymouth State student and native New Hampshire voter Craig Cavanaugh explained, “I register for school, pay my taxes, cell phone bill and credit cards online. It just makes sense that the state would find a way to update the voter rolls year round so that when I graduate and update my mailing address, I can also go online and update my voter registration.”

Durham Town Council member and State Representative Wayne Burton (Strafford 6) suggested that, “the biggest barrier to working people, who are often taking care of aging parents and helping their children at the same time, is finding the time to vote before or after work.” He continued, “It all boils down to accessibility. If we want to prioritize civic engagement, we must equalize the playing field and support towns like Durham to keep their polling places open and work to reduce long lines with advance online registration. Your voting experience shouldn’t depend on your zip code or ward.”

State Senator David Pierce (District 5) closed the press conference by noting, “Cities and towns are the incubators of democracy. New Hampshire has a unique system where we elect volunteer Supervisors of the Checklist, Moderators and Town Clerks who have so many other responsibilities on their plates. The state legislature and Secretary of State must work together to bring New Hampshire online and ensure our elections processes are accessible to everyone – including people with physical impairments.”

Twenty-three states currently use online voter registration. Five more states will implement it this year, bringing that number to 28 by 2017 – the year when the proposed New Hampshire online voter registration bill would be implemented if passed this legislative session. Furthermore, 38 states have standardized polling hours for statewide elections. New Hampshire is also the only New England state that does not ensure that voting equipment is made available for those with physical impairments for every election, including municipal elections.

Governor Hassan’s Veto Message Regarding SB 179, Voting Rights And Eligibility

CONCORD – Governor Maggie Hassan released the following message after vetoing SB 179: 

“By the authority vested in me, pursuant to part II, Article 44 of the New Hampshire Constitution, on July 10, 2015, I have vetoed Senate Bill 179, relative to eligibility to vote and relative to availability of voter information.

“The constitutional right of all citizens to vote is the most fundamental right of our democracy, and we must always be working to ensure that people who are legally domiciled in New Hampshire are not blocked from voting. Senate Bill 179 places unreasonable restrictions upon all New Hampshire citizens’ right to vote in this state with an arbitrary timeline that will prevent lawful residents from taking part in the robust citizen democracy that we are so proud of in the Granite State.

“Our present law provides for same day voter registration, whereby an individual domiciled within the state can register and vote on the date of an election.  Contrary to this voting system, Senate Bill 179 requires that an individual establish a domicile for no less than 30 consecutive days before any election in which the person offers to vote.   This durational requirement unnecessarily interferes with both the right to vote and the right to travel under the New Hampshire and United States Constitutions. Similar restrictions have been found unconstitutional in states with same day voter registration as there is no compelling state interest to support such a law. In the First In The Nation state, it is hard to imagine that we would prohibit someone who moves here for a job in the middle of August from voting in a mid-term primary at the beginning of September, or in any of the numerous similar situations that would be impacted by this law.

“We want to encourage individuals and their families to move to our state and, upon doing so, offer them all the rights and protections of being a New Hampshire citizen.  This includes the right to participate in our democratic process and vote in our elections regardless of whether an individual moves to New Hampshire 29 days before an election or 31 days before an election. In both instances, the individual, who chooses New Hampshire as his or her domicile, should be welcomed and allowed to vote.

“We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent and aggressively prosecute voter fraud, but Senate Bill 179 does not do anything to accomplish those goals. Restricting the rights of those who are constitutionally eligible to vote with a durational requirement does nothing to prevent people from lying about where they live, it merely denies people who recently moved to New Hampshire and are lawful residents of our state their fundamental right to vote. 

This bill violates the constitutional right of people who are lawful residents of New Hampshire to vote, a fundamental right that is critical to the vibrancy of our democracy. Therefore, I have vetoed Senate Bill 179.”

50 Years After Voting Rights Act, New Book by NH Writer Exposes Gaping Holes in Voting and Representation

“Democracy in Poverty: A View from Below” Combines Empirical Analysis and Personal Encounters from Poverty-Line Research by Greyhound Bus


(Harvard ebook available on Amazon)

What is the connection between poverty and politics today? Does money determine a person’s political voice? Is poverty a democracy problem? To tackle these thorny questions, political reformer Daniel Weeks of Nashua, NH traveled 10,000 miles through thirty states by Greyhound bus, speaking with hundreds of fellow citizens living in poverty and recording his experiences on a poverty-line budget of $16 a day. From benches on Capitol Hill to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, from the desert colonias of New Mexico to Skid Row in L.A., his profiles and careful analysis put a human face on poverty and political inequality in the 21st century.

Building on the 2014 “Poor (in) Democracy” series for The Atlantic, this book explores the complex relationship between institutional poverty and political power, including how economic inequalities enter the political sphere and undermine political equality; how political arrangements deepen and entrench poverty; and what it means in real life to be poor and (seek to) participate in politics. Highlights from the research findings include:

  • 45 million Americans are currently living below the poverty line on less than $6,000 per person per year or $16 per day
  • Nearly half of all impoverished Americans subsist in deep poverty with annual incomes of less than one-half the federal poverty line – the highest point since recordkeeping began in 1975
  • Low-income people are less than half as likely to vote in most elections as their wealthy counterparts and face a wide range of practical barriers to exercising the franchise
  • Roughly 25 million adults of voting age are legally barred from voting or lack voting representation in Congress
  • The largest single campaign contributor in 2012 provided more money than 98% of Americans combined
  • Issues primarily relevant to lower income Americans account for 4% of legislation in Congress and command less than 1% of lobbying resources
  • Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution command less than 5% of political power across five core dimensions of democratic participation

The stories Weeks recounts in the words of “second-class citizens” across the United States challenge our cherished assumptions about the American dream. Consumed by the daily demands of subsistence and excluded from political participation by both formal and informal means, the people profiled are struggling to make their voices heard where it matters most: in politics. Their persistent poverty is a problem–a moral outrage, in fact–but it’s not the kind of problem we think. More than an economic or social concern, their poverty is political: it is embedded in the very structures of society and maintained by an unjust distribution of political power. To counteract systemic poverty and political inequality, Weeks proposes a slate of reforms aimed at strengthening American democracy, so that all citizens can make their voices heard.

Democracy in Poverty: A View from Below (2015) was published by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and is available on Amazon for the poverty-line price of $0.99Funding for the research was provided by the Center and by the Carsey School for Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Proceeds from sale of the book go to support Open Democracy, a nonpartisan organization working to close the influence gap in American politics.

To contact the author or schedule an interview, please write contact@poorindemocracy.me or call (202) 596-1706.


About the Author

danielweeks2015bw2Raised in “poverty-lite” in the all-white town of Temple, New Hampshire, backed by generations of college degrees, Daniel Weeks did not encounter systemic poverty until leaving home to serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer with City Year Washington, DC at age 18. That experience, combined with a passion for democracy cultivated in high school by the legendary New Hampshire reformer Doris “Granny D” Haddock (1910-2010), set him on his path as an ardent proponent of democratic reform. As founding director of Students for Clean Elections in 2002, Weeks advocated successfully for comprehensive election reform, including the first legislature-approved public funding law in the country. From 2008-11, he served as president of Americans for Campaign Reform, working with a bipartisan team of former U.S. senators to advance citizen-funded elections in Congress. In 2011, he founded the Money and Politics Project for democratic reform in South Africa, before returning to continue the work in New Hampshire in 2013.

Today, Weeks serves as Executive Director of Open Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to ensure transparent and accountable governance. Open Democracy’s New Hampshire Rebellion campaign is walking the talk for democracy across the Granite State to build the reform movement — 30,000 miles and counting. Weeks has written and spoken on democracy issues for The Atlantic, New York Times, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and on PBS, NPR, BBC, and other outlets. For his Poor (in) Democracy project, Weeks traveled 10,000 miles through 30 states by Greyhound bus, conducting interviews and participant observations with dozens of people in poverty while maintaining a poverty-line budget of $16 per day. He was privileged to study Political Science at Yale and Political Theory at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship. He lives in Nashua, NH with his wife, Dr. Sindiso Mnisi Weeks.

Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in response to Hillary Clinton’s Voting Rights Platform:

President Trumka Lauds Clinton’s Voter Rights Overhaul Plan

The labor movement strongly supports Hillary Clinton’s plan to implement sweeping changes to U.S. election and voting laws. This takes our country in the right direction towards ensuring that the vote of every eligible voter – regardless of his or her background – is protected. We applaud her for addressing these issues, which are crucial to a democratic system.

Every American should have the right to register to vote with ease and to cast a ballot in a convenient and accessible way without partisan politics getting in the way. But for far too long, extreme voices in the Republican Party have attempted to block large portions of the electorate from having a voice in the voting booth. Republicans’ refusal to restore the rights of the formerly incarcerated has also ensured that those who have paid their debt to society leave prison disenfranchised and marginalized.   Republican candidates cannot vie to lead this country while preventing Americans from exercising their right to elect government officials who reflect their values and beliefs. We call on all candidates to make clear their positions on this issue that is so crucial and basic to a democratic system.

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