Federal courts find photo ID laws unconstitutional

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The argument the SC Progressive Network has been making about South Carolina’s photo ID law being a Republican plan to suppress the black vote has been taken up by new champions: federal judges across the country!

The 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals that struck down the North Carolina photo ID law on July 29 ruled “the demonstrated ingenuity of state and local governments in hobbling minority voting power… imposes cures for problems that didn’t exist.”

Most recently, the three-judge appeals court in Richmond ruled that North Carolina’s photo ID law was unconstitutional. It also voided new NC laws that cut early voting, ended same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.

Although North Carolina’s “reasonable impediment” ballot for registered voters without a photo ID was modeled after the SC photo ID law, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice Anita Earls advised that the ruling doesn’t automatically apply to South Carolina. Earls has 20 years of experience as a top attorney in the Voting Rights Section of the US Dept. of Justice. The SCEJ has been advising the Network on voting rights laws, and was a party to the North Carolina case.

Responding to the Network’s inquiry about the ruling’s impact on South Carolina, Earls said, “We think that there are some important distinctions among reasonable impediment schemes, and even though the North Carolina provisions were modeled on the South Carolina law, there is no immediate and automatic invalidation of South Carolina’s photo ID requirement as a result of this decision.”

Earls said that what won the fight in North Carolina was the difficulty in getting the free photo ID there. The operation was poorly run by the state DMV, rather than by each county board of elections, as in South Carolina. Opponents of the photo ID law in North Carolina were able to prove that people had a hard time getting the free ID and that many of the impediment ballots were not counted as required by law.

The task before opponents of the South Carolina photo ID law is to gather the data on the impact of the law on the 202,484 registered SC voters who the State Election Commission identified in 2012 as not having a DMV photo ID.

Network Director Brett Bursey recently requested the State Election Commission to provide a tally of how many of the provisional ballots cast in the 2014 election were for lack of photo ID, and how many of those impediment ballots were rejected. “I was told that the state Election Commission did not gather those numbers and I would have to go to each of the 46 counties for that information,” Bursey said. “Without that data, we can’t determine if our photo ID law had the same impact on black voters as it did in North Carolina.”

The Network will be seeking the information needed to determine the law’s impact.

Not all Medicaid expansion plans are created equal. Know the facts.

1When the legislature returns in January, expect a new round of debate over Medicaid expansion. Do not be fooled by a plan that would take those federal funds and privatize them.

“They’re allowing states (Arkansas was the first) to take the billion-plus dollars and privatize it,” explains SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey.

“They put it into a cabinet agency – in South Carolina Nikki Haley appoints the head of the Health and Human Services – and they would then subsidize insurance for poor people by buying them an insurance policy with a private company like Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

It’s a really bad idea. It’s a bad idea financially. It’s a bad idea from a medical standpoint. It’s just actually obscene making that type of money off of our tax dollars by ripping off poor people, privatizing poverty.”

“How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?”

Beverly Diane Frierson
Columbia

Just before I entered the elementary school where I tutor two third-grade African-American boys, I heard that a decision was expected soon on an indictment in the Eric Garner case.

As I drove home from the session, the radio announcer said there was no indictment.

I thought he meant that the grand jury was still deliberating. Then I got a voice message from my childhood friend from Sumter, who had called to give me the grand jury’s decision. The anguish in his voice was palpable as he said: “Beverly, call me.”

I turned on the television and listened for hours. When my sister got home we stared at each other, in great pain. We watched; we listened; we watched; we listened. Finally she said, “I can’t take it anymore” and went upstairs to be alone.

I remained downstairs, feeling drained and dreading the phone call I had to make. Fortunately, when I reached my friend, he and other friends had gathered to talk, so I promised to call later, but it was a promise I just could not keep.

How does one talk to a black man about how black men are viewed, disrespected, devalued and flushed away like excrement?

What words could I find to assuage his pain, and was it even appropriate to take the edge off of such pain, in times like these?

If I had said, “I know what you are feeling,” it would have been a lie, for the experiences of black men and black women are not the same in this country.

I knew why my friend had called me. He, my sister and I helped pave the way for African-American children in Sumter and Florence counties to attend the public schools of their choice. The three of us still bare emotional scars from those days, and my sister barely missed physical scars, for on more than one occasion her white classmates attempted to push her down stairs because they detested her chocolate hue.

But that was the 1960s, and this is 2014. When did some people start viewing innocent African-American men as menacing, grunting beasts whose lives are worth nothing?

When I work with my third-graders every week, I see innocence. I see hope, and I hear of their dreams. Their aspirations should not be locked in a box with an inaccessible key because of the color of their skin.

I wonder: When must I and other adults prepare them for the bleak reality that awaits them?

When must I explain that they are guilty? When must I reveal their crime: being born with dark pigmentation?

Why is America still so color-conscious, so ill?

Healing must begin with honest dialogue. An extension of that dialogue may include protests to highlight displeasure with the status quo, but the danger is in relying on weekend warriors. For some, commitment to the movement will fizzle when the weather turns cold or wet. Seasoned civil and human rights advocates understand that the struggle never ends; it manifests itself in different forms in each era.

Reaction to injustice has its place, but proactive planning, organizing, following through, evaluating and modifying are also required.

Beverly Frierson, a longtime member and activist with the SC Progressive Network, is a certified lay speaker of the SC Conference of the United Methodist Church.

“Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention.”

Kerry Taylor
The Citadel, Charleston SC

Many of us who have remained largely on the sidelines of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Denzel Curnell in Charleston are hiding behind three comforting fictions. The first fiction relies on the presumed character flaws of the victims. In Curnell’s case we learned through leaks to the press of his alleged emotional instability, his spotty military record, and his theft of his stepfather’s gun.

Assuming that the official version of his death is accurate and that Curnell committed suicide, that suicide took place after he was unnecessarily accosted by an off-duty police officer. It was the precipitating factor in Curnell’s death. In Ferguson, we learned from the police department that Brown stole cigars from a convenience store just minutes before the confrontation that ended in his death. Curnell’s and Brown’s alleged misdeeds, vulnerabilities, and reputations are nevertheless irrelevant. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights protect citizens from the undue use of state force, even those who look “like a demon,” as Michael Brown’s assailant described him to the grand jury.

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A second justification for our silence and inactivity rests on the fiction that African-American leaders have been hypocritically indifferent to “black on black” crime and that they should spend more energies chastising African Americans, especially young people who do not conform to mainstream cultural norms. There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, there is no such thing as black on black crime as a distinct social phenomenon. Statistically, African Americans murder one another at roughly the same rate as other ethnic groups.

While crime rates in some areas with large concentrations of non-white residents are unacceptably high, I would be hard-pressed to identify a civil rights leaders who has not devoted a tremendous amount of energy towards addressing issues related to crime and violence in its many forms. Locally, African American activists have worked tirelessly and often productively with law enforcement officials and church leaders to enhance crime fighting strategies.

Moreover, police violence is wholly different from violence perpetrated by one citizen against another. Through my taxes and votes, I sponsor and pay for state violence. Talk of black on black crime should be understood for what it is—a racist diversion from our shared responsibility to one another.

The final convenient fiction too many of us use to justify our silence is the notion that protests and riots are counterproductive and undermine the possibility of reform. Martin Luther King Jr. consistently denounced the urban revolts of the 1960s, arguing “that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.” But King also recognized that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” It is a form of protest for those who have no access to conventional avenues for expressing dissent.

In the final months of his life, King sought to harness the energy of the urban rebellions and channel it towards pressuring the federal government to enact policies that would address poverty and economic inequality. King pledged that his Poor People’s Campaign would be “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots without destroying property.” King did not live to realize that vision.

Those of us who profess to believe in fairness and peace need to move from behind the myths that have provided us with protective cover. Racial disparities in law enforcement are real and they demand our attention. In King’s words: “As long as justice is postponed we always stand on the verge of these darker nights of social disruption.”

Kerry Taylor teaches US History at The Citadel. He is co-editor of volumes four and five of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. and served as an editor at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University from 1997 to 2004.

SC voters remain confused about photo ID

Brett Bursey
Executive Director, SC Progressive Network

Contrary to news reports, registered voters do not have to have a photo ID to vote in South Carolina.

There is widespread misinformation regarding the new state law. Numerous television reports leading up to the June 10 primary told voters they must have one of the five approved photo IDs to vote. Truth is, voters with none of the approved IDs can present their old (non-photo) voter registration card and cast a paper ballot.

Unlike the traditional provisional paper ballot that could be rejected by the county board of elections, the federal court ruled that the legitimacy of the paper ballots cast by voters without photo IDs is determined by the voter. The paper ballots will be counted unless evidence is presented that the voter lied about why they do not have a photo ID.

The two most salient points of the appeals court ruling were:

  • “As we will explain, South Carolina’s new law, Act R54, likewise does not require a photo ID to vote.” (pg. 2, second paragraph)
  • “First, to state the obvious, Act R54 as now pre-cleared is not the R54 enacted in May 2011.” (pg. 40 – Judge Bates’ concurring opinion)

The SC Progressive Network spent three years fighting this regressive law, and was a party to the appeal. We will not let state Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson, Gov. Nikki Haley and others go unchallenged in their claim that they beat the Section 5 ruling and that our new law requires voters to present a photo ID.

As we have said before, the photo ID campaign was a shameless ploy to suppress the vote — expensive political theater that only served to confuse voters. Unfortunately, they are still confused. Our work to educate South Carolina voters continues.

What ails the VA is chronic under-staffing

By J. David Cox Sr.
national president of the American Federation of Government Employees

The public’s outrage over excessive wait times and rigged record keeping at Veterans Affairs hospitals is more than justified. As a former VA nurse, I understand all too well that depriving veterans of timely access to care is a disservice to them and their sacrifice to this nation.

But cleaning house in the VA’s executive ranks will only treat the symptom. The disease plaguing the VA healthcare system is chronic under-staffing of physicians and other frontline providers.

Until we fill thousands of vacant positions, open closed hospital beds and provide more dollars for building and maintaining medical facilities, we will never heal what ails the VA.

Physicians are dealing with excessive caseloads and insufficient support staff. Since 2009, 2 million veterans entered the VA health care system for a net increase of 1.4 million new patients. Each physician should be responsible for no more than 1,200 patients at a given time, according to the VA’s own guidelines, yet many VA doctors are treating upwards of 2,000 patients each.

Simply put, there isn’t enough time in the day for the available doctors to treat every veteran who is seeking care in a timely fashion.

Compounding matters is a performance system that sets unrealistic goals and incentivizes managers to increase the number of patients served, instead of improving the quality of care. Rather than face the under-staffing issue head-on and risk poor ratings, many managers have taken the easy way out and have cooked the books to mask the wait times.

But blaming those managers for a performance system that was doomed from the start won’t help our veterans get the care they seek any faster.

Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with the VA that can’t be healed by what is right with the VA: the frontline providers who care for our veterans every day.

No one is complaining about the quality of care our veterans receive. That’s because the federal employees who look after our nation’s heroes work hard each and every day to provide them with world-class service.

Unfortunately, those same employees have lived in fear of speaking out about the problems they witness due to an established history of retaliation, including loss of duties and unfounded disciplinary actions. Our members have paid a heavy price for voicing concerns, submitting letters to agency leaders, raising issues in labor management meetings, and testifying before Congress on wait time issues and veterans’ access to care. When they have sounded the alarm, our members have faced retaliation and intimidation time and time again.

Employees shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up when they see managers more concerned with securing bonuses than providing patients with timely access to care for critical medical conditions. In fact, they should be encouraged to bring up these issues so they can be rectified before more veterans go without the treatment they so desperately need.

The waitlist and understaffing issues are one and the same. Until Congress gives the VA the resources to hire enough frontline clinicians to meet demand, our veterans will continue to face long waits. And to be clear, sending veterans to expensive health care providers outside the VA system on a massive scale will not fix the underlying resource deficiencies plaguing our veterans medical centers.

According to the Independent Budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs, developed each year by leading veterans groups, the Veterans Health Administration is facing a $2 billion funding shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year and another $500 million shortfall for fiscal 2016.

It’s time for the VA to get back to basics and focus on improving access to care for our nation’s veterans. The agency must cut excess management layers and use those resources to boost frontline staffing of doctors, nurses and others directly involved in patient care. The growth of middle management positions within the agency has ballooned to unprecedented levels, from fewer than 300 in 1995 to more than 1,700 by a recent count, costing taxpayers $203 million annually.

The VA long has been held up as a model healthcare delivery system that all other hospitals should emulate. The care our veterans receive is second to none, but that only counts when our veterans actually are treated.

J. David Cox Sr. is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide and Chair of the AFL-CIO’s Union Veterans Council.

What would Jesus do?

By Jeff Koob
Columbia, SC

We’re undoubtedly the most powerful nation on earth, and arguably the most prosperous. All of the other major industrialized nations recognize health care as a basic human right, not a privilege.

Republicans who oppose this principle are on the wrong side of history. They say they’re against the Affordable Health Care Act because it’s unworkable, but have no alternative plan to care for people who are too poor to get preventive health services, or too disabled to support themselves financially. The conservative hardcore doesn’t think that the government should be responsible for caring for our neediest citizens, even in times of relative prosperity.

Many Republicans in the SC legislature want to turn down Medicaid funds that would prevent illness and save lives, purely on ideological grounds. The federal funds SC turns down will go to other states.

What’s happened to Christian values like, “love thy neighbor as thyself”? When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story of the Good Samaritan. Legislators who profess to be Christians seem to be more wedded to the values of dog-eat-dog capitalism: “Every man for himself.”

They are like the priest and the Levite who passed by their injured neighbor, unconcerned with his plight. They need to put the welfare of the neediest of their constituents above their more-conservative-than-thou political posturing.

IMG_1807Jeff Koob (wearing blue hat) was among 17 people arrested on March 18 for blocking the road outside the SC State House as part of a sustained lobbying effort to pressure lawmakers as they debated the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Read more about South Carolina’s Truthful Tuesday movement here.