Nullifying the nullifiers; a political primer

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SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey challenges Sen. Tom Davis outside Senate chambers before senators take up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill. Truthful Tuesday activists have been lobbying lawmakers since the legislature reconvened on Jan. 14.

The “Nullify Obamacare” bill was voted down in the SC Senate late Wednesday night, with a vote of 33 opposed to nine in favor of the House-passed version. It’s complicated, but here’s a breakdown.

Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) completely rewrote H- 3101, which expressly rejected Medicaid expansion and regulated federal ACA Navigators. (The Network was among the groups in South Carolina awarded a grant to help people navigate the insurance marketplace to be in compliance with the new health care law.)

The amended bill died after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ruled that Davis’ amendment was not germane to the House version. McConnell, who serves as president of the Senate, said of the House version, “I was having trouble understanding what that bill really did.”

Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) raised a point of order that the regulations placed on Navigators had nothing to do with the original bill. McConnell agreed, and ruled Davis’ entire amendment out of order.

In a move seen as disrespectful in the body that prides itself on being deliberative and cordial, Davis appealed McConnell’s ruling to the Senate floor. Twenty-eight senators, 14 from each party, upheld the decision to kill Davis’ amended bill.

With Davis’ version of H-3101 dead, the vote then was called on the original House version that even Davis had declared unconstitutional. Only nine Republicans voted to adopt the “Nullify Obamacare” version of the bill. In the end, 19 Republicans joined 14 Democrats to reject the bill on a 33 – 9 vote.

That only nine of 28 Republican senators took the rigid Tea Party stance against “Obamacare” is seen by SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey as “a rare victory for rational thought in the legislature.”

That said, Bursey cautioned that the damage has already been done, calling the time-sapping legislative posturing “bad political theater.” South Carolinians are already suffering from the state’s refusal to participate in the Affordable Care Act, with more than 1,000 deaths predicted here this year because lawmakers refused to accept Medicaid expansion money (which, we remind you, is OUR tax dollars.)

The death of H-3101 doesn’t mean that South Carolina lawmakers will stop obstructing the ACA. South Carolina is still refusing money for a state insurance marketplace and Medicaid expansion. The Davis bill would have added regulating state Navigators and blocking public bodies from helping people get insurance to the state’s anti-Obamacare campaign.

“A goal of our Truthful Tuesday protests,” Bursey said, “was to get people talking, change the dialogue, and reduce the Tea Party influence on Republicans. That is happening.”

What did activist Modjeska Simkins think about the Confederate flag flying on the State House?

You might be surprised.

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey talks about the long-running debate he had with his mentor about the flag, which came off the dome in 2000 — and relocated to a more visible position on the State House lawn.

Why did they do it?

Outside the Senate chambers March 4, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey explains to a reporter with The State why Truthful Tuesday activists blocked the road to the SC State House entrance. Eleven were arrested. (At the time of the interview, the protesters were still being processed at police headquarters, and Bursey thought 10 had been arrested.)

Truthful Tuesday activists keep pressure on SC lawmakers to expand Medicaid

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On Feb. 25, advocates for Medicaid expansion in South Carolina gathered at the State House for a “Day of Shame,” targeting senators as they went into session. The Senate is expected to take up the “Nullify Obamacare” bill as early as this week.

Organizers Brett Bursey and Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III remind us why we are there.

See news coverage: WIS-TV, The Buzz, The State.

Visit TruthfulTuesday.net to learn more about the movement and see a calendar of next steps. Or you can call the SC Progressive Network at 803-808-3384 or email info@truthfultuesday.net.

It was a good day for SC voters

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History was made yesterday in the SC House Judiciary Election and Ethics Laws Subcommittee when Chairman Alan Clemmons approved two bills that the SC Progressive Network supported in hearings. These bills, which will make voting more transparent and accountable, are the first Network-promoted bills in 10 years to clear Rep. Clemmons’ committee. (He was the primary sponsor of the photo ID bill that the Network fought for several years.)

The first bill, H-3198, sponsored by Richland Rep. James Smith (D), will put the State Election Commission in charge of elections. The current voting system gives each of the 46 county Election Boards independence from centralized control. The system was designed by the state constitution of 1895 to disenfranchise black citizens by allowing the senator from each county to appoint the board. This was following a decade when the SC House was the only legislative body in the nation that was majority-black.

Rep. Clemmons signed onto the bill, stating that a centralized authority would make for more professional and consistent management of elections.

For years, the Network has advocated giving the State Election Commission authority over the county boards. “The SEC can only advise the county boards, and they often have different interpretations of the laws,” said Network director Brett Bursey. “It’s difficult to explain to people that no one is in charge of elections in South Carolina.”

The second bill, H-4364, was drafted by Bursey and introduced by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter. He referred to the bill as a “State Section 5 Registry,” filed after the US Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to “prefile” changes to voting procedures to insure that they did not negatively affect minority voters.

“With the loss of the federal Section 5 registry,” Bursey testified, “there is no public notice of voting changes.” Clemmons agreed with Bursey that citizens deserve to be notified of changes to election laws, and approved H-4364′s requirement that all changes will be reported to the SEC and posted on the its web site.

“This won’t keep bad things from happening,” Bursey said, “but at least voters and advocacy groups will be given notice before they take effect.”

Both bills have rare bipartisan support and a chance of becoming law.vote_clipart

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter: “Until the silent majority takes over, nothing in this state will change.”

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Orangeburg Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter tells Truthful Tuesday organizers at a meeting Feb. 4 that the SC Legislative Black Caucus fully supports their efforts, and that the Caucus is crafting a bill to expand Medicaid in South Carolina in 2014. There has never been a vote on the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina, so no lawmakers are on record supporting or opposing this landmark legislation.

In this clip, Cobb-Hunter delivers a powerful message to community organizers about this moment in time being an extraordinary opportunity. Highly recommended viewing for all members of the SC Progressive Network and Truthful Tuesday partners.

She also says she’s gathering bond money in case the time comes for civil disobedience.

Bookmark TruthfulTuesday.net, and stay in touch with a growing coalition of people from across the state who refuse to be held hostage by state lawmakers pushing an extreme agenda in South Carolina. Enough is enough.

See photos from the first Truthful Tuesday lobby outside the Governor’s Office Feb. 4.

Remembering Modjeska

SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey wrote this tribute to his mentor, Modjeska Monteith Simkins, upon the occasion of her death. It ran in the May 1992 issue of POINT, four years before the newspaper was archived online. Here is a scan of the piece. Click on the image to enlarge.

The article is among the research materials being assembled for the Network’s latest project, establishing the Modjeska Simkins School for Human Rights, set to launch Dec. 5, on what would have been Modjeska’s 114th birthday. Follow the progress of the project on Facebook. For more information, contact the Network at 803-808-3384 or network@scpronet.com.

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Vote suppression is the real voting fraud

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

When I saw Rep. Alan Clemmons’ guest column in The State, “Voting problems continue to haunt us” (July 21), I was hoping he’d explain his part in peddling the myth of dead people voting in South Carolina, and apologize to the people he misled. He did neither.

Instead, he again claimed an “undeniable presence of election fraud in South Carolina,” and took a cheap shot at the S.C. Progressive Network to make his point. He referenced an instance years ago when bogus forms were turned in by someone the network hired to do voter registration in Florence County. I caught the fraud myself and called SLED and the County Election Board the day the forms were submitted.

No fraudulent votes were cast. I testified against the perpetrator, and he went to jail. The system worked.

Clemmons’ column goes on to call the photo ID law he championed “a good first step” and said, “Now, to cast a ballot, you are required to prove who your are and that you are eligible to vote in that election.”

The truth is that Clemmons’ bill was interpreted — essentially rewritten — by the federal appeals court, which ruled that “South Carolina’s new law … does not require a photo ID to vote.” The state spent $3.5 million on private attorneys to defend a law against a problem that doesn’t exist — and lost.

While unable to cite a single case of in-person voter impersonation, Clemmons told the U.S. Department of Justice that “voter fraud in South Carolina is an unspoken truth.” Still today, he conflates absentee ballot and voter registration fraud, neither of which requires a photo ID, with in-person fraud at the polls, of which there is no evidence.

In the nine years Clemmons has chaired the House’s Election Laws Subcommittee, he has killed every bill the network’s legislative members have sponsored to broaden voter participation. He nixed our proposals to establish early voting centers and high school voter registration programs, to reduce the influence of money in elections, to re-enfranchise felons and to adopt voter-verified paper ballots.

Rather than working to make voting more accessible and inclusive, Clemmons has said voting should not be easy.

We do agree on one thing: South Carolina’s election system is dysfunctional. It was established by the 1895 state constitution, which reversed the democratic aspects of the 1868 constitution that empowered black citizens. It delegated authority to 46 county election boards, appointed by local legislators, with no centralized control.

County election boards interpret and enforce election laws differently, and are not accountable to the State Election Commission.

Clemmons proposes to fix the problem by putting the State Election Commission under the partisan office of secretary of state. But in Florida and Ohio, where they run elections, secretaries of state have been accused of disenfranchising thousands of voters.

More partisan control in a state already crippled by it would be a mistake. A better answer would be to empower our independent, nonpartisan State Election Commission to run elections.

The truth is, our democracy is not threatened by voter fraud but by legislators who have rigged the system. Around 10 percent of eligible voters are choosing our Legislature.

If Clemmons was truly concerned about the “sanctity” of our electoral system, he would address the fact that the S.C. Legislature has the least-competitive elections in the nation, with 80 percent of lawmakers elected with no general-election opposition.

Clemmons, for example, got 99.12 percent of the vote in 2012, when he was the only candidate on the ballot. He was swept into office by 6.1 percent of voters in his district.

The Network believes we can do better. We will continue to fight to make our democracy more representative, and invite anyone who shares our goal to join us. Call us at 803-808-3384, email us at network@scpronet.com, or find us Facebook or Twitter.

SC deserves new voting machines

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

A SC Legislative Audit Council report released March 27 on the state’s voting machines found serious glitches. “Problems with iVotronic machines that have been reported in elections in other states include vote flipping, candidates missing from screens, lost votes or too many votes, freezing, and batteries,” the report found.

The report didn’t mention that many of those states have quit using the iVotronics, which are no longer being manufactured. While these same problems have been widely observed in South Carolina, every precinct still uses them.”63% of the counties that had problems with the machines have not reported the problems to the State Election Commission (SEC),” the study reported, and recommended the SEC establish a hotline to track problems with the machines.

The SC Progressive Network has helped run a statewide election day hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, in every general election since 2004. Network Director Brett Bursey said, “In the last general election, while all the news was focused on long lines in Richland County, we had calls from five other counties about machine problems causing hours-long waits to vote.”

EP-sign“The SEC has not gathered information about the increasing unreliability of these machines, which are reaching the end of their projected 10-year-lifespan,” Bursey said, and we welcome the LAC report as the start of a serious discussion about what our new voting system should look like.”The Network opposed the purchase of the iVotronic machines in 2004, in part, due to their inability to produce a voter-verified paper ballot that could be used to call a close race. The LAC report concluded, “The audit process in South Carolina is limited by the absence of a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).” The LAC determined that a VVPAT could be added to the existing machines for $17.3 million.

The 2013 House budget includes $5 million that the SEC has requested to begin saving for a new system after 2016.

“Rather than consider patching up these machines, or buying more used ones as Richland County is planning, we need to be looking at better and cheaper ways to vote — well before 2016,” Bursey said.

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The Network has long advocated a voter-verifiable voting system like the one Clemson has devised.

Dr. Juan Gilbert, Chair of the Clemson School of Computing, Human-Centered Computing Division, has been doing research and development on electronic voting systems since 2003. He got a $4 million grant from the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) several years ago to develop a better voting system. The EAC sets standards for voting machines, and has never approved the system currently used in South Carolina.

Gilbert’s “Prime III” meets federal requirements, and was used in a state election for the first time in January in Oregon. Prime III runs on open-source software, on machines available at any computer store. It’s simple, cheap, reliable, produces a voter-verified-paper ballot, and can be publicly owned. The privately owned system we now use costs $1million in annual licensing fees, more on tech support, and runs on secret codes.

“We see no legal impediments to using a system like Clemson has developed, and tremendous advantages,” Bursey said. “Clemson can provide the software, our technical schools can train technicians, and a whole new statewide system would cost little more than adding a paper trail to our old machines.”

Jim DeMint, why should taxpayers fund special election?

Dear Mr. DeMint,

We are writing to ask you to help pay for the election to replace you in the Senate. The South Carolina Election Commission estimates that the special election required by your resignation will cost South Carolina taxpayers about $1 million.

According to the Federal Election Commission, your Senatorial political action committee has $800,409 “cash on hand” and no outstanding debts (Team DeMint FEC ID S4SC00083, most recent filing 9/30/2012).

In 2010, your PAC gave a total of $1,150,000 to Republican parties in eight states other than South Carolina. That year you made a total of $7,500 in contributions to 19 South Carolina county Republican parties.

In 2012, you generously donated $700,000 to the Club for Growth and $5,000 to the SC Republican Party.

Your new million-dollar-a-year job at the Heritage Foundation affords you the opportunity to donate the remaining $800,409 in your campaign account to the SC Election Commission, removing that burden from South Carolina taxpayers.

According to FEC staff, your check to the SC Election Commission to pay for an election you necessitated would qualify as a “public purpose” as required by statute.

Your resignation from the Senate, and Congressman Tim Scott’s resulting appointment to your seat, will cost South Carolina taxpayers $1 million to pay for a special election.

We hope that you agree that paying for this election with campaign money you no longer need would honor both your constituents and your conservative values.

Regards,

Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

SC Election Day meltdown: a cautionary tale

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

The Election Protection hotline started ringing shortly after the polls opened at 7. It didn’t stop all day. Ninety percent of the touch-screen voting machines in the county’s 118 precincts wouldn’t boot up. Some precincts didn’t have working machines until 5:30pm.

One campaign tried to get the court to extend voting hours, but failed. The SC Republican Party Chairman said, “There is always a backup in case there is an election machine malfunction.” But unfortunately for thousands of voters, there was no such backup.

This wasn’t Richland County on Nov. 6, 2012. It was in Horry County’s 2008 Republican presidential primary.

At the time, I thought this was the train wreck we needed to get out from under these unreliable voting machines and get our emergency ballot statute fixed. I was wrong.

Four years later, it was thousands of voters in Richland County standing in line for up to seven hours because there weren’t enough working machines and no emergency ballots.

These are the same machines that failed in Horry County in 2008. The same machines that gave the 2010 Democratic nomination for US Senate to the virtually unknown Alvin Green, a result deemed statistically impossible by the nation’s top computer voting experts. The same machines South Carolina bought between 2004 and 2006 – against our organization’s recommendation to the Election Commission. After studying the issue extensively and watching what was working in other states, we advocated simpler, paper-based voting devices.

This Election Day, machine failures didn’t happen in Richland County alone, but in at least seven other counties, according to reports to the Election Protection hotline. Callers from Spartanburg, Greenville, Charleston, Horry, Berkeley, Kershaw and Sumter counties all reported machine failures causing long lines.

In the 2008 Horry machine failure, State Election Commission spokesman Gary Baum said all precincts must have emergency paper ballots on hand, calling them “part of the election.”

SEC spokesman Chris Whitmire said voters could use almost anything – “a napkin, a paper towel” – to vote.

That afternoon, Whitmire called and said, “Brett, let’s read that statute together, out loud.” He was referring to State Code 7-13-430 that used to require each precinct to have enough paper emergency ballots on hand “as are equal to ten percent of the registered qualified voters at such voting place.”

We discovered that, in 2000, the emergency ballot statute was amended to require “a number of ballots not to exceed ten percent of the registered qualified voters at the voting place.” The math we had learned in our minimally adequate schools allowed us to calculate that zero does not exceed 10 percent. So, while precincts are required to provide emergency ballots, they are not required to have any until after the emergency.

Sen. Phil Leventis requested an opinion from Attorney General Henry McMaster prior to the 2008 general election on the contradictory nature of the redrawn statute. McMaster agreed that while precincts were not required to have emergency ballots on hand, they are required to be available “without undue delay.”

In the 2008, deputy sheriffs waited for the county election office to print the various versions of ballots required by local races, and then drove paper ballots to the precincts. At 2pm, deputies were still delivering the first shipments of paper to some precincts.

Whether you consider it “undue delay” might depend on whether you were one of the thousands of Horry County voters who braved freezing rain only to be told to come back later.

In Richland County, with countywide reports of machine shortages and failures, only a few precincts considered offering emergency ballots. Our Election Protection Coalition provided emergency ballots for one precinct. Other precincts that requested them were told by county election officials they couldn’t use emergency ballots.

Richland County Election Board Chair Liz Crum said they were prohibited by law from using emergency ballots. It says “if no machine is available,” paper shall be provided. Most precincts had some machines working.

Clearly, the statute needs to be fixed to require an on-hand supply of paper ballots and specify the wait times at which point they may be used.

The requirement for emergency paper ballots to be on hand at precincts was written out of the law in 2000 at the insistence of the Association of Counties. At the time, counties were using lever machines, punch cards and mechanical devices that never failed county-wide. The counties argued that emergency paper ballots were an unnecessary expense.

In 2002, in the wake of the Florida “hanging chad” debacle, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided funding for states to update their voting systems. South Carolina was the first state to spend the money, and one of seven states not to seek an extension of the funding deadline pending the establishment of federal guidelines for the new generation of touch-screen voting computers.

The SC Progressive Network presented expert testimony to the state Election Commission about the devices’ shortcomings before the state spent $38 million to buy the iVotronic machines we still use. The “iVo’s” don’t produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter, or used to recount the vote, and have been de-certified in a number of states because they are unreliable.

Switching to a statewide, computer-based, paperless voting system should have caused the legislature to restore the requirement for emergency paper ballots at every precinct. The potential for county-wide machine failures is a proven liability of this kind of system.

While blame for the failure in Richland County is falling largely on election officials, ignoring the history of failed machines in this and other elections implies that only human ineptitude or malfeasance can cause such problems.

As these delicate and complicated devices reach the end of their lifespan, we should be concerned about future elections and our next generation of machines. Replacing the people that run the machines will not solve the core problem. We must learn from our past mistakes and acquire a more a reliable, rnon-proprietary, paper-based voting system.

Brett Bursey is SC Progressive Network Director and SC Election Protection Field Coordinator.

Court rules that SC voter ID law does not, in fact, require photo ID

By Becci Robbins
SC Progressive Network Communications Director

Following the federal court ruling that approved a substantially modified version of South Carolina’s voter ID law, SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey called the venture “very expensive theater.”

The ruling begins by noting “South Carolina’s new (photo ID) law…does not require a photo ID to vote.”

While Gov. Nikki Haley crowed, “This is not just a win for South Carolina, this is a win for our country,” and state Attorney General Alan Wilson hailed the ruling as a vindication of Republican state legislators, the law the court approved is not the one that went to Washington.

District Court Judge Bates said in his opinion, “Act 54 as now pre-cleared is not the Act 54 that was enacted in May 2011,” when signed by Gov. Haley.

While the Court acknowledged “an absence of recorded incidents of in-person voter fraud in South Carolina,” it found that “preventing voter fraud and increasing electoral confidence are legitimate” reasons for the law.

“After several years of divisive and racially charged debate on this unnecessary law,” Bursey said, “after $2 million in taxpayer money spent defending it, and several million more dollars to implement it, our photo ID law will not require voters to have a photo ID to vote.”

The original law allowed a voter to claim a “reasonable impediment” to not having a photo ID, and left it to the county board of elections to determine whether the reason was legitimate. Today’s ruling said that the reason for not having a photo ID “is to be determined by the individual voter, not the poll manager or county board. So long as the reason given by the voter is not a lie, an individual voter may express any one of of the many conceivable reasons why he or she has not obtained a photo ID…voters with the non-photo voter registration card…may still vote without a photo ID.”

Judge Baker wrote, “It is understandable that the [Dept. of Justice] and the intervenors [including the SC Progressive Network] in this case, would raise serious concerns about South Carolina’s voter photo ID law as it then stood.”

The governor’s victory dance notwithstanding, Judge Baker concluded, “One cannot doubt the vital function that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has played here. Without the review process under the voting Rights Act South Carolina’s voter photo ID law certainly would have been more restrictive.”

Calling it political theater, Bursey said, “The grandstanding on this issue by the governor and the Republican majority of the legislature comes at a very real cost to taxpayers, voters and election workers. It is partisan politics at its worst.”

The law will go into effect in 2013.

Delores Freelon has been jumping through hoops for more than a year trying to obtain a SC photo ID. In August, she testified in front of the three-judge panel in Washington, DC.

Network Director makes case for voter-owned elections

In wake of SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s spending of campaign cash, SC Progressive Network invited conservative groups to join in a press conference on Oct. 9, 2012, to ask for an independent investigation of the matter. SC Gov. Nikki Haley just days earlier returned $10,000 in improperly used campaign funds. With public frustration and disgust growing, the time is ripe for real reform in SC politics.

Penny tax would double funding for Midlands’ public transit

Richland County Council voted yesterday to place a referendum on the November ballot for voters in the county to consider adding a penny to the sales tax (taking it to 8 cents) to fund transportation.

The SC Progressive Network and ATU turned out dozens of bus and DART riders to press for 33% of the penny to be allocated to public transit. Council gave second reading to a proposal that funds public transit at 25%, with 71% to roads and 4% to pathways.

The front-page story in today’s State newspaper reported that the public hearing was “packed with sign-toting, T-shirt wearing bus advocates.”

“While we didn’t get the council to fund a great public transit system, the 20-year penny tax will raise over a quarter-billion dollars for public transit, more than doubling what has ever been budgeted,” Network Director Brett Bursey said.

“This plan takes us from bad to good, and we will remain engaged to insure the initiative passes in November and that public transit better serves the needs of its users.”

Lucious Williams, Vice President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 610, testifies June 19 before Richland County Council.