How to Talk to Your Friends and Family About…Voting Rights

This is the first installment in a new series in which we give you advice on how to talk to your friends and family about key issues for working families. We know that with family and work responsibilities, you don’t have the time to do all the research on important topics you need to know about to be an effective voter, so we’re going to do that for you and provide you with the best information and messaging about how you can talk to your friends and family.

This time, we’re going to talk about voting rights. It’s an election year and we’re quickly approaching the time when you will be casting your ballot and making sure your voice is heard. Every state is different, though, in how you exercise those rights, and many states have different voting rules that have been passed in recent years. While there are many examples of states pushing laws to expand voting rights, there are also many politically motivated, partisan attempts to manipulate the outcomes of elections by changing the rules rather than by offering policies and politicians the people support.

In any conversation about politics, it is important to talk about values and to connect those values to real-world consequences for the average American. Across the political spectrum, Americans share the value that voting is a right that should be equally accessible to all citizens. A key component of democracy in the United States is the right to vote, and most Americans support keeping the right as free and as fair as possible.

Here are some of the most common topics and arguments you might encounter and the best ways to respond to those arguments:

“We need voter ID laws.”

While it is important to protect the integrity of our elections, the biggest fraud we face in our elections are laws that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to cast their ballot, particularly when those laws are attempts to manipulate the system and subvert the will of the people. Voter ID laws often require forms of identification that tens of millions of Americans don’t have and, in millions of cases, aren’t free or easy to obtain. Flexible voting laws, that guarantee election integrity and allow every American who wants to vote to do so, are vitally important.

“But everybody should have to show an ID to vote.”

The problem is that the new laws generally are so specific in what types of IDs they allow and these laws usually outlaw types of IDs that were previously acceptable without any real evidence that those types of IDs were associated with significant voter fraud. More than 10% of Americans lack a government-issued photo ID and the laws we’ve seen passed in the past four years are disproportionately likely to make it harder to vote for seniors, people with disabilities, students, women and many others.

“But you need an ID to fly or buy a beer.”

True, but if you can’t buy a beer because you don’t have the proper ID, it has no negative effect on the functioning of our democracy or your ability to express your right to vote. When eligible voters are denied the right to vote that undermines democracy and denies people’s rights.

“Early voting should be curtailed because it is a gateway to fraud and double-voting.”

Elections are the time when Americans are the most equal—we all have only one vote and nobody’s vote counts more than anyone else’s. Our elections should remain free, fair and accessible. Many people choose to vote early because of work or family responsibilities, because they are traveling or because they have transportation challenges. Early voting makes it easier for responsible voters to make sure their voice is heard. There isn’t significant evidence of fraud in early voting and it’s wrong to limit access to the ballot for political reasons.

“The system works fine as it is.”

If you are an eligible voter, you should face as few barriers as possible to casting your ballot. Our registration system is inconsistent from state to state and is vulnerable to human error (such as typos and lost or incorrectly entered forms), which can prevent citizens from voting through no error of their own. We can harness technology to modernize our system and give more options to register securely and conveniently. Voters shouldn’t lose their right to vote simply because they move, something that is happening more and more often in tough economic times.

If you or someone you know hasn’t updated his or her registration since moving or needs to register, registering to vote is easy and fast through the AFL-CIO’s TurboVote tool.

If you have questions on what is needed at your polling place on Election Day, check out the MyVoteMyRight website.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Super Important Part of the Unemployment Insurance Debate the Media Keeps Ignoring

A quick survey of news clips about Congress from the past year, particularly the U.S. Senate, will yield a lot of this type of phrasing: Bill fails in Senate. Senate can’t agree on new law. Gridlock rules as Senate agreement fails. Bill can’t get the votes to pass the Senate.

So when pollsters go out and ask the American people what they think about Congress, they respond in kind. People overwhelmingly want “less gridlock.” They want politicians of both parties to “work together to find solutions.” 9 times out of 10, this doesn’t happen, which leads to more dissatisfaction.

People, for the most part, are suggesting an incorrect solution because they are presented with an incorrect problem.

In the U.S. Senate, the problem is the radical abuse of the filibuster, mainly by the Republican caucus lead by Mitch McConnell (R-KY). This forces bills to need 60 votes to reach “cloture,” instead of the usual outright majority of 51 votes.

In 1975, Senate rules changed, allowing Senators to enforce a 60-vote threshold without the “talking filibuster” made famous by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the interest of fairness,  it’s true that neither party has their hands clean when it comes to use of the filibuster. But sheer numbers show that since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, and especially since President Obama was elected, the 60-vote enforcement has been out of control.

There have been many bills that have received the majority of votes–50, 55, or even 59 votes–in the U.S. Senate that haven’t become law simply because of this procedure. But the headlines make it seem like it’s just a bunch of politicians who won’t agree. Ari Melber wrote this after a filibuster of President Obama’s jobs bill in October 2011:

If you glance at the headlines, though, you’d think the Senate just failed to come up with the votes for this bill. Here are just a few typical (and influential) examples:

OBAMA’S JOBS BILL HITS WALL IN SENATE (WSJ)
JOBS MEASURE IS DEFEATED IN SENATE TEST (NYT)
OBAMA’S JOBS BILL FAILS TO ADVANCE IN SENATE DESPITE WHITE HOUSE PUSH (Fox News)

Political reporters have become so accustomed to the constant abuse of the filibuster, they don’t even lead with the news here: A jobs bill during an unemployment crisis has majority support, but is being blocked from a straight vote.

So in the case of emergency unemployment insurance, a vital lifeline for 1.3 million Americans, including about 100,000 veterans and at least 20,000 recent veterans, let’s not be asking “why can’t they agree” or “why is there gridlock.”

We should be asking why, with long-term unemployment at an all-time high, is this bill not receiving a simple, 50-vote majority up-or-down vote?

Call your Senator now, and tell them to immediately renew unemployment insurance.

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PHOTOS: In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, Teachers and Others Arrested for Singing


Photo by @RWwatchMA on Twitter

For three days straight, police have made multiple arrests in Wisconsin’s state Capitol.

Their crime? Singing.

Well, more specifically, their alleged crime is violating a new rule in the Capitol requiring permits for groups of 20 or more. The rule was passed in the wake of the enormous worker uprising in Wisconsin in 2011 that included massive gatherings in the state Capitol.

A Wisconsin judge ruled on July 8 that the demonstrators must acquire a permit before bringing a group of more than 20 people into the capitol for a protest.

Police have delivered daily warnings to the Solidarity Sing-Along members since the 11th, but Wednesday was the first day they actually made good on their threats. However, Wednesday’s arrests appear to have only angered the group, and they returned Thursday over 100 strong.

As of Thursday, the arrest count was 29. Today, Friday, arrests are continuing this afternoon.

“First arrest in #ourhouse today: a kindergarten teacher,” tweets @SaraBlackthorne.

Other musical groups gathering outside of the Capitol in solidarity.


via @ScottWalkerWatch on Twitter

“In @GovWalker’s Wisconsin,” tweeted @OneWisconsinNow, “out-of-state donors IN, free speech OUT.”

Heartbreaking.

“Walker is afraid of singers,” reads one sign.


Photo by @leslieamsterdam on Twitter

“She looks like a hardened criminal,” @polymath22 notes sarcastically.

Finally, let’s note that not all police officers are on board with the arrests.


Photo via @leslieamsterdam on Twitter

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Perez Nomination Illustrates the Link Between Jobs and Democracy

We’re pleased to see that President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor is Thomas Perez, whose qualifications for the position are solid. He’s a good pick not just because of his views, but because it shows how strongly connected his current job and his likely future job are.

Perez is currently an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and one of his main responsibilities is dealing with protecting the right to vote. Before that, he served as the state Secretary of Labor in Maryland. It’s a good sign that, for Perez, economic justice and participatory democracy aren’t two separate issues. They’re inextricably connected.

At the Justice Department, Perez fought against state laws that threw hurdles in the paths of voters and reduced access to early voting. These laws hit economically vulnerable voters the hardest. And as Secretary of Labor, Perez will be tasked with ensuring democracy and civil rights in the workplace—from protecting the freedom to organize to fighting against pay discrimination. President Obama identified those key issues when he nominated Perez on Monday. You can’t have a thriving democracy unless people can get a fair share of the value they create, and you can’t have a thriving democracy unless people have a voice and some basic rights at the workplace where they spend a big part of almost every day.

Another great sign for a future Secretary Perez is his record on the minimum wage. Perez fought to ensure good wages in Maryland, and President Obama specifically mentioned the importance of “a wage you can live on” in his remarks announcing Perez’s nomination.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the choice of Perez for the Labor Department:

Throughout his career, Perez has fought to level the playing field and create opportunities for working people, whether in the workplace, the marketplace or the voting booth…At a time when our politics tilts so heavily toward corporations and the very wealthy, our country needs leaders like Tom Perez to champion the cause of ordinary working people. And working families need and deserve a strong advocate as their Secretary of Labor — one who will vigorously enforce job safety standards, wage laws, and anti-discrimination rules, and who will speak out forcefully for working families and their workplace rights, including their right to join together to improve their lives and working conditions.

Of course, Perez still has to get past a Senate confirmation vote—and some Republicans are already signaling that they’re going to try and filibuster, based on utterly bogus reasons. But as reporters like Alex Seitz-Wald and Brian Beutler have written, they’re likely to embarrass themselves in the process.

We’re looking forward to seeing what Perez does as Secretary of Labor, and hope that he has a high profile in the administration.

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