June 7, 2018
By Rev. Jesse Jackson
The talk shows are filled with the latest rumor about WikiLeaks and Russian interference in our elections. What was done still remains a mystery. But Republican tricky leaks — the systematic efforts to suppress the vote — are an established fact, and a far greater threat to free elections.
The facts are not in dispute. A recent report by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty notes that in addition to suffering the most extreme inequality in the industrial world, the U.S. ranks among the lowest for voter participation. Voter registration levels, for example, are 64 percent in the U.S., compared with 91 percent in Canada and the United Kingdom and 99 percent in Japan.
This isn’t an accident. As The New York Times reports, conservatives have openly stated for years that they do better when fewer people vote. In the South under segregation, the power structure used any number of tricks — poll taxes, and special quizzes, intimidation and just plain murder — to keep blacks from voting. Now, Republicans are clear that they must suppress the vote if they are to keep power. As professor Donald Jones stated at a Florida hearing of the National Commission for Voter Justice, “When it comes to the vote, we are in the Second Civil War.”
The National Commission for Voter Justice was launched by RainbowPush early this year to undertake a 2-year mission of documenting the status of voting rights in the U.S., educating the public about ongoing threats and inspiring reforms to reaffirm the right to vote. The NCVJ has held hearings in four states — Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida — and produced research from six states.
The NCVJ found that systematic efforts are underway to make voting more difficult in state after state. Voter purging and voter caging is being conducted on a much larger scale since 2016 than is popularly recognized.
In Georgia in 2017, 320,000 voters who had been purged from the voter rolls had to file a lawsuit to regain the right to vote. In Florida, black voters are being purged after being labeled “inactive,” by not responding to a mail request for confirmation of address. The Interstate Crosscheck System, invented by Republican attorneys, is used by 27 states and is estimated to lead to the wrongful purging of hundreds of thousands of voters.
States also work to make voting harder. They limit the days of early voting, reduce the number of polling places, leading to long lines and frustrated voters, and relocate polling places to distant communities. Georgia is notorious for moving polling sites from black communities to inaccessible locations with poor advance notice. Ex-felons who have served their sentence are still disenfranchised in Florida and other states; student face more and more barriers designed to keep them from voting.
Republican state legislators have pushed to pass voter ID laws across the country; 34 states now enforce these laws. Eleven percent of U.S. citizens — 21 million people — lack a governmental issued photo ID, the ACLU reports. One in four African-Americans lacks this form of ID. The Government Accountability Office found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by 2 to 3 percent.
Open voter suppression laws had a far greater effect on the 2016 election than whatever the Russians did. Wisconsin’s right-wing Gov. Scott Walker had previously signed into law new voter ID requirements, some of which a Federal District Court had found discriminated against minority voters. Conservative judges at the appellate level upheld the law.
Republicans openly bragged that this would make the difference in the election. The result, by the state’s own records, was that 300,000 eligible voters lacked the proper ID. African-American turnout was down dramatically and Hillary Clinton lost the key state by only 22,700 votes.
We should take steps to ensure that no foreign power can interfere with our elections, but we should also act boldly to ensure that the right to vote is not undermined by zealous partisans at home. Voter registration should be automatic. Voting should be facilitated, not made harder. Early voting days should be extended; polling booths easily available; hours extended. No one should have to wait for hours in a line to cast a vote.
In the end, we should amend the Constitution to specifically establish the right to vote.
This basic democratic value is now contested. We have public officials openly bragging about their schemes to suppress the right to vote. There is no greater threat to a democracy. Now it is up to patriots to defend the most basic right of all.
May 31, 2018
By Glenton Richards
I can no longer pick one candidate when I know of a better way to vote. As a Southern California taxpayer that’s tired of being asked to choose between candidates out of our flawed election system, I am aware of the costly illusion of choice in our elections. Thankfully, Northern California has a promising solution to help restore democracy by fixing our elections.
Starting in 2020, the State of California will move its presidential primary elections up from June to March to have a greater influence on which candidates gets nominated for president. This decision however will have an adverse impact on local elections as cities move up their elections, forcing local candidates to declare earlier for office and campaign longer.
Many cities may forgo moving up their primaries to March, leading to an additional election in June before a November general election. And this does not factor in the multiple special elections that we have every year due to politicians resigning due to scandals or running for a higher office.
The point is, these runoffs and special elections are costly and rarely result in high turnout among voters. Last month, Los Angeles held three Assembly seat special elections, costing taxpayers about $1 million each and a paltry 10.8 percent turnout. Per the Secretary of State’s office, Los Angeles County spent $18.6 million between 2013 to 2017 to hold 16 special elections, averaging 14.3 percent in voter turnout. The idea that we would spend so much money to turnout so few people seems downright appalling, especially given the dozens of other valuable projects that LA could be spending its resources on.
Another problem that we face is the lack of diversity when it comes to electing our politicians. Traditionally, people of color and women have been less likely to run for office than any other demographic. Or to put it more bluntly, politics is still largely played in a white man’s arena with 70% of the country made of women and people of color, and yet 71% in Congress are white men. As a black man and son of immigrants, I understand the importance of diversity among our politicians. It means having representation that understands our values and realities.
If Southern California wants to reduce the money spent on elections and strive to improve the diversity of its candidates, we should look no further than Northern California. In San Francisco, there are eight candidates running to replace the late Mayor Ed Lee in the June 5 election. Despite the large number of candidates, we know that there will not be a costly runoff election because of ranked choice voting (RCV).
Just like it sounds, RCV is a process in which you rank the candidates you like by preference, rather than just picking one and hoping for the best. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes gets eliminated and the voters for that candidate then have their second choice counted. This continues until one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote.
This process – which is used in other cities in California like Oakland and Berkeley, around the country, and around the world – effectively eliminates expensive runoff elections, saving taxpayer dollars while reducing the voter apathy that comes from holding numerous elections.
In addition, according to FairVote California, RCV has been proven to increase the number of women and people of color on the ballot as those candidates no longer fear splitting the vote with a candidate from the same community and can focus on running the best campaign to become a voter’s first or second choice candidate. For example, in San Francisco, the top three candidates vying for the job each have the potential to make history either as the first African American woman, the first Asian American woman, or the first openly gay man to serve as this city’s mayor. Contrast that with LA where electing our first female woman of color mayor still seems like a distant dream.
RCV may not fix every problem within our government, but when you look at the facts it’s hard to deny that it’s a faster, cheaper, and fairer way to elect our politicians. It’s time we encourage our politicians to take a page out of Northern California’s playbook and adopt RCV for the good of California.
May 31, 2018
By Charlene Crowell
Despite federal laws addressing discrimination in housing, credit, and more, President Donald Trump signed on May 21, a rollback of an anti-discrimination guidance affecting auto lending. The presidential signature also marked the first time that a policy that had been in effect for several years was reversed through a special, streamlined legislative process under the Congressional Review Act.
The significance of this action will have national and rippling effects. Nationwide, auto loans represent the third highest category of consumer debt – behind mortgages and student loans. With so many communities across the country lacking accessible, metropolitan public transit services, owning or having access to a reliable automobile is central to access jobs, health care, education and more.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the sale of 17.14 million new cars in 2017 by franchised dealerships surpassed $1 trillion in sales. The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) has also noted that 80 percent of vehicle loans are financed through dealers.
Further, as the number of auto loans grow, so does the average cost of a new car. According to Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, the average loan amount for a new car in late 2017 was $31,099 and came with an all-time high record monthly payment of $515. The comparable figure for an average used car payment of $371 came with an average loan of $19,589.
When racial discrimination is added to these already significant numbers, consumers of color wind up paying even more – due to the color of their skin, instead of the quality of their credit ratings.
Over the last few years, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) was the legal basis for lawsuits and settlements involving Ally Financial, Fifth Third Bank, and the financing arms of major auto manufacturers Honda and Toyota. This law makes it illegal to discriminate on race or other protected classes in credit transactions. In auto lending, indirect auto lenders – those who finance loans through dealers – are creditors who must uphold the law. Thanks in part to the 2013 CFPB indirect auto lending guidance, consumers of color were awarded restitution totaling more than $140 million for alleged discrimination.
“Countless lawsuits have shown how people of color pay millions more for their car purchases, compared to similarly situated whites,” noted Delvin Davis, a CRL Senior Researcher. “Without a regulator that enforces fair lending standards, African-Americans and Latinos stand to bear the weight of discrimination without any relief.”
The presidential signing was made possible by both chambers of Congress turning to the Congressional Review Act. This law allows simple majority votes in the House and Senate to override regulation. Until now, this act had only been used to undo new regulation; this recent usage marks the first time that a long-standing policy was the focus.
Mick Mulvaney, the illegally appointed Acting CFPB Director, said, “Given a recent Supreme Court decision distinguishing between anti-discrimination statutes that refer to the consequences of actions and those that refer only to the intent of the actor, and in light of the fact that the Bureau is required by statute to enforce federal consumer financial laws consistently, the Bureau will be re-examining the requirements of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”
Strong and opposing views quickly surfaced upon the President’s signing. Karl Frisch, Executive Director of Allied Progress, is one such consumer activist.
“President Trump can try to spin it any way he wants, but the bottom line is this – black and brown folks are systematically charged more for their car loans even when they have the same credit as whites," said Frisch. "This president has consistently shown us that consumers are not of any importance to him, particularly when they are people color.”
Research supports Frisch’s critique.
Discrimination in Auto Lending, authored and published earlier this year by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), found that despite federal laws banning credit discrimination by race or ethnicity, race remains a key factor in the cost of financing auto loans. Like secret shoppers, NFHA sent eight teams of testers to dealerships to inquire about purchasing the same vehicle. Each team was told to ask the same questions and then report on their experiences.
Although all testers encountered challenges to securing information needed to secure the best auto loan available, non-White testers noted being treated disrespectfully and receiving a higher-cost quote for financing than the White testers. Numerically, the sum of experiences found:
75 percent of the time, White testers were offered more financing options than Non-White testers;
62.5 percent of the time, Non-White testers who were more qualified than their White counterparts received more costly pricing options; and
On average, Non-White testers who experienced discrimination would have paid an average of $2,662.56 more over the life of the loan than less-qualified White testers.
For consumers everywhere, but particularly for consumers of color, Mulvaney’s harsh words signal that so many of the hard-fought battles to bring fairness and equality are at risk.
Prior to the House vote taken on May 8, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee warned her colleagues about the regressive effects that would occur if the measure was enacted.
“This resolution would set back efforts to prevent discriminatory auto lending, make it harder for responsible businesses to follow the law, and harm consumers,” said Waters.
Sadly, when it comes to financial fairness in auto finance, truer words were never spoken. The real question for consumers is, ‘What’s next’?
May 24, 2018
LAWT News Service
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the nation’s premier civil rights organization, issued the following statement regarding the tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas:
The NAACP mourns the tragic and senseless loss of 10 lives on Friday, May 18 at Santa Fe High School in Texas. In addition to those killed, 10 individuals were also wounded. Nine of the 10 fatalities were students, studying subjects they loved and planning for their future. This is the 22nd school shooting of 2018, according to CNN. We cannot sit back and allow gun violence to continue to take the lives of our students. The NAACP sends our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the victims and everyone whose lives they touched. Talk alone is not enough to address the issue of gun violence in our communities and schools; sensible gun reform must become a priority among our politicians and policymakers.