Voting access dominates Georgia debate between Abrams, Kemp
By BEN NADLER
Wednesday, October 24
ATLANTA (AP) — The first debate between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp in the race for Georgia governor was dominated by charges of voter suppression and counterclaims of encouraging illegal voting.
Disputes over voting access took center stage Tuesday night, highlighting Abrams’ historic bid to become the first black female governor in American history and the long-simmering politics of race in the Deep South. Kemp, who is white, fended off accusations that he’s using his position as Georgia secretary of state to make it harder for minority voters to cast ballots.
Abrams said Kemp’s record as Georgia’s top elections official “causes great concern.” She pointed to the release of voter data under Kemp’s watch and the state’s “exact match” voter registration system, which has left tens of thousands of voter registrations “pending” due to inconsistencies.
The Democrat said she takes voting rights “very seriously,” noting that her own father had been arrested for trying to help people get registered.
“Voter suppression isn’t only about blocking the vote: It’s also about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won’t count,” Abrams said.
Kemp said accusations that he’s been suppressing the vote are “totally untrue.”
“I’ve staked the integrity of my whole career on the duty that I have as secretary of state. I have always fulfilled and followed the laws of our state and I’ll continue to do that,” Kemp said.
Kemp said his record includes making it “easy to vote and hard to cheat” in Georgia, and he fired back by citing a recent video clip in which Abrams includes “undocumented” immigrants in a description of her coalition.
“Why are you encouraging people to break the law to vote for you?” Kemp asked.
Abrams denied that, saying Kemp was twisting her words and her record of fighting to make it easier for legal citizens to vote.
Libertarian candidate Ted Metz also participated in the debate as Abrams and Kemp traded barbs over education and health care policy.
Abrams repeatedly emphasized her plan to expand Medicaid in Georgia, calling it a “bipartisan solution” that even Vice President Mike Pence embraced when he was Indiana’s Republican governor.
Kemp said Abrams wants a “government takeover of health care” and will raise taxes to pay for it.
The race is being watched as a barometer for the Democrats’ success in the midterm elections, as they try to make gains in Congress and in state offices to counter President Donald Trump’s agenda.
Tensions escalated following a recent Associated Press report that more than 53,000 voter applications — nearly 70 percent of them from black applicants — were on hold with Kemp’s office ahead of the election.
Kemp vehemently denied suppressing votes, insisting that people on the “pending” list can still vote if they bring an approved ID that substantially matches registration information.
Kemp also hit back hard at Abrams, saying she’s “too extreme for Georgia.”
Two reports surfaced just before the debate that played into their competing narratives.
The New York Times reported that a 1992 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story identified Abrams as participating in the burning of the Georgia flag to protest the prominent Confederate symbol that had been added in the 1950s as a rebuke of the civil rights movement.
Abrams addressed the issue at the debate, saying: “Twenty-six years ago, as a college freshman, I along with many other Georgians, including the governor of Georgia, were deeply disturbed by the racial divisiveness that was embedded in the state flag with that Confederate symbol. I took an action of peaceful protest.”
Abrams also noted that Kemp was among the state lawmakers who voted to remove the divisive symbol after years of pressure.
Kemp, meanwhile, was the focus of a report in Rolling Stone magazine, which said Kemp was secretly recorded telling supporters that he’s worried about an “unprecedented” number of people “exercising their right to vote” with absentee ballot applications after Abrams’ campaign focused on turning out its base.
Kemp’s campaign did not address the audio recording in a statement, but said it was fighting to stop Abrams and the “San Francisco socialists and liberal billionaires from New York” that back her.
Abrams’ campaign said the recording shows “Brian Kemp’s contempt for democracy is now on full display as he flaunts his fear that his office’s blatant efforts at voter suppression won’t be sufficient to win this election for him.”
Both candidates have attracted national heavyweights in a sign of just how seriously the parties are taking the contest.
Abrams’ campaign has enlisted celebrities like recording artist John Legend, as well as politicians like U.S. Senators Corey Booker and Kamala Harris. She’s also been endorsed by former president Barack Obama.
Kemp, who earned President Trump’s endorsement, saw visits from Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, among others.
AP national writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report.
Georgia election fight shows that black voter suppression, a southern tradition, still flourishes
October 23, 2018
Author: Frederick Knight, Associate Professor of History, Morehouse College
Disclosure statement: Frederick Knight does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been sued for suppressing minority votes after an Associated Press investigation revealed a month before November’s midterm election that his office has not approved 53,000 voter registrations – most of them filed by African-Americans.
Kemp, who is running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, says his actions comply with a 2017 state law that requires voter registration information to match exactly with data from the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration.
The law disproportionately affects black and Latino voters, say the civil rights groups who brought the lawsuit.
As a scholar of African-American history, I recognize an old story in this new electoral controversy.
Georgia, like many southern states, has suppressed black voters ever since the 15th Amendment gave African-American men the right to vote in 1870.
The tactics have simply changed over time.
Democrats’ southern strategy
With black populations ranging from 25 percent to nearly 60 percent of southern state populations, black voting power upended politics as usual after the Civil War.
During Reconstruction, well over 1,400 African-Americans were elected to local, state and federal office, 16 of whom served in Congress.
Loyal to President Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation sounded the death knell for slavery, black Americans flocked to the Republican Party. Back then, it was the more liberal of the United States’ two mainstream political parties.
Southern Democrats fought back, using both violence and legislation.
White paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan and White Leagues threatened black candidates, attacked African-American voters, pushed black leaders out of office and toppled Republican governments.
After establishing single-party control over the South, white Democrats in the late 1800s instituted a poll tax, making voting too expensive for former slaves and their descendants.
“White primaries” excluded blacks from choosing candidates in primary elections.
These attacks proved effective. Between 1896 and 1904, the number of black men who voted in Louisiana plummeted from 130,000 to 1,342.
After North Carolina U.S. Rep. George White retired, in 1901, the South would send no African-Americans to Congress until the 1972 election.
Voter suppression in Jim Crow Mississippi
In the early 20th century, many black Americans voted with their feet, migrating north and west.
Around the same time, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal – which instituted racial quotas in hiring for federal public work projects and included policies aimed at reducing inequality – was shifting northern black voters’ allegiance to the Democratic Party.
Black voters in northern cities began putting African-American Democrats into congressional office.
But they did not give up on the South, pressing the Supreme Court to reaffirm voting rights in the 1944 case Smith v. Allwright, which prohibited white-only primaries.
But black voter suppression remained deeply entrenched in the South. Several states required new voters to complete literacy tests before they could cast a ballot. In the 1880s, 76 percent of southern blacks were illiterate, versus 21 percent of whites.
Strategies for excluding black voters evolved along with federal law.
In reaction to Brown v. Board of Education, which in 1954 overturned “separate but equal” segregation laws, Mississippi in the same year modified its poll test. It asked voters to interpret a section of the state’s constitution, authorizing county registrars to determine whether the applicant’s answer was “reasonable.”
Virtually all African-Americans, regardless of education or performance, failed.
Within a year, the number of blacks registered to vote in Mississippi dropped from 22,000 to 12,000 – a mere 2 percent of eligible black voters.
Political violence – including the 1955 attempted assassination of voting rights activist Gus Courts and murder of George W. Lee – accompanied the legal restrictions, showing the cost of black political independence.
Fighting for the vote
Activists were not deterred. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality continued to wage grassroots voter registration campaigns and fight for official representation in the Democratic Party.
In 1964, a new political party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, was founded to welcome “sharecroppers, farmers and ordinary working people.”
The Freedom Democratic Party elected 68 delegates to attend the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, hoping to transform the all-white Mississippi delegation.
Trying to broker a deal, national Democratic leaders extended Mississippi’s Freedom Democrats two nonvoting at-large seats at the convention – a minor concession that led most white Mississippi party members to walk out in protest.
Freedom Democrats rejected the two seats as tokenism, holding a sit-in on the convention floor in Atlantic City to highlight the lack of black political representation.
Black voters make gains
Over time, the civil rights movement sparked a political shift that dramatically changed the U.S. electorate.
The 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes in 1964, abolishing a major barrier to black enfranchisement in the South. Literacy tests, too, were restricted, under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act also established federal oversight of voting laws to ensure equal access to elections, particularly in the South.
By the early 21st century, African-Americans constituted a majority of the registered Democrats in Deep South states from South Carolina to Louisiana. They turn out in high numbers and have been key voters for getting Democrats into office in the conservative-dominated South.
Voter suppression today
Over the past decade, Republican lawmakers have chipped away at the last century’s advances, enacting voter ID laws that make it harder to vote.
Claiming they seek to deter election fraud, some 20 states have restricted early voting or passed laws requiring people to show government ID before voting.
Voter identification laws have hidden costs, research shows.
Getting a government ID means traveling to state agencies, acquiring birth certificates and taking time off work. That puts it out of reach for many, a kind of 21st-century poll tax.
Federal and state courts have overturned such laws in some states, including Georgia, North Carolina and North Dakota, citing their harmful effect on African-American and Native American voters.
But the Supreme Court in 2008 deemed Indiana’s voter ID law a valid deterrent to voter fraud.
Perhaps most damaging to black voters was a 2013 Supreme Court decision that weakened the Voting Rights Act.
Shelby County v. Holder ended 48 years of federal oversight of southern voting laws, concluding that the requirement relied on “40-year-old facts that have no logical relation to the present day.”
Current events show that voter suppression is hardly a thing of the past.
From Georgia’s voter registration scandal to gerrymandered districts that dilute minority voting power, millions may be shut out of November’s midterms.
How American tax laws encourage inequality
October 24, 2018
Author: Anthony C. Infanti, Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Talk of tax reform always seems to be in the air.
Last fall, Republicans in Congress hastily pushed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, hailing it as “historic legislation” and “once-in-a-generation tax reform.” But that legislation has proved unpopular because it is widely and accurately viewed as tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, with any effort at reform being merely coincidental.
Despite the unpopularity of last fall’s effort, this fall House Republicans pushed through what they are calling “Tax Reform 2.0.” They seem to hope to win over voters prior to the midterm elections with the mere promise of further tax cuts – since the legislation was dead on arrival in the Senate.
That didn’t deter President Donald Trump from recently touting a vague plan for a “major” middle-class tax cut before the midterm elections.
But reducing tax reform to little more than a series of tax cuts designed to appease campaign donors and secure votes ignores the expressive role that a tax system plays in society.
What and how a country chooses to tax says a lot about its values, a subject I explore in my new book, “Our Selfish Tax Laws: Toward Tax Reform That Mirrors Our Better Selves.”
A core value built into the DNA of America, for example, is equality.
And in practice, Americans imagine their country to be more equal than it is and strive to treat every member of society that way.
But America’s tax laws paint a different picture. Instead of reflecting a society constantly striving to better itself, U.S. tax laws are mired in the past as they reinforce the social and economic marginalization of women, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants and people with disabilities.
Tax and marriage
For instance, U.S. tax law has chosen marriage as the defining characteristic of all individuals when deciding how income tax returns should be filed. That is, most Americans file their 1040s either as “single” individuals or as “married filing jointly.” But even when taxpayers in these two groups have equal incomes, they aren’t necessarily treated equally.
Among married couples, our tax laws give preferential treatment to those whose marriages comport with “tradition” – that is, with one spouse working in the labor market and the other in the home. These couples are rewarded with marriage “bonuses” because they pay less tax than if they earned the same amount but hadn’t married.
In contrast, those in “modern” marriages, where both spouses work outside the home, often suffer marriage penalties. These couples pay more tax than if they earned the same amount but hadn’t married.
And “single” taxpayers never receive a bonus but instead often pay more tax than a married couple with the same income.
While the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily mitigates the marriage penalties for some two-earner married couples, it fails to address other aspects of the tax laws that contribute to the marriage penalty. Low-income married couples, for example, are still hit with significant marriage penalties under the Earned Income Tax Credit.
At the same time, the act increased the bonuses paid to single-earner married couples that provide financial encouragement for one spouse – traditionally, the wife – to stay at home. To take a simple example, an individual making US$100,000 with no dependents who takes the standard deduction would see a 43 percent reduction in taxes in 2018 by marrying a stay-at-home spouse but would have seen a reduction of only about 38 percent in 2017.
The penalty for not marrying increased correspondingly.
The tax treatment of employment discrimination awards is another example.
Traditionally, personal injury awards have been excluded from taxable income. Courts differed on whether employment discrimination awards were covered by this exclusion, with some courts allowing these awards to be recovered tax-free and others requiring them to be taxed. In 1996, Congress stepped in to end litigation over this issue and decided to take away the exclusion, thus requiring workers to report an employment discrimination award on their federal taxes.
Disadvantaged groups are the ones most likely to suffer from employment discrimination. The top categories of discrimination reported by the EEOC include race, disability, sex, age, and national origin. Members of the LGBTQ community also suffer discrimination, but legal protection is not available for them in every state.
All of these groups bear significant monetary and psychological costs as a result of employment discrimination. The awards they are given are intended to help mitigate those costs – to make them whole. Such awards should not be taxed any more than the awards that make victims of car accidents whole for their injuries, which are still covered by the exclusion.
On the other side of the ledger, Congress continues to let employers required to pay these discrimination awards deduct them from their tax bills as business expenses.
If the goal is to prevent employment discrimination, it’s counterproductive to penalize victimized workers with a tax while rewarding employers who allegedly or actually discriminated with a benefit.
Again the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made a nod at reform – and the #MeToo movement – by taking away that employer deduction for settlements in certain sexual harassment cases. But that misses the bigger picture and deeper problem with the tax code.
Meaningful tax reform
These are but two examples among many of how the tax laws present a distorted picture of what Americans value and the type of society that America aspires to be.
Much more is at stake in tax reform than retaining political power or doling out tax cuts. True tax reform takes time and should entail discussions among the electorate and with politicians regarding the role that the tax laws play in exacerbating social and economic inequality.
Instead of empty tax talk aimed at buying votes, we would be better off if those who wish to serve in Congress spent the time before – and after – Election Day talking with their constituents about the ways in which our tax system can help to create a more just society rather than a society that just rewards privilege.
Journalists Say Trump’s Caravan Claims Are ‘Evidence-Free.’ It’s Worse Than That.
Reporters know the president is telling racist lies to rile up his base. Why won’t they just say that?
By Domenica Ghanem | October 23, 2018
As the GOP’s fears of a progressive wave in November grow, Donald Trump has made it his personal mission to make everyone else afraid, too.
Over the past few week’s he’s been telling evermore fantastical tales of dangerous riffraff inching their way up to the U.S. border.
In reality, there is a caravan of Honduran migrants — fleeing violence and economic strife so bad that they’d risk our own horrific family separation policies — making its way through Mexico. Traveling in the thousands has helped protect the group from the usual dangers of border-crossing, like getting lost or robbed on the way.
Meanwhile, the media has been reporting on Trump’s response.
He’s called them “criminals.” They’re not. They’re desperate men, women, and children forced to flee their homes, many of whom have legally applied for asylum in Mexico.
He’s accused them of being paid for by the Democrats, to increase votes in the midterm elections. They’re not. They’re people fleeing death who, when asked about this by a reporter following the caravan, said they didn’t even know what “the Democrats” meant. (Not to mention that non-citizens can’t vote.)
And recently, he’s warned of “unknown Middle Easterners” in the group.
Reporters from the progressive Mother Jones to the mainstream New York Times assure us these claims are “without evidence.”
As someone who studied journalism myself, I have to say the journalists who stop there are doing the American public a disservice. “Without evidence” leaves the door open to the possibility of evidence. That is to say, these things could be true, but he hasn’t given us any proof.
But we know that isn’t the case. It’s our duty to say flat out: These aren’t just lies, they’re fantasies. They don’t deserve an iota of consideration.
Beyond being unwilling to call out obvious lies, they’re leaving out any reporting on the impact of these words from the president of the United States.
These are lies and they are serving a purpose: to stoke racism and fear among his base ahead of the elections.
Consider closely what Trump said in his latest remarks: “unknown Middle Easterners.” He didn’t say Middle Easterners who are “extremists” or even “affiliated with extremist groups.” He’s sending the message that any and all Middle Easterners are dangerous.
This isn’t an accident. He didn’t just forget to use some of his favorite words.
And by letting that phrase sit in a fact-checking article, criticized only for its “lack of evidence,” what journalists are telling Americans is: No, you don’t have to be afraid, because there are probably not Middle Easterners in this group.
It begs the question: if there were, would your fear of them be totally reasonable?
Journalists have a duty to give context, not just to report on whether a sound bite contains truth on a sliding scale. It’s unacceptable not to unpack the racist and xenophobic claims that come out of the mouths of the most powerful.
In fact, it’s journalistic malpractice.
Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.