Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Quick Note

Last night I was talking with a bartender about the bad economic times. How clients weren't paying their bills. How projects were being cancelled, curtailed, work was short and no new work was coming.

The bartender knows all.

Later, I went on a rant that this is going to be like the early 1990s. We're going to have to fight for everything we've got and people are going to act like animals keeping what they do have.

Happily, this morning, I received some good news, and I'm also very excited about three projects I am currently working on. I still need more work that's paid, but I'm going to use this blog to keep you up to date, and also just let myself breathe.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Voters Unable to Register?

Matt Kohn
ew voter registration laws leave thousands off the rolls
Updated 10/10/2006 11:04 PM ET
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Some of this year's elections could be decided by those who can't vote.
Across the country, new laws restricting who can register and vote have reduced the number of people who are eligible. Some of those laws have been blocked in court. Even so, critics say, the damage has been done:

*In Arizona, about 21,000 voter registration applications were rejected because of inadequate proof of citizenship, required under a 2004 law. Most who were affected lacked up-to-date driver's licenses, birth certificates or passports.

A federal appellate court blocked enforcement of the law - which also requires voters to show ID at the polls - last week, four days before the registration deadline. "We're looking at an enormous disparate impact on people of color," says Linda Brown, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.

*In Florida, a law setting up new requirements for independent groups that register voters prompted the League of Women Voters to suspend registration drives for five months until a court intervened. In that period, the league could have registered thousands of people, The registration deadline is Tuesday. "You've just got to assume it's going to have an impact," says Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, the league's state president.

*In Ohio, a law that made paid workers liable for the validity of the registrations they collect caused several groups to stop signing up voters for two months this summer. By the time courts intervened, the opportunity had been lost for thousands of registrations.

The group ACORN, which advocates for low-income families, wanted to sign up 138,000 Ohioans this year; now it will settle for 100,000. "Those were really the critical months," head organizer Katy Gall says. "In past years, we've met or exceeded our goals."

Advocates of registration and photo identification laws say they are needed to prevent fraud. They say the rules apply to all potential voters, regardless of race, ethnicity, income or ideology. "This is a matter of voter confidence, whether or not the fraud is real or perceived," says Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, whose state has one of the nation's strictest ID requirements.

Laws tightening the rules on registrations also have been passed in Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington. Laws imposing photo ID requirements at the polls were passed in Georgia and Missouri, but courts have intervened.

Paul DeGregorio, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, says the laws should not discourage citizens from voting. Far worse, he says, would be for states to ignore problems that cause Americans to distrust the process.

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law disagrees. "All of them will have an impact in suppressing votes," she says. "Even when courts have overturned them, they have ongoing impact."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

New Video from Call it Democracy

Free free to pass this video on - Go to youtube.com and copy the "embed" into your own blog...
You can read the background news the Washington Post below.
The story behind the story is here...

Why this Video is on the Net ----------------------------------------------------------

When I interviewed Rep. King in May 2003, he seemed very concerned about voting rights, and running elections smoothly. He was in favor of paper ballots, which is generally a good idea. It was obvious that his bill was a "Republican version" of Rush Holt's (D-NJ). King's bill left it up to states to police their elections administrators and veryify the efficacy of voting machines.

But he didn't seem like a bad guy.

Last week, renewal of the Voting Rights Act was brought to a halt because King wrote a letter, which seeks to eliminate mulitlingual balloting from the guarantees the Act provides. 79 Republicans signed the letter, mostly from the South.

Following is an excerpt of the letter, published proudly on King's own site:

"Multilingual ballots divide our country, increase the risk of voter error and fraud, and burden local taxpayers. The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the "Melting Pot" ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth. This increasingly burdensome mandate on state and local governments to provide multilingual voting materials also serves to undermine the election process. It contradicts the requirement that immigrants need to demonstrate the ability to read and understand English in order to become naturalized citizens. The existence of multilingual ballots increases the risk of election errors and fraud. Furthermore, not only are multilingual ballots an unfunded mandate, but they are a waste of taxpayer funds because they are mandated by the VRA without regard to whether they are actually used."

It's despicable that King, who claims to be a moderate concerned about counting every vote and making sure that every American who has the right to vote can get that vote counted, would author this letter, and lead this new movement which so obviously disenfranchise voters.

I've made this video in order to let people know a little bit about how this group can seem to speak about the Voting Rights we cherish, yet work against us behind the scenes. There are plenty of Republicans against this particular charade, including President Bush and House Leadership. We have to contact all our congresspeople, and the President, and let them know all Americans support multilingual ballots.

GOP Rebellion Stops Voting Rights Act

GOP Rebellion Stops Voting Rights Act
Complaints Include Bilingual Ballots and Scope of Justice Dept. Role in South
By Charles Babington
Washington Post - Thursday, June 22, 2006

House leaders abruptly canceled a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act yesterday after rank-and-file Republicans revolted over provisions that require bilingual ballots in many places and continued federal oversight of voting practices in Southern states.

The intensity of the complaints, raised in a closed meeting of GOP lawmakers, surprised Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and his lieutenants, who thought the path was clear to renew the act's key provisions for 25 years. The act is widely considered a civil rights landmark that helped thousands of African Americans gain access to the ballot box. Its renewal seemed assured when House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders embraced it in a May 2 kickoff on the Capitol steps.

But many Southerners feel the law has achieved its purpose and become more nuisance than necessity in several respects. They have aired those arguments for years, but yesterday they got a boost from Republicans scattered throughout the nation who are increasingly raising a different concern: They insist that immigrants learn and use English.

Hastert's office said the Republican leadership "is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible." Several House members, acknowledging that the GOP leadership had been caught flat-footed by the intraparty ruckus, said it was unclear whether the issue will be revisited before the week-long Independence Day recess.

The postponed vote is the latest example of divisions within the GOP that have complicated House and Senate leaders' efforts to move legislation backed by President Bush. Social Security revisions died in 2005, and a proposed overhaul of immigration laws is in peril despite the backing of Bush, who also supports extension of the Voting Rights Act.

The immigration debate, which has preoccupied Congress for much of the year, included complaints that too many immigrants fail to learn English; the Senate version of the legislation declared English the "national language." House GOP leaders said the issues are unrelated, because only those immigrants who have become U.S. citizens are allowed to vote, while the immigration debate focuses on illegal immigrants.

But nearly 80 House Republicans signed a letter by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) objecting to the Voting Rights Act's provisions that require state and local governments to print ballots in foreign languages -- or provide interpreters -- in precincts showing a need for such services. The requirement is a costly unfunded mandate for many counties and municipalities, the letter said, adding: "The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the 'Melting Pot' ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth."

The Voting Rights Act requires Justice Department preapproval of changes in voting practices in states that used techniques such as poll taxes or literacy tests to discourage blacks from voting in the 1960s. Some Republicans in Georgia, Texas and other states say such efforts to disenfranchise minorities disappeared long ago, and that continued coverage by the act is an unfair stigma.

Georgia has nine statewide elected black officials and other proof of ample minority participation in electoral politics, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said in an interview. "If you move a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist church, you've got to go through the Justice Department," he said.

But Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said a bipartisan commission found evidence of recent voting rights violations in Georgia, Texas and several other states. "These are not states that can say their hands are clean," she said.

The House Rules Committee had agreed to let Georgia lawmakers offer two amendments that would make it easier for states to become exempt from the Voting Rights Act. House leaders had expressed confidence that the amendments would fail. But the committee rejected King's request for an amendment to end the multilingual requirements.

That was "a gigantic mistake," said Rep. Charles Whitlow Norwood Jr. (R-Ga.), a leading critic of the act's renewal. "What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots," he said. "The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation."

GOP aides said the Norwood-King contingent was angry that House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) -- whose panel held hearings on the proposed renewal -- left yesterday's closed meeting without taking their questions.

House Democrats blamed GOP leaders for the bill's troubles. "Clearly, there are some on the Republican side who object to this legislation, and they forced the leadership's hand today," said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). "House Democrats stand in virtual unanimous support for this important bill."

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said in a statement, "We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Staff Opinions Banned in Voting Rights Cases

Staff Opinions Banned In Voting Rights Cases
Criticism of Justice Dept.'s Rights Division Grows

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 10, 2005; Page A03

The Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act cases, marking a significant change in the procedures meant to insulate such decisions from politics, congressional aides and current and former employees familiar with the issue said.

Disclosure of the change comes amid growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas and Georgia that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.

Sen. Arlen Specter might schedule hearings.
Sen. Arlen Specter might schedule hearings. (Mark Wilson - Getty Images)
Politics Trivia
What do Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and Rep. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) have in common?

They are both graduates of Yale Law School.
They both represent their state's 13th Congressional District.
They both previously served as mayors.
They both previously worked for IBM.

The policy was implemented in the Georgia case, said a Justice employee who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of retaliation. A staff memo urged rejecting the state's plan to require photo identification at the polls because it would harm black voters.

But under the new policy, the recommendation was stripped out of that document and was not forwarded to higher officials in the Civil Rights Division, several sources familiar with the incident said.

The policy helps explain why the Justice Department has portrayed an Aug. 25 staff memo obtained by The Washington Post as an "early draft," even though it was dated one day before the department gave "preclearance," or approval, to the Georgia plan. The state's plan has since been halted on constitutional grounds by a federal judge who likened it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax.

The policy shift's outlines were first reported by the Dallas Morning News. Sources familiar with the change said it was implemented by John K. Tanner, the voting section chief, who is a career employee.

In response to a request to comment yesterday, Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland wrote in an e-mail: "The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions." He declined to elaborate.

Tensions within the voting section have been rising dramatically, culminating in an emotionally charged meeting last week in which Tanner criticized the quality of work done by staff members analyzing voting rights cases, numerous sources inside and outside the section said. Many employees were so angered that they boycotted the staff holiday party later in the week, the sources said.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Georgia, Texas and other states with a history of discriminatory election practices are required to receive approval from the Justice Department or a federal court for any changes to their voting systems. Section 5 prohibits changes that would be "retrogressive," or bring harm to, minority voters.

For decades, staff attorneys have made recommendations in Section 5 cases that have carried great weight within the department and that have been passed along to senior officials who make a final determination, former and current employees say.

Preventing staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political, experts said.

"It's an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who's there at their whim," said Jon Greenbaum, who worked in the voting section from 1997 to 2003, and who is now director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases."

Many congressional Democrats have sharply criticized the Civil Rights Division's performance, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said this week that he is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a statement yesterday: "America deserves better than a Civil Rights Division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves."

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other Justice officials have disputed such criticism, saying that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. In a letter to Specter this week, Assistant Attorney General William E. Moschella criticized The Post's coverage and said the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws.

"From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America's schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor," Moschella wrote.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

New School Presentation

How many of you have ever attended voter education sessions?

Read voter education material sent to you by your local precinct?

Decided not to vote because you didn’t read the information?

Decided not to vote because you DID read the information?

How many of you decided to vote because of political information?

How many of you decided to vote because of candidate-produced information?

How many of you have had trouble voting?

Who has ever ‘voted strategically?”

Who here is cynical about voting?

Who here is optimistic about voting?

Who here vascilates?

Tell my biographical story about why I made the film after the Presidential election in 2000.

Call it Democracy focuses on problems discovered in the 2000 election, the attempt to fix them, and the results of the 2004 election, all under the penumbra of the history of the Electoral College and Presidential elections. Breaking ground, CiD provides significant insights on mishaps of the Electoral College, including attempts to abolish or improve it and why they failed.

• CiD contains former Senator Birch Bayh’s first detailed interview about his attempt to abolish the Electoral College. He is also the framer of the 25th and 26th Amendments to the US Constitution, the first American to frame 2 Amendments since the Founding Fathers.
•CiD contains the first history of HAVA, the first major electoral reform measure passed in a generation. Indeed, the four major authors of HAVA have still never done detailed interviews and HAVA’s birth is shrouded in secrecy.
•The Bush v. Gore decision was the focus of three days of media attention before the America “moved on.” For the first time in a non-academic setting, CiD gives Bush v. Gore perspective; showing how it could be justified by some and worthy of condemnation by others.
•Few Americans are aware they do not have the right to vote for President of the United States

This content appeals to voters and non-voters, to people who are invested and aware of the permutations of the system, and those who are not. As I described in my interview for Buzzflash, “I wouldn't say that the system discourages people. I think that people understand the system and know of their ability to change it. Whether that happens or not is something else entirely.” Isn’t it apparent in the fact that battleground states have voter turnout rates significantly higher than those whose outcome is certain, regular, or outside the margin of error?

Stimulating Americans for Electoral Reform

Problem: few Americans understand the need for electoral reform of any kind. Even fewer understand the ways in which the current system perpetuates itself so that it seems impossible to change.

There is no shortage of electoral reform organizations. Their major issues include paper trails for electronic votes, the constitutional right to vote in Presidential Elections, the rights to vote for former felons, Election Day registration, instant run off voting and proportional representation. Some hope to abolish or end run the Electoral College. A consensus is developing to deny campaign workers the right to be senior election administrators. Yet others hope to insure that only legitimate voters receive ballots through increased Voter ID requirements.

Recent successes, as result of the Help America Vote Act, are widespread early voting, the beginnings of statewide voter databases, and the prospect of increased access for the handicapped. Awareness of “the ballot design issue” is a change for the better.

However, most Americans have no idea these changes are occurring. Even less have been aware of what changes could occur if they fought for them.

Election reform is daunting because it is largely questions of ideals versus practicality, of numbers in infinite combinations, of margins of error. Honest but imperfect solutions will always make the system better. But improving the system based on technological solution is very hard to translate into massive awareness of a civil and human rights problem. It almost seems like the oil in the machine of the Republic is a professional specialty akin to computer programming. So support is difficult to come by.

Different activist groups perform different functions.

Demos-usa.org is an excellent source of position papers on a whole variety of progressive topics. Specifically in the arena of voting, they specialize in Felon Re-enfranchisement, Election Day Registration, Voter Registration issues including better implementation of National Voter Rights Act, also known as the Motor Voter bill.

The Center for Voting and Democracy, available at Fairvote.org is a group that you can go to learn about alternative forms of voting such as instant runoff voting and proportional representation. One of the main brains over there is Steven Hill, who has written an excellent book about what’s wrong with elections and the book is called, FIXING ELECTIONS. You can take that both ways.

Electionline.org is an information clearinghouse, basically non-partisan, that provides a newsletter about reforms in general and in each state. It dwells in the realm of the wonky, but that’s where you want to go if you think you can make a difference in the state in which you vote.

Verified Voting.org, started by a Stanford Professor, galvanizes people who are spefically interested in learning more about electronic voting and stopping it.

Common Cause is mounting the largest extant effort to change legislation about Electronic Voting, featuring a push for New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt’s bill which would require a paper trial for every electronic voting machine. I attended their lobby effort in the middle of the summer and it was a great experience. If we have some time, I have some prepared remarks about that.

There are other organizations, both at my website, CALL IT DEMOCRACY.com and others.

Now I’m just going to sum up with a few big picture questions, because I think, even with the sudden awareness that we need federal authority to actually help people sometimes, its going to be a long time before the media and our politicians wake up to the need to have election reform that is actually non-partisan, that treats the process and something separate from the politics.

Is it possible to have a silver bullet pamphlet, book, event or film? Is it possible to have a a unifying means to educate each voter and simultaneously inspire them to take actions?

The answer is yes.

But I think ultimately, the only way to see real change will be a national effort, a combination of all these different organizations. The American Bar Association and the Federalist Society, the Knights of Columbus and the League of Women Voters. We will have to be present at every national meeting of the association of secretaries of state and every national meeting of governors.

The margin of error and the methods of counting votes might not always be perfect, but we must insure a means under perfect situations.

This will be a platform for “solution media, the legislation and a defined process which takes elections, in an effect way, out of the hands of politicians and judges.

We need solutions where Ds, Rs, and Is sit side by side, increase the democracy, can answer to the realities of the legislation in a way that every voter understands.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Solution for Electronic Voting

At various Q & A's after CiD screenings, people have asked me what I thought the solution to electronic voting is. This New York Times editorial articulates what I believe. Please take the time to read it, pass it on and educate. THANKS.



Virtues of Optical-Scan Voting

New York is on the verge of selecting its next generation of voting machines. The Legislature appears poised to do one important thing right: to require that touch-screen voting machines produce voter-verifiable paper records. But it is in danger of doing another important thing wrong: giving short shrift to optical-scan voting, the most reliable and cost-effective of the current technologies. As it finalizes voting machine legislation, Albany should ignore lobbyists for high-priced voting machines and come out strongly for optical-scan machines.

The big voting machine companies, which are well connected politically, are aggressively pushing touch-screen voting. These A.T.M.-style machines make a lot of sense for the manufacturers because they are expensive and need to be replaced frequently. But touch-screen machines are highly vulnerable to being hacked or maliciously programmed to change votes. And they cost far more than voting machines should. If touch-screen machines are going to be used - and they have spread rapidly in recent years - it is vital that they produce voter-verifiable paper records of every vote to ensure that their results are accurate.

The better course would be not to use them at all. The best voting technology now available uses optical scanning. These machines work like a standardized test. Voters mark their choices on a paper form, which is then counted by a computer. The paper ballots are kept, becoming the official record of the election. They can be recounted, and if there is a discrepancy between them and the machine count, the paper ballots are the final word.

Optical-scan machines produce a better paper record than touch-screen machines because it is one the voter has actually filled out, not a receipt that the voter must check for accuracy. Optical-scan machines are also far cheaper than touch-screens. Their relatively low cost will be welcomed by taxpayers, of course, but it also has a direct impact on elections. Because touch-screen machines are so expensive, localities are likely to buy too few, leading to long lines at the polls.

The draft bills that the Legislature is working on do not rule out optical-scan voting, but they are far more focused on touch-screen voting. That may be because voting machine manufacturers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying legislators, or it may simply be that optical-scan equipment has had a lower profile. Whatever the reason, the Legislature owes it to the voters - and the taxpayers - to promote optical-scan voting.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Moving the Desk

Matt Kohn

I might not need a desk. Everyone needs a desk, but most of my time is spent, here, with the computer. Wherever it is. But this mac is so small and I don’t have enough space to organize the things I don’t use. Maybe the best thing to do is to get rid of the desk. Maybe I actually don’t even need it. Getting rid of it will create space I need.

This is a problem having to do with creativity and where it resides. The concept of not having or maybe not even needing a desk touches on the very personal since it is where I would, in theory, be doing all of my thinking.

For example, If I changed where I work based on the computer – including cafés and parks, at producer’s offices and production meetings, I will not feel tied down, This is pride in movement.

At the same time, the desk feels like a responsibility that is not being taken care of. It is buried under “things I don’t need.” So I’m not even using the desk. But by moving “away from paper” and giving up the desk, I will have also given up the false hope that the clutter on the desk will get done. Someday.

That means I wouldn’t bury bills on my desk, I would have to file them away. Or Scan them. I never throw anything on the floor, so I would be forced to enter the new “hall of records” and be serious about this work of keeping up.

OK. I’m broke, or close to it. This creates a need, a desire to just “throw the bills on the desk. “ And then sprinkle some cultural items like film magazines or invitations, flyers, maybe an article ripped out of an actual newspaper, and receipts, and business cards. All mixed up, sort of piled up and left when this process of re-organizing the office started and stopped during two days of Christmas Vacation. That’s the first time I ever felt like I was on a break from work.

It’s now two months later. I had a really nice set up for the office while I was working on the movie this year. But now that it’s done, I want to re-prioritize the office because I want to re-prioritize my life. I want to be open to everything: job offers and my own creative life. I think. Either way, producing the movie and promoting the movie seem to me that I have to be in a different frame of mind.

Anyway, many different things are contributing to this kind of decision.