We speak with Ralph Neas president of the People for the American Way Foundation and Barbara Arnwine executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. [includes rush transcript]
- Ralph Neas, president of the People for the American Way Foundation. He joins us on the phone from Washington, D.C. headquarters.
- Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
- Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a non-partisan, non-profit organization. He is a former Secretary of the State of Connecticut.
AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way Foundation, part of the Election Protection Coalition. Also, Barbara Arnwine is on the line with us, Executive Director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Barbara Arnwine, right now, what are you hearing?
BARBARA ARNWINE: We have massive failure [inaudible] poll places not opening up on time in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. We have complaints, in addition, from Florida and Missouri. In Ohio, it appears from our count right now, we have twenty-five reported polls that are not open; they vary from county to county, and we are following up on that as we speak. We also are getting all kinds of reports of everything from voters not, you know, being provided sample ballots. We have a number of states that are instituting weird rules because the lines are so long; so they’re telling voters they have a maximum of, you know, two to five minutes to vote. There’s all kinds of issues going on. So, there’s — and we’re — Voters are calling the hotline. They’re burning it up. We have taken since — We have taken in almost 40,000 calls since yest — since midnight on Sunday. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Arnwine, I was listening to a telephone news conference that you were a part of yesterday; and it might have been you, one of the people on the line said — were talking about a state legislator in Pennsylvania, who was talking about suppressing the vote. Who was that, and what were you talking about?
BARBARA ARNWINE: Oh I’ll let Ralph talk about that, and then we can talk about Detroit. Go ahead, Ralph.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Neas of People for the American Way Foundation, President.
RALPH NEAS: Two of the most outstanding examples, although certainly not the only ones, are the Speaker of the House of Pennsylvania (I think it’s Percot, or something along those lines [Perzel]) basically said in order for the Republicans to win, they have to suppress the vote in Philadelphia — keep the vote as low as possible. That was the same thing by John Papageorge, a Republican state legislator in Michigan, just a couple of weeks ago in a Bob Herbert column — actually saying this on the record. This can be found in U.S. News and World Report this day.
Listen, I do want to underscore Amy, what several people have said. Barbara and others on the 1-866-OUR-VOTE, for voter assistance, legal assistance. Also, I think Miles mentioned mypollingplace.com which People for the American Way Foundation and the Election Protection Coalition put together. A million-and-a-half people have come to the site. You can find out where you’re voting, what precinct, what type of machine will be in the precinct, and how to use that machine. So, people should take advantage of these resources right away, and throughout the day.
BARBARA ARNWINE: Yes. And it’s very important if voters called the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. We have literally hundreds and — We have thousands of lawyers right now throughout the country answering that hotline. People should call with problems so that we will know, so that we can help them. Today it’s interesting. Yesterday the major issue throughout the country was absentee ballots. Today it’s malfunctioning machines and polls not open, you know, long lines. People are really, really upset.
A lot of people are being discouraged, too, I’m getting reports of people quitting lines and leaving. We want to say to every voter, and I know Ralph echoes me on this: Don’t leave. Stay, vote. Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged. It’s very, very important that you vote, that you not allow these mistakes by government to take away your most fundamental and critical right, the right to vote. 1-866- OUR-VOTE.
RALPH NEAS: Amy, may I add something here?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Ralph Neas.
RALPH NEAS: You were on that phone call yesterday. You heard Barbara and I and Julian Bond talking about Freedom Summer in 1964, and how this election protection effort is really “Freedom Fall.” This is a comparable effort, even a larger effort. People should know they’ve got the 1-866-OUR-VOTE number; and there are 25,000 citizens all around the country in these 3,500 key precincts that have a history of discrimination. There are 8,000 lawyers that Barbara and I and others are trying to coordinate today. So there will be help. There’s voter education, there’s voter empowerment, and there’s voter protection. People should take advantage of the voter bill of rights, should take advantage of the 1-866-OUR-VOTE, and most importantly, Barbara is so right. This is the heart and soul of democracy. Just like we’ve done in previous decades, people have to stand up for the rights, know what’s at stake. Stay in place. Bring some food. Bring some water. Make sure that this country is a model of democracy and we get the job done today.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. I was just up at Sage Chapel at Cornell University where they have installed a new glass — stained glass window; and it is the pictures of three young men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, who died 40 years ago for the right to vote, African Americans.
BARBARA ARNWINE: Absolutely. A good example of what Ralph was talking about, and people who are living up to Chaney’s and Schwerner’s and Goodman’s legacy, are what happened this morning in Columbus. There was a poll that did not open on time. The caller called us at 6:42, very frustrated. Trying to figure out why their poll wasn’t open. It was 42 minutes later than it should have been, and, as the lawyer was talking — as the voter was talking to us on the phone, and one of our election protection lawyers showed up there on the site to help them. So, that is how this whole system is working that Ralph was describing of how we’re coordinating both the hotline and the lawyers together, and making sure that people are getting help. Plus, there’s a lot of non-lawyers who are just making sure that voters have the voter bill of rights, that they know their rights, that they know what their entitlements are. We are just — with trepidation — looking at — If the lines are this long right now, if the states are doing so bad, on provid — and opening polls, it says to us that we’re talking about a late night tonight.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens at the end of the day, like in New York, the polls closing at 9:00, if you’re in line at 9:00?
BARBARA ARNWINE: You are entitled to under federal law: If you are in line before the polls close, you are entitled to vote. They cannot — absolutely cannot — send you home. They must give you the right to vote.
AMY GOODMAN: Miles Rapoport.
MILES RAPOPORT:You know, I think it’s one of the most hopeful things about this year’s election, the work that Ralph, Barbara and the Election Protection Coalition have done, and so many others. Many of the procedural problems and intimidation that happened in 2000 were under the radar screen. This year, they have been brought to the surface, have been fought back, each one. I’m very hopeful that today we’re going to have a record turnout and that these problems are going to be fought off as they come up during the day..
AMY GOODMAN: This is from the Washington Post, an excerpt of a piece. It says: “After the leadership council and civil rights news conference, two Republican National Committee staff member, both young African Americans were sent out to issue a rebuttal. Their efforts got off to a bad start, however, when one of them made what might be called a Freudian slip by introducing the other as “Director of Voter Suppression.” The spokesman tried to recover, contending that their party poll-watchers were only going to weed out ineligible voters, not intimidate others.”
RALPH NEAS: Amy, this is a good thing to bring up. Over the last twenty years, the Republicans have had these ballot integrity programs, or anti-fraud programs. Four times they’ve had to enter a consent agreement saying they would not target or challenge voters based on race. I think everyone on the phone right now is going to say there is massive voter suppression going on. Unfortunately, it is an accumulation of evidence that Republicans, especially in Ohio, especially in Florida, especially in Pennsylvania, but not limited to those states, are doing everything possible to challenge the voters based on race; and I mean challenging provisional ballots, the casting and the counting of the provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are going to be to 2004 what hanging chads were in 2000.
BARBARA ARNWINE: No doubt about it. Ground zero is all over the country this year. It’s not just Florida. We’re — we just received a very serious complaint. There are major problems in New Orleans with malfunctioning machines affecting several, several, several precincts. These kinds of mal — these kinds of failures in governmental incompetence just cannot be tolerated again.
AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Ralph Neas, President of the People for American Way, Miles Rapoport of Demos, I want to thank you all for being with us. Phone number if people have a problem?
BARBARA ARNWINE: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
AMY GOODMAN: 1-866-OUR-VOTE, and there’s another one, 1-866 — is it MY-VOTE?
RALPH NEAS: MY-VOTE1.
AMY GOODMAN: MY-VOTE1.
MILES RAPOPORT:And mypollingplace.com.
AMY GOODMAN: And mypollingplace.com. I want to thank you all for being with us as we figure out right now, how are the predictions, how are the numbers going to be counted as the nation votes today in one of the closest presidential races in U.S. history.