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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  October 4, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EDT

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tavis: good evening. i'm tavis smiley. one debate down, 3 to go. i will look at the issue of voter suppression. ari berman has focused much of his attention on an underreported story this election season, namely efforts to prevent americans from exercising their democratic right. on the ballot for the -- the battle for the ballot and hoped the issue may be backfiring on those who support it. a conversation with ari berman from "the nation" comin gup now. >> there is a saying that dr.
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king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: ari berman is a political correspondent for "the nation" and author of the book "herding donkeys." last year he wrote a piece called "the gop war on voting." much of what he wrote has come to fruition. he joins us from new york.
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good to have you on this program. >> i am a longtime admirer. thanks for having me. tavis: honored to have you on. let me talk about this piece you wrote for "rolling stone." i don't want people to think we are demonizing or casting aspersions on the gop, but i want you to lay out the facts. is it the case that most of this push, these strict voter i.d. laws, this is being pushed almost exclusively by republicans, yes or no? >> there are issues where democrats and republicans are at fault, where they are both to blame. this is not one of these issues. this is an issue that since the 2010 elections, laws that restrict the right to vote have been passed overwhelmingly by republicans in states with republican legislatures and republican government.
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that includes efforts to crack down on voter registration drives, to make it harder for people to register by demanding proof of citizenship. that means cutting back on early voting. that requires the government- issued i.d. to cast a ballot. that prevents ex-felons from voting after they served their time. purging the voter rolls. these are all laws that have been passed by republicans and republican states. that is why the article was titled the gop war on voting. tavis: why are the republicans pushing this issue? what is the take away for them? >> if you ask republicans why they are pushing the issue, they will give you a two word response. voter fraud. if you ask me, it is because they looked at the 2008
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election and they saw a massive turnout from young voters, hispanics, and african- americans, termed coalition of the ascendant. they said, this cannot happen again. the demographics are changing that if this coalition of the ascendant turns out in the same numbers in 2012 and going forward, it will result in democrats and progressives winning election after election. they said, we need to do something to change the election rules to first -- forestall of these changes and shape an electorate that is whiter, older, wealthier and more conservative. that is what these laws do. whether it is cutting back on voter registration drives, cutting back on the early voting, requiring government- issued i.d., these are all things that uniquely impact younger voters, hispanic voters, african-americans, and elderly voters. and most of those populations
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tend to vote for democrats and for the democratic paraty and certainly for president obama. that is why these laws were passed after the 2010 election when republicans took control of state legislatures and were able to do something in response to the obama election of 2008. tavis: since you mentioned the present, the first debate between mr. obama and mr. romney is behind us. the president is on his own. just weeks ago at the democratic convention he had a nice assist from former president bill clinton. bill clinton has weighed in on this issue. again, it is one thing for you and me to talk about. when bill clinton says something, people start to pay attention. he has weighed in on this and said something i want you to unpack. he has argued that the republicans what the electorate in 2012 to look like the 2010 electorate and not like the 2008 electorate. explain what he meant by thtat. >> if you look at the 2008
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electorate, it was a the per se electric, a denver electorate. and it signaled a democrat change in the country and what the electorate will look like going forward in 2016 and beyond. that is why i called the coalition of the ascendant. if you look at 2010, it was an electorate that was older and more conservative. that is why republicans did so well in 2010 and not so well in 2008. clinton said this is not rocket science, that what republicans want to do is they want to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate and the 2008 electorate. and clinton said he had never seen in his lifetime an effort to restrict the franchise that he has seen today. clinton grew up in arkansas. he knows what this kind of politics is about. he was there. he knew people there during segregation. i think for him it is a very, very disturbing to be going back
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to such a place, to be having the kind of conversations we are having now that you would have before the civil rights act of 1964 was passed and before the voting rights act. . tavis: is this a short-term strategy or long term? is this a strategy to get rid of barack obama, the first african american president? or is this a strategy they think it can win long-term for them, the strategy of voter suppression? >> i think they are playing a short-term game. it is not just about president obama but holding power every level of the electoral process. but i think what they are betting now is that some of these demographic changes are still in their infancy and we do not know yet what kind of turn out there will be among younger and hispanic voters and african americans, not only in 2012 and the gop is betting they can manipulate the electoral process in such a way that they could reduce turn out on the margins. if you look of the voter i.d.
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laws, the literature shows that the laws can depress voter turnout by three percentage points. that is enough to swing a close election. and they are betting that at least that they can figure out how to shape an electric in their own power and in their own image. that is the way they can retain power going forward. it is a very risky proposition because what they're doing is alienating many of the demographic groups they need. the gop is not going to be able to win long-term without getting a sizable number of younger voters, of hispanics and african-american voters to vote for them. i do not think they can win in 2020 without the support but they are betting they can keep enough of those people home in 2012 to win the white house. generous as
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you can in answering this question. make the best case that you can for the republican argument that there is voter fraud run fampant in this country. if that is the argument, what is the best case that can be made for the notion of these laws going on the books to stop the voter fraud in its tracks? >> first off, i have to say before i make the republican argument, that it is a difficult argument to make because there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud plaguing american elections. the budget ministration did a major investigation from 2002- 2007 and they did not prosecute a single person for impersonating another voter, the type of fraud that the voter i.d. law would stop. you are 39 times more likely to be hit by lightning than you are to impersonate another broker at the polls. that said, the gop argument would be that there was large-
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scale voter fraud by groups like acorn in 2008, that that led to the illegitimate collection of barack obama. there are polls that showed that 52% of republicans believe acorn stole the election for barack obama. if you turn on fox news, a month before the election or a month after, all you heard was acorn, acorn. i think republicans convince themselves sincerely that acorn stole the election or they used it optimistically to push this message that voter fraud exists. and there is some evidence that message has broken through. 48% of the public in a recent poll said voter fraud is a major issue. even though there are people like me better saying voter fraud is not a big problem in u.s. elections, even though there is no major prosecutions by the bush administration or in states that have passed voter i.d. laws, just pennsylvania,
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nonetheless, republicans have repeated the mantra over and over again and convinced a lot of republicans that even a number of swing voters that it does exist. tavis: so voter fraud does ntopt appear to be real at all. this is a solution and chasing a problem. but what is wrong with requiring an i.d. when you go to vote? there are so many other aspects of american life where we are asked to and we willing to provide information. we willingly provide id when we engage in various activities. what is the best case you can make against a symbol law that ask people to show i.d. when they vote? >> i think the question is that two -- do we need an i.d. we have never needed before. is there a compelling case to court? and as ever when have that idea?
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the first question is, i do not think you need this new form of a garment-issued photo identification. the 2008 elections went smoothly enough. there was no -- nothing in 2006, 2004 that necessitated this. the second thing is that everyone has this idea 21 million americans do not have government-issued identification. that is 11% of eligible voters. 18% of young voters, 16% of hispanic voters, 25% of african- american voters. to have to make sure that everyone has access to this i.d. you look at taxes, for example, a state that passed a strict law and has been blocked by federal court for violating the voting rights act. one of the reasons that law was blocked was to get the so-called free i.d. that you need to cast a ballot, you need to have an underlying document like a . took it which costs money to obtain. it costs $22 and texas.
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that is otherwise known as a poll tax, during the jim crow era. in texas, only 81 of 254 counties in texas have a dmv. if you cannot have idea and you live and accounting without i.d., how are you supposed to get to an office in texas to be able to get an i.d.? there are a lot of problems in practicalities obtain this i.d. you have states that are rushing to implement these laws and are implementing them in 2012. you have a lot of commissions, the carter-baker commission after the 2000 election that says that need to wake two election cycles to implement this idea to make sure everything happens. the last thing i would say is of a vote is not like getting on an airplane or buying sudafed. it is a right that many people
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have died for in this country, that people have blood for in this country. anytime we restrict their right to vote, particularly on the basis of race or class, we should be very, very, very careful about doing it and only do it if there is a pressing need to do so. my feeling is there is no reason to have this kind of government- issued i.d. people do not have access to it. when you look at why it is being done, it is being done for political purposes, not to insure the integrity of the election. tavis: there is no community where this issue is being discussed then inside the african american community. you have an african-american president whom many african americans believe that the right is coming up after four speeches reasons. you have a long history in this country for what african- americans were subjected to, mr. you have written about extensively.
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should african-americans be concerned about this pushed by the right? >> i think they are very concerned about it, and ri threeghtfully so. a lot of supporters of the present regardless of race but republicans were going to come after the president. i do not think people would come after their fundamental right to vote. no one saw this coming after the 2010 election. this was the stealth agenda of the republican party. iran and the issue of the republic -- the economy. the next thing they did is they turned around and made it harder for their political opponents and top supporters of the president to be able to cast a ballot. so you have people like congressman john lewis, longtime civil rights leader, who are saying this is the civil rights battle of our time now. the same fight we had in 1965, the same marchers when john lewis was beaten in alabama, this is occurring today. it is a different discussion now than it was back then, but
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nonetheless, the urgency to defend their right to vote is there and the black community. i would argue in the hispanic community and on college campuses, like it was in some sense during the civil rights era. it took a long time to get people to pay attention to this issue. this is something when i wrote about in september, 2011, and not allow people were covering. i think people are now more aware of this issue. you've seen the court strike down a lot of these laws for violating the voting rights act or violating the first amendment or violating other parts of the constitution, right to vote provisions of state constitutions. it is a wake-up call. it is motivated people in ways that perhaps could backfire against republicans, because in some states there is going to be a mobilization against these laws. in some ways, if these laws are
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successful, it could lead to a higher turnout, not a lower turnout because people are motivated to defend their most fundamental right. tavis: the flip side of voter suppression it is republicans who argued that there has been an activist african-american attorney general named eric holder who, in defense of and in support of his boss barack obama as president, has been engaged in this issue in a way that is unnecessary, unusual, and maybe too political for a sitting u.s. attorney general. your thoughts on that? >> i think holder has acted appropriately to defend the voting? er rights act. parts of 16 states with a history of discrimination, in the south, that have to get their voting laws approved from the federal government.
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those states have gone to court and tried to argue in favor of the laws on the laws have been blocked by republican judges in instances like the texas motor i.d. -- voter i.d. case. undern't pass laws the voting rights act that makes it harder for minorities to cast ballots. that is why the department of justice has opposed these laws. that is why federal courts have blocked these laws. to argue that it is eric holder versus the republican is an oversimplification of where the legal battle is at in regard to efforts to restrict voter registration drives, to cut back early voting, to purge the voting rolls and other things republicans are doing to restrict the right to vote now. tavis: you mentioned texas. texas is one of those states that is not in play. we expect mr. romney will win that state.
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florida is a swing state. polls suggest the president is pulling away from mr. romney. it is in that too close to call category. take me inside florida and tell me what has happened on this issue. they are the ones, with their aggressive push, put this issue fote clor r t en coffor r a lotf americans on the front pages of papers about this issue. >> it is amazing we are talking about voting controversies in florida in 2012, given what went on in 2000. it is staggering to think that florida could be going back to those days. but what happened is, after republican governor richard scott was elected in 2010, he and the republican legislature worked to reword clause and they made major changes. one was to put severe burdens on voter registration drives and
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prevent groups like the league of women voters from registering voters. that was enacted in 2011 and was blocked by the courts in may, 2012. for about a year, voter registration drives were shut down in florida. he cut back early voting from 14 days to 8 days, including the sunday before the election when african-american churches mobilize their constituents. early voting emerged as a bipartisan reform and florida after the 2000 election to make it easier for people to vote. it was something that jeb bush was in favor of. it was something that charlie crist was in favor of. republicans became more-when they saw the obama campaign use it more successfully. the majority of african- americans were a majority of early voters in the state in 2008. it was important in the black community. cut back on early voting. another thing that rick scott did is he prevented ex-felons
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after their release from voting. they have to wait seven years and petitioned the governor to get their voting rights back. that instantaneously prevented 200,000 people who would otherwise have their voting rights from being able to cast a ballot in this election. some of those people were mailed voter registration cards under governor charlie crist and arnelle told they cannot vote. it is a very confusing situation there. that is another change were ex- felons in florida are more likely to be african-american, then they are to be white. it is another discriminatory voting change. the last thing florida did is they attempted to purge the voter rolls, the so-called non- citizen voters. if you looked at that list, 80% of the people on the list were people of color. it was later showed it to be a very, very an accurate list of
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2600 people. only one so-called non citizen actually voted. but this harkens back to a very dark episode in florida's election pass because people remember in 2000 hanging chads. what they do not remember is that 12,000 voters worm wrongly labeled as felons and purged from the voting rolls. george darby bush only one the state by 537 votes. this idea that 12,000 people were prevented from voting in 2000 because of the voter purge and florida would try to do something similar in 2012 shocked a lot of people. all those different ways of cutting back on the early voting, preventing voter registration drives disenfranchising ex-felons have gone on since 2010 . tavis: let me take political
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ideology out of this, set mr. obam and mr. romney aside, the reason we vote on tuesdays is because many years ago it was decided that tuesday was the best day for farmers to get to the polls. we have been voting for that very reason on tuesday. why is it that in 2012, ideology aside, that we are having a conversation about shrinking the rights of americans to vote, condensing this process rather than expanding the process? a weekendwe vote on as opposed to tuesday? there are some different ways to do this. other countries are around the world do it in different ways. why are we stuck on this only on tuesday sort of approach to voting? >> i think a lot of states have adopted the type of early voting reforms you mentioned. 31 states have some version of arly
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early voting was cut back because the obama campaign used so successfully to mobilize their voters. it is easier to get someone to the polls that you have three weeks to convince them to vote and not just one day. republicans will argue that early voting was expensive. and i think you can make a case for that, but a lot of those same states that have cut back on early voting have passed voter i.d. laws which cost millions of dollars. i do not think this is about the money. i think this is a political thing that republicans have done. democrats are more sporadic voters in many cases than republicans. republicans have a more traditional electorate because it is an older, whiteer, richer more conservative electorate. democrats need to contact their voters many times to get the to the polls. having three weeks of the early voting in a state like ohio
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makes it a lot easier for the obama campaign to get a college student out to the polls than if they have one day to try to get them on election day. early voting was critically important to the obama campaign in 2008. it will be important to them in 2012. that is the reason republicans have cut back early voting hours in states like florida. tavis: the first debate is over. three more to go. the real issue will be the turnout on election day. hence the importance of this issue of voter suppression it with the author of "herding donkeys" and writer for "the nation" magazine, ari berman. good to have you this program. keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: joining next time when and mccarthy on is a claim to books "the longest way home." that is next time. >> there's a saying that dr.
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king has, that it is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we are half way to completely eliminate hundred the walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s.. as we work together, we can stamp hundred out. ger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. thank you. >> be more.
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