On today's BradCast: There is no small amount of irony in the fact that the first people of this country, Native Americans, are now being forced in North Dakota to go through extraordinary measures to prove their residency in order to vote in America in next Tuesday's crucial midterm elections. [Audio link is posted at bottom of article.]
But, first up today, a small measure of good news from a federal court in Georgia regarding Republican Sec. of State and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp's continuing legal battle to throw out Vote-by-Mail ballots based on dubious hand-writing analysis made by partisan election officials. Kemp insists he has the right to toss out ballots without offering Constitutional due process to voters and continues to appeal the U.S. District Court judge's ruling, meant to avoid the disproportionate rejection of votes cast by African-Americans in Kemp's deadlocked race against African-American Democrat Stacey Abrams.
But while that race, which could turn the state "blue", has received a good deal of attention this year, the "toss-up" gubernatorial contest between Oregon's Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and her GOP challenger, Knute Buehler, has received far less notice. Despite an expected increase in Democratic turnout this year, the progressive Brown is facing a surprisingly close re-election contest in what is otherwise considered to be a very "blue" state, as the GOP and its corporate supporters are pouring millions into the effort to defeat Brown.
Next, we head to North Dakota, where an astonishing effort by state Republicans to disenfranchise Native Americans was recently approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The effort to prevent the state's tribal members from voting began almost immediately after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's razor-thin election by fewer than 3,000 votes back in 2012. Now that she's running for re-election against Republican Kevin Cramer, state Republicans have changed the state's Voter ID law to require physical street addresses rather than the P.O. Box addresses used by many Native American voters living on reservations. In early October, SCOTUS allowed the new requirement to stand, even though the restriction was not in place during primaries last June, giving tribal members less than a month to figure out how to assign addresses to thousands of eligible voters and help prevent chaos and confusion.
Chaos has reportedly reigned, however, even as the state's tribes have been banding together to assign street addresses and create new tribal IDs as quickly as they can, vowing to create such IDs outside polling places even on Election Day on November 6th. On Tuesday, a new lawsuit [PDF] was filed charging that election officials have been rejecting addresses on absentee ballot requests, since newly assigned addresses do not exist in some state databases, and the state's Secretary of State refuses to say whether IDs with new street addresses assigned by Native American voting rights groups will be allowed for use on Election Day.
We're joined today by longtime Native American voting rights advocate OLIVER "OJ" SEMANS, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and co-founder of the non-partisan Four Directions, which focuses on Native American voter engagement and access. He explains his group's extraordinary (and expensive) efforts being taken to help organize against the suppression of ND's shameful new law, why he believes it was enacted, and whether he feels that indigenous Americans in the state will be able to overcome it.
"The rulings by the 8th Circuit and by the [U.S.] Supreme Court was basically severe spinal damage to the backbone of democracy," he tells me. "The backbone of democracy, which is voting, can only take so many kicks in the back like that before it's broken. Native Americans, who have basically enlisted in the United States services, percentage-wise, more than any other race, and have fought for freedoms for the country, have decided that we're going to fight for our own country for awhile and stop this madness."
Semans explains how claims of "voter fraud" used to justify these restrictions by the GOP, in a very Republican state, have no evidence to support them. "More than likely there is fraud --- but it's not by the Native American Indian," he says. "How can you have one party being re-elected, ten years, sixteen years, twenty years, over and over, without some type of fraud being committed. So, yeah, there's probably fraud, but it's not in Indian Country."
He also details how this new voting restriction would never have been allowed to stand at all, had not the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2013, gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 which previously had protected tribal members and other racial minorities from this sort of disenfranchisement. Semans has testified several times in D.C. on behalf of the VRA, going back more than a decade now.
I hope you'll tune in for this, at times, heart-breaking conversation.
Finally today, some listener mail and a bit of a rant against a laughably misleading report on voting systems in St. Louis County, MO, where the most powerful radio station in the state, the 50,000 clear-channel watt blowtorch, KMOX NewsRadio 1120, has misinformed voters that the County's oft-failed and easily-hackable 100% unverifiable touchscreen voting machines and optical scanners are "tamper-proof" and never connected to the Internet. Both assertions --- made by election officials and their private vendor, ES&S, and passed on this week by KMOX (the station I group up listening to) and reporter Kevin Killeen --- are patently false and wildly misleading. As I mentioned on Twitter today, it's a terrible disservice to Show Me State voters that the once-great KMOX would credulously echo such long-ago debunked misinformation to their millions of listeners and readers. I discuss both that, and the woeful response I received from Killeen on Twitter today, to his irresponsible "reporting"...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)