Who's really behind the failed November ballot scheme?
By Brad Friedman on 6/24/2014, 7:35am PT  

Here's a bit of good news for California voters for a change: an effort to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot that would have implemented polling place Photo ID restrictions on voting in the Golden State has failed to gather enough signatures to qualify.

Similar voting restrictions enacted by Republicans around the country have recently been found to be in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. See this recent federal court ruling in Wisconsin, for instance, or this state ruling in Pennsylvania.

Despite those recent blows and others to GOP efforts to implement such policies, the aborted effort in California, headed up by a shadowy organization calling itself GuardMyVote.org, would deny the right to vote to otherwise legal voters who failed to present very specific types of Photo ID at the polls, or a photocopy of same for absentee voters. The legislative language of the detailed 7-page initiative [PDF] would have required voters to present a Photo ID with an expiration date that, among other requirements, "was issued by the United States or the State of California (excluding public colleges and universities)."

Why state-issued Photo ID from public colleges and universities would not have been acceptable is not stated in the proposed measure, but similar GOP-enacted Photo ID restrictions in other states have been found by courts and academic studies alike to disproportionately discriminate against those who tend to vote Democratic, including minorities, the elderly, the poor and student voters.

Had the initiative made it onto the ballot and then been adopted by California voters, it would have taken effect on January 1, 2016, just in time for that year's Presidential election cycle. The failed effort may also prove to be a dodged bullet for Pete Peterson, the state's 2014 Republican nominee for Secretary of State who would have also been on the same ballot. Peterson managed to dodge some of The BRAD BLOG's specific questions about his position on such initiatives in "blue" California.

In a short search, the only names The BRAD BLOG has been able to find involved in the failed CA Photo ID measure appear to be two Rightwingers, though it's unlikely that either crafted the detailed legislative language of the proposal. The woman who submitted the initiative to the state identifies herself as a "conservative" talk radio host who broadcasts out of Palm Springs, even though, as the summary of the initiative [PDF] created by the state Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance found, the fiscal impact of the initiative was anything but conservative. The initiative, if adopted, would have included increased costs to state and local governments "potentially in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year" and required a potential increase in state funding of elections to the tune of "about $100 million," according to the legislative analysis.

The slick GuardMyVote.org webpage describes the group as a "pending" non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)4 social welfare organization. According to the site's "About Us" page: "Guard My Vote is a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to protecting the integrity of the vote and the voter rights of all eligible California citizens, native born or naturalized."

The site accepts contributions but offers no information on exactly who they are, or who has funded either the initiative or the website. For all of their claims about "integrity," the site fails to list a single name or organization backing the initiative, so we had to do a bit of digging...

"We are Californians, some native and some transplanted, all with more time in this state than any other," the page opaquely claims. "You will recognize us by these occupations; a teacher, financial investment advisor, radio talk show host, photographer, office manager, biologist, professional tennis official, legal secretary, entrepreneur, sales representative, airline agent, and small business owner."

Well, no. So far we don't "recognize" them at all.

The only name directly associated with the effort is Elise Richmond, a rightwing talk radio host whose website promotes her involvement in the local "Pearls and Pistols Gun Class" for women and offers links to sites such as Glenn Beck's "exposing" the nefarious "Agenda 21" (a decades old United Nations initiative detailing guidelines for sustainable development which Rightwingers have conned themselves into believing is a massive, evil conspiracy scheme to imprison the globe with a one world government...or something).

Richmond describes her "Conservatively Speaking" radio program this way: "From tax revolts to voter awareness, guest interviews to poignant commentary, The Elise Richmond Show is a rallying point for Republicans in the desert Palm Springs, CA area."

Richmond is tied to the effort because she signed the letter to the CA Attorney General's office submitting the proposed statewide ballot measure late last year, seeking clearance to begin the petition signature gathering process.

She did not immediately respond to our emailed queries seeking comment on the failed initiative and who its backers are.

In his coverage of the CA initiative in January, just after Richmond was cleared to begin the signature gathering process, MSNBC's Zachary Roth cited one of her lengthy, bizarre, ALL CAPS rants posted on her K-NEWS 94.3 radio station's website in 2013, describing Barack and Michelle Obama as "THE SUN KING AND THE GHETTO FASHION QUEEN." So there's that.

But while Richmond's name is not actually found anywhere on the rather professional-looking GuardMyVote.org website, the footer of the site states that it was designed by an outfit known as Amy Ellison Creative (AEC). The glossy, modern look and feel of the site is in stark contrast to Richmond's own rather crudely constructed personal website for her radio show. As with the language of the initiative, the website supporting it doesn't seem to be the work of Richmond either.

In addition to GuardMyVote.org, the AEC design firm lists, among its clients, such Right-leaning and "Tea Party" groups as the California Tax Limitation Committee, a Dallas-based PR firm calling itself Oh, Sweet Liberty! Public Relations (representing all manner of Rightwing media outlets), and an organization calling itself Wolves in Government Clothing.

The AEC website also boasts that it was able to get GuardMyVote's website "up and running within 7-days" [sic] and says that the firm has worked on "political campaign marketing" for a number of far-Right California Republican candidates and "Tea Party" groups, such as TeaPAC.net and the failed 2012 candidate for the California State Assembly, Donna Lowe, whose Facebook page calls for followers to "Boycott Public Education".

The GOP push for discriminatory Photo ID restrictions has been well-organized and well-funded over the past decade, despite the virtually non-existent incidents of voter fraud that could actually be deterred by such measures. The database created by the non-partisan News21 news consortium, listing all known cases of fraud in all 50 states from 2000 to mid-2012, identifies just one case of polling place voter impersonation fraud in California out of tens of millions of votes cast during the same period in the state with nearly 18 million registered voters [PDF] as of May 2014. Similarly, the news consortium finds just one case of absentee fraud in CA, a woman who voted twice in a local school board election.

At the same time, U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman recently found that some 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin lacked the type of ID needed to vote under a similar GOP-enacted statute in the Badger State, where there are only 3.3 million registered voters.

Before striking the law down, Adelman ruled that the law there "disproportionately impacts Black and Latino voters," finding that African-American voters in the state were "1.7 times as likely as white voters to lack a matching driver's license or state ID and that Latino voters in Wisconsin were 2.6 times as likely as white voters to lack these forms of identification." Given the proportion of Latino voters in California, that rate is likely to be much higher here.

This attempt to add California to the list of states with new, discriminatory restrictions on voting may have failed for now, and that is --- counter-intuitively --- probably good news for Republican Sec. of State nominee Pete Peterson, who recently refused to respond to specific questions about his position on Photo ID from The BRAD BLOG.

After favorably citing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)'s statement that such restrictions are a problem because they are "offending people," Peterson declined to clarify if he believed Photo ID laws are wrong because they take rights away from legal voters, or only because they are offensive. Even after Paul seemed to have flip-flopped his position the following day by telling Fox "News" that "there's nothing wrong with" such laws, Peterson failed to answer our specific queries, citing only his endorsement by the Los Angeles Times, which reported that Peterson "does not support voter ID laws."

Later, in a statement sent to The BRAD BLOG, Peterson said "I simply agreed with Rand Paul's assessment that we shouldn't focus on" those types of laws.

His hedge on our questions was probably wise. There's really no good answer to them for a Republican running for statewide office in Democratic-leaning California these days. Had he come out hard against Photo ID restrictions because they keep legitimate voters from voting (as seen recently in states like Mississippi where such measures are now in place), he would have caught hell from his own party and those who create and fund shadowy voter suppression "organizations" like GuardMyVote.org. Had he come out in favor of the initiative, he likely wouldn't have stood a chance in a statewide election here. We suspect Peterson is breathing a sigh of relief today that the mysteriously proposed and funded Photo ID initiative will not be on this November's ballot along with him, since he likely would have been forced to declare a position either for or against the proposition --- and either position might have spelled disaster for him.

In the meantime, those who believe in the free right to vote for all eligible voters can also breathe a bit easier this week in California.

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