Single Women and the Vote; Protecting Voting Rights

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As Election Day nears, Republicans and Democrats are in a heated battle for a group of voters that could swing the election — single women. In 2000, 22 million single women didn’t show up at the polls, making them a prized target for both parties in this incredibly tight Presidential race. But when President Bush and Senator Kerry court women on daytime television, are they offering real solutions? NOW reports on what issues are important to single women and what will get them to the polls. Michele Mitchell looks at the single-women vote through the eyes of a Nevada mom struggling to make ends meet.

Both Republicans and Democrats have accused each other of using dirty tricks and widespread fraud to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters nationwide. This week, Democrats in Nevada charged that a company paid by the Republican National Committee destroyed voter-registration forms they had collected from Democratic voters. NOW gets insight from civil rights litigator Judith Browne about concerns that voter suppression strategies have targeted groups to keep them away from the polls. Browne is widely respected for her legal work on fair housing issues and in the public advocacy arena. She currently serves as a senior attorney at The Advancement Project, which creates new strategies for achieving universal opportunities and a racially just democracy.

The debates are over, but the verdict is still out. With some polls showing an almost evenly divided electorate heading into the last days of the campaign, Bill Moyers gets in-depth perspective on the politics behind this week’s news from returning NOW analyst and author Kevin Phillips. You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW With Bill Moyers website.


MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.

It’s down to the home stretch — two weeks and counting. The debates are over. Or were those press conferences cleverly arranged by the two candidates to make sure spontaneity never intruded on memorized sound bites? As viewers you will decide that question. And as voters you’ll also decide who won and lost and who wins and loses two weeks from next Tuesday.

BRANCACCIO: Hardly had the debate ended Wednesday night before President Bush and Senator Kerry were on the road again. Both were headed for the same place, the state of Nevada, chasing its 5 electoral votes. The race in Nevada is a statistical dead heat. The outcome there could well be decided by how effective both men are in reaching out to women. Correspondent Michele Mitchell and producer Brenda Breslauer got there before the candidates and prepared this report.

MITCHELL: These days, as President Bush and Senator Kerry head to stump in the battleground states, they often take a detour— through daytime television.

There’s a huge audience of women they’re trying to tap into. In the last presidential election, 40 million women didn’t vote.

WINFREY: 40 million women didn’t vote. Isn’t that pathetic?

MITCHELL: Oprah devoted an entire show to registering women.

WINFREY: If every woman who didn’t vote in the last election voted, you would decide the election. Single women are the worst…

MITCHELL: Single women are the worst at turning out. 22 million of them didn’t vote last time. That’s the largest demographic not participating in our democracy. And if you don’t think every vote counts, just imagine: if 538 more women had voted in Florida, the outcome of the 2000 election might have been different.

So unmarried women — old and young, rich and poor, with and without children — have become the hot electoral demographic.

In no small part that’s because research in this groundbreaking study shows that single women can be convinced to vote. They just need to be sold on the idea.

Registration forms can be found in makeup stores, nail salons offer up patriotic manicures and nail files with snappy slogans; there’s pro-active jewelry and shirts; mother to mother letter writing campaigns; and woman to woman public service announcements.

ANISTON: November 2nd, every single one of us can make a difference.

MITCHELL: But it’s old-fashioned pounding the pavement that is getting people to register. Last month, 190 cities across the country held a Women’s Day of Action. We came to Reno, Nevada to have a look.

Nevada is a battleground state this year. It is a traditionally Republican state, but one with a fierce streak of independence. In fact, it went for Bill Clinton twice. Voters gave the state to George W. Bush in 2000, but only by a slim margin. This year, President Bush and John Kerry are scraping for votes wherever they can.

And grassroots activists are trying to help. On a chilly Saturday morning in September, 350 volunteers turned out to register new voters, irrespective of party.

Volunteers were trained in the latest canvassing tool, a palm pilot full of personal information.

Susan Wallis drove more than four hours from northern California and spent the night on the floor of the local YMCA to help register voters in Reno.

MITCHELL: What was it like when you got your first vote? Your voter registration?

SUSAN: Awesome. I ran up to Sharon and I was like, “Yeah I got one!”

SUSAN: Hi. Are you Janice?

GROVER: Yes I am.

SUSAN: Hi Janice my name is Susan and I’m with America Votes and we’re out here because we show that you’re not registered so we wanted to get you registered to vote in the coming election and kind of find out what issues are important to you in this election.

GROVER: Well you’re right I haven’t registered since I moved here, so—

SUSAN: Oh awesome. Well can I take care of that for you?


SUSAN: Okay. Have you given any thought to which candidates you think you might vote for in the coming election?

GROVER: Uh-huh.

SUSAN: And who is that?

GROVER: You know I’m really between two but I’m leaning more towards Bush.

MITCHELL: Janice Grover teaches at Reno Community College. She is divorced and has three children, ages 24, 20, and 15.

MITCHELL: All right, so the first thing I want to ask you is you just— you’re a college professor. And you’ve just now registered to vote.

GROVER: Yes, it’s embarrassing.

MITCHELL: Why did you wait until now?

GROVER: Well, when I moved and changed addresses, I just didn’t reregister. And I just didn’t get around to it to be quite honest.

MITCHELL: How long has it been since you—

GROVER: I’ve lived here for four years.

MITCHELL: So, you’re raising three kids. House payment?

GROVER: Uh-huh. The whole nine yards.

MITCHELL: And saving for retirement?

GROVER: Uh-huh.

MITCHELL: How does a politician sway you?

GROVER: They don’t. I, if I can get a feel for their honesty and that they’re actually going to do what they say they’re going to do and how do you measure that?

MITCHELL: Janice Grover is concerned about economic issues, a sentiment shared by other unmarried women we talked with.

KRETCHMAN: I want to know that our country is safe, that our Social Security is okay, that our medical program, our health programs are okay, and that we’re not going to continue to see a rise in our insurance premiums—

MITCHELL: Jennifer Kretchman also registered that day. She’s a 33-year-old divorced mother of two young boys and works in the advertising department of the local newspaper.

KRETCHMAN: The biggest issue is that I just have one income. I don’t have two incomes that we can draw from is something happens. For example, if my son falls and breaks his arm, there isn’t any other paycheck that’s going to come in to help cover the cost of that broken arm. It could mean the difference between me being able to make my house payment that month or not. And to have to live like that is very scary.

MITCHELL: A single income is a big issue for single women, especially those with kids. Penny Katick has three children: 8-year-old Brandi, 14-year-old Jeremy, and 18-year-old Heather. She works at a diner in Glendale, Nevada about 45 minutes north of Las Vegas, pretty much a highway stop off Interstate 15.

MITCHELL: What don’t the candidates understand about your life?

PENNY KATICK: How expensive everything is. Most people would think nothing of just stopping at the store on the way home and getting, you know, getting some milk and gas. For us it would be a gallon of milk and a gallon of gas is almost a hour’s wages. And so when your son guzzles a gallon of milk and you think “No, that’s supposed to last us for the rest of the week.” Little things like that, but they don’t realize how hard it is every day.

MITCHELL: Penny Katick would like the men running for President to spend one day in her shoes, supporting a family on about $36 a day.

Three days a week Penny wakes up at 3:30 in the morning. She’s got the first shift at the diner, a 20-minute drive from her home.

The routine is automatic by now. While her older kids are sleeping, she rouses Brandi when it’s time to leave at 5 a.m. She’ll take her sleeping daughter to a friend’s house, where the school bus will pick her up later.

By 5:30, Penny opens the diner. She’ll put in more than a 40-hour work week, and she’ll make a little over minimum wage which added up to around $13,000 dollars last year. That’s well below the poverty level for a family of four.

MITCHELL: When you are watching the candidates who are running for President, if you were to tell them here is what my life is, how would you explain it?

PENNY KATICK: It’s a lot of work for very little money. It’s being stuck here. I don’t have the luxury of just packing up and going off for a week. I live how far, I mean, 100 miles from the Grand Canyon. I’ve never seen it, can’t afford to go see it. Zion’s not, you know, there’s parks not too far away, just an overnight trip is— you have to buy food. And it’s just the gas. It’s just things that they think nothing of is a big deal to us, you know. I would love to take my kids on a trip, you know, just take off for a few days. There’s no chance.

MITCHELL: Penny pays 160 dollars a month to live in low income housing. In the summer, when its scorching hot in the desert, her electric bill runs upwards of 250 dollars a month. Her ’93 Saturn has 173,000 miles on it. When we met her, the transmission was about to give out.

MITCHELL: Your mom says that you help out a lot.

HEATHER KATICK: Yeah, I do. I try.

MITCHELL: Penny’s daughter Heather travels 45 minutes in a commuter van to her weekend job. The high school senior is a cashier in a smoke shop at an Indian casino. The extra money helps her mother pay the bills.

HEATHER KATICK: I see how she struggles and everything, and you know, I try and help her. And you know, I see how, you know, she, she works a lot. You know, to try and keep, you know, us fed. I give money to my brother and sister for school. You know, for lunch money and stuff.

MITCHELL: You’ve talked about how you are living right on the edge. So, when you’re looking at the start of that next month, is it, “Okay, this is going to be the month I get ahead?” Or—

PENNY KATICK: You like to think that. But it just never happens. Something comes up, like this last couple of months it was school clothes.

PENNY KATICK: If I was to get sick, yeah, we would just be— I don’t know what we would do if I was to get sick. I can’t. The kids aren’t covered right now which scares the heck out of me.

MITCHELL: Penny Katick never thought politics had anything to do with her life. Then, this spring she read about attempts to get a referendum on the Nevada ballot to raise the minimum wage a dollar over the federal base of five dollars fifteen cents an hour.

MITCHELL: How much of a difference would it make in your life though to go up to 6.15 an hour?

PENNY KATICK: It would make a big difference actually. I mean, 40, 50 extra dollars a week would be— It would pay water bill, it would buy extra food. It would, yeah, it would help.

MITCHELL: She was outraged by statements in the local newspaper that questioned the necessity of the increase.

PENNY KATICK: They were saying that there is nobody that works minimum wage. Nobody that works for minimum wage supports a family or their whole household. They’re all second incomes or teenagers. And it was just, we did— It was bull.

MITCHELL: So she wrote in to the paper not once but twice. Both times her letters were published.

She explained, “We receive no raises (unless mandated by law) no matter how long we’ve worked here. How many of you could live on $206 gross income a week?”

Seeing her opinion make it to print energized her. And so did the fact that the minimum wage proposal made in onto the Nevada ballot. For the first time in her forty years, Penny Katick registered to vote.

PENNY KATICK: I just never really had a reason to I guess. It’s never really affected me I guess. But working for minimum wage and— it affects me. It affects me big time.

MITCHELL: Both campaigns say they are reaching out to women. The Kerry campaign has a program for volunteers to each “Take Five” women to the polls. The Bush campaign has an initiative called “W stands for Women.” And the President often talks about the extraordinary number of women who registered to vote in Afghanistan.

At the presidential debate this week, both candidates were asked about the minimum wage.

KERRY: If we raise the minimum wage, which I will do over several years to $7 an hour, 9.2 million women who are trying to raise their families would earn another $3,800 a year.

BUSH: Actually, Mitch McConnell had a minimum-wage plan that I supported that would have increased the minimum wage. But let me talk about what’s really important for the worker you’re referring to. And that’s to make sure the education system works.

MITCHELL: We went to the Nevada headquarters of both parties and asked about the minimum wage initiative on the state ballot.

SUMMERS: We absolutely support the minimum wage increase.

MITCHELL: Jon Summers is the communications director for the Nevada State Democratic Party.

SUMMERS: The reality is it’s the right thing to do. Who can argue that giving families $1 an hour increase is a bad thing?

HUNT: Well, minimum wage was intended, and was originally intended, for entry-level people.

MITCHELL: Lorraine Hunt is the lieutenant governor, the top elected Republican woman in Nevada. She’s also a restaurant owner in Las Vegas.

HUNT: I’m a strong advocate of small businesses. And small businesses create the most jobs in the nation. They provide entry level, with unskilled labor, young people just getting out of school or in school. So, it’s important to try to have a basic minimum wage. It’s not meant to raise a family. It was never intended. When I hear statements like, “How can I raise a family of four on minimum wage?” That’s an inaccurate statement. It would be disingenuous. You’re not supposed to raise a family on minimum wage.

MITCHELL: But Penny Katick and other women are raising their families on little more than minimum wage. The lieutenant governor has some advice for them.

HUNT: Well I don’t want to baby anybody. And I’ll tell— I’ve mentored a lot of young women. I say, “Don’t whine to me. I’ll help you. But, you know, get out there.” My parents lived through the Depression. And they had it a lot worse than you do. Don’t whine. Be tenacious. Be strong. And there will be people that will be out there to help you help yourself. And that’s exactly what the Republican party does. They want to help people to help themselves.

MITCHELL: Do you think that the Kerry campaign here in Nevada is communicating more effectively with the unmarried women’s vote than the Bush campaign?

SUMMERS: We’re certainly trying. We want women we want everyone to know that hope is on the way. And that’s not rhetoric. I mean, that’s just the truth.

MITCHELL: The Kerry campaign said that they’re telling these women, “Hope is on the way.” So, what do you tell these women?

HUNT: Hope is here. We already have it.

MITCHELL: Penny Katick finds it hard to have hope. She’s one of nearly 4 million unmarried American women raising a family beneath the poverty line the good news is new owners bought the diner not long ago and gave her a fifty cent raise. But her Saturn finally gave out. For now she’s borrowing a car, because she can’t afford to fix hers.

And though she doesn’t see any change in her future, she’d like a better one for her children. Her 8-year-old wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Her 14-year-old son plans to be a mechanic. 18-year-old Heather just registered to vote — she’s supporting John Kerry — and she’s thinking about her future.

MITCHELL: So what are your plans for next year then?

HEATHER KATICK: After I graduate, I’m probably— most likely I’ll probably go into the Army. And just, you know, that way I can get money for college that way. And just, you know, see what that Army has to offer me. And if I like it I’ll stay. You know? But yeah.

MITCHELL: Does it kind of scare you that joining the Army now means you’ll probably be going off to war?

HEATHER KATICK: It does. It does scare me. I mean it scares me pretty bad. But it’s just a sacrifice that I’m going to have to make. You know.

PENNY KATICK: She’s been thinking about doing that. I’ve been trying to talk her out of it. So—

MITCHELL: What are her options if she doesn’t enlist?

PENNY KATICK: Working here, community college, that will still cost some money. But she could go to community college. Of course, we’d have to get her a car to get there. I mean, its little things that you don’t think about. That’s pretty much all her options. I don’t see anything else really that she has.

MITCHELL: Do you wish that you didn’t have to join the Army to get money for college?

HEATHER KATICK: Well I mean, college is important to me. But I mean helping my family with like maybe Army money that you’ll get is more important.

PENNY KATICK: It seems like everyday more and more National Guards are getting sent over, you just keep hearing about them being over there and getting killed. And she’s only 18. She’s just a little girl.

MITCHELL: Yeah, it must be so frustrating for you as a mother.

PENNY KATICK: It is, yep. Sorry.

MITCHELL: If you could talk to President Bush or John Kerry now, is that what’d you bring up with them?

PENNY KATICK: Yeah, I mean, yeah, let them get out there and do this, you know. It just seems like it’s ridiculous for the only way for a girl, you know, a young girl to go to college is to go to war, you know. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. But what are you going to do? If it’s a way out of here then she needs to take it.

MITCHELL: Penny Katick isn’t expecting either Bush or Kerry to ride in like a knight in shining armor to change her or her daughter’s life. Like most of the unmarried women we spoke to, she’d just like the candidates to factor in her basic needs.

MITCHELL: Have you figured out who you want to support?

PENNY KATICK: No, I haven’t. Not yet. I’m still kind of— I don’t like the way things have gone the last four years. But everyone’s saying give him more time. But I don’t know. I’m undecided.

BRANCACCIO: Penny Katick may be undecided now but she says she will be in the voting booth on November 2nd.

There’s someone who knows a lot about the difficulties of getting women and minorities registered to vote. She is Judith Browne, a senior lawyer for The Advancement Project, a democracy and justice action group. And there’s a lot of news that has her worried.

In state after state, there’s evidence of a pattern of sneaky tricks, if not outright fraud. This week in Nevada, former employees of a group called Voters Outreach of America told KLAS TV they saw their supervisors destroy registration forms signed by Democrats.

RUSSELL: She grabbed the Democrats, handed them to her assistant and he ripped them up right in front of us and threw them in the trash.

BRANCACCIO: The WASHINGTON POST reports Sproul and Associates — which runs Voters Outreach of America — got 488 grand from the Republican National Committee.

And the LOS ANGELES TIMES said this week the Oregon state attorney general has opened a criminal investigation into Sproul and Associates after allegations surfaced that workers were also trashing Democratic registration forms there.

And the Charleston West Virginia GAZETTE reports Sproul and Associates told its employees not to register Democrats.

Nathan Sproul, who heads the firm, is the former chief of the Arizona Republican Party. Sproul denies the allegations and said, “We registered anyone who wanted to register.”

Meanwhile in Colorado, a story about possible shenanigans involving Democrats. A woman told a Denver TV station that she forged names on about 40 registration forms to help her boyfriend earn money from a group paying employees to register low-income people, presumably to help Democrats. In all, the station found more than 700 registrations in five counties that didn’t look right.

Pulling a fast one with a registration form is one way to keep people from exercising their right to vote. Then there is official disenfranchisement: state and local officials who as a matter of policy put up obstacles to voting either to weed out fraud or for partisan advantage: hassling voters who’ve moved to a new address; telling ex-felons in some states they can’t vote when they can; for a time, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of Dtate was rejecting voter registration forms that weren’t printed on heavy paper.

In Michigan, Republican state legislator John Pappageorge, got into hot water this summer when he said, quote, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election cycle.” He says his words were taken out of context and now wishes he hadn’t said that “suppress” thing.

And then there is Florida, where memories die hard of all the votes that went to waste four years ago. Judith Browne with The Advancement Project, welcome to NOW.

Why are you, unions, others civil rights groups, unions, and others suing down there?

BROWNE: Well, we’re suing in Florida because the state has put artificial barriers in the way of voters. And we want to make sure that the tens of thousands of voters whose applications have been deemed incomplete for immaterial, irrelevant reasons, are able to get on the rolls and have their vote counted on November second.

BRANCACCIO: Well, some of these election officials wanna know that it’s U.S. citizens who have filled out this registration form. And what, they’re supposed to sign to that effect?

BROWNE: Right. Well, on the application there’s a citizenship box. And you’re supposed to check off the box saying, “I am a U.S. citizen.” And then down at the bottom there’s an oath that you take that says again, “I am a U.S. citizen.” So, we’re saying that that’s duplicative. And why do you have to do it twice? There are also other boxes where you have to check off that you have not been convicted of a felony or not adjudicated mentally incapacitated.

But in fact, what happens is, that the local elections officials have to do the check on you. So, it doesn’t matter what you check in that box. They have go do their homework.

They also have numbers that they’re using, the driver’s license and last four digits of a social security number, which actually are not requirements to be eligible to vote.

BRANCACCIO: But there’s like thousands of these forms?

BROWNE: Thousands. I mean, between Miami Dade and Broward alone, we’re talking about over 10,000 potential voters who could be added to the rolls as a result of our lawsuit.

BRANCACCIO: Now, you don’t want these officials to be strict on these points?

BROWNE: Well, these are things that are irrelevant. And they’re immaterial. And we think that they’re a violation of the Voting Rights Act that says that basically, if there is something on a paper record that’s an omission, that is immaterial to the right to vote, that you should not have to go through those extra hurdles. And what we’re saying is, why go through the hurdles? We want people to participate. Why put up artificial barriers? Instead, let people come vote and really have their voice heard in this election.

BRANCACCIO: I was reading a column in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES in Florida. The columnist wrote something interesting. He said “Should the state err on the side of ensuring as many eligible voters as possible are able to vote? Or should it ensure that as many ineligible voters as possible are removed from the list?” How would you answer that?

BROWNE: Well, we’re not talking about ineligible voters. These are eligible voters. I mean, the state still takes whatever steps necessary to make sure that these people are eligible.

So, what we’re saying is, we have tens of thousands of people who actually know that there is a lot at stake in this election. Why not add them to the rolls and let them vote?

BRANCACCIO: But surely, you don’t want fraud to run rampant.


BRANCACCIO: I mean, you don’t want the same guy voting six times or dead people, the legend from Chicago—

BROWNE: No, not at all.

BRANCACCIO: And so, don’t you sympathize with some of these election officials who are trying to get it right, get those rolls those voter rolls, correct?

BROWNE: Yeah. And actually, the National Voter Registration Act puts in place procedures for that to happen. But when people start taking additional steps to target particular people, whether it’s because of their party affiliation or their race, that’s where the law intervenes and says that it’s wrong.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Congress at the federal level also tried to take this on. It’s called the Help America Vote Act, back in 2000. One of the key things there was provisional ballots. You show up at the polling booth. They don’t have your name.

And then you could either walk away, but under what’s being pushed by the feds, you’re supposed to be given a provisional ballot. And if you’re verified, later your vote will count.

BROWNE: Right. And that’s supposed to be the failsafe. It really is the one thing that will make sure that if your name’s not there, you do have an opportunity to vote. But what happened is, when states implemented HAVA, that’s what we call it HAVA, they then did some partisan wrangling, decided, “Okay. Well we’ll some states up. We’ll give you a provisional ballot.” And so, for example, in Michigan, if you come to the polls, you don’t have I.D., we’re gonna give you a provisional ballot. But we’re not going to count it if you don’t have I.D. Well, that is not what HAVA was about. So, we ended up having to sue the state of Michigan.

In fact, the Secretary of State has taken back that part of it. But then the other thing that has happened is that states are requiring that people be in the right precinct. And that means that you can’t vote for President just anywhere in the state or in the county. But you have to be in the proper precinct.

BRANCACCIO: So, I go down to my local polling place. They don’t have my name. I fill out the provisional vote. But if it’s found later I should’ve been a mile away at a different precinct—

BROWNE: That’s right.

BRANCACCIO: Maybe the vote won’t count?

BROWNE: That’s right. Florida’s one of the states. Ohio, we just had a good ruling in which a court struck that down. And see, that’s what we think that the federal law did not intend that. This was supposed to be the failsafe.

So, that if a poll worker couldn’t identify where you were supposed to vote, that your vote would still be counted. Why does it matter if you’re on the wrong side of town if you’re voting for President, U.S. Senate? You know, those are positions that are statewide positions, that it should not matter that you’re in the wrong precinct.

BRANCACCIO: Judith, what does it say to you that you have to keep fighting these things around the country?

BROWNE: I mean, it means that we continue to have obstacles, that we really do not have the kind of democracy that we really aspire to have.

BRANCACCIO: It sounds like you don’t have to just go to Florida or Nevada or you mentioned Michigan, to find these abuses. It’s a little bit more pervasive in American society.

BROWNE: Right. It’s happening everywhere. In fact, in Arizona on Primary Day, one of the issues that came up was that there were people who had T-shirts that said, “U.S. Constitution Protection.” And they were at polling places seeking out so-called illegal aliens who were voting. And we’re really concerned that those kinds of activities are going to happen in places like Arizona, Nevada where there will be efforts taken to intimidate voters.

BRANCACCIO: Well, I’ve seen this at work. I covered an election back in California in the late 1980s, Orange County, California. And as it turned out the Republican Party down there hired private security guards in uniforms and badges to hang out at polls with bilingual signs, I think it was, that said, “If you’re not a citizen, you better not be here,” and generally glower at Latino voters.

BROWNE: Right.

BRANCACCIO: This can stop people from actually carrying out their vote?

BROWNE: Right. Even people, I heard, somebody asked me a question about, “Well, why, you know, would someone, if they’re a citizen, why would they be scared of this?” And it’s because people remember. I mean, if your family has a history or if you have had a personal history with intimidation by law enforcement, this is real intimidation. There are some people who are really concerned actually for their physical well-being.

So, to have people who are dressed up looking like INS agents in vans that look like INS vans, in sedans looking like they’re government officials asking people for I.D., that is intimidating to people. And why should people have to go through that? The other concern more recently is this whole move about terrorism, and the fact that we may have a terrorism alert on Election Day. And what that means is that elections officials are now calling upon police to be at polling places in communities where people have traditionally not had a good relationship with law enforcement officers. And so, we’re concerned about what impact that will have on—

BRANCACCIO: Where are you— I hadn’t heard that there would be a terrorism alert on—

BROWNE: Yeah. Actually, it was in the WASHINGTON POST today.

BRANCACCIO: That there’s concern with that?

BROWNE: There was— right. There was an article in the WASHINGTON POST that they’re concerned that the concern is coming out of the federal government. Department of Homeland Security has sent out a memo to election officials in all 50 states telling them what kind of procedures to take, where, how to set up alternative polling sites.

And we’re concerned that folks who really wanna engage in suppression and intimidation will take this as an opportunity to carry out their deed.

BRANCACCIO: Just this week, the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, just changed their name to that, they came out with a report that found that the Justice Department, again the feds, are not really set up on Election Day to adequately document voter rights abuses to track the stuff down, to organize it, and to respond.

BROWNE: We are concerned, because we know that there will not be poll watchers in many places where we suspect that voter intimidation and suppression efforts will be in effect.

And so, there is this concern. I know the leadership conference on civil rights is asking for the voting rights section to step up its efforts. But the civil rights community has stepped up to the plate. And we actually have a program that’s called Election Protection where we’re doing our own monitoring. We’re not gonna rely on the federal government to protect the voting rights of citizens. We’re gonna do it ourselves. And we will be in places in predominantly precincts where the voters are of color. And we’ll be there to help people through the process and to make sure that these obstacles are taken out of the way.

BRANCACCIO: I have a crucial question for you. Is this just to help Democrats? I mean, when you work with low-income people, the presumption is they may vote Democrat. So, this is— you’re an agent of the Democratic party with your efforts?

BROWNE: No. Not at all. We’re nonpartisan. And were actually will do work in communities of color. We do not care which way the people are voting. All we want is for people to be engaged in our democracy. And the idea is that on election day, we have an equalizer. And the equalizer is the ballot. And it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Latino, rich, poor. It does not matter. You can go in and have a voice in our democracy.

BRANCACCIO: But maybe, Judith, some real politic here. The Democrats and the Republicans are really at war here, to get their man elected. Don’t you really expect that they’re gonna push the limits on this stuff, even at the ballot box on Election Day?

BROWNE: I expect that that will happen. But they shouldn’t be breaking the law. That’s where we have to draw the line. And we have to make sure that people don’t get caught in that process.

I mean, if they’re wrangling and they’re fighting over who can win this election, in the meantime, they should not make— they should not have African-American and Latino voters being denied the right to vote, being intimidated. They also should not be denying each other’s parties the right to vote.

BRANCACCIO: Would it take essentially federalizing the election process? In our tradition in America, it tends to be local officials who run these things.

BROWNE: Well, I don’t think that that necessarily is needed. Because we have a Voting Rights Act, we have the National Voter Registration Act, we have the Help America Vote Act. Those things are in place. But what it takes is people on the ground in these local communities getting involved and holding these elections officials accountable. It wasn’t until 2000 that we started to realize that these people have a lot of power. And that we, I mean, most people don’t even know who their local elections official is. They don’t know the name.

They probably didn’t vote for the person. They just skipped over that in the ballot. But now we know. We need to take these people seriously. And we need to hold them accountable just like we hold every other elected official accountable.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Judith Browne, the Advancement Project, thank you very much.

BROWNE: Thank you.

MOYERS: Time now to look at the campaign through the eyes of our resident curmudgeon, Kevin Phillips.

This is Kevin Phillips’s tenth presidential election since he helped Richard Nixon wrestle victory from a hard-fought down-to-the wire race in 1968, an election decided by just 800-thousand votes.

Kevin Phillips went on to gain renown as a political commentator and the best-selling author of books on American history and politics. You’ll find them all described on the NOW page at

We’re joined now by Katrina vanden Heuvel. She’s editor of THE NATION. It’s the oldest continually published political weekly in America. And it’s enjoying record circulation in this hot political year. This is her first appearance on NOW.

Welcome to you both.


MOYERS: First, a confession. This is not the editorial board of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, right?


MOYERS: All right? In fact, I was glad you both came because, Kevin, you spent many years critiquing the Republican Party, and you the Democratic Party from your respective positions. So let’s get onto it. What are you gonna be watching for in these next two weeks? What do you think might tip the balance?

PHILLIPS: Well, we’re getting state by state now, the closing of the registration books and it’s pretty clear. The guesstimate is that between 54 and 56 percent of Americans vote on November 2nd. Now that would be up very substantially from the— slightly over 50 last time.

The last time that we saw turn out jump like that was in 1992 with Ross Perot. And it went from 50 to 55. And if Americans remember, that was an election to de-Bushify Washington. And George, senior—

MOYERS: The first de-Bushify.

PHILLIPS: De-Bushify George one—

MOYERS: The first George. Yeah.

PHILLIPS: And this would be de-Bushifying Bush two.

And it would be enormously important, I think, if we have a big turnout in early November. Because you’re never gonna see that for a President whose job approval is 44, 45, 46. That’s for a new broom to sweep clean.

MOYERS: So, what do you—

VANDEN HEUVEL: I think one of the important and hopeful things in this election is the number of people who are newly engaged with the electoral process. All of the newly registered voters. I think we need to look at some of the voter suppression efforts.

What’s going on in the states. I think we need to look at some of the dirty tricks that are gonna be under the radar of the national media. And that’s gonna be very important for local media to attract—

MOYERS: How do you look for that, though? Because they are by nature, dirty tricks. Which means—

VANDEN HEUVEL: Scouts on the ground, people who are newly motivated. You see it in those who are monitoring the voter registration. You see it in sort of the truth squads at the local level.

And I think the character assassination will proceed apace. I think it was interesting in the last debate, “flip- flopper” charge was nowhere to be found. But the “tax and spend liberal,” that’s gonna be heard you know, out of Bush’s mouth.

And then of course the October surprise, which we sit around and sometimes talk about. And how that might play.

MOYERS: Do you think dirty tricks make that much of a difference?

PHILLIPS: Well, what is a dirty trick? Is it a dirty trick to call a Massachusetts liberal a “tax and spend liberal?” I’m sorry. I mean, I spent a long time in American politics.

I don’t think that’s unfair at all. There are a lot of things you can call a Republicans that aren’t unfair. Now if the Democrats don’t understand that some of the time you play with a baseball bat. And you just happen to hit somebody’s kneecap or something like that. Well then how are they gonna fight the terrorists?

VANDEN HEUVEL: But you look at the Sinclair Broadcast Group. I mean, I think that’s where you see the power of media consolidation, and politics, and the toxic combination converge. And that may well play a role.

That is a small factor. But it will, that film attacking Kerry, basically a kind of gussied up, Swift Boat ad, parading as a documentary could play a role in the swing states.

MOYERS: For the sake of the few members of my audience who don’t know Sinclair Broadcasting, this is a company that owns 62 television stations in 39 markets reaching a quarter of the American people every day. And here, two weeks before the election, Sinclair’s bosses ordered all of those affiliates, including those in the swing states, to carry this propaganda film that goes after John Kerry for opposing the war after he came back from Vietnam.

VANDEN HEUVEL: This Sinclair, as you know, has so much business in front of this federal government. I mean, they have a real stake in the FCC limiting the regulations on cross ownership and markets. You clearly see the kind of business interest in advancing, I would argue, a character assassination documentary. You know?

PHILLIPS: Well, how can it be a character assassination if it’s all out in the open?

Now, I’m willing to say I think it’s probably an illegal thing. So, it should be fought like that. But to be just horrified? My God. This is a character assassination. This presumably is a second rate broadcast outfit, Sinclair. Nobody’s ever heard of—

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, it has some power.

PHILLIPS: Oh, they might—

MOYERS: It owns more local television stations than any other—

PHILLIPS: Maybe so. But it’s not a company that has a reputation in any form. It’s just people put together a little empire. So, they wanna play MANCHESTER UNION LEADER, and run this thing the same way a newspaper could. Well, this is a perfect opportunity, if not for Kerry himself, for Edwards, for a whole bunch of Democratic politicians to stand up and say, what your talking about here is illegal. You oughta lose your stations if you do this.


PHILLIPS: Let’s fight.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But listen.

PHILLIPS: But I’d like to see people fight.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Fighting is good. Speaking out is good. But how you get your message out in a media environment where you got two Americas, almost, in the media environment.

You have THE NEW YORK TIMES, you have THE WASHINGTON POST. Then you have talk radio heavily dominated by conservatives. You have local broadcasting, which most Americans who may work two jobs, that’s what they’re looking at. And you have— they’re different universes. You know, so—

PHILLIPS: No, no, not with—

VANDEN HEUVEL: I really think that you could have a message out there in a very key moment just before the election which will be very difficult to counter. Even with all the jugular fighting.

PHILLIPS: I look at it from a different standpoint. Back in the late ’60s and ’70s, I agree still very much that media were liberal, were against the Republicans.

So, the Republicans didn’t sit around whining about it. Should people go out and made speeches. And they attacked them. And you could prove, and I think it was proven a number of times, that there was a liberal bias in the networks and the major papers.

So, people raised the issue. I don’t know why the Democrats can’t take the Sinclair Broadcasting Company and wring its neck like a chicken.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Listen. One thing they could do is remind people that it was Sinclair which attacked Ted Koppel.

MOYERS: Sinclair would not let its ABC affiliates carry Ted Koppel—

VANDEN HEUVEL: Can you imagine?

MOYERS: —reading the names of the—

VANDEN HEUVEL: —of the fallen.

MOYERS: —American—

PHILLIPS: That’s unpatriotic. I think any broadcaster outfit that isn’t gonna have a tribute to the names of Americans killed in Iraq should have to take the flag out of their lapels.

Now, that’s somebody who grew up as a Republican speaking. But, you know, they don’t want the coffins. And they don’t want the flag over the coffins.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, you know what—

PHILLIPS: They don’t like Arlington Cemetery.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But you know why they don’t—

PHILLIPS: They don’t like Iwo Jima. So, why are they getting away with this?

MOYERS: And you’re saying that the Democrats are just kinda rolling over and taking it.

PHILLIPS: Well, if you don’t fight, you get an image as people who don’t fight. You’re not trusted in national security. People wonder when you talk about being tough, whether you ever would be.

And if you can’t take a chicken-feed outfit, I know they got 62 stations. Nobody’s ever heard of most of these stations. They’re probably Fox stations, I don’t know.

MOYERS: Well, they’re Fox, CBS, and ABC. They’re—

PHILLIPS: They have no larger image of anything they’ve ever done. And the whole notion that you have to take seriously that these are people who sit and, you know, read the First Amendment before breakfast every day and so forth. Let’s see the Democrats actually show that they’ve got some guts and stand up and challenge them directly.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I think you’d argue that the Democrats have, you know, they’ve started to stand up and fight. Part of it is a political problem, I have to say. I mean, we talked about the conventions.

The Democrats didn’t use their convention very well. Because they don’t— they do a kind of drive-by politics when it comes to their base. They use that as a form to appeal to the swing voters and the undecideds, the most pampered people in America today. Whereas, the Republicans went for the core, the hardcore.

PHILLIPS: What would Andrew Jackson have done to Sinclair Broadcasting?

MOYERS: I can’t say it on the air. This is PBS.

PHILLIPS: They wouldn’t be around.

MOYERS: We know what he did to the opponents of the National Bank. Right?

PHILLIPS: Yeah, absolutely. Democrats have gotta relearn these names, you know, Jefferson, Jackson, Bryan, Roosevelt, Truman. And forget this list of Democrats who lost in the last—

MOYERS: Andrew Jackson would do what?

PHILLIPS: Well, he would challenge them to a duel.

MOYERS: Right.

PHILLIPS: He was a tough guy.

MOYERS: Right. So both of you, THE NATION has argued, I think, that Kerry has taken the liberals so for granted that he’s allowing Bush to pull him toward his, Bush’s, positions. Do you think that’s right?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I mean, there’s no question we live with a downsized politics of excluded alternatives. And there’s no question that our political life has moved more to the center, to the right. Kerry’s a liberal on the civilizing issues of these past decades on, you know, the environment, on civil rights, on civil liberties to a large extent.

But on corporate issues, on economic issues, he’s very much in this in sync with the center of the Democratic Party which has moved. And on Iraq, though I do think he takes on the NeoCon view that America should have bases over there, which was a point under-reported in the first debate where he said, “You know, they’re building 14 bases in Iraq.” We will not sustain that.

But he and Bush are talking about winning the war in Iraq. And that is, you know, ths war in Iraq is an occupation. Occupations, if one follows history, are not won.

MOYERS: But you have— you’re on the record as saying, you said to one of my colleagues yesterday that on domestic issues, Kerry is to the right of Richard Nixon. And we’ve got the man who’s the authority on Richard Nixon right here. You think that’s true?

PHILLIPS: Well, let me put it this way. Whatever you did or didn’t say about Richard Nixon, he wasn’t tied to corporate America personally. Or as John Kerry is married to the chief dividend collector from Heinz’s 57 Varieties. I mean, they have what is it? Five houses? And I think you could really question as to how intensively Kerry would do some of the progressive economics. I think it’s perfectly fair to question that.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Oh, I think so, too. But I think it’s speaks, again, to this kind of downsized politics and the corporatization of our politics which you speak so eloquently about. I would say with all the disappointments in Kerry, he should speak to his Senate record more because he was someone who led on the Clean Money Reform. And, you know, taking money out of our politics—

MOYERS: That’s right.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And this is a bad season for all of those who have been at the forefront of clean money and campaign finance reform.

MOYERS: Tell me about it.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Where that goes coming out of this, I think that is gonna be crucial come November 3rd, the morning after, assuming we don’t have a contested election again.

MOYERS: The other thing in people’s lives that the polls keep saying is the best cushion that Bush has is their fear— is the fight against terrorism. How do you think that’s cutting?

PHILLIPS: Well, it’s clear that he has that advantage when it’s not stressed by serious explanation. And, there’s the fault of the Democrats, because the Democrats have picked up on how porous the border is, and there’s a threat there. And, they picked up on container ships coming in, and nobody checks out the containers. So, that the United States in terms of immigration and commercial access is porous and wide open. But, to me the most telling one of all— we’ve just seen the numbers on the trade deficit, the current account deficit, these huge numbers. The United States is the world’s number one debtor, and as these numbers build up each month, it’s terrifying.

Because, they are letting national financial security go down the drain. We’re at the mercy of people who hold government bonds overseas that hold some of the Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac paper, and we can just be made into fools. And, the vulnerability financially of dumping the American’s paper is a tragedy, and that’s national security, too.

VANDEN HEUVEL: And, that’s what’s missing what matters, if you want to tick off some of the things that haven’t been discussed in this campaign that speaks to China, and the role of China speaks to the whole issue of the debt. But, I would say on the fear, I used to say that the only thing that this Administration has to fear is the end of fear itself.

And, then you know, I think, but I saw a Cornell study the other day that shows—

MOYERS: Cornell University?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Cornell University study that showed that when the Administration ramped up the terror alert codes that Bush’s approval ratings went up, and along with that even the perceptions of his handling of the economy. I think we’re gonna see some of that as we have in the past months, and that fierce desire to continue to link 9/11 with a failed war— disastrous war in Iraq is, you know, is very important to this Administration. And, Cheney continues to go out there talking about linking 9/11 and Iraq saying it’s an alternative interpretation when it’s been demolished—

MOYERS: But, this is the vulnerability on the terrorist side that they are playing to, but I think Kevin is on to something when he talks about this financial vulnerability.


MOYERS: Although that doesn’t seem to be a great issue to the country at large. Less than 24 hours after the debate, the Federal Government acknowledged in a news story this morning that they have hit the debt ceiling set by Congress, and will have to borrow from the Civil Service Retirement System until after the elections. Now, what does that say to you?

PHILLIPS: Well, what it says is this administration is fiscally irresponsible. There’s a bipartisan group, the Concord Coalition people from both administrations, Democratic and Republican. They indict both parties for recklessness.

But, I think, Republican administration for sacrificing the deficit circumstances that were obtained under Clinton, and then they do it with these tax programs, which Kerry’s absolutely right, are give aways to the top one percent, and I’ve written several books about this.

MOYERS: A hundred and thirty-seven billion dollars in tax cuts this week from Congress to the largest corporations in the country.

PHILLIPS: Yes, and then what happens is as we build up more debt private and publicly, the foreign leverage over Americans and our future standard of living, and what happens to the children, and the grandchildren. As Ross Perot very correctly said 12 years ago. I wish he could be back in action.

This is frightening, but let me make one other little point. I mean, I’ve got some Irish in my family background, and I was always very interested in the terrorism in the British Isles. You know, the British never cancelled any elections, because there was terrorism in Ireland, or threatening to blow up Parliament, and so forth. I mean, it was terror. It was there, and this has happened in other countries, but this Administration is taking advantage of the fact that Americans send very little global historical knowledge, and they are making fear into what Americans osmose in their politics.

And, that is a great mistake for the country, and I think frankly that somebody should call the President on that.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, John Kerry did call the President out, in a smart NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE piece where he talked about let us hope that some day we return to a time when terrorism is just a nuisance. Now, he’s been attacked seriously by the Bush administration since that—

MOYERS: They turned it to their advantage.

VANDEN HEUVEL: They turned it to their advantage, but what he was really speaking to is that the experience of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, of countries which have experienced terror is one where you manage it.

It becomes— it doesn’t undermine your values. It doesn’t take over your life, and you don’t make it a war, which contributes to the militarization of a society. This is a struggle. This is a fight, which requires all kinds of tools. Kerry spoke smartly, but he didn’t do that in the debates, because there’s a limitation on the possibilities in those forums.

PHILLIPS: Let me introduce a cynical perspective on Kerry—


VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes. The politics of cynicism.

PHILLIPS: I, well, you know—

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, no of course. It’s very— Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: There are quite a few people practice it. I think what he’s hoping for is that if he can wind up getting the election without having to say too much, that enough will happen between November and January, that there will be an increased public desire to wash their hands of it. And that would free him to accept less of a fig leaf he would want to discuss.

MOYERS: Well, alright we will see what happens in the next two weeks. And I thank both of you.


MOYERS: Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Kevin Phillips for joining us on NOW.

MOYERS: There are moments when you see suddenly crystallized in a particular event a threat to democracy as ominous as the smoke rising from Mt. St. Helens.

This week it was that enormous payoff to big corporations by their subjects in Congress. I say “payoffs” advisedly. Business elites provide politicians with money to run for office. The politicians pay them back with a return on their investment so generous it boggles the mind. As I said in the discussion, that big tax bill this week is worth $137 billion in tax cuts for corporations.

One company alone — General Electric — will receive eight billion dollars plus, despite earnings last year of over $15 billion. Many companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Eli Lilly — have been parking profits overseas rather than bring them back to America to be taxed.

So now Congress blesses them with a one-time “tax holiday” during which they can bring home the bacon at about one-seventh of the normal tax rates. These plums are usually couched in such language they would defy a Delphic oracle to interpret them. What’s behind those hieroglyphics in section 713, sub-paragraph a and b, page 385? Why, a multimillion dollar windfall to Home Depot for importing ceiling fans made by serfs in China. And that little clause written in Sanskrit so tiny you can’t make it out with a Mount Palomar telescope? Nothing less than a payoff of $27 million to foreigners who bet at American horse and dog tracks.

On and on it goes, the pillaging and plundering by suits with Guccis. In a time of war, terror, and soaring deficits, you would think we’d be asking these corporate aristocrats to make a little patriotic sacrifice like that asked of single mothers or our men and women in Iraq. Instead they’re allowed to pass their share of the burden to workers and children not yet born. At the least, as Kevin Phillips said of Sinclair, they ought to take the flag from their lapels let them replace it with the icon they most revere — the dollar sign.

That’s it for now. David Brancaccio and I will be back next Friday, just 11 days before the elections.

Thanks for joining us and good night.

This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.

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