AJ Vicens

AJ Vicens

Interactives/Data Fellow

AJ Vicens is the Interactives/Data Fellow fellow at Mother Jones. His past work includes time in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television, and his stories have appeared in the Washington Post, ESPN.com, and 5280 Magazine.

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ACLU Threatens Suit Over Kansas' "Suspended" Voter Registrations

| Wed Aug. 14, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is no stranger to immigration controversy. The Republican's fingerprints can be found on all sorts of immigration laws around the country, including Arizona's controversial SB 1070. He's one of the key cogs in the national movement of immigration hardliners and as recently as April defended his use of the phrase "self-deportation" (a phrase even Newt Gingrich called "anti-human").

Kobach's support of another immigration-related voter registration law could land him in court. The ACLU said Tuesday that Kobach and the state of Kansas are violating the National Voter Registration Act by preventing people from registering to vote who haven't proved to the state's satisfaction that they're US citizens. About 14,000 people -- about a third of the people who've submittted registration forms in 2013 -- are in "suspense," meaning state elections officials can't verify that the person is actually eligible to vote. In many cases this has to do with fact that proof-of-citizenship documents aren't being transferred to Kansas election officials from Kansas DMVs—despite a $40 million system designed to streamline the process. The ACLU also says Kansas is failing to make its election forms widely available and is generally failing to uphold its responsibilities under federal election law.

The ACLU has threatened to sue the state of Kansas if it doesn't address its concerns.

ACLU's main beef is with Kansas' requirement that first-time voters in the state provide proof of citizenship. Arizona enacted a similar requirement in 2004, but the US Supreme Court struck it down earlier this summer. The federal form requires registrants to check a box affirming their lawful right to vote under penalty of perjury. The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision written by arch liberal Justice Antonin Scalia, said that states had to accept the federal registration form unless it could convince the Election Assistance Commission (a federal body charged with making voting easier in the wake of the 2000 Florida elections debacle) to change the requirements.

Kobach, through his media office, wouldn't answer questions about the ACLU's allegations. But he did issue a statement:

"We are reviewing the letter submitted by the ACLU. However, the ACLU and other organizations on the Left have made clear from the start that they oppose proof-of-citizenship requirements for voting and that they will attempt to prevent the State of Kansas from ensuring that only citizens are registered to vote. This letter therefore comes as no surprise." 

Kobach added that the ACLU is misinterpreting the Supreme Court's decision, and that the state of Kansas "takes the citizenship qualification seriously and will enforce it."

 

Wyden: Obama's NSA Proposals Are Nice, But They Don't Go Far Enough

| Fri Aug. 9, 2013 5:10 PM PDT
Obama and his phones.

On Friday afternoon, President Obama held a press conference where he promised to bring increased transparency to the NSA's digital surveillance programs. He announced a series of proposed reforms to the way the NSA collects data and to how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) operates, along with plans to convene a group of "outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies."

US Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been one of the biggest thorns in the administration's side when it comes to raising questions about how mass surveillance programs threaten civil liberties. After the president's remarks, he said that he was encouraged by Obama's suggestions, several of which the Senator and others have been pushing to get for years.

The press conference came on the heels of the Guardian's latest scoop based on documents it obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Contrary to President Obama's oft-repeated claim that Americans' data is protected from warrantless bulk collection and analysis, the paper reported on Friday morning that the NSA can access US citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant using a "secret backdoor into its vast databases."

While Wyden said he appreciated Obama announcing his support for reforming the section of the Patriot Act that the government has secretly interpreted to justify gobbling up millions of Americans' records, and praised his plan to make proceedings at the foreign intelligence court more adversarial, the senator pointed out areas where he thought the president didn't go far enough.

"Notably absent from President Obama's speech was any mention of closing the backdoor searches loophole that potentially allows for the warrantless searches of Americans' phone calls and emails under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," Wyden said, referring to the program most recently disclosed by the Guardian. "I am also concerned that the executive branch has not fully acknowledged the extent to which violations of the FISC orders and the spirit of the law have already had a significant impact on Americans' privacy."

While Obama said at the press conference that he had been pushing for reform all along, he maintained that Snowden was no "patriot," even though he conceded the disclosures may have sped up the process. (The administration had revealed very little about NSA surveillance until Snowden's leaks forced its hand.) In a recent interview with Mother Jones, Wyden criticized the administration for leaving the American public in the dark for so long.

"I feel very strongly, very strongly, that this debate should have begun long, long ago by government officials, by members of Congress and the White House rather than by a contractor," Wyden said.

PHOTOS: Meet Groundswell's Major Players

| Thu Jul. 25, 2013 11:42 AM PDT

A cadre of conservative activists, journalists, and aides has been meeting privately to coordinate messaging in a fight against progressives and the GOP establishment, according to documents obtained by Mother Jones. Groundswell's participants include DC power players like Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, along with journalists from Breitbart News, the Washington Examiner, and the National Review. Meet some of them below.