Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan lost her seat to Republican Thom Tillis Tuesday evening—despite waging the largest ever get-out-the-vote effort in a North Carolina Senate campaign. The race is part of a wave of GOP victories that will give Republicans control of the US Senate for the first time since 2006.
Democrats were at a disadvantage in North Carolina because of the expansive new voting restrictions that Republicans in the state legislature—led by Tillis—enacted last year. The new rules curtailed early voting and eliminated same-day registration—changes the Justice Department says depress turnout among minorities, who tend to vote Democratic.
By electing Tillis, North Carolinians are sending to Washington a lawmaker who has a history of backing policies that have made life harder for the middle class and poor. Last year, Tillis voted against expanding Medicaid in North Carolina, which would have provided health coverage to 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians. Tillis led a GOP push to cut funding for substance abuse treatment centers by 12 percent. He and his fellow Republicans also cut unemployment benefits for 170,000 North Carolinians and eliminated the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, while slashing taxes for the wealthy.
Supporters of the amendment, including Personhood Colorado, the group backing the ballot measure, insisted it had nothing to do with abortion and was designed only to ensure that anyone who harms an unborn child in any manner will be prosecuted. The woman who initially pushed for the measure was Colorado resident Heather Surovik, whose fetus was killed by a drunk driver. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, but he was not charged with killing the fetus. (Under Colorado law, an unborn child is considered part of the mother's body and not a separate person.)
Reproductive rights advocates said the amendment would have "give[n] legal and constitutional rights to a woman's fertilized egg," making criminals out of women who sought abortions and the doctors who performed them. The amendment could also have restricted access to emergency contraception and other types of birth control, as some prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.
Planned Parenthood of Colorado spent around $3.8 million in an effort to defeat the amendment. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) harped on the ballot initiative to help drive women to the polls. Udall's Republican opponent, Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), said he opposed the measure but he had supported personhood measures in the past.
Coloradans defeated personhood amendments in 2008 and 2010. But because this time the measure's language focused on "protecting pregnant women" and supporters framed it as unrelated to abortion, opponents feared it would have a better chance. They were wrong. It failed on a 63-to-37 vote.
The measure would have had the effect of banning all abortion services, according to the North Dakota Coalition For Privacy in Healthcare, a group opposing the initiative. "Victims of rape and incest could be forced to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence," the coalition noted. "Women whose health is at risk could also be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies."
GOP state Sen. Margaret Sitte, a supporter of the personhood amendment, said it was "intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade," the landmark Supreme Court case that held the constitutional right to privacy included a right to abortion. If the measure had passed, North Dakota would have become the first state to define life as beginning at conception.
Voters in Tennessee approved the state's Constitutional Amendment 1: According to unofficial election results, a narrow 53 percent of voters approved Tennessee's personhood amendment Tuesday night. As my colleague Molly Redden reported in September, the country's biggest abortion battle this year played out in the state, where supporters and opponents of abortion rights went to battle over this constitutional amendment.
The measure states, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." It will allow the legislature "unlimited authority to pass burdensome and unnecessary restrictions and regulations on abortion, including banning all abortions," according to Planned Parenthood, including in the case of pregnancy from rape, or incest, or when an abortion is necessary to protect the mother's health.
Here's Redden with the back story:
Tennessee Republicans have been striving to put this referendum before voters since 2000, when a state Supreme Court decision blocked several harsh anti-abortion measures from becoming law. The ruling, which struck down several anti-abortion laws passed in 1998, has prevented the Legislature from passing certain strict laws enacted in other states, such as a mandatory abortion waiting period.…
Amendment 1 would overturn that court decision. 'It will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes,' says Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. 'We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass.'
Proponents of Amendment 1 spent $1 million just in October. Opponents raised $3.4 million during that time period. Now that Tennessee's ballot measure has passed, anti-abortion politicians in the state are expected to pass the same extreme abortion laws and regulations that have shuttered abortion clinics in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Alabama.
The only competitive congressional race in Texas this year pits incumbent Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego against Republican William Hurd in the massive 23rd district, which stretches across the entire southwestern part of the state. It's also the race most likely to be affected by Texas' strict new voter ID law. That's bad news for Gallego.
Texas' new voting law requires that voters provide an approved form of government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. Minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic, are less likely to have a government-issued ID. The 23rd district is 70 percent Latino. "That has to benefit Hurd slightly and hurt Gallego slightly," Mark Jones, chairman of the Rice University Political Science Department, told the El Paso Times in mid-October.
Gallego told the Times last month that he expected some people to be prevented from voting because of the new law: "If one voter gets turned away from the polls, that's one voter too many."
On election day, though, Gallego's campaign was more upbeat. "We spent months both communicating with potential voters about the voter ID law as well as training organizers to be able to educate Texans on what they need to bring with them to the polls," a spokesman for the campaign told Mother Jones Tuesday. "We're hopeful that voters will be able to participate in the process and have their voices heard today."
The race in the 23rd district is the most closely watched in the state, with a combined total of about $6 million spent so far by the campaigns.
Last month, a federal trial court struck down Texas' voting law, ruling that it overly burdened minority voters, and as such violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But two days before early voting began, the Supreme Court upheld the law. More than 600,000 registered voters in Texas who lack appropriate ID could be affected by the new rules.
Republicans in the Texas legislature had first introduced the voter ID law in 2011, but the state wasn't able to enact the measure until 2013, after the Supreme Court had struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states, such as Texas, that have a history of discriminating against minority voters to get approval from the federal government before implementing new voting restrictions.
It's hard to tell if the law has already kept voters from the polls. In the early voting period that ended October 31st, 1,715,731 total votes had been cast. That's down from 1,731,589 over the same time period during the 2010 midterm elections.
Since the 2010 midterm elections, Republican-controlled legislatures in 21 states have made it harder to vote, enacting restrictions on early voting, ending same-day registration, and requiring government-issued ID at the polls. Many of these measures have been found to reduceturnout among poorer and minority voters.
Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act provided President Barack Obama with a tool that could have helped counter the effect of the new laws restricting voting and made it easier for nonwhite voters to get to the polls. But he decided not to use it.
The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter law, requires that departments of motor vehicles and other public assistance agencies provide voter registration services. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act count as public assistance agencies under the statute. That means that the assistants who walk uninsured Americans through the exchange's insurance sign-up process should also have to offer to guide applicants through the voter registration process. While HHS can't directly control compliance at the state-run health exchanges, the agency can ensure that assistants who help the uninsured sign up for coverage on the federal exchange—called navigators—provide voters with step-by-step guidance on registering to vote. But that hasn't been happening.
Voting rights advocates have been pressuring HHSfor more than a year to reverse course and make sure navigators fully comply with the Motor Voter law. But since a backlash last year by Republicans, the administration has demurred. So the more than 5.4 million uninsured Americans who have signed up for insurance at HealthCare.gov since October 1, 2013, have not received extra assistance in registering to vote. Thirty-seven percent of the enrollees who chose to report their ethnicity were minorities.
Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Health Care Reform and American Politics, told me earlier this year that the administration is "running from a political fight":
GOP opposition to signing up new voters through the health insurance exchanges has been fierce. Right-wing talk show yeller Rush Limbaugh said in June that it shows "the purpose of Obamacare…It's about building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority." In March, Republicans on the House Ways and Means committee worried about how Obama-friendly "associations like the now-defunct ACORN"—such as FamiliesUSA and AARP that the administration will fund to help sign up the uninsured—would use applicants' voting information. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) wrote a letter to HHS this past spring, charging that the health care law "does not give your Department an interest in whether individual Americans choose to vote," and asking HHS to provide justification for including voter registration questions in health insurance applications.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which Obama created last year to assess voting problems around the country, released a study in January calling for better enforcement of government agencies' compliance with the Motor Voter law, noting that it was "the election statute most often ignored."
While the federal exchange website provides a link to the federal voter registration website as part of the health insurance application process, advocates say the department has failed to ensure that navigators automatically offer people who need help with their insurance application aid with voter registration applications as well. "It's likely that many thousands of citizens would have applied to register to vote if the administration had complied," says Lisa Danetz, the legal director at the think tank Demos. "And we know that once registered, people turn out to vote at a relatively good rate."
It's not too late for the administration to use Obamacare to help Americans register to vote. Another 10 million uninsured Americans are expected to obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act in 2015, and more than 24 million a year are expected to sign up 2015 and 2016.
Update, Monday November 3, 4:30pm: Over the weekend, under court order, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell released some emails requested by Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News related to the state's National Guard sexual assault scandal. However, the emails were incomplete and some heavily redacted, leaving open the question of whether Alaska GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan knew of allegations of sexual assault within the Guard when he was attorney general.
Alaska GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan claims that he did not know about reported sexual assault within the state's National Guard when he was the state's attorney general until after the allegations became public. But Republican Gov. Sean Parnell won't release the records to prove it.
In late 2010, whistle-blowers in the Alaska National Guard approached Parnell to tell him of reports of sexual assault and harassment within the guard and of allegations of financial misconduct, cover-ups, and retaliation against whistle-blowers. In recent months, Parnell, who is running for reelection, has taken fire from Democrats and the press over his mishandling of the scandal; he waited until this year to call publicly for a federal investigation into the allegations. And Sullivan—who is running to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Begich—has been dragged into the scandal, with local reporters demanding to know how much he knew when he was attorney general about the reported wrongdoing within the guard.
Sullivan's campaign claims that he was unaware of the allegations when he was AG, and that he only learned of them when they became public in 2013. But Parnell's office has so far refused to release emails between the governor and Sullivan from the period when Sullivan was attorney general. There's no telling what is in these emails. But Democrats say the withholding raises questions as to whether Sullivan, who served as AG under Parnell in 2009 and 2010, did get wind of the scandal back in 2010—and took no action.
In January, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) requested all the emails and written correspondence between Sullivan and Parnell during Sullivan's term as attorney general. Under Alaska law, the government is supposed to comply with records requests within 10 working days. Ten months later, the governor's office has still not released the documents.
At the end of May, Alaska Public Media (APM), which operates public radio and TV stations in Alaska, requested correspondence—including emails, text messages, and memos—Parnell sent or received related to sexual assault within the National Guard and notes on meetings in the governor's office on the matter. (This request was wider than the DSCC's and did not zero in on Sullivan.) In late September, the governor's office denied APM's request, citing executive privilege and the right to privacy of those accused of misconduct. The rejection letter also cited victims' privacy as a reason for not releasing the documents, even though Alaska media routinely withholds the identities of sexual assault victims. Rarely have Alaska government agencies used individual privacy concerns to justify denying entire records requests.
In early October, Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News jointly sued Parnell for the release of the records related to the guard scandal. The DSCC has filed a complaint with the Alaska ombudsman seeking immediate release of the correspondence between Sullivan and Parnell that the committee had requested in January.
Democrats say Parnell's reluctance to release records is suspicious, and they are openly skeptical that Sullivan, as top law enforcement official in the state, didn't know about allegations of abuse and fraud. Bruce Botelho, an Alaska Democrat who served as attorney general from 1994 to 2002, and Jim Ayers, who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, say it would be highly unlikely for a governor not to consult his top lawyer about such serious allegations.
If there were no communication between Parnell and Sullivan about the matter, Ayers says, that's an indication of "serious dysfunction" within the governor's administration: "I can't believe anybody in their right might would be hearing about such allegations...and not call their attorney."
Botelho agrees: "I could not imagine if an issue of sexual abuse in the guard had come forward, and was relayed directly to the governor and his chief of staff, that one or the other would not consult with the AG."