Mariah Blake

Mariah Blake

Senior Reporter

Mariah Blake is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. She has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, the Washington Monthly, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. Email her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com or follow her on Twitter.

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Alabama GOP Is Offering $1,000 for Voter Fraud Tips at Polling Places Today

| Tue Jun. 3, 2014 12:21 PM EDT
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue holds up a sample Voter ID after signing the bill into law at the Capitol in Atlanta.

Today, more than 700,000 Alabamans are headed to the polls for the state's Democratic and Republican primaries. It's the first election since Alabama passed its tough new voter ID law, but the Alabama Republican Party apparently doesn't think the bill goes far enough. According to the state GOP newsletter, the party is sending trained volunteers to patrol polling places—and offering $1,000 rewards for tips that lead to felony voter fraud convictions​—all of which could add to the confusion surrounding the new law's requirements. Below is a snippet from the newsletter, which went out Monday:

Any suspicion of fraud or witnessing the willful non-enforcement of the Alabama’s voter laws needs to be reported...."Reward Stop Voter Fraud" signs with our hotline number will be placed at random polling locations tomorrow and at all polling locations in November. Poll watchers trained by ALGOP staff will also be watching to ensure that Alabama's election laws—including the new photo voter ID law—are not being violated. Our signs and poll watchers will send a clear message to those wishing to commit voter fraud. Anyone attempting to tamper with the election process will be caught and will be prosecuted.

The campaign is reminiscent of the controversial "ballot integrity" initiatives that cropped up around the same time as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which banned discriminatory voting practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests. Under a program called Operation Eagle Eye, the Republican National Committee recruited tens of thousands of volunteers to patrol polling places in heavily Democratic neighborhoods. The ostensible goal was to deter voter fraud, but some of their techniques seemed designed to intimidate voters. Poll watchers were encouraged to snap photos of people casting ballots and enlist Republican-friendly sheriffs to help block voters whom the party had deemed ineligible. In Alabama, the GOP also offered rewards for tips leading to arrests and convictions for breaking certain election laws.

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News Organizations Sue Missouri to Reveal the Contents of Its Execution Drugs

| Thu May 15, 2014 12:49 PM EDT
A gurney in the death chamber in Huntsville, Texas.

The Guardian, AP, and three local newspapers are wading into the death penalty fray with a lawsuit challenging the secrecy surrounding lethal injections in Missouri—one of more than a dozen states that have begun hiding information about their execution drugs. In a complaint filed Thursday morning with the Cole County circuit court, the news organizations argue that the secrecy violates the public's First Amendment right to know how the condemned are being killed. The document specifically references the case of Clayton Lockett, the death row inmate who writhed and moaned in apparent agony after being injected with a secretly acquired drug combinations last month.

Prior to the execution, Lockett—who took a record 43 minutes to die—had argued that withholding the source and contents of execution drugs was unconstitutional because the untested combination could create a level of suffering that violates the Eight Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Other death row prisoners have sued to block their executions on similar grounds, but the new lawsuit appears to be the first to challenge the lack of transparency based on the First Amendment right of access. Below is a snippet from the Guardian's story on the case:

A Guardian survey has identified at least 13 states that have changed their rules to withhold from the public all information relating to how they get hold of lethal drugs. They include several of the most active death penalty states including Texas, which has executed seven prisoners so far this year, Florida (five), Missouri (four) and Oklahoma (three).

Attention has been drawn to the secrecy issue by the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on 29 April....Lockett’s lawyers had argued in advance that he might be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the lack of information surrounding the drugs, but the state supreme court allowed the procedure to go ahead having come under intense pressure from local politicians, some of whom threatened to impeach judges.

In the wake of the events in Oklahoma, in which the prisoner writhed and groaned over a prolonged period, the state has agreed to pause for six months before carrying out any further judicial killings to give time for an internal investigation to be completed. President Obama described the Lockett execution "deeply troubling" and has asked US attorney general Eric Holder to review the way the death penalty is conducted.

Until last year, Missouri which is now executing prisoners at a rate of one a month, was open about where it obtained its lethal injection chemicals. But like many death penalty states, its drug supplies have dwindled as a result of a European-led pharmaceutical boycott, and in a desperate move to try to find new suppliers it has shrouded their identity in secrecy.

In October, the state changed its so-called "black hood law" that had historically been used to guard the identity of those directly involved in the death process. The department of corrections expanded the definition of its execution team to include pharmacies and "individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure."

Since the law was changed, Missouri has put six prisoners to death using what the suit calls "a secret drug formulation obtained from secret sources." Deborah Denno, an expert in executions at Fordham University law school, told the Guardian that the secrecy seems designed to cover up shortcomings in the system. "If states were doing things properly they wouldn't have a problem releasing information," she said. "They are imposing a veil of secrecy to hide incompetence."

Meet the Bearded Drag Queen Who's Taking Europe by Storm

| Fri May 9, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

UPDATE, Saturday, May 10,2014, 6:40pm ET: Conchita won!

A bearded drag queen with a taste for sequins is among the favorites to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest, the annual music extravaganza that catapulted ABBA and Celine Dion to fame.

With her doe eyes and glittery floor-length gowns, Conchita Wurst (real name Thomas Neuwirth) stole the limelight in the run up to the event, and her performance has beguiled the judges, who selected her to compete in the finals in Copenhagen on Saturday. But Wurst's unabashed gender bending has also raised some ire. Citizens in Russia and Belarus petitioned their national broadcasters to block her performance. And St. Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov—who was instrumental in passing Russia's infamous "gay propaganda" ban—called on Russia's Eurovision selection committee not to send Russian singers to the event, which attracts roughly 170 million TV viewers. "Even just broadcasting the competition in Russia could insult millions of Russians," Milonov wrote in the letter, according to the Guardian. "The participation of the obvious transvestite and hermaphrodite Conchita Wurst on the same stage as Russian singers on live television is blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay."

Wurst, who is representing Austria in the competition, wasn't fazed by these barbs. "I can only say 'Thank you for your attention!'' she told the Associated Press. Wurst added, "Hey, I'm just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard."

You can see Wurst in all her bearded glory above.

Cliven Bundy's Daughter Slams Sean Hannity

| Fri Apr. 25, 2014 12:42 PM EDT

Since Wednesday night, when the New York Times published Cliven Bundy's observations about "the Negro"—including his musing that African Americans were better off as cotton-picking slaves than they are today—conservative pundits have scrambled to distance themselves from the Nevada rancher, whose recent standoff with federal officials over grazing fees on public land became a rallying cry for anti-government conservatives. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who had vociferously championed Bundy as a hero, kicked off his Thursday show by slamming Bundy for his "ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable" remarks.

Bundy defended his initial comments on Thursday saying, "If they think I'm racist, they're totally wrong…Again, I'm wondering are they better off under the old system of slavery or are they better off under the welfare slavery that they're under now. You know, I'm not saying one way or the other." And on Friday morning, he told CNN that he didn't see a problem with using terms like "Negro" or "boy" for black people. "If those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet," he told anchor Chris Cuomo.

Meanwhile, Bundy's daughter, Shiree Bundy Cox, is striking back at conservatives who have turned tail on Bundyespecially Hannity. In a Facebook post Thursday night, she accused the talk show host of abandoning her father and pandering to ratings. Here's a snippet:

I'm sure most of you have heard the news about my dad being called a racist. Wow! The media loves to take things out of context don't they? First off I'd just like to say that my dad has never been the most eloquent speaking person. Like someone said, he's a Moses who needs an Aaron to speak for him. This is true. Second, however, is that the media has turned this into a circus side show. It's like their trying to throw us off the real subject. Why was this ever even brought up? What does this have to do with land rights issues? Sean Hannity was all for reporting the happenings at the Bundy Ranch until this popped up. I wonder if someone hoped it would be that way…By the way, I think Mr. Hannity is more worried about his ratings than he really is about what my dad said. If he supports a supposed racist, what will that do to his ratings? He's already lost his #1 spot on Fox.

Cox, who is one of 14 children, also suggested that the controversy concerning Bundy's racist comments had somehow been orchestrated to undermine her father's cause:

Glenn Beck was never 100% on board with my dad, but now he has an excuse to distance himself even farther. Could there be people out there who want it that way? Get the un main stream media out of the way from reporting this situation in a positive light and the battle is more than won for the opposing side…Again I'd like to ask, "What does my dad's opinion on the state of the Blacks on welfare have to do with the land rights issue?" Nothing! It's a detouring tactic. It's taking away from the real issues and what has been accomplished. The mainstream media want this to happen to make people deviate from the real important things and focus on a comment that has absolutely no relevance. It's a tactic that has been used for decades. I hope people will see this for what it really is.

While she came down hard on his critics, Cox's defense of her father was not so fierce: "Is my dad a racist. No, I really don't think so. Could he have said what he means with a little more tact? Sure he could have. But most of all, should it even be an issue right now? Nope."

Fri Apr. 25, 2014 12:42 PM EDT