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Immigrant Candidates ‘Running Everywhere’ in Upcoming Elections

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 18:27


When Colombia-born Catalina Cruz stepped toward the podium in Jackson Heights, Queens, officially launching her campaign for New York State Legislature, a few dozen supporters stood nearby with fluorescent blue, green and red signs — #VoteCatalina, #ElectADreamer.

Like other first-generation American candidates for local, state and nationwide office, Cruz had overcome a series of obstacles to get to that morning in June. Many can relate in her diverse community — including her opponent, a daughter of Dominican immigrants.

“We have many people who understand the struggle of the immigrant, who understand that we do not come here to steal opportunities or take advantage of the system, but to work, to fight,” Cruz told VOA.

“My mom had to take any job — handing out leaflets, making empanadas (meat pies), selling food, babysitting,” she said of her childhood era, a near 13-year-span during which she and her family lived under the radar, undocumented.


Years later, after Cruz completed college, married her high school beau (a U.S. citizen), gained citizenship, and attended law school, she set out to defy the odds again by entering American politics — an arena that has never reflected the diversity of the general population, particularly outside progressive urban centers.

But 2018 may be a tipping point; immigrants are running “everywhere,” says Sayu Bhojwani, founder and president of New American Leaders(NAL), a national non-partisan organization which prepares first and second-generation Americans for political office.

“You’re seeing people run [for office] wherever they are, without the burden of, ‘Oh, well, I’m not in a district that necessarily quote-unquote looks like me,’” Bhojwani said in an interview with VOA.


On the one hand, Bhojwani predicts immigrant candidates will face “subtle and not-so-subtle references to (their) backgrounds and affiliations,” like Abdul El-Sayed, who is hoping to become the country’s first Muslim governor in Michigan, and has faced the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric that is pervasive nationwide.

Yet, despite increasing partisan polarization, Bhojwani says immigrant candidates are beginning to “claim their space” across a range of offices and not just in progressive bubbles like Queens.

Ahead of the 2018 elections in November, NAL has tracked at least 100 foreign-born candidates running for U.S. Congress, where a smaller share of immigrants currently holds seats than during either of the country’s 19th and early 20th century waves of European immigration.

And immigrant candidates have been quietly making headway in both local and state elections, where fewer than two percent of 500,000 seats were held in 2015 by either Asian-Americans or Latinos — the two most populous groups of first and second-generation Americans — according to a report by NAL.

Positions like school board and local city council member “are often stepping stones” to higher office for women, candidates of color and immigrant candidates, says Paru Shah, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, whose research examines the characteristics of first and second-generation Americans running for political office.

Would-be candidates all face the difficulties of financing a campaign and finding the time to run. But additionally, immigrant candidates often have their own psychological barriers, according to Shaw.

“Historically it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation, where people don’t see themselves in those positions,” Shah told VOA by phone, a situation of “that’s not for me.”

Changing the equation

According to a report by Shah and UCLA PhD candidate Tyler Reny, published in Social Science Quarterly (SSQ), race or foreignness was the most frequently cited barrier among immigrant leader respondents.

“I will have to overcome those who challenge how American I am because I was not born here,” read one recorded statement from the SSQ report.

“I imagine that my ability to lead and my loyalty to the nation would be questioned by the electorate,” read another.

According to Pew Research Center, the share of Asian-American and Hispanic Americans who think of themselves as “typical Americans” approximately doubles from the first-generation (Americans born outside the U.S. or U.S. territories) to 61 percent among the second (US-born with at least one immigrant parent).

For support, Asian-American and Latino candidates for state legislature often rely more heavily on labor unions and community-based groups than their white counterparts, according to NAL data. In return, the groups benefit from better representation.

“There is a lot that you can do to create an environment that is supportive and welcoming,” Bhojwani said. “People are stepping up and saying, ‘Look, I can represent my community and ensure that our schools feel safe and that our cities are welcoming.”

“We are not going to forget how we have lived up this point,” said candidate Catalina Cruz. “Many people might think, ‘Oh, she managed to get her papers and forgot.’ No, this is something you carry with you in your heart and in your blood.”

Laura Sepúlveda, of VOA’s Spanish Service, contributed to this report.

WEBINAR: The Author of California’s Top-Two System Wants Changes

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 18:26

Two of the leading experts on the California’s top-two system of voting recently went head-to-head in a moderated debate. The webinar is described by Ballotpedia videos:

Under California’s top-two primary system, all candidates seeking a particular office, regardless of party, appear on the same primary ballot. This system makes it possible for the top two vote-getters who advance to the general election to be from the same party.

Listen to our free webinar as Ballotpedia’s experts moderate a discussion between election policy authorities Steve Peace and Richard Winger about the advantages and disadvantages of top two primaries and how candidates fared. Both Peace and Winger will bring years of experience to this discussion making it a webinar not to miss.

James Stephen Peace is an interesting character for sure. Peace co-produced the cult hit film ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ and served 20 years in California’s legislature. He is also the founder of the Independent Voter Project that supports nonpartisan election reforms. Richard Winger, editor of the amazing Ballot Access News, recently wrote about the highlight of the night according to him in a Ballot Access News post following the webinar:

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the webinar is that Steve Peace declared his support for changing top-two to top-four, combined with ranked choice voting. Peace is the lead author of the California top-two system law, and is co-founder of the Independent Voters Project. Peace also said he favors restoring write-in space on general election ballots. On June 13, the Independent Voters Project announced that it now favors top-four instead of top-two. IVP also wants to use ranked choice voting in conjunction with a top-four system. See this story.

The webinar is about 45 minutes. Take a look:

Illinois Law to Limit Ballot Measures May Appear on the Ballot

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 18:09

Illinois election law says that only three ballot measures may appear on the ballot. If more than three are submitted, only the first three may qualify. On June 14, the Seventh Circuit upheld this law. Jones v Qualkinbush, 17-1227. Here is the nine-page opinion.

The plaintiff, who had sponsored a city initiative in Calumet City, argued that the law isn’t fair. Because the city council can put ballot questions on the city ballot quickly, if the city council learns that a city initiative is circulating and is likely to qualify, the city council can immediately stop that initiative by putting three ballot measures of their own choice on the ballot. Thus the initiative is stymied. But the Seventh Circuit said there is no federal constitutional right to initiatives anyway, so the state law doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution.

Supreme Court Strikes Limits on Voter Apparel Slogans

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:27


The U.S. Supreme Court eased the rules Thursday for what Americans can wear when they go to vote, striking down restrictions in one state that banned voters from wearing clothes with the name of a candidate or political party when they enter the polling place.

In a victory for free speech, the high court in a 7-2 ruling overturned a law in the Midwestern state of Minnesota that barred clothing representing recognizable political views. The state had said the law was aimed at keeping order at polling places and preventing voter intimidation among partisans.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said that while the state’s intentions were “generally worthy of our respect, Minnesota has not supported its good intentions with a law capable of reasoned application.”

Nine other states have laws similar to Minnesota’s. The Supreme Court returned the case to a lower court for consideration of what restrictions might be reasonable.

The Minnesota case stemmed from a 2010 incident in which a voter showed up at a polling place wearing a T-shirt supporting the conservative Tea Party movement with the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” as well as a button stating, “Please I.D. Me.”

The man was allowed to vote, but sued to overturn the law.

Former Congolese Child Soldier Works to Normalize Peace Not War

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:20
Image from the Child Soldiers Initiative – link


Michel Chikwanine is a long way from where he grew up in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but not from the memories of war. They haunt him every night — ever since he was captured by rebels in the city of Beni at the age of five.

Chikwanine’s father had an imposed an early-evening curfew, but Chikwanine disobeyed it to play soccer with his friends.

“It was during that time while we were playing when we saw a truck with military personnel racing toward the field,” he recalls. “They surrounded the field, and eventually grabbed all the kids and put us into a truck.”

The militants drugged Chikwanine and the other kids, then trained them to use firearms. But that wasn’t all …

“I started to cry and begged them again to let me go home. Instead they forced me to kill someone … they forced me to kill my best friend … as a way of being entered into the group, and I feel guilty sometimes that I survived and he didn’t,” he admits.

Chikwanine managed to escape. But more violence followed. His family became casualties of DRC’s ongoing unrest that has killed and displaced millions over the past two decades.

His father, a human rights activist, was kidnapped. Then soldiers came to his house and grabbed his mother and two sisters.

“…and they started to rape them. And they held me to the wall and told me to watch what was happening to send a message to my father,” he recalls.

Today, Chikwanine talks about his experience to audiences around the world — including during a recent peace conference here in Normandy. His family fled to Uganda. But then his father died, apparently from poisoning. Soon after, the remaining family was granted asylum in Canada.

France’s northwestern Normandy region is a good place to talk about war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died here during World War II. Most were barely past childhood.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the world’s biggest populations of child soldiers. UNICEF says up to 30,000 children are forced to serve armed groups as soldiers, sexual slaves and laborers.

In DRC, clerics are spearheading the fight for peace, and demanding that long-delayed elections be held.

Bishop Fulgence Muteba, who attended the Normandy peace forum, is one of them. From his diocese in southern DRC, he also has tried to help former child soldiers.

Bishop Muteba said they were traumatized, so battered by the experience they almost had no feelings. So familiar with violence, their lives were no longer worth living. Many were left to cope on their own. Some committed suicide. Others returned to violence.

Chikwanine says even those who make it are forever scarred.

“My fear is that we’ve become a community that normalizes war, but doesn’t normalize peace. And that is what is happening in the Congo, specifically.”

He hopes that peace, which returned to Normandy after the war, can return to the DRC.

Iranian World Cup Fans Unfurl Banner in Support of Women

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:15


Iranian fans at the national team’s first match at the World Cup unfurled a banner protesting Iran’s ban on women attending soccer matches back home.

The banner read “#NoBan4Women” and “Support Iranian Women to Attend Stadiums” and it was held aloft during the match against Morocco in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on Friday.

After it was initially unfurled, during the first half of the game, there was a brief commotion as it was put away. The reason for the commotion wasn’t immediately clear as three stewards moved across to where the banner was, on the bottom row near to one of the goals.

It then remained unfurled for the remainder of the first half. Then, in the second half, the banner moved up the field near the other goal.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranian women have been banned from attending soccer matches and other male-only sporting events.

A partial exception to the ban on women was made in June 2015 when a small number were allowed to watch volleyball in Tehran.

The decision came following public outcry a year earlier, after British-Iranian student Ghoncheh Ghavami was detained while trying to attend a men’s volleyball match at Azadi. She spent more than 100 days in prison, much of it in solitary confinement.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Sajedeh Norouzi waved a small Iranian flag during an Olympic volleyball match — her first time in a sports stadium.

Before Friday evening’s match, fans from Iran and Morocco mingled on the streets of St. Petersburg, wearing their countries’ flags, blowing whistles and chanting songs without any animosity. Enthusiastic Iranian women were among them.

That contrasted with the one of the main squares in Tehran, where a billboard portrays fans celebrating and holding aloft the World Cup, accompanied by the slogan “One nation, one heartbeat.” There were no women on it.

Some fans were keen to express themselves as they arrived at the imposing St. Petersburg Stadium.

“It’s my first time as an Iranian female to be in a stadium. I’m so excited,” a young Iranian woman, who gave her name only as Nazanin, told The Associated Press. She had the colors of the Iranian flag drawn on her cheek.

One couple came with a banner reading “4127 km (2,564 miles) to be at the stadium as a family” expressing protest against the ban. Having traveled so far to be together in a stadium, they were keen to make the point.

“We should come here, 4,127 kilometers to be at the stadium as a family. Why? This is stupid,” said the man, who gave his name only as Amin. He was supported by his wife, who said she was extremely happy to be finally going to the stadium.

Nazanin and Amin asked not to be identified by their last names because of the sensitivity of the issue at home in Iran.

Players have also previously lent their support to the cause.

Iran captain Masoud Shojaei, who is playing in his third World Cup, has been a vocal advocate of ending the ban, as has former Bayern Munich midfield Ali Karimi — who played 127 matches for Iran and was formerly assistant to Iran coach Carlos Queiroz.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met with FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Tehran on March 1. On the same day, 35 women were detained for trying to attend the Tehran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis, known as the Red-Blue derby and which Infantino attended.

Women disguising themselves as men have tried to enter soccer stadiums in Iran before, some of them successfully doing so and posting photos of themselves in beards and wigs on social media. A group known on Twitter as OpenStadiums has been pushing for access, describing itself as “a movement of Iranian women seeking to end discrimination (and) let women attend stadiums.”

Greed, Karma and the Decline of America

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 15:04

While there are more billionaires being made in China, it is now time to note and understand the condition of our fallen empire. We did not get here by accident. It was the plan and purpose of Wall Street and the banking community, an unholy alliance between two greedy oppressive whores that sold our country and families down the river.

Wall Street and the banking community are the ones for we’ve bailed out but who stick it to us no matter how hard we try to be decent to them. We our on our descent to being a second rate nation because of these two leeches, of which we will not recover. They will try to succeed through military oppression but will ultimately fail because our country is on the wrong side of history and humanity. And our elites or filthy rich have exploited us and the rest of the world to their own peril.

It’s called karma, something that people from the East understand. In Christianity, it’s called reaping and sowing, but in our benign culture, we believe we can screw people over in our investment and the recipe will still turn out okay. You see, the people you screw over will be your future bosses or future buyers or future suppliers and they might be the ones setting the terms.

So next time you have Congress or one of your co-conspirators write banking laws that keep the working class from filing bankruptcy from predatory school loans with rates double the cost of home loans, you could possibly understand why and how you destroyed this great nation and its economy. But you won’t. You want all the money, power and ignorance you can gather. It’s just a shame you have to destroy our lives along with yours.

Independent Virgin Islands Governor Hopeful in Ballot Access Lawsuit

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 13:35

On June 11, independent gubernatorial candidate Positive Nelson sued the U.S. Virgin Islands elections department to require that his name be put on the November 2018 ballot. The U.S. Virgin Islands requires candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run as a team. Nelson’s running mate is Gary Udhwani. The elections office invalidated the Nelson-Udhwani petition because it says Udhwani is not a registered voter.

The petition required 100 signatures, and Udhwani circulated many of the petition sheets. The elections office says circulators must be registered voters, and because Udhwani is not a registered voter, his petition sheets are invalid. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Buckley v American Constitutional Law Foundation that governments cannot require petitioners to be registered voters.

The elections office also says that it suspects that some of the petitions were circulated before Nelson had chosen Udhwani, and that after Udhwani was chosen, the petitions were altered to add his name as the Lieutenant Governor running mate. The elections office also argues that the lawsuit does not belong in federal court. The lawsuit is Nelson v Fawkes, 1:18cv-17.

The plaintiffs argue that when the elections office removed Udhwani from the list of registered voters, it had a duty to first notify him that he was about to be disqualified. The elections office replies that their records show that Udhwani might have been removed decades ago, and the elections office has no records that far back to show whether he was notified or not.

One Person, One Volunteer, One Better Way to Vote

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 14:15

We won a major victory in Maine on June 12th in the effort to create a More Perfect Union and to Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity by passing, at the ballot, for the second time in two years, a measure to enact Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff Voting.

Democracy Chronicles Editor-in-Chief Adrian Tawfik asked me to write about my experiences helping to pass Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in Maine. Since he asked, and since this date may well be remembered (I have a dream) in the history of this nation as when the people of Maine helped take back our country for We the People, and since I am reminiscing over my journey to this post-Ranked Choice Voting Victory day, here is how volunteering to support Ranked Choice Voting started for me:

I met Diane Russell, recent gubernatorial candidate, Maine legend, and a leader and inspiration in the “Ranked Choice Voting Revolution” in Maine in person for the first time at Rocket Bar near 11th and H in Washington, D.C. on January 19, 2017. While she was unsuccessful in her bid to be Maine’s first women to serve as governor, she gets much credit for leading the charge to Ranked Choice Voting statewide in Maine.

I was working in D.C. at the time, and she was organizing the Resistance to the new administration, and putting together groups for the Women’s March, all while also apparently planning to run for governor.

It didn’t start there, we communicated by email for the first time Aug 22, 2011 at 4:59 p.m. We were put into contact through intermediaries, Dorothy Scheeline and Rob Richie, both with Fairvote, and Colleen Tucker, with the League of Women Voters of Maine.

Note that in this article, the submitted emails will also be my evidence should the sad day come when the tyranny of the Alt-Right drags me into kangaroo court accusing me of supporting the Gay/Abortion/George Soros/Marxist/Communist/Socialist/Liberal/Democrat/Leftist Conspiracy to bring Ranked Choice Voting to Maine. (Those are all things, by the way, I have been accused of during my defense of RCV these last couple of years, and especially in the two days prior to June 12th).

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Here, for the record, and since it was asked…

My RCV Origin Story

I met Diane Russell exactly because of her work on Ranked Choice Voting. But the story for me goes back much further.

I first became curious about alternate voting systems after experiencing the Bush-Clinton-Perot (and the later Dole-Clinton-Perot) election, and the accusations that Ross Perot had potentially cost both Bush (and Dole) the election, arguably not true, but RCV would have been better! (Fivethirtyeight did a good piece on that topic not too long ago.)

Then there was the infamous Lani Guinier nomination to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights which was ended in June 1993, when she was dropped by Clinton before having a chance to defend her views, which had been subject to a Republican smear campaign and taken out-of-context.

I later listened to Lani Guinier when she published her book, “Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy“, who said in a CSPAN interview:

” …several columnists who had attacked me while my nomination was pending, is that in fact they were sympathetic to the underlying principle that I was relying on, and that is the principle of taking turns, that the majority should rule but the minority should be represented and should be respected in a way that allows both the majority to be accorded proportionate power or a fair share of power but not necessarily all of the power.”

Shame on Bill Clinton for not defending her, and buying into the smear of her academic work, he potentially set back the cause of improving our election systems literally 25 years almost to the day.

I had read Lani’s work, and was impressed with the thought process behind it, and was saddened that for a vicious and misinformed attack against her candidacy (frankly with racist undertones) that she was against “democracy” and she was never given the chance to defend herself in Senate hearings.

Then later in 1999, I became a U.S. History teacher and taught in middle school here in Maine. When Bush v. Gore (Nader) occurred, I was the school’s go to guy about our electoral system, and what was happening.

Fast forward a few years, where my thoughts on voting systems were interrupted:

…by 9/11
…a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Iraq,
…heart surgery and recovery,
…working at Wolfe’s Neck Farm running an Education Program there….
…interrupted by another tour of duty with the Army in Iraq…

Coming back from Iraq in 2011, I was rekindling my interest in alternative voting systems and when Portland was deciding to use Ranked Choice Voting, I came across Fairvote’s website. I wanted to do what I could to participate, educate voters, and help this reform move along, which I believed could bring us back together as a nation.

I cold called Fairvote on Monday, August 15, 2011. I spoke to Dorothy, in Washington, D.C. She wrote this email:

On Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 3:43 PM, Dorothy Scheeline wrote:

Hi Rob,

Mitch called up looking for info about whether or not there is a statewide effort to get IRV on the ballot in Maine. His contact info is:


Rob Richie wrote me back, put me in touch with Colleen Tucker at the League of Women Voters (I am very grateful for their leadership in this as well):

From: M Mitchell
Sent: Sunday, August 21, 2011 1:03 PM
To: Colleen Tucker
Subject: Re: interest in starting/joining statewide IRV initiative

Hi Colleen,

I am interested in putting Instant Run Off voting on the ballot statewide.

I hear people are focused on Portland at the moment.

Do you know what plans there are for IRV statewide? I would like to participate.



Colleen wrote back:

Colleen Tucker
To: M Mitchell
Cc: Diane Russell
Aug 22, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Hello, Mitch,

I know that State Rep. Diane Russell worked on state legislation to have the Governor of Maine elected by IRV, so am copying her on this email. Diane, can you plug him into any ongoing efforts for statewide IRV?

We would love to have you join the Maine League of Women Voters (we have alot of male members, nation-wide and a dozen or so in Maine) if you want to become involved in our efforts.

Or you could check in with our website now and then to see what we’re doing statewide on this and many other issues.


Then this one, the first contact with the Legend, the Leader, Diane Russell:

From: Rep. Diane Russell 
To: Colleen, M Mitchell
Aug 22, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Hi Mitch,

Thank you for your interest in IRV/ranked voting in Maine. I’ve been working on this a number of years. At present, there is a focus on getting Portland right and we can use all the help we can get to that end. If we don’t do it right in Portland, there will be little if any stomach to do it statewide.

Placing something on the ballot requires serious resources (time and money), though I think if there was a funding source to get it on the ballot it could stand a relatively good chance of passing. That said, the Constitution of Maine requires the legislature be elected by the same means as the Governor so it would be a complete overhaul of our elections system.

In the meantime, I started a listserv to keep people in Maine in the loop about what’s going on statewide around ranked voting. Let me know if you’d like to be added to it; it’s the best way for me to keep likeminded individuals working on the issue until we can finally move statewide.



Heat should not be a luxury item.

Rep. Diane Russell (Portland)

I wrote back:

From: M Mitchell
To: Diane and Colleen
Aug 23, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Dear Diane,

Yes, please add me to the listserv.

I am no lawyer, so I was hoping to be a part of a group that had people with the legal know-how to make it happen. I was aware it would require constitutional issues/changes though. Which I know makes it more complicated than other issues.

Thank you for your continuing efforts.

All the Best,


Then this:

From: M Mitchell
To: Collen
Cc: Diane
Aug 23, 2011 at 6:39 AM (who deals with fixing democracy at 6:39 a.m.!!!)

Dear Colleen,

Thanks. I am working up in Augusta at the moment with a short assignment with the National Guard. I am a staff officer up there.

I returned from my second tour of duty in Iraq in January, and am looking to get involved with the “defense of democracy” on a different level. Something of my own choosing.

Have you seen this series of videos: They are from England, but very effective in explaining it. (Note-June 2018: I later learned CGP Grey is actually American-Irish)

I really think IRV needs to come from a citizen initiative in Maine, since it is hard to imagine a two party system voting against itself.

In Maine, with back to back minority governors from both parties, it should be an easier go of it than other places.

I envision a table with a sign on one side that says, if you weren’t happy with Baldacci (Note: Democrat) sign here (with his 38% win), and on the on the other, if you are unhappy with LePage (Note: Republican) sign here (with his 39% win).

Looking forward to working on this issue.



M D Mitchell

Freeport, ME

Colleen wrote back:

From: Colleen Tucker
To: M Mitchell
Cc: Rep. Diane Russell
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 7:06 AM (Note: June 2018: and the response in the wee morning as well! Dedicated people)
Subject: Re: interest in starting/joining statewide IRV initiative

Great video, Mitch; I’ll definitely be sharing this with our members and using it to educate voters!!

One thing this campaign needs most is good publicity, to get folks behind IRV and excited to use it. There are a lot of voices trying to convince the voters that it’s too complicated. So one of the ways you could help the MOST would be to write letters to the editor about why you’re supporting IRV and wishing we could elect our Governor with that method. We need to create enthusiasm among the voters AND the media. I’m sure there are a few journalists who would love to interview an Iraq war veteran about how you came to want to express your citizenry in this way. I know I’d like to hear it!

Thank you for your service and your enthusiasm. Nice to have you on our team. I’ll let you know when opportunities arise with this issue, but meanwhile, it would be great if you could write a letter to the editor and/or meet with the editorial board of the Portland Press Herald to tell them why you support this issue. They let citizens do that.

Have a great day.

Colleen Tucker

The next email:

From: M Mitchell
To: Colleen
Cc: Diane
Aug 23, 2011 at 5:11 PM

Hi Colleen,

I loathe to play the veteran “card” (although it did get me out of a traffic ticket once), but I think it is one of those, “put your money where your mouth” is kind of things. That I am willing to defend democracy lets me think I have a smidgen of a right to think about improving it too.

I have always appreciated that a serviceperson’s oath of office is to a piece of paper, and that piece of paper starts out “We the People…” It doesn’t mention parties. Too many voices of the people are shut out in the current system.

I am not a fan of extremists for example, but I think if they feel their voices are not heard, and have no outlet, that is when they turn to violence and other less than desirable tactics.

IRV, in my world view, would have the added benefit of showing political minorities that they are indeed just that, minority views, but still giving credence to their voice, and a party/candidate to belong too.

Right now, certain voices can believe they are larger than they are, but just hidden in the shadow of the larger parties. My personal politics lean left of center, but to the right on specific issues. I feel unrepresented by both parties in this, but understand that some of my views (I am for a service draft, and higher taxes for everyone (Note: Spread the burden fairly across society, It is the value of what we get for them, rather than how much we pay that I believe is most important!) are minority viewpoints.

My own IRV thought: “People before Parties.” (Parties have their place, they just come after the people.)

I liked the Massachusetts IRV group called Voter Choice Massachusetts, who had a great “Easy as 1-2-3” logo with the hands in the air showing fingers.

Does Maine IRV have a site like this? We really should if we don’t. I haven’t found one though, just the site which brought me to you.

(As an aside, it drives me batty that Google doesn’t allow case sensitive searches, and I have to wade through Irv Goldberg, and Irv Kempner, and Irv Levy when I search for IRV, but I digress)

I haven’t written a letter to the editor in quite a while, I’ll mull that over, but I do contribute to the peanut gallery on the Press Herald when I am moved to do so in a pique of political impotence, my comments show up as “M” there. (Note: I am “Mitch” there now)

One issue I do have with IRV, and I haven’t read addressed yet is how to mark ballots where a voter has chosen not to assign a rank to the candidates. So if there are five candidates, and the voter chooses 1, 2 and 3, a blank on a paper ballot (or even a digital one) is open to abuse and voter fraud. Since stray marks cause ballots to be discarded it can’t go unaddressed, I wonder if a O and/or X. would indicate that a voter, under no circumstances wants their vote to count for a candidate. A slash \ or / could easily be argued was a poorly written 1 so I am not sure that would be good. It seems silly to have to think about it, but after living through the era of the “hanging chad” I think there is no issue that should go unconsidered in legislation on something like this.

All the Best,


M D “Mend Democracy” Mitchell ;)

All was quiet for a little while. Then I read a Halsey Frank piece in the Forecaster, against Ranked Choice Voting —which by the way, I wish they would have stayed with calling it Instant Runoff Voting! It was a call to action. My first public writing in support of Ranked Choice Voting then was penned:

From: M Mitchell
Posted At: Thursday, October 27, 2011 11:24 AM
Posted To: Editor
Conversation: Rebuttal to Halsey Frank Piece in the Forecaster
Subject: Rebuttal to Halsey Frank Piece in the Forecaster

Dear Mr. Mehlsak,

I read Halsey Frank’s piece in the Forecaster and am compelled to respond.

I am one of the elusive “swing voters” that the press, politicians, and pollsters try to predict the behavior of year-after-year. I am a former U.S. History/Social Studies teacher (I still have my teaching license), and a two tour Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran (recently returned from my second tour earlier this year). I have spent a little of my life “supporting and defending” the Constitution, as well as educating people about our nation, its government, and its history.

I have no vested interest in the outcome of the race for Portland Mayor, as I am a Freeport resident, but I am a passionate supporter of improving our democracy, and I see Instant Run-Off Voting (called Ranked Choice in Portland) as one of the most important improvements in our political system in generations, and wish to see it on a statewide and national level.

Please consider my letter/opinion piece for a rebuttal to Mr. Frank’s piece. Let me know if you need it shorter or longer, I am happy to edit it for space as needed.

All the Best,

M D “Mitch” Mitchell

Freeport, ME

So I attached my first pro-RCV writing that I titled, “Ranked Choice: Democracy 2.0”. Here is it:

Portland, in choosing Ranked Choice, is taking a serious and important step to update our representative democracy. Halsey Frank, former chair of the Republican City Committee, in his recent Forecaster piece, questioned the abilities of Portland voters, saying Ranked Choice voting was too “difficult,” and claimed it was “absurd” that the voters could “meaningfully” chose from the current candidates. The people of Portland deserve more credit than this.

It is our role as voters to make the best choices we can, and put in the effort required to learn about them. Information about candidates is available through the press and from the candidates themselves. If a voter believes they do not know enough about a candidate to rank them, for whatever reason, there is no requirement for a voter to rank every candidate. A voter can choose to rank the top one, two, three or more and leave blanks for the others if they wish. This is still a vast improvement over the older method of voting.

Maine is the perfect example of why we need Ranked Choice voting, not only in Portland, but for the state and nation as well. In Maine’s last six gubernatorial elections, only one clear majority candidate was elected, Gov. King in 1998 with 58.6% of the vote. We have had back-to back minority governors from both sides of the political spectrum in the last two elections. Gov. Baldacci’s 38.1% win in 2006 and Gov. LePage’s 37.6% win in 2010 inspired legions of bumper stickers that claim, “I am part of the majority that DIDN’T vote for that guy.” Mainers deserve clear majority winners.

Ranked Choice solves some important problems that exist in the older method of voting. In Ranked Choice, there are no spoiler candidates. Voters can choose a candidate they truly agree most closely with, or one that supports a single issue they care passionately about, with no fear that the vote will cause a candidate they don’t agree with to be elected. If a voter wants to pick a Green Party candidate as a first choice, but prefers that a Democrat wins over a Republican if their first choice candidate is eliminated, the ballot allows the vote to show that preference. Also, if voter wants to pick a Tea-Party Candidate, but prefers a Republican over a Democrat, the vote can show that as well.

In Ranked Choice, there are no “thrown away” votes where a voter chooses someone with no chance of winning.

There are no “strategic” votes where a voter picks a candidate they don’t like, over a candidate they do like, because they fear another candidate they dislike more will get elected. The voters get to order the candidates as they prefer, or not choose them at all. It is as easy as 1, 2, 3–or more as needed up to the number of candidates.

Ranked choice allows a voter to pick a candidate for whatever reason they want, while still being able to vote their preference on other candidates. Maybe voters want to protest against the two traditional parties, or maybe their minority/fringe candidate represents an important single issue that they want to vote for. Whatever the reason, voters under Ranked Choice can make their vote a statement as they wish.

Ranked Choice also minimizes gaming the voting system. Parties can and do support fringe candidates they don’t agree with to run so that they draw votes away from their opposition. Rush Limbaugh spent years reviling Hillary Clinton, but then encouraged his listeners to vote for her in the 2008 election campaign. This type of “gaming the system” does not serve us well as a nation. In Ranked Choice voting, this becomes a dangerous strategy, since drawing out additional voters for an opposition “fringe” candidate, may have the unintended effect of supporting an opposition “mainstream” candidate as well.

Ranked Choice is not a perfect system, but the problems it has, it also shares with the older method of voting: it can’t prevent gerrymandering, it trends towards two parties over time, and it can’t guarantee a Condorcet winner (simply explained: a candidate who would beat every other candidate if they were run against each other in separate two person races). It does solve for the spoiler effect, allowing people to support smaller parties without sacrificing candidates they agree with, and produces a winner that a larger number of voters agree on.

We deserve more than a voting method that is reduced to one choice from two candidates. Our voting method should encourage a diversity of candidates from different backgrounds and beliefs to run for political office. Elections should be about choosing the best candidates, not locking us into limited choices. Ranked Choice allows voters the ability to have a more meaningful way of choosing from fields of candidates, while preserving a government where the will of the majority is represented.

After that, I ran afoul of that “liberal” media that is supposedly pushing for Ranked Choice Voting. Here is how that went:

From: Mo Mehlsak (editor, the Forecaster)
Subject: RE: Rebuttal to Halsey Frank Piece in the Forecaster
To: “M Mitchell”
Date: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 8:30 AM

Thanks for writing, but our length limit for letters is 250 words. Feel free to send a shorter version by noon Monday.

Mo Mehlsak
Editor | The Forecaster

WTF? The “bad guy” gets his say, but me? Bupkis. So begins my long history of getting almost nothing published in local papers. I was relegated to the comment section… sigh.

From: M Mitchell
Subject: RE: Rebuttal to Halsey Frank Piece in the Forecaster
To: “Mo Mehlsak”
Date: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 8:32 AM

Dear Mo,

I would like this to be a rebuttal opinion piece, not a letter.

I would note that Mr. Frank’s piece had 913 words, and mine has around 840.


Enter Diane Russell yet again…

From: M Mitchell
Subject: Fw: RE: Rebuttal to Halsey Frank Piece in the Forecaster against Ranked Choice Voting
To: “Colleen Tucker” & “Diane”
Date: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 8:34 AM

Dear Colleen and Diane,

Please help. See below.


Diane and I then “colluded” for the first time:

On Thu, Oct 27, 2011 at 12:45 PM, Rep. Diane Russell wrote:

Hi Rob and Dorothy (CC Colleen):

Can you see below? I don’t have time to shorten this to 250 words; Rob and Dorothy ~ can either of you help this gentleman out so we can get a rebuttal in ASAP?

Thank you!


At this point, Dorothy Scheeline of Fairvote came back into the story:

To: Diane and Mitch
Cc: Rob Richie and Colleen
Oct 27, 2011 at 5:15 PM

I got it down to 232 words, I didn’t add anything just subtracted:

Portland, in choosing Ranked Choice, is taking a serious and important step to update our representative democracy. Halsey Frank, former chair of the Republican City Committee, in his recent Forecaster piece, questioned the abilities of Portland voters, saying Ranked Choice voting was too “difficult,” and claimed it was “absurd” that the voters could “meaningfully” chose from the current candidates. The people of Portland deserve more credit than this.

Maine is the perfect example of why we need Ranked Choice voting, not only in Portland, but for the state and nation as well. In Maine’s last six gubernatorial elections, only one clear majority candidate was elected, Gov. King in 1998 with 58.6% of the vote. We’ve had back-to back minority governors from both sides of the political spectrum in the last two elections. Gov. Baldacci’s 38.1% win in 2006 and Gov. LePage’s 37.6% win in 2010 inspired legions of bumper stickers that claim, “I am part of the majority that DIDN’T vote for that guy.” Mainers deserve clear majority winners.

Our voting method should encourage a diversity of candidates from different backgrounds and beliefs to run for political office. Elections should be about choosing the best candidates, not locking us into limited choices. Ranked Choice allows voters the ability to have a more meaningful way of choosing from fields of candidates, while preserving a government where the will of the majority is represented.


Then it was published, in 232 words, my first public efforts to support Ranked Choice Voting. I met Dorothy a few days later, when she was visiting Maine, I was doing voter education, and she was advocating for Ranked Choice Voting and working for Fairvote. This video of me advocating for Ranked Choice Voting, viewed a whopping 237 times to date, was shot spontaneously by Dorothy as we spoke to people by Congress Square in Portland Maine in November 2011:

What a long strange trip it has been.

I am still happily shocked that the people of Maine have now spoken via the ballot, twice, to insist that We the People are indeed in charge. Let’s hope our Representatives now represent us.

I’m now savoring the victory of the moment, even as there are many challenges ahead.

K-O-C-H Killing Our Children’s Heritage

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:19

I understand David Koch is sick and pulling back from some of his responsibilities at Koch Industries. Well that’s the best news I’ve heard all day. Not that I want Mr. Koch to die or have any use for him, but I believe we corporately could use a little less of his influence.

David Koch’s political machinery that he and his bro, Charles assembled and is to blame for many a problem we have today from promoting political Republican races at the time of the Trump campaign to the birth of the Tea Party movement and their upside down ideologies. We can thank him for union busting, destruction of public schools and EPA as well as the rising U.S. debt because of his influence on doing away with corporate and personal income tax, he forgets they are used to pay for schools, roads and all public places.

What’s more insidious than this, I believe, he wants to destroy America by eliminating what gave this country its middle class. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created many construction projects in the 30’s and China did the same in 2009 and 2010 to save its ailing economy and country. But I guess when you’re dying with $60 billion in your greedy shaking hand, you are concerned about having enough to eat. Not to mention the rest of these angry rich old codgers since Ronald Reagan took office, these old rotten greedy men have destroyed everything that made this country great.

Being a rich greedy subversive traitor does not make you a great man, it doesn’t matter if you make the stock market go up while you are destroying people’s lives. What a legacy, he was known for being a rich A—hole.

Historic Vote on Splitting Up California Coming in November

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:09


California is the most populous state in the United States — and if a majority of the state votes this November, it could become three separate states.

State election officials announced Tuesday that a proposal to divide the state into three separate states had received enough signatures from voters to appear on the ballot in November’s midterm election.

If the proposal passes, the state would break off into three separate states: Northern California, anchored by San Francisco; California, centered around Los Angeles; and Southern California, including San Diego.

The initiative was sponsored by California-based venture capitalist Tim Draper, who had previously sponsored ballot initiatives to partition his home state. In 2012 and 2014, Draper tried — and failed — to get a question splitting up California into six states on the ballot.

“Three states will get us better infrastructure, better education and lower taxes,” Draper told theLos Angeles Times last summer, after submitting his proposal. “States will be more accountable to us and can cooperate and compete for citizens.”

This is not the first attempt to break California apart. According to theLos Angeles Times, there have been over 200 attempts from residents to break up California, or to get it to secede from the union; all of which failed

Following the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, a movement known as “CalExit” attempted to force a similar vote on getting the state to secede from the union, but their proposal did not make it to the ballot.

Should the proposal succeed, it would be the first division of a state since West Virginia split off from Virginia in 1863. Though it isn’t likely to get voter approval, it would still have to clear numerous hurdles, including getting approval from U.S. Congress.

Human Rights Concerns Linger Amid Russian World Cup Moment

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:03


Back in 2010, President Vladimir Putin helped secure Russia’s bid for the World Cup with guarantees he would introduce the world to an open and welcoming Russia.

This week, Putin said Russia had made good on its promises.

“We’ve done everything to ensure our guests, sportsmen, experts, and, of course, fans feel at home in Russia,” said Putin in a video address released by the Kremlin.”We have opened our country and our hearts to the world.”

With the final countdown to Thursday’s opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia underway, the stadiums appear ready, the fan zones (nearly) built, the bartenders ready to pour the beer, and the hooligans instructed to stay away.

But as Russia prepares to host world football fans of “the beautiful game”, human rights defenders warn the Kremlin is failing to meet obligations for social and political freedoms at home.

“There is no doubt that the government is craving this international prestige and wants to put Russia in the best light possible,” said Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher at Human Rights Watch’s Moscow division.

The problem, added Gorbunova, is, “The situation of human rights now is the worst it’s been since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

Sochi Redux

Near identical charges were levied against Russia before it hosted the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.Then as now, concerns ranged over everything from political repressions, migrant labor violations in building sports infrastructure and pressure against LGBT groups to environmental and animal rights violations.

In 2014, Putin sought to appease his critics to a degree. Before the Sochi Games, the Russian leader made several high profile gestures, including the amnesty of jailed Greenpeace activists, members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, and oligarch-turned-prisoner of conscience Mikhail Khodorkvosky in a bid to ease Western pressure.

This time? Not so much

“Russia has grown more and more resistant to international criticism,” said Gorbunova. “And as the international criticism intensifies, Russia becomes more self-assertive and shows how the Kremlin basically doesn’t care what the international community thinks.”

Four years later

Key to this shift is Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the subsequent fallout in Russia-West relations over Western sanctions, the downing of Malaysian Air flight MH17, election meddling allegations, and charges the Russian government engineered a doping program aimed at securing a (now tarnished) 1st place finish in Sochi among other issues.

The constant criticism has so inured the Kremlin to Western harangues that most are now merely met with a shrug and denial.

“Putin saw that there’s no need to worry about these things,” said Leonid Volkov, a pro-democracy activist and key advisor to opposition leader Alexey Navalny, currently serving a 30-day jail term for organizing anti-government protests.

“Political prisoners, downed passenger planes over Ukraine, bombs in Syria … it doesn’t matter.Everyone’s coming to Russia anyway,” noted Volkov.

Government critics say they are not out to ruin World Cup fun, but argue the political realities of the Putin regime also shouldn’t be ignored.

Sport and politics

The Kremlin has long argued politics and sport simply don’t mix, a statement Kremlin opponents find absurd.

“Of course, Putin uses sport as a key part of his rule,” said Volkov, the pro-democracy activist.

The World Cup, he notes, is the latest in a series of high profile sporting investments by the Russian president aimed at showcasing Russia’s resurgence under Putin’s rule.

Only it’s not clear the party is for everyone.

In the run-up to the Cup, students at Moscow State University say they were subjected to harassment by security services for protesting the location of Moscow’s fan zone, located just off the university grounds.

“They accuse protesters of trying to ruin the World Cup,” said Igor Vaiman, 21, a physics student, in an interview . “But the security services and repressions hurt World Cup much more than we could ever do.”

Great tournament, bad team?

Meanwhile, Russian football fans have another concern: the national team.FIFA ranks it 70th, the lowest ever for a host country in pursuit of a World Cup championship.

Russian fans are preparing for the worst, despite a record $12 billion spent on hosting the event.

Russia’s most recognizable star, veteran striker, Artem Dyzuba, finally lashed out at the critics’ read of Russia’s chances before even a single match. “We also dream of winning a World Cup,” he reminded fans.

But Viktor Levin, a retired sportscaster who called games for the legendary teams of the Soviet Union, said the problems with modern Russia football ran deep. “In the Soviet Union, our team battled out of genuine patriotism,” said Levin. “Now it’s all about money.”

Even the fans have changed, he argued. “Before we went to watch football with our kids. It was a family event. Now all these young people do is drink, wave their scarves, and fight.”

His friend Marshan nodded in agreement. “What can I say? We’re bad at football,” he said, before adding a caveat worthy of the Kremlin.

“But nobody hosts better than Russia! I guarantee it!”

Rights Lawyer Who Defended Iran Headscarf Protesters Detained

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 13:01


Iranian authorities on Wednesday detained a prominent rights lawyer who had recently defended women protesting the obligatory Islamic headscarf.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was taken from her home, according to her husband, Reza Khandan, who said she managed to call him after she was detained. He said she was told she would be serving a five-year sentence at the Evin prison in Tehran after being convicted in absentia. “I have no idea what the sentence was related to,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from authorities.

Khandan said their 18-year-old daughter was at home at the time of the arrest.

“My daughter is preparing for university entrance exams that will be held in two weeks,” he said. “I don’t know how she will manage it in such conditions.”

Amnesty International condemned the detention, calling it an “outrageous attack on a brave and prolific human rights defender,” The group said she should be released “immediately and unconditionally.”

Sotoudeh is an outspoken critic of the country’s judiciary, which is dominated by hard-liners. She had recently objected to its decision to limit the number of lawyers allowed to defend clients in security-related cases, calling the move a “farewell” to the right of defense.

The judiciary had released a list of just 20 lawyers, out of 60,000 licensed attorneys, who would be allowed to defend such cases. After widespread objections, the judiciary said it would expand the list.

The mother of two also worked as a lawyer for women detained for refusing to cover their hair in public.

Sotoudeh, who has also represented prominent opposition activists, had previously served a three-year prison term from 2010 to 2013 after being convicted of security-related charges.

She was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Union in 2012.

Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Released From Jail

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 12:58


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was freed Thursday after serving a 30-day jail sentence for his role in organizing massive protests against President Vladimir Putin last month.

“I’m with you again after a 30-day business trip,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m so happy to be free.”

Navalny and hundreds of his supporters were detained during the May demonstrations in Moscow and dozens of other cities on the eve of Putin’s inauguration to another six-year presidential term. He was charged with inciting an unauthorized rally, and a Moscow court ordered him to jail.

Navalny, who also organized massive street protests to coincide with Putin’s 2012 re-election, was barred from the presidential ballot in March because of a conviction on financial crimes, charges he contends were fabricated.

He has served a number of weeks-long jail terms in recent years for organizing protests.

Experts Gather to Defend Human Rights in Africa’s Great Lakes Region

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 12:55


Judicial officials and experts Africa’s Great Lakes region are meeting to look for ways to reduce violence and human rights abuses through the judicial process. The officials attending the meeting have called on closer cooperation between states to fight impunity in the region.

Judges, lawyers and legal experts are taking aim at impunity with hopes of finding a peaceful solution to conflicts in the Great Lakes region.

Tanzania’s Deputy Director of Public Prosecution, Frederick Manyanda, spoke Wednesday in Dar es Salaam.

He says this meeting is about how to deal with those who commit crimes against humanity, how countries are going to engage in providing evidence, information and how they can exchange the suspected criminals. So, the one who is arrested in Zambia may be taken to Kenya and the one arrested in South Sudan taken to Tanzania.

This is the second time legal experts and lawyers from the region are meeting. The theme of this year’s meeting is to create mechanisms to strengthen regional cooperation.

The Great Lakes Judicial Cooperation network consists of 13 countries, four of which— Burundi, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan— are engulfed in various degrees of violence and unrest. In all four, rights groups have accused governments and armed groups of human rights violations.

U.N. special envoy to the Great Lakes region Said Djinnit says for crimes to end, there has to be working agreements between countries in the region.

“The judicial cooperation has been highlighted as a very important tool for addressing impunity and promoting stability in the Great Lakes, a region that has been affected in the past with serious crisis, conflict, genocide, and war,” said Djinnit.

Constitutional law expert Nelson Havi says countries with well-developed judicial systems may find it difficult to work with countries whose judicial systems are weak.

“It will be foolhardy for a court in Tanzania or Kenya to use a suspect in one of those countries to be tried in Burundi or Uganda or Rwanda or even Southern Sudan, because it does not enjoy the same level of development and adherence to human rights. So this cooperation may be limited to matters either commercial, where the interests or the rights of an individual is not concerned,” said Havi.

The meeting ends Thursday.

KhaleedAbubakarFamau contributed to this report from Dar es Salaam.

Court Blocks 10% Petition for Nebraska Independent Candidates

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 20:39

From a recent Ballot Access News post by Richard Winger about the lowering of signature requirements for independent candidates in Nebraska:

On June 13, attorneys for the Nebraska Secretary of State asked a U.S. District Court to rule that the Nebraska petition requirement for non-presidential independent candidates is unconstitutional. The law requires signatures equal to 10% of the registered voters. When both sides agree in such constitutional cases, the judge always respects the unanimous views of the litigants. The case is Bernbeck v Gale, 4:18cv-3073.

The 10% petition requirement was passed in 2016, but not effective until after the 2016 election was over, so it will never have been in effect in any election. The state agrees that the old pre-2016 law will be policy, until the legislature revises the law. The law before 2016 required exactly 4,000 signatures for statewide office and U.S. House. The 2016 law requires approximately 125,000 signatures for statewide office, and approximately 42,000 signatures for U.S. House. It isn’t possible to say exactly how many signatures are required under the 2016 law, because the number of registered voters changes constantly, and the number would be determined as of the date of the registration tally closest to whenever the petition is submitted.

The 2016 bill had passed the legislature unanimously. It was part of an omnibus election law bill, and the 10% provision got no publicity at all. The lawsuit was filed by independent candidate Kent Bernbeck, who now plans to obtain 4,000 valid signatures to run as an independent for Treasurer. The petition deadline is September 1.

Here is a bonus video of a recent independent candidate in Nebraska:


Reawakened Malaysian Press Await Promised Reforms

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 20:15


Malaysian journalists are enjoying unprecedented freedom in the wake of the unexpected ouster of a government that had combated critical media with court cases and harassment.

For defiant outlets such as Malaysiakini that had braved the wrath of ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak to pursue massive corruption allegations against him, life has just become easier.

But with Najib’s corruption case now leading news on major networks, it is in the mainstream media that the real change is happening, Malaysiakini’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan says.

“I’ve been a journalist for over 25 years in Malaysia. I think this is the first time that I feel optimistic that there will be greater freedom, not just of the press but also of expression, of speech for Malaysians,” he said.

“For the mainstream media which has been operating under a short leash because of the control of the government, definitely that leash has gone and their reporting has undergone quite major change.”

Mixed messages though from the coalition that ended six decades of one party rule in Malaysia in May has made some media watchdogs nervous about how unified their media reform commitment really is.

Pakatan Harapan, an unlikely coalition of parties led by longtime opposition nemesis and former PM Mahathir Mohamad, built media reform into their party manifesto.

However Mahathir has a legacy of shutting down news outlets from his previous 20-year stint as prime minister and his enthusiasm for press freedom appears colder than that of his coalition partners.

“You see I practice not the same kind of liberal democracy that you find in America or in other countries but we have constraints here. We have a multiracial population that if it’s not managed well will soon go into conflict and even fight each other,” he told VOA in a recent interview.

“So we watch carefully to see that when you publish anything it is not deliberately in order to stir up racial feelings. If you do that then we have to restrict you. But otherwise in Malaysia there is freedom of the press,” he said.

Mahathir has long argued that Malaysia’s delicate ethnic balance of Malays, Chinese, Indians and others is so sensitive certain rights must be curtailed.

Ed Legaspi, executive director of the Southeast Asia Press Alliance, said it was not surprising for him to return to this theme but that it is time he realized the public has moved on.

“He needs to change his views about media freedom in Malaysia. I think Malaysia has matured enough as a society. In fact that’s what the people chose during the election so he must listen to that mandate to reform the freedom of expression environment in Malaysia,” he said.

“As a leader he has no record of allowing freedom of expression. He says he has changed but we’ve yet to see how his party, that came from UMNO, will support the reform,” he said, referring to the United Malays National Organization party Mahathir led as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Initially he moved it towards liberalization but then reversed course— forcing the closure of several critical newspapers in the late 1980s while detaining waves of political opponents.

His relationship with online freedom has vacillated as well. In the late 1990’s Mahathir committed Malaysia to “no internet censorship” under the Multimedia Super Corridor initiative— a project intended to attract dotcom boom investment.

Later, he changed his mind after alleging Facebook had censored one of his posts attacking Israel’s treatment of Palestinians that, among many points, claimed Jews took pleasure from killing Arabs.

The “no internet censorship” commitment was now regrettable, he declared, as companies already censored the web but allowed content morally offensive to Malaysians.

More recently Mahathir caused anxiety by signaling, perhaps unintentionally, that he intended to amend rather than scrap a deeply unpopular fake news law.

On May 22 a coalition of 20 Malaysian rights groups, riled by that development, publicly urged the new government to make good on its election promises, and it has since pledged to fully repeal the law at the first sitting of parliament on July 16.

The fate of other laws Pakatan Harapan pledged to repeal, such as the 1984 Printing and Publications act, which grants the home minister “absolute discretion” to ban or censor “undesirable publications” and elements of the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act, remains a concern.

Malaysiakini’s Steven Gan thinks Mahathir won’t betray the very different expectations of the electorate that brought him to power this time, even if his heart is not completely with them.

“Well Mahathir’s an autocrat when he was in his first stint as prime minister about 20 years ago. There’s definitely a question of how far he is willing to go,” he said.

“But I think that he has gone quite far given that he is not known to be a democrat. I think that he has gone quite far in trying to meet the aspirations of Malaysians and Malaysians who voted this new government in power, and I think they definitely watch every [one] of his steps.”

Ireland to Vote on Removing Blasphemy as an Offense

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:32


Ireland will hold a referendum later this year to remove the offense of blasphemy from its constitution.

Charlie Flanagan, minister for justice and equality announced Tuesday that the referendum will likely be held in October at the same time as the presidential election.

The Irish constitution says, “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offense which shall be punishable in accordance with law.”

The move is part of the government’s plan to overhaul the constitution of the most socially conservative country in Europe. It pairs with the referendum last month that overturned Ireland’s ban on abortion.

“In terms of Ireland’s international reputation, this is an important step,” Flanagan said in a press release on Tuesday.

“By removing this provision from our constitution, we can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values and that we do not believe such laws should exist.”

Progressive lawmakers in Ireland are also eyeing a controversial reference in the constitution to a “woman’s life within the home.”

The Irish Times reports lawmakers would also like to hold a vote on changing the constitutional phrasing that prioritizes women’s role in the home over the workplace.

It is not clear if that referendum will be held at the same time as the one on blasphemy.

PM Abadi Expresses Opposition to Repeat of Iraq Election

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 19:05
U.S. President Donald Trump welcoming Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House – link


Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday he opposed any repeat of the May 12 parliamentary election, and warned that anyone who tried to sabotage the political process would be punished, after allegations of electoral fraud raised tensions.

Parliament has demanded a nationwide recount of votes, drawing calls for the election to be re-run. Abadi said only the Supreme Federal Court could decide whether to re-run the vote, which was won by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc.

“The matter is exclusively in the hands of the judiciary, not politicians. The government and parliament don’t have the power to cancel the election,” Abadi told a news conference.

On Monday, Sadr urged Iraqis to unite rather than squabble over a possible re-run of the election, in a message apparently meant to lower the political temperature after a ballot box storage depot caught fire.

Abadi called the fire a deliberate act and said the attorney general would bring charges against those who are trying to undermine the political process.

An Iraqi court ordered the arrest of four people accused of setting fire to the storage site, the judiciary said. Three of them were policemen and one an employee of the Independent High Elections Commission.

Abadi said a preliminary report had provided evidence of gasoline at multiple areas inside the storage site. It also showed that security cameras had been disabled and no locks had been broken, implying it was carried out by someone with access to the storage site.

Iraqi authorities said the ballot boxes had been rescued but the fire has fueled fears of violence.

Sadr, a Shi’ite Muslim cleric who once led violent campaigns against the U.S. occupation that ended in 2011, has emerged as a nationalist opponent of powerful Shi’ite Muslim parties allied with neighboring Iran and as a champion of the poor.

He has warned that certain parties are trying to drag Iraq into a civil war, adding that he would not participate in one.

Abadi thanked Sadr for a disarmament initiative he floated after a weapons cache at his Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City exploded, killing 18 people, and said he hoped the cleric would stick to it.

“I welcome Sayed Moqtada’s announcement that his followers commit to not having weapons outside the framework of the state. We consider this good,” he said, adding that those responsible for the explosion would be brought to justice. “What happened in Sadr City is very regrettable, it is a crime. Those responsible will receive their just punishment.”

US High Court Voter Roll Decision May Have Limited Impact

Wed, 06/13/2018 - 17:23


A U.S. Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for states to take a tougher approach to maintaining their voter rolls, but will they?

Ohio plans to resume its process for removing inactive voters after it was affirmed in Monday’s 5-4 ruling. It takes a particularly aggressive approach that appears to be an outlier among states.

Few appear eager to follow.

“Our law has been on the books. It hasn’t changed, and it isn’t changing,” said Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Bryan Dean.

At issue is when a state begins the process to notify and ultimately remove people from the rolls after a period of non-voting. In most states with similar laws, like Oklahoma, that process begins after voters miss two or more federal elections.

In Ohio, it starts if voters sit out a two-year period that includes just one federal election. They are removed from the rolls if they fail to vote over the following four years or do not return an address-confirmation card.

Opponents of the laws say their intent is to purge people from the rolls, particularly minorities and the poor who tend to vote Democratic. Supporters say voters are given plenty of chances to keep their active status and that the rules adhere to federal law requiring states to maintain accurate voter rolls.

Democrats and voting rights groups have expressed concern that other states will be emboldened by the ruling and adopt more aggressive tactics to kick voters off the rolls. In addition to Oklahoma, Georgia, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have laws similar to Ohio’s.

But even Republican-led states where officials are concerned about voter fraud may be wary when it comes to following the Ohio model.

One hurdle is likely to come from local governments, where election administrators would have to deal with disgruntled voters and manage an increase in the number of people placed on inactive voter lists, said Myrna Perez, who has studied voter list practices in her role as deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program.

“Using one election as an indicator is going to lead to a whole lot of false positives,” she said. “There are plenty of states that clean their voter rolls successfully without being as aggressive as Ohio.”

West Virginia is more lenient in targeting inactive voters than Ohio. Among other things, it requires counties in the year following a presidential election to mail an address confirmation to people who have not voted in any election during the previous four years.

Julie Archer of the watchdog West Virginia Citizen Action Group said the process appears to be working as it should.

“There is not a need to do something more aggressive,” she said.

‘Massive statewide purge’

The controversy over Ohio’s approach arose from apparently conflicting mandates in the National Voter Registration Act, which became law in 1993. It requires states to maintain accurate voter registration lists but also says they should protect against inadvertently removing properly registered voters.

Since 1994, Ohio has used voters’ inactivity after two years — encompassing one federal election cycle — to trigger a process that could lead to removal from the voter rolls. That process has been used under both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, but groups representing voters did not sue until 2016, under current Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

The legal action followed what the lawsuit called “a massive statewide purge” of voters in the summer of 2015.

In Pennsylvania, the process isn’t triggered unless people have failed to vote for five years, or two general election cycles. The state has no plans to change that, Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said.

The existing system hasn’t been drawing complaints, said Ray Murphy, a spokesman for Keystone Votes, a liberal coalition that advocates for changes to Pennsylvania election law. But he said the group will watch the Legislature closely for any signs that lawmakers will want to follow Ohio’s more stringent method.

Ballot access is a frequent battleground for Democrats and Republicans, but it’s not always a neatly partisan issue.

In Oregon, for example, Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson last year expanded the period for removing people from the rolls from five years of non-voting to 10 years.

“A registered voter should not lose their voting rights solely because they haven’t participated recently,” he said in a written statement following Monday’s Supreme Court ruling.