Thursday, August 25, 2016

Early voting poses no dangers to democracy -- but limits cause irreparable harm

Schimel temporarily drops appeal to early voting challenges, but he should do so permanently

Early voting is not a danger to democracy. But eliminating early voting is.

This is especially true in urban areas, where people who work long hours aren’t necessarily able to make it into the polling booth on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in November. Allowing communities to let people vote weeks in advance, or on weekends, is common sense.

Laws passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature changed that. They curtailed the ability of communities to offer early voting, barring completely early weekend voting. They also shortened early voting time, from 28 days before the election to 10 business days (the Monday before election day excluded). And laws mandated that early voting, if it were to take place, could only be done in one location, and not offered anywhere else within a given community.

That meant that early voting in larger Wisconsin cities could only happen at one site. Imagine needing to take a bus ride in Milwaukee to get to a polling location downtown -- a two-hour, one-way trip for some remote locations in the city, and a huge chunk of the day that many citizens can’t afford to give up during peak weekday hours.

A judge saw through the absurdity of these laws and recognized who they were meant to target: minority voters in large cities. U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson wrote late last month that:
Wisconsin’s rules for in-person absentee voting all but guarantee that voters will have different experiences with in-person absentee voting depending on where they live: voters in large cities will have to crowd into one location to cast a ballot, while voters in smaller municipalities will breeze through the process. And because most of Wisconsin’s African American population lives in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, the in-person absentee voting provisions necessarily produce racially disparate burdens. Moreover, plaintiffs have demonstrated that minorities actually used the extended hours for in-person absentee voting that were available to them under the old laws.

The court concludes that the in-person absentee voting provisions disparately burden African Americans and Latinos.
Emphasis in bold added.

Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed this ruling to a three-judge panel on the 7th District Court of Appeals. They denied his appeal in a one-sentence ruling: IT IS ORDERED the motion to stay is DENIED.

Schimel announced earlier this week that, in light of that ruling and due to the closeness of the next election cycle, he would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And nor should he. Schimel’s original appeal was ill-conceived and wrong to begin with. Early voting is necessary for many residents of the state’s largest cities, and convenient for countless more. Reducing the ability of people to vote when they’re able to do so limits democracy, and it’s a fight that most Wisconsin citizens should recognize is not worth pursuing.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the rules under which voting occurs. And certainly some limits should exist -- as an extreme example, we wouldn’t allow early voting to happen a year out from an election date. But it’s clear whom these new rules were intended to target (minority voters). And it’s doubly-clear that conservative lawmakers’ targeted these voters because they generally vote Democratic.

It is unfathomable that some insist we continue to even have this debate. And Wisconsin Republicans need to start caring about real issues that are relevant to citizens of the state, rather than conjuring up ideas of how they can remain in office through changing the rules of elections.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Scott Walker jobs “shell game” should anger every Wisconsinite

Walker administration keeps using year-to-year wording, hoping to fool you into buying his bogus jobs claims

Wisconsin released its latest monthly jobs report, and the news is stellar -- if it’s to be believed.

The problem? It’s not believable.

“Based on preliminary data, the state added a statistically significant 45,700 private sector jobs from July 2015 to July 2016,” the press release reads. But those numbers are based off of monthly jobs estimates -- they are not verified, and are based on a sample of under 4 percent of businesses statewide.

If that sounds like I’m being petty, don’t blame me: that criticism comes from Gov. Scott Walker himself, who made the case AGAINST using monthly jobs estimates during his run-up to the recall election in a piece titled “What is the Best Way to Count Jobs?”
While it is understandable that jobs estimates are often discussed when they are released, because they are the most recent job statistic, the actual job count data [released quarterly] is the gold standard of jobs measurement.
Emphasis in bold added.

Walker made that criticism four years ago. Today, he’s gloating about 45,700 private sector jobs being created using data from the unverified jobs reports:

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. And data from today’s press release exemplifies just how Walker’s administration is playing fast-and-loose with the jobs numbers.

The press release today also contains the quarterly jobs report from the first quarter of this year. Those jobs numbers are more reliable than the month-to-month numbers, based off of a sample of around 19-out-of-every-20 businesses in the state.

They reveal that from March 2015 to March 2016 the state created 37,432 private sector jobs. That’s a decent number, and it indicates that jobs are growing in the Badger state (how they compare to the rest of the nation, however, remains to be seen; we’ll know that on September 7th).

But if you go back to the Department of Workforce Development’s website to see the news release from March, you’ll find some familiar wording:
Wisconsin added a significant 47,500 private-sector jobs over the year ending in March 2016…
That claim mirrors almost to the word what the claim from this month’s jobs report says. Yet the revision demonstrates that the initial claim made in March this year was 26 percent higher than what the actual jobs numbers ended up being.

BUT IT GETS WORSE. Go back a YEAR from then, to March 2015, and read the press release from THAT month:
The state added a statistically significant 48,200 private sector jobs from March 2014 to March 2015…
The revision from THAT claim went down also, to 40,168 -- or a decrease of 16 percent from the original jobs claim. TWO YEARS IN A ROW Gov. Walker and his Department of Workforce Development made a claim about year-to-year jobs growth that turned out to be significantly lower once the numbers were revised.

And they’re still doing it as evidenced by the jobs report released on today. Gov. Walker and his administration are hoping you don’t notice, or don’t care, that he’s being purposely deceptive in order to make his jobs claims look better. It should infuriate every citizen across the state.


OK, so beyond the shell games, how did we do now that we have the verified numbers from March in-hand? The results are hardly inspiring. In 2011, when former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget was still in operation, we saw a year-to-year verified report of 41,350 jobs created from March-to-March.

We have yet to surpass or repeat Doyle’s numbers under Walker’s tenure.

The latest verified numbers, on their own and without context, sound like things are getting better. And certainly 37,432 private sector jobs created from March 2015 to March 2016 is better than no jobs created at all.

But it’s also a slowdown when compared to Doyle’s last budget year, and a slowdown compared to last year’s numbers as well, when we ranked 40th out of 50 U.S. states in private sector jobs growth.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect a similar ranking -- or worse -- when the rest of the nation’s numbers are released next month.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump’s speech in West Bend was aimed at wavering white voters, not African-Americans

GOP presidential candidate chose to "speak" to black communities in one of the whitest cities in Wisconsin

Donald Trump came to Wisconsin this week to address the problems of racial disparity and violence in black communities.

No, really. Stop laughing.

He did so in an unusual place: West Bend, Wisconsin, where 19 out of every 20 citizens are white (the rest of Wisconsin is similarly mostly white, although West Bend is more so than the state overall, which is 17 out of every 20 citizens). From the Journal Sentinel:
"I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future," Trump said in Washington County, which has a black population of 1.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Emphasis in bold mine.

Trump is struggling especially with African-Americans. Some state polls show he’s garnering zero percent support among black voters, a terrifyingly low number even for a Republican candidate.

But Trump isn’t really trying to court the black vote anyway. If he were, he’d be in Milwaukee, not West Bend. His speech, given in one of the whitest communities Wisconsin has to offer, wasn’t aimed at the African-American community. It was aimed at white voters who want to vote for Trump but don’t want to think of themselves as racist for doing so.

Bill Palmer at the Daily News Bin explains:
[Trump] appeared to be trying to give his white supporters the cover to pretend that their support of his blatantly racist policies somehow doesn’t make them racist. Because hey, he generically said something about how he was going to help black people, while blaming foreigners.
In other words, if wavering white voters can clear their consciences and somehow convince themselves that Trump stands WITH black people rather than against them, then they will feel less awful about supporting a candidate who is perceived as racist.

The problem is that perception of Trump’s racism is pretty much spot on. Trump has said in the past that he believes “laziness is a trait in blacks.” He’s also complained about black people counting his money. And Trump falsely repeated a claim that black-on-white crime was a huge share of total crimes committed (his tweet alleged numbers that were 440 percent higher than what actual statistics demonstrated). Trump also suggested that black protesters, some who were assaulted by his supporters at rallies, “maybe should have been roughed up.”

White voters who are wavering on Trump shouldn’t believe his recent rhetoric in West Bend. Trump isn’t a friend to African-Americans. Trump’s racism is blatant, and their consciences shouldn’t feel clean if they intend to vote for him simply because he says otherwise.

As we all know, Trump says a lot of things about himself that aren’t true.