By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law
As I wrote on Friday (http://www.blog.saltlaw.org/2012/08/25/true-or-screw-the-vote-zenos-law-on-preisseless-voting-in-ohio/), I went with my son Dan down to Worthington, Ohio near the capital Columbus in Franklin County, in my rented car on Saturday, August 25, 2012 to the True the Vote Ohio Summit (for more on the group see True the Vote.com). I had decided to go based on a Rachel Maddow Show presentation last Thursday night in which the suggestion was made that True the Vote was intimidating voters as poll watchers in places like Wisconsin (following voters to the place where they voted). Having been a poll observer in 2004 and 2008 I know from the training what a poll observer’s main taks are to 1) not talk to any voter and 2) refer problems one sees to the head judge to address. So I was curious to see what was being taught people at this Ohio Summit where former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (with whom I had problems based on my experience as a poll watcher in 2004 when the election was under his watch) and Secretary of State John Husted (who has done what appear to be shenanigans recently and who is now running the Lucas County Board of Elections where I live in Toledo, due to the Democratic and Republican leaders being hopelessly deadlocked on a number of issues (http://www.toledoblade.com/Politics/2012/08/26/Elections-board-defies-long-trend-of-collaboration.html, “Election Board Defies Long Trend of Collaboration, Toledo Blade, August 26, 2012).
I attended as a private citizen the True the Vote Ohio Summit and these are my initial notes from that meeting. Before I returned home on Saturday, this article http://ohio.mediatrackers.org/2012/08/25/liberal-professor-throws-fit-at-true-the-vote-ohio-summit/#comments was posted on the web with links at the True the Vote facebook page.
Around 1h00 am today, I went to the True the Vote Facebook website and posted a long post explaining exactly what happened to me at the meeting. I got up later and noticed that my posting had disappeared and the article with my work website picture was still up under a new posting.
I then wrote a comment under the new article at the True the Vote facebook page which is as follows:
- Benjamin Davis I placed a long comment up here earlier this evening in which I explained exactly what happened to me on Saturday. I also stated that I had participated in the Ohio Summit in Worthington as a private citizen and it was inappropriate to use my picture from my work website as well as to refer to my work. I asked that this photo be taken down now. I am dismayed to see that my long post has been removed while this false article has been allowed to stay up. I ask the webmaster who deleted my long posts to repost them under this one with the apologies of true the vote. This is unprofessional behavior to do this and I reserve my rights with regard to all of these actions.
If I get the exact post back I will put it up here. I am seeing if my son can somehow retrieve it from the tablet on which it was in case True the Vote does not put it back up.
(Update – my son was able to retrieve the post that had been disappeared at True the Vote in less than two hours after I put it up early this morning. Here is what I had written:
I was at the meeting as a private citizen so the photo above from my work webpage and to refer to me in these articles based on my job title are totally inappropriate. Please take my work photo down. The characterization of my questions at that meeting and actions is completely false. Please note that the article omits to mention that as I completed my three questions to Ms. Moncrief and before she could respond, a security guard came to my seat and asked me to leave. He threatened me that he would call the police. I said I had paid my 20 dollars, we were in the question session and I awaited hearing the answers of Ms Moncrief. Ms. Pullen of TtV then also came over and asked me to leave as this was a private meeting. I again said I had paid my 20 dollars and was awaiting Ms Moncrief’s answers to my three questions. Ms Pullen said I was disrupting the meeting and invited me to leave or they would call the police. I said please call the police and when the security guard touched my arm I told him to take his hands off of me. Ms Moncrief was speaking and because of these two people talking I could not hear her answers. I said that out loud and Ms Moncrief called them off and proceeded to answer my questions. When she answered only the one on race baiting at these political meetings, I repeated my two other questions as to 1) whether she was in favor of student ID being used in voter ID in Texas and 2) whether she was in favor of weekend voting in Ohio. She did not answer those. As to Ken Blackwell, I did not ask him a question as he did not take questions from the floor. As to the Judicial Watch speaker, given his speech and announced plans, I stand by my comment question that he seemed to be engaged these past three years in suppression of the minority vote. He disagreed and people applauded his answer – so be it.
To continue, in addition to the police being called, four disturbing things happened to my 21 year old son including he hearing me – his father – called a coon out at the coffee, him speaking to the police to keep his father from being arrested, my interview with the NYT person being interrupted by Ms Moncrief calling me (and by extension him) democratic plants and in league with the NYTimes reporter. My son also heard anti-gay slurs out at the coffee. These things are all offensive. Over the day I asked and got the answers to my questions and developed a cordial relationship with Ms Moncrief and Ms Engelbrecht and other TtV people. People came up to me and said they appreciated my questions, apologized for how I had been treated and were kind and supportive. I met some people with whom I exchanged email addresses as well as having the cards of Ms Moncrief and Ms Engelbrecht. My son remains in shock by what he saw happened to me. More in due course.
End post and update)
In brief, this is only a little part of what happened to me and my son which I will put below.
As a private citizen, I went to the True the Vote meeting Saturday. Extraordinarily heavy for me and if you google Benjamin Davis and True the Vote or go to their Twitterfeed you will see what is being said about me. This is my first effort to blog it and I may update this in due course. I went there because of the report on the Rachel Maddow show last Thursday and wrote a blog here, to wit: http://www.blog.saltlaw.org/2012/08/25/true-or-screw-the-vote-zenos-law-on-preisseless-voting-in-ohio/
I have been a poll watcher in 2004 and 2008 in Toledo, Ohio and so the description of what people had done at the polls seemed very bizarre to me.
After the welcome introduction by Ms. Engelbrecht, the second speaker, was Anita Moncrief, a black woman formerly with Acorn who appears to be a star in this space and who is True the Vote’s Senior Advisor. She made a long spirited speech at the beginning which made me uncomfortable as a 56 year old black man to hear from anyone. She was warmly received by the crowd in which I was the only African-American man (with my son), and there was another African-American woman (at least in the morning, a couple more people of color were there in the afternoon) among the 100 odd people in total. True the Vote says it is nonpartisan and it seemed out of line with nonpartisanship. When Ms. Moncrief opened the floor for questions, I raised my hand, she recognized me and I asked three questions: I) Are you in favor of student ID in Texas? 2) Are you in favor of weekend voting in Ohio? And 3) Are you in favor of race-baiting not being done in these kinds of meetings or in other meetings? The place seemed to explode, security was called on me and I was asked to leave by the security guard and one of the True the Vote people (Ms. Pullen) who said I was disrupting the meeting and both who threatened to call the police. I said I had paid, I had asked my questions to Ms. Moncrief and I was awaiting hearing her answers. They kept talking at me and the security guard put his hand on my sleeve and I told him to take his hands off me. While they talked at me and I responded, I tried to hear Ms. Moncrief who was speaking up front. With all their talking and my insisting I had the right to ask questions be there and had paid my $20 I could not hear Ms. Moncrief. Ms. Moncrief said she would answer and Ms. Pullen and the security guard stepped away. Ms. Moncrief answered the race baiting question but did not answer the other two. I repeated the other two and she did not know the answer on those two. Then I sat quietly and listened to the rest.
A coffee break was called and the leader of the organization – Ms. Engelbrecht – came over to me to answer questions (1) gun conceal law license is more rigorous process than student ID so less risk of fraud with that and (2) something about military voting is tied in with the weekend voting. We both shared stories about the deep meaning voting has for both of us and she and Ms. Moncrief gave me their cards to be in touch. I emphasized that for me what was important was for anyone who is eligible to vote to be able to vote.
While we talked, Ms. Engelbrecht asked Ms. Moncrief if she would get her a diet Coke and when she agreed to do that, I asked Ms. Moncrief if she could get me one too and she obliged.
Ken Blackwell (he took no questions so I could not ask any which is completely different from the suggestions of the article above), Fitton head of Judicial Watch (pointed out to him that the morning presentations on the training were similar to the training I had received in 2004 and 2008, but with Ken Blackwell and his speeches in the afternoon, the tone was turning from non-partisan to distinctly Republican.) I reminded him and all of the 1868 law that had been passed to permit the challenging of voters in Ohio for having African blood. I said that in the history the problem had never been with whites not having the vote but with minorities (maybe I said blacks) not being able to vote. I said from his description of what he was doing it looked to me that over the past three years Judicial Watch was working at suppressing the minority vote. He said that from what I had said, I did not understand what they do and went on to explain his position. Fitton received wild cheers from the crowd. Another question was asked, and he then he left.
A reporter from the NY Times with whom I had spoken briefly in the morning, caught up to me to do an interview at the afternoon break outside in the hall. As we talked in plain view, I was interrupted as a man and a woman objected to my truth about what was being said and I responded to them about my experience in the 2004 election (when Ken Blackwell was Secretary of State) as a poll watcher and that my 86 year old mom in New Jersey had not had a Driver’s License since 1994 but she should be OK there but what if she was in a state requiring ID (like the new Pennsylvania law). I asked them to imagine taking an 86 year old lady to the DMV. I knew my mom did not have a license because she was thinking about getting a scooter and was told by the nurse at her assisted care living place that one has to have a driver’s license to get one of those scooters.
Ms. Moncrief interrupted the interview saying I was a plant of the Democrats and this was coordinated between me and the NYTimes. I objected to being called a plant – saying I was a guy from Toledo here on my own. I said that if that is true I am a plant then that means my son who was right there was a plant too (which was absurd), and told them all they really need to chill out. Ms. Moncrief said I was being manipulated by the New York Times and I said we all can be manipulated.
State Senator Seitz replacing the Secretary of State John Husted explained the last three years of voter machinations by Democrats and Republicans. Based on the current state of the law he described, I imagined and told him my hypo below and suggested that rather than current law (person in wrong polling place or wrong line for precinct, poll worker is not allowed to give them information on where they should go – colloquially wrong church or right church but wrong pew (more than one precinct at a polling place)). I asked what about doing it this way: right church, any pew. Ms. Engelbrecht said that she had seen that in Kansas where Kris Kobach (author of immigration law voting laws etc of Republicans) and it had worked very well with people talking to each other and calmly voting.
My 21 year old son informed me while I was there that in the morning, the police had come and he had spoken to the officer out where the coffee was on my behalf and the police officer had been sympathetic to me and left. My son also told me that within earshot of him out where the coffee was he had heard me called a coon and had heard people say anti-gay slurs.
On the other hand, there were some wonderful people came up to me, including the head of the organization. She and others said I asked good questions, apologized for what had happened (including Ms. Pullen the lady from True the Vote who was ready to call the police on me explaining they had had outbursts with expletives at other events), there were some who agreed with some of the points I made on technical things, and some who were generally very appreciative of me being there. One guy gave both my son and I a link to a Christian Black History space on youtube.com. I went there and started part of part I and the take was they went past what they claimed was the typical civil rights in the 60’s forward Black History class to back in the 1700’s to describe places where blacks and whites worked for justice together. The part I saw was about Benjamin Rush, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones starting the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the late 1700’s as well as the 3/5 discussion on whether the Constitution was racist. I appreciate the sentiment but have quibbles with the accuracy or completeness of the description.
It really meant a great deal to me when an old white guy from Hawking County in Southern Ohio who seems to be a minister shook my hand and said things like “God has brought you hear today.” And “You are not a plant, you are here from the Master Planner” or things to that effect. It was balm in some tense moments and we hugged and exchanged e-mails along with a couple other people, Ms. Moncrief, and Ms. Engelbrecht head of True the Vote. Each of those persons who were warm to me is appreciated for their warmth even though I disagreed with many things strongly which caused clear consternation for others.
Lot of fear of me (as a black man it seemed) in some people, while very relaxed with others. Weird weird weird. Very concerned about foreigners getting to vote – as a person who had been a foreigner in France for 17 years very heavy to hear the edge in the voice of other Americans about foreigners.
Over the day, I asked tough questions, got illuminating answers and tried to keep the faith. It hurt to hear this morning from my son that he had heard me called a coon and had heard anti-gay slurs out by the coffee.
One (I think) scoop: Judicial Watch is going to file a lawsuit this week along with True the Vote against Ohio (Republican Governor) to have the voter rolls purged BEFORE the elections arguing the voter rolls being equal to 90 to 105 per cent of the adult population in 31 counties, that number should be more like 80 per cent (why 80 per cent not indicated) and so there are problems with the rolls in those counties (covers all the high minority counties from what he said and a bunch of others – he insisted on not being about suppressing the minority vote as did so many including Ken Blackwell). Ken Blackwell’s explanation of the complaints about minority precinct voting in the 2004 election was contradicted later by the Republican State Senator named Seitz who stepped in only since the night before at the last minute for the current Secretary of State John Husted). Seitz said the problem was not turnout but that there were people in the wrong line in the right or wrong polling place. He said much more but I am pointing out a couple of points Seitz mentioned. He spoke about weekend voting and it seemed his argument (overtime to be paid, Monday needing to prepare for Tuesday election day) did not seem persuasive to me, though it seemed persuasive to the people. He called the cost of paying overtime a kind of poll tax which seemed absurd to me. I mentioned that I had been in Lucas County in 2008 when there had been early voting and it was excellent and people should try it.
The morning training sessions on poll watching tracked with what I had received as training 2004 and 2008. If their neutral training is of a great number of people registered with one party or the other, I asked whether the effect is to provide lots of poll watchers for one party as opposed to the other. The speaker on that noted that the first time around the parties tend to take people that are registered with their affiliation but that when they saw how good the True the Vote people were, parties of both persuasions had asked them to be poll watchers or even poll workers whatever the registration of the True the Vote poll watcher.
They also have been working for several months preparing voter roll challenges (all will stop as challenges are to be filed by September 7th here in Ohio) based on a computer program that pulls out “high number of registrations per address” as the criteria for selection – my worry being whether the facially neutral rule in fact ends up targeting certain areas (read minority majority areas). They looked at tax appraisal lists and that made me think of majority/minority home ownership patterns influencing who gets challenged. Someone is not on the tax appraisal list though they reside there as a renter as opposed to an homeowner. I have not thought all the implications of their model through.
(Update: I was informed that when the methodology was used in Texas, the challenges ended up being essentially in the district of Congressperson Sheila Jackson Lee so I am uncertain about whether the metric used is generating “hits” that are not also skewed toward one community.)
Another thing, in Ohio absentee ballots will be mailed to everyone on the rolls and one can vote your absentee ballot without any ID, right now (though it is being fought) weekend voting the weekend before the election has been banned by the Secretary of State, and various ID (driver’s license, utility bill and all that) are required to vote in person. With the applicable law, if one is not in the right line at the right polling place (right church, right pew) by law the poll worker is not to let you know where you should be. A scenario I raised was that 1) someone gets a bunch of these absentee ballots and votes them for people, 2) people show up with ID to vote on election day and find out that they are marked down as already voted, 3) they then vote a provisional ballot, 4) when the provisional ballot is looked at it is very difficult to compare signatures on the absentee ballot, the provisional ballot, and the signature on the voter rolls to see if they match or not and as a result the provisional ballot is thrown out, 5) people who do not show up because there is no weekend voting before or they skip the election are considered to have voted in the absentee ballot done by someone fraudulently. This fraud is a felony, but it seemed a classic kind of manipulation that could be done in Ohio this year.
Am glad I went because I heard with my own ears and therefore could make up my own mind. As usual, things are both simpler and more complicated.
When I returned to Toledo I found that an e-mail had been sent to my Dean from someone who had been there in which they objected to me. I also received on my work account (I presume I was googled) the following e-mail:
From: Alan Mowery [mailto:(email)]
Sent: Sunday, August 26, 2012 5:20 PM
To: Davis, Ben
Subject: Your outrageous behavior
Your behavior toward Anita Moncrief yesterday, at the election integrity conference yesterday was outrageous. But just what I’d expect from a marxist who can’t argue his viewpoint without becoming a raving, rabid idiot.
We know that you on the left cannot argue your viewpoints rationally so your resort to whatever tactics you can to silence and intimidate the opposition. The exact same tactics used by communists. Truth is irrelevant to marxists.
Today I met with my Deans and things are fine.
I responded to Mr. Mowery today with this e-mail:
Beginning of e-mail
From: Davis, Ben
Sent: Monday, August 27, 2012 4:39 PM
To: ‘Alan Mowery’
Subject: RE: Your outrageous behavior
Dear Mr. Mowery,
I went as a private citizen to the meeting, my behavior was absolutely appropriate, I am not a Marxist, I was not a raving, rabid idiot, you do not know whether I am on the left or right, the only one who was being sought to be silenced or intimidated was me when the police were called on me for no good reason. Those police tactics of the organizers are the ones of a police state not my actions as an ordinary citizen asking intelligent questions and awaiting answers. I have no comments on Marxist views on truth but would suggest you read the wonderful book of Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism who notes the similarities between totalitarianism of the right (fascism) and of the left (communism). I am not a totalitarian, I am an ordinary American citizen who is civically engaged. On Saturday, I had several interesting conversations with people in the room who were happy that I asked my questions, had great exchanges with people of True the Vote including Ms. Moncrief for the most part once the dust settled. I even have Ms. Moncrief and Ms. Englerbreacht’s cards and intend as appropriate to continue dialogue with them. So, I regret to have to say this, you are wrong about me.
Please do not correspond anymore or enter contact with me anymore or else I will consider it harassment and will make a police report.
End of e-mail
I write this truth, my truth as to the Ohio Summit. My son remains shocked by what he saw in how I was treated and, while I have thick skin, it does bother me that my son heard someone call me a coon in the coffee space, heard anti-gay slurs in the coffee space, heard me (and by extension him) called a democratic plant when I was just exercising my civic duty, and just saw all this. I am happy that he saw this at least at 21 rather than at a more tender age.
For the record, I was asked to be a poll watcher for Obama yesterday and I declined because he had not prosecuted high-level people for the torture. Romney has said that he would torture if he becomes President. So I am between a rock and a hard place as the torture issue is something I have been working on since 2004.
(New Torture Update 8/31 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/31/us/holder-rules-out-prosecutions-in-cia-interrogations.html?emc=eta1 (Attorney General Holder has announced that no charges will be filed in the last two CIA torture cases being reviewed by John Durham. I have referred to this in many of my previous writings. Bush and Obama Administrations whitewashing US torture authorized at the highest levels of the United States government and a potential President Romney having the position in the Republican debates that he would torture if the situation presented itself. And people applaud both of these potential candidates – Romney and Obama. Where is the defense of the traditional American values on this? This is not the America I used to know. If someone has made or makes a filing in a foreign or international tribunal on the torture, this also opens the way for foreign and international tribunals to take a closer look as, under international law, when remedies are exhausted in a state, then foreign and/or international tribunals (under the rules of complementarity and/or comity) may step in if appropriate under their rules.)
I have two beautiful e-mails from an older man and a slightly younger than me man – both white men – that I will cherish. There kind words on the day were the balm in Gilead for me.
Hope this is of interest. Maybe more in due course.
(Update Some may wonder why I am so interested in this subject. One big part is the enormity of the personal experience on Saturday for me. The second is that I am well aware of the traditional swing state role of Ohio and the Toledo area is the swingingest part of that election. I am also aware of past shenanigans on voting here in Ohio. I think part of my interest comes from having read the 30 odd cases the late Justice Thurgood Marshall argued before the Supreme Court and the cases related to voting such as what was called the “white primary.” All kinds of machinations were done then and I can see with all of the laws that have been passed under the guise of voter integrity, one can get a bit suspicious of the motives of those who put in place these changes. I am indifferent as to whether there is animus or no animus in the way people act with regard to voting and amending the laws of voting. My concern maybe comes from international law where the key point is not the method of voting but whether there is a possiblity of internal self-determination for people – a chance to contribute to the governance process of the country. To the extent the various machinations may comply formally with constitutional law (race neutral) or statutory law (Voting Rights Act), the typical American discussion does not take directly into account the international law concept of the right of internal self-determination. Thinking in terms of the right of internal self-determination allows one to step outside of the internal law games that we have played for centuries in this country and look at the substantive effect of what is being sought to be done. That spirit animates the way I have looked at the True the Vote operation on Saturday and all the experiences I have had with them up to this note.
And, because of challenge to rolls process by them apparently leading to challenges being focused in the district of one African-American Congresswoman, because of my concerns not with the neutrality of the poll watching training but with the mix of the persons trained and whether they will be picked up by one party alone or far more than the other, because of the types of non-technical presentations made at the meeting that appeared to be distinctly Republican leaning, because of the manner in which my son and I were treated on Saturday (with the exception of individual acts of kindness by persons), because of the way I have been treated on the internet, because of the e-mails that have been sent to my boss and me at my work place even though I never mentioned my work affiliation as I asked questions at the Saturday meeting, because of the legacy of 400 years of minority difficulties in this country and my awareness of the rich variety of subordination approaches that have been done in that history, I have come to the conclusion that it is important to write to all so they can look at what I experienced and make up their mind.
Me personally, I will not have anything to do with True the Vote. Just too much here. And if persons think that is harsh, read my experience and ask what you would do. We must always keep in mind two famous Americans statements that together come to me today thanks to my friend Terry Lodge and divine inspiration.
“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Senator Barry Goldwater, 1964 Republican National Convention
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
― William Lloyd Garrison, From The Liberator January 1, 1831
Nothing new under the sun.
In this time, we must seek justice in every quarter. We must seek that every vote is preciously guarded and the right of each citizen is respected whatever their political persuasion. We can not let machinations on rules, evolve into machinations in the voting, to create machinations as to results. It is beneath the America that I used to know in the cities and towns in which I have lived, in the people that I have come to know of all backgrounds.
I know there are many people who think they are clever in these machinations, but let them know that as an ordinary citizen here in TOLEDO, we intend to call you out in our own inimitable way. And so I call out all whose efforts in any way diminish the transparency of the vote and by extension the clarity of the message that the coming voice of all the eligible voters should express to each of us as Americans and to the World and our Creator who endowed us with inalienable rights. These rights are not bestowed or taken away by one group or another through machinations. They are inherent and merely are to be clearly explained to even the least of the voters of the most modest means as they take on their civic responsibility and do that terribly moving act I saw in 2004 and 2008 or indicating their preferences ever so modestly, but ever so majestically too. Especially on today, the 49th anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech of my father’s friend, Martin Luther King, Jr.. We, all America, have come too far through too much pain over too long a time to be less than our best now. The times call for something more from each of us and I hope all rise to the challenge of protecting human dignity.)