Friday, June 08, 2007

on Barack Obama and local issues

The New Yorker recently ran a good article about Barack Obama, and their online edition had a Q&A follow-up with the article's author.

There is still a lot of fuzziness about where he really stands on many key issues. I give him points for raising the issue of the growing "quiet riot" in poor black neighborhoods across the country. It speaks to his past experience as a community activist here, and is relelvant nationally.

However, since Obama's hope-filled transition to Washington D.C., it seems that he's focused exclusively on national issues and forgotten who he is representing there: the people of Illinois. I think that Carol Marin's article about Obama's disconnection from current Illinois issues is right on the money.

Can we afford to have such a disconnect when crises in Springfield and Chicago are growing? It's a good thing that Durbin is staying on top of things. While I may not agree with all of his views, I appreciate the fact that he is responsible to his constituents.

Some people may not pay any attention to the "local issue" factor regarding Obama. However, I can't get as enthusiastic about him as I did before he made some very stupid local political endorsements (Todd Stroger, Joe Moore, etc.) that helped to burden us with some unsuitable candidates. The long-term local cost of those endorsements could be very high, so they shouldn't be quickly forgotten. Obama should be accountable to his constituents.

Several weeks back, I wrote a letter to Obama voicing my disappointment at his unfortunate choice of endorsements. I know that a few other people did likewise, and we got the same response. There's a lot of irony in his reference to S. 453 and voting issues. Too bad his commitment to the integrity of the voting progress can't start at home.

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Thank you for your recent communication expressing your disappointment in my support for Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward) in the recent City Council elections.

Over the years Alderman Moore has made a significant contribution to Chicago City Council and his ward. My support for Joe has been based on his commitment to public service and his hard work on behalf of the residents of the 49th ward. Although the recent election was close and hard fought, I trust that all in the 49th ward can look forward to effective service by Alderman Joe Moore.

Some constituents have called for an investigation into the procedures of the local election boards because of the narrow margin in the run-off election. In late April, the challenger, Don Gordon, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court alleging that he should be declared the winner because of "fraudulent votes" in 22 precincts. As a United States Senator, I have no jurisdiction over the state court system.

I do share your view of the importance of election reform. I have introduced S. 453, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, which I am pleased to report has gained significant momentum since the November 2006 mid-term elections. The bill criminalizes deceptive misinformation campaigns and other types of efforts to misinform and intimidate voters. Specifically, S. 453 prohibits anyone from knowingly distributing false information regarding the time, place, manner, qualifications, restrictions and requirements for voting. It also outlaws false statements regarding an individual's endorsement of any candidate running for federal office. This provision is targeted specifically at an incident in Prince Georges County, Maryland, in which the Republican candidates for Governor and U.S. Senator distributed flyers in predominantly African-American neighborhoods claiming falsely that the two nominees had received the endorsements of several prominent local African-American political figures.

The bill imposes stiff penalties of up to $100,000 or five years imprisonment, or both, for those found guilty of violating the law. It also provides voters with a private right of action to seek relief from deceptive practices, and requires the DOJ to conduct immediate investigations into allegations of this type of fraud. Finally, the Act extends its purpose beyond mere deterrents and punishments by establishing a process for reaching out to misinformed and intimidated voters with correct information so they can cast their votes. While the various types of voter suppression targeted in S. 453 would either be prosecuted by attorneys at the Civil Rights or Criminal Divisions of the DOJ, the bill also provides optional authority for the Attorney General to create a "Voter Integrity Task Force."

I am pleased to report some significant developments in the effort to get this legislation passed. The House version of the bill, introduced by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (R-IL), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in mid-April. It is my understanding that the bill will be taken up for debate by the full House, and a vote will be held on final passage, in early June. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing on S. 453 on June 7, 2007, which brings us one step closer to passage on the Senate side. I am becoming increasingly optimistic that we can get this bill signed into law by the end of the year.

Protecting the right to vote has been a career-long focus of mine. Before joining the Senate, this issue was a central aspect of my work as a community organizer in Chicago, as a civil rights attorney ensuring compliance with voter registration law, and as a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago. My commitment to protecting the rights of all voters in this country has only been strengthened by the new opportunities for involvement afforded by my position as a United States Senator. I assure you I will take full advantage of that privilege.

I am optimistic that progress can be made toward ensuring that in American elections all eligible voters are able to cast their ballots free of any interference or intimidation, and have confidence that their vote will count. That is why I am also supporting legislation that includes requirements for "verifiable paper audit trails," also known as VPAT or "paper trails." Paper trail systems provide voters with a paper receipt of their electronic vote, and that receipt becomes the primary record of that person's vote. The receipt is deposited at the polling sites and is then used in the case of an audit.

Thank you again for writing. I value the informed comments of my fellow Illinoisans.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama
United States Senator

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