Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cleveland Crazy Over Panhandling

Panhandling Ordinance Sails Through Council

There is nothing that the Coalition deals with that is more politically charged than panhandling. People are on-fire opposed to panhandlers. There is a deep, dark, hate for panhandlers among some pedestrians. This is such a small number of the people NEOCH represents, but this group inspires the most anger. I wish that I did not have to argue about people who can ask for money, but no one else ever steps forward on behalf of panhandlers. They do not have a trade association and they do not work well with each other. To say nothing for the small number of panhandlers who create such a nuisance that they make it bad for everyone. The Grapevine blog has done a good job keeping up on the panhandling debate.

Here is an e-mail that I got to our website from Tom after the article appeared in the Plain Dealer:
"It makes certain spots in the city off-limits to free speech," said Brian Davis, head of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. "What is the concern because a person asks for money near a phone?"
How about the right to leave me the F$#@ alone?

Here is my reply to Tom:
"Thank you for the suggestion, but that law does not exist in our society. If it did I would not receive telephone calls from so many politicians in October. There would be no Federal Communications Commission messing with what I am "allowed" to watch on the public airwaves, and advertising would not appear on every single flat surface in our universe. So, you have to put up with hearing from poor people asking for help until you can get that privacy law passed."

I did hear from people who were surprised how large the fine was for panhandling--$250. That seems very extreme to me and a few callers to our office. It seems like you are forcing people already down to dig a deeper hole that they will not get out of anytime soon. Eventually, this law will fail as it has in nearly every other city in the United States. The backers will be back at the table with more extreme measures after this law fails or is struck down by the courts.

As we always say, the only way to make any impact on panhandling is competition and finding alternative jobs for those begging for money. We need to put some of the brightest minds to the task of finding micro-enterprise or some other innovative ideas to move people into real jobs that do not involve asking for "charitable" help. We have a number of ideas on the NEOCH website as alternatives, but right now the City is busy making laws instead of solving problems.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Blackwell: Worst Secretary of State Ever

Ken Blackwell Should Be Impeached

It was ironic that Subodh Chandra was up for contempt issues when Ken Blackwell held the ultimate contempt for nearly every court in Ohio. First, he never gave the local boards proper guidance on the voting ID law. He then did not inform the local Boards of Elections properly of the agreement with NEOCH/SEIU. On the Monday before the election there was a settlement over the role of the observers that he was supposed to inform every county board of elections (issued by a Cuyahoga County judge). Blackwell instead only informed the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and that was in the last minute of business on Monday November 6. Then there was still confusion over the counting of provisional ballots (because thousands of Ohioans were improperly forced to vote with a provisional ballot) and the legal team had to work out another compromise over the counting of votes. So after all these fights, some boards still did not get the information and were not using the agreement to govern the rules to complete their count.

Having learned from 2000 and 2004 that there is no going back once the official count is announced, Chandra was probably overly zealous in informing each board of elections director in the state of the agreement he spent so many hours crafting. Who could blame him? If Blackwell had done his job in the first place there would not have been so many provisional ballots cast that needed counted. I hope that one of the courts find Blackwell in contempt. The state legislature should impeach him for not directing the local boards on HB3 and then showing disregard for court monitored agreements, and finally acting with such extreme dereliction of duty in overseeing this election. I remind you that Blackwell shook off all suggestions to appoint someone else to oversee this election despite his obvious conflict of interest as a candidate for governor. He also railed against the 2004 voter initiative that would have taken some of the conflict of interest out of the Secretary of State's office.

This is not a partisan issue either, because both Sherrod Brown (D) and Bob Taft (R) were very good Secretaries of State. They both did a very good job in trying to get every citizen to vote and reduce the barriers to voting. Bob Taft was one of the first Secretaries of State in the United States to implement rules for homeless people registering to vote. The Taft rules were models adopted by many other states and pushed by advocates. Blackwell has to be one of the worst Secretaries of State in the United States. He has disenfranchised more Ohioans than anyone since Ohio Secretary of State Harvey Smith presided over the 1919 Elections before women were granted the right to vote.

PS. Why was the Plain Dealer so harsh on Chandra? Did it have anything to do with how soft they were on Michael Vu and local election's officials?

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Our Homeless Voting Rights Activists

Homeless Voters Wait Out Ohio Attorney General

There is no doubt that the 2006 Ohio Voter ID law was a way to keep poor people away from the polling place. We challenged this law and won a huge victory. The Secretary of State repeatedly refused to follow the law. Blackwell did not inform the Boards of Elections on the proper method for implementing the law, and this forced thousands of voters to cast a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot. In Franklin County this has real consequences. As many as four races are still up in the air, and it will hinge on the results of the provisional ballots. Lawyers spent all last week working out how those ballots will be counted. There was a good summary by Subodh Chandra that another blog posted here.

I never got the chance to describe the three individuals who went down to Columbus from the Cleveland shelters to secure the right to vote. Pam is a graduate of Spelman College and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the last days of segregation. Her cousin was one of the children killed in the bombings. She told us the night we met with the lawyer that she was surprised that Ohio was doing what Bull Connors was trying to do in the South. We viewed the Southern attempts to block voters as racist, but Ohio's rules were passed under the guise of "preventing fraud." She is a very strong woman who volunteers and had a very stable life in the suburbs. She is trying to do everything to help her husband who is confined to a nursing home, which has brought her to the brink of financial ruin. Her driver's license expired and she had no address to put on a new license. What would you do? Pam fought for the right to participate in democracy?

Cornell was a veteran of the U.S. military. He just wants to be left alone at this point. He has medical issues, but has found a way to survive within the shelters. He had identification, but it was from a previous address, and that was not the address that the Board of Elections had on file. This would have confused the poll workers and there is no guarantee with Cornell would be able to vote.

Micky was also a veteran and had struggled with homelessness for an extended period of time. He volunteers at 2100 Lakeside to make sure the area remains safe. He loves walking the neighborhood to make sure that it stays clean and safe. His issue was that the only form of ID he owned was his Public Housing identification. It was unclear to everyone whether "other government document" included a public housing identification since they are a quasi-government entity.

So, all three waited all day in a jury room for a trial that did not ever start. They all were happy to have participated and were glad that they made a difference.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

An Inspiring Memorial for buddy gray

Cincinnati Activists Honor 10 Year Anniversary of Killing of buddy gray

I was honored to attend the memorial for buddy gray down in the Over the Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati on Wednesday November 15. Duane Drotar from 2100 Lakeside Shelter and I went down to remember this giant in the United States social justice movement. Here is the text of the description prepared for the memorial:
buddy gray (he preferred his name in lower case letters) was a war resister, carpenter, preservationist, poet, community journalist, baseball coach, and friend to many. And he was known best as a relentless and uncompromising advocate for low income housing and other services for the poor. He came from a small-town, working-class family to live in Over-the-Rhine because he believed in the cause of liberation. He had decided, when he was still a young man, that he could not tolerate the poverty and discrimination he saw in the world around him. So he entered what his brother Jack called "a journey of fearless, selfless service."
Michael Stoops from National Coalition spoke and Barb Anderson from Indiana came to the remember her friend, buddy. Georgine Getty from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition and buddy's close friend Bonnie Neumeier talked about gray's legacy. It was a wonderful service with civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s standing witness with college and high school students from Moeller High School and Xavier and Miami University. We got to hear from Donald Whitehead who was the previous director of National Coalition for the Homeless and the Cincy Coalition talk about buddy saying "I'm glad you are here," when he was at a low point in his life.

I was asked to say a few words. I talked about how I missed buddy and Ralph Delaney who was also killed. I talked about all that they could have done over the last decade to help in the struggle. Then I finished with Daniel Thompson's poem about Ralph and by extension buddy called "There are Saints in the City."

There were so many stories and so many programs touched by buddy. His legacy was not extinguished when he was killed by a disturbed man. The Drop Inn Center had expanded and continues to fight against gentrification. Buddy's Place opened and is a beautiful meeting place for activist. It was easy to see potential conflict between the nearly 100 condominiums being developed while homeless people struggle to find affordable housing in the Over The Rhine neighborhood. It was a wonderful event that will keep the fire burning in those that carry the light for social justice.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Horror Stories from Election Day

My 2006 General Election Poll Observer Experience

During my 17 hours at the polls there was a lot going on. I arrived at Dunbar Elementary at 5:30 am however all of us (including another observer, the nine poll workers, three precinct judges and one equipment technician) stood outside until 6:20 (in the raining cold) waiting for the janitor to let us in the building. The day was off to a rocky start. At least 10 people showed up between 6:30-7:01 a.m. to vote and only 5 people waited to vote, 4 people said they would return (and they did) and one lady said there was no way she could make it back.

The poll workers and judges were appreciative of me being there to insure they were following the updated rules for voting. We had two major issues at the beginning: 1) Can a person vote if their Ohio license did not match the address in the voter roll book. Once I showed the poll workers the rule that they were allowed to vote, we didn't have that issue anymore. 2) Can a person vote provisional ballot at any precinct. We debated about this fact, but once I showed the poll workers in their manual that they could ONLY vote provisional in their precinct or at the Board of Elections, we didn't have that issue anymore.

One precinct judge turned a voter off because of her nasty tone when telling the voter that she couldn't vote, because she didn't have identification. The voter was of Latino background didn't speak English very well. I informed the voter that she could vote a provisional ballot, because her name was in the voter roll book. I also brought over a poll worker who spoke Spanish, however the woman was offended by the nasty poll worker and refused to vote.

Lastly, our polling place was under a federal court order to remain open until 9:00 p.m.. However, our last voter came to the polling place at 7:25 pm and the only action after 7:30 was a poll worker who almost went into a diabetic coma. The poll worker had not taken her second insulin shot because she hadn't eaten for hours. She thought that she would be home by 8:30 p.m.! Overall, I must commend the polling location I was placed because the poll workers and precinct judges were sympathetic and kind to the voters. They were for the most part helpful and they didn't mind my presence during the day.

A couple of suggestions I have would offer: require a back up so that more than one person has a key to open the polling place in the morning and there should be Spanish prompts on the voting machines. At the polling place I observed on the near West Side of Cleveland over half of the voters spoke Spanish and at least 1/3 of those voters needed someone to translate the ballot.

-Teri'­ Horne
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Worst Experience in Poll Monitoring

Police Called to the Precinct Featuring Homeless Voters

On the day that Pam Denton appeared on the Editorial pages of the Plain Dealer, it is ironic that poll workers were poised to give her the wrong ballot. I was a poll watcher today at Precinct Cleveland 13D and 13E, and it was the worst experience I have had in a long time. The stressed workers were great, but one worker sent from the Board of Elections, Karen, was an absolute obstruction to voting. She was so mean, angry and put off by the observer process that she banned us from talking to anyone. I could not sit still when Pam Denton, the subject of Joe Frolik article today showed up, and asked me for help. She was given the wrong provisional ballot--from the wrong precinct. This would have invalidated her ballot, and thus disenfranchising her after all the work we did to get her to vote.

Karen, the Poll Worker trainer, who was sent by the Board of Elections when the two precinct judges did not show up in the morning. If she was the model trainer it is no wonder that things went so bad today. She was mean to her own workers, angry and was unclear of the law. Anyway, she called the Board and asked that I be removed from my role as observer. Then she called the police to have me removed. No one from the Board of Elections ever called to tell Karen to chill out and work with the observers. I was placed in the Sterling Rec. Center to make sure that homeless people voted and were not disenfranchised. Karen wanted me to only talk to voters as they left--which means that they would have cast their ballot incorrectly. She did not want me to talk to poll workers even if they were doing activities that would have disenfranchised voters.

I am proud to say that despite Karen the poll worker trainer and her obstructionist behavior all of the voters that showed up at the polls did cast a ballot. Will those provisional ballots be counted is a big question. Since I was not allowed to be near the table, I could not tell if they were filled out properly. I felt bad for the workers who were bullied and pushed around by Karen. I do not understand the mentality of someone who would want to make mistakes instead of quietly trying to resolve these issues before the mistake were cast in stone or in diebold we trust in this case. I was trying to make sure that every voter cast a valid vote. Karen seemed to want to show that she was in charge and she would not accept any input. I did not get arrested or thrown out, but thanks only to the wonderful lawyers from the Election Protection who helped monitor the polling places.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Victory Celebration on Monday Night

Join Us on the Steps of the Board of Elections

On Monday night the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the team of lawyers who fought the ID rules, and representatives of the Service Employees International Union will celebrate the expanded right to vote in Ohio with a vigil outside of the Board of Elections. On Monday night at 6 p.m. join us and a few of the homeless individuals who fought for the right to vote. The Plain Dealer had a good summary of the rules regarding identification yesterday.

The bottom line is that everyone with a social security number can vote. Go to the correct polling place and cast a ballot. Do not leave until you have cast a regular or provisional ballot. If you have any questions call Ohio Votes at 1-888-886-8364 or the Board of Elections at 216/443-3298.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Everyone that Wants To Vote Will Count

NEOCH and SEIU vs. Blackwell and the State of Ohio Results

Three brave homeless and low income people came to Columbus one week before the November election to fight for the rights of all voters in Ohio. They woke up a 5 a.m. to drive to Columbus and wait for 11 hours while lawyers negotiated. Pam Denton, Micky Trammell and Cornell Bishop all made the trip and sat in a jury room for hours waiting for a hearing to start while the State of Ohio negotiated with our team of lawyers. We got what we came for in that everyone will have the chance to cast a ballot and those that have a social security number will have those votes counted. We will not have a repeat of the 2004 election when many of the provisional ballots were thrown out on technical grounds.

We consider this a huge victory for homeless people and those who have any issues with their identification. The State saved face over this horrible piece of legislation that they passed by keeping the ID provision in place for the regular ballots. Anyone who shows up with either no identification or a problem with their ID will cast a provisional ballot. The big difference is that you will not have to show up within 10 days to prove anything or sign some affidavit that poll workers do not understand. If you have a social security number, you will give the last four digits of that number and sign the book as you normally did and you will get a provisional ballot that will not be challenged later.

The rules for what "other government document" as an acceptable form of ID were clarified. And the absentee ballots that were cast with problems will count. This allows the absentee ballots that were cast during this last confused week to count and those with the wrong driver's license number to count.

Our main named adversary who has not supervised this election very well, Ken Blackwell, was actually willing to compromise throughout this process. The problem was former Clevelander, Jim Petro, who we waited for hours to make up his mind. The Columbus paper identified Petro as leading the negotiations. It was also mentioned in a few newspaper accounts that Jeff Jacobson, the Republican Senate leader, had taken an active interest in defending the law. While not present at the negotiations, Legislative leaders were known to be pushing Petro to defend their confusing law.

There were so many lawyers who helped with this lawsuit and should be thanked. I don't know all of them, but Subodh Chandra, Cleveland's previous Law Director, led the negotiations along with Caroline Gentry from Dayton's Porter Wright Morris and Arthur office. Mark Griffin from Cleveland helped prepare the homeless people who were going to testify. Gino Scarselli, who years ago served as a NEOCH Board member, helped prepare and drive homeless people down to Columbus. He had a long history with representing homeless people and represented the Coalition's interests well. John Gilligan from Columbus prepared the expert witnesses for the case. And the many other attorneys had boxes and boxes of testimony and declarations ready to go for a trial. They all did a ton of work on short notice, and we certainly thank them all.

Since none of us actually got to testify, I will post the stories that our three voters were going to tell the court in the next week. I have to get back to making sure people get to the polling places and our constituents are not disenfranchised. One note about why Cleveland is still better than Columbus. While we were sitting for hours, our car was in a parking garage which tragically CLOSED at 6:30 p.m.!!! My car was stuck in the garage, and we were trapped in Columbus. Luckily my parents opened up their house to the three voting rights activists who came down to testify or we would have all been wandering the rolled up streets of Columbus. Who closes a parking garage at 6:30 p.m?? We must work harder in Cleveland, because most of us are still working at 6:30 p.m. Anyway, thanks to Rosamond and Charles Davis for their hospitality to four very tired recently enfranchised voters.


Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.