Poor Voter Turn-Out in the City of Houston Elections

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Only Around 118,000 People Came Out To Vote

800px-Election_MG_3455Out of the around 983,000 registered voters in the City of Houston, only about 118,000 showed up during the Mayoral & City of Houston Council Elections 2011 (about 12%). In some of the District Level Elections, the turn-out was even less than 10%. Many critics have said that this is not a good trend for a democracy.

In a race of six candidates, incumbent Mayor Annise Parker won the election, after getting only 59,920 votes (58,001 votes going to other five candidates) and barely avoiding a runoff, a signal that she lacks any sort of mandate heading into her second term.

“I want to thank the voters of Houston for giving me two more years in a job that I love,” she said. “I am still excited to go to work every day, absolutely thrilled.”
Ms. Parker ended up with 50 percent of the vote with 100 percent of the precincts reported. Of her five challengers, Jack O’Conner was the next closest, with 15 percent of the votes. Fernando Herrera came in third with 14 percent.

Recent media polls suggest that some voters haven’t been happy with Parker’s performance. Local TV Channel 11 Political Analyst Bob Stein has said the low voter turnout wasn’t exactly good news for Parker.

“It doesn’t help when the mandate she gets is less than 5-or-10 percent of the eligible registered voters here in the city,” said Stein. “It just doesn’t speak well when she has a difficult fight with some of the council members. True, they’re not getting many more voters either. But it’s hard to lead when very few people show up.”

In the Houston area just about 12% of the registered voters showed up at the polls, officials said. At the West Gray Multi-service Center in River Oak, traditionally one of the busiest polling places in Houston, the number of voters was at an all-time low. It was a far cry from Election Day two years ago when voter lines extended all the way around the building.
Incumbent City Council Member Jolanda Jones’ position was sought by three challengers. Jack Christie, a chiropractor and former Texas State Board of Education Chairman will be up against Ms. Jones on December 10th, 2011 run-off elections.

Another incumbent, Brenda Stardig of District A, finished second in a three-way race. The other two runoffs are for District B to replace term-limited Councilman Jarvis Johnson. His aide, Alvin Byrd and non-profit director Jerry Davis are in the runoff for that seat. And we won’t have the At-Large 2 seat filled until December 10th. It will be either Pastor Andrew Burks or former State Representative Kristi Thibaut, replacing outgoing Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Nancy Sims, a political analyst with Pierpont Communications says the turnout for the regular election was dismal already, so bleak might be a better prediction for the run-off races.
“Traditionally when we’re in a non-mayoral election year we do tend to have lower voter turnout in the run-off because all people are coming out for is these council races. So there’s nothing else on the ballot to pull them out. But the district races will probably drive the bulk of the turnout.”

Sims is referring to the run-off races in Districts A and B which are likely to generate more activity at the polls, and therefore those voters are more likely to determine the outcome of the two at-large races on the ballot.

But Sims says all Houston voters should take this election seriously.

“I would encourage voters to pay close attention. This is an important race. You’ve got four members of council, that’s going to be a quarter of the new council, with run-offs and still picking that leadership. So it’s important and every Houstonian can vote in the at-large races.”

Houston’s run-off election will be held Saturday, December 10th, 2011. There are four city council races on the ballot.

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Islamist Party Wins Tunisia Elections

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Damien Gayle

2011-10-23T143139Z_975547807_GM1E7AN1QI901_RTRMADP_3_TUNISIA-ELECTION

Manoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire, starting the Arab Spring.

REUTERS/Saidi

Tunisia’s main Islamist party is on its way to power after the first truly free and fair elections in the country’s history.

Early results from individual voting stations carried by local radio stations this morning put the Islamist Ennahda Party in the lead in many constituencies.

Tunisians voted yesterday to elect a constituent assembly in the first elections emerging from the so-called Arab Spring uprisings around the Middle East.

Electoral officials are still counting the votes and results are not expected until later today or tomorrow.

Boubker Bethabet, secretary general of Tunisia’s election commission, said that more than 90 per cent of the 4.1million registered voters cast their votes.

Radio Mosaique FM posted results from polling stations around the country with many showing a commanding lead for Ennahda.

Ennahdha (The Renaissance) is Tunisia’s main Islamist party. It was banned under the regime of ousted President Ben Ali.

Its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, 70, returned to his homeland earlier this year after more than two decades of exile in Britain. In a bid to counter fears of a fundamentalist-style crackdown, he has vowed that if an Islamic government comes to power, it will not ban alcohol or prevent women wearing bikinis.

He has also said his party will ‘respect democracy and modernity’ adding that his movement was one that could find ‘a balance between modernity and Islam.’

Tunisia is considered one of the Arab world’s most liberal states, with high levels of female participation in public and political life. Mr Ghannouchi has accordingly promised to show tolerance towards ‘women’s equality and liberal moral attitudes.’

Tunisia’s secular traditions go back to its first president after independence from France, who called the hijab an ‘odious rag’. When Mr Ghannouchi emerged after he cast his vote on Sunday, about a dozen secularists shouted at him: ‘Go away’ and ‘You are a terrorist and an assassin! Go back to London!’

Leaders insist the party has changed since its early years. First known as Islamic Action, then the Movement of the Islamic Tendency, it supported the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian capital. The group was also said to have been behind the bombing of tourist hotels in the Eighties, but since reforming has denounced violence.

An Ennahda victory would be the first Islamist success in the Arab world since Hamas won a 2006 Palestinian vote. Islamists won a 1991 election in Algeria, Tunisia’s neighbour, but the army annulled the result, provoking years of conflict.

In the more affluent Tunis suburb of al-Aouina, Zeinab Souayah, an 18-year-old language student and former protester said: ‘I’m going to grow up and think back on these days and tell my children about them.’

‘It feels great, it’s awesome,’ she added, in English.

The ballot was an extra-large piece of paper bearing the names and symbols of the parties fielding a candidate in each district.

The symbols are meant to aid the illiterate, estimated at about 25 per cent of the population in one of the most educated countries in the region.

Voters in each of the country’s 33 districts, six of which are abroad, had roughly 40 to 80 ballot choices.

It was a cacophony of options in a country effectively under one-party rule since independence from France in 1956.

The moderate Islamic movement Ennahda, or Renaissance, is expected to win the most seats in the assembly, although no one party is expected to win a majority.

An Ennahda victory, especially in a comparatively secular society like Tunisia, could have wide implications for similar religious parties in the region.

Retired engineer Bahri Mohamed Lebid, 73, said he voted ‘for my religion,’ a sentiment common among supporters of the Ennahda movement.

He said he last tried to vote in 1974, when polling officers forced him to cast a ballot for the ruling party despite his objections.

Ennahda believes that Islam should be the reference point for the country’s system and laws and believes that democracy is the best system to maintain people’s rights.

It has also said it supports Tunisia’s liberal laws promoting women’s equality – making it much more progressive than other Islamic movements in the Middle East.

After 23 years of dictatorial rule, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s despotic president, was overthrown on January 14 by a month-long uprising.

The revolution, sparked by a fruitseller who set himself on fire in protest of police harassment, was stirred by anger over unemployment, corruption and repression.

Ben Ali’s regime was among the Middle East’s most corrupt and repressive, and his long-calm country was shocked by the self-immolations at the start of the uprising and the ensuing outbursts of pent-up anger.

As protests spread across Tunisia, the police crackdown left more than 300 dead.

The uprising inspired similar rebellions across the Arab world.

The autocratic rulers of Egypt and Libya have fallen since, but Tunisia is the first country to hold free elections as a result of the upheaval.

Egypt’s parliamentary election is set for next month.

Some voters expressed concern that despite its moderate public line, Ennahda could reverse some of Tunisia’s progressive legislation for women.

‘I am looking for someone to protect the place of women in Tunisia,’ said 34-year-old Amina Helmi, who does not wear hijab. She said she was ‘afraid’ of Ennahda and voted for the center-left PDP party, the strongest legal opposition movement under Ben Ali.

A proportional representation system will likely mean that no political party will dominate the assembly, which is expected to be divided roughly among centrist parties, leftist parties and Ennahda.

They will need to form coalitions and make compromises to create a constitution.

But many ordinary Tunisians said they felt indifferent about the elections, out of frustration that life has not improved since January’s revolution.

Tunisia’s economy and employment, part of the reason for the uprising in the first place, have only got worse since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, in part because tourists and foreign investors have stayed away.

Outside the school-turned-polling station in Hay al-Tadammon, a group of young men sat on the street, sipping tea and mocking journalists who were talking to people who had just voted.

Belhussein al-Maliki, 27, said he fought in the January uprising, which engulfed this downtrodden suburb, and lost a relative in the fighting.

‘We are jobless, we have nothing and we won’t vote,’ he said bitterly.

‘Everything is the same, the world is the way it is, and the world will stay the way it is.’

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Registration Deadline Approaching for November Election

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson reminds residents that they have until Tuesday, Oct. 11, to register in order to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.

“If you would like to participate in the November election, please register to vote if you have not already done so,” said Johnson, Michigan’s chief election officer. “It only takes a few moments and then your voice can be heard at the ballot box.”

The polls will be open on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

To register, applicants must be at least 18 years old by Election Day and be U.S. citizens. Applicants must also be residents of Michigan and of the city or township in which they wish to register.

Voters may register by mail, at their county, city or township clerk’s office or by visiting any Secretary of State branch office. The mail-in form is available at www.Michigan.gov/elections. First-time voters who register by mail must vote in person in their first election, unless they hand-deliver the application to their local clerk, are 60 years old or older, are disabled or are eligible to vote under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

To check their registration status, residents may visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at www.Michigan.gov/vote. Residents can also find information there on absentee voting, Michigan’s voter identification requirement, how to use voting equipment and how to contact their local clerk. In addition, they will find a map to their local polling place and a sample ballot.

Voters who qualify may choose to cast an absentee ballot. As a registered voter, you may obtain an absentee ballot if you are:

●    age 60 or older.
●    physically unable to attend the polls without the assistance of another.
●    expecting to be absent from the community in which you are registered for the entire time the polls will be open on Election Day.
●    in jail awaiting arraignment or trial.
●    unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons.
●    appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of your precinct of residence.

Those who wish to receive their absentee ballot by mail must submit their application by 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5. Absentee ballots can be obtained in person anytime through 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7. Voters who request an absentee ballot in person on Monday, Nov. 7 must fill out the ballot in the clerk’s office.

Emergency absentee ballots are available under certain conditions through 4 p.m. on Election Day.

As a reminder, voters will be asked to provide identification when at the polls on Election Day. They will be asked to present valid photo ID, such as a Michigan driver’s license or identification card. Anyone who does not have an acceptable form of photo ID or failed to bring it with them to the polls can still vote. They will be required to sign a brief affidavit stating that they’re not in possession of photo ID.

Their ballots will be included with all others and counted on Election Day.

Voters who don’t have a Michigan driver’s license or identification card can show the following forms of photo ID, as long as they are current:

•    Driver’s license or personal identification card issued by another state.
•    Federal or state government-issued photo identification.
•    U.S. passport.
•    Military identification card with photo.
•    Student identification with photo from a high school or an accredited institution of higher education, such as a college or university.
•    Tribal identification card with photo.

Additional election information can be found at www.Michigan.gov/elections.

For more information about voting and the Secretary of State’s Office, visit www.Michigan.gov/sos and sign up for the official Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/Michsos and Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/Michigansos.

###

For media questions, please call Gisgie Dávila Gendreau at 517-373-2520.

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Community News (V13-I32)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

San Francisco Court throws out Circumcision ballot

SAN FRANCISCO,VA–A California judge last week struck from the ballot a San Francisco initiative that, if passed, would have banned circumcision.

A coalition of circumcision opponents had gathered around 7,700 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, attempting to prohibit something that is at the heart of Judaism and Islam. It would have had no religious exception.

Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ruled that under California law, the state has regulatory power over medical procedures, the Los Angeles Times reported. She also found that it would violate the free exercise of religion.

“[T]he evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” she wrote.

Muslim-American comedians to perform at show in Murfreesboro in August

MURFREESBORO, TN — Muslim-American comedians will step on stage with their best jokes at Middle Tennessee State University.

The comedians will take part in a free stand-up comedy show called “The Muslims Are Coming!”

The comedy tour will present a series of free shows in August that will take the comedians to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee from Aug. 5-15, The Daily News Journal reported. One of the final stops on the first tour is in Murfreesboro on Saturday, Aug. 13 at MTSU’s Wright Music Hall.

The show comes amid controversy surrounding a proposed new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Saleh Sbenaty, a spokesman for the Islamic Center, says the entire community is welcome to attend the show. Sbenaty says he hopes everyone can find something to laugh about.

Muslim women exercise

KANSAS CITY,MO–American Muslim women are increasingly taking up healthy lifestyles including physical exercise without compromising on their religious principles, reports the Kansas City Star. The paper profiled several hijab wearing women who undertake a grueling exercise regime.

Several of the women are new to athleticism. They completed “Couch to 5K” training last fall and had their first race on Thanksgiving.

Nadine Abu-Jubara remembers being out of shape in college, going to the gym in bulky workout clothes and being sensitive to the more physically fit “cute sorority girls” using equipment nearby.

“I already felt self-conscious, and it was hard to work out alone,” she said.

After graduation, she dedicated herself to changing her eating habits and exercise. She lost 65 pounds. And she found herself surrounded by Muslim women at social gatherings, all eager to learn how she dropped the pounds and brightened her self-outlook.

San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre Reopens

SAN RAMON–The San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre has opened for the first time since April when it was closed for renovations. The old single building was increasingly inadequate for the growing Muslim community in the area, reports the Patch.

“In the past we have had to lock the doors or send people away because of room capacity,” said Hana Khan, a Dougherty Valley High graduate who has been a member of the congregation for a dozen years.

In November 2009, the Islamic Center purchased two buildings adjacent to its original site. Now, those rooms serve as additional prayer halls.

The expansion improved the capacity of the Islamic Center, which aims to cater to a community of 500 to 800 people. According to Sattar, the largely donor-funded renovations were necessary to accommodate a rapidly growing and vibrantly social Muslim community.

“From 1992 to now, the city’s population has doubled. Our community has grown 13 fold. We started with 30 families and now we have 400,” he said.

Virginia prisons asked to accommodate Ramadan diet

FAIRFAX,VA–Citing past complaints, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is reminding jail officials to honor the dietary rules followed by Muslim inmates during the holy month of Ramadan.
The ACLU said Friday it has sent emails to jail officials across Virginia reminding them that inmates who are Muslim take their meals between sundown and sunrise during Ramadan.

The ACLU’s executive director, Kent Willis, said the courts and Congress have made it clear that inmates have the right to practice their religious beliefs behind bars, provided they do not impose a security threat.The civil liberties group said the Virginia Department of Corrections honors the dietary strictures of Muslim inmates. The ACLU said that has not always been true in local lockups.

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Battle over Circumcision Shaping Up in California

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Fishkoff

rabbi

Rabbi Gil Leeds, right, performs a brit milah in Palo Alto, Calif., in July 2010. The baby is held by Mitchell Ackerson; Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman looks on. (Alex Axelrod)

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — In November, San Franciscans will vote on a ballot measure that would outlaw circumcision on boys under the age of 18.

Although experts say it is highly unlikely the measure will pass — very few state propositions pass, much less one this controversial — the mere fact that it reached the ballot, and in such a major city, has caused much concern for Jews and their allies.

Opponents of the bill see it as a violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious rights and an infringement on physicians’ ability to practice medicine. More than that, however, the measure is being seen as a frontal attack on a central tenet of Judaism.

“The stakes are very high,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs. “Circumcision is a fundamental aspect of Jewish ritual practice and Jewish identity. While we certainly hope the prospect of its being enacted is remote, the precedent it would set and the message it would send would be terrible, not just in the United States but around the world.
“We don’t just want it defeated,” he said, “we want it defeated resoundly.”

Anti-circumcision activists have been around for decades, particularly on the West Coast.

They range from the Bay Area Intactivists, a loosely organized group that protests outside medical conferences in and around San Francisco, to MGM Bill (MGM stands for male genital mutilation), a San Diego-based advocacy group that has prepared anti-circumcision legislation for 46 states. MGM has managed to find a legislative sponsor in only one state: Massachusetts, last year. The bill didn’t even make it out of committee.

Matthew Hess, who founded MGM Bill in 2003 and spearheads its legislative efforts, says he is trying to protect boys from what he considers a barbaric mutilation of their bodies. He became an activist in his mid-20s, he says, when he decided that his own circumcision as an infant resulted in diminished sexual sensitivity as an adult.

“Freedom of religion stops at another person’s body,” he told JTA.

Last fall, MGM Bill changed its tactics, deciding to bypass the U.S. Congress and go straight to voters. The group gathered more than 12,000 signatures in San Francisco, enough to have the measure placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If it passes, anyone who circumcises a boy under the age of 18 within city limits faces a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. The only exception would be for “compelling and immediate medical need.”

A similar effort is under way in Santa Monica, Calif., for that city’s November 2012 election. Hess says no other cities are being targeted — for now.

The Jewish community responded immediately and loudly to the San Francisco ballot initiative, with denunciations from across the nation. The American Jewish Committee called it a “direct assault on Jewish religious practice” that was “unprecedented in American Jewish life.” The Orthodox Union said the measure is “likely illegal” and is “patently discriminatory against Jews and Muslims.”

Locally, the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council organized a wide-ranging coalition of religious, medical, legal and political leaders to oppose the ballot measure. It was the first time that the Jewish community organized a formal counter effort because it was the first time that such a measure has made it to the ballot, according to Abby Porth, the JCRC’s associate director and the force behind the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom.

The newly formed committee, which also includes Muslim and Christian leaders, is still organizing its legal strategy; Porth declined to provide details.

Muslims also practice ritual circumcision on boys, although it can take place at any time before puberty.

The fight against the San Francisco ballot measure has brought a number of Muslim organizations into the JCRC-led coalition, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Bay Area director Zahra Billoo notes that CAIR rarely finds itself on the same political side as groups such as the Orthodox Union.

It’s the assault on religious freedoms that brings the two together, Billoo said.

“The civil rights of Jewish and Muslims are being impacted,” she told JTA. “We don’t agree on all things all the time, but we do find common cause in many areas. An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions.”

A popular local mohel, Rabbi Gil Leeds, director of the Chabad Center of the University of California, Berkeley, says he’s been fielding calls and e-mails from all over the area expressing concern.

“Jews from across the spectrum of Jewish observance, as well as many non-Jews, have responded in shock at this attempt to undermine our basic human rights as parents and as Jews,” Leeds said.
Proponents and opponents of a ban on circumcision argue over the health benefits and legal aspects of the practice.

“To say it has no medical benefit and so should be outlawed is completely untrue,” said Dr. Mark Glasser, a retired Bay Area ob-gyn who estimates that he has performed hundreds of circumcisions during his 35 years in practice.

Glasser notes that the World Health Organization supports circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV transmission, and several Centers for Disease Control studies show the same result. The American Academy of Pediatrics is neutral, as is the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But Glasser says those positions have not be revisited since the most recent AIDS studies.

“The unfortunate part is that people laugh — they say the San Francisco crazies are at it again. But this is no laughing matter,” he said. “Circumcision is very low-risk and has tremendous benefits, including life-saving benefits.”

Joel Paul, professor of constitutional law and associate dean of the University of California Hastings School of Law, says the law likely would not survive a court challenge — which could come even before the Nov. 8 ballot.

The proposed measure appears to violate the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, and entangles the state in religious matters by putting the state in the position of judging whether a certain religious practice is permissible. Moreover, putting such a matter to a popular vote contravenes the Constitution’s many protections of the rights of individuals and minorities.

“This proposition would let the majority decide religious practice for a religious group,” Paul told JTA. “It’s not part of our politics. No one should have to go into an election and be asked to defend their religion.”

Hess argues, on the other hand, that the law is on his side. Noting that female genital mutilation is illegal in this country, he says boys should get equal protection under the law, no matter the religious beliefs of their parents.

That is a false and dangerous analogy, Porth says.

“Female genital mutilation is illegal because it is a cruel practice, medically harmful and performed for the explicit purpose of preventing female sexual satisfaction,” she said. “In contrast, there’s no credible medical evidence that male circumcision is harmful or that it prevents sexual satisfaction. Its purpose is for health reasons and religious belief.”

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