After being on hiatus for three long months, and missing quite a lot in the word of politics and current events, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver gave us all the Valentine's Day present we wanted. The show began its third season last night, and returned in top form.
Host John Oliver began the show with the news on everyone's mind: the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The Republicans have already promised to block anyone nominated by President Obama, seemingly in contradiction with the constitution. Oliver and his team of writers wisely pointed out that to do so would be to shame Justice Scalia's memory as the Supreme Court Justice loved the letter of the law. When the shoe was on the other foot in the Bush years and it was the Democrats trying to delay appointments until after the election, McConnell spoke out against this. He referred to the very same unwritten rule Republicans are relying on now, saying that the Democrats were referring to a "rule that doesn't exist" and accused them of doing what they could to "run out the clock". It will be interesting to see how his feelings change now that his party is the one who could benefit from delay tactics.
Next on the agenda was Chipolte, and how the fast food chain has been plagued with health complaints. In less than a year, they have been involved with six food safety failures, and are now facing a federal criminal investigation. To deal with these very serious allegations, the chain shut down for a few hours last week and held a company wide meeting on food safety. Despite the frequency of serious health complaints, the news hasn't seemed to affect the chains popularity among consumers. Oliver compared the "sure let's call it Mexican" chain to being involved with an emotionally abusive boyfriend: he's got you wrapped around their finger, and despite knowing how bad he is for you, you keep going back anyway. He's not that far off.
The main segment examined voting in America, and how despite it being a basic right, certain states are making it increasingly difficult. Voter identification laws have been implemented in a number of states, requiring photo identification in order to vote. While many legislators argue that everyone has identification, that sadly isn't the case. Oliver pointed to an article than ran in The Texas Tribune, which stated that more than 500,000 registered voters in that state alone would not be able to cast ballots under the new voter identification laws. He encouraged his viewers to think - most people do know at least one person without valid photo ID (this writer included). Are those people less deserving of votes than this guy?
People without driver's licenses or other forms of state issued photo identification are often left needing to fill out tons of paperwork and jumping through hoops in order to obtain the identification necessary to participate in democracy. In some jurisdictions, the only office one can obtain the right type of ID from is open just four days per year.
Legislators claim that tough voter identification laws are put in place to prevent voter fraud. However, as Oliver pointed out, most types of election fraud involve ballot stuffing and vote buying, not voter impersonation. Requiring photo identification in order to vote won't stop vote tampering such as these. The only crime such laws will wind up preventing is voter impersonation, which happens extremely rarely in reality. In South Carolina, an investigation into suspicious ballots was launched, which found that out of the 1,365,480 ballots cast, only five were unaccounted for. One researcher found that from 2000 to 2014 there were less than 31 cases of voter impersonation, with more than a billion ballots cast.
Voter impersonation, while rare in everyday life, seems to happen most often within the legislature. Oliver showed video after video of legislators voting more than once. Some will vote on behalf of themselves, and then turn around and register their vote as the vote of their absent colleagues. Some lawmakers even compete for access to the empty seat. In some states, they even have a special stick designed to help them vote at empty seats without even getting up. Those same lawmakers who insist on "one vote, one person" and who were instrumental in legislating such tough voter laws are the ones who register their vote multiple times the most. The practice is called "ghost voting" and it's been witnessed in legislators across the country, including in states with the toughest voter identification laws.
So if voter impersonation happens so rarely in the context of actual Presidential elections, why waste time and money implementing laws that restrict access to democracy? Well, a few Republican lawmakers let their true intentions slip. Mike Turzai, a representative from Pennsylvania said that voter identification laws will "allow Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania". Even more telling was Republican Party Chair Robert Gleason's response to a question about the last election:
I think we probably had a better election. Think about this, we cut Obama by about five percent, which is big....I think voter ID helped in that.
The show ended on a perfect note. New Zealand politician Steven Joyce was hit in the face with a dildo by a protester earlier this month. Oliver acknowledged that they had mocked New Zealand quite a lot during the show's first two seasons, and were going to leave the incident alone. However, a tweet by Joyce forced their hand.https://twitter.com/stevenljoyce/status/695469349130207233?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
In response, Last Week Tonight unveiled a new flag, song, and devoted an entire segment to the beauty that was a politician getting hit in the face with a dildo. They even got Peter Jackson involved.https://twitter.com/LastWeekTonight/status/699088070839308288
The woman who threw the dildo was not charged with anything, and walked away looking exactly as satisfied as someone who threw a dildo at a politician should be. The media in New Zealand have taken to calling Joyce "Dildo Baggins", which, as Oliver pointed out, is a a pun so brilliant it deserves a Nobel prize for literature.
Check out the segment on voter identification laws below. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver returns next Sunday at 11:00 p.m. on HBO.