‘A Proud Day’: Ex-Felons Clear Final Hurdle to Vote In Florida

From today’s New York Times:

One by one, they came before the judge in Miami, confident that in a few moments they would get a precious document clearing the way for them to get the right to vote.

The signed court order confirmed that, for the purposes of voter registration, they did not owe any court fines, fees or costs from their past felony convictions. The 18 people on the docket, some of them previously disenfranchised for decades, were clearing the final hurdle imposed by the state of Florida to restore their voting eligibility.

The packed courtroom burst into applause when Judge Nushin G. Sayfie told Carmen Brown, the first person called to the lectern, that she was granting her motion. Ms. Brown, 64, had served time for multiple felony convictions, including armed robbery with a deadly weapon. She put her hands to her mouth as tears welled in her eyes.

“Thank you so much,” she said through sniffles. “Thank you, your honor.”

A year ago, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure known as Amendment 4, restoring the voting rights of up to 1.5 million people with felony records. But earlier this year, the Republican-controlled State Legislature imposed restrictions requiring former felons — some of whom prefer to be called “returning citizens” — to first pay back outstanding legal financial obligations. In some cases, those amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

Read the complete article here.

Beshear’s gubernatorial win in KY is also a win for ex-felon voting rights

From today’s Vox News:

In November 2015, then-Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order restoring the voting rights of more than 100,000 people with felony records in Kentucky. But in December of that year, Beshear’s successor, Gov. Matt Bevin (R), undid the executive order — just as easily taking away from ex-felons what the former governor had given them.

On Tuesday, though, Bevin lost his reelection bid to Democrat Andy Beshear, the former governor’s son. And the new governor-elect is poised to sign another executive order that restores voting rights to at least some people with felony records after they’ve served their sentences — potentially increasing the voter rolls by more than 100,000.

Kentucky has one of the strictest laws disenfranchising people with felony records, banning ex-felons from voting for life — unless they get a special reprieve from the state government — even after they finish serving out their prison sentences, parole, or probation. It is only one of two states, along with Iowa, with such a strict lifetime ban.

Read the complete article here.

GOP Blocks Voting Rights Bill Requiring Candidates to Disclose Tax Returns

From today’s Newsweek Online:

Republican senators have blocked an effort by Democrats to vote on a voting rights and election ethics bill.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) blocked a request that the For the People Act of 2019 be voted on Wednesday. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall (N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) launched the latest attempt to bring the bill to the senate floor.

“The For the People Act repairs our broken campaign finance system, opens up the ballot box to all Americans, and lays waste to the corruption in Washington,” said Udall. “These are all reforms that the American people support. Why won’t the Senate Majority Leader let us vote on them?”

The bill was introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in January. It passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 234–193 in March. The bill has been repeatedly blocked by Senate Republicans since then.

One of the bill’s many provisions attempts to increase voter participation by making Election Day a federal holiday. Another provision is aimed at eliminating so-called “dark money” from campaign funds by requiring that super PACs and other organizations disclose the identity of their donors.

Merkley claimed that the failure to pass the bill was symptomatic of a “corrupt system” and that the senate was controlled by “powerful special interests.” After blocking the bill, Blunt countered that the bill represents an overreach of power that would allow the federal government to take control away from states.

One of the bill’s major hurdles for Republicans is an ethics provision that would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose the last 10 years of their income tax returns. President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to disclose his tax returns, and is currently embroiled in a legal fight to keep the information secret.

Read the complete article here.

The Student Vote Is Surging, And So Are Efforts to Suppress It In Key States

From today’s New York Times:

At Austin Community College, civics is an unwritten part of the curriculum — so much so that for years the school has tapped its own funds to set up temporary early-voting sites on nine of its 11 campuses.

No more, however. This spring, the Texas Legislature outlawed polling places that did not stay open for the entire 12-day early-voting period. When the state’s elections take place in three weeks, those nine sites — which logged many of the nearly 14,000 ballots that full-time students cast last year — will be shuttered. So will six campus polling places at colleges in Fort Worth, two in Brownsville, on the Mexico border, and other polling places at schools statewide.

“It was a beautiful thing, a lot of people out there in those long lines,” said Grant Loveless, a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and political science who voted last November at a campus in central Austin. “It would hurt a lot of students if you take those polling places away.”

The story at Austin Community College is but one example of a political drama playing out nationwide: After decades of treating elections as an afterthought, college students have begun voting in force.

Their turnout in the 2018 midterms — 40.3 percent of 10 million students tracked by Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education — was more than double the rate in the 2014 midterms, easily exceeding an already robust increase in national turnout. Energized by issues like climate change and the Trump presidency, students have suddenly emerged as a potentially crucial voting bloc in the 2020 general election.

And almost as suddenly, Republican politicians around the country are throwing up roadblocks between students and voting booths.

Not coincidentally, the barriers are rising fastest in political battlegrounds and places like Texas where one-party control is eroding. Students lean strongly DemocraticIn a March poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, 45 percent of college students ages 18-24 identified as Democrats, compared to 29 percent who called themselves independents and 24 percent Republicans.

Read the complete article here.

Ohio Was Set to Purge 235,000 Voters. It Was Wrong About 20%

From today’s New York Times:

The clock was ticking for Jen Miller. The state of Ohio had released names of 235,000 voters it planned to purge from voter rolls in September. Ms. Miller, director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, believed thousands of voters were about to be wrongly removed.

Over the summer, the Ohio secretary of state had sent her organization and others like it amassive spreadsheet with the 235,000 names and addresses that would be purged from the state’s voter rolls in just a month — a list of people that, state officials said, some part of the bureaucracy flagged as deceased, living somewhere else or as a duplicate. The League of Women Voters had been asked to see if any of those purged qualified to register again.

Ms. Miller, who spends her work day helping register people to vote, scrolled through the names and then asked herself a question: What was her own voter status in the state? She went online and discovered that her name had also been flagged as an inactive voter. The state was in the process of removing her from its voter rolls.

“I voted three times last year,” said Ms. Miller. “I don’t think we have any idea how many other individuals this has happened to.”

Ohio, where the Democratic presidential candidates are set to debate Tuesday, is both a battleground state and the site of some of the country’s strictest voting laws, from voter ID requirements to a “use-it-or-lose-it” provision that lets officials drop voters seen as inactive.

The combination has led voting rights advocates to contend that parts of the state are regularly disenfranchised, largely in purges aimed at those who have died or moved away, but which also hit real voters who don’t learn they can’t vote until Election Day. Election officials in other battlegrounds such as Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas regularly purge their voter lists as well.

Read the complete article here.

Montana Gov. Bullock eyes public financing for 2020 run

From today’s AP News Online:

Steve Bullock will apply to be the first — and perhaps only — Democrat in the presidential primary who accepts public financing for his campaign, a potentially risky move that could give his struggling fundraising a boost but would also require the Montana governor to abide by a cap on the amount of money he can spend.

Top presidential contenders for years fueled their campaigns using the public financing system, which was established to reduce the influence of big donors in the wake of the Watergate scandal. But that’s waned ever since George W. Bush rejected the assistance in 2000. And the trend has become even more pronounced following a series of court rulings and regulatory changes that allowed even more cash to course through elections.

Bullock, who filed legal challenges to reverse those rulings when he was Montana’s attorney general, says his turn to public financing demonstrates that he is “walking the walk” at a time when rejecting big money in politics has become an animating issue for party activists. He will submit his application to the Federal Election Commission after the close of the third fundraising quarter, which ends Monday.

“As the only candidate for President who is choosing to participate in the public finance process, Governor Bullock is leading with his values and defending our shared belief that our democracy should never be for sale to the highest bidder,” campaign manager Jennifer Ridder says in a memo provided to The Associated Press that outlines his rationale.

Yet Bullock’s decision comes as he has trailed far behind the leading fundraisers in the race. While he is touting it as a demonstration of his commitment to campaign finance reform, he also has little to lose in doing so and would have to see a dramatic increase in fundraising to hit an estimated $60 million spending cap triggered by his acceptance of the money.

Read the complete article here.

Worker rights are shaping up a key issue in 2020. Who has the best ideas?

From today’s New York Magazine:

Never before have I seen Democratic candidates do so much to woo workers and win over union leaders. Elizabeth Warren kicked off her campaign at the site of the famous 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Julián Castro marched in Durham, North Carolina, with fast-food workers demanding a $15 wage, while Pete Buttigieg spoke outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco alongside drivers demanding to be considered employees. Joe Biden held his first official campaign event at a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Kamala Harris has called for a raise averaging $13,500 for the nation’s schoolteachers, while Bernie Sanders has bolstered labor’s cause by using his email lists to urge supporters to join union picket lines.

Why all this sudden attention and affection for workers and unions — far more than I’ve ever seen during my nearly 25 years of writing about labor? Part of it is that this year’s Democratic candidates are doing what any smart politician would do when the field is so large — court one of the party’s largest constituencies, i.e., unions and their members. Part of it is that the candidates see that something is seriously broken in our economy: that income inequality, corporate profits, and the stock market have all been soaring while wages have largely stagnated for decades. Also, Democrats realize that a big reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was that she didn’t show enough love to labor. The field seems to recognize that if a Democrat is going to win the presidency in 2020, the surest route is to win back the three longtime union strongholds — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that were key to Donald Trump’s victory. So the candidates have loosed a flood of pro-worker ideas, not just to make it easier to unionize, but to extend paid sick days and family leave to all workers, provide protections to pregnant workers, and safeguard LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination on the job.

Four of them — Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rouke, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker — have put forward remarkably detailed platforms of pro-worker and pro-union proposals, while Elizabeth Warren’s elaborate plan on trade goes far beyond what many union leaders have called for. Andrew Yang says his universal basic income will be a boon for workers, providing a lifeline to those who lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence and robots. Biden has been vague so far on labor matters, calling himself a union man and saying he supports a $15 minimum. Booker has introduced a fairly radical bill, the Worker Dividend Act, which would require corporations that do stock buybacks to pay out to their employees a sizable chunk of the money going to the buyback.

Considering how many candidates there are and how many proposals and speeches they’ve made, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what — and which plans are substantively the most pro-labor. Below, I give grades to the Democratic front-runners, based not just on the positions they’ve espoused during the campaign, but also on their track records. (Some candidates seem to have discovered the cause of workers only after announcing that they were running for the presidency.)

Read the complete article here.

99 Years After Women’s Suffrage, the Fight for the Vote Continues

From today’s Time Magazine:

The observance of Women’s Equality Day on Monday marks the 99th anniversary of the day the 19th Amendment, extending the vote to women, entered the Constitution in 1920. These days, as the centennial year gets underway, I keep a Votes For Women sash in my suitcase, ready to slip on if period attire is required.

That moment was the culmination of a long struggle, the themes of which are timely—voting rights, women’s rights, citizenship rights and, inevitably, racism. (For black women in the Jim Crow southern states, as for Asian and Native American women, the promise of the 19th Amendment could not be realized until much later.) Likewise, the lessons we can learn from the movement are especially valuable today.

Tennessee was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, on Aug. 18, 1920, and the state is gearing up to mark that moment. More than 40 organizations in the Nashville area are collaborating on projects, from museum exhibits to ballet performances, symposia to musical tributes. The Nashville Public Library is constructing a Votes for Women room within its majestic central building, and the library chose my recent book about that dramatic climax of the suffrage movement, The Woman’s Hour, for its city-wide summer book club; the theme was “Read.Remember.Vote”—with a voter registration button prominent on the book-club web page. So I traveled to the Nashville this month to take part in the centennial kick-off celebrations.

I love telling the story of the three generations of brave and clever grassroots activists who powered the woman suffrage movement through 900 campaigns over seven decades, and I try to present an honest exploration of the movement’s achievements, failings and contradictions. But I’m also disturbed by some bitter ironies I’ve noticed as I tour the country.

From the window of the Library building downtown where the Votes for Women room is being built, you can see the handsome limestone Tennessee statehouse, just two blocks away.

There, this summer, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law the latest Tennessee law that makes it harder to register citizens to vote. Even though Tennessee already has one of the worst voter participation rates in the nation, the new law imposes both civil and criminal penalties (steep fines and up to nearly a year in prison) for even minor mistakes or omissions in registration documents and processes; opponents say it will especially suppress the vote in minority communities. Groups that work to register eligible new voters—like the League of Women Voters, NAACP, and the local Equity Alliance—are among those suing in Federal court to stop the law from going into effect this fall, but it has already had a chilling effect upon voter-registration drives.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Are Getting Very Serious About the Native American Vote

From today’s New York Times:

What do the 573 federally recognized nations of American Indians and Alaska Natives all have in common? A never-ending need for lawyers. The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forumheld this week in Sioux City, Iowa, at which 11 presidential candidates fielded questions from indigenous elected officials and activists, was a rousing two-day argument for an informed, experienced, compassionate and rational president. Sponsored by Four Directions, the South Dakota-based advocates for native voting rights, it was also a sobering reminder that the road to equality in the United States is paved with outrage, elbow grease and paperwork.

No American citizen should have to drive 100 miles to vote, especially if the roads to a far-flung polling place are maintained by the chronically underfunded Bureau of Indian Affairs. (On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, two people died in July because of a washed-out section of highway on BIA Road 3.) Janet Davis, of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Council, quizzed Marianne Williamson and Bernie Sanders about voting access. She explained that in 2016, her tribe and the Walker River Paiutes won a lawsuit to establish satellite polling places on their reservations. (From Pyramid Lake, the county’s nearest voting site had been a 96-mile round trip.)

Ms. Davis happened to be seated on the stage next to Senator Sanders. She told him, “The county told us it was too late to recruit and train poll workers and we told them we could and we did.” Senator Sanders patted her arm and smiled, revealing an uncharacteristic split second of what appeared to be actual joy.

Ms. Davis asked him, “How will you ensure that all Native Americans on reservations have the same access without having to litigate as we did?” His answer echoed Ms. Williamson’s suggestion earlier that morning, that a president who cares will appoint an effective attorney general. (Which is true in that an attorney general can prosecute violations of election law, though states and counties generally control polling locations.) But the real answer, to paraphrase the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” is that obtaining freedoms is almost always a hassle. All American Indians received full citizenship in 1924, and yet the indigenous people of New Mexico were still suing for suffrage in 1962.

In Minnesota, Four Directions and its native partners were able to negotiate with the state to open satellite polling places on the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Reservations without litigation. (Good old Minnesotans; unlike the rest of us they might actually deserve Amy Klobuchar.) But in South Dakota and here in Montana, successfully opening satellite polling places on reservations required legal action.

Read the complete article here.

Stacey Abrams’s Fight for a Fair Vote

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

mong the many issues currently polarizing American politics—abortion, climate change, health care, immigration, gun control—one of the most consequential tends to be one of the least discussed. The American electorate, across the country, is diversifying ethnically and racially at a rapid rate. Progressives, interpreting the shift to mean that, following traditional paths, the new voters will lean Democratic, see a political landscape that is turning blue. Conservatives apparently see the same thing, because in recent years many of them have supported policies, such as voter-I.D. laws and voter-roll purges, that have disproportionately affected people of color.

The issue has become more pressing with the approach of the 2020 Presidential election. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges do not have the power to address partisan gerrymandering, even when it creates results that “reasonably seem unjust.” Last month, President Donald Trump was finally forced to abandon his effort to add, in defiance of another Court ruling, a citizenship question to the census—an idea that Thomas B. Hofeller, the late Republican strategist who promoted it, believed would aid the G.O.P. in further redistricting. But, days later, the President was telling four American women of color, all elected members of the House of Representatives, to “go back” to where they came from.

The nation got a preview of the battle for the future of electoral politics last year, in Georgia’s gubernatorial race. The Republican candidate was declared the winner by a margin of less than two percentage points: fifty-five thousand votes out of nearly four million cast—a record-breaking total for a midterm election in the state. Many Georgians, though, still use the terms “won” and “lost” advisedly, not only because the Democrat never technically conceded but also because of the highly irregular nature of the contest. The Republican, Brian Kemp, was Georgia’s secretary of state, and in that role he presided over an election marred by charges of voter suppression; the Democrat, Stacey Abrams, has become the nation’s most prominent critic of that practice.

Although she has only recently come to wide attention, Abrams, a forty-five-year-old tax attorney, romance novelist, and former state representative, has been working on electoral reform—particularly on voter registration—in Georgia for some fifteen years. In that regard, some Georgians view her campaign as a success; she won more votes than any Democrat has ever won for statewide office. Georgia is representative of the nation’s demographic changes. The population is 10.5 million, and, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it was 57.5 per cent white in 2008, fell to 54.2 per cent white in 2018, and will be 53.6 per cent white next year. It will be majority-minority by 2033. Democratic leaders from red states in the South and beyond with shifting populations—they include the Presidential candidates Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, of El Paso, Texas, as well as the former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who is considering a second run for the U.S. Senate, in Mississippi—have examined Abrams’s campaign to see how they might adopt its strategies. Espy described his discussion with her as “a graduate course in politics.”

Read the complete article here.