Abrams: We Cannot Resign Ourselves to Dismay and Disenfranchisement

From today’s New York Times:

In the mid-1960s, when my father was a teenager, he was arrested. His crime? Registering black voters in Mississippi. He and my mother had joined the civil rights movement well before they were even old enough to vote themselves.

They braved this dangerous work, which all too often created martyrs of marchers. In doing so, my parents ingrained in their six children a deep and permanent reverence for the franchise. We were taught that the right to vote undergirds all other rights, that free and fair elections are necessary for social progress.

That is why I am determined to end voter suppression and empower all people to participate in our democracy.

True voter access means that every person has the right to register, cast a ballot and have that ballot counted — without undue hardship. Unfortunately, the forces my parents battled 50 years ago continue to stifle democracy.

My home state, Georgia, for example, suffered a vicious blend of electoral malfeasance, misfeasance and mismanagement during my race for governor last fall. But Georgia is not alone.

Local and state officials across the country, emboldened by the Supreme Court effectively neutering the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, are shamelessly weakening voter registration, ballot access and ballot-counting procedures.

Read the complete article here.

Felon voting bill goes to Florida governor’s desk amid outcry

From today’s Associated Press News Wire:

Florida felons will have to pay court-ordered financial obligations if they want their voting rights restored under a bill sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday that would implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

The bill, though, caused outrage among Democrats who say Republicans are adding hurdles that don’t reflect the spirit in which voters approved allowing most felons to vote once they’ve completed their sentences. The amendment was approved with 64.5 percent of the vote and excludes murderers and sex offenders from the voting restoration rights.

“I believe Floridians are smart. I believe Floridians knew exactly what they were doing,” said Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet. “White, black, Hispanic, women, male, every Floridian understanding the value of their voice, the value of their vote. But we sit here and we begin to say, ‘Well, if you want to regain it, you should do this.’”

The ballot language on the amendment said rights would be restored after all terms of a sentence are completed. Republicans said that means court costs, restitution, fees and fines imposed by a judge. Democrats have said financial burdens shouldn’t be a barrier to voting rights restoration, especially if a judge converts them to a civil judgment.

Jacquet and other Democrats argued that the original intent of the felon voting ban was to repress the minority vote, because minorities historically have been disproportionately convicted of felonies.

Read the complete article here.

Federal court: Michigan political maps illegally rigged to ‘historical proportions’

From today’s Detroit News:

Michigan must redraw legislative and congressional districts for the 2020 election because current maps drawn by Republicans represent a political gerrymander “of historical proportions,” a three-judge federal panel ruled Thursday.

The blockbuster ruling — which a GOP leader said the party will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — requires Michigan to conduct special state Senate elections for certain seats next year, cutting in half the four-year terms that current lawmakers are now serving. 

The “predominate purpose” of the redistricting plan approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 “was to subordinate the interests of Democratic voters and entrench Republicans in power,” said the unanimous decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Eric Clay, an appointee of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

“Therefore, the enacted plan constitutes a durable partisan gerrymander” that violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of plaintiff voters, the court concluded.

The panel is giving the Republican-led House and Senate until Aug. 1 to redraw the maps and get them signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The judges said they want all the parties and processes used in the redistricting process to be made public, including any alternative plans that the Legislature rejects.

If state officials do not finalize new maps by then, the federal court would draw new boundaries itself and could appoint a special master to do so. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Michigan and some aggrieved Democrats. The complaint was eventually narrowed down to target 34 of the state’s 162 congressional and legislative districts that would need to be redrawn, along with any bordering districts they impact. 

Read the complete article here.

Interior nominee David Bernhardt’s ethics problems aren’t going away

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department heads for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday, with his career as a lobbyist raising ethical and legal concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt spent about eight years as a partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the nation’s top-grossing law and lobbying firms, according to public rankings. There he represented energy, mining and Western water interests that deal with the Interior Department, including two California entities, Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest irrigation district — and Cadiz Inc.

Bernhardt’s firm sued the department four times on Westlands’ behalf. He personally argued one appeals case challenging federal endangered species protections for imperiled salmon. He did legal work for Cadiz, which wants to build a water pipeline on a railroad right of way that crosses federal land in the California desert.

When Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary in 2017, he had to sign the administration’s ethics pledge and recuse himself from participating in “particular matters” involving more than two dozen former clients. Some of the recusals were effective for two years, others for one. In the last year, he has helped put policies in place that benefit businesses he once represented as a lobbyist.

Read the complete article here.

Amendment 4 restored voting rights to felons In FL–Now that’s back in doubt

From today’s NBC News Online:

Desmond Meade thinks he may have talked to more Floridians about felon voting rights than anyone else. Since 2009, he has put thousands of miles on his car each year, driving to every corner of the state talking to people about felon disenfranchisement.

By the time a formal campaign to amend the Florida Constitution and restore felon voting rights ended in 2018, it was clear to him which arguments worked with the largest share of people. Among them: second chances and redemption are moral and national values that Americans have a collective duty to uphold, and making way for redemption is the right thing to do.

Eventually, Meade, who is black, and Neil Volz, a white man convicted of felonies in connection with the former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, connected with a bipartisan funding and support network. It included the Koch brothers. And the redemption narrative — one that pushed the racist origins and racially disparate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws just beyond the spotlight — won a whopping 64 percent of deeply purple Florida’s votes in the November referendum on Amendment 4.

“The messaging was totally organic, totally grassroots,” said Meade, a convicted felon who after his release from prison earned a law degree. “It wasn’t a black or white thing, a conservative or liberal thing. It was a real people thing, people understood.”

But just as the campaign settled into victory, both the politics and the policy of felon voting have become unsettled again.

On Thursday, a committee of the Florida House of Representatives voted along party lines to advance a bill that could bar from the ballot box many of the estimated 1.5 million convicted felons who just regained the franchise.

Now the issue of voting rights for ex-felons is back in doubt. It looks as if the limited talk about race and partisanship during the Amendment 4 campaign created space for opponents to engage in debates about the bill’s language without attending to the racial impact of any legislative tweaks.

Read the complete article here.

Kavanaugh Seems Conflicted About Gerrymandering at SCOTUS Arguments

From today’s NPR News Online:

The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided on the question of whether there’s any limit on what the courts can impose on partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the newest member of the court, appearing at least somewhat conflicted.

“I took some of your argument in the briefs and the amicus briefs to be that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy,” Kavanaugh told the lawyers arguing the case, “and I’m not going to dispute that.”

On Tuesday, the court considered challenges to congressional district maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and in Maryland, drawn by Democrats.

The question of how political boundaries are drawn has taken on increasing importance for both parties over the past decade.

After the 2010 midterms, Republicans used their control of many state legislatures to draw favorable congressional maps for the GOP. An analysis this month by the Associated Press found that Republicans very likely won about 16 more House seats last fall than they would have been expected to based on their share of the vote owing to those lines. Still, Democrats did win control of the House.

Read the complete article here.

FBI analyzed NC political operative in May, took no action to stop fraud

From today’s Washington Post:

The FBI participated in a May surveillance operation of a GOP political operative at the center of an election fraud investigation in North Carolina, newly released court documents show, raising fresh questions about how long it has taken federal prosecutors to pursue the matter.

Federal and state investigators observed Leslie McCrae Dowless meeting with people he hired to collect ballots ahead of last year’s primary election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, according to state search warrants released Wednesday.

At the time, Dowless was working on behalf of Republican candidate Mark Harris, who went on to beat GOP incumbent Robert Pittenger by 828 votes. Dowless also worked for the Harris campaign in the fall, when Harris narrowly edged out Democrat Dan McCready in the unofficial results.

State officials ordered a new election in the 9th District last month after concluding that Dowless orchestrated a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced” scheme to collect, fill out, forge and in some cases discard absentee ballots on behalf of Harris.

Separately, the Wake County district attorney’s office in Raleigh last month charged Dowless and four others on felony counts, including possession of absentee ballots and obstruction of justice.

Harris has denied knowledge of the scheme. He said last month he would not run in the special election scheduled for later this year.

Read the complete article here.

Rap Sheets Haunt Former Inmates. California May Change That.

From today’s New York Times:

After spending more than seven years in prison for robbery and auto theft, Jay Jordan tried to get work selling insurance, real estate and used cars, but was repeatedly turned away, he said.

People with a felony record are often barred from obtaining professional licenses, and an opportunity to be a barber at a friend’s shop fell through for the same reason. A nonprofit program he started ran into trouble when a school sought to prevent him from meeting with students because of his criminal past — a history that began when he stole a car at 18, almost 15 years ago.

Under a bill now making its way through the California State Legislature, millions of people in the state who have misdemeanor or lower-level felony records could be spared those problems: their criminal records would automatically be sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentences. The legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing the most serious crimes, like murder or rape.

“There are so many of us who just want to be better, but are constantly turned down, turned away,” said Mr. Jordan, who is now project director for Time Done, a program that is part of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates to make the criminal justice system less punitive.

In the United States, a record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it nearly impossiblefor someone to find jobs or apartments or to obtain professional licenses like those required in many states for barbers or real estate agents.

One in three Americans has a criminal record, according to the Justice Department, and a National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or a callback by 50 percent.

The legislation, introduced last week in the State Assembly, would make California — where an estimated eight million people have criminal records — the first state in the nation to automatically scrub the rap sheets of people whose records qualify. The law would apply retroactively, meaning that people arrested or convicted of various crimes dating back decades would have their records automatically sealed. The records would still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, but not to members of the general public, including potential landlords and employers.

Read the complete article here.


McConnell maintains that Senate won’t take up election reform bill because GOP doesn’t want Americans to vote

From The Hill Online News:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) maintained Wednesday that the upper chamber wouldn’t take up a House election reform bill.

McConnell reiterated his position when pressed about why he has only pledged to bring the progressive Green New Deal to the floor for a vote and not the election reform bill.

“Because I get to decide what we vote on,” McConnell quipped.

The Kentucky senator said earlier this week that House Democrats’ sweeping anticorruption bill, known as H.R. 1, would never become law.

“This sprawling 622-page doorstop is never going to become law. I certainly don’t plan to even bring it to the floor here in the Senate,” McConnell said of the legislation Monday.

The legislation aims to expand voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday for federal workers.

Read the complete article here.

Corruption: Cohen’s Testimony Opens New Phase of Turbulence for Trump

From today’s New York Times:

A small group of Republican strategists opposed to President Trump, branding themselves Defending Democracy Together, quietly conducted polling and focus groups last fall to gauge whether the president was vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020. Assembling a presentation for sympathetic political donors, they listed points of weakness for Mr. Trump such as “tweeting/temperament” and “criminality/corruption.”

The group concluded that Mr. Trump’s scandals were not yet badly damaging him with Republican-leaning voters: “Even relatively high information voters aren’t paying particularly close attention to day-to-day scandals,” the presentation stated. But it added that there was “room to educate voters” on the subject.

Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, may have begun that education on Wednesday.

With Mr. Cohen’s appearance before a House committee, the public airing of ethical transgressions by Mr. Trump reached a new phase, one that may be harder to ignore for friends and foes alike. The spectacle of Mr. Trump’s onetime enforcer denouncing him in televised proceedings, detailing a catalog of alleged cruelty and crimes, signaled the pressure the president’s already strained coalition could feel in the coming months as Congress scrutinizes him and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completes his investigation.

Republicans still find it difficult to imagine that Mr. Trump’s electoral base would ever desert him, though they acknowledge that bond may soon be tested as never before. Mr. Trump’s core supporters — numbering about two in five American voters, polls suggest — have stayed with him through revelations of financial and sexual impropriety, painful electoral setbacks and the longest government shutdown in history.

Read the complete article here.