For Former Felons, Voting Rights Could Be a Click Away Thanks to New Website

From today’s Roll Call:

Millions of new voters could register across the country, starting Tuesday, with the launch of an online tool meant to help former felons restore their right to vote.

The Campaign Legal Center’s website, restoreyourvote.org, attempts to guide users through a sometimes confusing jumble of state laws to determine whether past convictions or unpaid fines would keep them from the ballot box.

It is the latest salvo in a growing movement to politically empower formerly incarcerated people, a group that is disproportionately African-American. It is unclear how much of an effect such efforts will have on elections because they are more likely to infuse urban areas that already lean left with more Democratic voters. But organizers have framed the issue as a question of civil rights.

“There is a lot of misinformation, and the laws can be complicated,” said Blair Bowie, a Campaign Legal Center voting rights fellow. “This certainly is an opportunity for people with convictions to assert their voices in elections.”

Read the complete article here.

Under Trump Regime, Sweeping Shift on #VotingRights Undermines Democracy

From today’s New York Times:

A new voter ID law could shut out many Native Americans from the polls in North Dakota. A strict rule on the collection of absentee ballots in Arizona is being challenged as a form of voter suppression. And officials in Georgia are scrubbing voters from registration rolls if their details do not exactly match other records, a practice that voting rights groups say unfairly targets minority voters.

During the Obama administration, the Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps like those. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: The department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has filed legal briefs in support of states that are resisting court orders to rein in voter ID requirements, stop aggressive purges of voter rolls and redraw political boundaries that have unfairly diluted minority voting power — all practices that were opposed under President Obama’s attorneys general.

The Sessions department’s most prominent voting-rights lawsuit so far forced Kentucky state officials last month to step up the culling from registration rolls of voters who have moved.

In the national battle over voting rights, the fighting is done in court, state by state, over rules that can seem arcane but have the potential to sway the outcome of elections. The Justice Department’s recent actions point to a decided shift in policy at the federal level: toward an agenda embraced by conservatives who say they want to prevent voter fraud.

Read the complete article here.

How will federal appeals court rule on Florida felon voting rights case?

From today’s Miami Herald:

Yraida Guanipa, a Miami consultant, stood outside the federal appeals court Wednesday morning in downtown Atlanta dressed in a bright orange scarf draped over a smart dark gray suit.

Guanipa has a master’s degree and is working on a doctorate, achievements she has made since her release from prison in 2006.

Despite her academic successes and the creation of a business devoted to helping other families deal with the stain of incarceration, the shame and pain of the 11 years Guanipa served behind bars for drug-related charges persists.

That’s because she can’t vote.

Under a Florida process scrutinized Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Guanipa is one of hundreds of thousands of felons waiting to have their voting rights restored.

“This is another sentencing that is a timeless sentence,” said Guanipa, who was born in Venezuela. “Every time I talk to somebody about I cannot vote, it feels like I’m still incarcerated. It feels like I’m still doing part of the sentence.”

Guanipa is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the Florida Board of Executive Clemency’s process for restoring the right to vote to felons like her who’ve completed their sentences and paid restitution. Gov. Rick Scott, aided by Attorney General Pam Bondi, initiated the revamped process shortly after taking office in 2011.

Read the complete article here.

Voter purge frenzy after federal protections lifted, new report says

From today’s NBC News:

Nine states with a history of racial discrimination are more aggressively removing registered voters from their rolls than other states, according to a report released Friday.

After reviewing voter purges nationally from 2012 to 2016, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that the mostly Southern jurisdictions that had once been required to get changes to voting policies pre-approved by the Justice Department had higher rates of purging than jurisdictions that were not previously subject to pre-clearance.

key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect minority voters from state disenfranchisement, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, allowing states to begin making changes affecting voting without first getting federal approval.

“Two million fewer voters would have been purged over those four years if jurisdictions previously subject to federal pre-clearance had purged at the same rate” as other jurisdictions, the Brennan Center estimated.

In Georgia, for example, 156 of the state’s 159 counties reported an increase in removal rates after the Voting Rights Act was changed. In 2016, advocates sued Georgia for making voter registration harder.In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Georgia county and the state Secretary of State for its purge practices, too.

“There’s cause for concern when the purge rate goes up this much at the same time we’re seeing controversial, sometimes illegal voter purge practice, in addition to changes to other voting laws that make it more difficult to participate,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and one of the report’s authors.

The Brennan Center’s analysis found that election officials were purging voter rolls more aggressively nationwide, too, with some using imprecise or possibly illegal methods to do so.

Read the complete article here.

Local News: Why Santa Monica is fighting the California Voting Rights Act

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

By Ted Winterer (Santa Monica Mayor) and Gleam Davis (City Council Rep),

The city of Santa Monica received a letter from a Malibu law firm in late 2015 claiming that its at-large election system — in which all voters choose the whole city council — discriminated against Latino residents. We were both on the City Council at the time and found it surprising, not least because the then-mayor was Mexican American.

Still, the letter threatened a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act if the council did not immediately agree to change to district-based elections. It turns out Santa Monica wasn’t alone. Dozens of cities have received similar demand letters — many from the same lawyer — and many have altered their election systems in response.

Santa Monica, however, has decided to fight this lawsuit. Why? Because making electoral changes based on lawsuits instead of the will of voters diminishes rather than enhances voting rights. Equally important, the facts in Santa Monica and the experience of cities elsewhere show that carving the city into districts will not meaningfully enhance local Latino political representation.

The Pico neighborhood is the focus of the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, but the 13% of Santa Monica voters who are Latino live in every part the city. Under our existing at-large election system, Latino candidates have won seats on all of the city’s governing bodies, including two currently serving on the seven-member City Council. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in this kind of racially integrated landscape, a change to district-based elections is unlikely to increase Latino representation.

GrassrootsLab, a consulting firm that specializes in local government politics, studied the electoral outcomes in 22 cities that switched to district elections because of a California Voting Rights Act legal threat. Only seven of the 22 cities saw any increase in Latino elected officials. Indeed, some people are trying to make the case that district elections create their own set of problems. The former mayor of Poway, for instance, in October filed a federal lawsuitarguing that forcing district elections ultimately violates the constitutional rights of other voters.

Santa Monica voters have twice rejected proposals to move to district-based elections, in 1975 and 2002. A district system may work well in larger cities like Los Angeles, but dividing up our 8.3-square-mile community will pit neighborhood against neighborhood, increasing balkanization and encouraging legislative deal-making to serve the interests of individual districts rather than the city as a whole.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS defers gerrymandering ruling

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to address the central questions in two closely watched challenges to partisan gerrymandering, putting off for another time a ruling on the constitutionality of voting districts designed by legislatures to amplify one party’s political power.

In a challenge to a redistricting plan devised by the Republican Legislature in Wisconsin, the court unanimously said that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had suffered the sort of direct injury that would give them standing to sue. The justices sent the case back to a trial court to allow the plaintiffs to try again to prove that their voting power had been directly affected by the way state lawmakers drew voting districts for the State Assembly.

In the second case, the court unanimously ruled against the Republican challengers to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district. In a brief unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district, which was drawn in 2011.

Both cases had the potential to deliver a reckoning on a practice that dates to the early days of the Republic and got its name from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Elbridge Gerry. The court instead kicked the can down the road, leaving the door open to further challenges.

But the decisions were a setback for critics of gerrymandering, who had hoped that the Supreme Court would transform American democracy by subjecting to close judicial scrutiny the way districts have been redrawn to accommodate the preferences of the party in power. When the dust settled Monday, the status quo remained in place.

Read the complete article here.

A Flurry of Courts Have Ruled on Election Maps. Here’s What They’ve Said

From today’s New York Times:

Judges in a number of states have recently thrown out election maps, saying that they have been gerrymandered to the point of being unconstitutional, effectively dooming one party to permanent underrepresentation.

The decisions are certain to have drawn the Supreme Court’s interest as it mulls a resolution to the question of extreme partisan gerrymanders. The justices are expected to decide this spring whether the practice violates the Constitution, and if so, how to determine whether an electoral map is fairly drawn.

Here are the basics of the major contested cases.

Wisconsin: State Assembly districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In the most recent general election, 52 percent of the votes were cast for Republican Assembly candidates, who won almost two-thirds of the seats — 64 out of 99. Democrats received 46 percent of the vote and won 35 seats.

What’s happened so far?

In November 2016, a panel of three judges ruled that the map was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans, the first time a partisan gerrymander was struck down in federal court. The ruling was notable, according to experts, because it provided a clear mathematical formula to measure how partisan a district map is.

The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which took the case(known as Gill v. Whitford) and heard arguments in October 2017.

What’s next?

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the spring, probably setting the course for the other cases in federal court as well.

North Carolina: Congressional districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In 2016, Republican candidates received 53 percent of the votes cast, and won 10 of the state’s 13 seats; Democrats received 47 percent of the votes and won 3 seats.

What’s happened so far?

The map was thrown out and ordered redrawn by a panel of three federal judges on Jan. 9, who said that Republicans had drawn it most recently in 2016 in an attempt to gain a political advantage. The

Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court’s order to redraw the map nine days later.

What’s next?

It’s unclear. The Supreme Court has not said whether it will schedule arguments in the case, known as Rucho v. Common Cause. The court may choose instead to let whatever ruling it issues in another gerrymandering case stand as its final word on the matter. Because of the temporary block, experts say the current North Carolina map will probably remain in effect for the midterm elections this fall.

Read the complete article here.

In win for #VotingRights, Federal Court Rules NC Electoral Map Unconstitutional

From the New York Times:

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.

The unusually blunt decision by the panel could lend momentum to two other challenges on gerrymandering that are already before the Supreme Court — and that the North Carolina case could join if Republicans make good on their vow to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.

In October, the court heard an appeal of another three-judge panel’s ruling that Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered Wisconsin’s State Assembly in an attempt to relegate Democrats to a permanent minority. In the second case, the justices will hear arguments by Maryland Republicans that the Democratic-controlled Legislature redrew House districts to flip a Republican-held seat to Democratic control.

Read the complete article here.

Obama to introduce “American Jobs Act”

In a speech to a joint session of Congress tonight President Obama is expected to unveil a new White House economic strategy to bolster employment. With unemployment at 9.1 percent, and figures for jobless claims rising according to today’s report from the Department of Labor, the President is switching emphasis from large public stimulus packages to job creation.

Republican lawmakers are not interested in job creation but in profit maximization. Predictably, some are already calling Obama’s announced “American Jobs Act” an example of the same tired Democratic ideas that have failed to stimulate the economy in the past. No word yet on whether Republican ideas about profit maximization and deregulation lead to anything but risky and unstable economic climates like the one that brought about the more recent financial collapse. When it comes to economics, Republicans really have no good ideas.

Democratic lawmakers are also not much interested in job creation. If they were, Americans would have labor laws that promoted job security and stability, fair wages, and standard benefits such as health care insurance. Of course, Democrats say they are for job creation, but when they say this while passing legislation at the same time that allows corporations to transfer profits and jobs out of the country, it’s hard to believe their commitment to American workers is anything but political pandering to people who don’t know any better.

The fact is a small but powerful minority of Americans has become more wealthy in the last two decades since the global internet economy emerged, largely because the corporations they own and run have paired wages, trimmed benefits, hemmed unions, outsourced jobs, and generally practiced an economics of greed. In order to turn this situation around the President cannot be expected to provide job security for every American without help from Congress. The problem is, again, that Congress is effectively bought and sold by the wealthy political elite that governs economic policy in this country. Without a massive congressional turnover, which is unlikely to happened given the influence and power of money in electoral politics, legislation for protecting and promoting the interests of American workers (that is, every American who has, wants, or needs a job) will be anemic and unsuitable for returning Americans to work at jobs that pay well with good benefits

Everyone keeps saying those days are over. If they are over, then so is the growth and sustainability of the American economy. Without workers who get paid well to buy things we produce and other countries import, we will be a nation of debtors with permanent status anxiety. ::KPS::