Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restores voting rights for ex-felons

From today’s Axios Online:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor’s office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: Northam’s move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.

  • Last year, Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons’ voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.

The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia’s restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state’s constitution. In the future, any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, “even if they remain on community supervision.”

  • Current laws in Virginia state that “anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm,” the statement notes.
  • The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.

What they’re saying: “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in the statement.

  • “If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that,” he added.

What’s next: Earlier this year the state’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.

  • The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.

Read the complete article here.

Progressive groups launch $30 million effort to push voting rights legislation

From CNN Online:

Two left-leaning groups are teaming up to pour $30 million into an effort to persuade US senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would counter efforts by state GOP lawmakers to restrict voting access.

The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.

“Our goal is to get support to pass this bill and to show members of the Senate that their constituents believe this is a bill that just has to pass,” said Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-led House earlier this month, would expand voting access as well as improve transparency and accountability in Washington. But it comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights.

The legislation’s fate has also become entangled with the fate of the filibuster in the US Senate. Bozzi said the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.

“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”

The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. It was previously reported by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

Appeals Court blocks purge of 200,000 voters from Wisconsin voter rolls

From today’s Washington Post:

An appeals court has temporarily halted the purge of more than 200,000 people from Wisconsin’s voter rolls, in a case that set off a bitter fight over voting rights in a swing state that will be fiercely contested during the 2020 presidential race.

The Tuesday order came one day after the state’s elections commission and its three Democratic members were found in contempt of court for not complying with a judge’s previous order to cancel the registrations of roughly 6 percent of its voters.

The case is largely split along partisan lines. Republicans argue that thousands of people who have changed addresses have not updated their voter registration status and should therefore be struck from the rolls to ensure election integrity, while Democrats and voting rights advocates say the move will unjustly disenfranchise swaths of the electorate — particularly low-income voters, young people and people of color, who tend to lean left.

A similar struggle has also played out in Georgia, where rolls were culled by more than 300,000 overnight last month, and in Ohio and Texas — spotlighting countrywide accusations of voter suppression in the run-up to the presidential election.

In Wisconsin, where President Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, party officials are following the legal saga closely, aware that their state may play a decisive role in November. If voters are removed from the rolls, state law allows them to re-register up to and on Election Day.

On Tuesday evening, Trump traveled to Milwaukee for a campaign rally and was still reveling in his victory as he took the stage, telling the crowd, “I’m thrilled to be back in Wisconsin, where we had a very big night a few years ago.”

But it was liberals, who had resolved to continue fighting the purge on Monday, that cheered Tuesday as news spread that the state’s rolls would remain intact. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty — a conservative law group that sued to have the registrations pruned — said the ruling doesn’t change its argument.

Read the complete article here.

Florida Faces Rocky Rollout To Restore Voting Rights For Convicted Felons

From NPR News Online:

Florida passed an amendment in 2018, promising to restore voting rights for over a million Floridians with felony convictions. But that hope turned to confusion soon after.

The state Legislature followed up with a law clarifying that in order to get their voting rights back, felons needed to pay off all fines and fees related to their convictions. Hundreds of millions of dollars in fines are owed across the state, including $278 million in Miami-Dade County alone.

But the same law also offers a way out. It allows the courts to modify the original criminal sentences to “no longer require completion” of things that were originally required. Under that law, money owed can be waived or lowered, and other requirements like community service hours can be reduced.

Now, the implementation is playing out in very different — and partisan — ways across the state.In counties under Democratic control, more people are getting their voting rights back. And in counties under Republican control, many potential voters are missing out.

Out of the four counties across the state that have launched similar programs, every one of them is Democratic-leaning. Those include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, which together include more than a third of the state’s total population. All of those counties voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and for Democrat Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.

There is no corollary for Republican-leaning counties.

Read the complete article here.

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.