#VotingRights Update: Group Targets GOP States to Attack Gerrymandering

From today’s New York Times:

A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process.

Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.

The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections. Mr. Obama, who has made redistricting a focus of his attention since leaving office, plans to visit some of those states in 2018, and Mr. Holder reviewed his strategy with the former president in Washington on Monday, aides said.

States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.

Read the complete article here.

Millions of ex-cons lost the right to vote. Now they might get it back.

From today’s NBC News:

Dean Turner never voted before he went to prison. But his right to cast a ballot was the last barrier to rebuilding his life once he got out.

Released in February 2016, after more than a decade behind bars for selling drugs, the 50-year-old Virginian worked his way up from dishwasher to line chef by Googling how to cook. He started mentoring young men, and coaches a writing class at Virginia Commonwealth University based on the book he helped write while incarcerated. But until last fall, Turner was one of the estimated 6.1 million Americans — 2.5 percent of the nation’s voting-age population — barred from voting by a felony conviction.

“When you’re able to vote, that means you have a voice in the world,” Turner told NBC News. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, restored his voting rights last year, and Turner cast his first-ever ballot in November 2017.

“It was the best feeling,” he said. “That was the little stamp of approval that I turned myself around, I’m a citizen of society.”

Virginia isn’t the only state with a recent push to restore voting rights to ex-offenders. AlabamaWyoming and Maryland have also begun easing voting restrictions for released felons, while Florida organizers announced Tuesday that they had succeeded in gathering enough signatures for a ballot initiative this November that would rewrite the state’s permanent felon voting ban and give an estimated 1.5 million ex-offenders the vote.

Nearly every state has laws to prevent people convicted of a felony — a crime more serious than a misdemeanor — from voting, though policies vary. Some 14 states disenfranchise felons while in prison, and another 22 disenfranchise during post-release periods like probation and parole as well, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But Virginia is one of 12 states that bars ex-offenders from voting even after their sentences are complete. In order for ballot access to be restored, these states require waiting periods, an application process, or action from the state’s governor. McAuliffe used his executive authority to individually reinstate voting rights to some 173,000 ex-offenders, including Turner, before leaving office in January.

Read the complete article here.

Sandy douses Northeast, disrupts markets, campaigns and polling

Last year, Hurricane Irene was promoted by meteorologists and media-hype as the “storm of the century” but failed to develop the promised punch. This year, Sandy did not fail to deliver. The Category I hurricane slammed into New Jersey and New York, causing heavy damage and widespread flooding. There were also power disruptions across several states, leaving millions without electricity. Public officials estimate it will take days, possibly weeks, to restore the power grid.

Parts of lower Manhattan remain underwater today, as the tidal surge from Sandy deluged the coasts of New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, financial markets faced an unscheduled interruption on Monday and Tuesday as Wall Street shut down to brace for Sandy’s onslaught. The emergency conditions also disrupted the election as President Obama left the campaign trail to return to Washington Sunday night. In the early hours of Monday morning he declared New Jersey and New York and other parts of the Northeast federal disaster areas, and issued executive orders to ensure FEMA acted quickly to provide states with much needed resources. Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York praised the quick actions of President Obama and federal relief agencies.

The specter of Hurricane Katrina lurked in the background. The Bush Administration’s failure in 2005 to handle that crisis speedily and competently led to widespread criticism of both President Bush and FEMA. Former Gov. Mitt Romney is on the record stating that responsibility for large natural disasters should devolve on states and private actors, but that untenable position is viewed with skepticism and hostility in the face of large, regional disasters affecting multiple states.

Today, President Obama toured the heavily damaged region of New Jersey’s shoreline with Gov. Christie, leaving the campaigning to former President Clinton and others who have stepped up their efforts in the last week to get out the vote in key swing states such as Ohio and Florida. In addition to disrupting campaign events, the lasting damage of the hurricane will make polling impossible in some places before the election. Many pundits and pollsters alike are bemoaning this event, but the disruption of both financial markets and polling can also be viewed as a timely reminder that Americans can be bipartisan, especially during times of national crises.

It remains to be seen whether adequate power is restored and weather conditions permit voters to get to the polls on election day next Tuesday, raising concerns that the storm might tilt the election in favor of one candidate or another in some important states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.