Update: Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

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Yesterday I re-blogged an article on voter suppression by Nel’s New Day and added additional information from the Brennan Center for Justice on both increased access in eleven states as well as more background information on voter suppression across the country.

This afternoon, I received an email from the Brennan Center for Justice. It includes more information on the status of voting laws and decisions made in the last couple of weeks in Arkansas, Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. It includes several references to emergency appeals to the US Supreme Court by either the Brennan Center or by other advocates. Here’s that email…

 Court Rulings Impact Voting Rules Across the Country

A series of court decisions in the past few weeks have changed voting rules in several states. Here is a breakdown of the latest developments.

Texas

Current Status: On October 14, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Texas’s restrictive photo ID requirement, which a federal judge had blocked five days earlier. The Brennan Center is part of the legal team representing plaintiffs in the case, who filed an emergency appeal today to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: After a lengthy trial in September, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos ruled last week that the Texas legislature enacted the ID law to purposely discriminate against minority voters. She also found more than 600,000 registered voters lack the kind of ID required by Texas’s law.

Wisconsin

Current Status: On October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin’s photo ID law from going into effect for the November election.

Background: Lawmakers initially passed the ID requirement in 2011, but it was blocked before it could go into effect for a major election. In September, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling allowing the law to be put in place immediately. Advocates filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, arguing implementing the law so close to an election would “cause chaos at the polls.”

North Carolina

Current Status: On October 8, the Supreme Court allowed restrictions on same-day registration and out-of-precinct balloting to remain in effect for the November election.

Background: In 2013, legislators passed a series of laws cutting back on voting. Earlier this month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked two of those restrictions, but the Supreme Court’s October 8 order reversed that decision.

Ohio

Current Status: On September 29, the Supreme Court issued an emergency injunction delaying early voting in Ohio by one week, a day before it was scheduled to begin.

Background: Ohio reduced early voting this year by eliminating Sunday and weeknight hours and ending “Golden Week,” a six-day period where voters could register and vote on the same day. A district court blocked those cuts in early September, but the Supreme Court’s order means they remain intact for the 2014 election.

What’s Next?

Decisions are still pending in:

  • Arkansas – The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the voter ID law October 2. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief arguing the requirement violates the state constitution.
  • Arizona/Kansas – The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on new rules requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. The Brennan Center represents the League of Women Voters in a suit challenging the laws.

View all of the Brennan Center’s Election 2014 resources.

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Stay connected. Stay informed. Get involved.

And once again remember to get out and vote on November 4!

Voting Restriction Rulings in Just One Week

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I’m reblogging Nel’s New Day article on voter restrictions today.  It is an excellent commentary on the increasing denial of voter access and voter suppression around the United States. Nel has done a good job of summarizing the methods designed to reduce voter turnout, including gerrymandering, mandatory photo ids, reduced early voting, and elimination of same-day voter registration in states that had previously allowed this.

Another source for this information is The Brennan Center for Justice. It has an excellent report on the current status of voting and elections in the US. This report is titled “The State of Voting in 2014” and covers both the voter suppression issue as well as an increased access to the ballot in some states.

Sixteen states have passed laws increasing access to the ballot since 2012; eleven of these states’ new laws will be in effect on November 4. Interestingly five of these eleven “progressive” states — Illinois, Nebraska, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia — also enacted more restrictive voter laws.  The most common forms of laws that increase access to the ballot include online voter registration and other methods to modernize voter registration (like being able to have your voter registration move with you) plus methods to increase access to early voting.

So read  Nel’s blog below and then head on over to the Brennan Center for Justice for more information.

And remember to get out and vote on Tuesday, November 4, 2014.

 

Nel's New Day

Marriage equality didn’t stop for last weekend. Alaska, the first state to ban marriage equality in 1998, now legally recognizes same-sex marriage after U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess of the U.S. District Court of Alaska issued his ruling. The Republican governor plans to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court which legalized marriage equality in Nevada and Idaho last week.

Meanwhile, last week saw a rollercoaster of court decisions about voter suppression laws. In passing these laws, the GOP has openly declared that the reason for photo IDs required for voting is to keep Democrats from have their rights at the ballot box. With fewer than 31 fraud cases in over 10 years, the number of legitimate voters kept from voting has vastly increased.  Joy Dunn, 79, is an eligible voter who found out that new laws had disqualified her vote after her absentee ballot in March’s Arkansas…

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The 2014 quest to get single women to the polls

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times at  http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-democrat-quest-to-turn-out-single-women-20140716-story.html on July 17, 2014. It was written by Maeve Reston.  She is a political reporter at the paper. She’s been covering presidential election since 2004, first in Pittsburgh PA, then Austin TX, and now in Los Angeles.  She can be reached through Twitter at @MaeveReston.

If you’d like to learn more about unmarried-women voters, you can check out the research that was conducted by the Voter Participation Center and Lake Research Partners.

Please read this great article. Review the research. And help get-out-the-vote. You can help by talking to your unmarried female friends and family  members and helping them to register to vote. And the remind them to vote on November 4, 2014.

 

Central Oregon Coast NOW

la-pn-g-democrats-quest-turn-women-20140716-20140716

By MAEVE RESTON
July 17, 2014

It has been nearly a month since the Supreme Court handed down its Hobby Lobby decision, yet the issue has remained at the top of the political news now for weeks — a key facet in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

To explain that, look no further than the research by the Voter Participation Center into the voting trends for single women in midterm elections. Though single women make up a growing share of the electorate — nearly 4.2 million became eligible to cast ballots since 2008 — they turn out in far lower numbers in midterm elections than presidential contests.


The battle for female voters in Montana
Related video: Facing attacks in the Montana Senate race on his record on abortion, Republican Steve Daines aired his own female-focused ad touting his support for the Violence Against Women Act.

The dropoff…

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Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruled Unconstitutional

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PA Voter ID Ruled Unconstitutional by Commonwealth Court.

This morning, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley struck down Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law as unconstitutional.  Judge McGinley’s condemnation of this law is clearly noted in his opinion.  He said, in part,

“[The Voter ID Law is] invalid and unconstitutional on its face as the provision and issuance of compliant identification does not comport with liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote….

Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

And most powerfully in my opinion:

“The right to vote, fundamental in Pennsylvania, is irreplaceable, necessitating its protection before any deprivation occurs. Deprivation of the franchise is neither compensable nor reparable by after-the-fact legal remedies, necessitating injunctive and declaratory relief.”

You can read a copy of the full opinion on the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia’s website. I am so pleased to see this decision.  I have followed this bill since it’s outset. In 2011, as President of Pennsylvania NOW I wrote about some of the problems with the law before it was enacted; this blog includes a copy of the letter I sent to members of the House State Government Committee detailing problems with the law.

Then after it was enacted in 2012, I was asked to testify in Commonwealth Court about the problems I observed in people attempting to obtain a Voter ID.   I told the Court what I had observed at the PennDOT licensing center in Pleasant Gap regarding problems in obtaining a photo id. These problems included lack of timely public transportation to and from the facility, lack of knowledge of the staff about the voter id law, inaccurate paperwork, long lines, and how women changing their names on their drivers’ licenses could be disenfranchised.

I also mentioned that I had used a photo id that did not meet the state’s Voter ID Law guidelines. Yet, it was accepted without question by the poll workers when I went to vote in the primary during the so-called “soft roll-out period.”

You can read more about that testimony and how accessing a photo id can specifically block access to the ballot for married women in a blog I wrote on this issue last year.

My thanks go to the legal team put together by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Advancement Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter. They successfully argued over the last 18 months that this law was and is unconstitutional under Article I. Section 5 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.

But the battle may not be over.  Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D) argued in favor of the law before the Commonwealth Court.  News reports indicate that she hasn’t yet decided whether or not to appeal Judge McGinley’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Your voice needs to be heard.  And it can be.  Right after the decision was announced, my colleague, Michael Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress, created a MoveOn petition to AG Kane asking her to let the decision stand and not appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  I signed and commented that:

I am one of the people who testified in Commonwealth Court in 2012 about the problems I observed in people attempting to obtain a Voter ID and about my testing the knowledge of poll workers in correctly interpreting the law (they accepted an invalid photo id that did not meet the requirements of the law during the testing period before the law was enjoined; I used it again at another election and once again, they told me it was valid).

Don’t play games with our elections. As Judge McGinley stated, “the law is “invalid and unconstitutional on its face as the provision and issuance of compliant identification does not comport with liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote.” Let his ruling stand.

You too can add your voice.  Please do so.  Thanks.

Update 5 pm January 17, 2014

Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a press statement at 4 pm today in response to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling this morning. Here’s what it says,

“I respect Judge McGinley’s very thoughtful decision in this matter. The Office of Attorney General will continue to defend the rights of all Pennsylvanians and we will work with all related Commonwealth agencies to carry out this decision and ensure that all voters have access to free and fair elections.”

Q&A regarding Attorney General Kane’s position:

1. How does this decision affect Attorney General Kane’s previous concerns?

Attorney General Kane’s previous concern and legal analysis mirrored the concern and ultimate decision of the courts in that implementation may not be sufficient to ensure free and fair elections.

2. What happens now in terms of an appeal?

The Office of Attorney General is awaiting direction from its client.”

Voter ID Laws Block Women’s Votes

In the early spring of 2012, Pennsylvania passed its restrictive photo voter id law that is similar to the one in Texas discussed in Nel’s New Day. That summer, I testified in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court about my observations at the PennDOT licensing center in Pleasant Gap about the problems I observed in obtaining a photo id. These included lack of timely public transportation to and from the facility, lack of knowledge of the staff about the voter id law, inaccurate paperwork, long lines, and how women changing their names on their drivers’ licenses could be disenfranchised.

 

This last problem is one I saw in addition to all of the issues for women voting that are raised in Nel’s blog. Here’s what I observed.

 

A woman came in and said that she had just gotten married and needed to change her name on her driver’s license. She asked for the paperwork. The employee said rather than filling out the paperwork and paying for a replacement driver’s license, he could give her a piece of paper to carry with her current license showing her new name. Since Pennsylvania’s voter id law requires the name to be “substantially the same” on the voting records and the driver’s license, any woman taking this suggested route could end up being disenfranchised since what is on the id doesn’t match her new legal name and will not match the voting registration if she has made the change with the elections office. Had she gone through the paperwork and paid for the new license, she could have done a voter registration update at the same time since PennDOT is one of the recognized state voter registration sites. None of that was offered.

 

As a result of the Commonwealth Court case, the Pennsylvania Voter ID law has been temporarily enjoined. I wrote about the case in January of this year. The second stay came in March and the third one came after the primary. That stay says that until the constitutional issues surrounding the Voter ID law are resolved, photo ids can be asked for but cannot be required. First time voters will still need some form of identification (but doesn’t have to be a photo id; for example, it could be a copy of an utility bill).

 

As Nel states at the end of her blog, we here in Pennsylvania are hoping for the same thing:

“Let us hope that the lawyers will carefully explain to the judges the [constitutionally] discriminatory basis for voter ID laws and that the judges will believe them.”

Nel's New Day

GOP legislators and governors have found many ways to disenfranchise voters who might possibly vote against them: gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter list purging, etc. The Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the almost 50-year-old Voters Rights Act created even more havoc for voters. The tipping point against these actions may have come this fall in Texas.

Last night Rachel Maddow laid out the Texas problem on her show. It starts with a Texas law that mandated that all married women must use her maiden name as the middle name, a change resulting in a mismatch between the name on voter registration and driver’s license for women. The information went viral after Sandra Watts, judge in the 117th District Court, was challenged when she tried to vote. Watts has voted in every election for the past 49 years, the name on her driver’s license has stayed…

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Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

March on Washington 50 in 140 Characters

Today I listened to the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington speeches at the “Let Freedom Ring” program held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  It was broadcast on C-SPAN.  Throughout the broadcast, I listened, tweeted, retweeted, and commented on what I was seeing and hearing.

Here is what I heard as well as my thoughts in a series of 140 characters.

Original Tweets:

@BarackObama Fathers, mothers, former prisoners, people of all colors, children, lgbt… They are all marching 4 Freedom & Justice #mow50

@BarackObama Medgar Evans, Cheney, #MLK didn’t die in vain. We still require vigilance. We will move forward 4 #CivilRts #jobs #Justice

@BarackObama the flame of justice never died despite the indignities placed on the disenfranchised. They marched. #letfreedomring 4 all #mow50 (Retweeted by @Penny_G during program plus one comment from Richard Punko:@tosti_vasey Amen! We must rekindle that fame and passion and March again. Tyranny of rich, powerful, bigoted conservatives must not prevail)

@BarackObama 5 decades ago today we came together to call for the full promise for all as written in our Declaration of Independence #MOW50

#LetFreedomRing bell from church in Birmingham that was burned in 60s just rung at Lincoln memorial w @BarackObama & King family #MOW50

We must keep justice & freedom alive. #LetFreedomRing for all. Gay straight, men women children, people of color. Rev Bernice King #mow50

Rev Bernice King praises inclusion of women and 3 current/former Presidents on #mow50. Didn’t happen 50 years ago.

@billclinton We need to stop complaining about Congress gridlock & (in summary) go for jobs, justice, peace, & environmental safety. #mow50@billclinton in the shadow of Lincoln’s statue, we still need to walk against the racial divide to change America to #LetFreedomRing #mow50

We know how #mlk would have reacted to recent cutting of #votingrights, #immigration, etc.

@JimmyCarter thanks #MLK 4 #civilrights. In 40′ & 50’s I saw black schools without building cause my community wouldn’t provide buses #mow50

@BarackObama, @JimmyCarter, @billclinton, & Michele Obama on #mow50 stage w #mlkfamily & Rep. Lewis Big leadership change from 50 yrs ago.

@Oprah as we reaffirm our support of #MLKDream, we too can be a “drum major” for #Justice. Bells will toll @ 3:00 to #LetFreedomRing forever

Lynda Johnson Robb: my father pushed 4 the 64 Civil Rights Act, 65 Voting Rights Act, & 67 Fair Housing Act he heart #civilrights #MOW50

@revalsharpton “we will beat the James Crow, Jr Esq” program of voter suppression, stand your ground, etc. #MOW50 #Racism

Sign seen @ #mow50 “We March for jobs, justice, & peace.” Still true 50 years after #MLKDream speech. Everyone join in!

Delores Huerta si se puede if you go back to your community and bring all to the fight for justice. #mow50 #Women #CivilRts #lgbt, etc.

Alan van Capalle “The ark of justice won’t bend for all without your work & help.” #MOW50

@repdonnaedwards we must raise our voices for voting rights, ending violence, etc. What rights & fights will u raise your voice? #mlkdream

Modified Tweets and Comments:

Right on! MT @civilrightsorg so says @BarackObama: “We were told that growing inequality is the cost of prosperity.” #mow50 #endpoverty

MT @blackvoices: “The men & women who gathered 50 years ago weren’t here seeking some abstract goal, they were seeking jobs” Obama Still are

#Jobs #Justice MT @HalfinTen Don’t Forget: Organizers of original #mow called 4 min. wage of > $13 in 2013 dollars #raisethewage #mlkdream50

We must fight back. RT @p_majority RT @repjohnlewis: To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that we cannot be patient.  (Retweeted by @p_majority during program)

As part of #jobs, #justice & #peace… RT @NationalNOW We need a living wage! thinkprogress.org/economy/2013/0… Via @thinkprogress #MOW50

Absolutely! @repdonnaedwards u go girl! RT @NCJW “We must lift our voices for just wages” Rep Donna Edwards #mow50

Retweets:

RT @thecyclemsnbc The President reminds us: the measure of progress isn’t how many blacks join the ranks of millionaires, but how many join the middle class.

RT @Jenalenglish Pleased to hear Obama addressing poverty in the context of freedom. Because there is no liberty without livelihood. #MOW50

RT @LAKane H/T to @billclinton: “A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” thkpr.gs/18liNa0 #dreamday (Retweeted by @JCWPolitics during program plus Comment after program ended by @LAKand: @JCWPolitics @tosti_vasey, thanks for the RT!)

RT @whitehouse President Obama: “Because they marched, a Civil Rights law was passed. Because they marched, a Voting Rights law was signed.” #MLKDream50

RT @EdgeofSports “Our only hope today lies in recapturing the revolutionary spirit declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.” – MLK

RT @chucktodd The 3 presidents speaking, representing 3 generations/experiences on issue of race. Carter born in 20s, Clinton in the 40s, Obama in the 60s

RT @GabrielaRM “We may have come here in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now,” Rep. John Lewis #AdvancingTheDream #MOW2013

RT @SDACLU 50 years later… those signs that say white and colored are gone… but there are still invisible signs. @repjohnlewis #endracialprofiling

RT @OccupyWallSt One of the goals of the March on Washington was a $2 minimum wage. In 2013 dollars, that would be $15.34 #MLKfb.me/1tmtAW09l

RT @NAACP Congressman @repjohnlewis: We have come a long way in 50 years, but we have a long way to go before we can fulfill King’s dream. #MOW50

RT @ply_25 “Justice delayed is justice denied”— THANK YOU, Ellie Smeal, @FemMajority! #herstorymow50

RT @MSNBC President Obama will deliver remarks at 2:45pmET at #MOW50. Tune into @msnbc for special coverage: onmsnbc.co/fweR3M #AdvancingTheDream (note: It was actually just after 3 pm when President Obama spoke)

RT @NAACP Caroline Kennedy: It is our turn to live up to the dreams of the last generation and work together for a better world. #MOW50

RT @feministteacher In 1963 there were 4 African Americans in Congress; today there are 44. #dreamday #MoW50

RT @politico Today in 1963, in preparation for the March on Washington, the Pentagon readied 19,000 troops in the suburbs. More: politi.co/15jjY82

RT @WomenInTheArts “We must ensure that the story of women in the movement is told” #MarchonWashington ow.ly/olE0L #linkatlunch @msmagazine

RT @civilrightsorg We are far from justice when an #LGBTQ person can be fired just for who they are! Support #ENDA – employment nondiscrimination act! #MOW50

RT @HalfinTen .@MartinLutherK True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice #talkpoverty #action4thedream #MLKDream50

RT @jbouie If “race agitator” was the “race hustler” of the 1960s, I’m pretty sure every civil rights leader at the time would have been called one.

ALICE PAUL – CRUSADER FOR WOMEN – JANUARY 11 BIRTHDAY

In honor of Women’s Equality Day (August 26). Alice Paul spearheaded the final long-time nationwide effort to get the 19th amendment to the US Constitution passed. And once that occurred in 1920, she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment; yet, almost a century later, it has yet to become part of the US Constitution. It’s time for women to achieve full legal equality.

King’s Dream in 2013: Interlocking Destinies

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. One of his colleagues at that event was the Rev. Jessie Jackson, Sr.  Rev. Jackson has continued speaking and advocating for that dream of “uniting people on common ground across race, culture, class, gender, and belief.”  This idea of interlocking destinies was presented during his plenary speech at the National NOW Conference held in Chicago on July 5, 2013.

I was in the room during Rev. Jackson’s speech and took several video clips with my smart phone.  One of them came out clear enough to post on this blog.  So after getting back home, participating in a family reunion, and then spending a week and a half looking for a replacement car for our 253,000+ mile vehicle, I was able to upload the video and present it to you.

Video of Jessie Jackson at the 2013 National NOW Conference in Chicago, IL

The following quotes, along with the time tags are some of the best comments, IMHO, that Jessie Jackson made during this speech discussing the intersection between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, which at 13:59 into this video, Jackson calls a “sharing of interlocking destinies.” He started off by discussing these Interlocking Destinies and shared rights.

3:10 Fifty years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, we still need the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment].

3:52 The right to vote should not be a state right. It’s a constitutional right for everyone.

4:10 Every child should have access to have access to high-quality public education.

4:20 No matter if you are in Mississippi, Maine, or in California, we live under one flag; you should have equal protection under the law.

5:52 Our goal is to learn to live together.

6:20 Civil rights cannot be another word for “black” and NOW cannot be another word for “white women.”  Black women, in big numbers, should be members of NOW now!

7:00 We must pull down the walls [of cultural resistance] that leave us in the shadow of fear…. When the walls come down, we can all grow bigger, better, stronger with greater productivity.  When the walls come down.

9:00 There’s a new South today that can have the Super Bowl, CNN, high-tech universities [showing that we are] learning to live together.  Yet…

At this point, Rev. Jackson starts talking about some of the interlocking issues of racism and sexism still present that need to be addressed in the United States:

9:56 It’s interesting to me that during the Republican Primary, in my [home] state [South Carolina] with an open primary, not one candidate went to a single school or church of the black community.  Not one! 33% black.  Not only did they not go, the media did not challenge them to go.  This instance [of the] reinforcement of apartheid was natural because it’s [still] normal.

Jackson then spends a bit of time framing these interlocking destinies and the problem of economics and access to justice.  He gave several examples of this framework.  The one that resonated with me was the one about the automobile industry, considering that my car had died the weekend before the conference and knowing that I would soon be car shopping. He said,

12:38 What does it mean that there are 21,000 automobile dealerships? 200 black-owned. Almost no women. Pepsi: one black franchise. Coke: zero. When you go get educated. You get your masters and PhD degrees. Business people, you cannot buy one of these franchises, by the way, because they were sold under the laws of perpetuity. Those that got the territories [back in the day] have the territory eternally.  So it’s not about getting on the ball field.  If you get on the ball field, there are no balls left…. Even money can’t buy them.

And finally, just as the battery in my smart phone died, he ended on a high note using history to look towards the future. He said that as in the past, we have not and can never be at loss for continuing to advocate for reform.  This is what I caught on the video as it beeped “bye-bye:”

13:59 The agenda of race and gender equality are inextricably bound.  We share interlocking destinies.  African-Americans won the right to vote in 1879 – 15th Amendment. Women in 1920 – 19th Amendment. We [finally] got the right for blacks to vote in the Deep South in 1965 [with the Voting Rights Act] while women got the right to serve on juries in 1967 – 2 years later [as a result of the US Supreme Court decision in Taylor v. Louisiana]Eighteen year olds got the right to vote in 1970; [before that] those [young people] serving in Vietnam could not vote…

Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

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Voting Rights for Felons and Ex-Cons

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me.  She said that she had been talking to a woman whose partner had a felony record who had served his time for the crime.  Among the several issues they discussed was his frustration that he was no longer able to vote.  Like many people, my friend and the couple she was talking to me about all believe that once someone has been found guilty of a felony, they face a lifetime ban on their constitutional right to vote.

Since primary season is coming up in many places around the country and since most states have voter registration deadlines before their primary election day, I thought I’d provide some background information on this issue.

What is the myth?

Simply stated, the myth is that ex-cons cannot vote – once convicted and forever afterwards. There are at least two errors in this myth:

  • Except for a narrow category of crimes in Mississippi, disenfranchisement does not occur in any state if you are found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.  Even if you spend time in jail for that misdemeanor.
  • Voter disenfranchisement for people with a felony conviction differs by state.  Eleven states permanently disenfranchise some or all current and former felons from voting, but most don’t.

So it all depends on where you live. Here’s what I found out about state laws on this issue from the Brennan Center for Justice

Permanent Disenfranchisement for All Felons

Only four states – Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – permanently disenfranchise current and former felons from voting.  The only way for a person to have their voting rights reinstated is through an “individual rights restoration” process set up by each state.

Permanent Disenfranchisement for Some but Not All Felons

Seven states permanently disenfranchise some, but not all current and former felons from voting.

In Arizona, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.

In the other six states in this category, you need to check your state law to determine which felony convictions permanently deny you the right to vote. Here’s a quick summary of these laws.

  • In Alabama, you can be permanently barred from voting if your crime is listed in their disenfranchisement list. If the conviction is a “moral turpitude” type of conviction, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence and payment of fines and fees.
  • In Delaware, voting after incarceration can be reinstated five years post-incarceration unless the crime you committed is one among a list of crimes that permanently disenfranchises your right to vote.
  • In Mississippi, you permanently lose your right to vote if you are convicted of any of ten categories of crime, whether that crime is a felony or misdemeanor.  If your crime isn’t on this list, you can vote even while incarcerated.  Note, this is the only state that has a law that permanently bans voting for someone who has created a misdemeanor.
  • In Nevada, if someone is convicted of two or more felonies, the right to vote is permanently denied.  People convicted of violent crimes at any time are permanently barred from voting. Nevada will restore those rights if a pardon is granted or if the court where the conviction originally occurred restores those rights.
  • In Tennessee, if your crime is on the list of crimes that permanently bar you from voting, then you can only have these rights reinstated if you are pardoned.  For all other crimes, you can have your voting rights restored upon completion of your sentence, payment of fines and fees, and show that you are up to date on all child support payments.
  • In Wyoming, you can have your voting rights restored five years post-incarceration for first-time non-violent crimes.  All others are permanently disenfranchised unless pardoned by the Governor.

Voting Rights Restored Upon Completion of Incarceration, Probation, and Parole

Nineteen states – Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – restore your rights to vote upon completion of your sentence, which includes incarceration, probation, and parole.

In Nebraska, one additionally has to wait two years after completing the sentence before being allowed to vote.

In Washington state, you can lose your right to vote again if you haven’t paid your financial obligations after completing your sentence.

Voting Rights Restored After Incarceration and/or Probation

Five states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and South Dakota – allow you to vote once you have completed your sentence and/or probation.

In New York, those on probation can have their voting rights restored if they receive either a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.”

Voting Rights Immediately Restored After Incarceration

Fifteen states – the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah – immediately restore voting rights upon one’s release from jail or prison. There are no voting restrictions for people on parole or serving probation time.

No Restrictions on Voting for People with a Criminal Record

And just two states – Maine and Vermont – allow anyone otherwise eligible to vote regardless of criminal conviction to vote. Even while incarcerated, on probation, or parole.

Who is most likely to be impacted by this disenfranchisement?

According to the ACLU, people and communities of color are most often disparately impacted by felony disenfranchisement laws. There are over 5.3 million people in the United States that are barred from voting due to a criminal conviction.  The majority of these crimes are non-violent.

Of the 5.3 million disenfranchised, 1.4 million or 26 percent of people with a criminal conviction are African-American citizens.  Considering that black persons make up just 13 percent of the national population, one can immediately see that if you are Black, you are twice as likely to have your voting rights denied.  This means that one in 13 African-Americans across the country are being denied their right to vote.

The myth of an ex-con never being allowed to vote compounds this issue. As previously stated, many believe that once convicted, they can never vote again.

With a widespread belief in this myth as well as a lack of public education to refute it, more and more ex-cons are at risk of not regaining their right to vote. Since actual disenfranchisement disparately impacts people of color, this assumption exacerbates this form of discrimination.

In my opinion, little is done by the government, courts, and communities to educate people and communities about their voting rights when one has been sentenced for a crime.  Exceptions to this come from only a few, non-profit advocacy sources, including the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the Sentencing Project.   There are others, but I believe that these four contain the best resources.

What do you need to do to get registered?

If your state is one of the states that do not permanently disenfranchise people who have completed their sentence (or if you live in Maine or Vermont which has no felony restrictions on voting), you should check out what your state law is regarding registering to vote.  The federal government has a website that has basic information on how to register and what the registration deadlines are by state.  It also has links to every state’s election office website where you can get details about state-specific requirements for voter eligibility.

If you know or believe that you have the right to vote in your state despite having a criminal history and receive a denial to vote when you attempt to register, you should check with an organization that provides legal services to people who have been incarcerated.  You can find a listing of these organizations by state here.  If your state isn’t listed, then the Prison Policy Initiative suggests that you contact one of the national groups that provide voter disenfranchisement assistance.

Once you get registered, GO VOTE!  It’s your right.