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…

View original post 1,394 more words

Fair Elections

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Fair campaign finance reform is needed for our government. There are two bills in the US Congress that could do this at the federal level.

We need to support Fair Elections and return our government to one that’s of, by, & for the people–not bought & paid for by special interests. There are two bills in Congress that would make this happen – 1) the Government by the People Act (HR. 20) and 2) the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 2023).

The lead co-sponsors of The Government by the People Act (HR. 20) are House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.)This bill allows “everyday Americans [to take] a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for Congressional office” and establishes “a Freedom from Influence Fund to multiply the impact of small-dollar donations ($150 or less).” There are 138 additional co-sponsors.  In addition, organizations such as Alliance for Justice, Americans for Democratic Action, Common Cause, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the Sierra Club have endorsed this bill. Currently, there are over 50 organizations who have signed on as supporters of this bill.  You can see the full list of Congressional co-sponsors and organizational endorsers here.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has introduced The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 2023).  This bill that would allow Senate candidates to run for office by relying on small donations from people back home.  Currently, there are 15 additional Senators who are co-sponsoring this bill.  Organizations such as the Brennan Center for Justice, Credo Action, League of Conservation Voters, NAACP, and Working Families have endorsed this bill. Currently, there are 38 organizations that have signed on as supporters of this bill. You can see a full list of the Senatorial co-sponsors and organizational endorsers here.

You too can publicly support these bills.  Public Campaign and a coalition of organizations are working to return our government to one that is of, by, and for the people–not bought and paid for by special interests.  They have created a website for individuals and organizations to sign on in support of these bills.

As an individual, You can sign on the Government By the People Act / Fair Elections Now Act website as a “citizen cosponsor”  of the Government by the People Act. If you represent an organization, your organization can endorse the Government by the People Act here.

There is not a sign-up page on this website for signing on to the Fair Elections Now bill as either a citizen co-sponsor or as an organizational endorser.  I don’t know why. If you are interested in signing on in to the Fair Elections Now bill, I suggest you contact them and make this request as I believe both bills need grassroots support. They do have an email address where you can contact them via email at ofby@publicampaign.org or by sending a letter to Public Campaign, 1133 19th Street NW, 9th Floor, Washington, DC 20009.

In either case, you can also follow this campaign for fair elections on Twitter by following @ofbyus.

Let’s get this done. Return our elections to the people. Pass both the Government By the People Act and the Fair Elections Now Act.

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.