Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a leader of the GOP’s anti-immigrant and restrictive voting efforts, and has been trying out some of his most extreme ideas in his home state.
Kobach helped to push through one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, requiring people registering to vote to produce documentation of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Because of this law, 36,000 people in Kansas have started voter registrations but not completed them, and now Kobach is purging that list of people who haven’t followed up to complete their registrations.
The New York Times today looked at the list of incomplete registrations in Kansas and found that a disproportionate number of people it affected were young and that the vast majority were new voters:
An analysis by The New York Times of the list of voters showed that more than half of them were under 35, and 20 percent were from 18 to 20 years old. Fifty-seven percent of the people on the list did not declare a party; 23 percent were Democrats; and 18 percent were Republicans. The vast majority — 90 percent — had never voted before.
“This disproportionately hits 18- to 24-year-olds,” said Jamie Shew, a Democrat and the county clerk for Douglas County, Kan. “For a lot of them, they say, ‘I’m not going to worry about it.’ They’re busy and this is just one more thing to do.”
Under the law, which was passed in 2011, registrants must prove citizenship by producing a document from an approved list, which includes birth certificates, passports and naturalization records. They may bring the document to a county clerk’s office or email a photo of it. Under Mr. Kobach’s new rule, if they fail to do so, they would be removed from the voters list after 90 days. Residents can try to register again even after being removed from the list.
The 36,000 people on the list represent about 2 percent of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters. The Wichita Eagle reported in September that more than 16 percent of people who have tried to register to vote since the law went into effect in January 2013 have been placed on the list.
Fearless is the word that comes to mind after a recent visit to Selma with 60 members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA). Fearless were those who sat in, marched in, taught, prayed, would not be denied 50 years ago. They established the paradigm for what those of us today, who sadly are still in battles for many rights, but more specifically voting rights, must do.
Republican politicians who claim there is no need to restore the protections we lost two years ago when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) need not look any further than Alabama today to see why they are very wrong.
Alabama has a voter ID law requiring people to show government-issued identification in order to vote. But last week the state announced it was closing 31 driver’s license offices, including offices in all counties where Black residents comprise over three quarters of registered voters. In other words, the state is requiring that voters have ID to cast a ballot, and then taking away the places to get that ID - for Black communities in particular. If that doesn’t show that voting protections are still needed, I don’t know what does.
Despite this appalling development, Jeb Bush said yesterday that he doesn’t support reauthorizing the VRA, suggesting that there’s no longer a need for it.
No longer a need for it? The destructive changes in Alabama are exactly the kind of measures that the VRA was designed to protect against. For years, Alabama was one of the states covered by Section 5 of the Act, which required certain places with a history of voting discrimination to get all changes in voting procedures cleared by the federal government before they could take effect. That law stopped scores of voting changes from being implemented in Alabama before they could do any harm. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, that safeguard is gone. On the very same day the Shelby County Supreme Court ruling eviscerated the VRA, Alabama said it would start enforcing its voter ID law.
The fearless women and men in the same state that serves as a symbol of the advancement of voting rights, those Baby Boomers, must still fight with the Millennials to protect them. Like our tour guide last month, Joanne Bland, who in 1965 was an 11 year old member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, activists’ refusal to be discouraged from praying and marching in 1965 is still encouraging in 2015. She and others were honored by thousands who marched and prayed this year on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, including President Obama, Congressman John Lewis, and countless faith and community leaders and activists. They remain the symbol of intergenerational strategic and sacrificial actions that must be taken still today to address and end ongoing racial discrimination in voting.
But it’s not just Alabama. In Mississippi our AAMLC members are seeing precincts closing in or near African American churches, forcing Black residents to travel to white communities to vote. In Florida, a state representative is talking about Republicans winning elections by maximizing the number of incarcerated African Americans in a district, framing the disenfranchisement of Black Americans as an opportunity for political gain. Since the 2010 elections, a whopping 21 states have put new laws in place that make it harder to vote.
Like those who were fearless in the past, we must be fearless today and make sure that all know the fundamental, inalienable right to cast a ballot is in danger still, especially for people of color. Our political system is built on the promise of democracy for all, not democracy for those who can afford to drive cross-state on a weekday to get an ID. How can GOP leaders and presidential candidates continue to insist with a straight face that there’s no need to restore protections for voters? I wish they could one day walk, march in our shoes, to feel the pain of a promise with unnecessary barriers, to try to register and vote. In the meantime let’s be fearless!
Earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said that he didn’t want “stupid” people — i.e. people who won’t vote for him — to vote at all. Then a Republican state representative in Florida was caught suggesting that the party beat Rep. Corrine Brown by redrawing her African-American-majority district to include a large population of prisoners, who are not allowed to vote in Florida.
These are just two of the instances of Republican lawmakers admitting that their electoral strategy hinges not just on winning votes, but on suppressing the votes of people who they think will oppose them.
More than 30 years ago, an influential conservative leader explained why his movement shouldn’t “want everybody to vote.”
Paul Weyrich, an operative considered to be the “founding father of the conservative movement” because of his hand in founding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, the Council for National Policy and other influential conservative groups, laid out the GOP’s voter suppression strategy in a 1980 speech in Dallas.
"I don't want everybody to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers pushed through a package of voter suppression bills , including restrictions on early voting, something that many African American voters had taken advantage of the previous year.
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly rejoiced in the news , saying that the early voting restrictions were “particularly important” because early voting had tended to help Democrats:
The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that “early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.”
Franklin County, Ohio, GOP
In 2012, Republican officials in Ohio repeatedly attempted to cut back early voting hours , fighting off legal challenges from President Obama’s reelection campaign.
Doug Preisse, the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party (whose area includes the city of Columbus), put his party’s case frankly in an email to the Columbus Dispatch:
I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter turnout machine.
Before the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai declared that a new voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
In 2013, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott — who has since become the state’s governor – responded to the Justice Department’s accusation that recent redistricting had discriminated against minorities by explaining that the goal was just to discriminate against Democrats and “effects on minority voters” were merely “incidental”:
DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.
People For the American Way Foundation today applauded Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s moves to restore the voting rights of more than 10,000 Virginia citizens with criminal records. By streamlining the restoration process and by removing barriers that prevented formerly incarcerated persons from being able to vote, run for office and serve on juries, McAullife has restored the rights of more Virginians than any other Governor in a four year term.
“This is unquestionably a step towards a more just and more democratic system,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “We’ve seen that continuing to prevent ex-offenders from registering to vote serves no purpose other than increasing stigma and contributing to the ongoing war on voting rights. Governor McAuliffe should be applauded for his efforts to include more citizens in our elections, and other elected officials should follow his lead.”
“Felon disenfranchisement is just one of the ways that opponents of voting rights have kept people of color away from the ballot box,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, PFAW Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs. “Allowing formerly incarcerated persons to raise their voices as full citizens brings us a small step closer to a system that truly reflects a government of, by and for all the people. We are committed to continuing to work to make sure that all Virginians are ready and able to cast a vote that counts on Election Day.”
Today, leaders of the Micah Leadership Council applauded Pennsylvania’s launch of a system allowing eligible voters to register online. Reverend Michael Couch, national Co-Chair of Micah Leadership Council, released the following statement:
“At a time when so many states have placed the right to vote under constant attack, it’s worth applauding a move to make it easier for more people to participate in the democratic process. I’m pleased that Governor Wolf and his administration have taken this step to remove an unnecessary barrier between citizens and the ballot box.
“This isn’t the last reform Pennsylvanians need in order to ensure that all our citizens have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard on Election Day, but it’s unquestionably a step in the right direction. This is a victory for voters and a victory for all of us who care our democratic process."
People For the American Way Foundation’s Micah Leadership Council engages African American ministers ages 25 through 40 who are committed to continuing, and redefining the fights for civic engagement, quality public education, voting rights protection and environmental and social justice for all as well as addressing divisive right wing rhetoric.
“Forward together, not one step back” were the chants heard in every space we entered while we marched for voters’ rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina last month. On July 13, Young People For (YP4) community college consultant Lela Ali, African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) administrative assistant Jasmine Bowden, and I participated in the Mass Moral Monday march and rally hosted by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP to share our voices and energy in the fight against the 2013 North Carolina law (H.B. 589) that advocates have called “the worst voter suppression law in the country.”
Community and religious leaders performed sit-ins three years ago in the North Carolina State Senate resulting in arrests opposing the voter suppression law. One month later, the North Carolina NAACP and Rosanell Eaton filed a complaint in federal district court due to the bill’s violations under the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. This history was uplifted by North Carolina NAACP State President Reverend William Barber, II – who is also an AAMLC member – at an ecumenical service at Union Baptist Church Sunday evening. He gave a great sermon titled “Necessary Interruption,” saying that allies and activists are being called to disrupt our nation in order to dismantle the systems of oppression that plague our country and leave behind countless black deaths with little consequences. He spoke on the need for Medicare expansion, policy changes like gun laws and criminal justice reforms, and economic empowerment for marginalized communities. The North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory lawsuit, which challenges the provisions of embedded in H.B. 589, is one of those necessary interruptions of justice.
With a fiery ending to our first night in Winston-Salem, we were excited for the full day of teach-ins that occurred the next morning. We were hosted by Goler Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and engaged in various topics from ‘Racial Violence & Criminal (In)Justice’ to ‘Building Coalitions to Sustain a Social Justice Movement.’ Many of our conversations were focused around allyship, direct action, and legal support to dismantle systems of inequity in local communities. We had the opportunity during our lunch break to meet with members of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network and ministerial leaders (AAMLC) from People For the American Way Foundation.
Later that day, we headed over to a rally and march only a few blocks away. At this time, the weather had reached its peak of 93 degrees, but this did not minimize the crowd of over 600 supporters. Music welcomed us and speakers from across the country greeted us with boisterous calls to action as they prepared us to take to the streets and rally for voters’ rights. We gathered our signs and water bottles and followed the crowd through the streets of downtown Winston-Salem as we chanted, “Forward together, not one step back!” and “What do you want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” We were escorted by local police while onlookers from the side streets clapped and cheered us on. Music continued to serenade us as young and old, black and white supporters joined hands to dance in solidarity for justice and equality around voting rights. It was a magical experience that could only be felt in that moment. We walked back to our cars after the march not concerned with the sweltering weather or the sweat staining our clothes and faces. We were excited to be a part of history and exercise our rights to march and protest.
The lawsuit appealing H.B. 589 may not be resolved right away, but activists and allies will continue to take to the internet and streets to uplift the voices of marginalized communities whose rights are violated by those who were elected to serve an array of constituents – black, brown, and white. We will continue to interrupt the notion that young people can’t participate in the electoral process. We will align ourselves with the interests of those who fight for equality and human rights. The fight for voters’ rights is a necessary interruption in the face of injustice.
WASHINGTON – Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that had a key provision gutted two years ago by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. Congress now has before it the Voting Rights Advancement Act, designed to restore and modernize VRA protections, but so far GOP leaders are “slamming the brakes” on such legislation.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 got rid of literacy tests and other Jim Crow schemes designed to deny the right to vote to racial minorities,” said Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “Today, voting protections are still needed, the threats just look different. Now we have voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and massive voter roll purges. That Congress has failed to do its job and restore the VRA is a disgraceful display of how little those who are blocking the Advancement Act care about discrimination at the ballot box today.”
“We’ve seen a surge of laws designed to make it harder to vote since the Shelby decision two years ago,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “If Congress doesn’t act, we’ll soon be heading into the first presidential election in half a century without strong federal protections against racial discrimination at the polls. Restoring the VRA shouldn’t be controversial. Congress needs to act now to ensure that every American is able to cast a vote that counts in 2016.”
Today also marks the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle. Petition signatures from members and supporters of PFAW, Common Cause, and Bend the Arc were delivered to Fox News yesterday urging the debate questioners to ask the candidates about their position on restoring the Voting Rights Act.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Act, which passed then and has passed since with strong bipartisan support, provided necessary protections from discriminatory voting practices by Southern states aimed at African Americans. That was yesterday. Today's VRA is barely recognizable.
Yesterday, protection was needed against poll taxes (barred in federal elections with the ratification of the 24th Amendment), literacy taxes, and things like “white primaries” in Texas. Today protection is needed against voter identification laws, purging of voting rolls, the disenfranchisement of voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons, big money in politics, and redistricting.
Yesterday, Jim Crow was to have retired in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also signed by President Johnson. Today Jim Crow is “James Crow, PhD,” – CEO of the prison industrial complex, instigator of the war on women and card carrying, dues paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), determined to re-define democracy in this country.
Yesterday, 50 years ago on March 7, 1965, courageous women and men were a part of a nonviolent march attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Five months later the Voting Rights Act was signed.
Today, 50 years later I stand here in Dallas with Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King, III, officers, clergy, laity, and Dr. James Perkins, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. at its 54th annual conference, the convention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with great clarity and without doubt that the Voting Rights Act of yesterday is still needed in its fullness today!
Yesterday, on November 22, 1963, here in Dallas at the Dealey Plaza, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and then Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as this country’s 36th president. Blood and tears of Kennedy and the nonviolent marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were mingled at the raising of a pen to try to finish what Kennedy started - the righting of a wrong. Today, blood and tears of the Emmanuel Nine were mingled in the lowering of the confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state capital.
Yesterday, under the Johnson administration, his “Great Society” vision for America, we got Medicare and Medicaid (also 50 this month), a ban on race discrimination in public facilities, the War on Poverty, and the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Today, we still must march for Medicaid expansion, an end to racial profiling and gender and sexual identity discrimination, for comprehensive immigration reform. And 50 years later we still must fight for the protection of our right to vote.
We are here in Texas on this historic day, the same state that immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder on August 22, 2013, passed one of the country’s most oppressive, restrictive voter identification laws (SB14) at the time and was charged with violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
We are here knowing from the yesterdays it is not a matter of “if” someone will test the voting laws of the land. Today it’s just a matter of “when.” Until we get to that place of protection, of security where rights will not, can no longer be denied, “let us march on,” educate, motivate, advocate, register and yes vote “till victory is won.”
On Monday, a federal trial began in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see if recent changes in the state’s election laws unfairly and purposefully discriminate against minority voters. The changes in question include an end to same-day registration, an end to a high school voter registration program, and a reduction in early voting days.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act by striking down a coverage formula that identified nine states – including North Carolina – with a history of voter discrimination. Before the 2013 ruling, federal approval was needed before any changes in election laws in these states could go into effect. However, in the immediate aftermath of Shelby County, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature were able to implement the restrictions without federal approval.
The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P, League of Women Voters, a group of college students, and the Department of Justice initiated the case, arguing that the measures should be struck down, and that North Carolina should be required by the court to submit voting proposals to federal approval since the contested measures were intended to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.
Several states remodeled their voting laws following the Shelby decision; however, North Carolina’s restrictions represent some of the broadest changes in the country.
This case is the latest development in a series of initiatives to protect the right to vote across the United States, including by restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. PFAW recently participated in a rally in Roanoke, Virginia, and members of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership networks are participating in today’s events surrounding the beginning of the trial in Winston-Salem.
Today, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Republican-drawn gerrymandered districts in Florida that dilute the African American vote must be redrawn because they violate the anti-gerrymandering state Constitutional amendments passed by the voters.
People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council applauds the ruling, calling it a major step forward for fair representation in Florida. African American Ministers Leadership Council member Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL issued the following statement in response to the court’s decision:
“In striking down the gerrymandered districts in Florida that Republicans created to favor themselves by purposefully diluting the African American vote, our state Supreme Court affirmed the principal that all people, no matter the color of their skin or their political beliefs, deserve fair representation in our democratic system.
“Fairness in our electoral system has always been central to the Civil Rights movement. We fight hard day in and day out to ensure that our government upholds the rights of African Americans and all people, and today’s ruling brings us one step closer to equal voting rights for our community.”
Today, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way joins a diverse group of civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia to rally for a restored Voting Rights Act (VRA). Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, is addressing the crowd. Below are her remarks, as prepared.
Hello everyone. I am Minister Leslie Watson Malachi and I’m the director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way.
It’s been two years since the Supreme Court gutted the crown jewel of the Civil Rights Movement. Two years since Justice Scalia claimed that protecting the right to vote somehow represents “racial entitlement.”
The Voting Rights Act, when it was whole, was one of the most important tools we had for confronting a very ugly entitlement: the entitlement of those who think that certain votes and certain voices should matter more than others. It helped interrupt a phenomenon that is still alive and well – the ongoing devaluation of the votes, and the lives, of Black Americans. The racist massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston provided a horrific reminder of that reality.
The VRA gave a sense of security and safety that translated beyond just security and safety in the voting booth. After the VRA, we had the election of first-time African Americans in mayoral and gubernatorial seats post Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act was more than a piece of public policy. It was a statement, enshrined in law, about the value of African American lives and voices.
So far, Congress has failed to restore that statement, those protections. What kind of message does that send?
Chairman Goodlatte, we are here in your backyard to demand that you and your Republican colleagues do better. Stop ignoring racial discrimination at the polls. Stop ignoring the calls from Americans of all political stripes and restore the VRA.
In the past two years, politicians in cities and states that were once protected by the federal oversight of the original VRA have been passing laws that make it harder for people of color to vote. These politicians didn’t waste any time in turning back the clock on progress we’ve made toward making sure that all Americans can participate in our democracy.
Congress shouldn’t waste any more time in doing just the opposite: restoring the Voting Rights Act and protecting every person’s right to cast a vote that counts.
Fifty years ago, courageous men and women died fighting for these protections. They knew that the right to vote is the most precious right we have in a democracy. We can’t let their legacy come undone.
WASHINGTON – Two years ago today, the Supreme Court gutted a core provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in its Shelby County decision. Yesterday a group of senators and representatives took new action toward restoring the VRA by introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would modernize the “preclearance” formula for federal oversight and make additional, critical updates to the landmark law.
Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the measure in the Senate. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, introduced an identical measure in the House.
People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“We applaud Senator Leahy, Representative Lewis, and their colleagues for introducing this urgently-needed legislation.
“Two years after the Shelby County ruling gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, voters in cities and states that were once protected by federal oversight are facing laws that make it harder to vote – laws that disproportionately affect people of color. This is unacceptable. Voting discrimination is still a very real, pervasive problem, even if some members of Congress choose to ignore it.
“The Voting Rights Advancement Act would help protect voters from this kind of discrimination and ensure that every American is able to exercise their fundamental right to participate in our elections. Congress should take up and pass this legislation now so that we can have fairer rules in place before 2016.”
Today People For the American Way will join a diverse group of civil rights and voting rights advocates in Roanoke, Virginia – represented in Congress by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte – to rally for a restored Voting Rights Act (VRA). The gathering will take place on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA.
The event will include speeches from many esteemed leaders and activists, including People For the American Way Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi.
PFAW President Michael Keegan released the following statement:
“We join together to recognize both the brave leaders who paved the way for the Voting Rights Act fifty years ago and the road ahead to restore protections at the polls. For almost half a century, this landmark law helped ensure that people of color had equal access to the ballot box.
“It is imperative that Congress restores the protections that the Court gutted two years ago. Two years is far too long for voters to face the threat, and the reality, of increased racial discrimination at the polls. As we gear up for the 2016 presidential election, it’s more urgent than ever for these protections to be restored.
“Today we call on Chairman Goodlatte and his colleagues to honor those who have fought for decades for the right to cast a vote that counts by working together to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.”
People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action commend Senator Patrick Leahy, Representative John Lewis, and their colleagues for introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the VRA. Congress should take up and pass this legislation as quickly as possible.
On Thursday, People For the American Way members and supporters in New Hampshire joined local election authorities, lawmakers, civil rights groups, and affected voters to call on Governor Maggie Hassan to veto SB 179 and end the rollback of voting rights.
The bill, SB 179, would require voters to live at the same address for 30 days before registering to vote, chipping away at the state’s same-day registration law, and also open up public access to private voter information at the local level.
Over 80 people packed the lobby of the Legislative Office Building, including many state legislators. Speakers included State Senator David Pierce; Gilles Bissonnette, legal director for the ACLU; State Representative and Plymouth State University student Travis Bennett; moderator for the town of Freedom Don Johnson; and Manchester moderator and president of the Manchester NAACP Woullard Lett. They addressed the unconstitutionality of the 30 day waiting period, the fact that there is no evidence of a problem with “drive by voting,” and the bill’s disproportionate effects on students, the poor, and people of color.
Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.
This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:
In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.
PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.
Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.