Jessica Chiappone just wants to set an example for her two young sons by helping troubled families like the one she grew up in.
As a young Florida resident, she was convicted of a nonviolent drug offense. But since serving her prison sentence, she has turned her life around. Jessica successfully completed law school and is now a hardworking single mom who hopes to someday become a public defender.
But despite her efforts to make up for her past, Jessica was barred from voting because of her felony conviction. Under Florida law, she is unable to vote, hold public office or sit on a jury – all requirements for admission to the Florida Bar. And the prospects for having her civil rights restored, on which her new career depends, dimmed this year when Florida authorities significantly toughened the state’s rules around felon re-enfranchisement, eliminating a streamlined process for non-violent offenders to regain rights, and imposing new waiting periods and hearing procedures.
Florida is not the only state with these tough rules. Virginia, Iowa and Kentucky permanently disfranchise citizens with felony convictions unless the state individually approves the citizen’s restoration of rights. And while two states, Maine and Vermont, allow all persons with convictions to vote, even while incarcerated, the majority of state laws fall somewhere in between these two models. Moreover, because each state has its own set of rules, there has been widespread confusion about the proper administration of state laws that has contributed to the disfranchisement of even eligible citizens.
But today there is hope for Jessica and the nearly 4 million other American citizens who have also been released from prison and are living and working in their communities, but are still denied their right to vote in federal elections.
Today, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a critical bill that would fix this problem by establishing a uniform standard for voting in federal elections. The Democracy Restoration Act, S. 2017 (DRA) would eliminate the confusion caused by the current patchwork of state laws; streamline election administration; ensure that probationers never lose their right to vote in federal elections; and notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation or convicted of a misdemeanor.
The DRA is also championed by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives and supported by a very broad range of organizations in the faith, law enforcement, and civil rights communities.
Until recently, the state trend of easing criminal disfranchisement laws was generally moving forward with bipartisan support. Between 1997 and 2009, 16 Republican governors in 12 states approved policies that relaxed voting prohibitions applicable to people with criminal records.
But in the 2011 legislative season, we saw a variety of voting restrictions introduced in more than 30 states, and 16 states advanced measures that would create more barriers to voting, including a rollback of enfranchisement rights in Florida and Iowa. The DRA is particularly important in the wake of these voter suppression laws, which Attorney General Eric Holder warned are taking us back in time to a darker era in the history of voting rights.
Many felony disfranchisement laws have their roots in the Jim Crow era and were intended to bar minorities from voting. The impact of these laws continues today. Due to criminal disfranchisement laws, 13 percent of African-American men have lost the right to vote — a rate seven times the national average. Latino citizens are also disproportionately disfranchised because they are over-represented in the criminal justice system. In turn, this has impacted the families and communities of those who are disfranchised by reducing their collective political voice.
The DRA would strengthen our democracy by creating a broader and more just base of voter participation. No citizen should be denied their right to vote due to a past criminal conviction. By continuing to deny Americans the right to vote based on a past criminal conviction, the government is endorsing a system that expects these citizens to contribute to the community, but denies them participation in our democracy.
Jessica Chiappone, and millions of others, have earned a second chance and deserve more.
Tell Congress to act now to restore one of our most fundamental rights by supporting the Democracy Restoration Act.
Link to original article from ACLU Blog
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End Mass Criminalization -
More than a decade after Congress took steps to ensure equal access for people with disabilities at the polls, a new report finds that legal, physical and attitudinal barriers remain.
During the 2012 election cycle, 1 in 5 voters with disabilities said they were kept from casting their ballot on their own and more than half said they encountered hurdles — including rude or condescending attitudes from election workers — while inside their polling place.
The findings are based on the experiences of nearly 900 people with disabilities who were queried by...
Shaun Heasley | Disability Scoop 05 Nov 2013 Hits:218 VS-DRA Articles
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-Texas) tried to get a voter identification card at a Texas Department of Public Safety office on Saturday.
But the only photo identification cards Wright has -- an expired Texas driver's license and a Texas Christian University faculty identification card -- do not satisfy the requirements of the state's restrictive vote identification law, passed in 2011. Wright is 90 years old.
“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram on Saturday. “I think they...
Ashley Alman | Huffington Post 04 Nov 2013 Hits:285 VS-DRA Articles
Women who change their last name may have an extra step in voting under new laws.
Some states that have tightened their voter identification laws are using workarounds to avoid voting problems for women whose names have changed because of marriage or divorce – even as opponents of the laws warn there is still potential to disqualify female voters.
Voter ID laws are intensely controversial: the Justice Department is currently suing Texas and North Carolina to block their new, stricter laws, and lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have also prevented voter ID...
USA Today 02 Nov 2013 Hits:210 VS-DRA Articles
The man who wrote Arizona's "Papers Please" law before running for Kansas Secretary of State in 2010 on the premise of stamping out "voter fraud" there ... before winning and subsequently not being able to find much, if any of it, at all, is nonetheless still at work attempting to keep legitimate voters from being able to cast their vote under the premise that thousands of non-citizens are somehow, secretly, illegally voting in the state of Kansas.
"In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive," Kris Kobach's personal...
Brad Friedman | The Brad Blog 08 Oct 2013 Hits:440 VS-DRA Articles
Date North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed into law HB 589, the Voter Information Verification Act or VIVA, which makes sweeping changes to the state's election laws:8/12/2013
Number of states with voting laws that are more restrictive than North Carolina's: 0
Date two separate federal lawsuits were filed against VIVA claiming it violates the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution: 8/12/2013
Date a lawsuit was filed against VIVA in state court, claiming it also violates the N.C. Constitution: 8/13/2013
Under VIVA, year that North Carolina voters will have to...
Bretin Mock | Facing South 18 Aug 2013 Hits:410 VS-DRA Articles
Today, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the nation’s worst voter suppression law. The sweeping law requires strict government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, cuts the number of early voting days by a week, eliminates same-day voter registration during the early voting period, makes it easier for vigilante poll watchers to challenge the validity of eligible voters and expands the influence of unregulated corporate money in state elections.
Two lawsuits were filed today challenging the voting restrictions as racially discriminatory in federal court under Section 2 of the Voting Rights...
Ari Berman | The Nation 13 Aug 2013 Hits:515 VS-DRA Articles
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes to court again today at 1 p.m., the first day of a trial seeking to permanently overturn the law after it was temporarily put on hold before last year’s presidential elections and this year’s primary. Attorneys will present new and ongoing evidence to the Commonwealth Court showing that, 16 months after Pennsylvania passed the law, it remains abundantly clear that it cannot be implemented without disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
Co-counsel from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Advancement...
Sara Mullen | PA ACLU 12 Jul 2013 Hits:228 VS-DRA Articles
Nearly five decades after Bloody Sunday in Selma, he’s in the fight of his life, as the Supreme Court threatens to overturn his signature achievement.
On March 7, 1965, John Lewis threw an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, some toothpaste and two books into his backpack, and prepared to lead a fifty-four-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The impromptu march was organized to call national attention to the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the South and to protest the death of a young civil rights activist shot by police during a...
Ari Berman | The Nation 07 Jun 2013 Hits:524 VS-DRA Articles
Richmond, VA- Concerning the Governor’s actions related to voter ID legislation, SB 1256, the following statement can be attributed to Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director:
The ACLU of Virginia is extremely disappointed that Governor Bob McDonnell has chosen to sign legislation requiring photo ID at the polls for all voters. There is no evidence of need for such legislation, particularly after the Commonwealth enacted an enhanced ID requirement last year. There is not one case of voter impersonation fraud in Virginia, the only voter fraud that photo ID...
ACLU Virginia 28 Mar 2013 Hits:760 VS-DRA Articles
Arizona imposed stricter voter registration requirements. But the GOP doesn't want to stop there.
The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today to decide whether an Arizona statute that imposes restrictions on voter registration conflicts with federal law. The case could potentially decide the balance between the state and federal governments when it comes to elections and voting rights. After becoming law in Arizona, the bill at issue was adopted as a "model" by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, arises in...
Brendan Fisher | PR Watch 23 Mar 2013 Hits:1470 VS-DRA Articles
President Obama earned one of the loudest rounds of applause during his fourth State of the Union address when he declared, “We ...
Ari Berman | The Nation 11 Mar 2013 Hits:903 VS-DRA Articles
In oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. introduced a statistical claim that he took to imply that an important provision of the Voting Rights Act has become outmoded.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is being challenged by Shelby County, Ala., in the case before the court, requires that certain states, counties and townships with a history of racial discrimination get approval (or “pre-clearance”) from the Department of Justice before making changes to their voting laws. But Chief Justice Roberts said...
Nate Silver | The New York Times 10 Mar 2013 Hits:671 VS-DRA Articles
We do not have to guess what the states currently subject to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act will do if the Supreme Court grants their wish to have that provision declared unconstitutional — top Republicans in those states have already told us. In a brief filed last August, Republican attorneys general from six of the states covered, at least in part, by Section 5 of the Voting Right Act complained that this landmark legislation is all that stands between them and implementing a common methos of disenfranchising minority...
Ian Millhiser | Think Progress 03 Mar 2013 Hits:882 VS-DRA Articles
Pop champagne: Racism is over.
"There is an old disease, and that disease is cured," Bert Rein, the attorney leading the legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act—the landmark law intended to ensure all Americans can vote—told to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. "That problem is solved."
Rein represents Shelby County, Alabama, one of the jurisdictions covered by a key section of the Voting Rights Act called Section 5. Under Section 5, parts of the country with histories of discriminatory election practices have to ask for permission—or "preclearance," in legal terms—from the Justice...
Adam Serwer | Mother Jones 03 Mar 2013 Hits:729 VS-DRA Articles
If you listen to the court watchers reacting to Wednesday’s oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, you might be bracing yourself for a roll back of voting rights. They are largely predicting the formula used to determine which states and localities are subject to or “covered” by the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) will be struck down by the Supreme Court. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard these prognostications. In 2009, similar predictions abounded in a similar case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility...
Myrna Pérez | Brennan Center for Justice 01 Mar 2013 Hits:783 VS-DRA Articles
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the Voting Rights Act of 1965In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court will hear arguments on Section 5 -- the heart of the Voting Rights Act -- that allows the federal government to block state election practices that are discriminatory. A predominantly white county in Alabama, Shelby County, charges that the decision of Congress in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 is unconstitutional.
The case comes on the heels of a federal election last fall in which our nation witnessed the...
Penda D. Hair and Benjamin Todd Jealous | Common Dreams 26 Feb 2013 Hits:817 VS-DRA Articles
President Obama made a good start in his State of the Union speech at honoring his election night promise to fix the breakdowns that left tens of thousands of Americans standing in hours-long lines at the polls last November.
His moving introduction of 102-year-old Desiline Victor, who had to wait for six hours at a North Miami precinct to cast her ballot, humanized the threat to democracy posed by the rickety machinery of our elections.
And in creating a Commission on Election Administration and tapping a...
Bob Edgar | Huffington Post 14 Feb 2013 Hits:562 VS-DRA Articles
In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another twenty-five years. The legislation passed 390–33 in the House and 98–0 in the Senate. Every top Republican supported the bill. “The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist,” said House Judiciary chair James Sensenbrenner, a conservative Republican, “and exist in its current form.” Civil rights leaders flanked George W. Bush at the signing ceremony.
Seven years later, the bipartisan consensus that supported the VRA for nearly fifty years has collapsed, and conservatives are...
Ari Berman | The Nation 08 Feb 2013 Hits:814 VS-DRA Articles
Relying again on the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Republicans in the evenly divided Virginia Senate on Tuesday narrowly passed a bill that would require nearly all voters to present a form of photo identification in order to cast a ballot.
Final approval of Senate Bill 1256, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, is contingent upon funding the estimated cost of providing free photos to registered voters who do not have an accepted form of photo ID.
A similar bill died in...
Jim Nolan | Richmond Times Dispatch 06 Feb 2013 Hits:697 VS-DRA Articles
In the run up to the 2012 election (as in every presidential election since at least 2004), Ohio was again at the center of controversy. On early voting, provisional ballots, and more, the Ohio Secretary of State’s office took positions that we strenuously opposed because they would make it more difficult for Ohioans to cast ballots that would be counted.
But this post isn’t about those controversies. It’s about an important step taken by the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to ensure the ballots of...
Vishal Agraharkar | Brennan Center for Justice 31 Jan 2013 Hits:616 VS-DRA Articles
Republicans Obenshain, Bell, candidates for attorney general, put forth proposals.
A year after controversial voter identification legislation passed the Virginia General Assembly, several Republican lawmakers are proposing even greater restrictions on the identification required to cast a ballot, including the requirement of photo identification.
Del. Robert B. Bell, R-Albemarle, will introduce what he terms “Photo ID — No Exceptions,” a measure that would require voters to present valid government-issued photo identification in order to vote. Acquiring the identification would also require proof of U.S. ...
Jim Nolan | Richmond Times Dispatch 08 Jan 2013 Hits:731 VS-DRA Articles
Voter ID laws were one of the most contentious issues of the past election season. (Here is everything you need to know about the laws.) Proponents insisted IDs should be required at polling places in order to thwart fraud. But there has been little evidence of such fraud and Democrats argued that the laws were meant to suppress voters.
The impact of the laws on this past election isn't clear. But one thing is clear: There are still pushes for the laws in many states.
So what happens next?
We've rounded up the...
Suevon Lee | Pro Publica 28 Dec 2012 Hits:677 VS-DRA Articles
Number of states where Republican lawmakers passed new voting restrictions in the run-up to this year's election that critics said would suppress the youth, African-American and Hispanic vote: more than 12
Number of days by which Florida's Republican lawmakers reduced the state's 14-day early voting period amid concerns over strong Democratic turnout in 2008: 6
As a consequence, hours that Juanita Morales of Miami-Dade County, Fla. waited in line to cast a ballot during early voting while tethered to an oxygen tank: more than 4
Sue Sturgis | Facing South 15 Nov 2012 Hits:878 VS-DRA Articles
CLEVELAND — Thousands of lawyers from both presidential campaigns will enter polling places next Tuesday with one central goal: tracking their opponents and, if need be, initiating legal action. It will be a kind of Spy vs. Spy.
The lawyers will note how poll workers behave, where voters are directed, if intimidation appears to be occurring, whether lines are long. And they will report up a chain of command where decisions over court action will be made at headquarters in Chicago and Boston.
This will go...
Ethan Bronner | New York Times 02 Nov 2012 Hits:862 VS-DRA Articles
Voter ID measures have mostly been blocked. But there are plenty of other hijinks that have liberals on edge for Election Day.
A few months ago, Democrats were convinced that voter ID laws were Republicans' secret plan to steal the election. But as Election Day nears, these and other allegedly suppressive efforts -- from Florida's attempt to purge voter rolls to Ohio's move to restrict early voting to Pennsylvania's strict voter ID law -- have mostly fizzled, thanks largely to legal challenges from the Justice Department,...
Molly Ball | The Atlantic 01 Nov 2012 Hits:970 VS-DRA Articles
With a little more than a week before Election Day, grassroots campaigns are hoping to maximize voter participation among often disenfranchised communities. Cuéntame has launched a series of public service announcements targeted at some 50,000 new Latino voters in three swing states: Colorado, Nevada, and Florida. The PSAs, made in conjunction with 300 partner groups, are airing on major Spanish language television stations like Univision, MundoFox, and Azteca America. But it’s not all good news. Our community journalists write in that schemes...
Aura Bogado | Colorlines 26 Oct 2012 Hits:1605 VS-DRA Articles
It may be less than 150 monitors and observers, but a UN affiliated organization (the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)) will be in the US on Election Day to report on any perceived irregularities. According to The Hill, the delegation is coming at the request of US Civil Rights groups concerned about the massive national effort by the Republican Party to keep non-GOP voting groups from casting ballots:
Civil rights groups met with representatives from the OSCE this week to raise their fears about what they say...
Mark Karlin | Buzzflash 22 Oct 2012 Hits:1419 VS-DRA Articles
Teresa Sharp is fifty-three years old and has lived in a modest single-family house on Millsdale Street, in a suburb of Cincinnati, for nearly thirty-three years. A lifelong Democrat, she has voted in every Presidential election since she turned eighteen. So she was agitated when an official summons from the Hamilton County Board of Elections arrived in the mail last month. Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, is one of the most populous regions of the most fiercely contested state in the 2012 election....
Jane Mayer | The New Yorker 22 Oct 2012 Hits:1556 VS-DRA Articles
A man originally reported to have been working for the Republican Party of Virginia was arrested by the Rockingham County, Va., Sheriff’s Office on Thursday and charged with attempting to destroy voter registration forms by tossing them into a dumpster behind a shopping center in Harrisonburg, Va.
“Prosecutors charged him with four counts of destruction of voter registration applications, eight counts of failing to disclose voter registration applications and one count of obstruction of justice,” according to a report late Thursday afternoon from TPM’s Ryan Reilly....
Brad Friedman | The Brad Blog 21 Oct 2012 Hits:1807 VS-DRA Articles
Arizona’s Apache County is obscuring the collective power of the Native vote in an unprecedented way. The County, which has previously violated the Voting Rights Act, has inaccurately placed more than 500 people who attempted to register on a list that could permanently purge these would-be voters from the rolls. And most, if not all, of those affected are Navajo.
Naomi White wanted to vote in Arizona’s primary in August, and wants to vote on Election Day in November. White had previously voted in Utah,...
Aura Bogado | The Nation 20 Oct 2012 Hits:1016 VS-DRA Articles
Washington, D.C. – South Carolina voters will not need to show a photo ID to vote in this year’s election, a federal court ruled Wednesday, the latest in a series…
Democrats are frustrated: Why can’t Republican voters see that Republicans pass voter ID laws to suppress voting, not fraud?
Democrats know who tends to lack ID. They know that the threat…
The struggle over state-sponsored legislation limiting or redefining how and when citizens can vote has generated contentious debate. Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director of Advancement Project, a non-partisan…
(Reuters) - A new South Carolina law that generally requires voters to show photo identification does not discriminate against racial minorities but cannot go into effect until…
RICHMOND, Va. --Kemba Smith Pradia's voting rights have been restored.
More than a decade after she served a federal prison sentence for drug-related offenses — and was granted…
The Government Accountability Office released a new report Thursday confirming millions of Americans have been disenfranchised by voter suppression laws in up to 31 states, signalling a "major shift"…
Another disturbing revelation from the still-expanding nationwide GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal...
From Palm Beach to Richmond, from Las Vegas to Portland, it's not a coincidence, it's a coordinated GOP…
This election year voting rights laws have turned into a heated issue as civil rights groups and state legislatures fight over photo ID requirements. While that issue has received a…
A lower court judge appears to be seeking a compromise for the presidential election.
Voting rights activists may be close to winning one of the year’s biggest voter ID fights.
PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.