Expansion of felon voting rights advances in New Jersey
As many as 80,000 new voters would be created in New Jersey under a bill moving through the state Legislature that would restore the franchise to convicts on probation and parole.
Allowing more people with criminal records to participate in elections has become one of the most hotly debated ideas in the "good government" world. Proponents say expanding felons' voting rights boosts turnout and enhances buy-in to the democratic system, especially in minority communities that produce a disproportionate share of the incarcerated. Opponents say the concept of criminals having to repay their debt to society should not be readily relaxed.
New Jersey has been increasingly blue in recent congressional and presidential elections, and the power structure in Trenton is solidly Democratic, so voting rights expansions are not at all likely to realign the state's partisan balance.
The measure passed the state House on Monday on a mostly party-line 46-23 vote. The Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, has endorsed the legislation but not committed to a timetable for a vote. Gov. Philip Murphy has not taken a public position.
"No one population should be disproportionately denied their right to vote," one of the bill's sponsors, Democratic state Rep. Cleopatra Tucker, said in a statement. Republican state Rep. Jay Webber countered that the measure would let the "inmates run the asylum."
Under the bill, about 15,000 felons could register and vote in the presidential election while they were still on parole, as could more than 64,000 people still on felony probation.
If the measure becomes law, New Jersey would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting convicts to vote as soon as they are released from prison. It's now one of 21 states where voting rights are returned automatically after probation and parole are complete.
The New Jersey proposal is more permissive than what's in the offing in Florida, the largest tossup state, which has been center stage in the felon voting rights debate for the past year.
Almost two-thirds of Floridians a year ago voted to reverse what was usually a lifetime ban on convicts casting ballots, but only for the 1.5 million felons who had completed parole and probation. However, the Republican-led Legislature responded with a new law saying those people must pay fees and fines before voting, prompting state and federal lawsuits alleging the imposition of an unconstitutional poll tax.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.