News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.

How Arkansas elects top judges challenged by civil rights group

A prominent civil rights group, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, has gone to federal court to get Arkansas to change the way seats on its top courts are filled.

The statewide election of all the judges on the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals violates the Voting Rights Act by denying "black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process," the group argued in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The state's population is 16 percent black but, because of the statewide election process, the suit maintains, no African-American candidate has ever been elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The suit asks a federal judge to strike down the current election procedure and replace it with a new one. It suggests using a cumulative system, in which voters can choose several candidates on the ballot and those with the most votes fill the vacancies.

"Judges matter," said Natasha Merle of the NAACP. "Black voters in Arkansas have been consistently denied fairness and the opportunity to elect judges of their choice."

The named plaintiffs are three African-American voters and a pair non-profits, Christian Ministerial Alliance and Arkansas Community Institute.

News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

Keep reading... Show less
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

Keep reading... Show less