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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.

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Tech. Sgt. Jeff Kelly/U.S. Air Force

The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.

Costs to mail ballots may skyrocket for civilians, military living overseas

Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.

The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.

Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.

With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.

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Wambui Gatheru

"Every single opportunity I have been afforded in this country can be traced back to the ratification of amendments."

Meet the reformer: 10 questions with Wambui Gatheru

'Every single opportunity I have been afforded in this country can be traced back to the ratification of amendments.'

Wambui Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to regulate the raising and spending of electoral campaign funds. Originally from Connecticut, Gatheru, 24, joined the American Promise staff in 2017 after graduating from the University of Connecticut.

The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

What's the tweet-length description of your organization?

American Promise is a cross-partisan organization committed to getting money out of politics, forever, with a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Describe your very first civic engagement.

Knocking door-to-door in my small town in Connecticut when Barack Obama was first running for president.

What was your biggest professional triumph?

Being a part of the effort that made New Hampshire the 20th state in favor of the 28th Amendment. This was something I'd been working on since I started at American Promise two years ago, and the legislation was just passed in March of this year. It was a surreal victory because it had been such a long fight. It took a lot of coordination on every level of civic engagement, but it's a victory I'm happy to have been a part of here at American Promise.

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