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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had urged the state Legislature to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences.

Iowans wrongly labeled as felons are being denied ballots

Iowa needs to work harder to clean up voter rolls that wrongly list people as felons, two voter advocacy groups say.

So many misidentified people have been prevented from voting in this decade that the Justice Department should consider sanctioning the state, the Brennan Center for Justice and the League of Women Voters of Iowa contend. Their warning was delivered in writing to Secretary of State Paul Pate in June and was reported last week by the Des Moines Register.

Iowa has one of the country's strictest rules on felon voting: They may not go to the polls unless they're pardoned by the governor or the president. GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds unsuccessfully pushed this year for the legislature to restore voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences.

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Voting rights advocates and Gov. Ron DeSantis are continuing their court battle over Florida's plans for restoring felons' voting rights.

Florida's fight over felon voting keeps intensifying

The courtroom tussle over when felons may vote in Florida has taken two fresh turns.

Advocates for voting rights and civil rights last week asked a federal judge to block enforcement of a new law setting conditions on when former convicts can return to the polls — at least until their lawsuit is settled.

In response, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the same judge to dismiss the advocates' litigation, arguing their complaints should be weighed in state (not federal) court.

There are several reasons why the dispute over restoring the franchise to Floridians after they're released from prison has become one of the most closely watched voting rights cases of the decade, even becoming an issue in the presidential campaign.

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"Some people just released under the First Step Act are learning that they never lost the right to vote in the first place under state law and could have been voting while incarcerated," writes Bowie.

First Step Act beneficiaries left wondering: Can I vote?

Bowie is a staff attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog. She leads the group's RestoreYourVote public education campaign.

Recently 3,100 Americans were released early from federal prisons because of policy changes from the First Step Act, a criminal justice bill enacted with lopsided bipartisan support last fall. Those individuals are returning to their homes across the country and embarking on the challenging path to restoring their place as members of their communities. Studies show that regaining the right to vote is a critical step in the re-entry process, one that can help formerly incarcerated individuals feel like full citizens. Those who were incarcerated understand best the impact that government policies have on our lives and why participating in democracy is so important.

State felony disenfranchisement laws can be extremely confusing. And because they vary so widely, they lead to the persistent misperception that most people with convictions can never vote again. In fact, while at least 23 million Americans have been convicted of felonies, only 5 million to 6 million are actually disenfranchised under law.

Americans returning from federal prison face an even more confusing landscape. On top of the already complicated patchwork of state laws, some states treat federal convictions differently than in-state convictions — both for determining whether a federal conviction means the loss of voting rights and for the steps that an individual will have to take to get rights restored.

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Where the presidential candidates stand on the top issues of democracy reform

This story has been revised after additional reporting.

Steadily if still softly, anxiety about the health of American democracy has become at least a secondary theme in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Proposals for restoring the public's faith in elections, and a sense of fairness in our governing system, have now earned a place on most of the candidates' platforms. And more and more of them have been including calls for democracy reform in their stump speeches.

To be sure, the topic has not come close to the top tier of issues driving the opening stages of the campaign. In the first round of candidate debates last month, for example, the contenders collectively spent less time talking about democracy's ills than eight other issues: health care, President Trump's record, immigration, social policy, economic inequality, gun control, foreign policy and the environment.

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