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The State of Reform
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NYU Photo Bureau.

The Brennan Center's Myrna Pérez speaks at the New York University Law School two years ago.

Meet the reformer: Myrna Pérez, advocate for a trustworthy election in the pandemic

The Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive think tank at New York University Law School, is one of the preeminent groups pushing for a comprehensive, reliable and safe election during the coronavirus pandemic. And helming that litigation, research and lobbying effort is Myrna Pérez. She runs the voting rights and elections program and has been with the Brennan Center most of her professional life, arriving after a stint at a civil rights firm in Washington and clerkships for federal trial and appeals court judges in Philadelphia. Before getting a law degree from Columbia in 2003, she was a health care and housing analyst for what's now called the Government Accountability Office, the congressional oversight agency. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?

Politicians manipulating the rules so some of us can't vote.

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Logan Cyrus/Getty Images

Under the judges' ruling, thousands of North Carolinians with felony records are now eligible to register to vote for the 2020 election.

Judges void N.C. law making felons pay fines and fees before voting

Some North Carolinians with felony records will have their voting rights restored in time for the election.

A panel of three state judges has temporarily blocked part of a state law that prevents former felons from registering if they have outstanding fines or fees. Unless there's a successful appeal of Friday's 2-1 ruling, it opens the door for thousands to vote in one of this year's most important states — where the contest for 15 electoral votes is a tossup and so is a Senate race that will help determine partisan control of Congress.

North Carolina is one of 20 states where felons can vote after their prison time, probation and parole are complete. Civil rights advocates argue that requiring former felons to also pay fines or fees before being allowed back in the voting booth is the equivalent of an unconstitutional poll tax.

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GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds had been under intense pressure from Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups.

Iowa ends status as only state with lifetime ban on felons voting

Correction: An earlier version misstated details of the executive order.

Iowa's governor decreed Wednesday that most felons in the state may vote starting this fall, ending the state's status as the only place in the country where convicted criminals are denied the franchise forever.

Expanding the political rights of people who've been to prison has been a top cause of voting rights groups for years, but the cause has gained fresh urgency this summer as the nation undergoes an intense reckoning with systemic racism — especially in the law enforcement system.

"It's a big step for so many on the road to redemption," Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said as she signed an executive order in her Des Moines office, fulfilling a promise she made two months ago after the General Assembly deadlocked on a more complex plan for eventually returning the vote to felons.

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National Online Debate – Felon Enfranchisement

Organizer: Braver Angels

Resolved: People who have been convicted of a crime should be eligible to vote in all elections.

You probably haven't experienced anything like a Braver Angels Debate. It's not a political debate, where competing candidates attempt to win votes. Nor is it a competitive high school or college debate, where people advocate positions in which they may not believe for the sole purpose of vanquishing their foes.

A Braver Angels Debate is a highly structured conversation in which a group of people think together, listen carefully to one another, and allow themselves to be touched and perhaps changed by each other's ideas. When done well, everyone walks out a little closer to the truth, more aware of the validity in opposing views, and with tighter community relationships.

Location: Webinar

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