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The People's Virginia leaders, Cindi Copeland (left) and Kim Collins (right), join Katie Fahey at the First National Assembly of The People.

The Fahey Q&A: How Cindi Copeland is searching for political humanity in Virginia

Having organized last year's grassroots movement ending Michigan's politicized gerrymandering, Fahey is now executive director of The People, which is forming statewide networks to promote government accountability. She interviews a colleague in the world of democracy reform each month for our Opinion section.

Cindi Z.S. Copeland has gone from someone who never voted to someone who spends her free time meeting in libraries, coffee shops and at dinner tables to unite Virginians of all political stripes around improving civic life.

Her life is inspiring and resonates with me on many levels. Neither of us share the same beliefs as some family members, both of us have lost relationships because of such differences and each have stayed involved in politics because we think all people have the right to make their voices heard. We find inspiration from connecting with people from different backgrounds, because you never know if your next conversation is going to transform your life.

Our recent phone conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Virginia voters went to the polls Tuesday and elected Democratic majorities to both legislative chambers, opening the door for the party to pursue a wish list of campaign finance and voting rights reforms.

Hope for democracy reformers after Democrats win in Virginia and Kentucky

While Democrats are emphasizing their big victories in neighboring Southern states as warning signs for President Trump, advocates for fixing democratic systems are hailing those same elections Tuesday as major opportunities for their cause.

The most significant triumph came in Virginia, where Democrats reclaimed control of the General Assembly and, along with Gov. Ralph Northam, won unified control of state government for the first time in a quarter-century. That will open the door in January for a long roster of democracy reform proposals that have been languishing in Richmond — from tightening the state's campaign finance rules to stopping the partisan gerrymandering of its electoral maps.

The election of Democrat Andy Beshear as governor of Kentucky, meanwhile, allows him to make good on a promise to end that state's status as one of the harshest places to be a felon who wants to be a voting member of society after serving time. (That's if his win stands up — the incumbent, Republican Matt Bevin, has not conceded.)

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8 places where democracy reform faces the voters on Tuesday

Last year was a really good year for placing democracy reform in the hands of the electorate. This year, not so much.

In the 2018 midterms, ballot proposals adopted in more than a dozen states and cities expanded the use of automatic voter registration, independent redistricting commissions, public financing of campaigns and other democracy reform proposals.

Next week's off-year election will see only a small roster of contests with an expansion of democracy itself on the ballot, and most have relatively narrow scope and limited reach.

But good-government advocates hope a wave of victories creates momentum for a more ambitious roster of proposals to get spots on the ballot alongside the 2020 presidential election.

And while the roster of pro-democracy choices may be limited this Nov. 5, the overall number of direct-democracy opportunities is large. Not since 2007 have so many ballot measures (three dozen) gone before voters in an odd-numbered year, according to Ballotpedia.

Below are the eight items on the ballot next week that good-government advocates are watching most intently — listed alphabetically by where the voting will take place. Four are initiatives in big cities and two are statewide referenda. The others are partisan elections for offices where the future of a reliable and relatable democracy is part of what's in the offing.

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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.

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