In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
The constitutionality of one of the nation's strictest curbs on felon voting was debated in a federal appeals court Tuesday.
A coalition of groups on both the left and right, from the ACLU and NAACP to the libertarian Cato Institute, have joined the cause of almost 200,000 Mississippians who have done their time but may never vote again without a governor's pardon or a reprieve from the Legislature. The state says it has almost limitless leeway under the Constitution to set those parameters.
However the case gets decided by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court could provide definitive word on the future of expanded voting rights for convicts, which has emerged as one of the top democracy reform causes of the decade.
As many as 80,000 new voters would be created in New Jersey under a bill moving through the state Legislature that would restore the franchise to convicts on probation and parole.
Allowing more people with criminal records to participate in elections has become one of the most hotly debated ideas in the "good government" world. Proponents say expanding felons' voting rights boosts turnout and enhances buy-in to the democratic system, especially in minority communities that produce a disproportionate share of the incarcerated. Opponents say the concept of criminals having to repay their debt to society should not be readily relaxed.
New Jersey has been increasingly blue in recent congressional and presidential elections, and the power structure in Trenton is solidly Democratic, so voting rights expansions are not at all likely to realign the state's partisan balance.