Another big moment for efforts to expand the voting rights of former prisoners will come in November, when Californians decide whether almost 50,000 parolees should be given access to the ballot box.
Sponsors of the referendum, which last week won final legislative approval for a spot on the ballot, say they're confident the vote will go their way. That would add the nation's most populous state to the roster of 16 that permit felons to vote as soon as they get out of prison.
Restoring the franchise to ex-convicts has become a top cause of civil rights groups, who say democracy is enhanced when political power is given back to people who have paid their debt to society. The campaign has gained additional momentum this summer from the nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism.
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Kentucky was poised to join the roster of states with calamitous primaries after deciding to shutter 95 percent of its in-person polling locations Tuesday. With only four hours until the polls close, though, there is little visible downside to that aggressive response to favor mail-in-voting because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Kentuckians who didn't receive absentee ballots in time or otherwise decided to vote in person braced for long lines and confusion at the fewer than 200 available locations. But even in the state's biggest population centers — Louisville and Lexington, each of which opened just one place to vote — waiting times were reported as manageable.
And there were minimal complaints about stressed equipment or overwhelmed poll workers, the other problems that sullied Georgia's primary two weeks ago and raised nationwide alarm bells about pandemonium in November.
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A pandemic. Battles over millions of mailed-in ballots. The Supreme Court deciding an Electoral College dispute. The accelerated undoing of democratic norms. Dozens of legal battles over election administration and voting rights. Each would be enough to create unprecedented challenges to an election. But all are present this year, positioning Election Day 2020 and the days after to face challenges rarely as intense before. As Nov. 3 approaches, voters, government officials, candidates and the media may become overwhelmed by the many storylines, the shifting landscape and the potential outcomes. Preparation needs to start now.
The Fulcrum convened an expert panel to discuss these issues and more on June 9. Editor-in-Chief David Hawkings moderated the webinar, which also included:
- Bryan Monroe, associate professor of practice at Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communication. Before joining Temple, Bryan was editor of CNNPolitics and Washington opinion editor for CNN; president of the National Association of Black Journalists; and editor-in-chief of Ebony & Jet magazines.
- Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center. Trevor is a past chairman of the Federal Election Commission and was general counsel to John McCain's 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
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The long-running effort to end Iowa's status as the only state permanently stripping voting rights from convicted felons has taken some crucial turns in recent days.
A proposal to ask voters to restore the franchise to convicts who have completed their sentences has been embraced by the same state Senate committee that killed the idea a year ago.
But that endorsement got delivered Friday at what advocates for restoring voting rights view as an improperly high price: Gov. Kim Reynolds signing legislation, produced by her fellow Republicans in charge of the General Assembly, that would require felons to pay fines and restitution if they are ever permitted to register and vote again.
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