Category Archives: Voting and Democracy

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Still Advocating for Access to Democracy

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling refusing to extend the deadline for absentee voting in today’s Wisconsin election. This is further evidence of how the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing our nation, and our world, to take a hard look at what values are most sacred to us, and demonstrating where our political leaders’ responses are falling short.

Our initial attempts at social distancing had not even run their course before President Trump began pondering loosening restrictions for the sake of the economy. The implication being that economic activity is as important as protecting human lives. The public outcry quickly shut down that debate. People recognized the false choice, when weighing economic activity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy simply has to adjust to the reality of the pandemic. Consensus emerged, at least for now, that protecting public health is the paramount concern, leaving our government and businesses to minimize the economic fall-out as best they can.

Unfortunately, this false choice was also embraced by the majority of Supreme Court Justices yesterday in deciding that the Wisconsin elections must proceed as planned, with no extension for absentee voting, despite the clear and present danger to public health in the midst of the pandemic. Not only was this ruling disturbing for Wisconsinites who now must choose between their right to vote and their safety, but it has grave and disturbing implications for the 2020 election. We are in desperate need of strong public outcry to again reject a false choice and demand that leaders find ways to uphold our deepest values and protect human life.

The Supreme Court’s decision strikes a massive blow to voting rights that defies common sense and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. The Justices ruled 5-4 that Wisconsin voters would need to choose whether to comply with public health mandates or to exercise their right to cast a ballot. But, it did not have to be this way.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took a series of desperate executive actions to make emergency accommodations in the state’s election. He took steps to delay the Democratic Presidential primary and extended time to receive mail-in ballots so that Wisconsinites could maintain their right to vote in the new reality of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

The Republican controlled legislature challenged each of these actions in court and the day before the election, the Supreme Court’s order reversed the extended deadline for voters to submit absentee ballots. The entire episode is a sad example of how quickly elections are being politicized in the midst of a pandemic. The outcome of this confusing and contentious fight was celebrated as a success for “law and order,” but has undermined both the public health AND the voting rights of the people of Wisconsin.

This false choice between safety and fair voting was avoidable, but the Wisconsin state legislature refused to act to protect the safety of Wisconsinites. This early case study is proof that Congress must act, and act now, to determine a coordinated approach to preparing states for the 2020 election. Without funding and direction from the federal government, we run the risk of massive voter disenfranchisement and will see increasing chaos and civil discord as states scramble to adapt on their own.

NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners are engaged in democracy reform and voting rights advocacy leading up to the 2020 election and into the future. Now, our entire focus is prioritizing the security of the 2020 election and protecting access to democracy as a crucial part of the federal government’s response to COVID 19.

A Faithful Response to “Catholics for Trump”

A Faithful Response to “Catholics for Trump”

After postponing the “Catholics for Trump” rally previously scheduled for March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Catholics for Trump coalition is now launching online. Despite the current coronavirus pandemic, President Trump’s re-election campaign is continuing to try to engage Catholics remotely.

This campaign was planned and is now being executed with the assumption that a large group of Catholics will support President Trump’s re-election campaign. I am in favor of Catholics participating in politics — as Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby, that much is clear. Even the Pope calls on Catholics to participate in politics to promote the common good, saying “A good Catholic meddles in politics.”

But I cannot understand how Catholics, following Pope Francis’s urging to participate in politics, could support our current President and his policies. In fact, I believe that participating in “Catholics for Trump” activities, online or in person, directly contradicts the most essential Catholic beliefs.

Catholics are called follow the life and teachings of Jesus, who above all else, instructs us to love our neighbors, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized in their society. The Trump administration has turned its back on that call at almost every turn.

In March, I was relieved to read Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s clear announcement that the “Catholics for Trump” rally was not hosted by the Catholic Church or the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and the Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were not endorsing or affiliated with the rally. As President Trump’s re-election campaign continues, I urge any Church leaders who find themselves in a similar situation to do the same.

In addition to making it clear that the Church does not endorse or support these events, Catholic leaders should continue to make it clear what “side” we are called to be on in these turbulent times. Jesus did not say to vote Democrat or Republican. Instead, Jesus taught his followers, by his actions, to heal those who were sick and align themselves with those who had the least power. That is the “side” we should be on as Catholics.

For Catholics engaging in politics during this election season, I encourage you to join us at NETWORK in being “Mend the Gaps” voters. We have an election toolkit that includes a fill-out-your-own side by side to compare candidates, an LTE writing kit, and questions to ask a candidate at a town hall, and we’re still adding more resources.

President Trump is running on policies that directly contradict long-held positions of the Catholic Church. His immoral immigration policies throw children in cages. He works to expand the death penalty, he participates in what Pope Francis calls “covert euthanasia” by stripping health care and nutrition assistance from families, and he rolls back policies that protect the Earth. His is not a campaign that Catholics can support, and our faith should not be used as a political tool to reelect an immoral President.

 

Get involved: Go to NETWORK’s 2020 Election Toolkit.

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
November 5, 2019

We know how quickly a year passes. Today is the first Tuesday of November; we have exactly one year before Election Day 2020 and so much is at stake. The presidency and control of Congress depend on the outcome next November, but the well-being of our democracy itself also hangs in the balance.

Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” Over 70 years later, his assessment still rings true.

Our democracy has never been perfect, but in 2020 we are at a pivotal moment for the democratic ideals of our nation. It is time to affirm that the people elect their government and that every vote counts.  Creating a fairer, more representative democracy should always be the goal.

While our democracy has always been a work in progress, there are key ways that it’s been undermined, particularly in the past 20 years. We are watching as these broken pieces come together, culminating in very real implications for how our government works — or doesn’t — and who benefits. NETWORK and our partners in the faith community are marking this benchmark occasion with a call to Restore the Voters Covenant. Our statement of purpose highlights the moral concerns about the state of our democracy in 2020 and articulates the principles we hold dear.

We at NETWORK are working with the Faithful Democracy coalition, a multifaith collaborative effort.  We are united around these basic democratic principles and are called to draw attention to the ways that our foundational democratic systems are under threat. Our community of congregations and faith-based advocacy organizations are ready to take a faithful and hard look at the state of our democracy. Together we will commemorate this important year by highlighting some of our biggest democratic hurdles and how we can overcome them as faithful individuals, communities and policy makers. Beginning in late November 2019, Faithful Democracy will roll-out bimonthly toolkits, each focusing on a different threat to our democratic systems.  It is time to faithfully repair the voters’ trust in our elections and ensure that our system aligns with our democratic ideals.

Stay tuned for future information about:

  • Protecting the right to vote and equal access to the ballot
  • Ending the corrosive influence of money on our democracy
  • Securing the integrity of our elections systems from foreign interference
  • Ensuring that redistricting and representation is fair and reflective of voters
  • Getting out the vote!

DACA Heads to the Supreme Court

DACA Heads to the Supreme Court

Giovana Oaxaca
October 16, 2019

The executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has withstood a number of legal challenges over the years. In a few short weeks, however, the delicate future of more than 700,000 DACA recipients will face yet another test. On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the DACA cases that the Supreme Court is considering to review this fall term. Although there exist legislative solutions, such as the Dream and Promise Act which passed the House and the Dream Act and SECURE Act (introduced in the Senate), Congress has so far failed to pass meaningful protections for undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action and temporary protected status. This has deferred the DACA matter to court cases, which have put a halt to the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA in September 2017. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching effects by deciding the fate of the program for the near future.

The stakes have never been higher. In a recent survey, over fifty percent of DACA recipients reported that they fear being detained or deported from the United States at least once a day. An even greater share of DACA recipients surveyed reported that they feared being separated from their children. The Supreme Court’s decision will alter the reality for the millions of DACA recipients living and working in the U.S. If the Supreme Court rules with the Trump Administration, this would leave thousands stranded with few recourses, in the very place they call home.

Brief Overview

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was terminating DACA, a decision that was been met with instant legal pushback. More than ten cases were filed challenging the administration’s decision. After a number of judges issued preliminary injunctions protecting the program, the administration appealed to the Supreme Court.  Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court granted the administration’s petition, agreeing to hear arguments for three cases on November 12th, 2019. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the DACA cases and an array of other high-profile cases are expected in June 2020.

Speculated Outcomes

Legal advocates, allies, and organizations are bracing for the court’s ruling.

  • The court may conclude it may review the administration’s decision. It may then rule that the termination is unlawful or lawful. A ruling stating that the action was unlawful would be good for DACA recipients because it would mean that the administration should not have terminated DACA under its reasoning at the time. The court may rule that the administration’s decision was lawful. This would be bad for DACA recipients because it would mean the administration could begin rolling back the program. It is also possible that the court could find DACA itself unlawful at this time. This would mean that the government could stop accepting renewals of applications.
  • The Supreme Court may decide not to review the administration’s decision to terminate. A ruling along these lines would mean that the administration could commence rolling back the program; it could also mean that a future administration could reinstate it.

High-profile businesses, higher education institutions, former national security officials, and religious organizations have joined a litany of amicus briefs in support of DACA recipients. The plight of Dreamers clearly resonates with the majority of Americans. As it stands, an overwhelming majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship. For now, the decision to stay DACA rests in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Sister Quincy Talks Faithful Democracy on Capitol Hill

Sister Quincy Talks Faithful Democracy on Capitol Hill

Colleen Ross
September 25, 2019

Last Friday, Sister Quincy Howard, OP joined New Mexico Senator Tom Udall and interfaith partners on Capitol Hill to discuss democracy reform efforts. Video of the discussion can be found here.

From Senator Udall’s website:

“There is a direct link between our broken campaign finance system and our voting rights system that puts up barriers to the ballot box, and the issues of concern to the faith community,” Udall said. “Issues like gun violence, food security, economic justice, and climate change. The American people, in overwhelming numbers, want Congress to address these issues. But we are not because the representatives in Congress are not representing the American people…We need to put an end to the idea that money equals free speech.  And that corporations are people.  And reign in an out of control campaign finance system.”

The Faithful Democracy Coalition is an inter-denominational campaign that began in the wake of the Citizens United decision.  The Coalition advocates for ending the dominance of big money out of politics, examining the issue from both a faith-based and legislative perspective, and focuses their campaign on the issues of climate change, gun violence prevention, immigration, and private prisons.

“The faith community recognizes how our democratic processes are corrupted at every level: from gerrymandering to voter suppression to campaign finance to foreign intrusion,” said Sr. Quincy Howard, of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “In a secular democracy, elections are the closest thing we have to a sacrament.  NETWORK Lobby and our faith partners call on our government to restore the people’s faith in our democratic systems by securing our elections, ensuring fair representation of the people, and rooting out the corrupting influence of money in politics.”

Read more:

https://www.tomudall.senate.gov/news/press-releases/_photo-and-video-udall-leads-discussion-with-interfaith-leaders-on-democracy-reform

Orange sign that says "It's in the Constitution: Everyone Counts"

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Census Update: Victory! No Citizenship Question

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
July 17, 2019

After months of twists and turns regarding the possibility of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the Trump administration finally announced the conclusion of this saga last week. The final decision: there will be no question about citizenship included in the census.

This is a victory because including a citizenship question would have prevented a full and accurate count from being completed. The census is constitutionally mandated to count all persons in the United States and census data is used for distributing federal funding, congressional apportionment, and more. So, a full and accurate Census count is vitally important for our nation. The Census Bureau’s own data predicted that, if the question were included, between 5% and 12% of noncitizen households would decline to participate. Additionally, six former census directors and a Census Bureau internal analyst all said a citizenship question would harm the count. Without an accurate count, communities that are undercounted would be under-funded and under-resourced for the next decade.

When the Commerce Department first announced it was pursing the addition of a citizenship question over a year ago, advocacy organizations, voting rights advocates, and community-based partners all responded in strong opposition. Multiple suits were brought against the Commerce Department on the basis of both procedural standards as well as “discriminatory animus.” While the final decision from the Supreme Court did not reject the citizenship question itself, it did reject the justification the Trump administration used to argue for its inclusion. Due to the rapid timeline for printing and executing the impending 2020 count, the Trump administration has finally given up on including the citizenship question on the census.

In order to save face after backing down from the citizenship question, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Commerce Department to gather citizenship data from other federal agencies. We will remain alert for more details of this new plan for compiling citizenship data.

In June, we responded to the Supreme Court decision with cautious optimism. Sister Simone said “I’m relieved to see that the Supreme Court, which can be so divided along partisan lines, recognized that this Republican scheme to reduce the count in the 2020 Census was an attempt at crass manipulation of the data by the Trump Administration.” Now, we remain optimistic about the prospects for the 2020 Census. We are re-focusing on accomplishing a fully representative, fair and accurate count of all people living in our nation so that we can accurately distribute federal funding and political representation until our next count takes place in 2030.

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

After Shelby: The Need to Reinstate Crucial Voting Rights Protections

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
Updated: June 27, 2019

We at NETWORK, with many of our partners, are naming this week “Shelby Week” in recognition of the six years that have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. 

In the aftermath of the June 25, 2013 Shelby decision – which gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) – states and localities across the country jumped to enact restrictive voting laws, disenfranchising millions of American voters. For six years, civil rights organizations have been fighting back against these discriminatory laws. We need Congress to restore the VRA to its full strength to ensure that all eligible voters have equal access to the ballot and that every vote counts.


The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our understanding of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws can make it considerably harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on low-income and voters of color who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics are familiar to communities of color, but ever since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 there had been an effective mechanism in place to apply federal oversight of potential voting rights violations. Specifically, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula determined by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements prior to implementing any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots. In 2013, however, the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision stripped the VRA of this preclearance mechanism—deeming the formula outdated—and opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards with impunity.

Since the Shelby ruling, 23 states have freely implemented more restrictive voting laws and conducted elections accordingly. The only recourse left is under Section 2 of the VRA—to challenge these laws after the fact. Meanwhile, the resulting voter disenfranchisement has already taken place and the results of potentially rigged elections stand. Accordingly, unfair elections around the nation have begun to resemble a discriminatory game of wack-a-mole: lawsuits of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. Expensive and slow-moving litigation is an untenable approach to reinstating fair elections; and Section 2 offers no remedy for the impacts of disenfranchisement.

In contrast, under the Section 5 process the Justice Department provided quick, inexpensive reviews and decisions on proposed changes to voting requirements or procedures. The vast majority of proposed changes to elections were cleared and there was space to appeal decisions when they were not.  It was a system that worked; the VRA without this preclearance mechanism is not working.

This Wednesday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will be conducting a hearing on “Protecting the Right to Vote: Best and Worst Practices.” Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD-08), who is also a professor of Constitutional Law, the First Amendment, and Legislative Process, will lead the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee in this effort to get to the bottom of voter suppression today.

For six years, Congress has made multiple unsuccessful legislative attempts to update the preclearance formula and restore this crucial provision of the VRA. Part of the process to adopt a preclearance formula that the courts will uphold is gathering and documenting evidence of efforts to disenfranchise voters. Congress is currently building this record to demonstrate ways in which jurisdictions have changed laws to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color. Most recently, we can look to states like Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Florida, and Alabama for flagrant examples of manipulated election procedures that effectively suppress the vote of communities of color.

Throughout April and May, the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections is holding a series of field hearings on voting rights and election administration. Hearings have taken place in Standing Rock, ND; Halifax, NC; and in Cleveland, OH. Still to come are field hearings in Alabama and Florida to review and hear testimony about the impacts of new voting and registration laws on communities of color. These hearings are the opportunity to examine what voter disenfranchisement in the 21st Century looks like—so we can prevent it from happening.

In late February, Representative Teri Sewell (AL-07) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) introduced the 116th Congress’ high-priority legislative fix to restore and extend these key provisions of the VRA. It’s not the first time that a “Shelby-fix” bill has been introduced since 2013, but this year it’s coming on the heels of an historic election in which rampant and flagrant voter suppression was apparent. H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) has also already passed in the House and specifically named this as a crucial component for democracy reform.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019 (VRAA), H.R. 4, represents the most robust and inclusive proposal to revise the criteria for determining which States and political jurisdictions should be subject to preclearance requirements. Specifically, the formula proposed in VRAA subjects any jurisdiction with 15 or more voting-rights violations over the past 25 years to 10 years of federal preclearance. The threshold would be lowered to just 10 violations if any of them were committed by the state itself. VRAA is not solely a defensive measure. It’s intended to be punitive, to deter people who take advantage of the fact that there are few real consequences for officials found in violation of the Constitution. The VRAA would add teeth that the Voting Rights Act didn’t have even at full strength. While alternate bills are already emerging with less-expansive formulas, NETWORK strongly supports H.R.4 as the way to quickly address and end voting rights abuses that have become commonplace across our country.

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

Valuing and Promoting Participation in Every Aspect of Our Democracy

April 2019

The right and responsibility to participate in our government motivates NETWORK’s mission to educate, organize, and lobby for justice. We believe that every person is called to work to promote the common good through our political system. This sacred right must not be violated.

The influence of money in politics, gerrymandering, varied methods of voter suppression, felon disenfranchisement, and other anti-democracy tactics limit the impact of individuals’ participation on our policies. The variety of ways that voting rights and fair representation are undermined at the local, state, and federal levels makes it difficult to see the total effect on our democracy. As a result, our political reality moves further from a system of fair representation and elected officials who are accountable to their constituents.

Together with faith and secular partners, NETWORK is working to restore the influence of individuals in our representative democracy. Recently, the For the People Act (H.R. 1) passed in the House of Representatives, signifying a groundbreaking shift of power in favor of participation. While H.R. 1 has little chance of a vote in the Senate, its strong passage in the House and the building momentum around the country are clear indications of pro-democracy support. It may ultimately fall to the next Congress to take action, but H.R.1 is clearing a path to strengthen and protect our democracy.

Until then, NETWORK, along with our partners, will continue to oppose threats to participation and promote the right to vote, advocate, and have fair representation in our democracy.

 

Working for Fair Participation in the Public Sphere

By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of Franciscan Action Network

The Gospel of Matthew tells us we cannot not serve God and money. After hearing God’s call to “rebuild My Church,” a young St. Francis famously renounced his wealthy merchant father and all his worldly possessions. And, as Pope Francis calls us to “meddle in politics,” we are reminded that that means everyone must have an equal say in the public square.

Following the Gospel example of Jesus and taking our cues from both St. Francis and Pope Francis, the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) leads an interfaith coalition, “Faithful Democracy” working on the issue of money in politics. The coalition looks at this issue from both a faith and legislative perspective. It is imperative that we institute reforms in the areas of campaign finance, voting rights, and good governance for a fully functioning and representative government. FAN has called for those reforms since the Citizens United decision nearly a decade ago.

Now, there is a newfound energy on Capitol Hill for these good governance reforms. Join us as we bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth and implement vital reforms that are necessary to have a fully functioning and healthy democracy.

Patrick Carolan has been the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) since 2010. FAN is an advocacy voice for the entire Franciscan family in the United States representing over 50 different institutions nationwide. FAN is inspired by both the Gospel of Jesus, and by the example of Saints Francis and Clare, to transform U.S. public policy related to our core issues: peace making, care for creation, poverty, and human rights.

 

State-Level Barriers to Voting

By Colleen Ross, NETWORK Communications Coordinator

The ideal of “one person, one vote” is central to our conception of democracy in the United States, but the reality in our country falls short. While the legal discrimination that prevented people of color from voting for hundreds of years is no longer in place, today a new combination of restrictive standards and requirements keep voters from exercising their right to vote. Whether implementing voter ID requirements, purging voter rolls, restricting early voting, or closing polling locations, state-level election laws are making it harder, if not impossible for many eligible citizens to vote. Furthermore, these requirements have a disproportionate impact, often by design, on voters of color and low-income voters who are less likely to have flexible schedules, access to transportation, or a government photo ID.

Many of these tactics were implemented after 2013, when the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to pass more restrictive voting standards. Up until this decision, Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) used a formula set by the VRA in 1965 to identify jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination and subject them to federal preclearance requirements for any changes in voter registration or casting of ballots that they wanted to implement. In Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the formula was no longer accurate, dissolving the preclearance requirement for areas it had previously applied to: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. Since then, states have been able to freely implement restrictive voting requirements and 23 states have chosen to do so.  Now, these discriminatory laws must be challenged after the fact—essentially setting up an unjust competition to reinstate fair elections through expensive litigation. Meanwhile, the resulting election outcomes and disenfranchisement cannot be undone. Cases of voter discrimination have quadrupled in the five years since the Shelby decision. While excessive money in politics and gerrymandering distort the results of elections across the country, it is important not to lose sight of the ways states prevent eligible citizens from even casting their vote.

 

Incarceration does not Negate Citizenship Rights

By Joan Neal, NETWORK Senior Fellow Government Relations and Strategy

In the United States, there is both an expectation and an assumption that every citizen has the right to vote. The Constitution fails to explicitly state that all citizens have the right to vote, but future amendments have made it very clear when the vote cannot be denied: on the basis of race, color, previous condition of servitude, sex, failure to pay poll tax or any other taxes, and age (for anyone at least 18 years old). Yet, at the federal and state level, formerly incarcerated citizens are routinely denied their right to vote despite the fact that they have served their time and paid their debt to society. In fact, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that strips returning citizens of their right to vote.

As of 2016, The Sentencing Project found that more than 6 million formerly incarcerated people have been denied their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. This number has grown exponentially since the 1970s, largely due to the War on Drugs and the resulting increase in incarceration. Currently, approximately 2.5% of the total U.S. voting population – 1 of every 40 people – is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by this policy of disenfranchisement; as of 2016, one in every 13 Black adults could not vote as the result of a felony conviction.

Clearly, the denial of the right to vote for so many citizens produces unequal representation in the political system. It effectively silences the voices of people who have not lost their citizenship but who are prevented from exercising their full range of rights. Research shows that the results of several close national and state elections would have been decidedly different if formerly incarcerated citizens had been allowed to vote. Voting restoration will not only give returning citizens a say in their own governance, but will help them to feel a connection to society again. For the millions of formerly incarcerated people living, working, and paying taxes in their communities, it will be a deterrent to recidivism, will restore their dignity as human beings, and, most importantly, will make our democracy more truly representative.

 

Resisting the Influence of Money in Politics to Restore Our Power

By Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause

Our democracy faces a crisis not seen since the 1970s. Some elected officials and states continue to suppress the votes and voices of Americans; self-interested politicians cherry-pick their voters; the Trump administration continues to undermine our Constitution and the rule of law; and special interests, big-monied lobbyists, and multi-national corporations have a megaphone in deciding policies that our government makes while our children and our communities often suffer the consequences of those rigged policies.

H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is the biggest, boldest democracy reform package introduced since the Watergate era. It would restore the rule of law, stop hyper-partisan gerrymandering, strengthen the right to vote for all citizens and empower the voices of all our nation’s people. It contains many bold reforms, such as: small-donor citizen-funded elections, disclosure of secret money in politics, and closing loopholes to prevent foreign money from being spent in U.S. elections.

Citizen-funded elections are an especially important part of H.R. 1 because they allow individuals from traditionally underrepresented communities, who may not always be connected to sources of money, to run for and win elected office. In my home state of Connecticut where I helped lead the successful fight for the Citizens’ Election Program, the program is making a difference in the types of policies that are debated and passed in the state legislature, and it is shifting power from lobbyists and big-money corporations back to the people.

Nearly all the reforms contained in H.R. 1 have been tested and proven at the state and/or local level, often with Common Cause state chapters leading those efforts. Last November, Common Cause supported more than two-dozen pro-democracy reform ballot initiatives, more than 90% of which passed in red, blue, and purple states and localities, often with strong bipartisan support. We detail those initiatives, including six successful state initiatives to reduce the influence of money in politics, in our “Democracy on the Ballot” report. Additionally, with the beginning of many states’ legislative sessions this year, we have already secured several key voting reform victories in 2019.

We, and all the incredible allies in the faith community and other organizations, must continue fighting to “hold power accountable” to make sure that the voices of all people, regardless of the size of their wallets, can be heard in our democracy.

Karen Hobert Flynn is the president of Common Cause, which since 1970, has been working to hold power accountable through lobbying, litigation, and grassroots organizing. Our non-partisan, pro-democracy work has helped pass hundreds of reforms at the federal, state, and local levels. We now have 30 state chapters and more than 1.2 million members around the country who are working to strengthen our democracy. Read the “Democracy on the Ballot” report at www.commoncause.org/resource/democracy-on-the-ballot

 

The Impact of Gerrymandering on Voters, Elections, and Lawmakers

By Celina Stewart, Director of Advocacy and Litigation, League of Women Voters

Gerrymandering comes in two forms—racial or partisan—and has been happening since before the Constitutional Convention of 1787; no party is innocent in using their political power to influence what they want. But what is gerrymandering? Where did it even come from?

In1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting bill, creating a new voting district designed to favor his party. In the end, the district was curvy and long—much like a salamander. So foreign was this shape that a Boston Gazettecartoonist added claws, wings, and fangs, naming it “The Gerry-Mander”. Just like that, the term “gerrymander” was born.

Since then, very little has changed. Legislators have simply found new and innovative ways to accomplish the task. Some of this “innovation” stems from the evolution of technology. For example, as the United States entered the Digital Age, the development of computers and their ability to store, sort, and hold an enormous amount of information allowed political parties to gerrymander faster and methodically. So, why does this matter? Because voting data can now be exploited, in a way like never before, to distort our democracy; and politicians can pick their voters instead of voters electing their politicians. It’s a game politicians win before it even starts, and voters are the pawns.

Many of the gerrymandered maps created in 2011 during the last redistricting cycle ensured that no matter who voted, the outcome was already determined. This was achieved, with mathematical precision, by either “packing” or “cracking” minority voters into various districts. Gerrymandering tactics employed in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and North Carolina, coupled with the gutting of Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), created the perfect storm for rampant voter suppression across the country.

Fast forward to 2019 – We now have 20/20 vision of the impact rampant gerrymandering and the Shelbydecision have made: Lawmakers choose their electorate without any checks in place to stop, discourage, or limit the practice without court intervention. For more than two decades, voters have existed in a system that favors the powerful and well-connected, enabling self-serving politicians to game the political system in ways that undermine the very essence of the U.S. Constitution. In a system like this, voters simply are disempowered.

Principles of fair governance are not hard to understand or articulate. If we want our government to truly represent all the people, then all our votes must count, and that’s what makes gerrymandering so dangerous. It’s why we must all be determined to fight for redistricting reform and relentlessly defend our democracy’s promise of “one person, one vote.”

Celina Stewart joined the League of Women Voters as Director of Advocacy and Litigation in April 2018.The League of Women Voters of the United States encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.League m77embers in all 50 states and in more than 700 communities register new voters, host community forums and debates, and provide voters with election information they need.

 

Census: The Foundation for Fair Representation

By Sister Quincy Howard, OP, NETWORK Government Relations Specialist

For the more than a year, the NETWORK community has advocated and lobbied Congress for adequate funding to support an accurate 2020 Census count. The Census’s potential future impact on billions of dollars of federal funds allocated to local communities for infrastructure, schools, and other vital services is deeply concerning to us. The census is a crucial tool for maintaining our safety net programs and providing for the needs of communities. The decennial census count also lays the foundation for our democratic systems. Census data is used to apportion Congressional representatives; determine the votes of each state in the Electoral College; and draw state, local, and congressional districts. Therefore, failing to accurately count all persons in the United States would be enormously damaging for, and potentially undermine, our democracy.

The federal government is constitutionally obligated to count all persons in the United States, both citizens and non-citizens alike, in the decennial census. After the 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution established a democracy premised on the idea that all persons—no matter where they are from, regardless of whether they can vote—deserve equal representation in our government. This precept aligns with our own Catholic Social Justice principles which promote the dignity of every person and the right and responsibility to participate in politics and society. Ensuring a proper count of the nation’s population to apportion representatives requires an “actual enumeration” of the people. This “actual enumeration,” specified by the Constitution imposes a clear duty on the federal government: to count all people living in the United States, whether they are citizens or not and whether they were born in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The Trump administration, however, is once again threatening to undermine the fairness and accuracy of the 2020 Censuscount by including a citizenship question. Under the current climate of fear, mandating such a question would have a chilling effect on response rates in immigrant communities. The ill-conceived addition of the question circumvents the Constitution’s requirement to obtain an accurate count of all persons living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

The Census occurs only once every ten years, and there are no do-overs. These numbers could lock our nation into an unfair count and inaccurate representation for at least a decade and possibly longer. The repercussions of an unfair, inaccurate count are immense, so we must do whatever we can to ensure that every person counts in the 2020 Census.