NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Voting rights are for everyone: returning citizen disenfranchisement and expanding democracy

We start­ed the last day of Net­roots Nation at “Vot­er Rights Restora­tion and the Move Toward a Grow­ing Democ­ra­cy: How We Get There”. It was a packed pan­el table, appar­ent­ly because it was a merg­er of two pan­els to talk about restor­ing vot­ing rights for pre­vi­ous­ly incar­cer­at­ed indi­vid­u­als and grow­ing democ­ra­cy for every­one.

We start­ed, as with most pan­els, with a few words by the moderator(s) and intro­duc­tion of the pan­elists. Elias Isquith, writer at Salon Media, went first into the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of vot­ing rights, draw­ing right off the bat the con­nec­tion between mass incar­cer­a­tion (and it’s dis­en­fran­chis­ing effects) and uphold­ing white suprema­cy. The next pan­elist, Nicole Austin-Hilary, direc­tor at the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice, echoed Elias and went fur­ther into describ­ing how much there’s been a turn­around between how peo­ple think about vot­ing rights for pre­vi­ous­ly incar­cer­at­ed indi­vid­u­als, espe­cial­ly in D.C. She men­tions how there’s even bipar­ti­san coop­er­a­tion on this issue (with some pol­i­cy dif­fer­ences).

We heard a pow­er­ful sto­ry from Desmond Meade, who was for­mer­ly home­less and pre­vi­ous­ly incar­cer­at­ed, and came from almost com­mit­ting sui­cide to going to school and grad­u­at­ing from under­grad­u­ate, law school, and becom­ing the pres­i­dent and state direc­tor of the Flori­da Rights Restora­tion Coali­tion and the Live Free Cam­paign. His sto­ry does­n’t have a hap­py end­ing, he says, because he still can’t vote, still can’t get hous­ing, still can’t get admit­ted to the bar, all because his rights haven’t been restored yet. 2 mil­lion peo­ple don’t have their full rights in Flori­da, a fig­ure, he men­tions, is big­ger than the pop­u­la­tion of fif­teen states. He high­lights the impor­tance of using the term “return­ing cit­i­zens” instead of “ex-felons” or “ex-cons”, because these are folks seek­ing to return to soci­ety and return to become mem­bers of the com­mu­ni­ty they were torn away from.

State Sen­a­tor Jamie Raskin of Mary­land (and can­di­date for Con­gress for MD‑8), went first into talk­ing about how the Unit­ed States start­ed as a slave repub­lic with only white male prop­er­ty own­ers over the age of 21 hav­ing vot­ing rights, only expand­ing vot­ing rights through a process of con­tin­u­al strug­gle. He then explained that dis­en­fran­chis­ing pre­vi­ous­ly incar­cer­at­ed indi­vid­u­als has no pos­i­tive social ben­e­fit (see­ing that not being able to vote has no reha­bil­i­ta­tive pur­pose), and has the only real pur­pose of swing­ing the elec­tion a cer­tain way by purg­ing peo­ple from the rolls. This fin­ished the part of the pan­el about restor­ing rights for return­ing cit­i­zens, and moved on to the pan­elists who were talk­ing about expand­ing democ­ra­cy as a whole.

Tova Wang, the Direc­tor of Democ­ra­cy Pro­grams for the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca, has went into the tra­di­tion­al talk­ing points about how Con­gress, cor­po­ra­tions after Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, and the Supreme Court have been attack­ing vot­ing rights and labor rights, mak­ing the Fed­er­al Elec­tions Com­mis­sion pret­ty much unwork­able, attempt­ing to do the same for the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board, and under­min­ing vot­ing rights.

Matt Singer from the Bus Fed­er­a­tion talks about mov­ing beyond sys­tems reform, and mobi­liz­ing peo­ple to vote, espe­cial­ly peo­ple who have nev­er vot­ed before. This includes high­light­ing places where return­ing cit­i­zens already have the right to vote, and mobi­liz­ing peo­ple to vote to ensure there’s a push for greater reforms.

We then went into audi­ence ques­tions, and the pan­elists delved into top­ics such as state laws on vot­ing rights for peo­ple on parole or pro­ba­tion, how to include rel­a­tives and loved ones of return­ing cit­i­zens into stake­hold­er groups and coali­tions, and some­one plug­ging a video con­test for peo­ple push­ing a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment against Cit­i­zens Unit­ed.

In my opin­ions it was one of the best pan­els of the con­fer­ence. Next up is the Pres­i­den­tial Town Hall with Bernie Sanders and Mar­tin O’Mal­ley!

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One Comment

  1. # by Jeffrey Hearn :: July 19th, 2015 at 7:31 AM