Kentucky could be heading for a historic change this year as it moves closer to abolishing its law banning felons from voting, thanks to a bipartisan effort in the state Capitol and a big assist from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The state has long had among the most restrictive felon voting rules, thus disenfranchising a high percentage of its voting-age population. Black residents have been disproportionately affected — more than one in five of voting age cannot cast a ballot. A long-running push by voting rights advocates to end these restrictions got a boost from Paul, who this week pushed a compromise in testimony before state lawmakers. Republicans in the legislature, who control the Senate, for the first time agreed to ease the ban. “It has the best chance it’s ever had,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer. Even as advocates for expanded voting rights anticipate a victory in Kentucky, they have a long road ahead in the many other states that continue to bar felons from casting ballots, disenfranchising millions. The years of effort and the convergence of political forces that could lead Kentucky to change its law show how difficult the challenges can be.
With the help of former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party launched a national drive on Thursday to expand voting opportunities and fight back against what it calls restrictive voting laws. The program will establish permanent procedures and staff in each state to help register and educate voters, and work with local officials to expand access to the polls in the November elections and beyond. Voting laws have been the subject of partisan fights since 2011, when a wave of Republican-sponsored state laws began to impose stricter identification requirements on voters or restrict access, including by cutting back on early voting sites and hours. Republican supporters say the laws, many of which have been blocked by the courts, are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats say they are designed to limit the ballots of minorities and low-income voters who tend to support Democrats.
National Democrats are launching a program to expand voter access to polls, with a Thursday announcement aided by former president Bill Clinton. The Democratic National Committee says it will fund and staff a permanent effort in battleground states to work for early voting and online voter registration, and against voter identification laws, combating what it calls Republican efforts at voter suppression. “Today, there is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote,” Clinton says in a four-minute video that hits social media Thursday. “It’s not enough anymore just to be against these new voting restrictions. We need to get back on the road forward and work for more and easier voting.”
Former President Clinton said Wednesday the greatest “assault” on the United States’ values are new restrictive voting laws springing up across the country. In a five-minute video, Clinton announced a new initiative by the Democratic National Committee to defend voting rights at a time when, he said, opponents of progress want fewer people to vote. “There is no greater assault on our core values than the rampant efforts to restrict the right to vote,” Clinton said. He added: “Now all across the country, we are seeing a determined effort to turn the clock back, an effort taking many different forms.”
National: FEC Deadlocks Again over Disclaimers on Mobile Phone Advertisements, with No Resolution in Sight | In the Arena
The irresistible force met the immovable object Thursday, as the Federal Election Commission deadlocked again on whether disclaimer requirements applied to advertisements displayed through new technologies. The deadlock left no clear path toward a common understanding of the disclaimer requirements, with the Democratic-selected Commissioners contending that the law permits no exception for mobile phone ads, and the Republican Commissioners contending that applying the requirements would violate the law and burden speech. Advisory Opinion Request 2013-18, submitted by Revolution Messaging LLC, dealt with so-called “banner advertisements” appearing at the bottom of a smartphone screen. (Revolution Messaging LLC is a political consulting firm that crafts and places digital advertisements for Democrats and progressives.) Commission regulations apply the disclaimer requirements generally to public communications, including Internet communications that are placed for a fee. But they contain exceptions for “small items,” and for advertisements where “inclusion of a disclaimer would be impracticable.”
Editorials: Conservatives’ 17th Amendment repeal effort: Why their plan will backfire. | David Schleicher/Slate
ver the past year, an increasingly central plank of conservative and Tea Party rhetoric is that constitutional change is needed and that the 17th Amendment in particular, which gives state residents the power to elect senators directly, should be repealed. (Previously, senators were selected by the state legislatures). Hard-right figures across the country, from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to Georgia Senate candidate Rep. Paul Broun to a steady drumbeat of state officials, have now called for repealing the amendment and giving the power to select senators back to the state legislatures. Radio host Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments, calling for repeal, among other constitutional changes, was the best-selling book on constitutional law last year. Clearly this is an idea with legs. This boomlet of energy for repealing the 17th Amendment is not the first in recent memory. Back in 2010, repeal was similarly endorsed by a bevy of conservative bigwigs from Justice Antonin Scalia to Gov. Rick Perry to now-Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Back then, support for repeal was mocked in Democratic campaign ads as kooky, but perhaps it’s time to concede that it is no longer a fringe idea. Given the ascendance of the right flank of the GOP, it’s worth taking the argument for repeal seriously.
With the first voters of the 2014 mid-term election cycle already heading to the polls; with secretaries of state garnering more national attention than ever before; and with state legislatures expanding and limiting the right to vote across the country, 24 states will elect a top election official this year. In 13 of those 24 states, the incumbent is seeking re-election, but in nine states voters are guaranteed a new top election official. Those nine states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nevada. Some of the nine are term-limited or retiring, while others are seeking higher office including governor and the U.S. Senate.
State Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello) is under pressure from colleagues to resign, but the timing of any such action could play havoc with this year’s election and its costs, officials say. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has given Calderon until March 3 to resign or take a leave of absence in response to his recent indictment on 24 counts involving the alleged acceptance of nearly $100,000 in bribes. If Calderon does not do one or the other by Monday, he could face a Senate vote suspending him from office.
Under the gold dome in Atlanta Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved a measure to reduce the number of early voting days for municipal elections. But the amended version of House Bill 891 gives city officials around the state the option of deciding whether to have one week of early voting before an election or keeping the early voting period at three weeks. It now heads to the Georgia Senate for consideration. The proposal surfaced after some city officials around the state complained it’s inefficient and costly to staff polling places for three weeks, especially in rural areas where one or two people vote each day. However, the NAACP and other agencies opposed the measure, maintaining it could infringe on some people’s voting rights.
On the floor of the Iowa Senate waits Senate File 2203, a bill that would reinstate the voting rights of ex-felons automatically after they finish serving their criminal sentences. Another version of the bill, Senate File 127, has already been killed by the Senate. “There is a provision in the state constitution that’s been interpreted to disqualify felons from voting,” Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) explained of the current rules in place on ex-felon voting rights. “And a process has been set up subsequently that allowed ex-felons to apply to have their voting rights restored by the governor.” During his term as governor, Tom Vilsack issued an executive order during his term that “rubber stamped” the application process to have voting rights reinstated. “Vilsack’s executive order rubber stamped without giving consideration to whether the individuals paid their restitution,” Johnson said.