National: Push to restore voting rights for felons gathers momentum | MSNBC

“It would be transformative if everybody voted,” President Obama told a crowd in Cleveland Wednesday. He even mused about the idea of making voting mandatory. That’s not going to happen any time soon. But in the wake of record low voter turnout in last fall’s midterm elections, a movement is growing in Washington and around the country to dismantle a set of restrictions that keep nearly 6 million Americans from the polls: felon disenfranchisement laws. Many state restrictions on felon voting were imposed in the wake of Reconstruction, as the South looked for ways to suppress black political power. But now, the falling crime rates of the last two decades have prompted a broader reassessment of tough-on-crime policies. Meanwhile, the ongoing Republican-led assault on voting has triggered a backlash that aims to expand, rather than contract, voting rights. On Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), backed by an array of civil- and voting-rights groups, introduced a bill that would restore voting rights for federal elections to Americans with past criminal convictions upon their release from incarceration. That came on the heels of a similar but more limited bill introduced last month by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would apply only to non-violent offenders. Neither measure is likely to get much traction in the Republican-controlled Congress. But in the states, there has been plenty of movement lately.

National: Lawmakers introduce bill to restore voting rights to ex-convicts | Al Jazeera

Lawmakers introduced a bill Wednesday that would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million U.S. citizens with criminal convictions after their release from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act was introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Similar versions of the bill have been introduced in past congressional sessions. “Millions of American citizens are without a political voice in federal elections because the current patchwork of laws that disfranchise people with criminal records has created an inconsistent and unfair electoral process,” Deborah J. Vagins, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a press release issued Wednesday. She urged Congress to pass the bill, arguing that many criminal disfranchisement laws stemmed from the Jim Crow era, with the intent of keeping African-Americans from voting.

National: Advocates View Selma Pilgrimage As Key Moment in New Voting Rights Push | The Atlantic

When civil-rights activists converge on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge next Saturday, they’ll have a bigger goal than simply commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” The 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, helped secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act. This year, dozens of politicians will be there to join the celebration, and activists hope to persuade them that a better way to honor Selma’s legacy is to extend the legal protections it secured. Thanks to the eponymous Oscar-nominated film, there has been no shortage of remembrances of Selma. This year’s pilgrimage, organized by the Faith and Politics Institute, will command more attention than others have in recent years. Not only will President Obama make the trip, but so will his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who signed the last renewal of the landmark law in 2006. African American leaders view the bipartisan commemoration as a crucial moment to marshal support and pressure Republican leaders for new voting-rights legislation in Congress.

National: Bipartisan duo pushes to restore the Voting Rights Act | The Hill

Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) are reintroducing their bill to restore part of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, despite warnings by prominent Republicans that they won’t support it. The bill aims to revive a section of the Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination to approve voting changes with the Justice Department. The Supreme Court overturned the formula in 2013, determining the criteria were outdated. The proposed overhaul from Sensenbrenner and Conyers would create new criteria for “pre-clearance,” allowing courts to place states under that standard if they commit certain voting violations. The bill would also give the Justice Department more power to step in before an election takes place to protect voting rights.

National: Backers of voting rights bill try a new strategy | USA Today

President Barack Obama named voting rights protections as a priority in his State of the Union address Tuesday, but legislation that would restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act faces tough challenges this Congress. That legislation, called the Voting Rights Amendment Act, would resurrect the 1965 law’s “pre-clearance” provision requiring states with a history of voting discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes in their elections procedures. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 — in Shelby County vs. Holder — that the formula used to determine which states were subject to pre-clearance was invalid, effectively nullifying the provision itself.

National: Judiciary Chairman In No Rush To Move On Voting Rights Act Bill | Buzzfeed

One year after the Supreme Court struck down section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Congress is nowhere near close to moving forward with restoring a federal approval requirement for certain voting process changes. While Democratic leaders rallied this week to urge Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act — a law to rewrite the section 4 formula — a top House Republican said Thursday the bill wasn’t going to move quickly, if at all. The VRAA, written by Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Michigan Democrat John Conyers, is viewed in Congress and by outside advocates as the best chance to reinstate some of the provisions. Section 4 was the formula used to determine which states needs pre-clearance from the federal government for changes to their voting laws. The Supreme Court ruled that the formula was outdated and Congress could come up with a new one.

National: Stalled Voting Rights Act gets June 25 Senate hearing | Miami Herald

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a June 25 hearing on a long-stalled bill to repair the 1965 Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court weakened the landmark civil rights legislation by weakening key provisions last year. ‘It is time for Congress to act,’ Leahy said in a statement Monday. ‘Just as Congress came together 50 years ago to enact the Civil Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans should work together now to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, which has always been bipartisan.’ The hearing will occur on the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that knocked out parts of the voting rights act and urged Congress to revisit it, saying the law needs updating to account for how times have changed.

Editorials: Election laws that prevent elections | Joshua Spivak/Reuters

After a half-century in the House of Representatives, Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.), now the second longest serving member of Congress, may be an unsympathetic victim to show how election laws can be unfairly used to keep potential challengers off the ballot. But recent court rulings on Conyers as well as a New Jersey recall attempt highlight how election laws are frequently designed to benefit those in power — and block potential challengers. Due to its mix of an embarrassing level of incompetence and Conyers’ long service, his failure to get enough signatures got attention. Conyers needed 1,000 valid registered voters in his district to sign his petition in order to get on the ballot. His supporters collected enough raw signatures, but many people either didn’t live in the district or weren’t registered voters. After striking these and other nonconforming signatures, Conyers only had 455 valid signatures. The county clerk struck Conyers from the ballot.

Michigan: State Won’t Appeal Conyers Ballot Ruling | Wall Street Journal

Longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers will likely appear on an upcoming primary ballot after the state of Michigan declined Friday to challenge a federal-court ruling that affirmed his official candidacy. “Based on the facts of the judge’s order, the state has decided not to appeal in the Conyers case,” the Michigan Department of State said in a brief statement Friday.

Michigan: Conyers discounts conspiracy theory behind challenges to keep him off primary ballot | The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. John Conyers said Thursday he doesn’t believe he fell victim to a conspiracy to bounce him from the ballot and end his storied political career. The Detroit Democrat was removed from the Aug. 5 primary ballot for not having enough valid petition signatures before a federal judge Friday restored him to the ballot over concerns Michigan’s election law may be unconstitutional. Conyers, 85, hired family friend and political consultant Steve Hood to handle the petition gathering. Hood has since publicly apologized for not checking the voter registration status of the circulators he hired — a mistake that initially disqualified hundreds of signatures and may have cost Conyers his congressional career. “I know the whole Hood family,” Conyers told The News Thursday. “I know his father, his brother. I know the church. It was very painful.”

Michigan: Federal judge orders Conyers back on Aug. 5 ballot | The Detroit News

A federal judge threw U.S. Rep. John Conyers a political lifeline Friday, ordering the Detroit Democrat onto the Aug. 5 primary ballot because his lawsuit to overturn a Michigan election law is likely to succeed. Judge Matthew Leitman’s ruling allowing Conyers to join challenger Horace Sheffield on the primary ballot capped a whirlwind day for the longest-serving African-American in Congress, as he seeks a 26th term in office. A report released earlier Friday by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson agreed with Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett that Conyers was ineligible to run and found he fell more than 540 signatures short of the 1,000 needed to qualify for the ballot. But Leitman, in a 22-page ruling, said Conyers and two petition circulators whose signatures were disqualified have a “substantial likelihood of success” in showing Michigan’s requirement for circulators to be registered voters law is unconstitutional and ordered Conyers on the ballot “because time is of the essence.”

Michigan: Judge to rule on Conyers’ case Friday after ballot status decision | The Detroit News

A federal judge said Wednesday he would make a ruling Friday afternoon in an “exceptionally difficult case” that may help determine the political future of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, indicated from the bench he wants to make a quick ruling on the constitutional issues involving the Detroit Democrat’s ouster from the Aug. 5 primary ballot. There are two weeks left until the June 6 deadline when Secretary of State Ruth Johnson must certify candidates for the ballot. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett last week threw the Detroit Democrat off the ballot after disqualifying hundreds of signatures for Conyers’ candidacy because of voter registration problems with his circulators.

Michigan: Lawyers for Conyers Argue to Get Back on Ballot | Associated Press

A judge sharply questioned lawyers Wednesday in a dispute over whether U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit gets on the ballot for a chance to extend one of the longest careers in Congress. The Democrat, first elected in 1964, has been scratched from the August primary because of problems with people who collected signatures for his nominating petitions, a standard task for any candidate. Some of those people weren’t registered voters or put a wrong registration address on the petitions. It spoils those petitions, under Michigan law, and means Conyers lacks 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Michigan: An Incumbent Falls Afoul of Election Laws Designed to Protect Incumbents | New York Times

Political pros know better than anyone that election laws are typically crafted by statehouse lawmakers with enough hedges, hurdles and moats to insulate party machines and shield incumbents against insurgent challengers. That’s the nature of the power game. All the more shocking then to Washington’s political class that Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, was denied a place on the ballot this week. He was widely expected to win his primary this summer as a prelude to a re-election stroll into his 26th term in Congress. Instead, Wayne county officials ruled that most of the 1,236 voter signatures submitted for ballot qualification by Mr. Conyers — one of the civil rights pioneers and Democratic wheel-horses of Washington — were invalid under state law.

Michigan: Conyers files federal lawsuit in fight to stay on primary ballot | Detroit Free Press

U.S. Rep. John Conyers is waging a legal war in federal court over his right to run in the primary, challenging the constitutionality of a state election law that is keeping his name off the ballot. The law that’s got Conyers riled up is a statute that says if you want to gather signatures on a petition to get a candidate on a ballot, you must be registered to vote. Three Conyers supporters filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Monday, arguing that law is unconstitutional because it violates their political speech and political association rights. Conyers, who turns 85 on Friday, joined the lawsuit today, two days after Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett cited that law in announcing that the longtime congressman won’t appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot after a majority of signatures turned in to certify him for a 26th term were invalidated. Garrett invalidated more than 700 signatures because five petition circulators were not properly registered to vote. Those signatures should have stayed put, argues Conyers, the second-longest serving member of Congress who has represented parts of metro Detroit since 1965.

Michigan: Wayne County clerk: I won’t allow Conyers on August primary ballot | Detroit Free Press

he fate of U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ re-election campaign now lies with the Secretary of State’s Office after Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett announced Tuesday the longtime congressman won’t appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot after a majority of signatures turned in to certify him for a 26th term were invalidated. Conyers plans to file an appeal with the state office, and has three days to do so. The office then will review the work done by Wayne County, said Chris Thomas, director of elections for the state. A decision won’t come until some time next week, he said. “It’s a verification process, we’ll be looking at registration status and the spreadsheet they provided us. It won’t take all that long,” he said. Conyers also could be headed down the same path as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who waged a write-in campaign in last summer’s primary, eventually prevailing over Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in the general election.

Michigan: ACLU: Michigan law that bars Conyers from ballot unconstitutional | The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Monday in federal court to argue U.S. Rep. John Conyers belongs on the Aug. 5 primary ballot because it’s unconstitutional for Michigan to require that petition collectors be registered voters. The ACLU is suing on behalf of two of Conyers’ constituents, including Tiara Willis-Pittman, one of Conyers’ petition circulators whose signatures were tossed because she was deemed an unregistered voter at the time of collection. The lawsuit comes on the eve of a scheduled decision by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett whether Conyers qualifies for the ballot. A clerk staff investigation released Friday found the Detroit Democrat has 592 signatures — 408 less than the 1,000 required to make the ballot for the 13th Congressional District. More than 640 signatures for Conyers, 84, were disqualified after a challenge by primary opponent the Rev. Horace Sheffield of Detroit resulted in a clerk office staff’s finding that the petition circulators were not registered voters as required by state law. Willis-Pittman, 19, had submitted 80 signatures.

Michigan: Civil rights group seeks probe of Detroit voter registration for Conyers petition circulators | The Detroit News

A civil rights group is calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how two petition collectors for U.S. Rep. John Conyers were handled when they were registered to vote by the Detroit City Clerk’s office. Discrepancies surrounding when the two were registered to vote led Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett to tentatively invalidate 314 petition signatures they collected for Conyers’ re-election campaign. If the signatures remain disqualified, Conyers, the longest-serving African American in Congress, could be thrown off the Aug. 5 primary ballot. The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Action Network, said he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to look into the inconsistencies in the matter. On Friday, Garrett said she preliminarily has disqualified the signatures collected by Tiara Willis-Pittman, 19, and Daniel Pennington, 23, of Detroit.