Monday, February 10, 2014

Democrats pushing back on Voting Rights

A fundamental difference in world view is at the root of the mixed reviews that Secretary of State/congressional candidate Schultz drew for his performance - and political theater it all was - at the Senate state government committee on voting rights and felony restoration last week. People's thoughts on the hearing split predictably along the lines of preconceived opinion.
The Republican push-back on this has been "Democrats don't care if people break the law,"a gross over-simplification they apply to immigration as well.

I'm a clerk, not a lawyer, but what I'm looking for is justice. Soon after news broke of the three legitimate yet disenfranchised voters, I wrote:
Scaring away people who have the right to vote is just as bad. For that's the real point of this crusade: not the tiny handful of people who made a mistake, misunderstood a confusing law that has changed and then changed back, and then got caught and prosecuted when a strongly worded letter should have been sufficient.

No, the real point is the hundreds and thousands of people who will hear those stories and say to themselves, "I'm not taking any chances." The poor and the disenfranchised and the marginalized are USED to the system messing with them. They EXPECT it. If you make voting a hassle with the law, people will avoid the hassle.

Even more to the point, the poor and the disenfranchised and the marginalized are overwhelmingly likely to vote a particular way.
I'm looking for people who've done their time and re-entered society to get their full rights of citizenship back, quickly and reasonably and with a minimum of bureaucratic games.

That's how Iowa did it under Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver. Ex-felons regained their voting rights once they were discharged from state supervision, automatically, and the fair and just policies got a lot of attention.

Terry Branstad changed those policies on literally his first day back in office, enacting some of the toughest restoration of rights policies in the country.  He didn't make it impossible, but he came close with "a 31-question application that asks for information such as the address of the judge who handled the conviction." In his first 18 months, of more than 8000 people who completed their terms, less than a dozen had their voting rights restored.

Branstad eased up on the restrictions, a little, a month after the presidential election. After. And, notably, the prosecutions underway now are for people who tried to vote just before the policy change.

The pace picked up a little: "Branstad used his power of executive clemency to restore the right to vote and hold public office to 21 offenders who applied in 2013, compared to 17 in 2012 and two in 2011."

Now Democrats are are pushing back. Senate File 127 would reset the restoration of ex-felon voting rights back to what it was in the Vilsack-Culver era: "upon discharge from certain criminal sentences, citizenship rights related to voting and holding public office must be restored." Changing a MAY to a SHALL is a big difference.

 And the public is speaking up too. It's not coincidence that the two women being prosecuted in Muscatine are named Mayra Alejandra Lopez Morales and Sylvia Rada. And at least some of the people charged in Waterloo have ties to the black community:
“This is an act of gross injustice,” said Creighton-Smith, calling the charges voter suppression and bullying. The Faith Temple Baptist Church pastor said several members of her congregation arrested in the past but never convicted of a felony have been told they can’t vote because of their criminal record.

“African-Americans are 13 times more likely to be denied the right to vote,” she said.

While the NAACP members attended the hearing to support “everyone that was there for voter fraud,” Creighton-Smith was familiar with the backgrounds of Rosa Lee Wilder, 49, Robert Earl Anthony, 56, and Ricco Terrell Cooper, 39 -- three black people who were charged.
This is where the focus should be. Did a tiny handful of people inadvertently violate the law? Maybe, but that's different than violating the law with criminal intent, the higher standard needed for a conviction. What's more important is the chilling effect these prosecutions, and misinformation, is having on people who want to and should be able to legitimately vote.

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