voteKentucky governor Steve Beshear announced today that he would be ordering the restoration of voting rights to some 170,000 non-violent ex-felons who have completed their sentences, a step that would bring that state in line with others offering the same reinstatement.

Kentucky had been one of the last states still permanently barring convicted felons from voting, along with Florida and Iowa. Kentucky’s constitution did provide for a restoration of voting rights upon the intervention of the state’s governor though.

As the Brennan Center for Justice points out, there has been significant movement towards restoring felons’ voting rights, with more than 20 states taking steps in that direction over the past 20 years:

One key factor in this progress is the growing bipartisan consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, and the recognition that restoring voting rights is a smart-on-crime policy. Leaders of both parties are acknowledging that we imprison too many people for too long, and do not provide adequate opportunities for people to reintegrate into society — rather than recidivate — after they leave incarceration. That recognition has led law enforcement professionals, faith leaders, and public officials from across the political spectrum to endorse voting rights restoration proposals nationwide.

In North Carolina,  a felon’s voting rights can be restored upon completion of a sentence, including prison, parole, and probation.

“We’re seeing growing national momentum for rights restoration, and Kentucky is the latest place to join in on that trend,” Brennan Center Counsel Tomas Lopez said in a statement. “Restoring the right to vote will improve Kentucky’s democracy, strengthen its communities, and increase public safety. We hope the state will build on today’s reforms and make the right to vote accessible to all Kentucky citizens living and working in their communities.”


vote2As voters in the state head to the polls today, parties in the federal voting rights cases are moving forward towards a trial on the remaining voter ID challenge, according to a report filed with the court yesterday.

In late October, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder denied the state’s request to dismiss those claims on the grounds that recently enacted “reasonable impediment” provisions mooted the constitutional challenge.  Schroeder rejected that argument, saying that the law’s challengers still had remedies available to them should they establish a disproportionate impact upon African-American and Latinos.

Per yesterday’s report, the parties are proposing some limited discovery with a trial on voter ID to proceed in late January, unless the plaintiffs decide to seek a preliminary injunction — presumably to block implementation of the photo ID law during the March 2016 presidential primary and perhaps beyond.

A ruling on the remaining challenges to the state’s 2013 voting law remains pending after being tried in July and fully submitted to Schroeder in August.

Speaking of voting changes, the Brennan Center of Justice has a new report out detailing progress states have made toward electronic and digital voter registration.

As noted there, states are increasingly (albeit slowly) moving in that direction. Five years ago, the Center found that 17 states electronically registered voters, and at least 6 states allowed voters to register online. Today, 27 states have electronic registration at the DMV (some of these states also offer it at additional agencies) and 26 states have online registration.  Looking ahead, five more states have authorized online registration and three have authorized electronic registration, but have yet to implement such changes.

North Carolina took the first step in 2006 when it launched DMV registration but has not moved beyond that point.

As discussed in detail in the report, states are finding that moving to digital saves money, boosts registration and improves the accuracy of voter rolls:

  • States continue to implement modernized voting systems. A total of 38 states now have electronic registration, online registration, or both. Electronic registration is available in 27 states, and 26 states have online options. In 2010, when the Brennan Center first studied these systems in depth, 17 states electronically registered voters, and only 6 allowed citizens to sign up online. As states continue to adopt modernized techniques, they speed up the process of registering voters.
  • Modernization boosts registration rates. In one data sample, 14 of 16 states with electronic registration saw sustained or increased registration rates at DMV offices through the 2014 election. For example, since Pennsylvania eliminated paper registration at DMVs in 2005, registration rates at the DMV5 have more than quadrupled. Online registration is also popular with voters. In 11 of the 14 states that had online voter registration in 2012, online registrations accounted for more than 10 percent of all new sign-ups between 2010 and 2012.
  • Electronic and online registration increase voter roll accuracy. Election officials in almost every state interviewed reported that both electronic and online registration made their systems more accurate because staff no longer need to interpret illegible handwriting or manually enter voter information, thus reducing the chances for errors.
  • Modernized voter registration systems save money. Not all states attempted to track cost savings, but of the 29 states that reported they did, there was unanimity that electronic and online registration reduces costs. Washington State, for example, saves 25 cents with each online registration.

Read the Brennan Center’s report here.



Andrew Cohen follows up the report released yesterday by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice on outside money in judicial elections — particularly Supreme Court elections — asking this question: What’s the impact?

Justice at Stake’s Bert Brandenburg had this answer:

Here’s what we can measure: the impression that justice is for sale. Our polling has shown that more than 80 percent of voters believe campaign cash has an impact on judicial decision making. And the effects of that perception are pervasive. They may be subtle, but the harm is there. It might be felt in who decides to pursue or abandon legal redress at all, whether a voter decides to participate in a judicial election at all, whether sincere public servants decide to seek elevation to the bench or turn away from it, or whether businesses choose to bring jobs and industry to a community or go elsewhere.