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.”


Emily Atkin of Think Progress has posted seven great questions put forth by progressives — including former Equality NC director Ian Palmquist — that ought to be posed of all presidential candidates, including the five Democrats who will debate on CNN tonight:

1)“What do you think are the top three things the next president needs to do in order to make sure fewer families have to go through the pain that mine has?” – Erica Lafferty Smegielski, daughter of deceased Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung.

2) “Will you engage in aggressive litigation against the fossil fuel industry’s conspiracy of climate denial, as the Clinton administration did against the tobacco industry?” – R.L. Miller, president of Climate Hawks Vote.

3) “What would you do to prevent the racially charged attacks on the right to vote?” – Sean McElwee, research associate at Demos.

4) “When you step into office, will you commit … [to use] your authority to immediately end leasing of public fossil fuels in the U.S.?” – Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action.

5) “What will you do to ensure that young people maintain access to critical healthcare services despite growing conservative attacks on birth control, abortion, and other services?” – MS Keifer, policy analyst at Advocates for Youth.

6) “Will they work to eliminate all mandatory minimum drug sentences? And how would they allocate federal funds and specifically design programs to prevent recidivism?” – Zellie Imani, Black Lives Matter activist and New Jersey teacher.

7) “What would your administration do to make sure young LGBT youth are getting education, not incarceration?” – Ian Palmquist, director of leadership programs for Equality Federation.

Click here to read the entire article and the full explanations of each question.

Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

Crowd outside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem

The battle over sweeping election law changes adopted in North Carolina in 2013 opened on two fronts yesterday.

In a packed courtroom inside the federal courthouse in Winston-Salem, attorneys for both the challengers and the state laid out the case they planned to present to U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder over the next several weeks.

State lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing when they stripped away same day registration, cut early voting days and eliminated the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots — provisions used widely by minority voters — Penda D. Hair, an attorney for the North Carolina NAACP, said in her opening statement.

“They were voter suppressors in search of a pretext,” she told the judge.

The state has argued throughout the case that the 2013 changes were neutral on their face, burdening all voters – not just African-American or Latino voters – and that the state’s election laws now resembled those in other states, where same day registration and early voting don’t exist.

But Hair dismissed that argument, saying that other states do not have the same racially-charged history of voter suppression as does North Carolina.

“Poll taxes were neutral on their face,” Hair said. “Literacy tests were neutral on their face. The law teaches it is the impact that matters – an impact that is linked to social and historical conditions – not whether a law explicitly says African Americans or Latinos are not allowed to vote.”

Outside, the trial over the voting changes in the court of public opinion also waged on.

Speakers from the state NAACP held an early morning press conference while their supporters and others from voting rights advocacy groups chanted what’s become the mantra for the Moral Monday movement: “Forward together! Not one step back.”

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

Ricky Diaz for the NCGOP

In the opposite corner behind a podium bearing the NCGOP logo, state Republican Party spokesman Ricky Diaz told the media that the election law changes were simply common sense provisions meant to ensure the integrity of the vote.

The parties have identified nearly 100 voters, experts and state officials as possible witnesses in the case, and once opening arguments ended, the challengers began calling them to the stand.

Durham resident Gwendolyn Farrington told the court that she tried to vote near her 6 a.m.-to-6 p.m. job, since she couldn’t get to her own precinct, but was told that she had to cast a provisional ballot — which she later learned would not be counted.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the state NAACP, also took the stand yesterday afternoon in advance of a planned Moral Monday voting rights march held at 5 p.m. in Winston-Salem.

“In North Carolina, a literacy test is still on the books,” Barber said. “The Voting Rights Act overruled it, but it remains there as a symbol.”

“In this country we should be doing everything humanly possible to ensure all people can vote,” he added.

Trial will continue day-to-day at the federal courthouse at 251 N. Main Street, Winston-Salem, and is expected to last at least two weeks.   Read here for more on what to expect during the proceedings.


Here’s the latest statement from advocates in response to this morning’s story about the remarkable crash in voter registrations at North Carolina public assistance offices since the beginning of the McCrory administration:



(Raleigh, NC) – Citing clear evidence that the state of North Carolina is failing its obligation to provide low-income residents with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies, today Democracy North Carolina, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (“APRI”) sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”), as well as Dr. Aldona Wos, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”).

According to the letter, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since Gov. Pat McCrory took office. The number of applications originating from such agencies fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the last two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The notice letter—sent on behalf of the voting rights groups by attorneys from D?mos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—gives the state 90 days to come into compliance with the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) or face litigation.

Read More

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

(Graphic: Center for American Progress)

Things at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a bit quiet right now, with conferences and oral arguments not scheduled to start up again until later in the month, but don’t let that lull you into a sense of calm.

Once the justices reconvene, all hell could break loose, with same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection and redistricting among the issues being reviewed.

“The term went from being one of the more uneventful terms in recent years to potentially one of the biggest ones in a generation,” SCOTUSblog editor Amy Howe said.

For a look at what big issues have been argued and decided as well as what’s in queue, read the update by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue here.