Voting Rights
August 5, 2020

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Wednesday signed an executive order ending the state's lifetime voting ban for residents who have a felony conviction, giving them the ability to vote after they complete their sentences.

The move comes after activists spent months protesting outside the state capitol. The nonprofit Sentencing Project estimated in 2016 that about 52,000 Iowans weren't able to vote because of their felony convictions, with almost 24,000 finished with their criminal sentences.

"Today we take a significant step forward in acknowledging the importance of redemption, second chances, and the need to address inequalities in our justice system," Reynolds said in a statement. "The right to vote is the cornerstone of society and the free republic in which we live. When someone serves their sentence, they should have their right to vote restored automatically."

Robert Pate runs a mentorship and support group in Des Moines called Image 4 Lives, and as someone with a felony conviction, he is "thankful" for the executive order. "People will feel more accepted coming out of prison," Pate told The Guardian. "People will get more involved with voting."

Those convicted of murder, manslaughter, and abortion after the second trimester, which is a felony in the state, will not see their voting rights automatically restored, The Guardian reports. Because this is an executive order and not a constitutional amendment, the change could be rescinded by a future governor, but Reynolds said she will push the Republican-led legislature to pass an amendment making her new policy permanent. Catherine Garcia

December 10, 2019

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) made a big announcement during his inaugural address on Tuesday.

Beshear said that on Thursday, he will "sign an executive order restoring voting rights to over 100,000 men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now. They deserve to participate in our great democracy. By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone counts in Kentucky. We all matter."

Beshear said he felt compelled to act because his "faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches me forgiveness." Beshear's father, Steve Beshear, served as governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015, and during his final year in office signed an executive order that restored the right to vote and hold public office to more than 140,000 nonviolent felons who finished their sentences, NBC News reports. The order was suspended by Steve Beshear's successor, Matt Bevin (R). Only two states — Kentucky and Iowa — deny the right to vote to anyone convicted of a felony. Catherine Garcia

May 28, 2019

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley resigned on Monday, right before the Texas Senate gaveled out of session without confirming him. Confirming gubernatorial nominees is usually perfunctory, but the Senate's 12 Democrats banded together to block Whitley's confirmation after his office flagged about 98,000 potential non-citizen registered voters, many of whom were actually naturalized U.S. citizens. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had appointed Whitley, a longtime aide, as secretary of state in mid-December, and he would have been immediately forced out of office when the Senate adjourned without confirming him.

Whitley's office quietly acknowledged within days that its list of 98,000 registered voters was flawed, with almost a quarter of the names included in error — including a Democratic senator's staffer. A federal judge halted the review in late February, and state officials ended the process in April as part of a legal settlement that cost Texas taxpayers $450,000 to cover costs and attorney fees for naturalized citizens threatened with expulsion from voter rolls. Abbott and the Senate's 19 Republican senators stood behind Whitley, but a two-thirds majority — 21 senators — was needed to confirm him.

"The blocking of Whitley's confirmation is a surprising show of strength from Senate Democrats, who have been on the losing side of a Republican supermajority in the chamber for several years and have been mocked by political observers as a doormat for the state's Republican leaders," The Dallas Morning News notes. Democrats flipped enough seats in November to end the GOP's supermajority.

"The reality is that Democrats showed solidarity on that issue because of Whitley's position of voter suppression," state Sen. Royce West (D) said Monday, after the Senate adjourned. "That was the issue. It was not that he was not a good person — he seemed like he was a great person — but not the secretary of state, especially concerning the issues the secretary of state has to deal with as it relates to voting." Peter Weber

March 6, 2019

House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Wednesday sent letters to Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), requesting they hand over documents related to reports of voting irregularities in recent state elections.

Kemp and Raffensperger have until March 20, Axios reports, to submit documents concerning the closing and consolidation of more than 200 voting precincts since 2012. Cummings' letters also request information on tens of thousands of voter registration applications that are on hold and voting machines in several counties.

Kemp was elected last November in a very close race, narrowly defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams. While running for governor, Kemp was secretary of state, and Cummings has also asked for documents connected to an investigation Kemp launched right before the election into what he said was an attempt by the Democratic Party of Georgia to hack the state's voter registration system. During his time as secretary of state, Kemp was accused of suppressing the vote after purging hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls. Catherine Garcia

February 28, 2019

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Fred Biery in San Antonio ordered Texas to temporarily stop purging electoral rolls, siding with voting-rights groups after the Texas secretary of state issued an admittedly flawed list of about 98,000 voters it said might be illegally registered. "The evidence has shown in a hearing before this court that there is no widespread voter fraud," Biery wrote in his order. Texas Secretary of State David Whitley's effort to "ferret the infinitesimal needles out of the haystack" appears to be "a solution looking for a problem," he added.

At least 25,000 voters were flagged because they applied for driver's licenses before they became naturalized citizens, making them eligible to vote, the state has acknowledged, and that number will almost certainly grow as counties cross-reference names on Whitely's list, The Texas Tribune reports. “Notwithstanding good intentions, the road to a solution was inherently paved with flawed results, meaning perfectly legal naturalized Americans were burdened with what the court finds to be ham-handed and threatening correspondence from the state," Biery wrote. “No native born Americans were subjected to such treatment.”

Biery said counties can continue to investigate if people on the list are eligible to vote as litigation continues, but they are not allowed to contact those voters directly and cannot remove a voter from the rolls "without prior approval of the court with a conclusive showing that the person is ineligible to vote." Contacting a voter to demand proof of citizenship begins a process that can lead to the voter's name being purged. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office has given conflicting accounts of whether it has started investigating any of the 98,000 flagged people for criminal fraud, criticized the decision, saying "there is no need for a federal court takeover of state activities" and "we are weighing our options to address this ruling." Peter Weber

January 29, 2019

The Texas secretary of state's office has quietly notified several counties that a list of 95,000 registered voters suspected of being non-citizens is flawed, The Texas Tribune reports.

The list was distributed to county elections officials so they could check to see if they are citizens. Officials in Harris, Travis, Fort Bend, Collin, and Williamson counties said they were told over the phone on Tuesday that the secretary of state's office erroneously listed voters who registered at Texas Department of Public Safety offices, and they need to be removed from the list.

There were 29,822 flagged voters from Harris County on the list, and special assistant county attorney Douglas Ray told the Tribune they are "going to proceed very carefully" as a "substantial number" are actually citizens. Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole told The Associated Press her office "received a call from the state saying we should put things on hold. Some of the data that they received was flawed. Some of the voters had already proved proof of citizenship." When asked by the Tribune, the secretary of state's office would not say how many people were incorrectly put on the list. Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2019

A federal judge on Thursday struck down early-voting restrictions passed by Wisconsin Republicans during a lame-duck legislative session in December.

The measure limited early voting in Wisconsin to no more than two weeks before an election. It was signed into law by former Gov. Scott Walker (R), just a few weeks before he left office and was replaced by Gov. Tony Evers (D). Judge James Peterson on Thursday afternoon blocked the law, saying it was nearly identical to early-voting restrictions he struck down in 2016. He also blocked other laws passed during the lame-duck session, including one that bans voters from using expired student IDs as identification at the polls.

Over the last several years, major cities, including the overwhelmingly Democratic Milwaukee and Madison, have offered several weeks of early voting, NPR reports. Republicans have said this isn't fair, as smaller, more conservative communities can't afford to offer weeks of early voting. Catherine Garcia

January 8, 2019

Floridians voted overwhelmingly in November for a state constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for ex-felons who have completed their sentences and were not convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. And on Tuesday, the 1.4 million Floridians affected can officially register to vote.

But though elections offices will be accepting registrations, there may be trouble ahead over the exact legal definition of a completed sentence, said Paul Lux, elections supervisor in Okaloosa County and president of Florida's state association of elections supervisors. For example, would something like an outstanding court fee render an ex-felon voter ineligible to register?

"I haven't spoken to anyone who has plans to not register anyone," Lux told CNN, "but I wish we had better guidance."

However the details work out, Tuesday could mark the beginning of a new era for Florida's infamously messy elections — but the results may be less clearcut than some expect: A Vox analysis of the voting habits of Floridians with felony convictions who have had their electoral rights restored in the past found voter participation in this demographic probably would not swing a statewide election. Bonnie Kristian

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