Protect the Vote! Promote the Vote!

July 9, 2017

Next edition of the Newsletter- July 30

STATE OF THE STATE

THE VOTE

Modern western democracies are based on certain premises:
  • every citizen of voting-age should have an unobstructed right to vote
  • citizens have a duty to participate in the political system by voting and doing so thoughtfully
  • leaders are selected at elections by the majority of voters

That is how electoral democracy is supposed to function at the most basic level.  Of course, from the beginnings of this nation, each of these premises had major caveats: from denial of the right to vote to women until 1920 to effectively making the exercise of the vote for Blacks impossible (especially in the south) until 1965.   The Electoral College “insulated” the choice of the President from direct majority election.   And, some would argue that, given the fact that only  55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, a much lower participation rate than levels typical in most other developed democracies, little has been done to encourage citizens to vote.

The 2016 election occurred on November 8th.  Since then, the questioning of the integrity and democratic nature of our voting system has gone on non-stop.  We know there was Russian hacking, but did it have an impact on the results of the election and was there collusion?   Was there voter fraud that swayed the results?  What was the extent and impact of voter suppression?  To address some of these issues, there are multiple House and Senate Committees,  a “Presidential Advisory Committee on Electoral Integrity”, and meetings of Secretaries of State who are responsible for elections in each state.  In Florida, there is a re-invigorated campaign to put a question on the 2018 ballot to restore the right to vote to ex-felons.   And there is a growing interest in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to ensure that Presidents are elected by a majority of the voters across the country.

One of NCJW’s priorities is to “Promote the Vote and Protect the Vote”  — a goal that needs to be central to all our efforts.


VOTING RESTORATION AMENDMENT

There is a serious voter suppression problem in Florida.  About 1.68 million citizens living in Florida, including one in five African-Americans, are barred from voting as a result of a previous felony conviction.

Florida is one of four states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with previous felony convictions and grants the governor the authority to restore voting rights.  Governor Scott has established the most restrictive “clemency rules” in several administrations.  In his first five years of office, fewer than 2000 Floridians had their voting rights restored.  Between 2010 and 2016, the disenfranchised population grew by 150,000 in the state!  The injustice is getting worse every day.

So who are these ex-felons?   “Felony” automatically conjures an image of violence.  But this is far from the truth.  You can get a felony for  driving with a suspended license, disturbing turtle eggs in nests, “cutting lobster tails,” trespassing on a construction site, and releasing helium balloons.  Half of all felonies don’t even result in a prison sentence.

And, on this basis, you may be permanently disenfranchised.

Now, many Floridians are working to correct this situation and ensure that when citizens have completed all portions of their sentences, including parole and probation, their right to vote would automatically be restored.  This right would not apply to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Coordinated by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Floridians are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would amend Florida’s constitution to restore voting rights for most of these 1.68 million citizens. In October 2016, the initiative’s sponsors gathered enough signatures (about 70,000) to trigger review by the Florida Supreme Court — a process required of all constitutional amendments. In April, 2017  the Court approved the text of the ballot question.

Now is the really hard part.  To actually get the question on the 2018 ballot, over 700,000 signed petitions need to be collected by about the end of 2017.  A massive effort is needed.

To launch this campaign, Floridians for a Fair Democracy are holding a conference in Orlando on July 20-22.Further information about the campaign, can be found at the website for Floridians for a Fair Democracy.

TAKE ACTION:

NCJW will be engaged in collecting petitions for this final push.  The petition can be downloaded and printed at
https://floridarrc.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/3ecbf8_3ba4d6758f154f839954e38eb612b87a.pdf

Have every registered voter you know (or can find) sign a petition.  Be sure to include either the Voter Registration number or a birth date, and mail the signed petitions to the address indicated.


FIND A BILL AND TRACK IT:

WASHINGTON WORD

PRESIDENTIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL INTEGRITY

On May 11, 2017, the President established the Presidential Advisory Committee on Electoral Integrity to be chaired by the Vice-President, with a committee of 15 members.  Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the vice chair.  The appointment of Kobach, who the Washington Post has called “the Conservative Gladiator from Kansas behind Restrictive Voting Laws” gave a clear signal about the purpose of this Commission.  A review of the terms of the Executive Order reveals the focus on “fraudulent” and “improper” voting.   Certainly there is no reference in the order to “voter suppression”.

So, when Kobach sent letters to chief state election officials requesting they submit “data from state voter rolls and feedback on how to improve election integrity”  by July 14, there was immediate concern.  Although the first part of the request asked for “publicly-available data”, he went on to ask for social security numbers, driver licenses, military service, voting history, etc. All this information was to be sent to a portal in the White House. What could possibly go wrong?

As of July 8, 45 states and the District of Columbia have either declined to release voter data or will hand over limited information.

Responses varied from Florida’s Secretary of State Ken Detzner indicating that the state would only provide data that was publicly available (i.e.not social security numbers or driver license information) to Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, who said “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from”.  Most states reiterated the privacy concerns of their residents and the states’ control over elections.

This commission is an attempt to find voter fraud, where study after study have found that it is virtually non-existent.  It seems clear that the goal is to create an excuse for new attempts at voter suppression.

NCJW opposes the so-called election “fraud” commission and believes the administration should be focused instead on pursuing issues of voter suppression.

This is not to say that better coordination among states to improve their voter rolls would not be very welcome. HB 707/ SB1070 was filed and passed the Florida House, but died in the Senate, during the 2017 Session. The bill would have authorized the Department of State to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an interstate agreement that allows states to verify voter registration information. Twenty states and Washington D.C. currently belong to ERIC, which is a “a non-profit organization with the sole mission of assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”   This is something that the local Supervisors of Election largely supported and we hope will be brought back in the 2018 session.


WHY COURTS MATTER

Federal judicial appointments are very important.  So far, the judges put forward by President Trump cause nothing but concern.   Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch is proving to be as far out of the mainstream as we had suspected he would be.

The number of vacancies in the federal courts are growing.  There are now 131 federal judicial vacancies and only 14 nominees for these positions.  Yet the President has still not  acted on the letter from Senators Nelson and Rubio asking him to re-nominate three of the nominees from last session.    There seems every reason to re-nominate these judges, unless the President intends the courts to come to a grinding halt as part of a deconstruction of the “administrative state”.  Or maybe he assumes that if there is bi-partisan support for a judge, they must not be qualified!!

Here are some more reasons why federal judicial appointments are so important.

  • On Monday, July 3, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia court struck down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 90-day suspension of new emission standards on oil and gas wells. The 2-1 decision was a setback for the administration’s efforts to roll back clean air standards initiated by the Obama administration. According to Richard Lazarus, environmental law professor at Harvard Law School, “the court’s ruling is yet another reminder, now in the context of environmental protection, that the federal judiciary remains a significant obstacle to the president’s desire to order immediate change.”
  • On Wednesday, July 5, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that minors who enter the U.S. without permission must be given a court hearing to determine whether they can be released. The ruling upheld a decision by Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, an Obama appointee. In support of its decision, the court cited evidence that the government has been holding minors for months or even years without hearings, even when parents are nearby and can care for them.

On Voting Rights, the composition of the federal courts always make a critical difference.  To find out more about the courts and voting rights, NCJW is hosting a call with Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project on July 21, 2017 at 12:30-1:15 pm.  All welcome. Register for this important call here.


HEALTH CARE

Senators went back to their states last week and most played “hide and seek” with the voters, fearful of the reactions to the Better Care Reconciliation Act, otherwise know as the Much Worse Care Act!   NCJW, along with just about every other progressive group, has expressed great concern over the provisions of the blll.  See the NCJW’s press statement here.

While Senator Mitch McConnell is struggling to find 52 Republican Senators who will vote for the bill, it is by no means dead.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed an amendment that would allow insurers to sell plans that do not comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) insurance regulations.  There may be more amendments this week and they are also waiting for a new scoring from the CBO.

So we need to keep the pressure up to stop this legislation that will result in millions of people  losing their healthcare — and cause the most vulnerable to be hurt the most.   It is estimated that in Florida alone, 1.5 million more people would become uninsured, nearly one adult in four under the age of 65

TAKE ACTION TODAY:

If you haven’t done so already:

  CALL: 

or you can use the Capitol Swichboard Number (202-224-3121). After placing one call, hang up, dial again, and call the other senator.
                   
MESSAGE:

  • The Senate health care repeal bill would leave millions without insurance coverage and cut billions of dollars from Medicaid in order to provide tax breaks to the wealthy.
  • The bill undermines protections for maternity care, mental health care, and emergency services, while raising deductibles and lowering subsidies for hardworking families.
  • I urge you to #ProtectOurCare and vote NO on the Senate health care repeal bill.

FURTHER ACTION:

Check out the FamiliesUSA Toolkit for all things social media and updated actions


FLORIDA SECTIONS NEWS

SAVE THE DATE!

NCJW State Advocacy Workshop
Oct. 28 (evening)- Oct. 29 (10am-4pm)
Details and location TBA

All NCJW members interested in making a diffference through advocacy are welcome!

Miami:   Sunday, June 4 held a very successful  Leadership training event :  JOIN for Justice Presents: ROAR!  Resistance, Organizing, Action and Resilience    For more information, contact Amy Bloom    amybloom@ncjwgms.org

Kendall :  May 31,  End of Year Dinner in support of Israel Granting Program  (To see the list of NCJW grantees in Israel go to:  http://ncjw.org/content_8298.cfm?navID=417  )     kendallncjw@gmail.com.

        
 Laurie Alexander, Nadine Kaplan, Karen Asofsky, Linda Finkelstein, Gail Siegel, Fredi Grove,  NCJW (Palm Beach) serve dinner to the homeless at the,Lewis Center, West Palm Beach
Palm Beach:  June 13,  “The Role of the Courts in Immigration”, Palm Beach Post Auditorium, West Palm Beach   For more information contact:  lndgellerschwartz@gmail.com. 
Sarasota-Manatee:   May 10, Installation Event.  Collected feminine hygiene products for Hope House the Red Tent Project, a shelter for abused women and their children.  For more information contact Joan Bour     joanbour5@yahoo.com 

SE Atlantic Section:  May 13 co-sponsored a panel discussion on  “Guns and Kids:  Preventing Tragedies”.   For more information contact Arlene Davidson  amdavidson01@gmail.com

Tallahassee:  June 25,  Summertime Potluck Brunch”  Contact Susie Kapp skapp62901@yahoo.com
Valencia Shores: May 3-5 -Mother’s Day Project provided decorated tote bags filled with toiletries and cosmetics to mothers living in shelters.  Contact:  Liela Brode  Lbrode@aol.com

NCJW in the News: