Voting is a Fundamental Right

by Gitelle Seer, February 14, 2019

Voter suppression has been very much in the news, as state legislatures around the country either embrace or resist efforts to disenfranchise pesky parts of the population, i.e., those that don’t agree with the governing party’s policies.

Arizona is one of those states. On the one hand, we have our elected officials trying to limit access to the ballot box with specious arguments about voter fraud (sound familiar?). On the other hand, and here is the good news, several bills have been introduced in the Arizona state legislature to address the inequitable treatment of individuals who were convicted of felonies and have been released from prison or probation, but do not have the right to vote. 

Arizona has a disenfranchised population of over 220,000, of whom over 100,000 are former felons who have fully completed their sentences. These citizens live in our communities, work, pay taxes and raise families, yet are deprived of this fundamental right to have a say in how and by whom they are governed and the laws that affect them.

Under Arizona law, individuals who have been convicted of one felony have their civil rights (including the right to vote, hold public office, serve on a jury, possess a firearm) restored automatically after completion of their sentence. Individuals who have committed two or more felonies have to wait two years after their final discharge from prison until they can apply to the court to have their rights restored; those who complete a sentence of probation instead of prison do not have to wait two years to apply.

When considering how you feel about whether someone who commits multiple felonies deserves the right to vote, it is important to put some context around “two or more felonies.” Keep in mind that Arizona has very harsh sentencing laws. Thus, many offenders accrue multiple felony convictions for low-level, nonviolent crimes like drug possession and shoplifting, crimes that in other states are classified as misdemeanors. I am sure that it comes as no surprise that disenfranchisement disproportionately affects people of color and the economically disadvantaged. However, you may be surprised to learn that women are well represented in prison for such low-level crimes. 

The process to apply for rights restoration can be a bewildering and cumbersome experience, starting with access (or lack thereof) to information; many recently-released individuals do not know that they have the right to apply or how to proceed. Information is not readily available and is often confusing and contradictory.  

Automatic restoration would replace the current application process, which imposes a bureaucratic and expensive burden on the government, is time-consuming and confusing for both the applicant and those implementing the review process, and subjects applicants to discretionary and potentially discriminatory decision making on the part of those judicial officers who review and rule on the restoration petitions. Clerks often disqualify applications with paperwork deficiencies during initial reviews. In Maricopa County, a significant number of applications are denied. 

There are economic, societal, and legal reasons to support automatic restoration of civil rights for those who have been convicted of two or more felonies. First, depriving citizens of civil rights prolongs punishment after the sentence has been served, which flies in the face of a basic tenet of our criminal justice system; once someone has completed his or her sentence, that individual has had the appropriate amount of punishment and is ready to assume the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

Studies have shown that restoration of voting rights is a critical step on the path to rehabilitation and facilitates successful reentry into society, which has positive economic effects. Without these rights, the opportunity to get business licenses, housing, and jobs is often out of reach, thus continuing the cycle of hopelessness, poverty, and crime. Denial of these rights creates a stratum of second-class citizens, whereas restoration of these rights strengthens individuals’ ties to the community.

These restoration efforts are not happening in a vacuum. Last year a popular ballot initiative in Florida restored voting rights to over 1 million former felons. States all across the country – Maryland, New York, Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota – are working on re-enfranchisement efforts, demonstrating strong public support for integrating formerly incarcerated individuals back into the community.

Getting back to the good news, several bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that provide for automatic restoration of voting rights to those with two or more felonies. They include HB2099, introduced by Representative Espinoza (D19) and co-sponsored by our own LD18 Representative Jennifer Jermaine, as well as HB2401, SB1117, SB1202, and SB1377. As of this writing, all bills have been referred to committee, but there has been no further action. 

For these bills to have a chance to move forward, we need to ramp up our armchair advocacy and contact the appropriate committee chairs to insist that they schedule public hearings. Use RTS to find the committees to which these bills have been assigned and use this handy list of legislative leaders and committee members to locate the committee chairs and any other legislators on the relevant committees with whom you have any connection. Call, write, post on social media, comment in RTS, show up at hearings to speak on behalf of the bills and share personal stories.

In our democracy, every citizen has the right to vote, even in Arizona, the only state without an explicit constitutional provision granting that right. There is nothing further to be gained from a criminal justice, public policy or economic perspective by delaying or denying access to the ballot box to people who have served their time.

Gitelle Seer is a retired NYC law librarian and a seasonal resident in Tempe.

Gitelle Seer photo

 

Header photo credit: joebelanger.com

Prop 306 a NO brainer

Voting No on Proposition 306 is a No Vote Brainer

By David Gordon, LD18 Democrat

Do you want the tentacles of Dark Money special interests regulating our Clean Elections Campaigns in Arizona? That is what could happen if Proposition 306 passes this November.

Currently, the administration of Clean Election Campaigns is governed by the politically neutral Citizens Clean Election Commission (CCEC). This commission was implemented when Arizona Prop 200 was overwhelmingly passed by Arizona voters in 1998, and allows for two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent on the Board. Currently operating outside of the Governor’s or State Legislature’s sphere, this body sets the rules for publicly funded campaigns.

Governor Ducey and the Republican Legislators want to change the current composition in two ways. First, they want the CCEC to report to the Governors Regulatory Review Council (GRRC) and abide by its recommendations. Second, they seek to restrict how candidates can distribute their Clean Election Funds. With passage, seven members would staff this Regulatory Review Council and the Governor chooses six of them. It is more than a rumor that special interest lobbyists representing conservative interests would populate this governing body.

Clean Elections should be free of the influence of political manipulations. The system is currently organized to accomplish that mission. Clean Elections mean clean and free of influence. To have the CCEC regulated by Dark Money special interest political hacks would undermine that goal.

Voters should vote NO on Proposition 306 to let Clean Elections run successfully as it has for the last 20 years.


Header photo: Getty Images

18 ways to be part of the LD18 Dems Blue Wave

By Rebecca Hinton, LD18 Democrats Board Member and Chair of the Environmental Club, and Susie Thornton, LD18 Democrats Social Media & Communications Co-Coordinator

  1. Become a recurring donor. Talk to Jeff Tucker: jefftuckerawa@yahoo.com
  2. Join us on Slack – Don’t know how? Or even what Slack is? Contact Alison Porter: alisonporter26@gmail.com or Melissa Megna: melmegna@gmail.com
  3. Follow Arizona Democrats of Legislative District 18 on Facebook and share posts. Follow us on Twitter @LD18Dems and retweet. Follow us on Instagram at ld18dems.
  4. Help with Voter Registration. To find out how reach out to Alison Porter: alisonporter26@gmail.com or Melissa Megna: melmegna@gmail.com
  5. Canvass for Mitzi Epstein: carriembrownaz@gmail.com. And for Jennifer Jermaine: jermaineforhouse@gmail.com. And for LaDawn Stuben: ladawnstuben@gmail.com
  6. Drive Sean Bowie to meet the voters. Contact Dr. Janie Hydrick: hydrick@aol.com or Sean Bowie: seanmbowie@gmail.com
  7. Join our Social Media & Communications Team (SMAC)! Slack channel for info on upcoming meetings. Contact Susie Thornton: sthornton51@gmail.com or Kate Tice: ktice007@msn.com
  8. Lend us your voice and write a blog for our web page. Blog topics: Environment, Education, Healthcare, & Equality. Contact Laurie Nerat: azlaurie23@cox.net
  9. Like planning events? Helping at events? Our Event Team needs your support! Kevin Walsh: john.walsh@gmail.com
  10. Join the Welcome Committee – meet our members and help at the meetings. Melissa Megna: melmegna@gmail.com
  11. Community service projects? Follow Dems Give Back on Facebook for details. Rebecca Hinton: rahinton@hotmail.com
  12. Monthly meeting setup. Arrive early and help unload vehicles, move tables, put out flyers, etc. Contact Dr. Janie Hydrick: hydrick@aol.com
  13. Do you like taking videos? Volunteer to help with videography at meetings: ktice007@msn.com
  14. Get trained! PC training. Van training. Details: Alison Porter: alisonporter26@gmail.com or Melissa Megna: melmegna@gmail.com
  15. Join our Fundraising Team. We want your ideas and support! Contact Kevin Walsh: john.walsh@gmail.com
  16. Are you trained and ready to speak out on Request to Speak? If not, talk to Cathy Sigmon: sigmon@gmail.com
  17. Work with the SOS team to save public education. Alison Porter: alisonporter26@gmail.com
  18. Data entry/tech stuff, clean up our contact database. Susie Thornton: sthornton51@gmail.com

 

Vote Smart Co-Founder makes a powerful statement

The co-founder of Vote Smart, Richard Kimball, makes an impassioned plea for truth, transparency, and accurate information in our politics and government. At VoteSmart.org you can learn who represents you, see how your representatives voted on individual bills, get bios, read their positions on issues, and more. Vote Smart is an excellent resource for voters. Watch the video, make a donation, and above all, vote smart!

VoteSmart.org

“Somewhere politicians decided it was more efficient to move us emotionally rather than persuade us intellectually. “ Richard Kimball, co-founder of Vote Smart