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Release from a Political Life Sentence: How Florida Voters Approved the Largest Enfranchisement in 47 Years – Part II

By: Zach McDonnell

This post is the second post of a two-part series. Part One focused on the provisions of the Florida Constitution that disenfranchises ex-felons, how the administration of Governor Rick Scott strictly interpreted those provisions, and the now-moot lawsuit to upend Governor Scott’s felon-disenfranchisement rules.

In late 2014, the PAC Floridians for a Fair Democracy started the long process of putting a rights-restoration amendment in front of Florida voters, with an initial goal of making it to the ballot in 2016; however, the signature threshold required under Florida law (eight percent of votes cast in the previous presidential election—which in 2014 amounted to 766,200 signatures) was far too formidable to be met in such a short amount of time. By October 2016, restoration advocates, led by the non-profit Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), had garnered only enough signatures to trigger review by the Florida Supreme Court for the ballot initiative’s language—a mere 76,632 (the Florida Supreme Court later approved the language on April 20, 2017).

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Release from a Political Life Sentence: How Florida Voters Approved the Largest Enfranchisement in 47 Years – Part I

By: Zach McDonnell

In the 2018 midterm elections, Florida had such close elections that both its Senate and Governor’s races appeared headed for a recount, even several days after November 6. One election in the state, however, presented a resounding victory for a population that’s not used to seeing very many wins, in court or in the political process: convicted ex-felons. 64.5% of Florida voters approved of Amendment 4, a Florida state constitutional amendment that will automatically restore the voting rights of at least 1.4 million people—the single largest enfranchisement of Americans since the ratification of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971. Now, all felons—with the exception of those convicted of murder and felony sexual offenses—will automatically have their voting rights restored upon the completion of their sentences, including probation and parole. Those convicted of murder and sex offenses will instead be relegated to the restoration system that, prior to Amendment 4’s passage, all Florida ex-felons had to endure.

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The Uninstructed Delegate: How Wisconsin’s Presidential Primary System Respects the Power of Voters and Parties

By: Colin Neal

In the wake of the historically violent 1968 Democratic National Convention, there was a national surge in favor of placing more of the political power of parties in the hands of the voters rather than the party elites. In the following decades, states have shifted towards a nomination system that ensures that the winner of a state’s primary—in which citizens have the right to vote for the candidate they choose for the nomination—will receive that state’s votes for nomination at the national party. The safeguards in place for maintenance of party power, such as the Democrat’s Superdelegates, ensure that some power remains in the hands of the party elites. However, these safeguards have also come under attack for their fortification of the party favorite early into an election, regardless of the popular will.

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Hitting Pause on Ballot Initiatives: How State Legislatures Can Ensure Good Citizen Lawmaking While Still Respecting Popular Will

By: Reeana Keenen

In my last post, I discussed the merits and drawbacks of ballot initiatives as a form of direct democracy. The main contention with ballot initiatives is whether, in practice, they reflect popular will. In D.C. this past summer, the D.C. Council cited this concern when they decided to overturn Initiative 77, which had been approved by a 12 percent margin of voters in the same election that allowed many of those same Council members to secure their Council seats. The Council claimed the low turnout in the primary election on which the ballot measure appeared was so low it could not reflect the true will of the people. The Council further claimed that Initiative 77 passed with too narrow a margin to allow it to stand.

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Maryland – Proof That Both Parties Will Gerrymander When Given the Chance

By: Drew Marvel

While the recent fascination with gerrymandering would suggest it is a recent development in American politics, the practice is far from new. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing election districts so as to give one political party a majority in as many districts as possible by concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible – and it has been a consistent force in American politics since the early 1800s. Contrary to the popular view of Republicans as the primary, if not sole, proponents and benefactors of gerrymandering, politicians in every state, Republicans and Democrats alike, have utilized this tactic to entrench themselves into power.

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Voting from the Mailbox

By: Matthew Catron

Voting can be cumbersome and inconvenient. Voters often experience long lines and crowded parking lots when they go to the polls to cast their ballots. Clearly, the inconveniences of voting can discourage voter turnout. Most people would consider this a small price to pay for democracy. However, Colorado is one of three states that has attempted to remedy this problem by conducting all-mail elections.

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(Dis)respecting Communities of Interest

By: Elizabeth Brightwell

My fiancé and I just became homeowners in Richmond, Virginia. Our small, Cape Cod is located on Patterson Avenue, a main thoroughfare for Richmonders in the Near West End. Our new neighborhood attracts many young people, some with children and most with dogs. Most of our neighbors lead a Richmond-centric life, sending their children to Richmond’s Mary Munford Elementary and spending weekends in the city. Continue reading

The Will of the People—Who Gets to Decide? Overturning Initiative 77 in D.C.

By: Reeana Keenen

While working in D.C. this summer, I came across flyers on restaurant windows imploring D.C. voters to “Save Our Tips! Vote No on Initiative 77.” Later this summer when D.C. voters passed the Initiative 77 ballot measure, I heard people exclaim that D.C. had voted to eliminate tips for restaurant and other tipped workers. In fact, though, voters approved a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage progressively for tipped workers, while leaving in place the possibility of tips as a source of income. The measure passed with 56% of the votes.

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Connecticut’s Long Road to Early Voting

By: Sarah Crowe

Connecticut citizens are surprisingly constrained when it comes to voting, and they are being left in the lurch while lawmakers wrestle with making elections more accessible. Currently, in-person voting is only permitted on Election Day, and early voting is not permitted at all. Furthermore, a voter must be outside their municipality during all polling hours to qualify for an absentee ballot. House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat from Hartford, declares: “We make it as hard as any state in the country to vote and to exercise your constitutional right. That’s the bottom line.” In an effort to ameliorate the situation, lawmakers have proposed joining the thirty-seven other states that have adopted early voting. This proposal requires a constitutional amendment, and the lengthy process for such an action means that voters would likely not see any change to their voting laws for years.

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Live Free or Die (Unless You’re a College Student): HB 1264 Strengthens Voting Requirements in New Hampshire

Out-of-state students residing in New Hampshire will no longer be allowed to vote in the state without obtaining a New Hampshire driver’s license. The recently-promulgated HB 1264 will require college students, military personnel, medical residents, and other “temporary” residents to choose between becoming a New Hampshire resident or voting as an absentee in another state. Before Republican Governor Sununu signed the bill into law, the legislature asked the state Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of HB 1264. In a 3-2 split decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found the bill constitutional. The bill will go into effect in 2019.

In 2017, Sununu expressed concerns about HB 1264’s potential to suppress the student vote. However, the advisory opinion issued by the court on July 12th paved the way for Sununu to sign the bill into law. Only one day after the court issued its opinion, Sununu signed the bill into law. After singing the bill, Sununu stated that he believes HB 1264 “restores equality and fairness to [New Hampshire’s] elections.”

HB 1264 amends the definitions of “resident” and “residence” to mean “domicile,” as defined in RSA 654:1. “Domicile” and “residence” are often used synonymously, but they have different meanings. The practical implication of changing the definition is that people who register to vote in New Hampshire now must obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and register their vehicle in New Hampshire in order to be considered a “resident.” If a voter fails to do so within sixty days, he or she will have committed a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Prior to HB 1264, a voter could prove residency by simply showing that he or she resided in New Hampshire more than any other place. The bill, therefore, has its biggest impact on out-of-state college students. Students who are entrenched and engaged in the New Hampshire communities where they attend college will now have to decide whether to purchase new licenses and car registrations or vote in their native states instead.

Opponents of the bill argue that HB 1264 places an unjustifiable burden on students’ right to vote. In a brief, the ACLU-NH asserts that the bill arbitrarily targets college students who are domiciled in the state but are non-residents, depriving them of their constitutional right to vote in New Hampshire. The ACLU argues that HB 1264 does not pass strict or intermediate scrutiny, because it does not serve any government interest at all. They counter the state’s argument that the bill reduces voter fraud by stating that “[t]here is no justification to impose these fees to deter fraud because these voters are, by definition, constitutionally entitled to vote here and are not fraudulent.”

In Symm v. United States, which was decided in 1979, the Supreme Court held that college students have a right to vote where they attend college. Moreover, the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire upheld this right in Newburger v. Peterson when it found that legislation requiring students to declare an intention to stay in New Hampshire indefinitely in order to vote was unconstitutional. Opponents of the bill, such as Senator Dan Feltes, argue that HB 1264 is inconsistent with cases such as Symm and Newburger. The New Hampshire Supreme Court did not directly address the implications of Symm on HB 1264. The court did, however, state that HB 1264 does not discriminate against college students, because it is their choice to either change their identification documents or not. The court also explained that the bill is consistent with Newburger, because while the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire held that students should be able to vote when they are members of the political community, it did not hold that there are no consequences to being considered a member of that community.

Supporters of the bill have argued that the change in definition protects New Hampshire against voter fraud, and the state Supreme Court agreed. The three justices in the majority, who were each nominated by Sununu, found that HB 1264 withstands strict scrutiny. The court stated that it has “repeatedly emphasized that insuring that those who are permitted to vote are bona fide residents who share a community of interest with other citizens of the jurisdiction is a legitimate concern of the highest order.” The court also opined that HB 1264 is “narrowly drawn to advance the compelling governmental interest in insuring that voters are full members of the electoral community.” Moreover, the court emphasized that the bill does not prevent anyone from voting. Although it may disproportionately affect college students, the court noted that students who do not vote in New Hampshire because of the bill will be choosing not to.

The state Supreme Court’s advisory opinion is non-binding. The two dissenting justices dissented not on constitutional grounds, but because they felt it was improper to issue an opinion without a factual record. Given that the bill does not take effect until July 1, 2019, it is likely that litigation over the bill will ensue. The non-binding nature of the advisory opinion leaves the door open, and begs the question – how will the court rule when presented with a factual record to base its opinion upon?

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