Restore released felons’ federal voting rights

Action deadline: ASAP and ongoing –

In a rare occurrence of Mitch McConnell speaking truth to power, the Senate Obstruction Leader labeled as a power grab the Democrats’ provisions in H.R. 1 to expand voting rights, including to make Election Day a holiday. Making it easier for people to vote? Guilty as charged, Mitch! And speaking of guilt — and time served — on February 3, House Democrats introduced H.R. 196, the Democracy Restoration Act of 2019, which would extend Federal voting rights to people with felony convictions.

As this powerful letter by a broad coalition of more than 40 organizations in support of the Democracy Restoration Act states:

When people leave prison and return to their community, they deserve a second chance to work, raise families, participate in community life and vote. The current patchwork of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country means that a person’s right to vote in federal elections is determined simply by where they choose to call home. Congress must take action to fix this problem.

What you can do:

Contact your Member of Congress to let them know you support H.R. 196. Representative Barbara Lee is one of the original 33 cosponsors, but Reps. DeSaulnier and Swalwell have  not as of Feb. 7 signed in support. In fact, Swalwell is on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which likely has jurisdiction over the bill. The Subcommittee’s chair and vice-chair, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is also on the Subcommittee, have all cosponsored it; Swalwell should at a minimum cosponsor the bill, and can do more (see the call script below).

What to say if your Representative is Barbara Lee (CA-13):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank Rep. Lee for cosponsoring H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. Please speak out publicly on this issue and make sure other Members of Congress understand how important it is to address the unfairness resulting from differences in State laws regarding voting rights for people with criminal convictions. Thank you.

What to say if your Representative is Eric Swalwell (CA-15):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge Rep. Swalwell to cosponsor H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. In addition, please speak out publicly on this important issue and use your position on the Judiciary Committee, and on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to do all you can to support this bill. Thank you.

What to say if your Representative is Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge Rep. DeSaulnier to cosponsor H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. Please speak out publicly on this issue and also make sure other Members of Congress understand how important it is to address the unfairness resulting from differences in State laws regarding voting rights for people with criminal convictions. Thank you.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

Spread the word to people in other districts! Send them this list of the bill’s cosponsors, and this link to find and contact their Rep.

Learn more! 

  • See the Brennan Center for Justice‘s map of criminal disenfranchisement laws across the United States. And read their January 29, 2019, letter to the House Judiciary Committee in support of the voting rights provisions of H.R. 1, including to restore voting rights to people with past felony convictions. Read their pdf booklet, Restoring the Right to Vote.
  • In California, citizens not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for a felony conviction can vote. Maine and Vermont are the only states that currently allow citizens to keep their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated for a felony conviction. For more info on the wide variety of state laws, see the ACLU’s map of state felony disfranchisement laws which prevent about 6 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions from voting.
  • Read our recent article about H.R. 1, the For the People Act, focusing on portions of the bill which lay the foundation for more secure elections.
  • For more background on the disenfranchisement of people with criminal convictions in the U.S., the Sentencing Project has worked for decades on issues related to criminal justice and inequity in criminal sentencing. They have a lot to say on felony disenfranchisement.
  • Read our article about the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018, a California ballot initiative we supported last year. The VRDA would have restored voting rights to citizens with past criminal convictions and prohibited the disenfranchisement of voters who are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction. The initiative’s sponsor, Initiate Justice, stopped collecting signatures and it was not placed on the November 2018 ballot.

 

Help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team

 

December 10 March for voting rights, photograph © Michael Fleshman

And then we were Two

Indivisible East Bay held its two year anniversary at our All Members Meeting on Sunday January 27, celebrating our successes and quickly diving into what comes next.

AMM, co-emcees Andrea and Ted
Co-emcees Andrea and Ted

To get us rolling, Governance Committee members Nick, Toni, and Linh outlined the importance of HR 1, also known as the For the People Act, and how we need to keep our Members of Congress focused on this important piece of legislation. As the first piece of business issued from the House, it puts to the forefront critical democratic reforms such as restoring the Voting Rights Act, reforming the campaign finance system, and keeping corruption out of the presidency.  Check this primer from Indivisible National and our IEB take on why it is so important and what we can do to keep momentum going.

AMM, Sunrise Movement presentation by Alex Morrison and Sylvia Chi
Sunrise Movement presentation by Alex Morrison and Sylvia Chi

Everyone heard the latest on the Green New Deal and the fantastic Sunrise Movement from two of its Bay Area members, Sylvia Chi and Alex Morrison. A youth-led movement (which also welcomes non-youths!), Sunrise aims to “stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” In a very short amount of time, Sunrise has successfully led campaigns to get fossil fuel money out of politics and endorsed 19 successful candidates in the 2018 midterms. The goal post-midterms is to pressure all members of Congress, Congressional candidates, and presidential candidates to support the Green New Deal. You can view their informative presentation here.

We then broke for breakouts and birthday cake, and engaged in one of our favorite activities–writing postcards! We wrote to support Nasreen Johnson, the only Democrat running for Fresno County Board of Supervisors. If you missed out, never fear–join our postcard party at Sports Basement on February 10!

AMM, writing postcards to voters
Writing postcards to voters

Next month, join us on February 24 in beautiful Dublin, for our first CA-15-located All Members Meeting!

 

 

IEB shows up big time for January 3 Day of Action

Whose House? Our House!

If they ever turn the story of the 2018 midterm elections into a movie, the culmination of the film will certainly be January 3, 2019. After the stunning Democratic victory in November — a Blue Wave that resulted in a gain of 40 seats and control of the House — a colorful, diverse and significantly more progressive Democratic party strode triumphantly into the Capitol building for the start of the new 116th Congress.

Not coincidentally, it was also the day that Indivisible had declared as a National Day of Action, an opportunity for local Indivisible groups across the country to meet with their local members of Congress or one of their staff to thank them for their past work when appropriate, and to challenge them to push for a progressive agenda going forward.

The National Day of Action was a huge success; Indivisible National counted 168 events in 31 states, its biggest single day of action yet, and the events made national news and lit up social media. As you would expect, Indivisible East Bay made its presence known here in the Bay Area, organizing and/or participating in three separate events.

CA-11 (Mark DeSaulnier)

More than two dozen people showed up for a noon gathering outside Representative Mark DeSaulnier‘s Richmond office. Every attendee was given one of our spectacular new Blue Wave commemorative t-shirts — paid for by a fundraiser we conducted prior to the event.

IEB members Ted, Heidi, Toni, George and Ted strike a pose
IEB members Ted, Heidi, Toni, George and Ted strike a pose

 

IEB's new Blue Wave Commemorative t-shirts make their public debut!
IEB’s new Blue Wave Commemorative t-shirts make their public debut!

The mild and sunny weather perfectly matched the festive mood of the participants. DeSaulnier was in Washington, of course, but a member of his staff graciously agreed to join us.

As DeSaulnier reliably supports most of IEB’s progressive positions, we didn’t spend much time on persuasion. Rather, we focused on thanks and encouragement. CA-11 team co-lead Ted Lam made an opening statement thanking DeSaulnier for his past work and for making himself so accessible to his constituents. Ted also noted that we had supported his re-election and put in hundreds — if not thousands — of hours to help elect him and other progressives to Congress.

Next up, IEB outreach team co-lead Toni presented DeSaulnier’s staff with a “Back to Congress” backpack, covered with buttons in support of proposed legislation including H.R. 1 and the Green New Deal, and packed with items such as an “Erase Corruption” eraser, a “Restore the Rule of Law” ruler and two of the Blue Wave t-shirts.

Our "Back to Congress" backpack
Our “Back to Congress” backpack

Most notably, the backpack included a letter outlining IEB’s priorities for the 116th Congress. Top of list: H.R. 1, the Democrats’ democracy reform bill which encompassing (1) voter empowerment and access, (2) limiting money in politics, and (3) strengthening ethics and reducing corruption in Congress. The letter cited IEB’s  high expectations for DeSaulnier and urged him not to compromise on the values of H.R. 1. We also offered to meet with him and/or his staff on a regular basis to work to accomplish these goals.

DeSaulnier’s staffer offered thanks on the representative’s behalf, and our event concluded with IEB member George’s light-hearted theatrical reading of our backpack letter, followed by our final thank-yous.

CA-13 (Barbara Lee)

California’s 13th Congressional District, represented by Barbara Lee, benefits from coverage by multiple Indivisible groups, including two of the region’s largest: our own Indivisible East Bay, and Indivisible Berkeley. These groups joined forces with Indivisible Euclid and Indivisible Alameda for Impeachment for a 5 PM event held outside Lee’s office at the Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.

IEB and other Indivisible groups outside Rep. Lee's Oakland office
IEB and other Indivisible groups outside Rep. Lee’s Oakland office

The centerpiece of the gathering was a series of speeches by Indivisible members highlighting their participation in building the Blue Wave — especially via the canvassing done by IB in CA-10 and by IEB in CA-21. The speakers also expressed their hopes for what the 116th Congress will accomplish, focusing on (as with CA-11’s message) H.R. 1 and the Green New Deal.

Following the speeches, Congressional Aide Chrissy Anecito joined the group and read a statement from Lee’s office.

CA-15 (Eric Swalwell)

Meeting at the Castro Valley District office of Eric Swalwell, IEB members presented District Director Mallory De Lauro with a backpack to welcome the Representative back to the new blue Congress. As with CA-11, the backpack contained appropriately labelled school items. A message urged Swalwell to stand firm on all parts of H.R. 1 and to not provide funding for an immoral border wall.

IEB members Ward and Andrea meet with Swalwell District Director Mallory (on left)
IEB members Ward and Andrea meet with Swalwell District Director Mallory (on left)

Ted Lam, Nick Travaglini and Ward Kanowsky contributed to this report. CA-11 photos courtesy of Mary Martin DeShaw.

Face-to-face with Rep DeSaulnier

This first-hand account was written by CA-11 team members Toni Henle, Ted Lam, and Kristen Law

Representative Mark DeSaulnier met with us on December 7 to discuss his plans for the new blue Congress, and our request that he support Indivisible East Bay’s planned January 3, 2019 rally. The rally will be part of Indivisible National’s coordinated day of action at Members of Congress’s offices nationwide as the new Congress convenes. One primary aim of the January 3 rallies is to urge the House to pass H.R. 1 (House Resolution 1) as soon as possible without watering it down or breaking it up. The bill, titled “Strengthening Our Democracy,” is a bold democracy reform package focused on voter empowerment and access, getting big money out of politics, and cracking down on corruption.

We particularly wanted to hear DeSaulnier’s plans for two key committees of which he’s a member: Education and the Workforce, and Transportation and Infrastructure. He may become Chair of the Workforce Protection Subcommittee of the Education and the Workforce Committee, and told us that if he does his priorities for the subcommittee include:   

  • Holding field hearings on worker protection issues in West Virginia, Michigan and other states, since the current administration has not pursued violations related to worker protection.
  • Updating the WARN Act (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988), which now requires employers to notify the government and workers when layoffs are planned; changes would require employers to mitigate the effects of layoffs.
  • Changing calculations of tax incentives for local jurisdictions that want to bring in large businesses, in order to make it harder for corporations to play local governments off each other; this would be done, among other ways, by requiring “proscriptive” cost-benefit analysis of any proposed deal.
  • Making higher education more accessible through a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a free public education through college.

On the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, DeSaulnier is committed to infrastructure development that will both reduce climate-warming pollution and improve our economy.  He told us: “In California, we’ve been able to demonstrate that both are possible.” In his position on the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, DeSaulnier shared a desire to model “value capture” for transportation and infrastructure improvements: that is, using public financing tools that recover a share of the value transit creates. Revenue from value capture strategies can be used to repay debt incurred in financing the upfront costs of building infrastructure and fund the operations and maintenance costs of transit systems.

DeSaulnier is also a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which will be conducting hearings on the Trump administration. We didn’t have time to get into specifics, but very much look forward to following that committee’s work and engaging with him about it in the future.

Other items we discussed included the Green New Deal, election security, increasing youth civic engagement, and working with Rep. John Sarbanes (D- MD) to address independent campaign expenditures, also known as dark money.

Rep. DeSaulnier agreed to provide a statement for our January 3, 2019 rally and said his staff would work with us on the specifics.

Interested in working with the CA-11 team? Email us at indivisibleca11@gmail.com

Toni Henle is retired after a career in policy work at non-profits focused on workforce development. She is a member of the IEB Governance Committee, co-lead of Outreach to Organizations and a member of the Indivisible East Bay CA-11 team.

Ted Lam is retired from the USCG and currently works as a civil engineer. Ted is a member of the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee and is co-lead of the Indivisible East Bay CA-11 team.

Kristen Law lives in East Richmond. When she is not working as a Community Engagement Specialist or teaching and practicing yoga, you can find her snuggling her pets, saving butterflies or testing vegan recipes. She was one of the founding members of Indivisible East Bay and co-leads the CA-11 team.