No Taxation Without Representation

More than 6 million American citizens are not permitted to vote because they have a past criminal conviction. California is better than many states in allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote once they have successfully finished probation, but nearly 180,000 California citizens, most of them people of color, are prohibited from voting only because they’re in state prison or on parole. Initiate Justice, which advocates for “people directly impacted by incarceration, inside and outside prison walls,” believes this is a wrong that can be righted; the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018 (VRDA), their statewide ballot initiative, would restore voting rights to these citizens and prohibit the disenfranchisement of voters because they are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.

Help California join Maine and Vermont, currently the only states that don’t deprive felons of their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated. For more information see this article about states’ varied approaches to voting rights for felons; and read Restoring the Right to Vote, a pdf booklet by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In order to get the VRDA initiative on the November 2018 California ballot, Initiate Justice needs to get more than 550,000 signatures from registered CA voters by April 17, 2018. You can help:

  • Before you begin, read complete talking points; and watch the video at this page
  • This page on the Initiate Justice website has complete instructions and links for you to download and print signature-gathering petitions, or have them mailed to you
  • Want to help more? Email IEB’s voting team, or join the voting-issues channel on Slack (email for an invite to IEB’s Slack platform).

And while we’re on the subject — all of you who ARE eligible to vote, don’t squander that precious right! Please, right now:

  • Are you eligible and not registered? Register online to vote in California
  • Do you have to re-register? Check when you must, here, and if so, re-register!
  • Haven’t checked your registration? Check it now!
  • Do you know any 16- or 17- year olds? Check their eligibility, and help them pre-register online, to vote at 18!
  • Then: ask everyone you know the above questions, and if they’re eligible to vote, help them follow the same steps.

Here are some other very helpful sites which can be used for people in states other than California.

  • offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to receive election reminders, get registered to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote
 Graphic by Democracy Chronicles / Creative Commons

Watching the Electors

When voter suppression tactics prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote, election outcomes fail to represent the true will of the people. – Election Watch program overview

2016 was the first presidential election after the Supreme Court gutted key protections of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). Free to alter voting laws and practices with no oversight or system of ensuring that their revisions weren’t discriminatory, many localities snuck through changes that went unnoticed and unchallenged. These changes, including strict voter ID requirements, closing down polling places, purging voters, and cutting back early voting and voter registration, disproportionately impacted people of color and young or low-income people, and severely curtailed voters’ access to the ballot.  Election WatchElection Watch, a non-partisan voting rights program, has the ambitious goal of mobilizing trained lawyer volunteers in every county or county-equivalent in the country (count them: 3,144!) to monitor and defend voting rights year-round. The new program, run by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation (L4GG) in partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Voting Rights Institute, will “monitor, report on, … and address problematic decisions made by local election boards across the country on a year-round basis.”

Election Watch will train volunteer lawyers on the ground to monitor local election boards all year and detect rights violations. With this early alert system flagging potential issues as they happen, EW can proactively address problems before damage has been done (i.e., before an election). A national steering committee of experts, including representatives of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and the American Constitution Society Voting Rights Institute, will review the reports, and EW will prioritize and determine next steps for each.

As Trump and the GOP cheat to pack the federal courts with more and more far-right wing judges, it’s clearer than ever that we the people have to educate ourselves about voting issues, and step up to watch over the officials who run the elections in our states, towns, and counties.

How to help:

  • Are you a lawyer, law student, or legal professional interested in volunteering with Election Watch? If so, email me for more information, learn more at the Election Watch program overview, or fill out the signup form.
  • Know any legal eagles, including in other parts of the country, who might be a good fit for Election Watch? Send them the program overview or my email address.
  • Donations to support the program are welcome.
  • Non-lawyers are invaluable in this fight! Learn all you can about your state and local election officials and bodies, and help monitor them.

By Heidi Rand


Help Preserve All Votes

Voting is the bedrock of our democracy: if it can be broken, every other right we rely on can be taken away. Many IEB’ers are doing critical work registering voters and canvassing in swing districts. To make sure those hard-won votes are counted, we must improve the security of our elections.

Expert Jim Soper explains that “the foundation of election security is based on paper ballots and random hand counts of the ballots.” On August 24, the authors of California AB 840, originally intended to ensure a thorough vote audit, inserted last-minute amendments that exempt millions of vote by mail ballots from the manual tally.

Under the amended bill, approved by the California Assembly on September 15, 2017, no provisional ballots and only ballots counted before midnight on Election Day will be eligible for audit. Why does that matter? In 2016, about 4 million California ballots were still uncounted after Election Day.

What can you do?

First, please call Governor Brown’s office TODAY, and urge him to veto the bill.

  • Office number: (916) 445-2841 
  • What to say: My name is ____. I live at [zip code]. I’m opposed to AB 840 because it exempts millions of vote by mail ballots from the election audits. Please protect the election audits. I urge Governor Brown to veto the bill. Thank you.

Next? Sign up for the Second Annual Take Back the Vote National Conference. Over 30 nationally recognized election integrity leaders will convene in Berkeley to discuss the current crises in our elections. Among the speakers or guests are computer scientists, professors, lawyers, journalists and election officials as well as federal, state and local legislators. They’ll present their findings, answer questions, and organize a national effort to restore publicly verified democracy in the United States.

  • When: October 7 and 8, 2017; 10 AM – 6 PM both days
  • Where: South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street, corner of Ashby Avenue
  • More info and register here. Early bird discount: $40 for 2 days. No one turned away for lack of funds
  • Can’t make it? If you can afford, please donate. Volunteers and speakers are tireless but unpaid, and contributing their time.

Take Back the Vote

There’s more! ACLU’s People Power is launching a 50-state voting rights campaign. Kickoff events to campaign for voting rights tailored to each state are planned for October 1st. Find an event or sign up to host one! You’ve got more than 20 to choose from in the Bay Area.ACLU People Power voting launchFinally, want to work with IEB to organize around voting and election issues? Email us.

Just Say No to Voter Suppression

Is Big Brother trying to keep you from voting? Could very well be. Donald Trump has created a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which he has directed to gather sensitive information about voters in every state and DC, including names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, party affiliation, voting history, and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

Those requests, which many fear could be used as powerful new tool for voter suppression, have not gone over well. But despite dramatic refusals, some states have handed over data anyway.

The Commission

Since the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. Of course, “[t]he claim that there were millions of illegal voters in this past election is false and unsupported by any credible evidence,” according to Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine. “The National Association of Secretaries of State, made up of the chief election officers of all 50 states, just issued a statement saying so.”

Nevertheless, Trump formed a commission to investigate his discredited claims, tapping Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the Commission’s vice-chair. Kobach has a history of strong support of laws and policies that have led to many eligible voters being disenfranchised and that have been called acts of voter suppression designed to target minority and young voters, who tend to vote Democratic. Kobach told the Kansas City Star that although his commission might not have the authority to force states to reveal sensitive information about their voters, he believes the US Department of Justice does have that power. Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has his own contentious history with voting rights, including opposing the Voting Rights Act.

States Say Go Jump … But Some Are Lying

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, among the first to forcefully refuse Kobach’s request, said it “would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud.” The responses to Kobach’s request have – on the surface – shown an all-too-rare bipartisan spirit. Kentucky Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes: “There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible.” Mississippi Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Jr. told the commission to “go jump in Gulf of Mexico.” As of July 5, no less than 44 states have publicly partially or entirely refused to provide the requested information, some specifically citing the commission’s makeup and backstory. Even Kobach himself has said Kansas will not turn over all of the information he requested. Trump, as usual, took to Twitter, asking “what do they have to hide?” – an odd question in light of Trump’s own refusal to reveal information concerning his tax returns and connections to Russia.

But don’t be fooled: Mississippi’s Hosemann has already turned over the state’s entire voter rolls. And he’s not the only one: fully twenty-one states on the list of resisters have actually turned over some or all of the requested data to Kobach. Some of this data has been part of an ongoing program called the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program,” a voluntary program in which the majority of states participate, which attempts to identify people registered and voting in more than one state. While in theory that’s fine, the program works by matching first and last names. John Smith? You could be purged from the voter rolls (even if you have a different middle name than another John Smith in another state). Jose Garcia? Duc Nguyen? You’re probably way out of luck. If it strikes you that this might disproportionately affect voters of color, database expert Mark Swedlund agrees: “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

And what about security? When all the voter data is combined in a massive database, there is huge potential for misuse, abuse, and theft. The commission has already shown their lack of concern over the security of voter information by recommending that states upload voter information to an unsecured website or send the information via email, which also is not secure. Fear of having their data stolen or misused may cause some voters to remove their names and information from state voter rolls by de-registering, leaving them unable to vote. The people most likely to do this would be those most likely to vote against Trump and his allies. Coincidence? You decide …

What You Can Do

Efforts to keep Americans from being able to conveniently and reliably cast their votes have been going on since our nation’s founding. Some states, including Missouri and New Jersey, have yet to decide whether to hand over voter information and may choose to comply. Do you have family or friends in states which have not expressed strong opposition to the commission? Encourage them to pressure their state governments to protect sensitive voter information. We cannot afford any further erosion of our democratic rights.

– By Andrew Phillips