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Citizens Voting Rights Reform

Voting rights remain under assault. America has seen a resurgence of state and local measures to disenfranchise voters of color ever since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its shameful 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling stripped away the protections of Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which mandated federal oversight and transparency requirements from states and jurisdictions in areas of the country with the most pernicious records of repeatedly implementing schemes to deny or abridge access to the ballot. This has opened the door to new racial discrimination at every juncture of the electoral process with impunity.

The blunting of one of the strongest measures that held jurisdictions accountable for their proposed voting laws has subjected millions of minority voters to new restrictions and barriers to their right to vote. Hundreds of restrictions have been proposed and implemented in the aftermath. These restrictions include strict photo ID requirements, reduced early voting days and voting hours, narrowed windows for requesting an absentee ballot, limitations on the availability of ballots in different languages and on who can give assistance at polling places, and the closing of hundreds of polling places across America. Some states even sought to end early voting on Sundays because Black churchgoers often head to the ballot box as part of “Souls to the Polls” voting drives. Other pernicious measures, like automatic purging of voters from state voter rolls and drawing election districts in a way that curbs the power of voters of color (racial gerrymandering), have intentionally diluted the power communities of color hold in elections.

Black American education attainment
Black American education attainment

Democracy works best when all citizens, regardless of where they live, the color of their skin, or their amount of income, can vote without barriers. Sadly, there will always be forces working in concert to divert democracy with voter suppression schemes if federal protections are not in place. Freeman Initiative believes that state and federal policies must uniformly protect the right to vote and promote voter participation across America. It is imperative that we protect the voting rights of American citizens. The right to vote was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and secured by the blood and sacrifices of American civil rights activists. The Constitution never extended the right to vote to non-citizens, hence we support concerted efforts via legislation, education, and even constitutional ballot initiatives to reserve all voting rights for American citizens.

Freeman Initiative’s Citizens Voting Rights Reform Program works to monitor, expose, and prevent actions that suppress the right to vote for Americans historically silenced at the polls while expanding access to the ballot for eligible participants. To achieve a democracy where all voices are heard, we need a system that is free, fair, and inclusive of all citizens, including those who have served their prison time and paid their debt to society.  We also advocate for the restoration of rights to those who were wrongly convicted and have been exonerated. Restoration of rights should happen automatically in these cases but sadly, it does not in most states. To that end, we use litigation, policy analysis, advocacy, and public education to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box.

Freeman Initiative is also working on a pilot program to create a national process for automatic record clearance or sealing for eligible American citizens. Criminal records not only affect voting rights; they are virtually a life sentence to poverty due to the barriers they create to jobs, education housing, and other socioeconomic measures that determine personal and family stability. After a slew of racist government policies facilitating mass incarceration and programs like Stop and Frisk and the War on Drugs, Black people have been disproportionately affected by lingering criminal records for minor offenses. Even our youth are not immune because school policing subjects them to arbitrary arrests. Nearly every state has laws that allow certain criminal records to be expunged or sealed after time served, but the process is often costly and complicated. Accordingly, the expensive legal processes and court fees for sealing or expungement of records leave thousands of eligible Black Americans and other low-income citizens without relief and with decreased life opportunities across all socioeconomic measures.

As a democracy watchdog when it comes to practices that affect voting rights, Freeman Initiative believes that if the Electoral College is not going to be overhauled, then the Electoral College must follow the will of the people, as manifested by the popular vote. Hence, we support the adoption of non-partisan federal and state constitution provisions that protect free elections, as well as freedoms of speech and association, as these are the bedrocks of true democracy. We are also duty bound to educate and mobilize the public into taking action against reckless, undemocratic work in progress like the current push for recognition of an ‘Independent State Legislature.’ Under the “Independent State Legislature” theory, the will of the people would not matter. State legislatures could act along partisan lines to do whatever they wanted for federal elections and have free rein not only to gerrymander congressional maps with impunity, but to implement every voter restriction scheme already mentioned here and more with little to no oversight. Don’t let this happen. Your support is vital for this Freeman Initiative program.

Black American education attainment
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