First, the Democrats’ excellent performance in special elections continues. In four Missouri state-legislature races last night, the Democrats ran an average of about 30 percentage points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s showing in those areas in 2016. The party also flipped one of those four seats in a major upset.
“Democrats would be fools to not contest every district possible in 2018,” writes the political analyst G. Elliott Morris. “Sure, special elections are more favorable to large swings than House generals, but if there were ever a sign that some ‘Safe’ seats aren’t that safe…”
Voting rights. Add Michigan and Florida to the list of states where democracy may actually be expanding.
Both places offer a reminder that President Trump’s various attacks on democracy and the rule of law shouldn’t make anyone despondent. They should inspire you to find ways to fight back on behalf of basic American values. (An aside: I’m reading David Frum’s new book, “Trumpocracy,” and it’s especially eloquent on that point.)
First, Michigan: Voting-rights advocates there have announced that they hope to put a proposal on the ballot this year that would expand voter turnout. The proposal would allow voting by mail, as 30 other states already do — including virtually the entire western United States. The Michigan proposal would also make it easier for people to register by expanding voting hours.
Jonathan Oosting of The Detroit News points out that the advocates — a coalition of civil-rights groups known as the Promote the Vote coalition — aren’t guaranteed of getting the proposal onto the 2018 ballot. They will need to submit more than 300,000 signatures by June 30, which Oosting calls “a tight deadline and a high hurdle.”
I hope they succeed. The expansion of voting rights is one of the great stories of American progress over the last century. But the United States still has lower voter turnout than almost every other wealthy country, partly because of how inconvenient voting often is. We hold elections during the workweek and often make both registration and voting logistically difficult. And some states have recently taken steps to make voting even harder, especially for African-Americans.
It’s good to see several other states moving in a better direction. “2018 could be a banner year for democracy in Michigan,” tweeted Stephen Wolf, a writer who focuses on voting rights.
As for Florida: Voting rights also took a step forward there last week, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling.
The judge, Mark Walker, struck down a system in which a state panel restores voting rights — or doesn’t — on a case-by-case basis to people with felony convictions. Right now, about 10 percent of Florida’s voting-age population cannot vote because of a prior conviction.
“Disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority,” Walker wrote. “No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration.” Between 2007 and 2011, Walker noted, Gov. Charlie Crist restored voting rights to 154,000 ex-felons.
By contrast, the current governor, Rick Scott, has granted fewer than 3,000 over the past seven years.
The judge gave the state less than two weeks to devise a fairer system. Even better than a fairer case-by-case system, though, would be a fairer system, period. And a November ballot initiative would create such a system. If it passes, it would restore voting rights to ex-felons (except those convicted of murder or sexual assault) who have completed their prison sentence, parole and probation.
Elsewhere: Two Florida editorial boards make the case for restoring voter rights. Makeda Yohannes and her colleagues at the Brennan Center offer a Florida overview. In Mother Jones, Pema Levy explores Florida’s “haphazard” system for restoring felons’ rights. And Garrett Epps argues in The Atlantic that felon-disenfranchisement laws have their roots in slavery.
If you’re interested in keeping tabs on developments in Florida, Michigan and elsewhere, I recommend following Daniel Nichanian of the University of Chicago on Twitter.