Florida’s new Jim Crow law is worse than ever

So, last week was a pretty bad one for American democracy. While it began with the excitement of Tiffany Cabán’s win in the Queens District Attorney race, followed by a solid first (and second!) Democratic presidential debate, things went off the rails thanks to the stolen Supreme Court and, more than likely, voter suppression in Florida.

First, the Supreme Court cleared the way for state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts to their heart’s content, no matter how partisan or racist their motivations (and they’re always partisan or racist). This was a bummer, but not unexpected, and really just underlines the importance of winning back as many state legislatures and governorships as we can.

It’s going to be hard to do that in some states, not only because of gerrymandering, but also due to voter suppression. Preventing people from casting their ballots is what Republicans do best (other than funnel money to their rich donors), and no small distraction like the will of an overwhelming majority of voters can stop them from pursuing the most anti-democratic policies possible — especially not when the impact would be so efficiently discriminatory against people of color.

Their sheer determination to be dictators of an apartheid state led to the other big blow to democracy last week: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who only won last fall because so many voters in the state are unfairly disenfranchised, signed a Republican law that will keep most of those voters disenfranchised.

In November, despite voter suppression, a whopping 65% of Floridians voted to approve Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to the state’s 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens who have served their full sentences and finished probation. Notably, there were no conditions attached to the voter initiative, but the GOP, terrified as always of real democracy, decided to twist it into a modern-day Jim Crow law.

Now, the formerly incarcerated will have to pay off all fees and fines related to their cases, no matter how absurd they were (and they’re often insane) and how hard it is to track them down.

It’s no coincidence that a majority of these would-be voters are black — again, there’s nothing that scares Republicans more than black people voting. Though black people make up just 17% of Florida’s population, they represent 48% of its prison population. As a result, about 20% of black adults are disenfranchised in Florida, which is one of the only states that take those voting rights away permanently in the first place. Now, instead of listening to a vast majority of their registered voters, Republicans are now charging people huge sums of money to register to vote.

Estimates are that this could keep up to 1.1 million of those who were made eligible to vote last November out of the voting booth. We already have a democracy dominated by rich white people, but every financial and historic advantage in the world still isn’t enough for them.

The ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, along with other organizations, have already filed a lawsuit over the law, but it’s unclear what kind of luck they’ll have. The FRCC, which led the successful campaign for Amendment 4, is now raising money to help pay off all those fines. There is no better use of your donation dollars — every dollar will directly help to register voters (who are, after this, likely to not support the GOP). You can donate HERE. And if you want to give to the FRCC, which is singularly focused on this, you can donate on Progressives Everywhere’s main ActBlue page.

This little-known Philadelphia office is a key to voter turnout in 2020

The road to the White House will, as always, run through Pennsylvania in 2020. A swing state at every other level, Pennsylvania had gone blue in every presidential election since 1988 before Donald Trump swung it Republican in 2016, a shocking victory that has largely been chalked up to his strength in the state’s suburbs and more rural counties. But it wasn’t just his own campaign’s strengths that won him the Keystone State — just as crucial was the drop in turnout in urban areas, including Philadelphia.

Sure, Hillary Clinton won 82% of the vote in Philly, but percentages can be misleading — she beat Trump by about 35,000 fewer votes than Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. Turnout was down in the city’s less affluent wards, and while some of the blame certainly falls on the Clinton campaign, the city itself also deserves some heat for ongoing voting issues.

Even in the 2018 election, when Democrats won some big elections in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia ranked 63rd out of 67 counties in voter turnout. It’s a troubling number, especially in a big city that could use a lot more democracy. And as much as grassroots organizations can work to register and turn out voters, the onus is also on the city to make voting much more accessible. That is the job of the City Commissioner’s office, which oversees Philadelphia’s elections and runs its voter education programs.

So, how do we help reform that little-known but absolutely crucial office? Enter Jen Devor, a long-time community organizer and committeeperson for the city’s 36th ward. She has been working to build grassroots power within Philadelphia’s working communities for over a decade. The Commissioner’s office consists of three members, including two for the majority (Democratic) party, and she’s running in a crowded primary on the idea of turning it into a year-round outreach and education operation, to rekindle democracy in the city and ultimately increase turnout.

Progressives Everywhere spoke with Devor about her campaign, the issues with Philadelphia’s voting system, and how she plans on fixing them.

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Iowa county elects a black woman, GOP again floats changes to the whole electoral system

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans lose an election, then decide they want to change the rules.

Earlier this month, voters in Johnson County, Iowa elected Democrat Royceann Porterto the Board of Supervisors, making her the first African-American supervisor in the county’s history. Now, Republicans are making noise about wanting to remake the entire system, changing from at-large elections (which is how nearly every Iowa county does it) to district-based contests.

Republican Phil Hemingway, who got thumped 56-43%, thinks that geography is why he lost. Via local KCRG TV:

Following his recent defeat, Hemingway is analyzing what went wrong during that special election. At least playing a factor, he says, electing supervisors to county-wide positions. It could be benefiting Democrats as the large metro population tends to vote left, overshadowing right-leaning rural votes.

“I think can’t look at the results of this past special election and draw any other conclusion but that.”

Democrats dominate the Board of Supervisors in Johnson County, but that’s not due to any flaw in the government structure; Johnson County is home to Iowa City and is the most liberal county in the state, which makes Democratic dominance of local politics no strange coincidence or irregularity. It’s in the state’s second congressional district, represented by Dave Loebsack. Trying to get more Republicans in office isn’t ameliorating a problem, it’s creating an unnatural imbalance.

Ironically, the at-large representation system has been used to disenfranchise black voters in the South, as it negates the power of geographically concentrated minorities. In the case of Iowa City, some Democrats say that Republicans are actually spread out enough that changing the system may not even make a difference.

Rod Sullivan, Democrat, and longtime supervisor felt the switch to districts wouldn’t really change much. He explained the law requires equally proportion populations in each of what would be five divisions of about 31,000 people. Metro zones, he said, would still likely be a big influence on each of them.

“Now you’ve got a North Liberty district, a Coralville district,” said Sullivan. “There would be two district’s completely contained in Iowa City. Plus another 15/20,000 Iowa City residents who would be combined with rural residents. There is just no way you can divide it up and get a district that is all rural.”

This is a broader Republican goal, as earlier this year, the party proposed messing with the way larger counties select representatives across all of Iowa, so as to dilute Democratic power in those counties. Right now, counties can choose to break things up into districts, but the GOP wants to FORCE them to do so.

We have to remain vigilant, because Republicans are like vampires that live on fresh democracy — they do their most bloodily efficient work under cover of the night. After all, in just the last month, the GOP has gutted voter-approved initiatives in Michigan (while considering doing so elsewhere) and launched attacks against fair redistricting in states across the country.

Missouri Republicans join the GOP anti-voter parade, plan to ignore elections and keep their gerrymander

The Republican Party’s post-election assault on democracy continues, with the latest front opening up in Missouri.

In November, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Missourians passed a constitutional amendment nicknamed Clean Missouri, which will fundamentally change elections in the gerrymandered state. Gifts (from lobbyists) to lawmakers will be limited to $5, state officials will be subject to open records transparency laws, former state officials will have to wait two years to become lobbyists, and most significantly, a nonpartisan “state demographer” will now be appointed to draw state legislative districts that achieve partisan fairness.

Analysis has suggested that the redistricting provision will at first benefit Democrats, as the state’s current map is chopped up to keep Republicans in power. And because they value power (and steak dinners) over democracy, the state’s GOP leaders are openly discussing gutting and repealing the voter-approved amendment.

“Fundamentally, you think when the people vote you shouldn’t be changing that vote,” new Governor Mike Parson, who replaced corrupt ex-Gov. Eric Greitens last year, told the AP. “But the reality of it is that is somewhat what your job is sometimes, if you know something’s unconstitutional, if you know some of it’s not right.”

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The progressive group making a huge impact in red states

By mid-November, it was clear that the midterm elections went really well for Democrats — and even better for progressives.

Grassroots activists were able to enact a slew of progressive priorities via ballot initiatives, even in states where Democrats rarely win elections. In Idaho, Utah, and Nebraska, voters overwhelmingly chose to expand Medicaid. In Michigan, they supported nonpartisan redistricting reform, expanding voting rights, and legalizing marijuana. In Missouri and Arkansas, voters voted to raise the minimum wage. Floridians, meanwhile, gave the vote back to over a million rehabilitated ex-felons.

The list of victories goes on and on, marking triumphs for a number of grassroots groups and the ascendance of one national organization: The Fairness Project, a DC-based 501(c)(4) that works to support local activists at every step of the ballot initiative process. The organization was involved in each minimum wage and Medicaid expansion victory, a win for regulating payday loans in Colorado, and a number of other ballot wins last month.

“By actually putting progressive wins on the board there,” Jonathan Schleifer, the Executive Director of The Fairness Project, tells Progressives Everywhere, “we demonstrated that Americans are much less interested in the divisiveness of the current administration and much more interested — when given the opportunity — to look out for each other and actually make progressive policy.”

After a week filled with lame-duck Republican legislators making a mockery of democracy and thumbing their nose at voters, it’s clear that direct ballot initiatives are going to be even more essential tools in our activism. With that in mind, here is Progressives Everywhere’s conversation with Schleifer about how The Fairness Project goes about supporting grassroots groups and what’s coming next.

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