This Week in 200 Words

In state updates, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order restoring voting rights for over 140,000 formerly incarcerated individuals in the state. New Jersey may soon follow suit and restore voting rights to those on probation and parole. A new report shows how gerrymandering is stymying the gun reform laws that most Pennsylvanians and Virginians want. Georgia and Wisconsin both announced massive voter roll purges just 3 months before the 2020 primary.

In other news, a new nonpartisan report demonstrates a clear link between precinct closures and decreased voter turnout in Georgia. Congress has allocated $425 million in new funding for election security ahead of next year’s presidential election. And the Brennan Center released a report on the impact of Citizens United as the 10-year anniversary of the ruling approaches.

National News

Atlanta Journal Constitution – Precinct closures harm voter turnout in Georgia, AJC analysis finds

[…] The AJC mapped Georgia’s 7 million registered voters and compared how distance to their local precincts increased or decreased from 2012 to 2018. During that time, county election officials shut down 8% of Georgia’s polling places and relocated nearly 40% of the state’s precincts.

Most of the precinct closures and relocations occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 ended federal oversight of local election decisions under the Voting Rights Act. The AJC’s analysis, vetted by two nonpartisan statistics experts, showed a clear link between turnout and reduced voting access. The farther voters live from their precincts, the less likely they are to cast a ballot.

NPR – Congress Allocates $425 Million For Election Security In New Legislation

Congress has allocated about $425 million in new funding for election security ahead of the 2020 presidential election, a Democratic congressional source confirmed to NPR on Monday.

The funding is part of a spending package expected to be passed by the end of the week.

It also represents a compromise. Democrats in the House had originally hoped for $600 million. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated earlier this year he would support $250 million.

Brennan Center for Justice – How Citizens United Reshaped Elections

January 21, 2020 will mark a decade since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a controversial decision that reversed century-old campaign finance restrictions and enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.

While wealthy donors, corporations, and special interest groups have long had an outsized influence in U.S. elections, that sway has dramatically expanded since the Citizens United decision, with negative repercussions for American democracy and the fight against political corruption.

State Updates

Kentucky – CNN – Kentucky governor restores former felons’ voting rights

Newly sworn-in Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear restored voting rights for over 140,000 former felons in the state through an executive order, his office announced Thursday.

“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness and that is why I am restoring voting rights to over one hundred forty thousand Kentuckians who have done wrong in the past, but are doing right now,” Beshear, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I want to lift up all of our families and I believe we have a moral responsibility to protect and expand the right to vote.”

Beshear also lamented the state’s voter access issues, asserting that Kentucky has the third highest voter disenfranchisement rate nationwide with nearly 10% of people, and nearly 25% of African-Americans, in the state not being allowed to vote.

Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Capital-Star – New report blames gerrymandering for stalled gun-safety bills

Most Pennsylvanians favor stricter gun laws, recent polling suggests, but efforts to advance gun safety legislation have languished in the state General Assembly. That disconnect is likely due in part to partisan gerrymandering, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates progressive policies. The analysis looks at gerrymandering in five states, including Pennsylvania, where Democrats won the majority of statewide votes, but Republicans maintained control over the state legislatures.

Georgia – San Diego Union-Tribune – Judge permits Georgia voter roll purges, plans 2nd hearing

A federal judge is allowing Georgia to proceed with a mass purge of its voting rolls planned for Monday evening, but he also scheduled a hearing later in the week to hear more arguments about the matter. That decision came after a lawyer for the state assured him that if the judge finds later that some people should not have been removed, they can be easily and quickly reinstated.

New Jersey – Philadelphia Inquirer – New Jersey might give 80,000 people on probation and parole the right to vote. Advocates want more.

[…] A bill to limit disenfranchisement to those in prison passed the Assembly this month and cleared a Senate committee Thursday. It is expected to pass in the Senate with backing from Democrats who control both chambers. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, has stated his support for the idea.

Wisconsin – NYT – Wisconsin Judge Says State Must Purge 200,000 Voter Registrations

Three years ago, fewer than 23,000 votes handed Donald J. Trump a crucial victory in Wisconsin, a state that many had assumed would again be won by the Democratic candidate. The takeaway for 2020 in a state that was now seen as a key prize: Every last vote would matter.

On Friday, far more Wisconsin voters — some 200,000 — were ordered dropped from the state’s voting rolls in a court ruling that was sending political operatives and officials scrambling.