Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 02.28.20

Friday, February 28, 2020
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.

VIRGINIA: REFORM VICTORIES & LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

Over the last month and a half, the opening session of Virginia’s state legislature has seen a flurry of democracy reforms moving through the legislature. Though the session ends on March 7, we've already seen significant victories, and we anticipate more to follow!

Thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots advocates and organizers, the people of Virginia have scored a major victory: three of our key voting rights reforms have passed both chambers of the Virginia legislature and are on their way to Governor Northam’s desk, who is expected to sign them into law. The three voting reforms that have passed are:

  • No-excuse absentee voting (HB1): After having received the version of HB201 approved by the Senate, the House voted to adopt the Senate-amended bill.
  • Permanent absentee voting (HB207): After having received the version of HB207 approved by the Senate, the House voted to adopt the Senate-amended bill.
  • Same day voter registration (HB201): The Senate took up the House’s bill and passed it.

The suite of policies passed expand access to the ballot and demonstrably increase turnout wherever they are introduced; kicking off 2020 with these victories in Virginia is a significant step toward reaching the DI's 2020 goal of 75% voter turnout!

The DI will send around a toolkit next week developed with DI partner ReThink Media to help partners with members in the state to uplift and applaud the passage of these crucial voting reforms in Virginia. To make sure you receive the toolkit, please ask your social media manager to get in touch with Jack Flynn at jflynn@democracyinitiative.org so we can be sure to coordinate.

Additional key reform priorities still under consideration:

  • Automatic voter registration (HB235): The Senate took up the House bill and passed it with amendments, which sends it back to the House for a final vote. If this amended version passes in the House, it will be sent to the governor’s desk for signature.
  • Bipartisan redistricting committee (SJ18): Last year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment that would establish a bipartisan commission for redistricting of legislators and voters. The Virginia House must now pass Senate Joint-Resolution 18, which is currently in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, to continue to three-step process toward amending the state constitution. Reform status courtesy of DI partner Common Cause.

TAKE ACTION: H.R. 1 ANNIVERSARY

The anniversary of the For the People Act passing the House, March 8, is coming up in less than two weeks! To help mark this important milestone with activists, provide more information about For The People Act, and encourage folks to take grassroots action to keep building momentum, our allies in the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD) coalition are hosting an hour-long Zoom webinar for activists on Sunday March 8 at 7pm. The webinar is for both activists who have been in this fight so far as well as those interested in getting involved. There’s also a day of social media action on March 6—stay tuned for more information.

DFAD has prepared a sample email for organizations to use for reaching out to their members (which includes a link to RSVP on Zoom). This is a great opportunity to keep your members in the loop with grassroots efforts of the DFAD coalition, continue elevating H.R. 1, and prepare for the next stages of the campaign to get it passed the finish line.

For more information, you can email jlamson@democracyinitiative.org and get connected to the relevant people.

JOIN US: 2020 POLITICAL BRIEFING ON MARCH 4

We have rescheduled our special political briefing on the 2020 elections for DI partners to March 4 at 10:00am EST, after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 3. Michael Podhorzer, Senior Advisor to the president at the AFL-CIO will share polling and political analysis about how the 2020 elections are shaping up for progressive issues and the democracy agenda. We look forward to seeing you there.

For more information on DI’s upcoming political briefing with Michael Podhorzer and to RSVP, please contact DI National Field Manager Getachew Kassa at gkassa@democracyinitiative.org.

BAYARD RUSTIN FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM—CALL FOR MENTORS

Democracy Initiative is launching the Bayard Rustin Fellowship program to support and advance long-term leaders of color in the democracy field and expand the movement’s ability to organize marginalized and oppressed communities. Bayard Rustin believed those who suffer the most from inequity and hate when democracy is deferred are the game-changers in increasing our success on reform. This new program seeks to ensure that our movement is rooted in, and reflective of, the authentic experiences and contributions of those who have been segregated and excluded from leadership.

We are currently seeking qualified individuals to mentor organizers and staffers of color. We recognize the roadblocks for Black and Brown staffers and organizers seeking guidance in movement spaces. In order to combat these obstacles, mitigate burnout and retain brilliant staffers that have the potential to be future leaders, we are recruiting an initial cadre of mentors by the end of February 2020.

We encourage our partner organizations to recommend qualified, interested candidates to be mentors for our inaugural class of mentees. We’ve prepared a sample letter that you can use to reach out to potential mentors that you can download here.

Anyone interested in mentoring the next generation of leaders in the movement or recommending individuals in need of mentoring can fill out a statement of interest form here. For more information or questions, contact our Training and Movement Building Coordinator, Brittny Baxter at bbaxter@democracyinitiative.org.

DEMOCRACY IN THE NEWS

FLORIDA—LAWMAKERS ERECT HURDLES TO SUBVERT THE PEOPLE'S WILL (EDITORIAL)
Over the last decade, Floridians have relied on ballot initiatives to allow citizens to vote on the issues they care about when their elected officials refuse to act. In 2018, for example, Floridians overwhelmingly supported a constitutional amendment to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated Floridians—an amendment which has been under constant attack by Governor DeSantis and the state’s lawmakers. Now, the state senate has introduced a bill designed to stifle citizen-led campaigns by increasing the requirements for the initiatives to be placed on the ballot.

Read the Miami Herald Editorial Board's editorial in the Miami Herald here.

ALABAMA—STATE VOTER SUPPRESSION REMAINS AN ISSUE IN 2020 (OP-ED)
The state of Alabama has a long history of voter suppression, with the most recent examples including the voter ID law of 2011 and the disproportionate closure of DMV offices in Black districts. Combined with the disenfranchisement of those convicted of felonies, 1 in 13 Alabamians cannot vote. The road to fighting these voter suppression tactics involves, among other things, an education campaign targeting Alabamians who still do not know the status of their voting rights.

Read the op-ed by Stephanie Strong, Director of Faith in Action, a DI ally, on AL.com here.

* * *