Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 05.09.19

Thursday, May 9, 2019
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.


As the Executive Director of CASA and President of CASA in Action, Gustavo Torres is a nationally recognized voice on immigrant rights, human rights, voting rights, and all issues facing the Latino community. His organizing background has helped make CASA one of the country's most successful grassroots organizing groups. CASA is the largest immigrants’ rights organization in the Mid-Atlantic region, with offices in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

CASA's work with immigrant and Latino communities to expand voter participation and voting rights demonstrates a strong commitment to our democracy, and he will be a welcome and important addition to our board.

Gustavo Torres gave the following statement upon joining the DI Board:

"I am so happy to join Democracy Initiative Board of Directors because it has a deep commitment to restore the core principles of democracy and political equality.


Cesar Chavez once said, '…we don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.' The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and a free society with full responsibility and accountability to people. Without a transparent and meaningful vote, there cannot be equal access to justice, no equal opportunity for all and no equality before the law."

Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth and DI board member, praised the new addition, saying, "Gustavo is a prominent national leader on immigrant rights and will bring a vital voice to the work of the DI."

Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause and DI Board Co-Chair, added, "Gustavo puts his emphasis on strengthening democracy by empowering all people to recognize the power they have, organize, and use it. Mobilizing millions is what the Democracy Initiative is all about."


We’ve compiled some messaging resources courtesy of DI partner Friends of the Earth on how to make the case for democracy through an environmental lens.

Redistricting email used by Friends of the Earth

We also are including a press release from Friends of the Earth on legislation proposed by North Carolina senators for a citizen-led redistricting commission, which would seek to redraw maps in one of the most grievously gerrymandered state across partisan lines in the country. In particular, the quotes provided by partners and allies compellingly frame democracy reform in terms of community power and environmental concerns:

“North Carolina has become an example of how unjust elections and gerrymandering can literally poison our communities. Far too often, voters who live in gerrymandered districts find themselves face-to-face with a biohazard in their backyard. Redistricting reform is vital to stopping politicians from using election maps as a weapon against the residents of our state.” – La’Meshia Whittington-Kaminski, North Carolina Democracy Campaigner, Friends of the Earth

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Last Friday, May 3, federal district judges in Ohio ruled in favor of DI partners and allies League of Women Voters of Ohio and A. Phillip Randolph Institute, asserting that the Ohio congressional district drawn in 2011 qualified as an unconstitutional gerrymander.

The ruling requires that a new district plan will be drawn by June 14, 2019, in time for the 2020 elections. We want to acknowledge the hard work of our partners fighting for fair representation for Ohio voters. The fight goes on.

Read League of Women Voters’ press release here.



In New York, there are over 30,000 people on parole at any given time. Criminal disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact people of color, removing the voice of entire communities. These laws have been on the books since the Jim Crow Era when they were designed to explicitly take away voting rights from Black men. These effects have persisted to this day.

We need your New York members to call their State Senator & Assembly Member today and tell them that we need them to step up and co-sponsor Senate Bill S1931 & Assembly Bill A4987 granting voting rights to people on parole, and pass it before the end of session.

Our allies at the Let NY Vote coalition have compiled the state legislator switchboards and a short script to help your members take action. Our work is not done if we leave people behind, disenfranchised and unable to cast their votes. Click here to take action now.

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Last November, over 5 million Floridians stood up for an inclusive democracy and declared unequivocally that when a debt is paid, it’s paid.

But at the end of the Florida Legislature’s most recent session, on Saturday, May 4, the legislature selectively interpreted the initiative language to require returning citizens to pay all financial obligations before regaining their ability to vote—and the governor is expected to sign it.

This interpretation flies in the face of voters’ support for the language of Amendment 4, and effectively institutes a poll tax that disproportionately will prevent Black, brown, and poor voters from exercising their constitutional rights. Our coalition will continue to fight to ensure Florida’s Legislature implements the will of voters over anti-democratic policies.

Read more here.

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On Tuesday, May 7, DI partners and allies Demos, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, ACLU of Texas, and other civil rights organizations settled a lawsuit challenging voter purging in Texas that targeted naturalized citizens. We want to acknowledge the hard work of our coalition allies to defend the voting rights of all Americans, regardless of their status.

Read Demos’ press release here.

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Congratulations to our DI partners and allies Common Cause Colorado and America Votes for their victory expanding automatic voter registration in the state of Colorado.

Last Thursday,  May 2, state lawmakers sent legislation expanding AVR participating entities beyond the DMV to the governor’s desk. On top of Colorado’s already exemplary election system, this latest expansion of Coloradans’ ability to vote will contribute to a strengthened democratic model for elections.

Read more here.


Attorney General William Barr's delays, omissions and outright delinquency when it comes to transparency and accountability are a threat to a functioning democracy. We need democracy reform that returns power and knowledge to the people and that allows for effective governance and oversight.

On Monday, May 6, Barr missed yet another deadline to give Congress the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence, just after refusing to show up to a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee last week. Now, the President is exercising executive privilege over subpoenaed materials to protect Barr's refusal to turn over the full report after the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt.

This is bigger than partisan politics—the very foundations of our democracy are at stake. Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable—but the Trump administration is doing everything it can to frustrate and derail oversight of any sort.

Three days ago, over 600 former federal prosecutors who worked under previous Republican and Democratic administrations signed on to a statement claiming that Mueller’s findings would have produced obstruction charges against Trump were he not president. You can see the full statement here.

DI partner NAACP has begun a petition to demand the resignation of Attorney General William Barr, and we need your members to add their voices!

You can find the petition here.


Former DI Board Member Miles Rapoport's latest with Brian Miller for The Hill: "Same-day registration: A simple solution to protect voter rights”.

“The policy’s effectiveness at boosting turnout is clear. States with same-day registration have a well-documented turnout advantage over states without it — an advantage of 7 percentage points in the 2018 midterm, according to the “America Goes to the Polls” report from Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. In fact, seven of the 10 highest turnout states in 2018 had same-day registration.

By comparison, eight of the 10 lowest-turnout states went to the other extreme by requiring voters to register four weeks in advance of the election, according to the report. It’s not hard to understand how advance registration deadlines depress turnout. With the busy lives we lead, people often don’t know they need to register until it’s too late. Whether a young voter new to the process, a recently naturalized citizen, or most common of all — a voter who simply moved to a new address — we all need to register, but the clock is working against us.”

Read the full piece here.



The Democracy Initiative, a unique, broad coalition of 72 environmental, civil rights, workers’ rights and other progressive organizations committed to strengthening U.S. democracy, is seeking an energetic, creative and entrepreneurial Deputy Director to provide day-to-day management of our organization while assisting the Executive Director in the development and execution of a ground strategy, policy analysis and fundraising efforts.

See the full posting here.

DI partners are encouraged to recommend qualified, diverse candidates!

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DI partner Democracy Matters—a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to giving students in pro-democracy issues—is offering paid part-time internships during the academic year from September through May.

See the full posting here.

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