Democracy Initiative Weekly Update 09.06.19

Friday, September 6, 2019
Our highlighted issues, actions, and events in the democracy movement this week—please share widely.


The DI is excited to welcome a new Deputy Director, Jennifer Lamson. Jennifer has more than 25 years of experience leading, managing and advising progressive issue campaigns at the local, national and international levels. She specializes in designing and implementing strategies that build political will through coalition-building, strategic communications, and grassroots organizing.

At the Pew Charitable Trusts, Jennifer oversaw the International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC), a long-running coalition and their largest land conservation effort. As a consultant, Jennifer advised a wide range of partners including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Schmidt Family Foundation, Toxic-Free Future, and Resource Media. Earlier in her career, Jennifer learned the fundamentals of collective action at one of DI’s partners, Common Cause, where she led national field activities in support of pro-democracy legislation.

Jennifer launched her public interest career as an aide to then-Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) and holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from College of the Holy Cross.


This Wednesday, the Democracy Initiative hosted the Toxic Triangle panel, a discussion covering the intersection of democracy, race, wealth extraction, the climate, and Wall Street sponsored by DI partners and allies Action Center on Race and the Economy, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Hip-Hop Caucus, NAACP, and Take On Wall Street.

The two hour discussion, which delved into the varied ways corporations and fossil fuel companies pollute our environment and our communities featured an amazing group of panelists: Jacqui Patterson, Environmental and Climate Justice Program Director at the NAACP; Brittany Alston, Senior Research Analyst with Action Center on Race and the Economy; Porter McConnell, Campaign Director of Take On Wall Street; Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth; Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr, President & CEO of Hip Hop Caucus; and closing remarks from Wendy Fields, Executive Director of the Democracy Initiative.

The panelists, in addition to exploring the tragic and exploitative ways that the finance and fossil fuel industries harm communities of color, also reminded us of the need to hold ourselves and our organizations accountable for the ways we might fail to adequately combat this exploitation.

The audience was deeply engaged in the conversation and offered perspectives and insightful questions stemming from their own work and experiences during the Q&A.

If you missed the Toxic Triangle panel or couldn’t tune in to the live stream, you can still view the panel discussion online here.


On Monday, August 26, Republican appointee to the Federal Election Committee (FEC) Matthew Petersen quietly resigned and rendered the oversight body effectively useless. Petersen, a former nominee for federal judge by Trump disqualified after failing to answer the most remedial legal questions, leaves behind an FEC with only three members, one less than required for its quorum of four. “Without a quorum,” wrote Republican commissioner Caroline Hunter, the FEC cannot “hold meetings, initiate audits, vote on enforcement matters, issue advisory opinions, or engage in rulemakings.” Unless new appointments are made, the FEC will be powerless heading into 2020.

The 2020 elections are fast approaching, and the country has yet to address the glaring vulnerability of our election infrastructure, made painfully apparent by the fact that all 50 states were targeted by Russian hacking attempts in 2016 and likely will be vulnerable again in 2020. A functioning, watchful FEC must be an essential component of any attempt to ensure that all Americans can make their voices heard on election day. It’s little wonder that Mitch McConnell stands in the way of that.

Ordinarily, two new FEC commissioners are nominated every two years—one by either party. Ever since McConnell became Senate majority leader in 2015, he has not confirmed a single commissioner. This comes as no surprise, considering the Senate under his command has become a graveyard for election security bills, including three proposed after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress. On top of that, McConnell has long opposed anything remotely resembling the campaign finance regulation the FEC was designed to enforce.

The fact that our elections, enforcement of campaign finance regulations, and ability to pass reforms on all the issues we care about can be compromised by the same institution makes it clear that its current dysfunction cannot be allowed to continue. When a new congress enters in 2021, the officials voted in by the American people must be prepared to govern.


We are excited to announce that the Democracy Initiative will be partnering with Baltimore Fair Elections to hold a Democracy Champions Popular Education Training in Baltimore on September 28, 2019! Please spread the word and encourage your Baltimore staff and members to attend!

When: Saturday, September 28, 2019 from 9:30am – 2:00pm
Where: Function Coworking Community, 4709 Harford Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21214

RSVP to the Democracy Champions Training!

Last November, Baltimoreans overwhelmingly voted yes on Question H for a Fair Election Fund and to get outside, wealthy interests out of local politics. Now, Baltimore voters need everyone to come out to support making the Fair Election Fund a reality! The Judiciary Committee will be holding a public hearing Tuesday, September 17 at 10:00am on CB19-0403, a bill which finalizes the details of the fund. For more information and to RSVP, go here.

The Democracy Champions training is designed to create a cadre of pro-democracy leaders that understand that democracy is the key to winning on the issues that matter: living wage, healthcare, climate justice, to name a few. This popular education training is driven by the experiences of the participants and channels their energy into tangible actions that will build a strong foundation for the democracy movement.

Participants walk away with a 360 view of the way wealthy individuals and corporations use their money to dominate our political landscape. The solution is simple... It is in the leaders created by this training that will take the knowledge to advance democracy reform work in their backyards.

RSVP to the Democracy Champions Training!



Join us and #ShowUp4DC by attending the September 19 hearing on D.C. Statehood!

At the core of our democracy is the simple principle: one person, one vote. Over 700,000 D.C. residents, in our nation’s Capital, are denied their voice by lacking representation in Congress. On September 19, the House Oversight and Reform Committee will hear testimony on H.R. 51, the Washington DC Admission Act.

We’re asking our partner organizations to #ShowUp4DC, by standing in solidarity with D.C. residents as they fight for full representation and equality and taking action with our partners at DCVote.

  • Show up to the September 19 hearing: the hearing on DC Statehood is at Rayburn House Office Building, room 2154, at 10:00am. You can text HEARING to 52886 to receive updates to your phone. Encourage your DC members to attend as well!



Three judges from the Wake County Superior Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday, September 3, that the state's General Assembly violated the state constitution when it gerrymandered the legislative districts in 2017. The North Carolina General Assembly now has two weeks to draw new districts for the state legislature and senate, with robust restrictions, oversight, and transparency. This incredible victory is the first of many in the fight for fair representation at the state level, and now stands as the most comprehensive ruling on partisan gerrymandering ever written.

Wake County Superior Court's ruling in favor of DI partner Common Cause's case in Common Cause v. Lewis arrives as a powerful testament to the viability of a state-level challenge to gerrymandering, especially after the disappointing Supreme Court decision in Common Cause v. Rucho, in which SCOTUS ruled that it cannot conclusively claim the unconstitutionality of partisan gerrymanders. Yet the three judges were crystal clear in their 300 page analysis: that the 2017 General Assembly, under the direction of the late gerrymandering architect Thomas Hofeller (whose files, given to Common Cause, were instrumental), deliberately infringed upon North Carolina voters' rights in crafting a partisan map so skewed in its favor toward Republicans that thousands of algorithmically generated versions couldn't top it. With the newly ordered redrawing, voters will have fair representation in time for the 2020 elections.

In light of the recent victory, DI Board Co-Chair and Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn gave the following statement:

“A narrow majority on the United States Supreme Court turned their backs on the voters in North Carolina in June refusing to curb the blatant partisan gerrymander, but today the state’s own court stood up for the rights of those voters under the state constitution. This victory joins a growing list of victories in the fight to end gerrymandering nationwide. The battles do not end here though. We will watchdog this process to ensure that the legislature draws fair maps and the process is transparent. In other states the fight will go on in state courts, in legislatures, and through ballot initiatives to ensure every voter across this country has a voice at the polls. Common Cause will be relentless in continuing our fight to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all.” —Karen Hobert Flynn

Read more here.


Last Thursday, August 29, DI partners and allies ACLU of Ohio, A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio and Demos reached a settlement on the long-running litigation in Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute v. LaRose concerning the state’s voter purging practices. The settlement will ensure that eligible voters removed through 2019 will be able to cast a provisional ballot in any election until 2022 and have it counted, thus also ensuring their future eligibility by keeping them on the voter rolls. The settlement is responsible for introducing numerous reforms designed to facilitate voting in the state, including timely warnings and relying on other state agencies to minimize risk of incorrectly and unfairly purging Ohio voters.

Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos, said of the decision: “Today’s settlement is a win for Ohio voters and for our democracy. […] Today’s settlement guarantees that qualified voters who were removed without proper notice are still able to cast a ballot and have it counted. It makes sure that the voices of such voters are not excluded from the democratic process.”

Read more here.


Another court case last week resulted in a victory for voters and democracy: a U.S. Appeals Court ruled last Tuesday, August 27 that Indiana cannot cancel a voter’s registration without prior confirmation from the affected voter. The ruling matches an earlier ruling from a lower court, effectively dismissing that election officials’ use of the Interstate Crosscheck and discovery of duplicate registrations for a voter amounted to the voter’s permission for removal. The decision protects the states’ voters from unlawful purging efforts, a concern especially pertinent considering the officials were attempting to use a voter suppression database that is wrong 99 percent of the time according to the Washington Post.

Read more here.

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