The midterm elections are now 97 days away. But consequential votes are happening all the time.
In one-party states like Alabama, primary elections were the real contest. And Kansas voters went to the polls yesterday to vote on abortion rights – the first such vote following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned abortion rights.
Local elections are staggered throughout the year, typically depressing turnout in decisions that can determine the makeup school boards, enforcement of abortion bans, police budgets and library funding.
Humming in the background of these elections are fights over who gets to participate. In the past few weeks, we’ve spoken with groups in Mississippi and Alabama working to help hundreds of thousands of people restore their voting rights.
Today, I thought I’d do a quick round up of voting rights news from the past couple of weeks. The highs – voting rights expansion in North Carolina – and the lows – the removal of ballot boxes in Georgia.
This story originally appeared in The Conversation newsletter, a weekly email that explores the highs and lows of the South through ideas, perspectives and people that you’re not likely to find in other media. Subscribe here to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.
North Carolina: A voting rights victory…for now
A state appeals court in North Carolina just restored the rights of more than 56,000 people, “the largest expansion of voting rights in the state since the 1960s Voting Rights Act, according to a press release issued by Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit advocacy group.” (Flashback: I spoke with the Rev. Dr. William Barber III about voting rights in NC in Season One of the Reckon Interview)
Voting rights were expanded to include people who have served a felony sentence but are currently on probation, parole or post-release supervision. However, the expansion may just be temporary. Republican lawmakers have challenged the ruling and the state supreme court has agreed to take up the case.
North Carolina is a fierce battleground state and has been at the center of several controversial voter suppression efforts, including voter ID laws and extreme partisan gerrymandering. The state supreme court has thrown out recent maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature, leading to a case that will be heard next year by the U.S. Supreme Court. That case has the potential to radically reshape the American election landscape by removing any state oversight – such as from the state courts or governors – from the actions of legislatures.
The restoration of voting rights to people on probation or parole is a big deal. A report this week out of Iowa indicated that when citizens regain their voting rights, they show up at the polls in big numbers.
Kansas: A fight over provisional ballots with abortion-rights hanging in the balance
Yesterday, Kansans showed up for the first vote regarding abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Kansas constitution currently protects the individual right to an abortion and voters were asked whether to remove that protection. Kansans overwhelmingly voted to keep the guarantee for abortion rights in the state constitution.
Complicating matters in the lead up to the vote was the behavior of Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab who defied a court ruling that the state must comply with a public records request regarding the status of provisional ballots. As the Kansas Reflector explains: “Kansas voters cast thousands of provisional ballots in every election cycle, many of which can be counted if problems are corrected between Election Day and canvassing. For example, advanced mail ballots are placed in jeopardy if there is a question about whether a voter’s signature on the ballot matches the signature from the voter’s registration. Voters who forget to bring a photo ID on Election Day can bring their ID to the election office. A voter may not initially show up in the database because counties don’t finish processing voter registrations before advanced voting starts.”
Schwab has been ordered to turn over that information to a voting rights advocacy group but – like a distressing number of politicians these days – remains defiant in the face of legal action.
Georgia: Ballot box removal
Georgia has radically reduced the number of absentee ballot drop boxes across the state but especially in heavily Democratic areas. A new analysis by NPR, WABE and GPB found that:
- “More than half of the roughly 550,000 voters who cast their ballot using a drop box in the state’s 2020 general election lived in four metro Atlanta counties — Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett — where about 50% of the voters are people of color.
- Under the new law, the number of drop boxes in these four counties plummeted from 107 to 25.
- Nearly 1.9 million people, a quarter of the state’s voters, have seen their travel time to a drop box increase from the 2020 election.
- More than 90% of voters who saw an increase in their travel time to a drop box live in cities or suburbs, which are home to most of the state’s minority voters and vote heavily Democratic.”
Like North Carolina, Georgia is another battleground state featuring two of the most high-profile elections this fall (Sen. Raphael Warnock vs. Herschel Walker and Gov. Brian Kemp vs. Stacey Abrams).