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Voting & Elections 02.23.2023

Texas Tribune: Texas Senate revives effort to make illegal voting a felony

“SB 2 seems like an acknowledgement by the state that they do a crappy job of educating Texans about voting and a concession that they have no plans to do better,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. For the 2022 election cycle, the Texas Legislature allocated $3.5 million for voter education efforts. Advocates say that’s not enough to reach the more than 16 million registered voters in the state. “The real problem here is, if you’re increasing the penalty for a crime, you would think the state would take some responsibility for telling people what the law is, so [voters] know not to break the law,” Guitierrez said, adding that the increased penalties could also keep some eligible voters away from the polls. “The public will see this, wonder what is going on and wonder if it’s even worth the hassle of going to vote if there’s voting police out there and if they risk getting charged with felonies if they’re not up to speed on all of the new election laws.”

Associated Press: Bill raising riot penalties in North Carolina clears House

Tyler Daye of Common Cause North Carolina said the legislation, if enacted, could be used to punish bystanders or speakers whose words inadvertently incite violence. “If a riot takes place, some innocent, peaceful protesters may be interwoven with intruders who have come to hijack their message,” Daye said.

Voting & Elections 01.12.2023

Public News Service: MN Part of Push to Expand Access to Voting

Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, said expanding voting access is always a good thing, but added the work needs to be done with precision. "For us, it's not just about the title of the bill, it's not just about the concept of the bill," Belladonna-Carrera explained. "It's about those nooks and crannies that really speak to meaningful maximization of transparency, accountability, rights." Belladonna-Carrera acknowledged moving too quickly can lead to unintended consequences. She feels a single, unforeseen negative effect would be enough for fringe groups to perpetuate false claims of systemic election problems.

Voting & Elections 10.6.2022

Center for Public Integrity: Colorado makes it easier to vote while guarding against conspiracy theorists

“I don’t think we’re immune to these attempts to degrade our really great system and to make voting more difficult,” said Cameron Hill, associate director of Common Cause Colorado. ... Hill said a goal of Colorado Common Cause, criminal justice reform organizations and other voting rights groups in the next year or two is legislative action or a ballot initiative to fully restore the voting rights of people serving prison sentences for felonies. If successful, Colorado would join only Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in allowing any resident citizen over age 18 to vote regardless of criminal convictions or incarceration. “It’s possible. There’s an appetite,” Hill said. “We have some pretty progressive lawmakers and we’re on track to get several more.” 

Money & Influence 03.6.2022

Inside Sources/Tribune News Service: Elected Jailers and the Money Behind Their Campaigns

The Paid Jailer report suggests that industry donations to sheriffs are not only likely damaging to justice and democracy but also incredibly common. Construction companies contribute tens of thousands of dollars and then go on to build bigger jails. Legal firms fund races and end up representing the sheriff’s office in misconduct cases. Our research uncovered more than $6 million in contributions from donors with potential ethical conflicts. More than 40 percent of contributions to sheriffs we studied came from conflicted donors whose influence could incentivize more arrests, lead to more deaths in custody, and keep more people in jail.

Money & Influence 02.2.2022

Reuters: Who funds your local sheriff? Report raises new campaign finance questions

Keshia Morris Desir, mass incarceration project manager at Common Cause, told me that The Paid Jailer report, which was released in January, “tries to shine a light on a blind spot in efforts toward criminal justice reform.” “We’re really trying to call attention to this issue because we usually only think about the police department when we talk about law enforcement reform, even though sheriffs are actually elected officials,” Desir said. Desir, at Common Cause, told me campaign finance reporting systems across the country are so varied and poorly run that some sheriffs’ offices responded to inquiries with handwritten lists of their political contributions. The Common Cause report includes a series of important policy recommendations, including restricting contributions to campaigns from individuals and entities that conduct or seek business with the state or city. “The reason we studied this is that sheriffs control really large swaths of the mass incarceration system, including in immigration, and they make major decisions about the health and safety of millions of incarcerated people,” Desir said. “Bringing attention to their offices presents an opportunity to strengthen disclosure laws and make other reforms to improve campaign financing” for these powerful, publicly elected officials.

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