Tuesday is Election Day. I don’t know about you but I am getting pretty tired of all the ads and commercials. There’s so much negativity and empty campaign promises spouted by too many of the candidates and their spokespeople. I long for the day when I might feel that we are moving in a united action for the good of our country rather than participating in more divisive rhetoric pitting one group against the other. Yet I will get out and vote because I believe that every vote counts and every voice must be heard. I will not, however, tell you how to vote – much as I might like to make suggestions – I will merely ask that you do. I saw a meme on Facebook today that spoke to me: “Vote – It’s a lot more effective than complaining on the internet.”
At our Diocesan Convention last weekend we had the opportunity to vote for a few resolutions that address the right of all to vote. While the final wording of the resolutions are not ready yet, I want to share these with you since Election Day is just a day away.
Resolution 2: One Person, One Vote
RESOLVED, that this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urges the people and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan to follow the lead of the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in reaffirming that one person one vote means that the votes of all citizens of all races and ethnicities are fairly represented, counted and accounted for, and
RESOLVED, that this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan lifts up the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, Resolution D003 Addressing the issue of Voter Suppression, and opposes any form of partisan gerrymandering which has the same effect of racial gerrymandering; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urges the people and congregations of the Diocese of Michigan learn about, educate others and support the Voters Not Politicians Ballot Initiative on the November 2018 ballot that offers an amendment to the State Constitution that addresses gerrymandering and offers a fair process to protect one person one vote and to end the partisan gerrymandering process in Michigan.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the ads for supporting Proposal 2 which allows for a commission of citizens to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and US congress every 10 years. According to MLive this proposed constitutional amendment would:
- Create a commission of 13 registered voters randomly selected by the Secretary of State:
– 4 each who self-identify as affiliated with the 2 major political parties; and
– 5 who self-identify as unaffiliated with major political parties.
- Prohibit partisan officeholders and candidates, their employees, certain relatives, and lobbyists from serving as commissioners.
- Establish new redistricting criteria including geographically compact and contiguous districts of equal population, reflecting Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest. Districts shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.
- Require an appropriation of funds for commission operations and commissioner compensation.
Resolution 2 was adopted at Convention.
While the wording of the resolution was passed, the rationale included in the convention documents is not something upon which we vote so it will not be in the official papers of the diocese. However, I think having it as a reference for those of you who have not read it might be helpful:
Rationale/explanation: One person, one vote means more than that each person gets only one vote in any given election. It also means that the electoral process is designed fairly so that each person’s vote has an equal impact on the outcome. In other words, no individual’s vote carries greater weight than anyone else’s. (Source: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/one-person_one-vote_rule). This is “a principle of political democracy that underpins universal suffrage and political equality.” (Source: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_man,_one_vote). As with most principles, continual effort is needed in its defense and in making sure that we as a country move ever closer to its full realization.
Faith Mandates: People of faith believe that all individuals are created equal and remain equal in the sight of God. This is a common theme in the holy books of various faith traditions. This idea operates at the spiritual level, but also has temporal, including political implications. Even though modern democratic governments require secular justification for their policies, we Episcopalians draw upon Christian teaching and the positive contributions that American Christians have made in the political evolution of the United States to affirm our own support for the principle of one person, one vote.
Legal Precedents: A series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning in the 1960s established the principle of one person, one vote within American constitutional law. Baker v. Carr (1962), Gray v. Sanders (1963), Reynolds v. Sims (1964), Wesberry v. Sanders (1964), and Avery v. Midland County (1968) held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires all districts in any given election — whether at the congressional, county, or local level — to contain approximately the same number of voters. (Source: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_man,_one_vote) Equalizing the number of voters within districts is one way to ensure that “as nearly as is practicable, one person’s vote…is to be worth as much as another’s.” (Source: Wesberry v. Sanders, pp. 7-8, 18).
Work Remaining: In spite of the progress that resulted from these court decisions, many impediments remain to the full realization of the underlying principle. Some impediments are as old as our nation and are embedded within the U.S. Constitution, such as the Electoral College and the manner in which U.S. senators are elected. Other impediments are newer or have become increasingly problematic over recent decades, such as gerrymandering, variations in ballot access and in how votes are cast and counted across the country, certain aspects of campaign financing, and the increasingly sophisticated technology used in micro-targeting voters. Source for language in the explanation: https://www.vbinder.net/resolutions/C047?house=hd&lang=en C047 Support of One Person, One Vote
“Our state Constitution begins with, ‘All political power is inherent in the people.’
The proposal would create a 13-member redistricting commission that would be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independent members who vow they are not affiliated with any major political party. The secretary of state would select the commission members. The committee would be tasked with redrawing political boundaries every 10 years, a power currently reserved for whichever political party controls Lansing at the time.”
“There were other legal issues at play, but a major one was whether the Voters Not Politicians proposal is a constitutional amendment, as its proponents assert, or whether it is a general revision of the constitution, as its challengers say.
Amendments may be made through ballot questions. General revisions require a constitutional convention.
The four justices were clear in their decision that the VNP proposal was closer to the existing state constitution than the way districts are drawn now: ‘The last time the voters had direct input on this issue, they opted for apportionment and redistricting to be conducted by a commission, and the Legislature now exercises a power that the constitution of 1963 expressly denied to it,’ the opinion stated.”
The next relevant resolution is:
Resolution 3: Protecting Voting Rights
RESOLVED, that this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urges the people and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan to support the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church D003 in working to overcome efforts that suppress the voting rights of the citizens of Michigan and the United States, and
RESOLVED, That this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urges the people and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan to follow the lead of the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church D003 calling “on governments on all levels to create policies to enhance voter participation by, among other strategies, seeking to implement policies that will increase early voting, extend registration periods, guarantee an adequate number of voting locations, allow absentee balloting without the necessity of having an excuse, and prohibit forms of identification that restrict voter participation…” and be it further
RESOLVED, That this 184th Convention of the Diocese of Michigan urges the people and congregations of the Diocese of Michigan to learn about, educate others and support the Promote the Vote Ballot Initiative on the November 2018 ballot that offers an amendment to the State Constitution that provides safeguards our elections, puts voters first, and removes barriers that make it more difficult for voters to vote and for their votes to be counted: by protecting the right to vote a secret ballot, ensuring military service members and overseas voters get their ballots in time for their votes to count, providing voters with the option to vote straight party, automatically registering citizens to vote at the Secretary of State’s office unless the citizen declines, allowing a citizen to register to vote anytime with proof of residency, providing all registered voters access to an absentee ballot for any reason and ensuring the accuracy and integrity of elections by auditing election results. https://promotethevotemi.com/
This resolution was also adopted at convention.
If you’ve been listening to the news or reading on social media, you’ll know that in many areas of the country, the right to vote is in jeopardy. I have been stunned to realize that the ability to vote is in question in so many places including many of our Native American reservations. The law in North Dakota now requires that voters’ ID’s have their current street address yet those living on the reservations only have their PO Boxes. As recent as last Thursday (November 1st), US district court Judge Daniel Howland denied a motion to exempt Native Americans in certain counties from complying with the law. This is just one of many cases of voter suppression in the country right now.
Here’s the explanation behind the resolution that we passed. Once again, remember that we did not vote on the rationale and it will not be part of our convention records.
The Voting Rights Act’s passage was a signature accomplishment of the civil rights movement, the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the case, known as Shelby v. Holder, effectively invalidated Section 5 which required state, county and local governments with histories of discrimination (as well as other more technical factors) to submit any changes to voting laws to federal authorities for approval; and the current administration is using its bully pulpit to falsely allege that millions of ballots were cast illegally and to suggest that early voting should be cut down.
Under the current administration’s leadership, politicians with records of aggressively curtailing voting rights will be shaping federal policies; and at the state level, emboldened by Shelby v. Holder, certain politicians have long been leading a sustained assault on voting rights. In state after state, these politicians have pursued a consistent and ambitious agenda to curtail voting rights, an agenda that includes requiring voter IDs, cutting early voting hours and locations, slashing Sunday voting, and eliminating same-day voter registration. It also includes restricting urban counties’ ability to open additional polling sites and purging voter registration rolls through the use of manipulative and overly zealous techniques. It extends to bans on straight-ticket voting, one byproduct of which is longer voting lines, and on ballot harvesting, a practice by which individuals collect absentee ballots filled by other voters so as to deliver them to election authorities.
A brief explanation of each of the reforms asked for in the above Resolution is as follows:
Implement automatic voter registration (AVR): Since March 2015, six states have adopted legislation to automatically register citizens when they come into contact with governmental agencies, notably a Department of Motor Vehicles. Oregon, the first state to adopt this reform (after years of advocacy by the Oregon-based Bus Federation), has registered 225,000 people this way since the start of the year 2016. The payoff: 43 percent of those new voters cast ballots on November 8, 2016.
Enable same-day voter registration (SVR): Same-day voter registration allows qualified residents to register to vote or update their existing registration on Election Day.
Prepare for natural disasters: Absent same-day voter registration bills, rules should provide for the automatic extension of voter registration deadlines in counties where a natural disaster is declared in the weeks leading up to an election. Last year, Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott and North Carolina’s state elections board denied extensions in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. New rules could limit such gamesmanship.
Allow online voter registration: Many states still provide no procedure by which residents can register to vote or update their voter registrations online. Remedying this situation is very feasible since Republicans have been willing to get on board with adopting online registration systems, as they did in Florida in 2015.
Expand the circle of people who are eligible to vote by restoring felons’ voting rights: A recent report by the Sentencing Project laid bare the urgency of countering felon disenfranchisement rules. Two and a half percent of all American adults are disenfranchised, and the share of African Americans who are disenfranchised is triple that (7.4 percent), a disparity that is in keeping with the origins and history of the practice. In four Southern states with severe disenfranchisement laws — Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia — the share of disenfranchised black adults surpasses 20 percent, more than double that of white adults.
Absent the above step, a range of incremental reforms beckon. The most urgent is to restore voting rights to people who have completed their sentences. In Virginia, one of four states to permanently disenfranchise individuals with felony convictions, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has used his executive authority to achieve this objective. In August, he began issuing thousands of restoration orders on an individual basis after a narrow ruling by the state Supreme Court blocked him from issuing a blanket clemency; he has said he will continue to mail individual restoration orders to more than 200,000 people.
Make it easier to vote by mail by implementing all-mail voting: In three states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington), election authorities mail a ballot to every registered voter. This far-reaching step could be pursued in states like California that already conduct a large share of their elections by mail. States that don’t wish to go that far in privileging mail voting can take intermediary steps — enabling no-excuse absentee voting where it is not yet available, and creating long-term absentee voter lists.
Enable no-excuse absentee voting: Twenty states — many of them states where Democrats wield political influence, including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island — require that voters provide a reason they can’t vote on Election Day in order to receive an absentee ballot. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is now advocating legislation to implement no-excuse absentee voting in the Empire State, a minimal step that these 20 states should prioritize.
Create long-term mailing lists for absentee voters: The idea behind absentee ballot standing requests is that when a voter requests an absentee ballot in a given year, authorities then continue to automatically send them absentee ballots into the future. This can encourage turnout from voters who tend to only cast a ballot in the fall of a presidential election year, and it makes voting more accessible to people with disabilities, as a recent study documented. In some states, like Florida, requests expire after a few general elections, which can lead to some confusion. A handful of other states, such as California, allow voters to be put on an absentee ballot list permanently.
Make it easier for people to vote early, in person: Thirteen states provide no option to cast a ballot in person before Election Day. Democrats already enjoy some power in many of these states, including Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Schneiderman’s proposal to create a two-week early voting window in New York is an urgent starting point for consideration.
Enable weekend voting and extended hours: Early voting ought to be helping people who struggle to find the time to vote on Election Day Tuesdays, especially if they fear the long lines that disproportionately affect predominantly minority precincts. But simply adding more voting hours during other weekday working hours cannot meet that goal. Extended voting hours on weekdays are needed, as well as weekend voting.
Guarantee an adequate number of voting locations: In Ohio, each county is restricted to only one early voting location, no matter its physical size or population. Giving local county boards more leeway to open additional voting sites can be helpful to ensuring that highly populated counties are adequately served, but obstacles such as inequities in the allocation of statewide resources or the lack of representativeness of some counties’ elected officials loom large. Voting rights advocates should champion statewide benchmarks as to a minimum number of polling places per resident and per physical distance, require a minimum number of voting machines at each voting location, and put in place rules to ensure an adequate allocation of state resources.
- Voters can use the Michigan Voter Information Centerto:
- View your Sample Ballotfor the upcoming election
- Request and Track yourAbsentee Ballot
- Verify your Voter Registration
- Find yourPolling Place
- Contact your Local Election Official
- League of Women Voters – nonpartisan
What’s the bottom line here? Go out and vote. Vote faithfully. Let your voice be heard for the good of us all.
Let us pray –
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council