tv Book Discussion on The Fight to Vote CSPAN May 8, 2016 8:00am-9:01am EDT
>> thank you so much for the faculty members of the law school to our board of directors which includes being morrison and others. and thank you to the entire nyu community. it's a remarkably creative and energetic and mold breaking institution at a very high level. that is rare and we are really grateful for your continuing in the tradition. the great dean of the law school long ago martha vanderbilt once said reform is not for the short winded. [laughter] and that is a tradition we take on at the brennan center. hopefully tonight.
really grateful to all of you for being here as we launched the discussion of my new book "the fight to vote" eric this book really reflects not only the research and work i've had a chance to do but the work of the brennan center for justice. we heard a little bit about it. we are privileged to be partly a think tank and partly a legal advocacy group and partly a communications hub devoted not to do precise specifics of justice brennan and his jurisprudence, but taking we hope is ethos that the law above all else must respect human dignity and that the constitution above all else must be understood as a charter for each generation. we are able to take this charge. we have 20 years from now here at the law school. we are in the fight on voting rights come on money and
politics, on the drive to in mass incarceration, and so many more things. this book, this part of the battle of ideas reflects back. i'm asked a lot why do this book now? why do this book now? this is without question one of the most tumultuous and challenging moments for our democracy in many years. we know that this is a crazy, topsy-turvy election with deep public anger at a system manifesting itself in all kinds of ways in many directions. is the election we will see 16 states with the new voting laws designed to make it harder to vote for the first time since the jim crow era in effect and a high turnout presidential election. this will be the first presidential election since the training supreme court guided
the heart of the voting rights act, the most successful single civil rights statute the country as event. it is an election where the consequences of citizens united and other misguided decisions by the supreme court are beginning to be felt more and more and more, especially at the level below the presidency. in the last election voter turnout in the united states dropped to the lowest level in seven decades. there are pressures on our democracy of a kind we have not seen for a long time. there are pressures on the question of whose voice matters and whether the right to vote is a meaningful thing in the way we've not seen for a long time. the question i wanted to ask in researching this book is wasn't always this way? why now, but how does this moment compared to the past? and what is the usable and learnable history we can draw from? here's what i found.
today's controversies and fights are intense. they are controversial. they are consequential, but they are not new. this fight to vote has been at the heart of american life from the beginning. it's a debate that's been at the center of american politics, including elections, from the beginning. the fight to vote did not start this year or last year. it didn't start 50 years ago at selma. it's been going on for 240 years, from the beginning. it's been raw and rowdy and partisan at every step of the way. it has always been about more than just the formal rules of who can cast a ballot. it's intended with the role of
wealth and money, with class, with race, and with the many, many ways that politicians and their friends and allies have figured out to rig the rules from the beginning to benefit their cause or their site. so what was that beginning? how does the story start? the book starts with thomas jefferson in philadelphia in the heat of revolution riding the declaration of independence and the preamble. and, of course, we know that this was a time of insurrection. he wrote memorably that government was only legitimate if it rested on the consent of the government. and, of course, he wrote that while being attended to by a slave, a 14 year-old slave boy, bob hemmings, sally hemings brother.
and at that time the colonies, america was anything but a democracy. the colonists, the rebuilt against britain, didn't think all that much about who could vote, the rules were pretty fixed. to vote you had to be a white man who owned property, a certain set amount of property, an amount fixed in the middle ages. but the revolution begin to break that certainty. the idea that you need consent from the government begin to take on a life of its own. and even during the revolution more than we realize there was a debate that was controversial. benjamin franklin led a working man's revolt in pennsylvania. what are the only times there was an actual industries pitchfork wielding mob type resolution in the american resolution -- revolution. demanded the right to vote for all meant whether they owned property. franklin said today, a man owns a jackass worth $50 he is entitled to vote.
but before the next election the jackass guys. a man loses his right to vote. and for me, who is in the right of suffrage? in demand or in the jackass? he may not it's a jackass but that's of the quote. so the people understood that things are going to have to change but at every step of the way throughout this whole history of some americans demanded a voice at the table and demand the right to expand democracy, others fought to hold them back, then and now. john adams was aghast at the idea of extending the right to vote to men without property. he said, he was urged to do this in massachusetts. he said it's a terrible idea. he said women will demand to vote your labs will think their rights not enough attended to. and demand who has not a farthing will depend on equal voice with any other and all acts of state. john adams said there will be no
end of it. and he was right. that is a pretty good prediction of what happened the next two centuries. i will talk longer now that my watch is no longer on the podium. [laughter] the first great break through was on the role of wealth. the same kind of debate we are having over citizens united. the move to break as i did that you need to be a property owner to vote. it was a move to enfranchise white men without property, and affect the white working-class who loomed so large in this election. it was led not by citizen movements but by canny, suave, political insiders like martin van buren of new york. van buren them one state senator that another state senator, he said i bet i can get van buren to give a straight answer to question. he said, mr. van buren, does the sun rise in the east? and van buren said, oh, as i
never a way that early i couldn't say for sure. he was the one who won the right to vote for men without property. but fo the were people fightingo prevent that as well. john randolph a name lost to history but exhumed recently five against adding to the voting rolls, and his motto was, he said i am an aristocrat. i love liberty. i hate equality. he prevented virginia from expanding its voting rights. but by the middle of the 1800s the united states was the most profound democracy the world has ever seen. they were for the first time that political parties with really high voter turnout. democracy was a fad and they begin to feed on itself and people understood there were more people who were left out. the next great breakthrough came during and after the civil war. a war when hundreds of thousands of african-americans served the
union army and, in fact, when lincoln gave his inaugural address, his second great inaugural, a large part of the audience were african-americans in uniform. now lincoln was not for solo career was opposed to what he writes for african-americans. strongly opposed but he began, his first stab at reconstruction, disenfranchised former slave and enfranchised those who taken up arms against the country but he began to change. two days after the surrender of the south at appomattox, lincoln gave his first speech about what he wanted to happen during reconstruction. from a second floor window of the white house. he said i have been criticized on this voting issue. people have criticized me and my plans regarding franchising the former slaves. i now agree. i think that people who have served in uniform or educated should be able to vote. he gave indication he would go
further. at least one member of the audience understood the significance of this. john wilkes booth, he said that means citizenship. that is the last speech people ever do. he tried to get the guy standing next them to shoot lincoln on the spot. when the man refused he said well then, i'll do it. two days later he went to forge the. that's what set off the sport. we all know the story, the tragic story of what happened next. the republican party devoted to voting rights as has been with the democrats through most of the country's history, pushed through the 15th amendment to give voting rights to the former slaves. it was a flowering of democracy in the south. are not rates among african-american men in the south approached 90%. hundreds of african-americans served in congress or legislatures even as governor. but a violent response from the
ku klux klan and cynical and cowardly deals pulling the army back to barracks into debt. we know of course that was a brutal crackdown on voting in the south. it didn't happen right away but by the end of the 19th century it had erased the gains in almost entire disenfranchisement of african-americans. and in the north people don't realize similar things happen. the cities of the north were now crowded with immigrants. .com mexico, from ireland and from italy and from europe, catholics. this terrified and alarmed to establish protestant powers that be at the time. they tried to crack down and succeeded in striking down on voting in cities by the new immigrant working class. john adams great-grandson said universal suffrage can only mean in plain english the government of ignorance.
it means a european and especially celtic proletarian ovulate the coast and african proletarian on the shores of the gulf and the chinese proletarian in california. that was what they were worried about. they passed a variety of roles that begin to suppress turnout among the working class in the north. this is important to understand not merely because its picturesque, because you things like walt whitman writing denouncements. but because it reminded us that for all the progress and general positive direction that it is going backward. that is what happened and at the same time you had another factor, a new factor, the massive flood of campaign money from the robber barons up that gilded age from the 1% of the gilded age. by the end of 19 century democracy was really, really, moving backwards. what happened next as the 20th century began?
one hopes a lesson for us. there was a response, a period of reform and revitalization which we call the progressive era. it focus more than people realize on this question of the vote. they passed to constitutional amendments dealing with voting. the first was one of the versions of campaign finance reform. it was the 17th amendment to give the vote to citizens for united states senate because they felt the state legislatures were deeply corrupt and in the pockets of the bidders at the time. teddy roosevelt, so many others, let these movements. but the other which were often overlooked as a very significant response as a part of the idea that you would do with power of money for the vote was the 19th amendment. it's very easy as we think about women gained the right to vote. you look at textbook, then women got the right to vote. it is passed over.
but it was every bit as fiercely fought, as quickly agitated and as hard as later gains were. it's a story i learned in researching this. it's amazing to know that so many of us don't know this story. seneca falls happened in 1848. that was when women first that we should have the right to vote, but, frankly, not a whole lot happened after that. it was not until around 1910-1912 that young women, many of them graduate student living in england with the suffrage movement came back and said we would do something audacious. we will try to pass a constitutional amendment. the day before his presidential inaugural, woodrow wilson got off the train in washington, d.c., and nobody was there to greet him. at princeton glee club was there to greet him and that was about
it. the "new york times" said, the charitable we to say, they made up in enthusiasm what they lack in numbers. wilson said were all the people? they were done on pennsylvania avenue. 5000 women were marching for women's suffrage in a remarkable parade, many of them in somewhat are prosperous costumes. at least to our eyes. leading that parade, this is irrelevant here at nyu school of law, leading that parade on a white horse dressed in the costume of a greek goddess and carrying a banner was a dazzling woman. her name was inez mulholland. she was a recent graduate of nyu school of law. a labor lawyer and agitator who has a professorship named after her until quite recently. i guarantee you almost know when
you who she was. she was on the horse and 5000 women arrayed around her. lining pennsylvania avenue, 100,000 men. many of them drunk. they were there for the inauguration. they then started throwing things. they broke through the lines. they assaulted the women. 100 women were sent to the hospital. they thought their way to the end. it was a huge deal as you can imagine. widely publicized. the police chief had resigned his job to get dominated the coverage of woodrow wilson's inaugural and public opinion swung in support of women's suffrage. it was just like selma 50 years later. but it still took five years of hunger strikes and pickets and electoral advocacy before, and the income of woodrow wilson whose political base was the south and to didn't think there ought to be any mucking around with voting rights, and to
wilson backed women's suffrage and the 19th amendment happened. the names of those leadership, alice paul, inez mulholland, we don't know them. they were the martin luther king and the john lewis of that movement. the 20th century was a time of continued democratic expansion. the great instance when the courts finally got involved and set out the standards you needed one person one vote, all culminating in the 1960s in the great crimes of the civil rights movement, especially in 1965 voting rights act. that store you all know. that's been told so many times and especially we had a recent anniversary. you've seen in movies, in the recent movie soma. -- selma. the story is more complex and interesting than you might imagine. dr. martin luther king proclaimed to a mass meeting in selma and genuine of that year 1965, we will bring a voting
bill into being on the streets of selma. it was the pressure of those courageous activists willing to risk their lives and their safety the fourth national government to act. national it was this incredibly elaborate dance between these two visually southern leaders, king and johnson. i write about in the book. kenya never told, they would meet repeatedly and johnson would say look, i'm for voting rights but not yet. we have to pass the great society. kingwood push and then shot we get worked up and start telling king of the award was. kingwood tried to about the political benefits. johnson was secretly drafting the voting rights act and negotiating it was republicans and never told king. king was preparing to march and never told johnson. you all know the violence televised at edmund pettus bridge. the repulsion that followed
johnson's moment of courage where he stood up and told the congress we shall overcome. and the incredible changes that happen in the south since then. voting rights soaring immediately after that. and so many other things followed. the end of the poll tax, constitutional an end to end poll tax around the time. the vote going to 18-year-olds, new laws, campaign finance and other things. it seeme seem like a basic rulef american democracy were set. and in the last 15 years have seen a change. the last 15 years o have seen nw pressures as i said in the beginnings of a slide back to the point were i to her strong that we are at a potential tipping point were things could really go wrong. what happened? as i said in some areas it's been progressives, other areas conservatives, sometimes the democrats, sometimes republicans to push back on the stove.
there is a concerted political strategy by the modern conservative movement to restrict voting and restrict the rules of democracy the way we've not seen in a long time. they take their cue from something that was said by a man named paul wyrick. i don't know how many of you remember him. he was among other things, he founded the heritage foundation and founded the organization alchemy which rights laws around the country. and in a key moment in 1980 with ronald reagan speaking to the evangelicals as the modern conservative coalition formed, he said look, i want to be clear, we don't want everybody to be able to vote. we do worse when everybody is able to vote. and that has become the mantra, spoken or unspoken, that has guided way too much of recent activity. in 2011 screaming about voter fraud and as a factual matter,
the kind of voter impersonation being described is vanishingly rare. you are more likely to be killed by lightning than to commit in person impersonation in the tiny. 19 state legislatures past 24 new laws making it harder for people to vote for the first time since the jim crow era. these laws are often mischievous in their intent. i'm actually for voter id personally. i think it's the right to ask people to prove who they are but i'm not for requiring people to show id they don't have. about 11% of eligible voters just don't have the id that is required. but the law in texas that has been declared illegal sometimes by federal courts, indexes you cannot use your university of texas id as a government id, but you can be sure concealed carry gun permit. what a coincidence.
the partisan intent is clear. we also, we've seen these laws magnify their impact when the supreme court entered the fray. throughout most of the country's history i was still somewhat surprised to learn the court to stay out of this whole fight over democracy. that's why we had so many amendments to secure the right to vote. john roberts and during the time of justice antonin scalia, this court was tremendous activist on case after case. you know one of the most significant was shelby county which ignited the heart of the voting rights act and what reflect, he didn't write it but it reflected the spirit that justice scalia articulated during the argument when he said that the voting rights act was merely a quote racial entitlement. you can hear, we have these tapes of the supreme court. you can hear the gasps on there.
the texas law was rushed through two hours after the shelby county decision to other states as well. and then on top of this, the supreme court created a situation where money, as it did in the late 1800s, speaks so loudly that it risks the power of the vote. we've already had gerrymandering, both parties and have from the beginning. but the new role of big money is quite significant. since citizens united a small handful of mega- donors genuinely have transformed campaign finance. in the last election the top 100 donors gave more than the other 4.75 million small donors combined. that is a level of concentration of political money that we have not seen since the days of jpmorgan and the robber barons. so those are the recent trends, the scary trends.
wife in am i optimistic, why do i find myself surprisingly energized by this moment? the answer isn't that there's more education, more concern, more white understanding of the way the system is broken than we've had in a long, long time. the book talks about this. in this election of candidates from all over addressing these issues whether it's ernie sander stunned by campaign finance reform as a central issue. donald trump with all the other things he's doing on the one in saying that he's the only candidate in the republican side who can't be bought by contributions. to gladly embracing the endorsement of the person today who wrote all the voter suppression laws out of kansas. and hillary clinton putting forward the most detailed and in many ways ambitious plans are voting reform and campaign finance reform and any major
candidate has put forward in years and years and years. this is on electric minds and as a result some of the politicians mind. we see justice, upsurge around the country. the single biggest change that could make a huge difference would be to move in this country away from our ramshackle voter registration system. if we had universal and automatic registration a very but was 18 and eligible, it would be transformative and add tens of millions of people to the roles and it would cost less and curb the potential for fraud. it's starting to happen all over the country. oregon and california passed versions of this. the new jersey legislature passed that although governor christie vetoed it. but it may be overridden. and maybe on the ballot in arizona. they're considering it in illinois. it's going to happen and it will make a huge difference in american democracy. on money and politics there's a
wide bipartisan, caused partisan revolt against citizens united. we know that the new supreme court opening will lead to a national debate on what we expect out of the supreme court. we see that only focus on the constitutional doctrine but new and creative versions of public financing and other reforms that could make a big difference. we have the best system in the country right now is here in new york city to match small contributions. seattle just enacted and we don't know how it will work yet and even more creative system that gave vouchers devoted to give the candidates. there's a ferment across the country. even on gerrymandering, even on redistricting that hardest nut to crack you are seeing change. this raping court in a little noticed opinion in june blessed the nonpartisan redistricting -- the supreme court -- in place in california, since then the folks in ohio just passed one.
florida has a somewhat different reform but you are seeing redistricting reform in states all across the country. this is happening. there's a debate, a fight. some of the core issues of american democracy are being debated and engage in a way we haven't seen in years. last week the utah state senate voted to appeal the 17th amendment. they want to end the right to vote for senators. this will be a fight that will go on and on. job -- john adams is right. it's a chapter we are all writing next and that's with the book is about. so thank you for your attention. [applause] >> i'm going to have a conversation -- insists on? wow. one of the things that was a
thrill for me is a chance to work with some of the countries most effective advocates and deeply knowledgeable experts on these issues of democracy every day at the brennan center. but the challenge for me is like to keep up. we are very lucky and i'm thrilled that myrna perez is going to join the conversation. >> thank you so much, michael. one of the things that is the prevailing theme of the book is about at every point in our nation's history there's been a push and a pull over the right to vote. the book acknowledges, and those of us or weaknesses studies of history no that for about 50 years there was at least an interested agreement that the right to vote should be accessible to all and should be broadly available. what i want to know is what was going on then and can we we created for the future? >> it's a great question, and it
is really true that even as i say there's been a concerted push, a concerted political drive to restrict voting rights and knock down the campaign finance laws, for a long, long time these were not partisan issues. the last time the voting rights act was brought up before the congress, it was signed into law by george w. bush and the past the senate 98 to nothing. campaign finance reform, john mccain who the brennan center representing court was one of the great champions and, in fact, was the last presidential candidate to take public financing. the partisan line that is been so firm and fixed in this polarized moment have not been. why was it there was this broad consensus? among the reasons were that it seemed like the right thing to do, but it also seems like it didn't necessarily affect one side or another in their
partisan calculations. in fact, in the south part of the consequences of a act was there were many more people of color elected, but a lot of the white voters moved to the republican party and to strengthen the republican party as well. one of the lessons i don't is that parties are going to look out for their own self-interest and that guy to be in the countries interest or not. enlightened self-interest is something we ought to seek. it's also been the case that people if they can do stuff for granted. when the florida recount happened and we all learned that 537 votes resolve to to win the presidency in one state, that was a wakeup call that turned out now is going to matter more than anything before. you think about elections when i was working in the clinton white house, the idea that swing voters were what people thought about was really not wrong. but starting in 2000 parties
both relies on one hand that turned out mattered and you could win any tight tight evenly matched hardest environment by suppressing the other side's vote. and so it may be that this is an artifact of political shift over the long term. they country is changing so much that it's not at all unusual that when this change, that the in group and effective is something to lose touch everything he can to hold on. that was true in 1800 when the federalists tried to change the voting law was because they wert the jeffersonians were not going to be voting and they took away the right to vote for president and a bunch of states. when you look at the rise of voting by people ofcolor, those are the states that are most likely to these new voting laws. as long as the country is in this great long-term contested tshift we can expect to see some of these fights.
>> one of the things i found interesting was the recognition that from the beginning of time politicians have been manipulating the rules of the game, but as a voting lawyer i know the 15th amendment and other rights act don't attach people against partisan machinations. given the entanglement of money, partisan and race, how is it that our course -- courts our politics are supposed to separate the two? >> as you know and some of these cases, the defense being offered is no, we are not discriminate against african-americans, only against democrats, so that's okay because that's the way the game is played. democrats did it to us whenever they could. one of the things oh so interesting, as i mentioned, at the beginning they didn't think very much a who could vote. but if you go back and look at
the constitutional convention, at the notes of james madison took, which were secret, they were not supposed to be made public for a long time. people spoke very frankly. madison and his colleagues were very concerned about precisely this kind of manipulation. in fact, there's a provision in the constitution called the election clause that says that while the states that the voting rolls, congress and the federal government explicitly have the power to override those rules. that is one of the only place in the whole constitution with the federal government is given the power. madison was very, very worried that state legislators would rig the voting rolls to favor the own site. he said you can't even imagine what the abuses are going to be. the things they were thinking about with things like what we would later call gerrymandering, changing the district lines or passing laws to make it harder for your opponent to vote.
it was different things in those days. they would move the polling place one county to another and no one could find a buddy with the same id. one of the things that we need to do is to kind of recover that notion that the constitution actually addresses precisely these kinds of shenanigans by partisans trying to rig the rules to benefit themselves or their own site. that has been present all throughout american history and there are strong legal and constitutional bases for regulating that, even gon done e voting rights act which, of course, was focused message on one particular thing which was racial discrimination in states with a history of discriminati discrimination. >> there's a lot of colorful heroes and villains in the book but the courts at best are a bit player in this book. i think most people who know this history of jurisprudence around the court would agree. my question is why? why has it been the court has at
best allowed progress to happen, and at worst responsible for some of the rollback? does that shaking a lot on how we should view the upcoming supreme court vacancy? >> i think you are right in that, for those of us who grew up thinking the course and the supreme court especially were going to be always there as a bulwark ms attribute of liberty and protecting our democracy, it's somewhat startling to really understand that very road has happened throughout american history. from the beginning of the courts washed their hands of trying to advance the goals of democracy. there was a case in the 1840s called luther boardman and it comes out of want of the forgotten but very colorful battles over voting rights where rhode island was one of the last states that had come it still has the property, and it was a
revolt and there were two governors, one had been elected by an electric with property requirement and the other without, and he waved his sword around and they pulled the kids out and tried to fire on the state armory but it was raining so the canon didn't work. it was kind of like a comic opera. et al. would've to to the supreme court and they said which one is the real governor of rhode island was the supreme court with hushed its hands and said this is a political question. we are not getting into this. the supreme court had cases in the 1890s, 1900, and the supreme court in its opinion, oliver wendell holmes said this is really terrible but there's just nothing we can do about it. it's an awful opinion to be. the courts just washed their
hands of it. in some ways it was a distressing retreat from the responsibility it was also their way of saying this is up to a higher power in this country, which is the people. so the people passed the constitutional amendments. they were constitutional amendments, five times explosively expanding the right to vote. and the people have made these fights through the voices in elections. i don't know that we expect the court, if there's a new supreme court justice, it's not that we want that justice to be aggressively charging in and undoing and remaking the landscape. what we mostly want is for the court to stay out of the way when the democratically accountable branches have something like the voting rights act or campaign finance laws. i think this supreme court
nomination and the election that surround it is going to be, to use the cliché, a teachable moment what this will be debated in a way that is not been debated in a long time. think about the robert bork nomination as effectively revolving around roe v. wade and the right to privacy, or the thurgood marshall nomination being when he was nominated, the fight about that being civil rights at the brandeis nomination when he was nominated. there was a lot of anti-semitism but it was really about the progressive era controls on corporations. all those things will be part of this but i think this'll be about the democracy as much as anything else. >> i'm going to invite our audience to step up to the mic and ask questions. while folks are somewhat am going to ask michael one more question but i do encourage all members who are interested in talking or saying something, you start making your way in line. michael, you talked about the piper support that was needed to
be generated to pass a constitutional amendment ending the poll tax. but since then the court has rather stimulate interpreted the poll tax and many laws that have been thought to be found like poll taxes are thought to operate like poll taxes have not been given credence. do you have any reaction to that? >> there's both an interesting story as well as what's happened since. the constitutional and two in the poll tax was not supported by the civil rights movement. the naacp and other groups opposed it and denounced it. they said we don't need to pass an amendment. this could be done by statute. and it was a white supremacist, segregationist senator -- senator who pushed a. you're right that even in since then the courts have not taken the logical application which is there ought be no financial barrier to voting. and extended it to the places
and ways that it ought to be. in the case of texas at the brennan center has helped to bring, challenging that voter id law, the lead witness which we are proud to brought into the case was an elderly woman named bates. vividly and angry counting out the poll tax for her mother. she moved to chicago and detroit, went to college, worked her whole life, moved to texas, retired and moved to texas and lives on social security now. two hours after the supreme court said the voting rights act on its core protections were no longer needed, texas passed this law or implement the law and instantly 608,000 eligible voters in texas suddenly were no longer able to vote. she was one of them.
she gave testimony. and was asked, why didn't you just get the person to get? why didn't you do with mississippi in future birth certificate? remember, she just lives on social security and she said i had to put $40 what that would do the most good. you can't beat a birth certificate. and that was very powerful. the judge ruled this was in effect a poll tax. but the very conservative court of appeals in federal courts although upholding the ruling that the lowest was illegal has said no, the poll tax really just means a poll tax. this very issue of wealth and what a democracy based on one person one vote and the inevitable inequality market-based economy, we sighed at the very beginning, with a te poll tax and we see with the campaign finance issue now but it cannot be untangled. and we unlikely, i would not
expect the courts to be the ones to solve it for us. >> my name is joseph haydn, and i was partners with the brennan center among many other civil rights organizations. i have filed a class action lawsuit in 2000 challenging new york state disenfranchisement laws. the name of the case was haydn versus pataki. we as a result of research done by a group of men in prison, we discovered that two states had company for state at the time have the right of prisoners retain the right to vote.
that was maine, massachusetts, vermont and utah. presently there's only two states left, maine and vermont. anyhow, we challenged colin disenfranchised -- disenfranchised on the grounds it was discriminatory because the demographics of the population, the prison population in america, so essentially what they were doing was taking we voting power from poor people of color because he does where the majority of prisoners came from. all right, so we thought this and it went to the second circuit court of appeals, and 10 judges split down the middle, 5-5, and that was the end of
that initiative they are to change felony disenfranchisement. what i want to know is, you know, prisoners our citizens. they don't lose their citizenship while they are in vermont are, have the right to vote even though they commit the same crimes as people in the other 48 states. but how does america maintain this sense of exceptionalism, champions of democracy in fairness and justice and continue this charade of stripping people of the right to vote? >> thank you for what you did, and thank you for your determination over the years,
and thank you for the question. this issue of felony disenfranchisement is both one of the long running and very sorry stories in american history, and it's also interestingly one weather is come as in so many of these other areas, unexpected and for optimism and hope. my colleague is deeply involved in this, and i do encourage you to join also in the conversation. there are 2.5 million people in this country right now -- >> who are living and working in a community and can't vote because they committed a crime in the past. >> this is at a time when there is a wide awareness doubt in our country that our criminal justice system has expanded where be on that way beyond what it should have. we have 5% of the worlds population and 25% of the world prison population. that is a necessary to keep our communities safe.
there's been a great deal of progress, not on voting by people who are currently incarcerated, but people are back in the community. interestingly it has not been in the courts, which is not been friendly largely to these cases. it in the court of public opinion where the evangelical community and many conservatives work with voting rights advocates and prisoner rights advocates. among the members of congress who are most outspoken on this is rand paul, the republican senator from kentucky. there are now two states where you still have a lifetime ban on voting, three, but most significant of which is florida. >> and before, you know, one of the things that i'm really proud of that the brennan center among others were able to do is just two weeks ago we won a victory
in maryland where we drafted legislation, the folks on the ground are able to get it through, the governor vetoed it and we overrode the veto. so starting for the maryland primary there will be 40,000 people who have criminal convictions in the past who will be eligible to vote. what this tells me is that this is a long fight but it is a winnable fight and it is a fight that if we continue to be smart and strategic about where we make the case that would make the claim, we are going to be able to bring other people of on. i've got a map. i know i want to go next and i'm hoping people in the room will help us. >> i have two quick question. first of all, as you know the voting turnout since 1960 has declined, in general, throughout the united states. aside from the issues you've
raised and its creature summoned more optimistic than people i am normally around talking about this, there's this great cynicism amongst the voters in one of the tropes we see in this election is how it is being manifested by those supporting of in those supporting cities. so i wonder how that reflects, what you thought about that are? and secondly you named 16 states where these laws of disenfranchisement are in varying ways effective or not effective or emotion? how do you see them playing out in this election? >> let me answer those two questions in reverse order. we don't really know the degree to which these new laws will hamper turnout. a lot of things affect turnout. who the candidate is and everything else. having said that there is increasing evidence that they do in fact dampen turnout.
the gao, the highly respected nonpartisan think tank used by both parties in congress looked at, for example, the strictest voter id laws and found that they do in fact suppress turnout but especially in the minority community. ththere are other studies receny that suggest a bigger impact. we don't really know, i just hope that they will not have a depressive effect on turnout this time. but the bigger question is why do so few americans vote? and it isn't only since the 1960 turnout is low. it has bumped around the low levels with rare exceptions is the beginning of the 20th century. it's partly a result of laws and rules but partly a result of local culture as well. one of the things that surprised me as i read the book, as i read the history and wrote the book, was the degree to which the
turnout was so high in the 19th century at a time of great party mobilization. the political parties were engines of participation and engines of turnout. there was a lot of fraud then but that wasn't the reason the numbers were so high. i think if we could find a way to energize and engage people now around organizing a activity in day-to-day life, that would help to boost turnout. it's a long-term problem and if you think about it, we've got these highly gerrymandered electoral districts with sorting people into like-minded areas. a lot of places is just not going to be competition no matter what you do. and there's the gerrymandered on top of the. and we have a two-party system in the united states. and if we were in europe it would be the trump party, right wing, they would be the rubio
bush party, the hillary clinton party, the bernie sanders party. more voices would feel represented. these are long-standing trends i have to say the low turnout wasn't last week and it wasn't even since 1960. it's been going on for a long time. a lot of it also we all have to take some responsibility ourselves, we americans, and take advantage ofthe freedoms of rights that we do have. >> my name is sarah brown. i'm a longtime fan at the center's work, so thank you both. my question is can going back to the optimism and what you spoke about with regards to expanding voter registration and the developments we've seen in oregon and california. specifically i'm interested in what strategies like to those changes. was the grassroots applying
power against -- pressure against existing power? was electoral change in political leadership shift or was it a litigation strategy? do you think of strategies are replicable in other states going forward? >> it was not a litigation strategy. it was a combination of grassroots organizing pressure and enlightened leadership from public officials. we get started in oregon was that a member of the state legislature there who we had worked with became secretary of state, and through some rather lowered scandals found herself governor and push this through. but there was a tremendous coalition in oregon. california, the coalition was pushing this and the secretary of state, alex padilla, took the lead. there was a moment which was perhaps a bit of a surprise to those of us old enough to remember, were it wasn't entirely clear if governor jerry
brown would sign the law. among the reasons with confidence that he would was a videotape of him at the democratic convention in 1992 demanding this exact law, and decrying anyone who would stand in its way. so this is one of those things where it's this push and pull throughout history it isn't only the marchers on the streets or the coalition. it's the people that is often also party insiders or elected officials whose sense of what they want to do lines up with the public interest. i think that's what you're going to see on this across the country. >> when you mentioned the challenges was energizing the electorate to vote, a lot of times i notice no one mentions the fact that we need to reinstitute civics in the education system.
i think if were able to do that we probably would increase voter turnout. but the one question i have for you is, where's the federal government dropping the ball in terms of subsidizing that type of initiative to ensure we can get those results soon rather than 10 or 20 years later? >> first of all i should say the brennan center has done an excellent study on this very issue which is available on our website, brennan center.org. especially in a changing country. i don't know how we can expect to have a coherent social ethos and a workable democracy if we don't teach a generation what the history us of what the ideals are. it is true that civics in schools have dropped off the curriculum, has been pushed out of all the other things. there's a tremendous loss in this very issue of fighting for the right to vote, fighting for justice. when you think about going back
to that very beginning, the american creed which is obviously not actually how people lived in 1776, but it was that ideal to which people return over and over again. the abolitionists return to it. lincoln paraphrased it at gettysburg. and the progressive air and every era since people going back and said we are just trying to live up to what the founding ideals were of the country. when dr. king and the marc marcn washington said this nation will rise up, everybody in the audience knew exactly what he was talking about. and i don't know right now that americans would know, and there's an understandable justifiable skepticism about the past, and its legacies and burdens. but we will do something
powerful and positive if we lose that, since. so i agree with you completely, and the federal government of course education is at the state level and local level, and every time the federal government gets involved there is unexpected backlashes, so i do know i know the answer to that. >> we have time for one last question. >> you make a good candidate for still he replaced the, virginia. what is being done, i have done pull working in new jersey and we've, i feel like in concern areas of the country minority are being disenfranchised waiting an hour and a half, two hours. >> there is a recognition that not everybody has to wait in long lines. so much of what has gone wrong with our elections is as much a
function of ramshackle election system is anything else. a lot of states have improved matters by moving to early voting or other steps that are in essence a customer service. in a place like ohio where there was nearly a florida style debacle that almost upended the election of 2004, they actually expanded early voting and there's been a big political fight over it but it's quite effective. it varies from place to place. it is emphatically the case that in minority neighborhoods, neighbors of color and poor neighbors, the lines are longer. they are is a presidential commission on elections that president barack obama appointed. it was chaired by mr. romney's lawyer and his own counsel on
bob bauer, who teaches here at nyu school of law. they agreed on the need to modernize our registration and a number of other things and agreed there should be a national standard for how long just to wait in line. we are one country. we got to be able to have people vote with an equal and effective voice no matter where they live. i will mention one technological thing to make you more nervous. after florida one of the things in 2001 of the things that happened was congress passed a law requiring states to move to electronic voting. it was controversial for people who weren't prosecuted but that's been addressed. there's a way to make those machines better than the old machines, even the beloved old lever machines wer will like to close the curtain on here in new york. that's the good news. the bad news is that are 15 years old and there are computers that are 15 years old
and they use zip drives and they are all on the verge of breaking. and 43 states can the voting machines, electronic computerized voting machines are 10 years or older. so there will be a need for massive new investment in voting technology around the country or you have these lines. even that creates opportunities to integrate that with electronic registration and other sorts of things can make is a good those eligible to vote and vote. it's going to be one more way in which the fight to vote will continue, in which not only the formal rules but everything around it that's going to be contested but ultimately, hopefully, can lead to continued progress. thank you. >> thank you all for coming. you can get the books in the back