Behind the Scenes: This week in the News21 newsroom

News21 sent reporting teams to Tennessee and Florida this week, but back in the newsroom, reporters and editors hunkered down to begin working on stories and videos that detail the initial findings of our investigation on voting rights.

Here’s a look at what the News21 team was up to:

News21 fellow Sarah Jane Capper of Syracuse University continues her research. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21.

News21 fellow Ana Lastra spends the afternoon in an editing booth sorting through video clips. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21

News21 fellow Joe Henke spends an afternoon reading through voting rights material. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21.

Coffee Break Ballot, June 29: Current Trends in Voting Rights

This was a busy week in voting rights news.

Florida’s controversial voter roll cleanup was allowed to continue; the New Hampshire Legislature overrode Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a photo voter ID bill, and a new Tennessee law will give one-time, non-violent felons a new pathway to vote.

Meanwhile, we’re getting into full-drafting, editing and revision mode at News21. More from the newsroom later, but first, some Friday reads.

What We’ve Been Reading

House GOP backs down, allows election money in the budget,” (John Frank, 06/28, Raleigh News & Observer)

Would-Be Voters of Color Face Obstacles Not Well Reported,” (Nadra Kareem Nittle, 06/28, Maynard Institute)

Rangel’s Rivals Make Allegations of Voter Fraud and Uncounted Ballots,” (Hunger Walker, 06/28, New York Observer)

Dear Governor Snyder,” (Clayola Brown, Niel Richie, E. Faye Williams, 06/28, ProjectVote)

Twitter Trends

The most significant piece of Twitter-related news we’ve noticed lately is both political parties capitalizing on buzz words and twisting opposition fervor into a clarion call.

Case in point: Monday/Tuesday’s excitement over Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Turzai’s comments on voter ID laws. The evolution of that story from progressive anger into conservative pride is remarkable and perhaps indicative of general Twitter usage patterns.

Old links and retired outrage can take days or even weeks to fizzle, meaning the story probably will cycle through the Twittersphere until the election, or until something else buzz worthy pops up.

We’ll keep you posted on that front, and, as always, be sure to follow us @WhoCanVote.

Florida felons make case for access to the polls at clemency hearing

Florida governor Rick Scott, right, listens to testimony from felons who are seeking to have their civil rights restored at a clemency hearing Thursday in the state Capitol. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Florida felons seeking the right to vote took the opportunity Thursday to make their case at the state Board of Executive Clemency.

People had the chance to present to the board — comprising Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam — reasons they deserve to have their rights restored. They spoke of their original conviction, recent charges against them, drinking habits and past drug use. Family and friends could also speak on their behalf, and advocates sometimes read statements submitted by victims.

Christine Fickey, whose conviction was not announced at the hearing, petitioned for clemency to regain her voting rights.

“I’m in college at the Hodges University,” Fickey said. “I just took American government, so I was very interested in politics, having a professor so passionate about it.”

For a felon’s request to be granted, Scott and two other board members must approve. If Scott denies the request, then it is non-negotiable.

By Andrea Rumbaugh and Michael Ciaglo, News21

Coffee Break Ballot, June 28: Current Trends in Voting Rights

The way that Twitter behaved today might leave readers to think there was some kind of ground-breaking, presidential-election related piece of news that broke this morning.

(We kid; we’re well aware of the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.)

Because of that news today, our usual sources for breaking voting rights news are relatively calm. Politicos and political reporters everywhere appear fixated on reactions and press conferences surrounding the 5-4 decision upholding the the landmark health care law.

In a way, this is convenient because we are busy drafting and editing our main stories – not to mention that yesterday was a considerable day in voting rights updates.

What We’ve Been Reading

Ruling on provisional ballots issue expected by August,” (Laura A. Bischoff, 06/27, Dayton Daily News)

Florida voter purge may restart after ruling,” (Gary Fineout, 06/27, Associated Press)

Blood in the Water: Mike Turzai’s Voter ID Remarks,” (Stephen Colbert, 06/27, The Colbert Report)

The Roberts Court is Born,” (Adam Winkler, 06/28, Huffington Post)

AALDEF and APABA-PA Hold Press Conference to Explain new PA Voter ID Law’s Impact on Asian-Americans,” (Press Release, 06/28, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund)

Twitter Trends

The most noticeable shift among our four key search terms on social media search engine Topsy.com is that dozens of Twitter users have started to “ask” Florida Gov. Rick Scott to stop removing voters from state rolls.

Those tweets were very popular late last month when the controversial vote removal made headlines, but they died after the U.S. Department of Justice halted implementing the law. Yesterday, after District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the purge could continue under federal law, the tweets resurfaced.

Does social media activism make a difference?

Plenty of users have tried to spread political and social issues across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other widely used sites. Because individual social media participation serves a largely self-selected audience, it is highly possible that most social activism tweets only get bounced among friends and acquaintances who already agree and have little political clout.

For more voting rights news and updates, follow us @WhoCanVote.

Tennessee law gives felons
second chance at voting

Nashville, Tenn., resident Allen Jenkins has been unable to vote for nearly 20 years. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Thousands of Tennessee felons will have another way to restore their voting rights under a law scheduled to take effect July 1.

Offenders may expunge a single nonviolent misdemeanor or felony from their record under the new law. A nonviolent felony conviction in Tennessee means losing voting rights until fulfilling the terms of the sentence and applying for voting restoration.

Felons whose records are expunged under the new law would no longer be required to submit a separate application to vote.

Nashville, Tenn., resident Allen Jenkins has been unable to vote for nearly 20 years after he was convicted of a felony drug counterfeiting charge. Although Jenkins, 50, said he was aware that a felony conviction meant losing his voting rights, he pleaded guilty.

Jenkins is raising the $350 needed to apply to expunge his record instead of completing the enfranchisement application, because he hopes expunging the conviction will help him find employment.

“I’m a U.S. citizen,” Jenkins said. “I was born in this country. I’m a part of this country… I should not be condemned over something I’ve done in the past when that past is dead.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

Latino leader addresses
Arizona immigration and ID laws

Thomas A. Saenz is the president and general counsel for MALDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Photo by Khara Persad/News21.

The Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law this week has drawn not only national attention, but was the focus – along with voting law – of leaders who met Tuesday in Phoenix for the first Latino State of the State of Arizona.

Much of the event, presented by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, centered on the high court’s ruling that left in place the most controversial portion of SB 1070, the so-called “show your papers” requirement.

Many attendees also spoke in opposition to Proposition 200, Arizona’s voter-ID law.

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, described the financial barriers faced by eligible Latino voters who would have to obtain an ID to vote as a result of law.

“You have to pay a price to vote,” Saenz said. “That’s not a price that a lot of people in the middle class or maybe even above are cognizant of, but for other communities, it’s quite difficult. It’s a barrier to vote.”

By Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad, News21

Polling stations to reopen in Nebraska’s largest city

Voting locations in Douglas County, Neb., will reopen in November, following the election commissioner’s order this year to close about half the polling precincts.

Twenty-seven polling places will reopen for Election Day, commissioner Dave Phipps said.

The announcement came after 166 of 353 original polling precincts in Douglas County, which includes Omaha, Nebraska’s largest city, were closed before the May 5 primary.

Phipps cited budget constraints and trimming precincts, he said, would save the county $115,000. Many Omaha groups criticized the decision, which is allowable under a Nebraska statute adopted last year.

“It would save money, but the details are that it disproportionately closed polling places in the two strongest Obama voter areas. What a coincidence?” said Preston Love Jr., a community activist who works with the voting rights group North Omaha Voters Call to Action Coalition.

In 2008, North Omaha, a predominantly black community that encompasses Nebraska’s second congressional district, gave then-candidate Barack Obama its electoral vote. The last time a Democrat received one of Nebraska’s electoral votes was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states where electoral college votes are awarded to congressional districts.

By Emily Nohr, News21

Coffee Break Ballot, June 27: Current Trends in Voting Rights

Journalists are apt to think every day is a big news day; today really qualifies.

A federal appeals court judge in  Florida — the same judge who blocked the state requirement that voter registrations be submitted within 48 hours – has ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot stop the voter purge. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the 90-day provision, which DOJ attorneys cited as too close to an election to purge rolls, did not apply to removing non-citizens from the rolls. Hinkle did say there were “some problems” with the program.

In New Hampshire, the state Senate voted to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a voter registration bill and passed a modified version of a photo-identification bill. And The Nation published a new rundown of the political questions at the heart of the current voting rights fight.

These stories aren’t causing as much of an uproar as the Pennsylvania House Republican leader’s comments Monday on voter identification or the furious reaction to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s assertion of Republican voter suppression, but they are definitely trending.

What We’ve Been Reading

Make Voting Mandatory,” (Peter R. Orszag, 06/19, BloombergView)

Last-minute voter ID changes facing Senate, House action today,” (Ted Siefer, 06/26, New Hampshire Union Leader)

Federal judge rejects DOJ request to stop voter purge,” (Kathleen Haughney, 06/27, Orlando Sentinel)

GOP: Obama planning to ‘Steal’ the Election,” (Ari Berman, 06/27, The Nation)

Angry Twitter Birds: Unhappy NYC Voter Demonstrates Power, Reach of Social Media,” (Doug Chapin, 06/27, The Election Academy)

Twitter Trends

The big-ticket stories this morning haven’t really buzzed as much as other controversial voting rights stories this summer. They are mostly policy-oriented, and social media users — and the public  — aren’t interested in stories on the slow process of judicial review and legal adjustment.

But the last article in our list brings up a curious and potentially lasting phenomenon. It’s an exploration of how voter anger and engagement is more possible through directed media campaigns.

Here at News21, we’ve followed directed campaigns by many secretaries of state and “get out the vote” accounts on Twitter and have enjoyed watching the way these accounts try to encourage voter participation and education. Secretaries aren’t followed nearly as often as national organizations like Rock The Vote or the League of Women Voters. As a whole, these accounts demonstrate the fledgling possibilities inherent in social media voter conversations.

It’s the kind of thing that drives this daily post (and our Twitter account), and it’s worth a read for any voting policy wonk, public opinion specialist or voter in general.

Remember to follow us @WhoCanVote.

Tennessee organization encourages felons to exercise voting rights

H.U.G.G.S. Inc. was founded by felon Sherri Jackson, center, in Nashville, Tenn., to help felons integrate into society by finding jobs and helping to restore their voting rights. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Sherri Jackson is celebrating her fifth year as a re-enfranchised voter. As executive director of the Nashville, Tenn., nonprofit H.U.G.G.S. Inc., she helps felons, like herself, integrate into society.

Jackson and about 35 other volunteers guide felons through a program that teaches time management and life skills while preparing them for education and employment.

“This is the one-stop shop,” Jackson said.

Since 2006, H.U.G.G.S., which stands for Humility, Understanding, God, Grace and Spiritual Strength, has helped about 100 felons restore their voting rights. Jackson said she had to lose that right before realizing its importance.

“Before I was convicted … I didn’t vote … I didn’t care to vote,” Jackson said. “I felt that I did not have a voice.”

Jackson gained a new perspective.

“Once your voting rights are taken, you really don’t have a voice or a citizenship,” she said. “I just got really excited about being a part of something that is major.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21