Charlotte Grant: Celebrating sobriety by finding her voice at the ballot box

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., has made a habit of voting since ending her drug use in 1998. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21.

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., was convicted of 112 misdemeanors over four years, and though she never lost her voting rights, it was not until she was clean that she realized the impact of her vote. Grant has been a regular voter since her sobriety in 1998.

“For years, I was never heard, never had a right or a choice in anything because the drugs controlled me. When I got clean, that’s what most citizens do: vote and have a voice. That inspired me. I didn’t feel like I was a criminal anymore. I felt like I was just everybody else.”

By Carl Straumsheim and Michael Ciaglo, News21

N.C. Precinct Judge Wants Student Poll Workers

Young, first-time voters are a regular flashpoint in a presidential campaign. Because many of these voters (ranging in age from 18-22) have never voted in the past, candidates attempt to capture their uncommitted loyalty as a possible pathway to victory.

Carol Hazard, a precinct judge in Chapel Hill, N.C., sees a lot of these young voters in her precinct polling place in the Center for Dramatic Art on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By her estimates, 95-percent of voters in her precinct are students.

But Hazard — who first cast a presidential ballot in the 1964 election between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater — thinks young, college-aged students need to do more than just vote.

“I’d love to see more student participation, get some real experience at this desk,” Hazard said while working in the Laurel Hill precinct during the state’s May presidential primary.

“Nobody knows where they live, nor do they know their precincts. Students need to know where they vote. If you change one dorm to another, at the beginning of the year, you don’t think about it.”

Hazard is in her second year of work as a precinct judge in Orange County. She said that she thinks the active political groups on the campus of the University of North Carolina should do more than just encourage their members to vote. Instead, she said that she’d like to see a representative group of student poll workers.

“I don’t care if you’re a Young Republican, a Young Democrat, a young unaffiliated voter,” Hazard said. “You should be on this side of the desk.”

By Nick Andersen, News21

Felon recalls 2008 return to the election booth

When Katrina M. Frierson was told she could no longer vote she said her “self-esteem was shot back to the ground.”

Frierson was convicted of 17 felonies relating to drug and weapons charges in the 1980s and 90s. She spent eight years in jail and another seven on probation.

She has since turned her life around and now runs a halfway home for women fighting substance abuse.

In Tennessee, a single felony conviction means losing one’s right to vote. To regain it, felons have to complete the full term of their sentence and fill out a Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights.

Frierson said she rushed to complete this process before the 2008 presidential election.

“Before my convictions, voting was a really essential part of my life,” she said. “I actually worked on the voting election committee, meaning that I was the one that was sitting out at the polls at 5:30 in the morning.”

Frierson said casting her ballot in 2008 was a highlight for the year.

“When I received my voting rights, it made me a better human being, a better member of society. It felt like a marriage. It felt like a birthday, a graduation,” she said. “But most of all, it was a good challenge for me to be a better member of society.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

J. Morgan Kousser: The Voting Rights Act and Hispanic Voters

UPDATE: 07/10 — J. Morgan Kousser testified today in the Federal Appeals Court hearing. Lawyers for both sides came to a last-minute agreement on witness lists.

The Voting Rights Act faces a sustained legal challenge that could threaten its existence, a Cal Tech researcher says, and there are striking similarities – with a notable demographic difference – to historic voting rights battles.

“After the initial passage of the Voting Rights Act, there was a huge attempt to inhibit the growth of political participation,” J. Morgan Kousser, a professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology, said of the 1965 law.

“But today, what we see is more than anything a reaction to the growing Latino population and a reaction to Latino growth in places where it really hasn’t been before.”

States such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia and Virginia fit that profile, Kousser said. He planned to testify in the scheduled federal court hearing on the constitutionality of the new Texas voter ID law, but the state’s legal team successfully petitioned last week to deny his testimony calling it opinionated and tangential.

If the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case challenging all or parts of the Voting Rights Act in its next term, Kousser said it is possible that the entire law could be ruled unconstitutional, opening the door to a new series of election laws.

“Suppose you made everybody re-register in a central location in a limited amount of time, and did not make that registration permanent,” Kousser said. “Nobody’s proposed this yet, but we had the umbrella of the Voting Rights Act protecting against such things.”

By Nick Andersen, News21

Juan Rosa: Living the American Dream at the ballot box

Juan Rosa immigrated to the United States from El Salvador and voted for the first time in 2002. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21.

Juan Rosa, 45, of Del Valle, Texas, is the healthy living coordinator at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission.

Rosa escaped the Salvadoran Civil War and immigrated to California to live what he called the American Dream. Part of that dream includes the right to vote, and Rosa believes it is important to have his voice heard.

“As soon as I got my citizenship, I made plans to go vote, and I did. I was so proud. It was something amazing,” Rosa said of his voting in 2002. “I still have the little sticker that said “I voted” and I’m proud of it.”

Many Latino advocacy groups in Texas argue the state’s voter ID law will hamper legal access to the ballot for Latino voters like Rosa, but he understands the need for a photo ID law, he said.

“I think there are always pros and cons when things like that come up. I see the pro because it may take sometime to get used to it, but Im pretty sure that it will save some problems that I’ve seen in the past or heard about in the past with people and voting when they are not supposed to,” Rosa said.

“We have to be all for changes, and I think this is a good one. I think it’s just an extra step they are taking to be safe on the voting side,” he said.

By Lizzie Chen, News21

Lillian Johnson: Putting Florida felons back to work

Lillian Johnson, director of the Havana Learning Center, gives felons and community members who are down on their luck, a place to come together to look for work and get back on their feet. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Lillian Johnson is the founder and director of Havana (Fla.) Community Technology and Learning Center Inc. She works with felons by helping them find jobs.

“I think that after they’ve done their prison time, when they walk out of that door, they should be free citizens, right then. They should be able to have everything that they had before they went in,”Johnson said. “They’ve done the time for the crime that they’ve done. They should be free.

“They should be able to come right back out and pick up where they left off at — to be able to vote, especially. Because at this time, it’s critical. It’s critical. Do you realize how many prisoners come out and they can’t vote?”

By Andrea Rumbaugh, News21

Grace Brown: Son inspires fight for enfranchisement

Grace Brown was a member of Rhode Island's movement to restore voting rights to parolees and probationers. Photo by Maryann Batlle/News21

Grace Brown, a lifetime Rhode Island resident, got involved in the state’s successful grassroots movement to restore voting rights to parolees and probationers, she said, because of her youngest son.

“My son had been in and out of jail, and I was angry as heck with him,” Brown said. “But I had no idea what he in his spirit was going through.”

Rhode Island voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that gave Brown’s son and others like him the right to vote. Now, just residents who are incarcerated are disenfranchised.

“You have to be in charge of your own future. And the more you leave in somebody else’s hands the more you cannot feel responsible, the more you cannot feel proud of the movements, of the decisions that you’ve made,” Brown said.

Brown attended an informational seminar that she said showed her how other felons – men and women – from minority communities were affected by losing their voting rights.

Brown and a friend, whose son also was behind bars, felt after the seminar that they “had to do something because the playing field was definitely not even, and we wanted to do something to kind of knock some of those hills down,” she said.

By Maryann Batlle, News21

Sam Reed: Monitoring Washington elections

Secretrary of State Sam Reed's responsibilities include overseeing elections is Washington state. Photo provided.

A part of Sam Reed’s job as Washington’s secretary of state, is chief election official.

Reed, who is retiring this year, might best be remembered for overseeing the state’s 2004
gubernatorial election – the closest in U.S. history – and the recount that
followed.

“We made sure that everything we did was in public view,” he said. “If
there were mistakes I was the first one to announce them and here is
what we are going to do about them.”

That chapter in Washington election history exposed weak points in the state’s
voting system. Reed spent the last eight years attempting to
strengthen it, including introducing a vote-by-mail system last year.

By Joe Henke, News21

 

Rosey Ruiz: Exercising the right to vote after time served

Rosey Ruiz of Houston, Texas, is the founder of a nonprofit organization that helps men who have been in prison. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21

Rosey Ruiz of Houston, Texas, is the founder of Aspire to Win, a nonprofit that helps men who have been in prison for 10 years or more.

Ruiz draws from her own experience; she was sent to prison on felony convictions in 1985 and released in 1994. Ruiz said she is fortunate to live in a state where voting rights are restored to those who complete parole.

“Voting is very, very important, of course you lose your right to vote once you get a felony, but our right to vote is so important,” Ruiz said. “As soon as I got off paper, immediately, on the first day, I went down and registered to vote so that my voice can be heard. I feel like I have a choice today and that means a lot to me, and I have a say so on who can be put in office.”

By Lizzie Chen, News21

Tom Horne: Arizona attorney general says DOJ oversteps in elections

Tom Horne is the attorney general for Arizona. Photo by Khara Persad/News21

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says that federal oversight of the state’s elections under the Voting Rights Act was never necessary in Arizona and now calls it unconstitutional in any state.

“It’s totally unjustified,” Horne said. “I don’t think anybody is trying to prevent anyone else from voting in 2012. They probably did in 1950 in the South, but in Arizona in 2012, no one is trying to prevent anyone else from voting. And the federal government has no business trying to micromanage what we do.”

Horne filed a lawsuit last August challenging Section 5 of the federal law that requires states with a history of discrimination to be cleared before they can change local election laws.

By Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad, News21