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Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform

Renee discusses voting rights reform initiatives with Joshua A. Douglas, University of Kentucky College of Law Professor and author of Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting.
Season 14 Episode 25 Length 26:32 Premiere: 04/21/19

Encouraging Trends in Voting Rights Reform

A thriving democracy depends on having engaged citizens.

But what if many of them don’t even bother to vote? About 61 percent of eligible Americans voted in the 2016 presidential election; only about 50 percent voted in the 2018 midterms.

And in the 2015 governor’s race in the commonwealth, about 31 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. That means even fewer people picked the actual winners.

“About 16 percent of eligible Kentuckians chose our elected officials statewide,” says voting rights expert Joshua Douglas. “That’s just not good enough.”

Douglas is a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law and author of the new book “Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting.” He appeared on KET’s Connections to share ways to increase voter participation in America.

When people talk about voting issues, the discussion often focuses on concerns about voter suppression or election fraud. But from his research into these issues, Douglas says the news isn’t all doom and gloom.

“There’s a lot of good news on the ground in communities all over the country, where people are working to promote positive reforms,” he says, “ways to make it easier to participate and more inclusive and bring more people into the political process.”

In his book, Douglas highlights a range of efforts to expand voting rights and voter participation.

“Change is possible and it’s not from entrenched politicians or the elite, it’s from everyday Americans,” says the professor. “All of us can do it in our communities, it’s already happening, and so I hope people are inspired by those stories.”

Second Chances for Felons
Kentucky and Iowa are the worst states in the nation for felon disenfranchisement, according to Douglas. But the testimony of a Covington man helped start to turn that tide in the commonwealth.

West Powell was 18 years old when he received a felony conviction for stealing a car radio from a salvage yard. Douglas says after Powell served his time, he got his life back on track, starting a business and a family.

In many states, Powell’s voting rights would have been restored after he completed his sentence for such a crime. But not in Kentucky.

Nearly 30 years later, Powell got to tell the story of his conviction and his successful reentry into society to state lawmakers who were debating a felony expungement measure. His testimony helped inspire legislators to pass a bipartisan bill in 2016 that gives certain low-level, non-violent felony offenders a process to have their criminal records expunged and their voting rights restored.

“Kentucky’s worst-in-the-country felony disenfranchisement law got a little bit better because someone like West Powell was willing to speak up,” he says.

Building the Youth Vote
Douglas says one of the best ways to foster politically active adults is to get them engaged when they are young. He says civics education in K-12 schools should be revamped to move beyond the fundamentals of government and passing legislation. He says some social studies classes are now learning something called “action civics,” which encourages students to work on a problem in their communities.

For example, Douglas tells of a class at a Washington, D.C., magnet school that successfully lobbied for free public transportation for students as a way to reduce tardiness.

“Those kids are never going to forget the importance of engaging in one’s democracy,” he says.

Other municipalities have coupled an emphasis on civics with a lower voting age. Douglas says several Maryland communities as well as Berkeley, Calif., have lowed the voting age to 16 for some local elections. Early results show that those younger teens turn out at twice the rate of 18- to 24-year olds.

“So if we can get 16- and 17-year olds to vote in the local elections on issues that really matter to them,” says Douglas, “[like] school board or local policies regarding climate change, then they have a much greater likelihood of becoming habitual voters.”

But Douglas says Kentucky statutes prevent cities and counties from adopting their own election laws, so local teen voting experiments like the ones in Maryland and California couldn’t happen here.

Other Voting Reforms
The ability to register to vote when you get a driver’s license has been available in most states for years. Now 17 states will automatically register you to vote when you apply for a new license or renew an existing one. Douglas contends that makes it easier for states to maintain accurate voter rolls by eliminating people who have moved to another jurisdiction or have died.

Other states are exploring ways to make the voting process more convenient. Some offer longer voting hours, or the opportunity to vote on the Saturday before Election Day. Other places allow early voting in person or by mail before Election Day without an excuse. Douglas says that doesn’t result in dramatically higher turnout, but it does make easier for those already inclined to vote.

Turnout is higher, through, among locales using voting centers and allowing vote by mail, according to the professor. Colorado pioneered the idea of voting centers, whereby a person can vote at any specially designated location in their county, whether it’s in their home precinct or not. Once the voter checks in, they receive a ballot that contains the contests for their home address. Douglas says all the voting centers are electronically connected so a person can only vote once. He says this gives working people more flexibility where they cast their ballots. Despite the upfront costs, Douglas says voting centers would ultimately save taxpayer dollars.

“You no longer have to have multiple precincts, you no longer have to pay as many poll workers, so actually it leads to reduced costs in the long term and higher turnout as people understand the convenience of the vote-center model,” he says.

Four states now offer a vote-by-mail option (also called vote at home) in which every voter automatically receives a ballot in the mail, whether they request it or not.

“So they have the time to research issues,” Douglas says, “and then either mail the ballot in or drop it off at a secure drop box. That’s a form of early voting that actually costs less and the voters love it.”

Reforms Seen by Some as a ‘Power Grab’
Opponents of such voting reforms fear they could benefit one party over another or lead to greater voter fraud.  In January, Congressional Democrats proposed legislation to regulate campaign finance, end partisan gerrymandering, mandate national automatic voter registration, make Election Day a holiday for federal employees, and other reforms.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) responded by calling the legislation a “power grab” that should be titled the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”

Douglas contends voter fraud is vastly overstated, and usually only occurs in local elections on the rare occasions that it does happen. As for politicians who fear voting reforms might advantage their opponents, Douglas says those candidates should focus on earning the votes of people who are new to the process.

“I don’t think we should think about these types of reforms with respect to the political implications,” he says. “Let the best ideas and the best candidates win.”

Douglas concedes not all reforms will be implemented, especially something as dramatic as the mandatory voting law that Australia has. (Failure to cast a ballot there results in a $20 fine.)

“I don’t think we need to implement something like that,” he says, “but if we adopt many or all of the reforms that are already working in places around the country, I think we can get to much higher voter participation and a democracy that we’ll really be proud of.”

If Kentucky can implement even a few of these reforms, Douglas says the commonwealth will foster a larger, more engaged electorate in the years ahead.

Related Content:

Election Laws and Protecting Voting Rights

The Electoral College’s Impact on U.S. Politics

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  • Tuesday August 9, 2022 1:09 pm CT on KETKY
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  • Tuesday August 9, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Aaron Thompson - S9 E26

  • Monday August 8, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 8, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 8, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 8, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 8, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 8, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Filmmaker Elizabeth Helm-Frazier - S16 E39

  • Sunday August 14, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 14, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday August 13, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday August 13, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

50th Anniversary of the March on Frankfort - S9 E22

  • Friday August 5, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 5, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 5, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 5, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday August 5, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday August 5, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker - S9 E21

  • Thursday August 4, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday August 4, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday August 3, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Sabrina Butler and Kate Miller - S9 E19

  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

History Maker; Tuskegee Airmen History - S9 E14

  • Monday August 1, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday August 1, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Restaurateur and Chef Ouita Michel - S16 E31

  • Sunday August 7, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday August 7, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday August 6, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday August 6, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

  • Friday July 29, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 29, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

  • Thursday July 28, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 28, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Human Trafficking - S9 E11

  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 26, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Innocence Project - S9 E9

  • Monday July 25, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 25, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tom Shelton - Henry Clay Center - S17 E18

  • Sunday July 31, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 31, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday July 30, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 30, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 11:00 am CT on KET

Pop Culture and Commodification of Women - S9 E8

  • Friday July 22, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday July 22, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Ruth Brinkley - KentuckyOne Health - S9 E5

  • Thursday July 21, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 2:14 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 1:14 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday July 21, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Malcolm Ratchford - S9 E4

  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday July 20, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Roszalyn Akins - S9 E3

  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday July 19, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Betty Baye - S9 E1

  • Monday July 18, 2022 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday July 18, 2022 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Chelsea Ellis-Hogan - S17 E9

  • Sunday July 24, 2022 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 24, 2022 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Saturday July 23, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday July 23, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday July 17, 2022 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
Top

Season 14 Episodes

The 'I Was Here' Project

S14 E36 Length 27:42 Premiere Date 08/04/19

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler

S14 E35 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 07/28/19

Filmmaker Lynn Novick

S14 E33 Length 28:27 Premiere Date 07/14/19

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education

S14 E32 Length 27:37 Premiere Date 07/07/19

Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton - Youth Mental Health

S14 E31 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 06/02/19

Julie Cerel - Youth Suicide Prevention

S14 E29 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 05/19/19

Dale Suttles - Sunrise Children's Services

S14 E28 Length 27:33 Premiere Date 05/12/19

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky

S14 E27 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 05/05/19

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform

S14 E25 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 04/21/19

Jay Box - Ky. Community & Technical College System

S14 E24 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 04/14/19

Author and Life Coach Colene Elridge

S14 E23 Length 26:19 Premiere Date 04/07/19

FIRST STEP Act - Criminal Justice Reform

S14 E22 Length 27:44 Premiere Date 03/31/19

Cheryl A. Oldham

S14 E21 Length 26:38 Premiere Date 02/22/19

Linda Hampton - Early Childhood

S14 E20 Length 29:47 Premiere Date 02/15/19

Donald Mason

S14 E19 Length 26:34 Premiere Date 02/08/19

Community Action Council; First 5 Lex

S14 E18 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 02/01/19

Seamus Carey

S14 E17 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 01/25/19

Michael Benson

S14 E16 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 01/18/19

Dr. Aaron Thompson

S14 E14 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 01/11/19

Mary Todd Lincoln and Lincoln Lexington Walking Tour

S14 E13 Length 28:55 Premiere Date 12/14/18

Youth Suicide

S14 E12 Length 29:22 Premiere Date 12/07/18

Jean Schumm and Amanda Gale

S14 E11 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11/16/18

M. Christopher Brown II

S14 E10 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 11/09/18

Frank Harris

S14 E9 Length 25:17 Premiere Date 11/02/18

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr

S14 E8 Length 29:16 Premiere Date 10/26/18

Amy McGrath

S14 E7 Length 29:02 Premiere Date 10/19/18

Kevin Chapman - Youth Mental Health

S14 E6 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 10/12/18

Carol Cecil; Resa Gonzalez - Youth Mental Health

S14 E5 Length 26:03 Premiere Date 10/05/18

Joe Bargione - Youth Mental Health

S14 E4 Length 28:57 Premiere Date 09/28/18

WKU President Timothy Caboni

S14 E3 Length 28:40 Premiere Date 09/21/18

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi

S14 E1 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 09/14/18

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