Is It Time For A Right to Vote in the Constitution?
July 9, 2013
The right to vote is the foundation of any democracy, yet the Supreme Court has just struck down a central provision of the Voting Rights Act. Unlike the citizens of all but 11 nations, Americans do not have an explicit right to vote in their constitution. Congressman Mark Pocan is a lead sponsor of HJ Res. 44 in the U.S. House of Representatives to strengthen the claims of all citizens to exercise their suffrage rights. American cities have also begun to consider resolutions to support a constitutional right to vote and changes designed to promote, protect and expand voting.
What would a right to vote in the Constitution mean for particular voting rights struggles? How would it affect the future of the Voting Rights Act and voting rights for the people of Washington, D.C.? Congressman Pocan will make the case for an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Discussing what the amendment may mean for enhancing a voting rights movement are Washington Correspondent for The Nation John Nichols, Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis and Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson. Takoma Park city councilor Tim Male and FairVote's PromoteOurVote.com director Patricia Hart will outline one strategy launched at a local level that holds promise for a realistic roadmap for reform. Mark Schmitt, Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute moderated the discussion.
The Honorable Mark Pocan
Following 14 years in the Wisconsin State Assembly, Congressman Mark Pocan was sworn in on January 3, 2013, as the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s second district.
The second district includes Dane, Green, Iowa, LaFayette, Sauk, and portions of Rock and Richland counties.
Following 14 years in the Wisconsin State Assembly, Congressman Mark Pocan was sworn in on January 3, 2013, as the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s second district, which includes Dane, Green, Iowa, LaFayette, Sauk, and portions of Rock and Richland counties. A small business owner, union member and lifelong advocate for progressive causes, Rep. Pocan is committed to using his unique experience from both the private and public sector to fight for polices that promote job growth and support the families of south central Wisconsin. In Congress, he serves on both the Budget Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and has been appointed an assistant minority whip.
Rep. Pocan’s commitment to standing up for the middle class began in the home. Born and raised in the blue-collar town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, he learned about hard work from his parents, who each ran their own small business. At eight-years-old, he got his start in politics delivering literature door-to-door for his father, who served as a long-time Kenosha alder, and by the age of 12, he was attending city council meetings. Rep. Pocan received his degree from the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and then followed in his parents’ footsteps and opened his own small business, a union specialty printing shop that he continues to run today.
After three terms on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Pocan succeeded Tammy Baldwin in 1998 as the State Representative of Wisconsin’s 78th Assembly district, covering central Madison and surrounding areas. In his seven terms in the State Assembly, Rep. Pocan made his mark as a tough, progressive legislator who could bridge Wisconsin’s political divide to forge legislative successes. During his time in the capitol, he served for six years on the Joint Finance Committee, including one term as the co-chair where he passed a budget during record state deficits that protected the priorities and services important to the people of Wisconsin. Some of his other legislative accomplishments included passing the American Jobs Act and Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act, both of which he wrote, as well as successful fights on paper trails for electronic voting machines, protecting collective bargaining rights and establishing domestic partner protections. His reputation as a legislator who produced results earned him the honor of Milwaukee Magazine’s “Best Legislator,” the last time the rankings occurred in 2009.
Being involved in his community is also important to Rep. Pocan, who is a member of Clean Wisconsin, International Union of Painters & Allied Trades (IUPAT), Sierra Club, Fair Wisconsin, Southern Poverty Law Center, Colombia Support Network/Apartado Sister City Organization, and the Human Rights Campaign. His dedication to his community is also highlighted by his long-time commitment to the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. He became a Big Brother in 1989 and still helps the organization raise money so that more children can reach their full potential. Rep. Pocan’s “Little Brother” earned his Masters Degree from UW-Madison and now works in Washington, DC.
Meet the Panel
Judith Browne Dianis; Co-Director, Advancement Project
Judith Browne Dianis is a prominent civil rights litigator and experienced racial justice advocate in the areas of voting, education, housing, and immigrants’ rights. She has served as counsel in several significant voting rights cases including against the state of Florida in 2000. She continues to eliminate barriers to voting through Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Project. Under her leadership, Advancement Project has been successfully ending the overuse of suspensions and arrests in school districts across the country. Dianis has authored groundbreaking reports on the issue including: Opportunities Suspended and Derailed: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, examining the undue criminalization of students by their schools. Dianis is on the Board of FairTest, and the Board of Advisors for New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative; she also is a founding convener of the Forum for Education and Democracy. Dianis worked tirelessly to protect survivors of Hurricane Katrina filing critical litigation to protect their rights and advocated for fair treatment of immigrant workers in New Orleans.
Dianis joined Advancement Project at its inception in 1999, after serving as the Managing Attorney in the Washington, D.C. office of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. She is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law and a recipient of the distinguished Skadden Fellowship. She served as a Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University Law School, and as Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. Dianis was named one of the “Thirty Women to Watch” by Essence Magazine and has been a prominent media commentator on race and civil rights issues, appearing frequently on MSBNC and CNN.
Patricia Hart; Project Director, Representation 2020 - FairVote
Patricia Hart is Project Director of Representation 2020 - for which FairVote is a Mary Wohlford grant recipient - and Promote Our Vote.
Patricia graduated in 2012 from Eastern Kentucky University, where she studied political science. While in school, Patricia served as a congressional intern and participated in over eight political campaigns on the local, state and national level. She also led several activist projects directed at fostering equality despite sexual orientation and gender.
As the Director of Feminists for Change, an organization that seeks to end gender discrimination, Patricia led a women's health campaign, which engaged elected officials in important issues such as the HPV mandate and cervical cancer screenings. While acting as the Public Relations Director of The Alphabet Center, an LGBT resource center, she was awarded a grant to run The State of the Gay Campaign, which worked to end discrimination in Kentucky's workplaces through awareness, education, affirmation and activism. After graduation, Patricia worked as a sustainability intern for Berea College.
Tim Male; Ward 2, Takoma Park City Council (MD)
Winnie Roberts, my partner of more than 20 years, and I live on Woodland Avenue. Takoma Park has been our home for almost a decade. Our daughter, Zoe, goes to Piney Branch Elementary School and has played soccer in the Takoma Soccer league since she was three. Our son, Finnian, is following in his sister's soccer footsteps and spends his days with excellent caregivers at the Takoma Park Child Development Center.
I have been interested in public service since I was seven when President Carter responded to a letter sent to him by one of my best friends – it may have been an autopen but I was awed that the President of the United States took the time to write back to a child.
I have been both a registered public interest lobbyist and a senior ecologist for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the nation's largest, most successful and most business-friendly environmental groups, finding market-based solutions to environmental problems. A major portion of my work there was to help direct their campaign to reform U.S. farm and food policies, expand support for farmers markets and organic agriculture and fight against subsidies for unhealthy commodities. I led the development of a proposal that will bring more than $15 million to a state to reduce stormwater runoff problems from agricultural lands.
I worked for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation managing a multi-million dollar grant portfolio and tracking budgets and accomplishments on dozens of grants; I helped build implementation successes of the Foundations new strategic plan - turning vision into on the ground success. Projects were focused on water quality improvements in the mountains of California and other regional initiatives.
I currently serve as Vice-President for Conservation Policy for Defenders of Wildlife where I directly supervise 15 staff across the country, control and raise funds to support a $2.1 million dollar budget, and oversee strategic planning to build my team into a more effective engine generating public policy improvements at the federal and state level. I supervise two PhD economists, and other teams focused on public land policy, endangered species and state efforts to use a carrot rather than a stick to promote environmental restoration.
I worked for the state government in Hawaii, helping private landowners and corporations get millions in grants and negotiate complicated regulatory agreements with the state and federal government that would increase business certainty and help endangered wildlife. Earlier I worked as a biologist in Australia, New Zealand, Virgina, New York, Texas and Alabama.
Rashad Robinson; Executive Director, ColorOfChange
Rashad Robinson serves as Executive Director of ColorOfChange, having joined the organization in May 2011. For well over a decade, Robinson has helped to mobilize communities across the country to create more inclusive cultural and political institutions. A recognized expert on how popular culture impacts American attitudes and values, he has served as a thought leader, widely sought-out speaker and strategist on utilizing media to shift public opinion concerning progressive and civil rights issues. He has appeared in hundreds of news stories, interviews, and political discussions through outlets such as ABC, BET, CNN, MSNBC, OWN, The New York Times, Fast Company, and NPR. In 2010 and 2011, Robinson was selected as one of "The Root 100," a list of emerging and influential African Americans under 45. He has previously held leadership roles at GLAAD, the Right to Vote Campaign, and FairVote.
John Nichols; The Nation
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Outfoxed," and in the documentaries Joan Sekler's "Unprecedented," Matt Kohn's "Call It Democracy" and Robert Pappas's "Orwell Rolls in his Grave." The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country."
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It's the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation's media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Mark Schmitt; Roosevelt Institute
Mark is a leading progressive writer and organizational leader, with a deep understanding of the importance of ideas in the political process.
Most recently Mark was executive editor of The American Prospect, a position he held since 2008. He guided the Prospect during a period when it won several awards, including the Utne Reader award for best political magazine, for its coverage of the policy and political battles of the first two years of the Obama administration. Mark has worked in government and philanthropy, as well as journalism. He was policy director to former Senator Bill Bradley in the 1990s and a senior advisor on Bradley's 2000 presidential campaign, and directed a large program on political reform at the Open Society Institute. Before joining the Prospect, he was a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mschmitt9.