This Is What Democracy Looks Like: The Movement for Voting Rights Restoration
August 13, 2020
Criminal disenfranchisement laws strip voting rights from people with past convictions, excluding millions of Americans from participating in our democratic process. This event brings together advocates from California, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky for a conversation about the recent developments around rights restoration in their states.
Criminal disenfranchisement laws strip voting rights from people with past convictions, excluding millions of Americans from participating in our democratic process. Even worse, these laws have a disproportionate impact on communities of color due to the pervasive racial bias in our criminal justice system, resulting in reduced political power and the underrepresentation of their interests in public policy. Given these policies’ roots in historical efforts to prevent Black citizens from voting, this impact is not surprising.
In this virtual event, the Brennan Center and Brademas Center brought together advocates from California, Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky for a conversation about the recent developments around rights restoration in their respective states. They discussed why it’s important that these efforts are led by advocates who have experienced the scourge of disenfranchisement, the connection between disenfranchisement and the protests around the country over police violence and systemic racism, and the future of the movement nationwide.
This event was produced in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice and NYU Votes.
Tayna Fogle, Democracy Fellow, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
Tayna Fogle is a mother of two young men, a grandmother of eight, and a basketball player extraordinaire. In order to stand up for the issues that were important to her family, she had to bravely defend against harsh drug sentencing policies and learn to navigate bureaucratic mazes to regain her right to vote. Tayna has created Re-entry programs, trainings and ministries in many Kentucky counties. She has been a motivational speaker and community activist, Developer and past Instructor of “Steppin To A New Beat” and the Re-entry/Employment Specialist for Ex-Offenders. Tayna has empowered others for 11 years with the Kentuckians For The Commonwealth as she volunteered, worked on campaigns for the right to vote. She is a former felon that paid her debt to society. She was the captain of a SEC championship basketball team at the University of Kentucky in 1982. She is also a former drug abuser. She spent several years in prison. She believes that her story has inspired and motivated many citizens to take part in this movement of restoring an individual’s self esteem, dignity, and self respect.
Jhody Polk, Founder and Director, Legal Empowerment & Advocacy Hub (L.E.A.H); Director of Community Justice, River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding; 2018 Soros Justice Fellow
Jhody Polk is a 2018 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow and the Executive Director and Founder of the Florida Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. She also founded the first Participatory Defense Hub in Florida, a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcomes of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system. She is also the director of the Alachua County Reentry Coalition and a community organizer with the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. Polk served as the central Florida organizer on the successful campaign to restore voting rights to over 1.5 million Floridians, and is a dedicated member of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the League of Women Voters, National Lawyers Guild, and Fight Toxic Prisons.
Taina Vargas-Edmond, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Initiate Justice
Taina Vargas-Edmond founded Initiate Justice in September 2016 with the intention of activating the political power of people directly impacted by mass incarceration. Prior to creating Initiate Justice, she worked in the organizing and policy advocacy field as the Statewide Advocacy Coordinator with Essie Justice Group, State Campaigner with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and as a Field Representative for the California State Assembly. She is directly impacted by mass incarceration, with her husband having served seven years in CA state prison.
Daniel Zeno, Policy and Advocacy Director, ACLU of Iowa
Daniel Zeno is a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Patricia Cain-Jean Love Commitment to Social Justice Award, a volunteer intake worker for the Justice for Our Neighbors immigration clinic, and a member of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee. Zeno has an MPA with a specialization in Policy Analysis and Economic Development from Indiana University and an AB in Economics from Wabash College.
Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa legal director and interim program director, said, “Daniel has a brilliant legal mind, a deep dedication to social justice and civil liberties, and is a highly effective communicator. We are tremendously excited that he is going to be a part of our team.”
Over the past three years, Zeno represented low-income Iowans in civil cases as a staff attorney with Iowa Legal Aid in Cedar Rapids. Before that, he worked in Washington, D.C., with Huron Legal, a part of the Huron Consulting Group, as a project attorney working on discovery and other document review tasks for investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission. He has also worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office as an analyst.
Zeno is responsible for implementing the ACLU of Iowa’s policy and legislative strategy, including lobbying. He’ll also work with policymakers at the county and city levels to advance the ACLU’s work in voting rights, racial justice, criminal justice reform, immigrant’s rights, free speech, reproductive freedom, women’s rights, LGBT rights, privacy rights, and more.
Sean Morales-Doyle, Deputy Director, Voting Rights & Elections, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice
Sean Morales-Doyle serves as a deputy director in the Democracy Program, where he focuses on voting rights and elections. He advocates for pro-voter reforms like automatic voter registration and voting rights restoration while fighting back against voter suppression efforts in the courts. Morales-Doyle is a seasoned litigator with experience in civil rights and constitutional matters, as well as a background in labor and employment law.
Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Morales-Doyle was a shareholder at Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd., in Chicago. He litigated all manner of civil rights and constitutional matters and represented workers and unions in a wide variety of labor and employment cases.
Morales-Doyle earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from Northwestern University. After law school, he served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois in the Special Litigation Bureau, where he investigated and litigated cases involving consumer fraud and false claims. He then served as a law clerk to Hon. William J. Hibbler of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
NYU Votes was launched in 2018 with the goal of giving every single eligible NYU student the opportunity to cast their ballot. We provide resources, instruction, and lots of outreach to keep our student voting community informed of the deadlines and processes for both registering and voting. Please visit nyu/edu/nyu-votes or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.