Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population

Minnesota has an aging, declining population coupled with shortages of skilled and other labor, as discussed in prior posts.[1] Here is additional information on that subject along with words about the problems of shortages of medical care in rural parts of the nation and the challenges of having more immigrants.

Skilled Labor Shortages[2]

As of September 30, 2019, “the number of job vacancies in Minnesota continues to climb and is now at the highest total on record — which state officials said continues to be of concern because it could slow economic growth. . . . More than half of the job vacancies were in the seven-county Twin Cities area. . . . While most of the openings statewide are in the health care and social assistance field, nearly 8% are in manufacturing.”

These shortages have led to employers expanding “job candidate lists to include older workers, people with disabilities, people of color and other groups sometimes marginalized from good-paying jobs.”

Other responses to these shortages include employers busing metro-area residents to companies in smaller nearby cities, buying houses to rent to new employees, investing in apartment buildings for renting to the newcomers, engaging in social media campaigns about the companies and their towns, designing high school courses for needed job skills, and sponsoring social activities for newcomers.

Warning signs of a downturn in the U.S. and Minnesota economy, however, threaten this demand for more skilled and other labor. On October 1, a report showed that nationwide factory activity in September fell to the lowest level since 2009, the last month of the Great Recession. As a result, some economists now consider the manufacturing sector to be in a recession. This  follows months of worrying earnings and other economic reports that signaled slowing economies around the world and heightened pressures as U.S. factories scrambled to deal with the shortage of skilled workers and the fallout from a volatile trade war with China.

Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group, which measures activity in Minnesota and eight other states including the Dakota, said through its Director, Ernie Goss, “Based on the last two months of surveys of manufacturing supply managers, both the U.S. and Mid-America economies are likely to move even lower in the months ahead.”  The probability of a recession during the first half of 2020 has “risen significantly” over the past few months.

Another expert, Thomas Simons, senior money market economist at Jefferies LLC, said that the Mid-America economy has been expanding in 2019 at a pace well below that of the nation and that  recent reports were “troubling,” “weaker than expected” and dragged down by “non-organic forces” such as the trade war and Boeing’s grounding of its entire fleet of 737 Max Jets. . .  Manufacturing itself is in a recession, but it does not mean that the overall economy is in a recession.” These thoughts were echoed by Tom Hainlin, national investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis: “Easily the biggest issue that [manufacturing executives] talk about is trade. . . . The manufacturers are not just worried about the trade war between the Trump administration and China, but also unresolved trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, Germany’s weak economy and unfinished U.S. trade policies that affect Europe’s auto industry.”

Another bit of negative news came on October 1 when the World Trade Organization slashed its forecast for trade growth for this year and next. World trade in merchandise is now expected to expand by only 1.2 percent during 2019, in what would be the weakest year since 2009, when it plunged by nearly 13 percent in the midst of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. The W.T.O. warned that intensifying trade conflicts posed a direct threat to jobs and livelihoods, while discouraging companies from expanding and innovating.

In response to this new negative news, global stock markets declined on October 1 and 2.

Medical Care Shortages [3]

Rural areas in Minnesota and other states also are facing shortages of primary-care physicians and other doctors. “In the medical desert that has become rural America, nothing is more basic or more essential than access to doctors, but they are increasingly difficult to find. The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as ‘medically underserved.’ It is home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but fewer than 10 percent of its doctors, and that ratio is worsening each year because of what health experts refer to as “the gray wave.” Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60. Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat.”

One example of this shortage is the State of Texas, where “159 of the state’s 254 counties have no general surgeons, 121 counties have no medical specialists, and 35 counties have no doctors at all. Thirty more counties are each forced to rely on just a single doctor.”

A related problem is the closure of at least 113 rural hospitals in the U.S. since 2010. It, therefore, should not be surprising that “elderly patients are more likely to die when the nearest rural hospital closes and they have to travel farther for treatment of time-sensitive conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by a new University of Minnesota health economist.” This study also invalidates  the theory that rural patients might do better after a hospital closes because they would travel farther for higher-quality care.

 Challenges of More Immigrants [4]

The Minnesota city of Worthington has been cited in this blog as an example of a city that has successfully welcomed and integrated immigrants. Its “population has surged from fewer than 10,000 in 1990 to more than 13,000 today and its residents expect it to exceed 14,000 in the near future with immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population.  And the median age is under 36.”

“Some of the [Worthington] immigrants are entrepreneurs, who described the difficulties they had in getting their businesses started and frustration over lack of stores with their favorite foods and police forces still almost exclusively locally born white people. But they still expressed optimism about their future in this community.”

Worthington had recently been visited by “Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. At a community meeting in the town he said, “If you do the math, there are three choices we have as a society. One choice is just accept slower growth. A second choice is to subsidize [human] fertility. Or number three, you can embrace immigration. Now the advantage we have in the U.S. is that, while we are not perfect, we are better than just about any other country at embracing immigrants and integrating them in our society.”

More recently, the Washington Post published a critical article about this small city as it struggles to meet the educational needs of the children of these immigrants and the costs of doing so.

This article reports that in the past six years, more than 400 unaccompanied minors have been placed in Worthington’s . . .[county]— the second most per capita in the country. . . . Their arrival has helped swell Worthington’s student population by almost one-third, forcing administrators to convert storage space into classrooms and teachers to sprint between periods, book carts in tow.” As a consequence, “the number of ELL [English language learner] students in Worthington has nearly doubled since 2013, to 35 percent of students. In the high school, where most unaccompanied minors are placed, it has almost tripled.”

In response, the Worthington school district has “scrambled to hire Spanish-speaking teachers, who are part educators, part parents, part therapists. Many unaccompanied minors live with unfamiliar relatives who offer little support. Teachers often fill the void, arriving early, staying late, even buying their students groceries.”

To meet this challenge, the school district over the last five years has “asked residents to approve an expansion of its schools to handle the surge in enrollment. Five times, the voters have refused” with another scheduled this Fall. According to this article, “The driving force [in this Trump-supporting county]behind the defeats has been a handful of white farmers,’ who provide a major portion of its tax base. One activist said, ““White people here don’t want to pay for people of color and undocumented children to go to school.”

The Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Veena Iyer, disagreed  with the Washington Post article. She said, “Immigrants keep Worthington strong, growing, and working — and many residents welcome them. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota has worked in Worthington for more than a decade. We have seen many residents respond with welcome arms and generosity as one wave of immigrants after another arrived. This century’s immigrants reversed a decline in population and prosperity that threatened Worthington and that still characterizes too many rural communities. . . . These immigrants come from Guatemala and Mexico, and also from Laos, Myanmar and Ethiopia. In all, they come from 80 different countries and speak more than 40 languages. They are young — with an average age of 36 — and hardworking. Immigrants make large contributions to the local economy and help make Worthington a vibrant and dynamic community. . . . Immigrants remain a crucial part of Worthington’s past, its present and its hope for the future.”

The Washington Post article, however, spurred Michele Bachmann, the former Republican member of the House of Representatives from a district north of the Twin Cities and far away from Worthington, to write an article in the leading newspaper of the State, lamenting the “ideological civil war” in the town created by the immigrants’ causing “significant social disruption and severely strain[ing] local resources.”

Bachmann’s article prompted a letter to the editor from a former senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who voiced three criticisms of Bachmann. First, she failed to recognize that immigrants pay state and federal income and payroll taxes, sales taxes when they shop and real estate taxes whether they are homeowners or renters. Second, she also failed to recognize that immigrants “are significant contributors to the development and growth of our economy.” They “start businesses and help existing ones to grow” and replace “our retiring baby boomer workforce.” Third, she failed to suggest “ways to redesign [our broken immigration system] to support 21st century community growth and the development of our economy.”

 Impact of Lower Immigration Numbers [5]

The latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Service indicates that the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population “dropped to almost 200,000 people in 2018, a decline of more than 70 percent from the prior year.” According to the Chief Demographer at the Brookings Institution, William Frey, said this “was likely caused to a more restrictive approach by the Trump administration.”

Mr. Frey also pointed out that of the 14 states with the lowest concentrations of foreign-born people, 12 voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. In half of those 12 states, Asians dominated recent immigrant gains and in 10 of those states, immigrants are more likely than native-born residents to hold bachelor’s degrees.

Another expert, David Bier of the Cato Institute, observed, “It’s remarkable. This is something that really hasn’t happened since the Great Recession. This should be very concerning to the administration that its policies are scaring people away.”

Also favoring more U.S. immigration was the Chair of the Latino Donor Collaborative, Sol Trujillo, who said if  “the U.S. Latino population were an independent economy, its gross domestic product would be the fastest-growing among the world’s developed economies. U.S. Latino GDP is now $2.3 trillion, as detailed in a new report that estimates the group’s economic output by measuring their share across 71 industries.” Continued growth of the U.S. economy requires the continued growth of Latino immigration to counteract the decline in U.S. labor-force growth.

In addition, Trujillo says, “Latinos also strengthen the economy by creating jobs. Latino entrepreneurs produce more than $700 billion annually. And as Latinos in the U.S. have become wealthier, they increasingly contribute to the economy as consumers. They account for nearly 30% of America’s growth in real income. With that comes purchasing power, and from 2010-17 real consumption by Latinos in the U.S. grew 72% faster than the rest of the population.”

Trujillo continues. “The U.S. needs an immigration policy focused on recruiting people who are ready to work in every sort of job, who have demonstrated an exemplary work ethic, and who have become essential workers in many industries.” This requires “comprehensive reform of immigration laws and policies.”

Conclusion

Once again, Minnesota and other states with aging, declining population need more immigrants. The Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions are contrary to the U.S. national interest and need to be abolished as soon as possible.

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[1] E.g., Minnesota Facing Slowdown in Labor Force Growth, dwkcommentaries.com (September 3, 2019); Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 2, 2019).

[2] DePass, Job vacancies in Minnesota rise again, StarTribune (September 30, 2019); Forgrave, Worker shortage sparks Minnesota businesses to think outside the box, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019); DePass, Manufacturing in Minnesota slumps but faring better than nation as a whole, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2019); Goodman, Global Trade Is Deteriorating Fast, Sapping the World’s Economy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2019); Tsang, Stocks Slide as Investors Face New Evidence of a Slowdown, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2019); Bernhard & Vigna, U.S. Stocks Drop on Worries About Growth, W.S.J. (Oct. 2, 2019) .

[3]  Saslow, ‘Out here, it’s just me;’ In the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 miles, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2019); Olson, Deaths rise after hospitals close, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019).

[4]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries (Aug. 5, 2018); Miller, Immigrant kids fill this town’s schools. Their bus driver is leading the backlash, Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2019); Iyer, Immigrants make our community stronger, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Bachmann, Washington Post article shows that open borders rip our towns apart, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Letters re Bachmann, Star Tribune (Sept. 30, 2019);

 

[5] Tavernise, Immigrant Population Growth in the U.S. Slows to a Trickle, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019); Trujillo, Latino Workers Save America From Stagnation, W.S>J. (Sept. 25, 2019).

 

 

Naturalized U.S. Citizens: Important Contributors to U.S. Culture and Economy

U.S. citizens are those individuals who were born in the U.S. as well as those born elsewhere to a parent who is a U.S. citizen. In addition, there are those who choose to become naturalized U.S. citizens by filing an Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and meeting the following requirements of U.S. law:

  • Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Be a lawful permanent resident (green card holder);
  • Have resided in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years;
  • Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months;
  • Be a person of good moral character;
  • Be able to speak, read, write and understand the English language;
  • Have knowledge of U.S. government and history; and
  • Be willing and able to take the Oath of Allegiance. [1]

The average annual number of individuals who became U.S. citizens increased from less than 120,000 during the 1950s and 1960s to 210,000 during the 1980s, and 500,000 during the 1990s. In the 21st century the annual average has increased to nearly 690,000 as shown by the following statistics:

Fiscal Year Total New Naturalized U.S. Citizens Fiscal Year Total New Naturalized U.S. Citizens
2000     888,788 2008 1,050,399[2]
2001     613,161 2009     741,982
2002     589,727 2010     619,075
2003     456,063 2011     690,705
2004     536,176 2012     762,742
2005     600,366 2013     777,416
2006     702,663 2014     654,949
2007     659,233 TOTAL 10,343.445

Until the 1970s, the majority of persons naturalizing were born in European countries. In the 1970s the regional origin of new citizens shifted from Europe to Asia due to increased legal immigration from Asian countries, the arrival of Indochinese refugees, and the historically higher naturalization rate of Asian immigrants. This summary from the U.S. Government, however, fails to aggregate the people from South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean into a Latin American group. For the latest available fiscal year (2013), the new citizens came from the following regions of the world:

Region of origin Number Percentage
Latin America    339,229    43.5%
Asia    275,700    35.3%
Europe     80,333    10.3%
Africa     71,872      9.2%
Other    12,795      1.6%
TOTAL 779,929 100.0%

In FY 2013, the top countries of origin for naturalization were in the following order: Mexico, India, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, China and Cuba.

In FY 2013, 75 percent of all individuals naturalizing resided in 10 states (in descending order): California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia and Pennsylvania. That same fiscal year the leading metropolitan areas of residence were New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA (17.5 percent); Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA (9 percent); and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL (8.6 percent).

Conclusion

These new citizens provide an infusion of new perspectives on culture and on the U.S. itself. We are blessed to have them join us. Many other industrialized countries like Japan do not have this openness to newcomers and, therefore, struggle with aging and declining populations and resulting diminished influence in the world.

Although the public information for becoming a naturalized citizen on the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is the basis for this post, is very useful, anyone thinking of doing so should consider consulting with an U.S. attorney with experience in this area of the law.

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[2] There also are other provisions for naturalization for members of the U.S. military and for children under the age of 18.

[2] The unusually large number of new naturalized citizens in FY 2008 was due primarily to applications received in advance of a fee increase in calendar 2008 and to a special effort to encourage eligible individuals to submit applications for citizenship.

U.S. Restrictions on Felon Voting Do Not Comply with International Law

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International law regarding voting is found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or Covenant) that was approved and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966. The drafting of the treaty was the work of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, in which the U.S. participated.[1]

The Covenant’s Terms and Parties

This Covenant establishes an international minimum standard of governmental conduct for rights of self-determination; legal redress; equality; life; liberty; freedom of movement; fair, public and speedy trial of criminal charges; privacy; freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion; peaceful assembly; freedom of association; family; and participation in public life. The Covenant forbids “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;” slavery; arbitrary arrest; double jeopardy; and imprisonment for debt.

Article 25 (b) of this treaty states, “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 [race, colour [sic], sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status] and without unreasonable restrictions: To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” (Emphasis added.)

On June 8, 1992, the U.S. finally became a party to the treaty, nearly 26 years after the Covenant had been approved by the U.N. The U.S. accession to the treaty was subject to five reservations, five understandings, four declarations and one proviso. Potentially relevant to the issue of voting rights for felons are the U.S. understandings that (1) distinctions based on . . . other status [felon?] are permissible if rationally related to a legitimate governmental objective; . . . (3) certain practices concerning accused and convicted individuals were preserved; . . . and (5) the obligation of the U.S. federal government to enforce the Covenant in the federal system were limited.”[2]

Earlier (on March 23, 1976), the Covenant had gone into force, in accordance with its Article 49(1), after 35 states had ratified or acceded to the treaty. Now there are 168 states parties to the Covenant.

The Covenant’s Human Rights Committee

UN Human Rts

Article 28 of this treaty establishes a Human Rights Committee that is empowered under Article 40 to receive, analyze and comment on periodic reports from parties to the treaty regarding their compliance with its provisions, and the Committee may also issue authoritative “general comments” about the treaty.

The Committee’s General Comment No. 25 Regarding Voting Rights

On August 27, 1996, the Committee issued its General Comment No. 25: “The right to participate in public affairs, voting rights and the right of equal access to public service.”

It stated, in part, “The right to vote at elections and referenda must be established by law and may be subject only to reasonable restrictions, such as setting a minimum age limit for the right to vote. It is unreasonable to restrict the right to vote on the ground of physical disability or to impose literacy, educational or property requirements. Party membership should not be a condition of eligibility to vote, nor a ground of disqualification.” (Para. 10) (Emphasis added.)

The Comment added, “In their reports, States parties should indicate and explain the legislative provisions which would deprive citizens of their right to vote. The grounds for such deprivation should be objective and reasonable. If conviction for an offence [sic] is a basis for suspending the right to vote, the period of such suspension should be proportionate to the offence [sic] and the sentence. Persons who are deprived of liberty but who have not been convicted should not be excluded from exercising the right to vote.” (Para. 14)

Proceedings Regarding the Most Recent U.S. Report to the Committee [3]

  1. The U.S. Report to the Committee.

The U.S. has submitted four periodic reports to the Committee, most recently on December 30, 2011, which stated the following with respect to voting rights:

  • “Criminal conviction and mental incompetence. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly recognizes the right of states to bar an individual from voting ‘for participation in rebellion, or other crime.’ Accordingly, most states deny voting rights to persons who have been convicted of certain serious crimes. The standards and procedures for criminal disenfranchisement vary from state to state. In most states, this inability to vote is terminated by the end of a term of incarceration or by the granting of pardon or restoration of rights.” (Para. 457) (Emphasis added.)
  • Felony disenfranchisement is a matter of continuing debate in the states of the United States. It has been criticized as weakening our democracy by depriving citizens of the vote, and also for its disproportionate affects on racial minorities. As noted in the Second and Third Periodic Report, in August 2001 the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford, recommended that all states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences. At the time of the previous report, a number of states had moved to reduce the scope of felony disenfranchisement or otherwise to facilitate the recovery of voting rights for those who can regain them.” (Para. 458) (Emphasis added.)
  • “Since the submission of the Second and Third Periodic Report in 2005, modification of state laws and procedures has continued. For example, in 2005, the Governor of Iowa issued an executive order eliminating lifetime disenfranchisement for persons convicted of an “infamous crime” and making restoration of voting rights automatic for persons completing their sentences. This order, however, was revoked by a successor Governor in 2011. Also in 2005, the legislature in Nebraska repealed its lifetime ban on voting for all felons and replaced it with a 2-year post-sentence ban. In 2006, Rhode Island voters approved a referendum to amend the state’s constitution to restore voting rights to persons currently serving a sentence of probation or parole. In 2006, the Tennessee legislature amended its complex restoration system to provide a more straightforward procedure under which all persons convicted of felonies (except electoral or serious violence offenses) are now eligible to apply for a ‘certificate of restoration’ upon completion of their sentences. In 2007, the Maryland legislature repealed all provisions of the state’s lifetime voting ban and instituted an automatic restoration policy for all persons upon completion of a sentence.” (Para. 459)
  • “In 2009, the Washington state legislature enacted the Washington Voting Rights Registration Act, which eliminates the requirement that persons who have completed their felony sentences pay all fees, fines and restitution before being allowed to vote. Florida, however, toughened its laws in March 2011, banning automatic restoration of voting rights for all convicted felons. Currently 48 states restrict voting by persons convicted of felonies in some manner; further information on felony disenfranchisement can be found in the Common Core Document.” (Para. 459)
  • “In July 2009, a bill entitled the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009 was introduced in both the Senate (S. 1516) and the House of Representatives (H.R. 3335). This bill would establish uniform standards restoring voting rights in elections for federal office to Americans who are no longer incarcerated but continue to be denied their ability to participate in such elections. A hearing on H.R. 3335 was held in the House of Representatives on March 16, 2010, but the bills did not proceed further. This legislation has been reintroduced in the House in the 112th Congress (H.R. 2212).” (Para. 460)[4]
  1. The Committee’s List of Issues for the U.S.

On April 29, 2013, the Committee issued its “List of issues” for response by the U.S. Its paragraph 26(a) stated, “Please provide information on: (a) The rationale for prohibiting persons with felony convictions from voting in federal elections once they have completed their sentence. Please provide information on steps taken to ensure that states restore voting rights to citizens who have fully served their sentences and those who have been released on parole. Please also provide information on the extent that the regulations relating to deprivation of votes for felony conviction impact on the rights of minority groups.” (Emphasis added.)

  1. U.S. Replies to the Committee’s List of Issues

On July 5, 2013, the U.S. submitted its replies to the Committee’s list of issues. In paragraph 128, the U.S. stated, “The U.S. Constitution generally provides that governments of the individual states, not the U.S. Congress, determine who is eligible to vote in their state. Congress has the power to regulate elections for federal offices and has constitutional authority to eradicate discrimination in voting through the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. According to the Brennan Center of NYU Law School, 48 states restrict voting by persons convicted of felony offenses in some manner, although the majority of these states provide for restoration of voting rights to felons who have been released from prison and/or are no longer on parole or probation. A few states prohibit felons from voting for life. Legal challenges alleging that state felon disenfranchisement laws violate either the U.S. Constitution’s non-discrimination principle or other federal voting rights statutes have generally not succeeded absent proof of racially discriminatory purpose.” (Emphasis added.)

  1. U.S. Attorney General’s Statement About Felony Disenfranchisement
Attorney General                    Eric Holder
Attorney General       Eric Holder

Outside the context of the Committee’s review of the U.S. report, on February 11, 2014, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made extensive and powerful comments regarding felony disenfranchisement in his speech, “Criminal Justice Reform,” at Georgetown University Law Center. He said the following:

  • “[W]e’ve seen that maintaining family connections, developing job skills, and fostering community engagement can reduce the likelihood of re-arrest. And we know that restoring basic rights – and encouraging inclusion in all aspects of society – increases the likelihood of successful reintegration.  We’ve taken significant steps forward in improving reentry policies and addressing the unintended collateral consequences of certain convictions.”
  • “Yet formerly incarcerated people continue to face significant obstacles.  They are frequently deprived of opportunities they need to rebuild their lives. And in far too many places, their rights – including the single most basic right of American citizenship – the right to vote – are either abridged or denied.”
  • “As the Leadership Conference Education Fund articulated very clearly in . . . [its] recent report, ‘there is no rational reason to take away someone’s voting rights for life just because they’ve committed a crime, especially after they’ve completed their sentence and made amends.’  On the contrary: there is evidence to suggest that former prisoners whose voting rights are restored are significantly less likely to return to the criminal justice system.  As . . . [this] report further notes, a study recently conducted by a parole commission in Florida found that, while the overall three-year recidivism rate stood at roughly 33 percent, the rate among those who were re-enfranchised after they’d served their time was just a third of that.”
  • “Unfortunately, the [Florida] re-enfranchisement policy that contributed to this stunning result has been inexplicably and unwisely rolled back since that study was completed.  And, in other states, officials have raised hurdles to be faced by those with past convictions seeking to regain their access to the ballot box.  And that’s why I believe that . . . [it] is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.”
  • “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive.  By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.  They undermine the reentry process and defy the principles – of accountability and rehabilitation – that guide our criminal justice policies. . . . At worst, these laws, with their disparate impact on minority communities, echo policies enacted during a deeply troubled period in America’s past – a time of post-Civil War repression. And they have their roots in centuries-old conceptions of justice that were too often based on exclusion, animus, and fear.”
  • “The history of felony disenfranchisement dates to a time when these policies were employed not to improve public safety, but purely as punitive measures – intended to stigmatize, shame, and shut out a person who had been found guilty of a crime.  Over the course of many decades – court by court, state by state – Americans broadly rejected the colonial-era notion that the commission of a crime should result in lifelong exclusion from society.”
  • “After Reconstruction, many Southern states enacted disenfranchisement schemes to specifically target African Americans and diminish the electoral strength of newly-freed populations.  The resulting system of unequal enforcement – and discriminatory application of the law – led to a situation, in 1890, where ninety percent of the Southern prison population was black.  And those swept up in this system too often had their rights rescinded, their dignity diminished, and the full measure of their citizenship revoked for the rest of their lives.  They could not vote.”
  • “Yet – despite this remarkable, once-unimaginable [civil rights] progress – the vestiges, and the direct effects, of outdated practices remain all too real. In many states, felony disenfranchisement laws are still on the books.  And the current scope of these policies is not only too significant to ignore – it is also too unjust to tolerate.”
  • “Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions.  That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states.  And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.”
  • “Throughout America, 2.2 million black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws.  In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five. These individuals and many others – of all races, backgrounds, and walks of life – are routinely denied the chance to participate in the most fundamental and important act of self-governance.  They are prevented from exercising an essential right.  And they are locked out from achieving complete rehabilitation and reentry – even after they’ve served the time, and paid the fines, that they owe.”
  • “Fortunately . . . in recent years we have begun to see a trend in the right direction.  Since 1997, a total of 23 states – including Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, and Washington State – have enacted meaningful reforms.  In Virginia, just last year, former Governor McDonnell adopted a policy that began to automatically restore the voting rights of former prisoners with non-violent felony convictions.”
  • “These are positive developments.  But many of these changes are incremental in nature.  They stop well short of confronting this problem head-on.  And although we can be encouraged by the promising indications we’ve seen, a great deal of work remains to be done.  Given what is at stake, the time for incrementalism is clearly over.”
  • “Eleven states continue to restrict voting rights, to varying degrees, even after a person has served his or her prison sentence and is no longer on probation or parole – including the State of Florida, where approximately 10 percent of the entire population is disenfranchised as a result.  In Mississippi, roughly 8 percent of the population cannot vote because of past involvement with the criminal justice system. In Iowa, action by the governor in 2011 caused the state to move from automatic restoration of rights – following the completion of a criminal sentence – to an arduous process that requires direct intervention by the governor himself in every individual case.  It’s no surprise that, two years after this change – of the 8,000 people who had completed their sentences during that governor’s tenure – voting rights had been restored to fewer than 12.”
  • “That’s moving backwards – not forward. It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.  These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.  And so today, I call upon state leaders and other elected officials across the country to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.”
  • “And I call upon the American people – who overwhelmingly oppose felony disenfranchisement – to join us in bringing about the end of misguided policies that unjustly restrict what’s been called the ‘most basic right’ of American citizenship.”
  • The “inconsistent patchwork of laws affecting felony disenfranchisement varies so widely between states – and, in some places, between cities and counties – that even those who administer the laws are sometimes unfamiliar with how to apply them. The New York Times noted in 2012 that this kind of confusion means that many who are legally allowed to vote erroneously believe that their rights are restricted.  And too often, those who do understand their rights are wrongfully turned away.”
  • “[P]ermanent exclusion from the civic community does not advance any objective of our criminal justice system.  It has never been shown to prevent new crimes or deter future misconduct.   And there’s no indication that those who have completed their sentences are more likely to commit electoral crimes of any type – or even to vote against pro-law enforcement candidates.
  • “What is clear – and abundantly so – is that these laws sever a formerly incarcerated person’s most direct link to civic participation.  They cause further alienation and disillusionment between these individuals and the communities . . . . And particularly at a time when our prisons are overflowing – and many who are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and incarceration – it is counterproductive to exclude these individuals from the voting franchise once their involvement with the corrections system is at an end.  It is contrary to the goals that bring us together today.”
  • “Whenever we tell citizens who have paid their debts and rejoined their communities that they are not entitled to take part in the democratic process, we fall short of the bedrock promise – of equal opportunity and equal justice – that has always served as the foundation of our legal system.  So it’s time to renew our commitment – here and now – to the notion that the free exercise of our fundamental rights should never be subject to politics, or geography, or the lingering effects of flawed and unjust policies.”
  1. Committee’s Hearings

At a Committee hearing on March 14, 2014, an U.S. representative (Roy Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice) said, “Persons convicted of crimes were not necessarily informed before sentencing that they would lose their right to vote.“

Austin also stated later at that hearing, “There was no national guarantee ensuring that defendants and prisoners were made aware of the loss of the right to vote. However, in practice, whenever defendants took a plea or were sentenced, they were informed of the fact that they would lose certain constitutional rights. Furthermore, the American Bar Association had launched a website entitled the National Inventory on the Collateral Consequences of Conviction as part of an effort to help defence [sic] lawyers fully inform their clients of, inter alia, any rights they would lose as the result of a conviction for a crime.”

  1. Committee’s Concluding Observations

After reviewing all of the records regarding the U.S. report,[5] the Committee on March 26, 2014, adopted its Concluding Observations. Here is what it said in paragraph 24 about U.S. voting rights.

“While noting with satisfaction the statement by the Attorney General on 11 February 2014, calling for a reform of state laws on felony disenfranchisement, the Committee reiterates its concern about the persistence of state-level felon disenfranchisement laws, its disproportionate impact on minorities and the lengthy and cumbersome voting restoration procedures in states. The Committee is further concerned that voter identification and other recently introduced eligibility requirements may impose excessive burdens on voters and result in de facto disenfranchisement of large numbers of voters, including members of minority groups. Finally, the Committee reiterates its concern that residents of the District of Columbia (D.C.) are denied the right to vote for and elect voting representatives to the United States Senate and House of Representatives (arts. 2, 10, 25 and 26)”

“The State party should ensure that all states reinstate voting rights to felons who have fully served their sentences; provide inmates with information about their voting restoration options; remove or streamline lengthy and cumbersome voting restoration procedures; as well as review automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence. The State party should also take all necessary measures to ensure that voter identification requirements and the new eligibility requirements do not impose excessive burdens on voters and result in de facto disenfranchisement. The State party should also provide for the full voting rights of residents of Washington, D.C.” (Emphasis in original.)

This very polite language is the way the Committee was saying the U.S. was not complying with the Convention’s provisions regarding voting.[6]

Conclusion

The U.S. problem of felon disenfranchisement still persists. The previously mentioned proposed federal Democracy Restoration Act has not been adopted. Only two states (Maine and Vermont) do not have any restrictions on voting by citizens convicted of a felony. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia restore voting after completion of the term of incarceration; four states, after incarceration and parole; 20 states, after incarceration and parole and probation. The other 11 states permanently ban voting by felons under certain conditions. In addition 10 states restrict some people convicted of misdemeanors from voting.

Therefore, the  U.S. is not complying with the Convention’s provisions regarding voting.

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[1] Weissbrodt, Ni Aoláin, Fitzpatrick & Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 141-43 (4th ed. LEXIS-NEXIS 2009). The Covenant is baed upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states in Article 21(3), “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage . . . .”

[2] The long, convoluted history of the U.S. accession to the Covenant is discussed in a prior blog post.

[3] The most recent Committee’s consideration of the U.S. human rights record has been discussed in prior posts about the Committee’s hearings, its concluding observations and felon voting. The actual U.S. report, the list of issues, the U.S. replies to that list of issues, a summary of the hearings, the submissions from Civil Society Organizations and the concluding observations are available on the Committee’s website.

[4] The Democracy Restoration Act also was introduced in the Senate (S. 2017) in the 112th Congress, but it died in committees in both chambers.

[5] The record included several hundred submissions from Civil Society Organizations. Felony disenfranchisement was addressed by at least one such submission: the one from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the Leadership Conference, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Sentencing Project. It argued that U.S. felony disenfranchisement laws had a disproportionate impact on minorities, and it reviewed the history and rationale of such laws, the increasing international isolation of the U.S. on such laws, the terms of such laws and the legal challenges to such laws. This submission also criticized the U.S. reply to this issue on the Committee’s list of issues and suggested recommendations for the Committee to make to the U.S.

[6] Another treaty to which the U.S. is not a party–the Protocol 1 to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms–has been interpreted to ban national laws that “applied automatically to convicted prisoners in detention, irrespective of the length of their sentence and irrespective of the nature or gravity of their offence [sic] and their individual circumstances.” This was the decision in 2005 by the European Court of Human Rights, which said “the severe measure of disenfranchisement was not to be resorted to lightly and the principle of proportionality required a discernible and sufficient link between the sanction and the conduct and circumstances of the individual concerned. “ (Hirst v. United Kingdom, 2005-IX Reports of Judgments & Decisions 195 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. 2005),}

 

 

U.S. Needs New Voting Rights Act

Problems exist with the present U.S. voting systems and procedures. Here are just a few:

  • In the November 2012 general election, many states that were controlled by Republican state legislatures and governors adopted various measures that, in my opinion, were intended to suppress voting by U.S. citizens, including minorities, who were deemed likely to vote for Democratic candidates.
  • Late this June the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated an important provision of the Voting Rights act of 2006. [1]
  • Immediately after that Supreme Court decision, some states–most notably Texas [2] and North Carolina–have moved to implement or adopt restrictive voting laws. [3]

This blog has criticized these efforts to restrict voting and that Supreme Court decision. This blog also has proposed ways to expand voting in this country, many of which have been voiced as well by Norman Ornstein, author and Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.[4]

Here are my suggestions for a new federal Voting Rights Act.

First, every U.S. citizen entitled to vote.

That includes all citizens who have been convicted of felonies and who are still in prison and those who have served their sentences. They are human beings who have interests and opinions, and they have unique experiences of life inside our prisons, which are often neglected in the political debate about allocation of resources.

Now only two states (Maine and Vermont) impose no voting restrictions on felons or ex-felons. Other states impose various restrictions, with 12 states (six in the South) banning ex-felons from voting even after they have completed prison and probation or parole. As a result, an estimated 5.9 million citizens are disenfranchised on this basis, about one-fourth of whom are still in prison. Because 38.2% of these people are African-American, it is also a racial justice issue.

The electorate also should include all children. They too are human beings with interests that should be reflected in elections. This is especially true in an electorate in which older citizens tend to vote in higher percentages and naturally have an interest in programs and services that benefit them. I am a member of the older group and yet believe our political influence needs to be counterbalanced by the voices of the youngest. Creation of a voting system to allow all children to vote would require a lot of careful consideration of how this could be accomplished.  It presumably would have parents or guardians voting for their children through a certain age such as 16 or 18.[5]

Second, every U.S. citizen required to vote.

Every citizen should be required to vote at least in national elections.

This is true in many countries so it can be done. Such a system, I believe, would have the beneficial effect of causing political parties and candidates to appeal to voters in the middle of the political spectrum and thereby combat the polarization of our political system. Again, creation of such a system would require careful consideration of how that could be done.

Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann have made such a proposal. One means of enforcing such a law, they say, would be a modest fine, say $15, for failure to vote with increased amounts for repeated failures. Another way would be to provide a small tax credit for voting.

Third, no racial discrimination in voting.

Using the language of the Voting Rights Act of 2006, forbid any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Fourth, simplified voting laws and procedure.

To make it easier to vote, Ornstein and Mann offer the following suggestions:

a. A new voter registration regime. Ornstein asserts, “eligible citizens should be presumed registered.”  Allow online registration and transfer of such records when the voter moves to a new home by sharing data with private databases. Allow “same-day voter registration available for those not registered via their draft registration or driver’s license. Ideally, Congress would provide the funds to modernize voter registration lists and create a 21st-century voting process in which voters could get personalized ballots printed, with all the offices they are eligible to vote on, at any polling place in their vicinity. Why shouldn’t Americans be able to vote at any nearby polling center?”

b. More easily accessible polling places. Use facilities in or near shopping centers or arenas.

c. Weekend Election “Day.”  As Ornstein says, “’Election Day’ should suit contemporary American life:  a 24-hour period from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, with early voting the week before. This would eliminate ‘rush-hour’ backlogs early in the morning and at the end of the day, as well as Sabbath problems. If Wal-Mart can stay open 24/7, our democracy can stay open 24 hours once every two years.”

d. Social Security cards as valid voter IDs. Any U.S. citizen, Ornstein asserts, “who can provide proof of a valid Social Security number should be able to obtain, free, a Social Security card with a photo. It should be mandated as acceptable for identification wherever a photo ID is required to vote. Such cards should be available not just at Social Security offices but also at post offices.”

e. Uniform separate federal election ballot. Finally, Ornstein believes “Congress has the clear constitutional right to manage federal elections. A separate ballot for federal races strengthens that control. Other advantages include no more confusing butterfly ballots; there would be no more than three races (president, Senate and House) on a federal ballot. No more provisional ballots or access denied if someone shows up at the wrong polling place; the vote would still count only for those federal offices.”

Conclusion

These voting changes would help make the federal government more accountable to the citizens. Other changes to aid in this effort have been suggested in this blog: certain constitutional changes, elimination of the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule and reforming the system for creating new congressional districts after the decennial census.


[1] Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has criticized the Court’s decision invalidating a provision of the Voting Rights Act.

[2] On July 25th the Department of Justice sued the State of Texas to ask a federal court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making voting changes. The suit is based upon section 3 of the Voting Rights Act of 2006 which allows such relief if the Government shows that the jurisdiction has committed constitutional violations with respect to voting. Richard H. Pildes, a New York University professor said, “If this strategy works, it will become a way of partially updating the Voting Rights Act through the courts.”  A Washington Post editorial endorsed this approach while also calling on Congress to enact a new statutory formula for comprehensive coverage of states for such preclearance. An editorial in the New York Times also supports this approach as does Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.

[3] New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, points out that almost all of the states that were covered by the Voting Rights Act provision that was invalidated are Republican-controlled and are now wasting “no time . . .  to institute efforts to suppress the vote in the next election and beyond.”

4] Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collides with the New Politics of Extremism (Basic Books; New York 2012); Ornstein, Let’s enact a new Voting Rights Act, Wash. Post (July 17, 2013).

[5] I originally made such a suggestion in 1996.