Scott Novakowski Speaks with the Wall Street Journal on Voting Rights Restoration

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In New Jersey, advocates are pursuing a legislative route to entirely end the system of felon disenfranchisement. The measure has drawn support from scores of civil-rights and faith groups, as well as other organizations, but its prospects remain uncertain, said Scott Novakowski, associate counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which is promoting the measure.

Republican state Sen. Gerald Cardinale opposes the measure, saying at the time it was filed that for people who commit felonies, losing voting rights is “part of the risk they assume when they break the law.”

“I’m excited” about the bill, said Mr. Stackhouse, who also is trying to win an early end to his parole. “Let’s fight to stop this nonsense.”


Full Human Beings: An argument for incarcerated voter enfranchisement

People's Policy Project published a powerful report on the need to restore voting rights to people with convictions, featuring Institute intern Ronald Pierce:

Ronald Pierce, an intern with the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice who spent over 30 years in New Jersey state prisons, maintained in a phone interview that “the right to vote is a fundamental right, and a right to be connected to society. Not only a right to participate, but an obligation to the society.” When people in prison are prevented from fulfilling that obligation, he said, they become disconnected from the rest of society—and without that connection, there is no feeling of responsibility. “If you can’t fulfill your obligation to that community, why should that community look at you as an asset? You aren’t an asset to that community; you are a debt to that community.”

The Institute Welcomes Two New Board Members

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice welcomes Paulette Brown and Paul Fishman to its Board of Trustees.
Paulette and Paul join a prestigious team of highly respected leaders who are united around the belief that our cities hold incredible promise to advance progressive solutions to some of the greatest social and racial justice challenges of our time.
Paulette and Paul's professional expertise, coupled with their hearts for social justice, will help the Board powerfully advance the Institute's work.Paulette_Brown_1.jpg

Paulette made history as the first Black woman to ever serve as the President of the American Bar Association. She also served as the President of the National Bar Association. She is a partner at Locke Lord LLP and a member of the firm’s labor & employment practice group. For more than 35 years, Paulette has engaged in the private practice of law, focusing on all facets of labor and employment and commercial litigation. She regularly provides diversity and inclusion/implicit bias training to companies, law firms, and industry organizations.  Paul_Fishman_1.jpg

Paul has devoted his career to advancing social justice. Under his leadership as the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, the City of Newark entered into a consent decree with the United States Department of Justice to bring about widespread transformation to the Newark Police Division, following findings that the Division had engaged in a number of unconstitutional practices. Paul is now a partner at Arnold & Porter and heads the firm’s Crisis Management and Strategic Response team. 

News Beat Podcast: Juvenile Detention's Racial Disparity, Rampant Violence & Lasting Damage


On this News Beat podcast, the Institute's James Williams talks about why we must end youth incarceration. Listen here

Scott Novakowski Speaks with Governing: Why We Must Restore the Right to Vote to People with Convictions

Governing reports:

"It's just not a credible argument to say that voting presents a threat to public safety," says Scott Novakowski, associate counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which is pushing for restoration of voting rights for felons, including those currently serving time. "There's no justification for this practice. It's having a massive impact on communities of color."

The stakes are large. Nationwide, 6 million people with felony convictions are disenfranchised, including 4.7 million who have completed their prison sentences. The Florida ban alone affects 1.6 million, or 10 percent of the state's voting-age population. Florida is one of 33 states that doesn't automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons. (Two, Maine and Vermont, don't strip felons of their voting rights at all -- even while they're incarcerated...)

"New Jersey unfortunately has the greatest disparity in convictions," says Novakowski of the state's Institute for Social Justice. "A black adult is 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white adult. This idea of tying the criminal justice system to the right to vote is furthering this inequality and reproducing it within the electorate."

Comcast Newsmakers: New Report and Racial Disparities In New Jersey's Youth Prison System


Institute Associate Counsel Andrea McChristian spoke with Comcast Newsmakers about her new report on building a prison-to-school pipeline. Watch the interview here

Teen Vogue: New Jersey Has Adopted Automatic Voter Registration

Teen Vogue reports:

This will be the first voting rights bill I sign, but I hope it won’t be the last,” Murphy said. Currently, New Jersey is looking at more voting legislation to potentially adopt, including early voting and Election Day registration. As Mic reports, members of the state legislature are also working to give voting rights back to convicted felons who are still in prison or on parole or probation.

Newburgh Gazette: New Jersey Adopts Automatic Voter Registration

Newburgh Gazette reports:

Among the local groups that advocated for the law are the state chapters of the ACLU and League of Women Voters, as well as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. "It will get a ton more people registered", said Murphy.

"We stand in stark contrast to President Trump and others whose only interest lays in restricting voting rights and suppressing voters' voices", Mr. Murphy said before signing the bill in Trenton.

Murphy says registering to vote should be simple and seamless.

The law (A-2014), automatically registers and updates voter registration for those applying for a driver's license, examination permit, probationary driver's license or non-driver identification card. Assembly and Senate committees had approved the significant changes after little to no debate or public testimony.

Common Dreams: In Effort to 'Strengthen' Democracy, New Jersey Enacts Automatic Voter Registration

Common Dreams reports:

Among the local groups that advocated for the law are the state chapters of the ACLU and League of Women Voters, as well as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Representatives from the groups attended Tuesday's signing ceremony....

"We are building an inclusive democracy from the ground up right here in New Jersey, despite the racist, xenophobic, and dangerous policies being promoted by national leaders, including President Donald Trump," says Ryan Haygood. 

Governor Murphy Signs AVR Into Law, A Move Hailed by Civil Rights Leaders

Governor Phil Murphy signed Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) legislation today, making New Jersey the twelfth state in the country to approve AVR, which allows eligible voters to be automatically registered to vote or to have their voting information updated when interacting with the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) unless they decline registration.

“We are building an inclusive democracy from the ground up right here in New Jersey, despite the racist, xenophobic, and dangerous policies being promoted by national leaders, including President Donald Trump,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (Institute). “Today, we stood with Governor Phil Murphy as he signed into law one of the most expansive automatic voter registration policies in the country. This is a significant first step in positioning New Jersey to serve as a national leader and standard-bearer for robust democratic inclusion. And we are just getting started.”

The Brennan Center for Justice, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey joined the Institute in applauding Governor Murphy and the legislature’s  support of this common-sense reform.

“This is a big deal for New Jersey, and a great move by Governor Murphy and the state legislature,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and head of its voting rights and elections project. “Automatic voter registration is more efficient and accurate, and helps create an inclusive democracy where more eligible voters are able to have their voice heard on Election Day. It’s a smart, common-sense reform, and we’re excited to see more New Jerseyans get engaged in democracy because of the change.”

Under the AVR bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Murphy, when eligible voters interact with the MVC, the information they provide will be safely and accurately used to add their names to the voter registration rolls or update their registration unless they opt out. The bill also allows additional state government agencies to implement AVR in the future, so long as that agency is capable of accurately gathering and transferring the same information about eligible voters as the MVC currently collects.

“Automatic voter registration is smart, tested technology that has proven to be secure, boost registration, clean up our rolls, and save money,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “New Jersey took a huge leap forward today and we will continue to work on election reforms that expand access in service of New Jersey voters. New Jersey will serve as a model of a robust, inclusive democracy and emerge as a nationwide leader in ensuring accessibility to the ballot.”

Automatic voter registration has been shown to significantly increase the number of people who register to vote when interacting with a motor vehicles office, while also making the voter rolls more accurate and up-to-date and saving money. In Oregon—the first state to implement automatic voter registration—nearly 100,000 of the new registrants turned out to vote in 2016. Importantly, Oregon’s voter rolls are now also more reflective of the entire state population. In passing AVR, New Jersey has joined a diverse and bipartisan group of eleven other states and the District of Columbia that have adopted AVR.

“We’ve witnessed a rare moment today: a genuine expansion of our democracy,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “Across America, we’ve seen repeated assaults on the right to vote, from the Trump administration and from other states. But in New Jersey, we’re ready to show the country what it looks like not just to preserve voting rights, but to make them even stronger.”

“We are pleased to see New Jersey adopt this common-sense reform that will help more people register to vote,” added Institute Associate Counsel Scott Novakowski. “Expanding voter registration opportunities is only a first step, however. To fully realize our highest democratic ideals, we must continue to dismantle barriers to the ballot box, including restoring this most fundamental right of citizenship to the nearly 100,000 people on parole, on probation, or in prison in New Jersey.”