Maryland lawmakers lead way in struggle to expand voting rights

At first glance, it seems clear that American democracy is under attack. New state voter restrictions, the flood of dark campaign money and a partisan redistricting power grab at the Supreme Court have made a mockery of the fundamental principle that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. When politicians write and rewrite the rules to amplify the voices of a few and exclude the voices of many more, it starts to call into question the “consent of the governed” part.

But if you look a little closer, just 41 miles outside of the nation’s capital, there are countervailing forces at work. There you’ll find a meaningful victory for a growing movement to restore the voices of citizens who have been shut out of democratic participation without their consent. 

On Tuesday, an overwhelming majority of the Maryland state Legislature voted to expand democracy by restoring the vote to formerly incarcerated citizens. The victory belongs in large part to the diverse coalition led by formerly incarcerated men and women themselves who organized to restore the vote to the 40,000 citizens locked out of democracy by Maryland’s felony disenfranchisement law. 

These returning citizens, men and women on probation or parole, are raising their families, paying taxes and working hard to rebuild their lives. In addition to adding these voices to our democratic decision-making, research shows that restoring their right to vote gives people a stake in their community and reduces the likelihood that they will re-offend. Give people a stake in the decisions that affect their lives and they will work hard to be productive members of society. This, after all, is the essential argument for democracy in the first place.

And this isn’t just about Maryland — just like voter ID laws, which disenfranchise poor and minority voters who lack the right government IDs, aren’t just about Texas or North Carolina. The fight for our democracy is being duked out in states across the country. There are 5.8 million Americans denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction. There are millions more who are eligible to vote but don’t out of confusion about their eligibility or unnecessary voter restrictions that suppress their vote. 

This is about something much more fundamental — are we marching toward a more inclusive democracy, or is American democracy in retreat? If Maryland is any guide, the struggle to expand our democracy is underway and it’s time we all joined the fight.

From Emma Greenman, director of Voting Rights and Democracy at Center for Popular Democracy, Washington, D.C.

Brokers can provide invaluable assistance with health insurance

A recent article reported that federal regulators will make it harder for consumers to sign up for Affordable Care Act exchange plans outside of official enrollment periods (“Feds move to tighten rules for special ObamaCare sign-ups,” Jan. 19).

For consumers struggling to meet the now-stricter enrollment deadline, insurance brokers and agents can provide invaluable guidance that saves time and money. A majority of agents have over a decade of experience researching insurance plans. And roughly three out of four agents spend most or a lot of their time explaining coverage options to clients.

From Janet Trautwein, executive vice ­president and CEO, National Association of Health ­Underwriters, Washington, D.C.