by Julie Archer, Coordinator, WV Citizens for Clean Elections,
In July, WV Citizens for Clean Elections held our first virtual meeting on Zoom to debrief the primary election and re-engage folks around the work and projects we have planned for the remainder of 2020. It was great to see familiar faces and to have so many new folks join us for the discussion. If you couldn’t be with us, here are a few highlights and ways you can get involved in our pro-democracy and fair courts work, as well as important work of partners and allies:
Ensuring Access to Absentee Voting in November – Overall, the primary election was a success. Although turnout was lower than we hoped, there were no systemic problems and 50% of voters took advantage of absentee voting to cast their ballots safely from home. Things went well and we want to see the process used in the primary continue for the General Election, including absentee ballot applications being mailed to all registered voters. Absentee voting is essential to protecting our health and making our voices heard. The WV Poor People’s Campaign will be launching a letter campaign to Governor Jim Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner to ensure this option is available to voters again in November. We’ll share the letter campaign once it is live. Watch for more details at www.wvoter-owned.org.
Support for Economic Justice and Equity – The Charleston Branch of the NAACP and leaders of the African American faith community have asked the Governor and legislative leaders to set aside a portion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money the state received to address the impacts of the virus, as well as the long-standing disparities in healthcare and economic opportunity among these populations in West Virginia. We drafted a letter of support for this initiative (dubbed the Hope 20/20/20 Economic Justice & Equity Fund). You can view the text of the letter and list of signatories here. Feel free to download and use it as a template to craft your own letter. Learn more about this effort by contacting Rev. Matthew J. Watts at (304) 610-0715 or visiting his Facebook page.
Moving to Action on Our Democracy Agenda – WVCCE will be working on the following projects to help advance our goals and the vision we developed with partners and allies at our strategy session last spring. Please reach out if you are interested in being part of these efforts.
- Re-convening our Communications Team, starting with a debrief of the work we did last summer and fall, and exploring goals and plans to move forward. Plans may include drafting and placing op-eds and letters to the editor in strategic newspapers around the state, and helping us connect the dots between environmental justice and the important role the courts play in our lives. (Speaking of letters to the editor, if you missed our LTE webinar with ReThink Media please reach out to Viv (firstname.lastname@example.org) or I (email@example.com). We’re happy to share the webinar resources with you and help with talking points, newspaper contact information, etc.)
- Lifting up our Pro-Democracy Platform by sending a questionnaire to legislative candidates and publicizing the results. The platform is a set of common sense solutions that can help put our government on a path to solve problems that affect us all. By supporting the platform, the Legislature can give us all a greater voice, and help us all participate in building a healthier democracy.
- Advancing recusal including working on a report similar using this report from Common Cause Ohio as a template, and engaging legal scholars and former judges. (Recusal is the one component of the Pro-Democracy Platform that doesn’t require legislative action.)
What is recusal and why is it important? The recent election fell one day after the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 8, 2009, decision in Caperton v. Massey. For those who aren’t familiar with the case, it all started with former Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship. In 2004, Blankenship spent more than $3 million to elect his preferred candidate, Brent Benjamin, to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, while his company had a $50 million judgment against it pending on appeal to the court. Justice Benjamin went on to be the deciding vote, twice, to overturn the lower court verdict against Massey Energy. This led the plaintiff in the case, Hugh Caperton, to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that Benjamin should have recused himself from the case because Blankenship’s support posed a risk of bias. Yet, more than 10 years later, neither the Legislature nor the state Supreme Court have tackled these systemic issues that could be addressed by strengthening disclosure of political spending and the adoption of a strong, objective recusal standard that requires judges to step aside from a case where they have a real or perceived conflict of interest.
We’re grateful for your support and collaboration and look forward to hearing from you!