Toolkit for Youth Political Power
Organize. Vote. Run. Lead. Transform.
Regardless of whether we are old enough to vote, policies (the principles that guide the government) have a big impact on us, our families, and our community.
Like school for example! Policies affect how schools are run and cared for, what is taught in school, and by whom. Policies also affect community safety, what crimes are, and how to respond to them.
As young people, we're often on the political menu and not sitting at the decision-making table.
It's important for us to take action so that our voices are heard and to encourage adults to support us with how they vote.
Voter participation is a big issue.
Over 90 million eligible voters didn’t vote in 2016!! That means that their voices weren't impacting how our government and society operates.
So who is representing you and your community? What decisions they are making on your behalf? Let's take a look!
Below is a map of elected leadership positions in Michigan.
The infographic below breaks down some of the decision-making power our elected officials have in Michigan and how the choices they make impact us.
Absentee Voter Ballot
Michigan Voter Registration Application
Register for Voting Online
Maps and Precincts
Find Your Precinct
Map of Lansing Wards and Precincts
Map of East Lansing Precincts
Below is an example of what you ballot may look like:
When completing the ballot, make sure to fill in the bubble completely!
What are the positions we vote for?
The U.S. presidential race gets all the attention, and in that way, it can seem like the star of the nation's electoral movie. It gets the most interviews, the most advertisements on TV, and people often view it as the one election they need to show up for.
Just like no movie would work with just one actor, our government requires a huge cast to make things happen.
The United States Government is split into three levels of leadership. There are the Federal officials, who make choices for our whole country. Then there are State officials, who make decisions for just their own states. And then there are the often overlooked Local officials, who make choices for your local city or township that you may not even know affect your daily life. All three of these levels of government make up the Electoral College and have the final say in who our president is. That's why it's really important that we educate ourselves and vote for people at all levels of government.
As Americans, we choose:
Click on any of the above to learn about the people you have the power to elect.
What is a ballot initiative?
As citizens of the State of Michigan, we get to exercise direct democracy in a way many other states cannot: through ballot measures! Instead of a law going through to be voted on by Congress, the people can vote directly for the law. Ballot initiatives can be addressed to the state government, but they can also be used for local cities and county elections. This is a huge opportunity for us to move change for our communities!
Ballot initiatives come in two types: Direct Initiatives and Indirect Initiatives.
Direct Ballot Initiatives, or constitutional initiatives, go directly to the ballot for election
Indirect Ballot Initiatives, or statute (law) initiatives, are submitted to legislature.
If the State Congress rejects the initiative, or proposes a different version of it, or if Congress takes too long, some states send it right to the ballot. In other words, Congress might submit a competing ballot measure alongside the original ballot initiative.
If you’d like to see current Michigan ballot initiatives, check out this site: –,00.html
A popular referendum is a petition by the people to vote on a new law the legislature has recently passed. The State Congress decides whether to put the legislation on the ballot. Most states (though not all) are able to do this.
You might be asking yourself whether or not these initiatives are effective. In fact, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute’s Ballotwatch, between 1904 and 2009 there were 2,314 ballot initiatives on state ballots, and 41% of these were approved!
So what’s the process of putting an initiative on the ballot?
1. File the proposed petition with a designated state official.
The petition has to be formatted in a very specific way according to Michigan Law. The Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections offers consultations for formatting the bill to this legally required form (though they can’t offer advice about the actual content of the proposal
In addition to sending the petition as a pdf in an email to , 15 printed copies of the petition must be sent to the Secretary of State, specifically to the Bureau of Elections.
2. Review of the petition to make sure it lines up with statutory requirements.
In Michigan, this is an optional step. Petitioners can (and should, although they don’t have to) submit a copy of their petition to the State Board of Canvassers so they can pre-approve the petition form. If the petition doesn’t have the proper format, all the signatures collected will be thrown out.
3. Preparation of a ballot initiative title and summary.
This step is important because most people only ever read the title and summary of the initiative while they’re voting.
The title and summary are supposed to be unbiased, but whether or not this is always the case is up for debate.
In Michigan, the title of the petition is drafted by the group or people that are filing the initiative want them to. The title and summary of the ballot initiative is drafted by the Director of Elections with the approval of the Board of State Canvassers.
4. Circulate the petition to get the required number of signatures from registered voters (usually a percentage of the votes cast for a statewide office in the preceding general election).
Referendum petitions can circulate from the date the law was enacted by legislature until 90 days after the legislative session that the law was enacted during.
Only signatures collected 180 days before the petition is filed (step 5) can be counted. Petitioners can only file with their signatures all at once–they can’t file with some signatures and then submit more signatures later.
There is a minimum signature requirement before a petition can be considered. Usually petitioners need way more signatures than the minimum required, because so many of them won’t pass the verification process (in step 5).
Ballot initiatives that make new laws or amend current laws need 252,523 signatures to be considered.
Ballot initiatives that amend the State Constitution need 315,654 signatures.
Referendum require 157,827 signatures.
5. Submit the petition to the state elections official, who verifies the number of signatures.
In Michigan, you file the petition with the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections.
Once a proposed ballot initiative has gone through this process, it’s placed on the ballot during the next general election.
If the proposal was for a referendum, the law the referendum is trying to overturn is suspended until the election can happen.
To become a law, it needs to receive a majority vote.
If you’d like to learn more about the details of Michigan ballot initiative petitioning, you can check that out here:
A big ballot proposal about gerrymandering is coming up this 2018 election. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
Everyone knows we have a President (and most people know they’re elected every four years) but Americans vote for so many other federal officials!
If we want to have a say about who runs the country, we need to vote for who represents our State in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Michigan gets to choose two people to send to the Senate at Washington DC to make choices on the behalf of our state, and our state gets to choose 14 people to represent us in the House of Representatives. The whole state of Michigan decides who our senators will be, but each of the state’s 14 Congressional Districts chooses their own Representative for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Every two years 1/3 of the 100 United States Senate seats are up for reelection (that’s 33 to 34 people that voters can either keep or replace). Senators keep their job for a 6-year term. That means in 2022 the Michigan U.S. Senate Seat currently held by Senator Debbie Stabenow will be up for election, and in 2020 the seat held by Senator Gary Peters will also be up for election. Voters can choose to keep these two in office (they are considered “incumbent” because they already have the position), or we can vote for new people to take their place.
Every two years all 435 U.S. House of Representative seats are up for election. U.S. Representative keep their job for a 2 year term. Every two years Michigan gets to choose their 14 representatives all over again. Unlike senate elections, the whole state doesn’t decide together who the 14 people will be. Instead, citizens are split into 14 groups of people (with about 710,000 people per group). These 14 groups of people are called “Congressional Districts”.
The Michigan State Government is divided into the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.
The Executive Branch includes the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General.
The Legislative Branch includes senators and representatives of the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives.
The Judicial Branch includes the Supreme Court of Michigan, The Court of Appeals, and various trial courts.
Michigan Citizens get to decide who fills each and every one of the top positions within each of these various branches of government.
There are multiple levels to the judicial system in the United States. The first division between them is that some are “Federal Courts” and some are “State and Territorial Courts.” The Federal Courts deal with, well, federal laws. They have the authority of the federal government. No federal judges are elected by the people. The State and Territorial courts deal with state and US territory laws, and have the authority of these states and territories. In Michigan, most of these judges are elected.
Michigan State Courts
The State of Michigan divides its courts into miscellaneous limited-jurisdiction trial courts, trial courts called Circuit Courts, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court. Because the federal and state levels both use the term “circuit courts”, it’s important to specify whether you mean “Federal circuit court” or “State circuit court”.
State Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, in other words, they do not run as “Republican” or “Democrat”. However, this does not mean that they do not have partisan beliefs or ways of deciding the law that are ideologically similar to one of the political parties. The word “nonpartisan” can, in this way, be misleading. And in the case of State Supreme Court judges, political parties can nominate them at political party conventions or through a nominating petition.
District Courts deal with traffic violations, misdemeanors, landlord-tenant conflicts, and all civil cases with claims up to but under $25,000.
There are 100 of these district courts, and district court judges are elected for 6 year terms.
Circuit Courts deal with felonies, civil cases with claims over $25,000, and family law.
It includes a family division that deals with juvenile criminal cases, divorce, paternity, guardianship, adoption, safe newborn delivery, minor-emancipation, child abuse, personal protection actions (PPOs and enforcement), name changes, and “friend of the court” (the office that handles “domestic relations” in cases involving minor children).
The court also hears case appeals from the other trial courts (like the district courts) or administrative agencies.
In Michigan there are 57 Circuit Courts, 221 judges, and each judge is elected to serve a 6 year term.
Probate Courts deal with wills, administers estates and trusts, appoints guardians and conservators, and orders psychological treatment.
There are 78 of these courts and their judges are elected to 6 year terms.
Since there are so many judges in all of these courts, nearly every election on an even year will include the election of a Circuit Court, District Court or Probate Court Justice in your area. If you’d like to know what your district court or circuit court district is, check out the maps below.
The “Court of Appeals” deals with appeals cases. Any final order from a circuit court, or from some probate courts and orders from agencies.
Court of Appeals hearings are held in the capital, Lansing, as well as in Detroit and Grand Rapids, all year (and in the spring and fall, they are also heard in Marquette and in a location somewhere in the Northern Lower Peninsula).
A panel of three judges decide Court of Appeals cases. The panels are rotated between cases, so the three judges don’t always decide a case together. Two of these judges must agree on a ruling.
Only the Michigan Supreme Court can overrule a Court of Appeals decision (or a special Court of Appeals panel).
The Michigan Court of Appeals is also home to the Michigan Court of Claims. This is the court where claims for money damages of over $1,000 against the State of Michigan are heard. Four Court of Appeals judges are assigned to the Court of Claims and each Court of Claims case is heard by a single judge.
Before 2012, there were supposed to be 28 judges on the Court of Appeals. After 2012, it was decided that there should be 24 judges. The 4 judges already on the court were meant to be lost by “attrition”. This means that when the person holding that seat’s position are done with their 6 year term, they can choose to stand for re-election, or they can retire and their position will no longer exist (until 4 judges retire).
Barriers to Voting
Stricter voting laws are problematic because they will make it harder for low income and marginalized voters to obtain a state ID card and birth certificates.
As of December 2016 : Michigan voters without photo identification could still cast a ballot under an affidavit, but they would have to bring an ID to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of an election in order for their vote to count.
The Voting Rights Act
In the Gilded Age of U.S. history, money and corruption was the norm in politics. Even the party machines that were supposed to represent the people’s wishes were overhauled by the interests of those with wealth and power like “Boss” Tweed in the late nineteenth century. These problems would be washed away with the introduction of “trust-busting” and new campaign finance laws that made it more difficult for the wealthy to buy off corrupt politicians in the Progressive Era. But with the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the political environment has suddenly shifted back towards the Gilded Age all over again.
The Electoral College
In each presidential election year, a group of candidates for elector is nominated by political parties and other groupings in each state, usually at a state party convention, or by the party state committee. It is these elector-candidates, rather than the presidential and vice presidential nominees, for whom the people vote in the November election, which is held on Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In most states, voters cast a single vote for the slate of electors pledged to the party presidential and vice presidential candidates of their choice. The slate winning the most popular votes is elected; this is known as the winner-take-all, or general ticket, system.
Each state has a number of electors in the electoral college proportionate to its population: the sum of its number of senators (always two) and representatives in the House.
Technically, Americans on election day cast votes for electors, not the candidates themselves, although in most cases the electors’ names are not on the ballot.
California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes. A few small states and the District of Columbia have only three.
Today, the electoral college has 538 electors, and in all but two states, Maine and Nebraska, all of the state’s electors are awarded to the winner of the popular vote within that state.
The problem with the Electoral College
Although the electoral college has been an established institution for years, it is an incredibly undemocratic system. This is because a president can be elected despite their opponent’s receiving a larger popular vote. This was seen in our past 2016 Presidential election when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.6 million votes but still lost the presidential election to Trump as he had won enough electoral votes. So in our current system, it does not matter if you won the popular vote because you can only win the presidency through the electoral college. As explained above, this is very undemocratic because the electoral college allocates delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. So if 49% of voters voted for one candidate in a particular state, their votes would get zero representation because this rule gives all the delegates to the other candidate who received 51% (or more) of the votes.
One of the arguments made in favor of the electoral college is that it serves to emphasize small states and make them more important to the candidates. This might sound beneficial in theory, but it undermines simple democratic ideology. If electoral votes were distributed proportionately, Wyoming would only have one vote based on its low population. But instead, Wyoming voter’s choice is inflated to three times more than it should be.
The Electoral College was originally created to serve as a barrier between the people and the Government, to prevent a mistake from the constituents they hardly trusted. Today, however, Americans are much more educated. Increased literacy and the engulfing nature of social media has made it extremely easy to be an informed voter.
After witnessing President Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the 2016 presidential election, it is very clear that the electoral college as an institution should be abolished. Although, this would not be an easy task. Since it is included in our Constitution, getting rid of it would require a constitutional amendment. That means receiving a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate and the ratification of three-fourths (38) of the 50 states. Since the Democrats lost the presidency, the Senate, and the House, a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college is not likely to be proposed in a GOP-controlled Congress. Given a situation where it is passed in Congress, it is highly unlikely that 38 states would ratify it. Red states are likely to not support the idea as the electoral college has been perceived as beneficial for the Republican Party. There also may not be much support from swing states either as it would mean losing their important position in the presidential campaign.
The only option that we as a community have in order to work towards eliminating this system is to launch a national campaign that makes the case that this institution isn’t right and goes against all of our democratic principles. We must inform voters that the last two elections in 16 years have gone to the candidate with fewer votes. This just isn’t what a true democracy should look like.
For a more visual explanation, watch the video below.
The Incarcerated/Returning Citizen Population and Voting Rights
We know about how dismally low of a turnout rate there is when it comes to elections, especially midterms and local elections. But why is it so low? A portion of that reason has to do with the 6.1 million returning citizens and/or incarcerated citizens who have been denied their right to vote in their respective state. Based on a state’s laws, significant parts of the electorate can be wiped off the voting rolls like the grandfather clauses did for African Americans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
For example, 10.43% of Florida’s eligible voters are disenfranchised for life due to harsh laws on felons when they enter the penitentiary system and even after they leave it. In terms of population numbers, that is nearly 1.7 million people. A utterly shocking statistic when taking into consideration how large of a swing state Florida is. Anyone remember the 2000 Presidential Election? Only two other states have lifetime disenfranchisement policies for all returning citizens: Iowa and Kentucky. But even though the other 47 states don’t have this specific policy, they do have some laws that make it difficult for incarcerated citizens to be treated like any other non-incarcerated citizen. For instance, the state of Michigan makes it illegal for someone in prison to vote. And another law in the Michigan Freedom of Information Act declares that:
It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act.
This creates a nation of returning citizens and incarcerated citizens who are unable to vote and participate in the democratic process.
Other states have tried to resolve this.
In 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that gave back the right to vote to 200,000 returning citizens. Moves like these are a way to restore these citizens to a first-class status like everyone else.
Whenever an American votes for their federal, state, or local representatives, they vote in a certain electoral district. Their district is a specific geographic space, and every registered voter within the lines can only vote in that geo-political boundary.
But who decides where the lines between these districts should go?
In Michigan, the state legislature decides–they make the law that decides the district’s boundaries.
When our country was still small and limited to a few states, electoral districts generally just followed the shape of city or town limits. As the U.S. population increased rapidly over time, the number of people each politician represented increased.
For some parts of government, this didn’t matter–many states have Senates modeled after the U.S. Senate. In the U.S. Senate, each state gets two representatives regardless of their population. States whose senate included one representative from each county didn’t care so much whether each state senator represented a similar number of people or not. For other parts, like the federal and states’ House of Representatives, the growing and changing population left citizens with unequal representation.
In the U.S., most elections use a “winner take all” system, where the politician with the most votes wins and they’re supposed to represent all of the people in their district–including the people who didn’t want that politician to represent them. As the populations within each district changed, some districts included way more people than others. In the “winner take all” voting system of the U.S., that meant that in districts with a lot of people there were way more citizens who didn’t vote for the person representing them than in districts with smaller numbers of people (and thus smaller numbers of people who didn’t vote for the person representing them). For example, according to professor Justin Levitt from the Loyola Law School, in the 1960s Los Angeles County had 422 times as many people as California’s smallest district, but because each district elected one senator the people in that smallest district got to have 422 times as much representation on the Senate than LA County citizens.
Citizens needed a better, more fair chance at representation. Federal, state, and local governments started to decrease the number of people each politician represented by increasing the total number of politicians, and by re-draw the boundaries that decided which people a politician represented. Now, these lines are re-drawn every 10 years, after the U.S. Census data is available.
So where does gerrymandering fit into this redistricting?
Gerrymandering happens when districts are drawn so that one political party has an unfair advantage over others. Instead of using the census data to draw fair boundaries, the party in power uses the data to manipulate the districts so that they includes more people who vote for their party. This makes it almost impossible for people who disagree with the party in power to ever win in an election!
When a party “gerrymanders” electoral districts, they ignore federal and state guidelines for redistricting.
The federal government (specifically the U.S. Constitution) specifies that each electoral district within a specific jurisdiction needs to have about the same number of people.
Since there are electoral districts for several levels of government (districts for electing people to U.S. Congress, districts for electing people to the State House of Representatives, districts for electing people to a city council) each set of districts might include different numbers of people, but within a single level of government the electoral districts must be roughly equal in number of people.
Congressional Districts (the ones that elect people to the federal government) must have as close to an equal population as possible according to the Supreme Court in Wesberry v Sanders.
This is the strictest rule for redistricting.
State and local legislative districts (the ones that elect people to the state and local government) must be “substantially” equal according to the Supreme Court in Reynolds v Sims.
A Supreme Court Case (Brown v Thomson) pointed out that if large and small districts are more than 10% apart in population starts to look suspicious.
Even if the districts have equal numbers of people, they aren’t necessarily fair. Gerrymandering also includes drawing lines so that people of color have less of a say in elections.
Two strategies are used to do this: cracking and packing.
Cracking happens when people of color in one area are separated into a lot of other districts so that there are just a few people of color in each district and they have no power as a group.
Packing happens when people of color are all put into a few voting districts that are almost entirely people of color so that those people of color can’t have voting power in other districts.
You can see a visual example of this process below. Imagine this is a city. The rectangles under “Disproportionate Outcomes” represent ways electoral district lines could be drawn in the city.
On the left you can see that the yellow precincts have been “packed”.
Most of the yellow precincts were put into two voting districts so that they couldn’t have a say in the other three districts.
Even though only 40% of the precincts are Green, they were able to get 60% of the vote because they drew the lines unfairly.
North Carolina’s redistricting was so bad that federal courts deemed it unconstitutional. Despite this ruling they allowed North Carolina to keep their unconstitutionally racist, voter suppressing districts for the 2016 election that allowed Trump a victory.
But how does a court decide whether redistricting is bad enough to be unconstitutional?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 included rules about gerrymandering.
Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices that discriminate based on race, color, or membership to a language minority group. Racialized gerrymandering is illegal under this law.
The VRA applies whether or not the gerrymandering was intended to discriminate along racial lines. It doesn’t matter if the lawmakers say they didn’t intend for their redistricting to discriminate, the impact matters.
There are three ways to test whether electoral districts have been drawn in a way that violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This three-step process was made during the Supreme Court case Thomburg v Gingles to help determine whether a group has been discriminated against. They’re called “Gingles” conditions.
Compactness: Is the population of people of color concentrated in one “compact” area with relatively regular boundaries so that district lines could be drawn around the population and that district would be mostly people of color.
Does most of the population in question usually vote for the same type of candidate?
“Type of candidate” doesn’t mean democrat or republican, but the type of democrat or type of republican
If the answer is yes, the next question must be asked.
Do voters around this population of people of color usually vote for a “type of candidate” different than the one preferred by the population in question.
If these “Gingles” conditions are met, then courts can consider the situation to determine if it’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act does not, however, guarantee voting proportionality. Voting proportionality is when the percentage of minority voters in a total population matches the percentage of districts minority voters could actually elect a candidate they want. If 20% of voters in a state are people of color, and 20% of the districts can already be elected by them, the courts are less likely to say the Voting Rights Act has been violated by gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has decided it’s okay to consider race when drawing electoral district lines, but without a compelling (court approved) reason, race cannot be the main reason for drawing the lines a certain way.
Gerrymandering is, unfortunately, a huge problem in Michigan.
Every 10 years, after the census data is released, the state congress redraws the lines (and the Governor can approve or veto them). A State House of Representatives committee and a State Senate committee are responsible for this process. Unfortunately, if one party has a majority in the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s position, that party has an unfair advantage when the time for redistricting happens.
The last time districts were drawn in Michigan was in 2011, when the Republican party controlled the House, Senate, and Governor’s office.
Learn more about gerrymandering!
If visuals are helpful for you, check out the videos on gerrymandering below. If you prefer learning-by-doing, try these games to learn more:
If you’d like to learn more about gerrymandering in Michigan, and how it impacted the 2016 presidential election, and new ways to measure gerrymandering (or if you want to play around with some maps that explain gerrymandering in Michigan) check out this article here http://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/gerrymandering-michigan-among-nations-worst-new-test-claims .
In 2018, Michigan will be voting on a ballot initiative to combat gerrymandering in the state. If you’d like to learn more about the initiative, and about gerrymandering in the state of Michigan, check out this link here http://www.votersnotpoliticians.com/michigangerrymandering .
Solutions to Voting Barriers
Throughout the United States, citizens must register in order to be eligible to vote. Generally, voters are required to register or update their registrations several days or weeks in advance of an election. Some states, however, permit same-day registration, which enables voters to register and vote at the same time. Same-day registration is sometimes referred to as Election Day registration.
As of October 2017, 15 states and the District of Columbia had implemented same-day registration provisions enabling voters to register and vote at the same time. Another three states had approved same-day registration provisions but had not yet implemented them. These states are identified below.
In those states that permit same-day registration, voters must generally provide proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, pay stub) and identity (e.g., driver’s license) at the time of registration.
Early voting permits citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. In states that permit no-excuse early voting, a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to vote on Election Day. States that do not permit no-excuse early voting may still permit some citizens to vote early through in-person absentee voting, which can be done by having a valid reason for doing so with proof.
End Discrimination at the Polls
The Justice Department announced efforts to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted free of discrimination, intimidation or fraud in the election process.
Below are contacts available to put in a complaint related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws:
Know Your Rights
Myths & Misconceptions about our Criminal Justice System
Being pulled over, searched, or questioned by the police can be a scary or intimidating encounter. Are you knowledgeable about your rights during these situations?
Test your knowledge and see how much you know about the U.S. criminal justice system!
Know Your Rights: During Police Encounters
Understanding your rights while encountering police is key to defending yourself against unjust treatment and police brutality. Regardless of the situation, you are entitled to rights and protection under the law, which include:
● You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
● You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.
● If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
● You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
● Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.
Click this link to access a printable ACLU Bust Card: https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/bustcard_eng_20100630.pdf
Know Your Rights: As a Returning Citizen
According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, a felony is typically defined as a crime punishable by one or more years of prison. The law can be confusing but understanding the rights returning citizens do and do not have is important to know and defend!
Rights of formerly incarcerated citizens varies by state. In Michigan returning citizens have:
● The Right to Vote: Incarcerated citizens do not have the right to vote while incarcerated, however, the right to vote is restored once they return home.
● The Right to Bear Arms: The right to own firearms is lost while incarcerated. But formerly incarcerated citizens may legal appeal to restore their right after 3 to 5 years, depending on the terms of the sentence.
● The Right to Serve on a Jury: In Michigan there is an ongoing debate on whether or not formerly incarcerated citizens are allowed to sit on a jury after returning home. Returning citizens do have the right to serve on a jury, however, that right can be challenged in some cases.
For more information about the rights of returning citizens in Michigan, visit the link below:
Why Immigration Rights Matter
Historically, Americans have harbored an ideology of “otherness” towards immigrants which has resulted in discriminatory practices and exclusionary policies. Today, implicit and explicit biases compounded with the rhetoric of the current administration exacerbate injustices towards immigrants. All persons within the U.S. have rights. It’s critical that these rights are known to increase the capacity of those whose rights are being violated and to increase activism against injustices towards immigrants.
Here are some fast facts on rights and resources available:
1) National Immigration Law Center
Everyone has basic rightsunder the U.S. Constitution, including undocumented citizens.
Always carry with you any/all forms of documentation denoting legal immigration status(i.e. work permit, green card, visa), but do not carry foreign documents (i.e. papers from a country outside of the U.S.) as they have the potential to be used against you if involved in the deportation process.
There are resources available to see who has been taken into immigration custody (Online Detainee Locator System) *Important: both you and your family should know your “A” number* and to get information on a case status (Enforcement & Removal Operations Field Offices) in the event of a raid, arrest or detention.
2) Catholic Legal Immigration Network
Know Your Rights cards are available for free through this resource which can be given to law enforcement officials in the event of a stop, arrest, or detention.
Emergency Planning guides are available for free through this resource and should be utilized in the event that you or a loved one has been detained or involved in the deportation process.
A Workplace Checklist is available for free through this resource to better understand what law enforcement officers need in order to enter the workplace, and what can be done to protect yourself in the event of a raid.
3) American Civil Liberties Union
You have the right to remain silent,which should be stated directly before you exercise that right.
You do not have to consent to a search of your car,but cooperate if police choose to search under the pretense of having reasonable discretion to investigate, such as believing there is evidence of a crime.
You do not have to consent to a search of your home unless the officer(s) present a proper permit (Unsure of how to know a proper permit when you see one? More information on which can be found in the National Immigration Law Center website)
This site includes further useful information on not only your rights, but also your responsibilities during police interactions. Clink on the title above to build an arsenal of knowledge on your rights, liberties and protections against unjust police practices.
4) Migration Policy Institute
Free downloadable short guide on reliable and relevant immigration data.
Programs to Know
DACA is a program enacted through executive order under the Obama administration which provides temporary rights to immigrant youth whose parents immigrated illegally, such as protection from deportation and the ability to work or study within the U.S., if individuals meet specified requirements.
Here’s what you need to know now:
UPDATE In light of the new Trump Administration, here’s what you need to know about DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA):
● Initial DACA Applicants- No new initial applications are being accepted at this time.
● Renewal DACA Applicants - For those who need a DACA renewal (as in their DACA is expiring before March 6, 2018), we continue support in the application process and fees while funding lasts. All renewal applications are due to USCIS no later than October 5, 2017.
Feeling concerned about the DACA decision? Here’s what you can do about it.
● Revised 2017 Dream Act:The Dream Act of 2017 is a bipartisan bill proposing pathways to citizenship for vulnerable immigrant populations (undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, those who have TPS, high school graduates, and members of the labor force or military) as a response to the current administration’s changes to the DACA program.
● Learn More
○ Video on the potential impacts of proposed changes to DACA and Dreamers: Hanging in the Balance: The Future of DACA and the Dreamers
○ Migration Policy Institute:
Maps of Immigrants in the United States
Information from the Administration
Stay up-to-date on relevant policy changes, updates, and news releases through the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services News Releases
The Pathway to Citizenship (for Green Card Holders)
Green cards are the primary means to become a naturalized citizen in the United States. After living in the United States and holding a green card for a sufficient time period(3-5) years depending on whether you are married to a US citizen or not you become eligible to apply for naturalization. To see if you are eligible follow this link from Immigration Direct.
If you are eligible to apply for naturalization(the process of becoming a citizen) you simply have to take a test of your civics knowledge and of your English knowledge. The civics test requirement and the English competency requirement are actually broken down into 4 sub-tests. There is a civics test where you will be asked ten questions and have to get 6 right to pass (These ten questions are drawn from a total pool of one hundred questions which you can find at the attached link from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). There is also a writing test where you have to correctly write one out of three sentences to pass. There is a reading test where you must correctly read one of three sentences aloud to pass. Finally, there is a speaking test.
Green cards are given out for multiple reasons, but the most common are for work, for family members of citizens, and by marriage. An interim step which is often common is for immigrants to get a student visa to immigrate to the United States and later getting an employment green card. If you are interested in helping someone in your family not yet in the country pursue a green card, here is a great resource about different types of green cards from US Immigration. Arguably, our ability to sponsor green card applicants is one of the most important and least asserted of our citizenship rights and responsibilities.
Inform Yourself with Reliable Media
The Importance of Critical Analysis
Those who are familiar with the DIRECTV commercials understand the comedic element in their unrealistic causal story of getting from A to B, for example, going from having a poor cable company to being in a roadside ditch (see example here DIRECTV commercial - Don't Wake Up in a Roadside Ditch). What’s not so comical is how a similar phenomenon occurs in reality through the media we consume every day.
News coverage can be skewed dramatically depending on the source, meaning different narratives and conclusions are reported on the same current event, which can make it difficult to decipher the facts from the noise (see example here: Fact checking online is more important than ever). Don’t cause the world to become full of anger and ignorance, fact check! There are resources available to prevent false information from spreading, and we must hold ourselves accountable in using them. For more information on staying informed in the age of social media, watch the following video:
In a time where our political climate is particularly charged around ideas about false news, it’s important to be make sure you critically examine your news source. Your news source provides you with the knowledge of public perception and knowledge of various social issues. It’s important that the information you find comes from a reliable source with accurate information. All news sources have their bias, but some are less biased in terms of partisanship than others.
Below are resources to help you find these reliable sources with accurate information including methods to learn how to critically examine media on your own and tools to help determine source bias. For more information on the real consequences of false news and how it becomes pervasive within regularly published media, watch the following videos:
What is Media Literacy?
How to Be Civically Engaged
What does it mean to be civically enaged?
Civic engagement is “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes” (Civic Engagement)
The purpose of civic engagement is to sustain the actions described thus far in this digital toolkit! The knowledge provided thus far on the importance of voting, voting barriers, and social issues of concern require citizens like you to participate in local elections. Knowing your rights and how to find reliable media to learn more about issues are essential to being civically engaged.
Civic engagement is where all the passion developed from the knowledge and skills taught in this digital toolkit shows itself through your actions. It solidifies the sustainability of the change you make beyond the voting you do every few years. You reach out to members of community to understand what they have concerns about and share your concerns. This allows you to find share values and build a connection that can shape your community or a create a new community within your already existing community that works towards action to make true change.
The connections you make give other community members the opportunity to get involved with civic engagement. It is a process. You have to keep doing it to be engaged.
There are many methods in different levels in your community where you can help create opportunities to make these connections. You can do it through interpersonal relationships, your school, and your neighborhood and beyond.
You Too Can Run For Office
Whenever you have the urge to contribute to the movement, act on it. Don’t wait and push it off, because the call for action is a never ending merry go round. The more you wait, the less progression we make.
- Jewell Jones, State Representative (D-Inkster)
It Starts With YOU!
Making changes in your community doesn't have to be about voting for someone else. YOU can make the difference by running for office.
There are plenty of resources available to help you get started. Get started by using the links to the right.
To grow your campaign, stay active and Connect with the Community!
Attend community events, like Town Hall Meetings, City Council Sit-Ins, School Board Meetings, and Neighborhood Watch Groups, to name a few. Join in the conversations, list to what is important to community members, and learn from the discussion and decision-making process.
Build Relationships. When you attend an event and exchange contact information, introduce yourself and what you represent, examine the business card as soon as you are handed one, thank the person who gave it to you and ensure that you will follow up (because you will). Update your connections on your involvement and news.
Research the issues that are important to people you would serve. Collect information to back up what you learn.
Connect with the community by sharing your story.
You are destined for greatness. The call for equal representation for all in policy decision making and for creating systems by us, for us needs passionate millennials like you. Join the movement and together we will.
- Ragine Head, Youth Advocate
Civic Action Resources
The Governor can sign and veto laws, enforce laws, and oversee the commander and chief as well as the state's military forces.
Michigan has a State House and State Senate who vote and draft the State laws. This includes policies about public health.
Mayors oversee police, fire, education, housing, and transportation offices.
Judges literally determine life and death, drug convictions, and police convictions to name a few.
Schoolboard members determine the funding allocation in a district. Mad about a cancelled art program or a school shutting down in your community? Go to a school board meeting and advocate for candidates who will protect your school and your programs.