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Marisa Wright

The Project

Marisa’s project will leverage state voting rights acts (SVRAs) to safeguard voting rights and empower historically disenfranchised communities by implementing and enforcing existing SVRAs and engaging in advocacy to shape and enact additional SVRAs.

Needs Addressed by Project

Voting rights are facing unprecedented challenges and attacks—from the closure of polling places in low-income communities to aggressive voter purges paired with increased barriers to registration to racial gerrymandering. These attacks disproportionately impact marginalized communities, threatening the very foundation of our multi-racial democracy. At the same time, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been steadily weakened since its passage, leaving voters with fewer tools to combat discrimination in voting. Marisa’s project seeks to advance equal voting access, promote racial and ethnic equity, and ensure equitable representation by actively carrying out and upholding state voting rights acts.

Fellowship Plans

During her fellowship, Marisa will leverage the data available under SVRAs’ reporting requirements to monitor compliance and shine a light on hidden barriers to voting access and representation. Where necessary, she will work with CLC attorneys to initiate litigation to challenge discriminatory voting practices under SVRAs in states like New York, Virginia, Washington, California, Oregon, and Connecticut. Finally, she will use lessons learned from enforcement to inform further advocacy efforts to pass and strengthen other state voting rights acts in states across the country.

“State VRAs are vital tools in combating modern forms of voter suppression and promoting racial equity, helping to create a more inclusive and just society for all. In an era marked by unprecedented challenges to voting rights, I am honored to advocate for the fundamental right of every voter to make their voice heard.”

Marisa Wright /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Clay (he/him) advances voting rights for people with disabilities by challenging state laws that limit and criminalize voter assistance.

Millions of adults across the United States live with a disability. People with disabilities routinely rely on neighbors, friends, or institutional staff to help them request and return their absentee ballot. Some state laws disenfranchise voters with disabilities by prohibiting—and even criminalizing—that necessary assistance. These laws violate Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the right to assistance by a “person of the voter’s choice,” with narrow exceptions.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Clay will work directly with voters impacted by restrictive assistance laws to bring claims under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act, among other civil rights laws. Clay will meet with voters and grassroots disability advocacy groups to meet voters’ needs and develop public education materials. He will also work with ACLU state affiliates and other advocates to prevent passage of additional harmful laws.

Media

Equal Justice Works Names 84 Fellows in 2024 Class

The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with voters with disabilities to help advance their full access to the franchise.

Clay Pierce /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Delaney (she/her) provides legal representation and advocacy for Michigan’s low-income and minority voters to access absentee or in-person ballots without intimidation and tactics intended to subvert election results.

During the 2022 election, partisan operatives trained poll workers and poll watchers to accuse individuals of voter fraud and escalate the situation by calling the police with the apparent intention of sending them to flood high-minority areas to disrupt elections and harass voters. Delaney’s project seeks to combat new forms of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement that disproportionately target low-income voters and voters of color.

Fellowship Plans

Building on the ACLU of Michigans work protecting voters, Delaney will sue individuals and organizations seeking to suppress the vote of marginalized voters and election clerks who threaten voters’ access to absentee ballots or early voting. Additionally, she will work with grassroots organizers and partner organizations to engage with clerks statewide and ensure that voters can exercise their right to an absentee ballot or early voting. During her fellowship, Delaney will also litigate on behalf of voters who have been intimidated by poll watchers or other actors.

As a woman of color from a low-income background, the U.S. Constitution had to be amended three times for me to exercise the right to vote. Voting has always been important to me. I'm honored and proud that my work can help ensure that historically marginalized voters, particularly Black, Indigenous, and low-income voters in Michigan are not denied their right to the ballot.

Delaney Barker /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Grace (they/them) supports eligible incarcerated voters to build power and voting access structures in jurisdictions without jail-based absentee ballot access through advocacy, coalition building, and impact litigation.

Over 480,000 incarcerated people on any given day are detained pre-trial, most of whom are eligible voters, as they are not serving felony convictions during their incarceration. Although a handful of jails allow people to vote in person inside their facilities, most voters across the nation can only vote through absentee ballots. Yet since 2021, at least nineteen states have passed restrictive absentee ballot legislation. These restrictions effectively make it even harder for an incarcerated person to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Fellowship Plans

During their Fellowship, Grace will advocate for incarcerated voters in states where restrictive absentee voting laws create barriers to jail-based voting access. Grace will use community lawyering methods to collaborate with local organizations and advocates, county officials, and incarcerated voters and build local power through sustainable coalition-building. Grace will lead educational campaigns for county officials and incarcerated voters to create local programs inside jails, provide voters with direct services, and devise litigation strategies when advocacy efforts are insufficient.

Grace’s experiences watching their older sister being unable to exercise her right to vote while in jail—despite being an eligible voter—fuels their work for incarcerated populations. Their sister’s eventual disenfranchisement propelled them before and throughout law school to support voters in a local jail in Austin, Texas vote.

The right to vote secures all other rights in our democratic process. A person’s incarceration should not make that right any less real, and I am dedicated to making the right a reality for all incarcerated voters.

Grace Tomas /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Conner’s project at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will address polling place closures and last-minute changes to expand voting access and combat disenfranchisement for Chicago’s low-income communities of color.

Late polling place changes, closures, and consolidations make it harder for already marginalized groups—including voters of color, low-income voters, disabled voters, elderly voters, and voters with limited English proficiency—to access the ballot on Election Day. In the past few years, Chicago voters have experienced a drastic reduction in the number of available polling places, with polling place changes often occurring close to elections, making it nearly impossible for the changes to be challenged or for voters to learn about how they have been impacted. These changes and closures often lead to longer lines, increased transportation costs, and confusion over where to cast a ballot—all of which disenfranchise many otherwise eligible voters.

Fellowship Plans

Conner will work directly with the communities most impacted by polling place changes and closures by leading know-your-rights campaigns and engaging with community partners to reduce confusion over where to cast a ballot. He will also advocate for election officials to equitably select polling locations and ensure they are accessible for Black, Latinx, and Asian voters—particularly on Chicago’s South and West Sides. Additionally, Conner will strategically use public records requests and develop litigation templates to facilitate quick responses to potential voting rights violations.

Conner’s belief that all communities deserve political representation strengthens his commitment to protecting the roots of the democratic process through voting rights and election administration work. He was born and raised in the Midwest and is excited to return as an Equal Justice Works Fellow.

Media

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Before law school, I worked for my home state’s legislature. Working closely with local constituents showed me that democracy is only effective if all voters have a fair and equitable opportunity to have their voices heard.

Conner Kozisek /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Anna (she/her) will combat the independent state legislature theory by leading the Constitutional Accountability Center’s first Election Amicus Project and filing amicus briefs in courts across the country in litigation surrounding the 2024 election.

The independent state legislature theory (ISLT) is the latest threat to multiracial democracy. ISLT posits that under the Constitution, the state legislature is the only state body with the power to regulate federal elections, and therefore, state courts cannot intervene to enforce state voting rights protections. Under the logic of ISLT, federal courts are the only check on states’ voter suppression—which, given the federal judiciary’s growing hostility to voting rights, is frightening.

In 2023, the Supreme Court will address ISLT head-on in Moore v. Harper, which has been called “without question the most significant case in the history of our nation for American democracy.” Whatever the Court decides in Moore, the questions it leaves open will be heavily litigated as states attempt to use ISLT to disenfranchise voters before the 2024 election.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Anna will spearhead the Constitutional Accountability Center’s first Election Amicus Project targeted at protecting voting rights during an election year. She will strategically draft and file amicus briefs in courts across the country to limit ISLT’s impact on the 2024 election. Anna will also publish a white paper on ISLT aimed at educating lawyers, scholars, and organizers about ISLT.

Coming from an immigrant family, Anna understands the power of being able to participate in our democracy. She is dedicated to ensuring that marginalized communities can exercise their right to vote.

Having a strong multiracial democracy is critical to building a just and equitable society. I am deeply committed to fighting for the voting rights of communities of color.

Anna Jessurun /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rachel’s (she/her/hers) project seeks to protect voters of color and language minority voters from intimidation and ensures their access to the ballot box for the 2024 election through public education, policy advocacy, and litigation.

Voter intimidation is on the rise in the U.S. Intimidation occurred historically through physical and economic threats to prevent people of color from depositing ballots. Today, voter intimidation is more varied and covert but no less pernicious, breeding distrust in our democratic system. For example, during the 2020 election, extremists sent robocalls to thousands of Black voters, claiming that voting by mail would lead to arrests, collection for outstanding debts, and tracking by the Center for Disease Control. Unsurprisingly, voter intimidation was one of the top three complaints fielded by the Election Protection Hotline for the 2020 election. This trend will likely intensify in anticipation of the 2024 Presidential Election.

Recognizing the foundational nature of voting and how access to the ballot box impacts basic civil liberties, Rachel became committed to practicing as a voting rights attorney.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Rachel will build community voter power using tools, like Know Your Rights workshops, to help voters identify and report illegal conduct and assert their rights against voter intimidation. Rachel will help deter bad actors by creating credible threats of civil and criminal enforcement against voter intimidation by providing direct representation to voters that face discriminatory intimidation and by advocating for policy changes at the state level. Finally, she will create a report on current voter intimidation tactics to update an important source of information about a modern election sabotage threat.

Voter Intimidation has expressly racist origins and is a direct result of Black persons accessing the right to vote. Intimidation has long-lasting effects on the ability of communities of color to engage in the political process. I am committed to ensuring our representative democracy is truly representative and that marginalized communities have the right to vote not just in name, but in effect.

Rachel Appel /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alton (he/him/his) promotes fair redistricting maps by addressing partisan gerrymandering through research, litigation, and policy advocacy.

For communities of color to be adequately represented in state legislatures and Congress, electoral districts must be drawn in a manner that gives their inhabitants a safe-guarded right to vote for their candidates of choice. Yet, politicians in state legislatures are increasingly passing partisan redistricting maps that overwhelmingly benefit themselves and their political parties, thereby limiting the ability of voters to elect candidates that reflect their needs and desires. We need an equitable system that empowers voters to choose their politicians, instead of politicians choosing their voters. Although federal courts are largely foreclosed from considering partisan gerrymandering, opportunities exist to challenge partisan maps at the state level. Voters deserve a fair process only reachable by reforms to how district lines are drawn today.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Alton will support ongoing and future partisan gerrymandering litigation through the development of novel and deeply effective litigation strategies. Further, he will bolster efforts at the state level to implement independent redistricting commissions, which would move the power of redistricting from politicians’ hands into the hands of voters. Alton will also work to produce state-by-state legal research on how local laws may be used to litigate partisan gerrymandering claims moving forward.

Media

Upcoming Pasadena League of Women Voters Event Focuses on Role of the Supreme Court in Shaping Democracy Through Redistricting

The issues that I care deeply about in my community—from immigration reform to healthcare access—depend on having elected officials that actually represent the communities from which they are elected. Fighting for fair maps is at the foundation to ensure government works for the people.

Alton Wang /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Chris will use litigation, state and local administrative advocacy, education, and monitoring to challenge administrative disenfranchisement in the electoral process.

Chris’ project challenges “administrative disenfranchisement,” reframing election administration issues from harmless administrative errors to serious barriers in the democratic process. Mistakes in election administration are popularly conceived (to the extent they are conceived at all) as harmless scriveners’ errors that balance out in all but the closest elections, which are protected by careful and deliberate recounts. But in reality, these administrative disenfranchisements pose a threat to voting rights, which is disproportionately experienced in communities of color and poor communities. These problems are often baked in well in advance of an election, through decisions made for administrative convenience, without considering how they will impact the voters whom they are meant to serve.

Fellowship Plans

Chris will use a variety of legal strategies, including public records requests, trainings for community groups and elections staff, administrative advocacy, and litigation, in combination with well-established relationships with community groups and election administrators alike, to ensure that the experiences and needs of voters are factored into the decision-making calculus for designing and administering election systems.

I went to law school to help make our democratic systems work better, for more people, and with no one left behind. Too often our elections aren’t built to include the people whose will they are supposed to reflect; I am incredibly honored to put my shoulder to the wheel in this project to end administrative disenfranchisement, and help ensure that all voters have the freedom and opportunity to claim an equal stake in shaping the future of their communities.

Chris Shenton /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Uruj (she/her/hers) will use model litigation and advocacy to challenge the coordinated assault on the right to vote by discriminatory voting laws in the Deep South.

In 2021, state legislatures met the historic turnout of Black voters and voters of color in 2020 with a backlash of voter suppression laws aimed at diminishing the political power of voters of color. Nineteen states enacted 33 restrictive voting laws in 2021 alone; forty-nine states cumulatively proposed over 425 bills to restrict voting access. From imposing harsher voter ID requirements on absentee ballots in Georgia to restricting mail-in voting in Florida or banning 24-hour voting in Texas, these sudden and extreme changes to voting laws have the intent and effect of making voting more burdensome for low-income voters of color. Characterized as Jim Crow 2.0, these laws deepen historical inequities in voting access, abridge or deny voters of color a meaningful opportunity to participate in the political process, and throw off the guardrails necessary to maintain our democracy.

Fellowship Plans

This project supports the leadership of impacted communities safeguarding against Jim Crow 2.0 policies and ensuring equal access to the vote. Building on the momentum of the 2022 midterm election, Uruj will apply a multi-part strategy to ensure that every eligible voter, especially Black voters, can freely exercise their fundamental right to vote by starting in two priority jurisdictions in the deep south. The strategy uses strategic, targeted litigation to enforce voting rights protections under federal and state constitutional and statutory protections; rapid response advocacy at polling stations by monitoring for suppression and identifying organizing and legal interventions; and advocating for expansive legislation and against restrictive voting bills in partnership with grassroots coalitions.

Media

Two New Grads Named Equal Justice Works Fellows

Communities of color are more likely to be denied access to the right to vote and that’s a precedent that goes against our notion of fairness and justice. We need to challenge these immediate threats to democracy while also building long-term sustainable solutions to ensure every person can vote regardless of our race.

Uruj Sheikh /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow