How Voting Rights Activists Navigate New Restrictions For 2022 elections

From today’s CNN Online:

When activist Tammye Pettyjohn Jones knocks on voters’ doors in her rural corner of Georgia this month, she’ll have a new tool in hand: a portable printer.

sweeping voting law Georgia enacted this year now requires voters who do not have a driver’s license or state ID to provide a copy of another form of identification with their absentee ballot application. So Pettyjohn Jones and other volunteers with Sisters in Service of Southwest Georgia plan to take photos of that identification and print them out on the spot for voters to submit along with their absentee ballot applications.

“You don’t have time to hem and haw about how hard it is” to vote, said PettyJohn Jones, who is working to turn out voters ahead of November’s municipal elections in places like Americus, Georgia. “You’ve got to go into a problem-solving mode.”

In states from Georgia to Montana, activists are scrambling to help voters navigate the new restrictions passed largely in Republican-controlled states after record turnout in 2020 helped elect President Joe Biden and flipped control of the US Senate to Democrats. In Florida, for example, some organizations have taken iPads into the field so voters could use the devices to register to vote on their own, said Brad Ashwell of All Voting is Local Florida.

That helps the organizations bypass a little-noticed provision of Florida’s new law — one that requires third-party groups registering voters to deliver a mandatory disclaimer that they “might not” deliver registration materials to election offices in time. Activists say that’s a misleading statement aimed at curbing voter registration drives.

In neighboring Georgia, meanwhile, the New Georgia Project plans to train a cadre of criminal and civil rights lawyers on the nuances of the state’s 98-page voting law so they can assist voters who encounter problems on Election Day.

The lawyers will be deployed to help next month in Atlanta, during the city’s high-profile mayoral election, and their work will serve as a pilot project for the 2022 midterms, said Aklima Khondoker, the group’s chief legal officer.

Georgia is one of 19 states that have passed 33 new laws this year to restrict voting, according to an updated tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. But some of the most extensive changes are clustered in just a handful. Four states — Iowa, Georgia, Florida and Texas — enacted sweeping revisions of their existing laws, bundled together in single omnibus bills.

Read the complete story here.

On National Voter Registration Day, We Must Fight Restrictions on Voting Rights

From today’s Scientific American:

This week marks the 10th time that Americans have commemorated National Voter Registration Day, an occasion designed to encourage the one in four adult citizens who are unregistered to become part of those who can participate in elections. So far this year at least 18 states have enacted laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. And even when the right to vote is formally protected, the costs of doing so prevent many from making it to the polls, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, who are less likely to vote.

We need to reengineer the voting process to make it easier for everyone. While the focus is on the unregistered—and justifiably so—it is crucial to also direct our attention on the U.S.’s more than 4,500 local election officials (LEOs), who “determine who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” as a 2014 report from the think tank Demos put it. They determine whether voter registration applications are valid, in accordance with state and federal law. Hence we should give a shout out today to LEOs, who, until quite recently, toiled anonymously behind the scenes to ensure that elections went off without a hitch. Nearly 60 percent of states fill these positions through partisan elections, which can affect how LEOs carry out their tasks, but there are also strong professional norms.

During the 2020 election, many local election officials scrambled to implement state-mandated changes, such as providing no-excuse absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, as a means of ensuring that people could vote without risking exposure to COVID. Oftentimes LEOs made these efforts without additional resources and did so while being accused malfeasance. For example, according to the New York Times, Scott County, Iowa’s auditor and commissioner of elections and her staff put in about 200 hours of overtime while running an election that generated a nearly 80 percent turnout rate. But that election also brought out angry and threatening voters and led to the resignation of that election official. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, by this past spring a third of surveyed election officials felt unsafe because of their job and nearly 20 percent were concerned about threats against their life.

By late December 2020, 21 election directors and deputy directors of more than a dozen of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had either quit or were in the process of doing so. A Democracy Fund survey of roughly 850 local election officials reported that about one out of every six were planning to retire in the next three years. While retirements are a normal part of life, these numbers are higher than normal and indicative of the current partisan rancor. Of particular concern is the possibility that those leaving will be replaced by believers in former president Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” In fall 2020, prior to the election, Steve Bannon encouraged Trump supporters to try to become local election officials, according to Forbes. At this time of unprecedented threats against electoral integrity, let us remember the local election officials, who are on the front lines of preserving our voting rights, and tell Congress that it is time to pass legislation to protect those who protect our democracy.

Read the complete article here.

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New rules on extreme heat means more air conditioning and breaks for workers

From today’s Business Insider:

The Biden administration announced Monday that it is beginning work on a new workplace regulation to address safety during extreme heat events, a process that will likely take years to move through the slow-churning federal bureaucracy, but could eventually impact millions of people who must work in increasingly high temperatures.

In practical terms, a federal heat workplace standard — as sought for years now by organized labor and Democratic legislators — could change day-to-day life for people who work not just outside, on farms and on construction sites, but in warehouses shipping goods for online shoppers. Employers could be required to offer more shade and more air conditioning, as well as additional breaks and opportunities to hydrate.

Since 2010, at least 384 people have died from extreme heat exposure on the job, according to a recent report by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations. Over the past 30 years, the rate of heat-related worker deaths has doubled.

It’s only getting worse. This summer was the hottest on record, and it was lethal. At a farm in Oregon, Sebastian Francisco Perez, a 38-year-old migrant worker who had just come from Guatemala, was found lying in a field, motionless, at the end of his shift. It was 107 degrees that day.

Despite the rising death toll, there is currently no federal regulation that deals specifically with threats to worker safety posed by heat. In October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will initiate a process that aims to change that. 

“Rising temperatures pose an imminent threat to millions of American workers exposed to the elements,” President Joe Biden said in a statement announcing an “all-of-government effort to protect workers” and others from extreme heat.

Read the complete story here.

How Democrats could actually pass “For the People” voting rights bill

From today’s The Guardian Online:

The bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, has been described as a “compromise”, hashed out over the summer by a group of Senate Democrats after Republicans filibustered an earlier version of it. But while the bill does get rid of some key things from the initial version, it still is pretty expansive. It would require states to offer at least 15 days of early voting, along with same-day registration, as well as automatic and online registration. It would enshrine new protections for local election officials and poll workers amid growing concerns about intimidation and partisan interference in their work. And it sets new criteria that states have to follow when they draw electoral districts to curb the practice of severely manipulating districts for partisan gain.

We’ve been here before. It’s no secret that the bill is probably dead on arrival in the US Senate as long as the filibuster, the rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation, remains in place. A handful of Democrats, led by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have vocally supported keeping the measure in place.

As I read through the cascade of statements praising the new bill, I was struck by how many of them coupled their enthusiasm with calls to eliminate the filibuster. It was a grim recognition of the quagmire Democrats have confronted since taking control of Congress in January: voting reform is impossible while the filibuster is in place.

Despite the huge obstacle that the filibuster still poses, I do think this new bill is significant. First, it shows that Democrats aren’t willing to let voting reform go; by coming back so quickly with a new bill, they’re signaling that they are prepared to force a fight over the filibuster.

Second, Democrats are showing Republicans that they are willing to make concessions in their signature piece of legislation. They dropped a provision from the earlier version that would have required officials to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. They also got rid of a provision that would have required every state to set up independent commissions to draw districts. The new legislation also allows states to require identification to vote while also setting up a process for people who lack ID to vote. These will all up the ante on Republicans to negotiate in good faith.

Third, it’s significant that Manchin played an active role in crafting the bill and is now the one shopping it around to get Republican support. That support seems unlikely (“It is a solution in search of a problem, and we will not be supporting that,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said on Tuesday). If Manchin is unable to personally persuade Republicans to sign on, despite the concessions from Democrats, it will only increase pressure on him to revise his stance on the filibuster.

Joe Biden also has indicated a new willingness to pressure reluctant Democrats on their filibuster position.

Read the complete story here.

California steps into national fight over ballot restrictions, voting rights

From today’s San Diego Union-Tribune:

Earlier this year, state Sen. Tom Umberg pointed to an often-overlooked confluence of events amid discussion about California’s efforts to make it easier to vote in 2020 — something typically thought to favor Democrats.

“Democrats lost four seats (in Congress) this past election and we had the highest voter turnout since 1952,” the Santa Ana Democrat said. “I think more people voting, irrespective of what happened to Democrats, is a good thing for democracy.”

Lots of Republicans in other state legislatures aren’t buying that and launched a methodical drive to restrict voting access not long after the 2020 votes were officially tallied — along with seeking to overturn the results in some states where then-President Donald Trump lost.

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans gained some California congressional seats last year, just as there were when they lost several in 2018. How much — or how little — California’s voting rules had to do with that is open to debate. But greater access didn’t seem to hinder them.

Umberg’s comments came in February as the Legislature was passing his bill to extend last year’s California vote-by-mail system to special elections this year, which includes the Sept. 14 recall election for Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The bill was drafted long before it was certain the recall would qualify and there already were two other special elections scheduled to fill legislative vacancies, according to The Associated Press.

Several states expanded the use of mail ballots last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, including some that sent a ballot to every registered voter whether they requested it or not, as California did. That was opposed by Trump and many Republicans, contending it was designed to boost Democratic prospects.

Regardless, the mail-ballot system was widely viewed as a success last year, not just because of turnout, but because it gave everyone an automatic option to skip voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic. There were still polling places available and opportunities for early voting in addition to the mail ballots. That will be the case next month.

In February, the COVID-19 outbreak was lingering, but appeared to be winding down when the Umberg bill was passed. Now the action seems prescient, given the pandemic resurgence with the Delta variant.

California is such a blue state that Democrats would seem certain to dominate regardless of how accessible voting is here. The national balance of power lies mostly in red states where political and demographic trends aren’t favoring the GOP, such as Georgia. And those are the states where voting laws are becoming more restrictive.

California’s accessible mode of voting may not be threatened, but the state is entering the fight over restrictive laws elsewhere. On Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was joining nearly two dozen other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging a new Georgia law passed as Senate Bill 202.

Read the complete story here.

Pres. Biden to require federal workers and contractors to get vaccinated

From today’s New York Times:

President Biden on Thursday will sign executive orders requiring the vast majority of federal workers and contractors who do business with the government to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. They are part of an aggressive new plan that will also put pressure on private businesses, states and schools to enact stricter vaccination and testing policies as the Delta variant continues its spread across the United States.

The mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services — a work force that numbers more than four million — but not to those who work for Congress or the federal court system, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The spread of the highly infectious variant had pushed the country’s daily average caseload over 150,000 for the first time since late January, overwhelming hospitals in hard-hit areas and killing roughly 1,500 people a day. The surge has alarmed Mr. Biden and his top health advisers, who see mass vaccination as the only way to bring the pandemic under control.

Mr. Biden, who was briefed by his team of coronavirus advisers on Wednesday afternoon, is set to deliver a speech at 5 p.m. Eastern that will address about six areas where his administration can encourage — or, at this point, push — more eligible Americans to receive vaccines.

Mr. Biden had already pushed federal workers to get vaccinated by announcing that those who refused would have to undergo regular coronavirus testing. But the surge, coupled with last month’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration to grant full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to those 16 and older, has made him decide to take more aggressive steps, eliminating the option of testing, the officials said.

At least one federal workers’ union has already indicated that the new requirements should be subject to the bargaining process. On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal-worker union, stopped short of offering full-throated support for Mr. Biden’s plan.

“Put simply, workers deserve a voice in their working conditions,” Everett Kelley, the union’s president, said in a statement. We expect to bargain over this change prior to implementation, and we urge everyone who is able to get vaccinated as soon as they can do so.”

Read the complete story here.

Texas Democrats Flee State to Highlight G.O.P. Voting Restrictions

From today’s New York Times:

Texas Democrats fled the state on Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law in the Republican-controlled legislature, heading to Washington to draw attention to what they portray as a damaging assault on the right to cast a ballot.

Democrats from the Texas State Legislature held a news conference outside the State Capitol in Austin last week.

The group left Austin in midafternoon on a pair of chartered flights that were scheduled to arrive by the early evening. An official involved with the effort said more than 51 of the 67 State House Democrats members had signed on, enough to prevent Texas Republicans from attaining a quorum, which is required to conduct state business.

But the Democrats’ move also lays bare their limited options in a legislature where the Republicans hold the majority in both chambers. Parliamentary procedures and efforts to add amendments can delay the process but not derail it, and leaving the state to prevent a quorum, Republicans said Monday, would ultimately fail as well.

Representative Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, said Democrats’ departure from the state “slows things down” but would not prevent Republicans from ultimately passing the G.O.P.-backed voter overhaul bill in the 30-day special session.

Read more here.

Harris announces $25 million investment in DNC voting rights program

From today’s The Hill Online:

Vice President Harris on Thursday will roll out a $25 million expansion of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) “I Will Vote” initiative as Democrats look to combat a wave of voting restrictions that have been pushed this year by Republican-controlled legislatures.

Harris will announce the funding in remarks at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The $25 million investment surpasses the initial $20 million that DNC Chair Jaime Harrison announced in April the DNC would spend as the 2022 midterm races begin to take shape.

The money will go to strengthening the DNC’s efforts with voter registration, voter protection and voter education.

Voting rights is a key battlefront for congressional lawmakers, with two voting rights bills — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — key tenets of Democrats’ legislative agenda.

At the center of the partisan struggle over new voting bills across the country is former President Trump‘s baseless claim that November’s presidential election was stolen from him through rampant voter fraud.

Democrats have credited the “big lie” and efforts to suppress minority voters as the catalysts behind the GOP voter bills, though Republicans have maintained that their goal is to increase voter integrity.

“Republicans know that their policies are unpopular—and that the only way for them to hold on to power is to attack the constitutional right to vote, held by the people they swore to serve,” Harrison said in a statement before Harris’s scheduled remarks. “That’s why the Republican Party has made unprecedented efforts to keep people from voting.”

November’s presidential election saw historic turnout on several fronts, but advocates have specifically lauded the increase in Black and Latino voter participation as major factors that sealed President Biden‘s victory.

Harris and Biden are also expected to meet with prominent civil rights leaders later in the afternoon on Thursday.

Read the complete article here.

Opinion: The Really Big Fight on Voting Rights Is Just Around the Corner

From today’s New York Times:

With the For the People Act on indefinite hold after a filibuster by Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, the Voting Rights Act is about to return to center stage in Washington. The Supreme Court will soon decide a case on how a crucial part of the landmark law applies to voting laws challenged as racially discriminatory.

The country is already roiling with controversies over whether a variety of post-2020 state voting changes reflect legitimate policy concerns or racially discriminatory ones.

In Congress, Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski have turned a spotlight on the Voting Rights Act with their endorsement of a version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It would reaffirm Congress’s central role in protecting the right to vote against racially discriminatory changes and give the Justice Department (or, in Mr. Manchin’s version, the federal courts) the critical power to approve changes that are legitimate and block those that are invidious.

The John Lewis Act might well offer the best chance of new national legislation protecting the right to vote in America, and its significance is best seen in historical context, especially that of two Supreme Court cases.

The John Lewis Act would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Sections 4 and 5) that were effectively invalidated by the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. When enacted in 1965, these provisions identified certain parts of the country and put their voting systems under a regime of federal control. These areas had to submit voting changes to the federal government, which had the power to block a proposal if it would diminish minority voter power. The federal government does not normally have veto power over state laws, but Section 5 created one.

Congress identified those areas based on voting practices in 1964. This coverage formula mainly singled out the states where extensive disenfranchisement had been in effect since the turn of the 20th century — especially since a Supreme Court case from 1903, Gilesv. Harris.

Read the complete article here.

Texas Democrats’ walkout sets up epic battle over voting rights

From today’s The Hill Online:

Texas legislators are gearing up for a titanic battle over a Republican effort to overhaul voting procedures after Democrats conspired to block its passage late Sunday night.

Texas Voting Bill Nears Passage as Republicans Advance It - The New York  Times

The omnibus legislative package came to a screeching halt after Democrats quietly abandoned the floor of the state House, denying Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill in the session’s waning hours.

In an echo of a previous exodus 18 years ago, when state House members fled across state lines to Oklahoma to delay a redistricting plan led by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), Democrats managed to exit the legislature on Sunday without attracting Republican attention. 

Democrats began considering walking out earlier on Sunday, when senior Black and Latino members started urging their colleagues to slip out. Those minority Democrats were enraged by last-minute provisions added to the House version of the election overhaul that more closely mirrored the Senate version, which would have made it easier for a judge to overturn election results.

About 45 House Democrats were off the floor before 9 p.m. By the time a final text message to Democratic members urged them to clear out at 10:35 p.m., the House faced a midnight deadline that the elections overhaul failed to meet.

“Not only was there a will to do this but we had a way to do it successfully,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), one of the ringleaders of the exodus, told The Hill.

Read the complete article here.