New York legislature passes major overhaul of outdated voting laws

From today’s edition of The Hill:

New York’s state legislature on Monday passed a package of election and voting reform measures aimed at overhauling one of the most restrictive regimes in the country. The measures, planned by Democrats who reclaimed control of all levers of state government for the first time in modern memory, would allow voters to cast their ballots early or by mail for the first time in state history. They would also allow voters to register and vote on the same day, and it would require the state to hold state and federal primaries on the same day. 

“Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D). “Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward,” she added. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signaled he will sign the package of bills. Nine Republicans in the state Senate voted with Democrats to expand voting access. “It’s really significant advance towards bringing NY’s elections into the 21st century,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which advocated for the overhauls.  

Read the complete article here.

Interactive Map: Government Shutdown Is Affecting Federal Workers in All States

From today’s New York Times:

About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay across the country because of the government shutdown, many of them concentrated in the West.

Over all, federal workers account for about 1.5 percent of the country’s labor force, with a fifth of them in the Washington metro area. But the shutdown has hit some agencies — and states — harder than others.

Outside the capital, states with large numbers of workers for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are more likely to feel the shutdown’s effects. And nearly the entire staff of the Environmental Protection Agency is furloughed, including hundreds of workers in North Carolina and Illinois.

A budget agreement to end the shutdown remains the subject of a fierce partisan fight in Congress, with federal workers caught in the middle. Some senators who count these workers among their constituents are pushing for an end to the impasse, but federal employment does not appear to have a clear relationship to lawmakers’ positions on the shutdown.

Read the complete article here.

Senate votes to overturn Trump’s IRS disclosure rule allowing “dark money”

From today’s Politico Online:

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to reverse a Trump administration policy limiting donor disclosure requirements for political nonprofits in a rare rebuke to the White House.

In a 50-49 vote, the Senate approved a resolution from Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would block the recent Treasury Department change to IRS forms allowing political nonprofits to avoid listing some donors.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined every Democrat in support of the measure, which required only a simple majority to pass under the Congressional Review Act.

“The Trump administration’s dark money rule makes it easier for foreigners and special interests to corrupt and interfere in our elections,” said Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee in a Senate floor speech.

Tester had also been optimistic earlier this week about the resolution’s prospects.

“I think it’s gonna be close but I think we’ve got the votes,” he said Tuesday.

Prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the resolution was an “attempt by some of our Democratic colleagues to undo a pro-privacy reform. … In a climate that is increasingly hostile to certain kinds of political expression and open debate, the last thing Washington needs to do is to chill the exercise of free speech and add to the sense of intimidation.”

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First Wisconsin, now Michigan GOP moves to strip Democrats’ power

From today’s MSNBC News:

Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they were poised to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state’s interests.

The lame-duck moves followed within hours of similar efforts in Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted earlier Wednesday to shift clout to the Republican-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing the GOP governor.

Michigan Democrats in January will jointly hold the governor, attorney general and secretary offices for the first time in 28 years, but the Legislature will continue to be controlled by Republicans.

A day after GOP lawmakers finalized an unprecedented maneuver to gut minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, a Senate panel passed legislation that would create the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce the campaign-finance law rather than Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, who ran in part on a pledge to advocate for election transparency.

Democrats called the bill a blatant power grab that would fly in the face of voters.

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Georgia Set To Remain A Battleground For Voting Rights Ahead Of 2020

From today’s NPR News:

When Democrat Stacey Abrams ended her bid last week to become governor of Georgia and the first black woman ever elected governor of any state, she issued a stinging indictment of Georgia’s voting system, a system overseen by her Republican opponent Brian Kemp, who was the state’s top election official during the 2018 midterms.

“Democracy failed Georgia,” said Abrams in a speech acknowledging Kemp would be the state’s next governor.

“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams said. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired effect on the electoral process in Georgia.”

In an interview this week with NPR, Abrams spoke about how she was nearly denied the chance to vote in person this year due to a clerical error.

Abrams said she’s preparing to sue the state of Georgia for “the gross mismanagement” of the 2018 election, and announced the launch of “Fair Fight Georgia,” an initiative to “pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls.”

For months, Kemp resisted calls from Democrats and civil rights groups for him to step aside from his role as the state’s top election official. He was also criticized for policies making voting more difficult for people of color, in order to gain a political advantage.

Read the complete article here.

Upgrade voting systems, restore Voting Right Act, and end voter suppression

From today’s USA Today:

In many ways, Election Day 2018 was a good one for American democracy. Millions of people turned out to vote. An unprecedented number of women are headed to Congress, including the first Native American women and the first Muslim-American women to serve on Capitol Hill. In Florida, voters restored voting rights to more than a million peoplewho had been disenfranchised for past felony convictions. In Michigan and Maryland, they approved same-day registration. In Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah, they said yes to fair legislative districts.

But at the same time, the election provided evidence of what many activists and experts have been saying for years: the machinery of our democracy needs serious maintenance. Together, aging infrastructure and resurgent voter suppression have jeopardized equal voting rights in the United States, turning what should be a source of national pride into cause for alarm.

The costs of poor preparation and outdated election equipment were plain to see. In downtown Atlanta, voters stood in line for more than three hours because only three voting machines had been sent to serve more than 3,000 people. In Richland County, South Carolina, voters reported that machines were changing their selections. Officials worked to address the issue, but the county elections director told the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that he only had one technician for every five polling sites. In Maryland, two precincts ran out of paper ballots; in Detroit and New York City, malfunctioning machines caused many voters to simply give up.

Read the complete article here.

Election Day: Trump and health care key issues in race for control of the House

From today’s Washington Post:

Voters who will decide control of the U.S. House said President Trump and health care were two of the most important factors as they chose their candidates in the midterm election, according to preliminary results from a Washington Post-Schar School survey of battleground districts.

Battleground district polls: What voters are thinking on Election Day VIEW GRAPHIC 

More than four in 10 who cast early or absentee ballots or voted early Tuesday mentioned Trump or health care as the most important or second-most important factor for their vote, the preliminary results showed. The economy and immigration were close behind, receiving mention from over 3 in 10 voters in the results.

Roughly 8 in 10 voters rated the economy positively, after months of job and wage growth, but even so, a small majority said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among voters across 69 competitive congressional districts.

As the first national election since Trump’s presidential upset in 2016, the midterms gave Democrats an opportunity to capi­tal­ize on his low, 40-percent approval rating, a restive national mood and frustration with one-party leadership in Washington under the GOP.

Read the complete article here.

GA’s Kemp Accuses Dems Of Hacking; Opponent Abrams Labels It A Stunt

From today’s National Public Radio News:

Just two days before facing Democrat Stacey Abrams in a closely watched race to be Georgia’s next governor, the state’s sitting Secretary of State Brian Kemp — who is also the Republican candidate — says his office has opened an investigation and also asked the FBI “to investigate potential cyber crimes committed by the Democratic Party of Georgia.”

Kemp did not provide any evidence of any wrongdoing. In a highly unusual situation, Kemp is in the position of overseeing the election that will decide his state’s highest office and has faced criticism over how it has been handled.

Democrats responded to the announcement by calling it “a reckless and unethical ploy,” saying Kemp was trying to gain an edge in his neck-and-neck race with Abrams.

“He is trying to rile up his base by misleading voters yet again,” Abrams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The Democrats did nothing wrong.”

The accusation emerged on Sunday amid reports that Georgia’s election system, which Kemp oversees as secretary of state, is open to glaring vulnerabilities. It also came shortly after a federal judge ruled that Georgia must relax voting restrictions that could prevent more than 3,000 people from casting ballots in Tuesday’s poll.

Kemp provided few details about his accusation, other than to say, “We have asked the FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate” the possible crimes. It’s unclear from that statement whether Kemp was using “We” to refer to his campaign or his state office.

Citing a potential for conflict of interest, Georgia Democrats, including former President Jimmy Carter, have unsuccessfully asked Kemp to step aside as secretary of state until after the election.

Read the complete article here.

Appeals court rules North Carolina’s electoral map unconstitutional, map may have to be redrawn before midterms

From today’s Washington Post:

A panel of three federal judges held Monday that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections, possibly affecting control of the House.

The judges acknowledged that primary elections have already produced candidates for the 2018 elections but said they were reluctant to let voting take place in congressional districts that courts twice have found violate constitutional standards.

North Carolina legislators are likely to ask the Supreme Court to step in. The court traditionally does not approve of judicial actions that can affect an election so close to the day voters go to the polls.

But the Supreme Court has just eight members since Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement last month; a tie vote would leave the lower court’s decision in place. Senate hearings on President Trump’s nominee to fill the open seat, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, commence Sept. 4.

The North Carolina case is a long-running saga, with a federal court in 2016 striking down the legislature’s 2011 map as a racial gerrymander. The legislature then passed a plan that left essentially the same districts in place but said lawmakers were motivated by politics, not race.

The Supreme Court told the three-judge panel to take another look at the North Carolina case in light of the high court’s June decision in a Wisconsin partisan gerrymandering case, in which the justices said those who brought that case did not have legal standing.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS defers gerrymandering ruling

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to address the central questions in two closely watched challenges to partisan gerrymandering, putting off for another time a ruling on the constitutionality of voting districts designed by legislatures to amplify one party’s political power.

In a challenge to a redistricting plan devised by the Republican Legislature in Wisconsin, the court unanimously said that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had suffered the sort of direct injury that would give them standing to sue. The justices sent the case back to a trial court to allow the plaintiffs to try again to prove that their voting power had been directly affected by the way state lawmakers drew voting districts for the State Assembly.

In the second case, the court unanimously ruled against the Republican challengers to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district. In a brief unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district, which was drawn in 2011.

Both cases had the potential to deliver a reckoning on a practice that dates to the early days of the Republic and got its name from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Elbridge Gerry. The court instead kicked the can down the road, leaving the door open to further challenges.

But the decisions were a setback for critics of gerrymandering, who had hoped that the Supreme Court would transform American democracy by subjecting to close judicial scrutiny the way districts have been redrawn to accommodate the preferences of the party in power. When the dust settled Monday, the status quo remained in place.

Read the complete article here.