Democrats Push Voting-Rights Expansion With Fresh Urgency

From today’s New York Magazine:

When the House passed the For the People Act, a package of voting, redistricting, and campaign-finance reforms, in March of 2019, it was a symbolic and aspirational effort. It passed on a strict party-line vote. Its significance as a Democratic “messaging” vehicle was reflected in its designation as HR 1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

The bill is back as HR 1 in the 117th Congress, but this time it will also be the first bill introduced when Democrats take over the Senate this week. The Republican majority in the Senate over the past four years made democracy-reform legislation a nonstarter. But now a Democratic governing trifecta in Washington gives such reforms a new impetus, as does the baleful experience of the 2020 election cycle, in which Republicans aligned with the Trump administration doubled down on a strategy of suppressing as many votes as possible and then trying to keep votes already cast from being counted or reflected in the final Electoral College balloting for the presidency.

Here’s a list of reforms in the legislation, as compiled by Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf when it passed the House last year:

• Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies

• Same-day voter registration

• Online voter registration

• Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies

• Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting

That’s a lot of reforms, and many are at cross-purposes with the GOP’s renewed determination to make voting more, not less, difficult — especially via mail balloting — and the latter-day Republican conviction that massive spending on elections by wealthy interests is not a travesty but a cherished First Amendment right.

So unless Republicans experience some sort of radical post-Trump conversion to enthusiasm for democracy, passage of these reforms in the Senate will almost certainly be blocked by its GOP minority, barring filibuster reform (which in turn would require unanimous Democratic support, which it does not appear to have at the moment). This also isn’t the kind of legislation that can be moved around the filibuster barricades by a budget reconciliation bill, because it doesn’t involve significant fiscal issues.

Read the complete article here.

CA’s unemployment fraud may top $9 billion, doubling estimate, expert warns

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

As an army of investigators tries to pin down the scope of unemployment benefit fraud in California, the head of a security firm working for the state is warning that payments of fraudulent claims could more than double the $4 billion previously estimated, and that a flood of those claims involve overseas crime rings.

At least 10% of unemployment claims may have been fraudulent before controls were installed in October, according to Blake Hall, founder and chief executive of the company ID.me., which has been hired by the state Employment Development Department to weed out fraud. A 10% fraud rate could total $9.8 billion of the benefits paid from March through September.

Much of the fraud in California and other states is coming from organized criminal gangs operating in some 20 foreign countries, including Russia, China, Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey and Bulgaria, Hall said.

“When the Russians and the Nigerians and the Chinese are the players on the field, they are going to put up some points,” Hall told The Times. “This is a very sophisticated cyberattack that’s being run at scale.”

Hall’s firm was hired by the EDD to begin checking unemployment claims in October, and since then 30% of the claims it screened turned out to be fraudulent. Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 11, Hall said his firm blocked 463,724 fraudulent claims, which he said would represent more than $9 billion if the EDD had paid $20,000 on each claim.

The EDD has so far paid out $113 billion in unemployment benefits during the 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including $43 billion as part of an expedited — and less secure — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed.

State officials were recently warned by Bank of America, which is under contract with the EDD to issue debit cards to distribute benefits, that there is evidence that fraud could total more than $4 billion in California. A task force of county, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors is continuing an investigation to identify all of the fraud, which has also involved claims in the names of prison inmates.

Read the complete article here.

Sen. Ron Wyden: Capitol riots prove we must strengthen American democracy by protecting voting rights for all

From NBC News Online:

On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn’t receive orders to assist for several hours. It’s a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn’t burn and that many more people weren’t killed.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.

Not in my book.

In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency means all is well in our country.

After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents’ concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.

Wednesday’s phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.

Read the complete article here.

Members of Trump Cabinet discussing invoking 25th Amendment

From ABC News Online:

There have been discussions among some members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet and his allies over invoking the 25th Amendment, a potential vehicle for removing the president from office, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told ABC News.

Un-American.' 'Treasonous.': North Texas leaders decry mob breach at U.S.  Capitol

It’s unclear how extensive these conversations have been or whether Vice President Mike Pence is supportive of such action. Many were horrified by Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol as well as Trump’s apparent lack of urgency in marshaling resources to stop the mob, the sources said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Thursday became the first Republican to publicly call for the invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, lays out the procedures for replacing the president in the event of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation.

“The president not only abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people’s house, he invoked and inflamed passions that gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here,” Kinzinger said in a video posted to Twitter. “When pressed to move and denounce the violence he barely did so, while of course victimizing himself … all indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty, or even his health, but from reality itself.”

“It is for this reason that I call for the vice president and members of the cabinet to ensure that the next few weeks are safe for the American people, and that we have a sane captain of the ship,” Kinzinger said.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia Senate Runoffs: More Voters Turn Out For Early Voting On First Day Than For General Election

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

Nearly 169,000 Georgians cast ballots on Monday, the first day of early voting in the state’s Senate runoff elections—a massive number that surpasses even that of the general election’s early voting kickoff and demonstrates the wave of enthusiasm for a pair of races that will determine the makeup of the Senate.

According to data cited by voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who has been leading the Democratic party’s efforts to rally support in Georgia, 168,293 state residents voted on Monday, which is nearly 30,000 more than the number of votes cast on the first day of day of early voting in the November general election (140,000).

Taking into account the 314,000 Georgians who have already cast their ballots by mail, this means over 480,000 of the state’s 10.6 million residents have voted in the Senate runoffs to date. 

Overall, the general election had still enticed 24% more voters by this point for a total of 633,990 votes due to the whopping 484,000 ballots sent by mail. 

Over the weekend, Abrams told CNN that the Democratic party is confident in its ability to win the two runoff elections, having already seen massive interest in absentee ballots and a surge in enthusiasm from voters whose demographics signal enthusiasm for Democratic candidates. 

Read the complete article here.

Election Officials in Every Swing State Say There’s No Evidence of Voter Fraud

From today’s Newsweek:

Election officials in 49 states, including swing states crucial to the victory of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, have all publicly stated that they’ve seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Their statements run contrary to the claims of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and President Donald Trump‘s re-election campaign.

Months before the election, Trump claimed he would only lose if there were widespread fraud or vote-rigging. Trump subsequently lost the election by more than 5 million popular votes and 73 electoral votes.

Biden decisively won due to 273,000 popular votes and 79 electoral votes in six swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Election officials and secretaries of state from those and 43 other states told The New York Times that they neither suspect nor have proof of any widespread voter fraud. The only state not to respond was Texas, where Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick offered citizens $1 million for any evidence of fraud.

Gabriel Sterling, voting implementation manager in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, disavowed any claims of fraud to the Times. Jake Rollow, spokesman for Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, told the publication, “We have not seen any evidence of fraud or foul play in the actual administration of the election.”

Jacklin Rhoads, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said, “No active lawsuit even alleges, and no evidence presented so far has shown, widespread problems.”

Read the complete article here.

Judge Dismisses Effort To Throw Out Drive-Through Votes In Houston

From today’s NPR News Online:

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday threw out a suit challenging the legality of some 127,000 votes cast at drive-through voting sites in the Houston area. He ruled the plaintiffs don’t have legal standing to sue.

Harris County, Texas’ most populous county and majority-Democratic, erected 10 tents to expedite the early voting process as a way of allowing people to cast ballots safely during the coronavirus pandemic. They were also in place this summer before the state’s primary.

Noting that point, Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, asked plaintiffs, “Why am I just getting this case?” He later said that the suit was not timely and that “this has been going on all summer.”

The suit was brought by Republican activists, who argued the move by Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, was an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which is permitted under Texas law. The Texas Supreme Court dismissed a similar challenge on Sunday. All of that court’s justices are Republican appointees.

Hanen said that if he found the plaintiffs did have standing, he would have still ruled against them “as to the voting that has already taken place,” but that he would “probably enjoin tomorrow’s votes.” He also ordered that records of votes cast in the drive-through facilities be maintained in case his decision is reversed on appeal.

One of the intervenors in the hearing, lawyer Andre Segura of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, argued that a ruling allowing the ballots to be thrown out would cause people to have to vote a second time.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS clears the way for sending mail-in ballots to Montana voters

From today’s CNN News Online:

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Thursday denied a request from Republicans to block Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s directive last month allowing counties to send mail-in ballots to all registered voters amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Kagan, who has jurisdiction over the lower court involved in the case, turned down the request without referring the petition to her colleagues or asking the other side for its views.The suit was brought by Joe Lamm of the Ravali County Republican Central Committee as well as several voters.”

While Covid is a national tragedy, it poses no emergency,” James Bopp, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, wrote in court papers. Bopp noted that the Montana legislature already allowed any qualified voter to obtain a no-excuse absentee ballot by merely applying.

Lower courts have upheld Montana’s directive. Bullock, a Democrat, issued a similar directive in the primary, and all of the state’s counties opted to send out mail-in ballots to voters. Montana already allowed voters to request and submit absentee ballots without providing an excuse.

Bullock will appear on the ballot as a candidate for Senate in November. He is running against Republican Sen. Steve Daines in a competitive race that could help Democrats flip the Senate.

The case that Kagan acted on Thursday isn’t Montana’s only voting battle playing out in the courts. In September, a federal judge in Montana rejected the Trump campaign’s effort to stop an expansion of mail-in voting in the state after the campaign and the Republican National Committee filed suit following Bullock’s directive.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS takes up Arizona voting rights law that will be heard after the election

From today’s CNN Online:

The Supreme Court said Friday it will review two provisions of an Arizona voting rights law that a federal appeals court said could have a discriminatory impact for American Indian, Hispanic and African Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

One provision concerns an “out of precinct policy” that does not count provisional ballots cast in person on Election Day outside of the voter’s designated precinct. Another concerns the “ballot collection law” which permits only certain persons — family and household members, caregivers, mail carriers and elections officials — to handle another person’s completed ballot.

The dispute will not be resolved before the election because the argument calendar is already full through December.In January, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state’s policy of “wholly discarding” rather than counting or partially counting out of precinct ballots and the criminalization of the collection of another person’s ballot has a “discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters in the state in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

The court also held that the ballot collection provision was enacted with discriminatory intent. The court agreed to put its decision on hold pending appeal. Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, called the provisions “commonplace election administration provisions” used by Arizona and “dozens of states.” Over the dissent of four judges, the majority invalidated two commonplace election administration provisions used by Arizona and dozens of other states to prevent multiple voting, protect against voter intimidation, preserve the secrecy of the ballot, and safeguard election integrity.

But Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, argued that Supreme Court precedents and the law compelled the lower court to conclude that Arizona’s wholesale rejection of ballots cast out of precinct and its criminalization of ballot collection violated Voting Rights Act.

Read the complete article here.

Coronavirus relief talks restart as jobless aid divides GOP and Democrats

From today’s CNBC News Online:

Democrats and Trump administration officials will sit down again Monday afternoon to try to hammer out an elusive deal on a fifth coronavirus aid bill. 

Negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows plan to meet at 1 p.m. ET as the sides find themselves far from an agreement. The discussions will follow Sunday’s staff-level talks on a package to help rein in a raging pandemic and jolt a flailing U.S. economy. 

The effort has gained urgency after a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit expired at the end of July. The extra aid has helped tens of millions of jobless people afford food and housing as the economy reels during the outbreak. 

Pelosi has indicated the sides made more progress in talks over the weekend than they did in discussions last week. Asked Monday how far apart Democrats and Republicans are, the speaker said she would wait to see how Monday’s talks go. 

“Well, let’s see when we meet today,” she told CNN. “It’s absolutely essential that we reach agreement.” 

Disagreements over how to structure unemployment insurance have stood in the way of a deal. Democrats have insisted on continuing the $600 weekly sum. They passed a House bill in May to extend the aid into next year.

Republicans, who questioned the need for more pandemic relief before they released a proposal last week, want to slash the extra benefit to $200 per week through September. They would then set the aid at 70% wage replacement.

Read the complete article here.