Texas is the Voter Suppression State

From today’s New York Times:

For those of you keeping track of the “As Texas goes, so goes the nation” notion, I have either very good or very bad news.

The state that gave you two recent mediocre-to-crummy Republican presidents (who are starting to look downright Lincolnesque compared to you-know-who), gerrymandering in the guise of redistricting (thanks a lot, Tom DeLay) and a profound if misguided antipathy to government in general is now surging ahead in a new field: voter suppression. As someone who loves Texas with a triple shot of ambivalence, I take no pleasure in spreading this news. But if it is your goal to keep people of color from the polls — some Republican leaders come to mind — it’s time once again to look to Texas for guidance.

Our state officials in their infinite wisdom last week announced that they hoped to excise 95,000 people from voter rolls because they didn’t seem to be citizens. Our secretary of state, David Whitley, insisted that, with the help of the Department of Public Safety, he had been able to compile a list of those supposedly illegally registered. It was even suggested that 58,000 of those folks had actually already voted, a felony in these parts. This finding was heralded in a tweet by ourattorney general, Ken Paxton, as an all-caps “Voter Fraud Alert.” Paxton, you may or may not know, is himself under indictment for securities fraud.

The state, which as yet cannot take anyone off the voter rolls, turned to county officials, who can. They are supposed to hunt those miscreants down by sending notices demanding they appear at voter registrars’ offices with proof of citizenship (birth certificate, passport, etc.) within 30 days. Otherwise, they would be stricken from the rolls and, presumably, ICE would be pounding on their doors soon after.

Among many who seized on this appalling narrative was President Trump, who tweeted: “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped!”

Well, yes, someone had to be stopped here in Texas, and the narrative was appalling, but not for the stated reasons. Within 24 hours, various groups devoted to voting rights had put on their thinking caps — they don’t give them out at the Statehouse — and were noting a few problems with the list.

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.”

Read the complete article here.

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.

Read the complete article here.

WI Republicans Approve Bills Stripping Power From Incoming Dem. Governor

From today’s New York Times:

After a rancorous, sleepless night of debate, Republican lawmakers early Wednesday pushed through a sweeping set of bills that will limit the power of Wisconsin’s newly elected Democrats, including the incoming governor and attorney general.

The legislation, which Democrats vehemently opposed and protesters chanted their anger over, passed through the Republican-held State Legislature after hours of closed-door meetings and some amendments. The votes fell largely along party lines; no Democrats supported the measures.

“That’s what this is about: power-hungry politicians using their grubby hands in their last-ditch effort to desperately cling to power,” said State Representative Katrina Shankland, a Democrat, before the vote Wednesday morning. “All we’ve seen demonstrated today and over the past few days is a contempt for the public.”

The fight over power in Madison came after Republicans, who have controlled the state for the last eight years, lost the offices of governor and attorney general during the midterm elections. Tony Evers, a Democrat, defeated Scott Walker, a two-term governor who drew national attention with a brief run for president.

Read the complete article here.

“Unqualified” Trump appointee set to take over consumer protection agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.

Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.

Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.

“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.

Read the complete article here.

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.

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.

Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Faces Increased Ethics Scrutiny

From today’s New York Times:

Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior Department and a key figure in President Trump’s push to roll back environmental regulations and ramp up oil drilling, is facing increased scrutiny amid federal investigations into allegations that he abused travel spending and maintained close ties with industries he oversees.

The criticism escalated sharply after reports this week that the Interior Department’s inspector general had referred one of the inquiries to the Justice Department, a potential prelude to a criminal investigation.

T​he​​ investigations have raised questions about Mr. Zinke’s oversight of the Interior Department, where he is essentially the largest land manager in the United States. He has authority over the nation’s 300 million acres of public lands as well as vast waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Zinke faces at least a half-dozen ethics investigations. At least nine other inquiries into alleged ethics violations have been closed, in some cases because Mr. Zinke was cleared, in others because of a lack of cooperation with investigators.

While it is not known which ​inquiry​ has been referred to the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said it was most likely one examining a Montana land deal that involved an organization run by Mr. Zinke’s wife​ and a development group backed by the chairman of Halliburton, which is one of the nation’s largest companies involved in drilling for oil and gas on public lands.

Read the complete article here.

GA election fight shows that southern tradition of voter suppression flourishes

From today’s PBS Newshour:

Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been sued for suppressing minority votes after an Associated Press investigation revealed a month before November’s midterm election that his office has not approved 53,000 voter registrations – most of them filed by African-Americans.

Kemp, who is running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, says his actions comply with a 2017 state law that requires voter registration information to match exactly with data from the Department of Motor Vehicles or Social Security Administration.

The law disproportionately affects black and Latino voters, say the civil rights groups who brought the lawsuit.

As a scholar of African-American history, I recognize an old story in this new electoral controversy.

Georgia, like many southern states, has suppressed black voters ever since the 15th Amendment gave African-American men the right to vote in 1870.

The tactics have simply changed over time.

Read the complete article here.

Framers fail: Voting is a basic right but it’s not guaranteed in Constitution

From today’s USA Today:

The Founders unwisely gave states control of the vote. The upshot is we’re headed for separate democracies: restrictive red ones, expansive blue ones.

In 1835, William Fogg, an African American citizen of Pennsylvania, filed America’s first voting rights lawsuit. He charged that election officials had violated the state’s color-blind constitution by barring him from voting because he looked black. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Fogg’s claim in 1837 by writing black people out of American democracy. The court ignored the state constitution and found that “no coloured race was party to our social compact,” and that Pennsylvania should not “raise this depressed race to the level of the white one.”

A year later, Pennsylvania adopted a new constitution which followed the trend in most nineteenth century states by excluding people of color from the ballot. In 1800, only five of 16 states mandated “white only” voting. By 1860, 28 of 33 states, accounting for about 97 percent of the nation’s free black population, had adopted such racially restrictive suffrage. All states denied women from the franchise. Backers of voting by white men only claimed without evidence that racial and gender exclusion guarded against voter fraud by preventing unscrupulous politicians from buying the votes of allegedly dependent women and ignorant blacks.

Fogg and other excluded voters had no recourse to the federal courts because the framer’s great mistake was their failure to include a right to vote in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Instead they defaulted voting rights to the individual states. Later generations of lawmakers compounded this mistake by negatively framing amendments on voting rights, stipulating that states cannot deny the franchise on account of race, sex, or age of 18 years and older.

Lacking a constitutional guarantee, the vote has been embattled throughout American history. Voting rights have both expanded and contracted over time, with no guarantee of universal access to the ballot.

The right to vote remains imperiled today. Players in the struggle for the vote have changed over time, but the arguments remain familiar, and the stakes remain high. Primarily in Republican red states, politicians have rolled out the old charge of voter fraud. Today’s allegations focus not on vote-buying but on such charges as voter impersonation at the polls, repeat voting in more than one state, and voting by non-citizens.

Read the complete article here.