Iowa’s GOP governor pledges to restore voting rights to some felons

From today’s Reuters News Service:

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has committed to restoring voting rights to those with past felony convictions, according to a Radio Iowa report, potentially expanding the electorate in a state that could be competitive in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Most U.S. states restrict voting for some people with felony convictions, but Iowa is the last state where felons are barred from voting even after serving their sentences, unless they successfully apply to the governor for restoration.

The rule disenfranchised 2.2% of Iowa’s voting-age population and 9.8% of African Americans in 2016, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that works on criminal justice.

Reynolds, a Republican, made the pledge on Tuesday, a day after she met with Black Lives Matter activists, who have held demonstrations in several Iowa cities since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis last month.

Reynolds told reporters she was consulting with “various groups,” but would issue an executive order on voting rights for felons before the November election, Radio Iowa reported.

She did not go into detail about the terms of the order, and her office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Earlier this month, Reynolds signed a bill that would require felons to pay financial damages owed as part of their sentence, as well as serving their prison time, before regaining the right to vote.

A similar rule on financial obligations in Florida was struck down by a federal court last month, after voting rights groups argued it constituted a poll tax. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has appealed the ruling.

Read the complete article here.

The Legal Fight Over Voting Rights During The Pandemic Is Getting Hotter

From today’s NPR News Online:

The legal fight over how Americans will vote this year is rapidly turning into a war. That’s according to conservative “election integrity” advocates who accuse Democrats of using the current pandemic to push through changes that these groups say will undermine U.S. elections.

“We are watching as the Democrats and radicalized special interest groups are using this fog of COVID to fundamentally remake American elections,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of True the Vote, a group that says it is trying to protect against voter fraud. She spoke on Thursday during a webinar sponsored by a conservative nonprofit, the Committee for Justice.

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups say that they’re actually trying to protect voters’ rights and to eliminate obstacles they believe are intended to suppress the votes of minorities and others who tend to vote Democratic.

Of immediate concern to both sides are efforts to expand mail-in voting in response to the pandemic. A number of states are loosening restrictions on absentee ballots so people can vote without having to go to the polls in person. More than a dozen court cases have been filed in recent weeks either challenging those changes or calling for states to do even more to make mail-in voting accessible.

On Thursday, a federal judge denied a request by True the Vote to block a Nevada plan to send absentee ballots to all active voters for the state’s June 9 primary. U.S. District Judge Miranda Du dismissed as “speculative” and “without any factual basis” the group’s claim that the plan would expose the election to fraud and thereby dilute the votes of legitimate voters.

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Seven Wisconsin coronavirus cases linked to in-person voting

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Health officials in Wisconsin said they have identified at least seven people who appear to have contracted the coronavirus from participating in the April 7 election, the first such cases detected following in-person voting that was held despite widespread concern about the public health risks.

The cases involve six voters and one poll worker in Milwaukee, where a shortage of poll workers forced the city to pare nearly 200 voting locations back to just five, and voters — some in masks, some with no protection — were forced to wait in long lines for hours.

The conditions of the seven weren’t immediately available. City health commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she hopes to have more information later in the week. Kowalik’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question from the Associated Press asking how city health officials were able to trace the infections to the election.

The election, which included a presidential primary as well as races for a state Supreme Court seat and local offices, took place after a legal struggle between Democrats and Republicans. The day before the election, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered that it be delayed and shifted to all-mail voting, only to be overturned when Republican legislative leaders won an appeal in the state’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s five Republican appointees also blocked a judge’s order that would have given voters an extra week to submit their ballots by mail.

Read the complete article here.

Coronavirus Will Supercharge Election-Year Lawsuits Over Voting Rights

From today’s NPR News Online:

Election-year legal battles over voting procedures are nothing new. But their scope and intensity are growing this year amid deep partisan polarization and the logistical challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The legal fights are expected to heat up in the coming weeks.

Exhibit A is a lawsuit filed by Democrats in Nevada on Thursday challenging the state’s plans to conduct a mostly all-mail primary on June 2 and to drastically limit in-person polling sites. Democrats say the moves — including automatically sending ballots only to voters who have taken part in recent elections, but not all registered ones — are an infringement of voter rights.

Republicans counter that Democrats want to overturn rules intended to protect the integrity of the state’s elections and would unnecessarily put voters’ health at risk.

Both Democrats and Republicans are turning to the courts to try to ensure that rules governing this year’s election don’t disadvantage their side. The litigation campaign has taken on a new urgency with the pandemic and its impact on people’s willingness and ability to go to the polls in person.

“I can assure you that we will not sit by and let Republican election officials, or the Republican Party, disenfranchise voters in a cynical effort to win elections at all costs,” said Marc Elias, the lead attorney for the Democratic Party effort. “I expect several additional voting rights cases to be filed in the coming weeks and months, all aimed at protecting the right of voters to participate in elections and have their votes counted.”

Read the complete article here.

Democrats must make voting reform nonnegotiable for the next stimulus bill

From today’s Vox News Online:

The political climate in the US is tumultuous. The Covid-19 pandemic hangs over everything even as a dozen other issues — an oil crisis, a divided Democratic Party, and a corrupt, impeached president — compete for our scant remaining attention.

Into that muddle, I would like to introduce what I hope is a note of clarity, a fixed point around which all Americans of good faith ought to be able to rally.

To wit: Americans need to have safe, free, and fair federal elections in November.

The date of the election can’t be moved; it’s in the Constitution. The country is in a fragile, distrustful place already, and a chaotic election viewed by large swathes of the population as illegitimate could tip it over into a full-fledged constitutional crisis or even violence. This is a make-or-break issue for the country.

There is no way to stop Trump from characterizing the election as compromised; he accuses opponents of fraud in all elections, whether he wins or not. He has already tried to cheat in the 2020 election — got impeached for it just a couple of months/centuries ago — and will undoubtedly continue trying, even as he ramps up accusations against Democrats. He assumes Democrats will do the exact same thing: cheat and accuse him of cheating.

His tweet Wednesday morning captured his argument succinctly:

Donald J. Trump✔@realDonaldTrump Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends

Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends128K5:20 AM – Apr 8, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy69.2K people are talking about this

And where Trump goes, right-wing state media, led by Fox, dutifully follow. They will back him up with conspiracy theories about voter fraud that at least some large part of the core conservative base will believe.

But what happens around the margins matters. Committed partisans will line up the same way regardless of the fact that voting is not partisan (Utah, a red state, has a 100 percent vote-by-mail system.) But that leaves a large, fuzzy, semi-engaged class of voters whose opinion of the election will be shaped by their personal experience and the signals they receive from trusted sources about the validity of the process.

The best way for Democrats to ensure that November’s elections are viewed as free and fair amid a coronavirus pandemic is to make them so. The best way to make them so, in the time remaining, is to implement universal access to postage-paid mail-in ballots with extended deadlines, serviced by a funded and functional Postal Service. (This is not the only reform needed, but it is the backbone.)

Read the complete article here.

Siding with GOP legislature, Wisconsin GOP Supreme Court puts voters in harms way during COVID-19 pandemic

From today’s New York Times:

The Summer Olympics are delayed. March Madness was canceled. Even the pope celebrated Palm Sunday Mass before a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica.

But in Wisconsin, there could still be an election tomorrow.

Yes, you read that correctly: A state that has been under a stay-at-home order for nearly two weeks is about to hold an in-person election amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just over an hour ago — and with just hours to go before the polls are scheduled to open — the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against a last-minute effort by Gov. Tony Evers to postpone the election until June 9, siding with a Republican-controlled State Legislature that has resisted making nearly any changes to voting during the worldwide crisis.

The last-minute fighting over whether it is safe for people to vote tomorrow injects even more chaos into an election already rife with legal challenges and public safety concerns.

It’s a situation that could foreshadow the kind of politically toxic battles over voting that the country may face this fall, if the virus lingers into the November election. (Wisconsin has more than 2,000 reported coronavirus cases and at least 80 deaths.)

Mr. Evers, a Democrat, had previously said that he lacked the legal authority to move the election, but today he argued that a postponement was necessary to protect voters and slow the spread of the virus.

Within minutes of his order, Republican legislative leaders called his move unconstitutional, instructing clerks to move forward with the election and challenging the order in the State Supreme Court, which has a conservative majority.

Read the complete article here.

Federal government is weighing an infrastructure push to create jobs

From today’s New York Times:

Fears are growing that the global downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and fear of the virus impedes consumer-led economic growth.

“This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist and co-author of “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly,” a history of financial crises. “Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.”

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled, with the S&P 500 closing down more than 4 4 percent, bringing its decline over two days to 6 percent, as investors braced for worsening economic conditions ahead.

The economic readings continue to worsen as well. On Wednesday, surveys of manufacturing and factory activity in the United States, Europe and Japan showed activity slowing to levels not seen in a decade or more. In the United States, factory orders and employment measures fell to their lowest since 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said.

In Washington, there was growing concern that the $2 trillion stimulus package enacted last week could be insufficient. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, are increasingly looking toward enacting a huge new infrastructure plan that could create thousands of jobs.

Read the complete article here.

Civil Rights Groups Push TX To Expand Absentee Voting In Face of COVID-19

From Houston Public Media/NPR Online:

Hundreds of civil rights organizations are calling on state governments to expand absentee voting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, that may require an act of the governor.

Anthony Gutierrez, executive director with Common Cause Texas, said allowing widespread use of mail-in balloting is necessary to protect voters, who may fear to show up at the polls in large numbers and risk catching COVID-19.

But he said that’s not the only reason.

“I’m worried that election workers are simply not going to show up,” Gutierrez said, “because the vast majority of people who are working at our poll sites right now in Texas, and everywhere in America for that matter, they tend to be older Americans. They fall into that pool of people who are most at risk during this pandemic. Obviously if election workers don’t show up, poll sites don’t open. There’s nobody to operate the machines and check in voters.” 

Under Texas law, residents have to meet one of four conditions to vote absentee. They have to be over 65, overseas, in jail, or disabled. Gutierrez said that by itself should not provide a legal barrier to expanding the use of mail-in ballots.

“The Secretary of State can issue an advisory simply stating that any Texan who wants to vote by mail because of COVID-19 concerns is allowed to do so by just checking the disabled box on the form,” he said.

It’s the legislature, not the Secretary of State, that sets the criteria for eligibility for mail-in ballots. But Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said Governor Abbott has a lot of leeway on how to interpret that eligibility.

“This is an unprecedented emergency, and the governor has so far shown that he’s willing to extend a little executive muscle to make sure that people are safe,” Rottinghaus said. Abbott last week issued a proclamation allowing local governments to postpone scheduled May 2 elections to Nov. 3.

Read the complete article here.

Trump says Roger Stone has ‘very good chance of exoneration’ after sentencing

From today’s NBC News Online:

President Donald Trump said his former adviser Roger Stone has “a very good chance of exoneration,” hours after the GOP operative was sentenced to 40 months behind bars for obstructing a congressional investigation of Russia’s 2016 presidential election meddling.

“I’m following this very closely, and I want to see it play out to its fullest, because Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion,” Trump said Thursday in a speech in Las Vegas, where he also blasted the jury forewoman in Stone’s criminal trial.

“It’s my strong opinion that the forewoman for the jury is totally tainted,” Trump said, calling the woman “an anti-Trump person” with “a horrible social media account.”

He said the forewoman is a “very dominant person” who likely convinced other jurors to follow her lead. “How can you have a jury pool tainted so badly?” Trump asked.

Lawyers for Stone, 67, had filed a motion asking for a new trial. Stone’s supporters have said it’s based on comments made by the jury forewoman, Tomeka Hart.

Hart ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2012, a fact she disclosed during jury selection. Asked by Judge Jackson if she could fairly evaluate the evidence during the trial, she said yes, and Stone’s lawyers did not seek to have her removed from the jury pool.

The judge who presided over the trial, Amy Berman Jackson, pointedly praised jurors for their “integrity” at Stone’s sentencing.

Read the complete article here.

Florida loses appeals court ruling on felon voting law ahead of 2020 elections

From Politico News:

A legal and political battle over voting rights in Florida reached another milestone on Wednesday when a federal appeals court ruled that a law limiting the voting rights of people with felony convictions was unconstitutional.

Delivering a defeat to Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court decision that found the state could not deny ex-felons the right to vote just because they can’t afford to pay outstanding court fines, fees and restitution, as required by the 2019 law.

“These plaintiffs are punished more harshly than those who committed precisely the same crime — by having their right to vote taken from them likely for their entire lives,” states the ruling issued by a three-judge panel. “And this punishment is linked not to their culpability, but rather to the exogenous fact of their wealth.”

It’s not clear if the legal battle will get resolved ahead of this year’s presidential election in the battleground state, which could decide whether President Donald Trump wins a second term.

DeSantis spokesperson Helen Aguirre Ferré said the governor’s office disagreed with the ruling and will seek a review from the full court.

In October, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a preliminary injunction against the law, a move that applied to only the 17 people who had challenged it in court. That lawsuit, brought by a coalition of left-leaning and civil rights groups, along with people with felony convictions, is scheduled for a non-jury trial in April.

“This is a great win for voting rights,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The 11th circuit told the state of Florida what the rest of America already knows. You can’t condition the right to vote on a person’s wealth.”

Read the complete article here.