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.

Minnesota Appeals Court Turns Back Push to Restore Felon Voting Rights

From today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week became the second court in two years to reject a lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights to Minnesotans who are on felony probation sentences.

The suit was filed against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in 2019 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of four Minnesotans serving long felony probation terms. It placed Simon, a vocal proponent of restoring voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, in the awkward position of defending the constitutionality of a law he wants changed.

But in an interview Tuesday, Simon said the Legislature, not the courts, should be the venue for restoring such rights.

“As a person, as an advocate, I strongly favor restoring the right to vote to those who have left prison behind,” he said. “I’ve never made any secret of that, and I think Minnesota is happily moving in that direction.”

David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said Tuesday that the group would “keep fighting” and appeal this week’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“Felony disenfranchisement is one of the enduring and systemic racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” McKinney said. “Depriving people of their right to vote further entrenches these disparities.”

DFL lawmakers have sought unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would immediately return the right to vote to Minnesotans released from prison. One of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Simon, Jennifer Schroeder, became a prominent face in the push for such legislation in 2019 when she shared her story of being unable to vote until 2053 when her 40-year probation term is scheduled to end.

Schroeder is joined by Elizer Darris, Christopher Jecevicus-Varner and Tierre Caldwell, all of whom cannot vote until the end of their own lengthy terms — including a 20-year sentence for Jecevicus-Varner.

The plaintiffs sued Simon in his official capacity as secretary of state, arguing that the prohibition on felon voting is an unconstitutional deprivation “of their fundamental constitutional right to participation in the democratic process.” The plaintiffs argued that the state law violates right-to-vote provisions and equal-protection principles in the Minnesota Constitution as well as its due-process clause.

They sought a court declaration that the statute was unconstitutional and that felons may regain their voting rights upon “being released or excused from incarceration.” A Ramsey County judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for such a declaration last year, and a three-judge Court of Appeals panel upheld the ruling Monday.

Read the complete article here.

The Democrats Are Walking Right into a Trap on Voting Rights Bills

From today’s Slate Online:

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.ADVERTISEMENT

We strongly support H.R.4, and firmly believe that the constitution, properly interpreted, would support it. But we are also fully convinced that a clear majority on this Supreme Court would invalidate H.R.4 — even more certainly with Joe Manchin’s amendment. And because the reasons for that invalidation are so clear in the opinions of those justices, we are not convinced that offers of bipartisan support for H.R.4 are in good faith. We don’t doubt Senator Manchin’s intentions—he has long signaled his strong support for both voting rights in particular and democracy reform generally. But we are convinced that at least some on the right see an expanded H.R.4 as a simple way to give voting rights reform a temporary victory, but one certain to be undone by the Supreme Court after the sun sets on this Congress.

H.R.4 is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder sidelining section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision had required certain jurisdictions to preclear changes in voting laws, so as to give the Justice Department a chance to verify that those changes did not wrongfully impact minority voters. The Supreme Court rejected that system in 2013, finding, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, that “things had changed,” and that Congress could no longer simply presume the systematic racism that had justified the Voting Rights Act in 1965. To continue to regulate these jurisdictions in particular, Congress would have to make new findings to prove to the court that the racism of the past continues to this day.

That showing would be difficult enough, given the character of this Supreme Court. But even if it could be sustained in some jurisdictions, Senator Manchin’s idea to extend the remedy to all of America would certainly fail the Supreme Court’s test. Thus, even if Manchin could make good on his promise and get his version through Congress, it would, in our view, certainly be struck down by this Supreme Court. And Congress would have squandered its best opportunity for much-needed democracy reform by passing a proposal that is precisely contrary to what the current Court has determined is constitutional

The alternative to H.R.4 is H.R.1 — an omnibus reform package that includes, among other provisions, much more comprehensive voting rights reform, also penned by John Lewis, as well as gerrymandering reform and, for the first time ever, a way for congressional candidates to fund effective campaigns with small-dollar contributions only.

Read the complete article here.

Voting rights bill “For the People Act” advances in Senate over GOP objections

From today’s CBS News Online:

The Senate on Tuesday advanced S. 1, the For the People Act, setting up a floor vote for the controversial bill. Senators clashed over voting rights and election procedures for hours in a contentious committee meeting to consider amendments for the massive bill.

Democrats claim the legislation is necessary to counter new voting restrictions being considered by multiple states. But Republicans argued that the bill is a naked power grab, and voted down an amendment that would have made several changes to the legislation based on feedback from state and local election officials.

The committee deadlocked 9-9 along party lines on whether to approve the bill. The committee can’t report it out, but Senate rules allow Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the bill to the floor. All nine Republicans voted against the bill, even though some amendments proposed by GOP senators had been adopted.

The House approved the For the People Act by a vote of 220 to 210 in March, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states’ ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security and reform the redistricting process.

In a sign of how critical the issue is for both parties, Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both appeared at the “markup” session before the Senate Rules Committee, a rarity for committee meetings to consider bills.

In his statement, Schumer argued that there was a reactionary effort by states to limit voting rights, “led by one party and compelled by the most dishonest president in American history.” Several Republican-controlled states have recently passed or are considering legislation to restrict voting rights, in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss and a rise in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents argue such bills disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters, who tend to support the Democratic Party.

Read the complete article here.

Texas House Approves GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions Bill

From today’s NPR News Online:

Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules aftera session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.

The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn’t requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.

The ability for polling place “watchers” to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed “only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election.”

But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a “voter suppression bill.” Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as “sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box.” The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on “illegal activity” undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.

Read the complete article here.

Arizona near top of states for bills aimed at limiting voting rights

From today’s ABC 15 News Arizona:

Arizona lawmakers, who began the year with one of the highest number of voting restriction bills in the nation, are winding down a legislative session in which it appears only a few of those bills will survive.

But that doesn’t mean voting rights activists are happy.

Ryan Snow, associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called it a “death by a million cuts.”

“Officials … have taken to erecting a litany of barriers that any one of which might sound on its face that it’s not that big of a deal,” Snow said. “But when you take them together, it creates a restrictive process that disproportionately affects voters of color, low-wealth voters, young voters and other politically disabled voters.”

Supporters of the bills disagree and say that the state – coming off the divisive 2020 election and in the midst of a contentious audit of Maricopa County’s returns – needs to restore faith in the election process and “ensure Arizona’s elections are fair and transparent.”

“In order to maintain voter trust in our elections, it is important to provide the necessary safeguards so that voters can be confident in casting their ballots,” said Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action, in an emailed statement.

Arizona Republican lawmakers introduced the third-highest number of voting restriction bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which said the state’s 23 bills trailed only Texas, with 49, and Georgia, with 25. Nationwide, 361 such bills were introduced, it said.

Read the complete article here.

Why Michigan Republicans’ Attack on Voting Rights is Grossly Anti-democratic

From today’s The Guardian:

On the surface, the Republican effort to roll back voting rights in Michigan looks similar to what’s happening in states around the country: after Donald Trump narrowly lost a key battleground state where there was record turnout, Republicans are moving swiftly to implement sweeping restrictions to curtail access to the ballot box.

But the effort is raising unique concerns. Even though the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is likely to veto a package of dozens of pending bills to curb voter access, Republicans are already hinting they will use a loophole to implement the measures anyway. They can take advantage of a quirk in Michigan’s law allowing voters to send a bill to the legislature if just over 340,000 voters sign a petition asking them to take it up. These kinds of bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.

“This effort is particularly anti-democratic, not just in substance, but in procedure,” said the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who serves as the state’s top election official.

The proposals include measures that are breathtakingly restrictive, even when held up in comparison to other measures states are considering. One bill bans Michigan’s secretary of state not only from mailing out absentee ballot applications to all voters, but also blocks her from even providing a link on a state website to a mail-in ballot application. Another proposal does not allow voters to use absentee ballot drop boxes after 5pm the day before election day. A different measure would require voters to make a photocopy of their ID and mail it in to vote by mail.

The effort is being closely monitored in a state known for razor-thin elections and where Donald Trump and allies tried to overturn the result in 2020. Republicans are moving aggressively to put the new voting restrictions in place ahead of the 2022 elections, when there are races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Michigan also has several key swing congressional districts that will help determine who controls the US House of Representatives in Washington.

The new restrictions are also urgent for Republicans because they are about to lose one of their most powerful advantages in the state legislature. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the boundaries of electoral districts in such a way that virtually guaranteed they would hold a majority of seats. That manipulation, called gerrymandering, has allowed Republicans to control the legislature since 2011.Advertisement

But in 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strip lawmakers of their ability to draw districts, giving the power to an independent commission. With the commission set to draw new districts later this year, the new restrictions may be Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to distort voting rules to give them an edge in elections.

“Everything from January 6 forward is about 2022 and ultimately 2024. I believe we should plan for and anticipate that the very forces that emerged in 2020 to try to undermine democracy will be back in full force, potentially stronger, in more positions of authority, to try again in 2024,” Benson said.

Read the complete article here.

Target, Google and others are under pressure to dump the Chamber of Commerce over voting rights

From today’s CNN Online:

Progressive activists are calling on Ford, Target, Google, Bank of America and other major companies that have pledged to support voting rights to cut ties with the US Chamber of Commerce, CNN Business has learned.

At issue is the Chamber of Commerce’s fierce opposition to the Democrats’ sweeping voting bill known as the For the People Act, which advocates say would counter efforts by Georgia and other states to impose new voting restrictions.

The Chamber of Commerce has slammed the legislation, which last month was approved by the US House of Representatives, as “extremely problematic” in part because of new curbs on political advocacy by companies and associations.

The Chamber is one of the most powerful trade groups in the nation. In 2020 alone, the organization spent $81.9 million trying to influence government policy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The only organization that spent more was the National Association of Realtors.

Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group, sent letters Wednesday to 25 companies that have a relationship with the Chamber of Commerce even though they signed last week’s statement in the New York Times vowing to oppose discriminatory voting legislation.

The campaign from activists underscores the enormous pressure companies are under to follow up their verbal support for voting rights with concrete action.Enter your email to receive CNN’s nightcap newsletter.close dialog

“By ignoring the Chamber’s opposition to a bill that protects an essential right in our democracy, these executives are violating their commitment and siding against the millions of Americans — including many of their own employees — fighting racist voter suppression tactics,” Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, told CNN Business.

Read the complete article here.

Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

From today’s New York Times:

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

Read the complete article here.

Michigan’s big employers speak out against moves to restrict voting rights

From today’s Detroit Free Press:

Michigan’s corporate leaders spoke out strongly Tuesday against GOP-sponsored legislation in the state Legislature that would place new restrictions on voting.

The leaders of three-dozen major Michigan companies, including General Motors, Ford, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Quicken Loans, issued a joint statement as Republicans are expected to begin consideration this week of a package of bills in committee hearings.

“We represent Michigan’s largest companies, many of which operate on a national basis. We feel a responsibility to add our voice as changes are proposed to voting laws in Michigan and other states,” the statement said.

The move follows widespread outrage and boycotts over a package of election bills that were made law in Georgia.

The statement set out a number of shared principles, including:

  • The right to vote is a sacred, inviolable right of American citizens.
  • Democracy is strongest when participation is greatest.
  • Safe are and secure voting options are vital
  • Government must support equitable access to the ballot.
  • Government must avoid actions that reduce participation in elections, particularly among historically disenfranchised communities.
  • Election laws must be developed in a bipartisan fashion.

A state Senate committee is expected to begin consideration of some of the bills Wednesday.

The Michigan bills would, among other measures, require absentee voters to mail in a paper copy of their ID with their ballot application, shorten the deadline for returning absentee ballots, bar clerks from purchasing prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes and limit the secretary of state’s ability to help voters request an absentee ballot, require video surveillance of drop boxes for absentee ballots and allow only political parties designate election challengers.

Read the complete article here.