Barak Obama: We Need to Follow John Lewis’ Example and Fight for Democracy

From today’s USA Today:

When I spoke at John Lewis’ memorial service two years ago, I emphasized a truth John knew better than just about anyone. Our democracy isn’t a given. It isn’t self-executing. We, as citizens, have to nurture and tend it. We have to work at it. And in that task, we have to vigilantly preserve and protect our most basic tool of self-government, which is the right to vote.

At the time, various state legislators across the country had already passed a variety of laws designed to make voting harder. It was an attack on everything John Lewis fought for, and a challenge to our most fundamental democratic freedoms.

Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Slow unraveling of basic democratic principles

While the American people turned out to vote at the highest rate in a century in the last presidential election, members of one of our two major political parties – spurred on by the then-sitting president – denied the results of that election and spun conspiracy theories that drove a violent mob to attack our Capitol.

Although initially rejected by many Republicans, those claims continued to be amplified by conservative media outlets, and have since been embraced by a sizable portion of Republican voters – not to mention GOP elected officials who do, or at least should, know better. Those Republican officials and conservative thought leaders who have courageously stood their ground and rejected such anti-democratic efforts have found themselves ostracized, threatened and subjected to primary challenges.

Read the complete story here.

Sen. Kristen Sinema deals fatal blow to Democrats’ fight for voting rights law

From today’s CNN Online:

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona reiterated from the Senate floor Thursday that she is not backing off her position to uphold the filibuster, less than an hour before President Joe Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to pitch Democrats on eradicating it. She said removing the filibuster would not guarantee “that we prevent demagogues from being elected” and that getting rid of it would merely be treating the “symptom” of partisanship and not the underlying problem.

Sinema said while she continues to strongly back Democrats’ elections legislation she will not support “separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country … There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation.”

“When one party need only negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” she added, noting that she does not support that outcome, and she knows “Arizonans do not either.”

Sinema’s position has been consistent throughout recent negotiations on voting rights but is a fatal blow to her party as they tried to strike a unified tone in backing legislation on the issue, ahead of a self-imposed deadline Monday to act.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego called out Sinema by name for supporting the filibuster over the wishes of Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other progressive Democrats. Gallego has not ruled out running against Sinema in the 2024 Senate primary.

Read the complete story here.

Biden and Harris Call for Voting Rights Laws and Senate Reform in Georgia

From today’s New York Times:

President Biden will endorse changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights protections during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, the most significant step he will have taken to pressure lawmakers to act on an issue he has called the biggest test of America’s democracy since the Civil War.

Mr. Biden will not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, according to a senior administration official who previewed the speech. But Mr. Biden will say he supports a filibuster “carve-out” in the case of voting rights, the official said. Either endeavor has slim chances of winning support from all 50 Senate Democrats, who are already facing threats of retaliation from Republicans in the chamber.

Mr. Biden, citing “repeated obstruction” by Republicans, will endorse changing the Senate rules and contend that the filibuster has protected “extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right.”

“This is one of those defining moments,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday, before departing for Georgia. “People are going to be judged, where were they before and where were they after the vote. History is going to judge this. And so the risk is making sure people understand just how important this is.”

Mr. Biden’s visit to Georgia is intended to invigorate a Democratic-led effort to pass new voting rights protections in the 50-50 Senate in the coming days, although chances are slim that he will be able to rally the necessary votes. Yet even with his new call for a filibuster carve-out, changing the Senate rules would require the support of all 50 Democrats and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, have expressed strong public opposition to changing filibuster rules.

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Non-citizens’ Right to Vote in Local Elections Becomes Law in New York City

From today’s New York Times:

Mayor Eric Adams, setting aside prior misgivings, allowed a bill to become law on Sunday that would grant more than 800,000 noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I have and will continue to support this important legislation,” the mayor said in a statement.

“I look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process,” he added.

The measure applies to legal residents, including those with green cards, and so-called Dreamers who were brought to the country illegally as children but were allowed to remain under a federal program known as DACA. Although the City Council approved the bill last month, New York law provides the mayor the opportunity to veto it within 30 days. Without any action, the bill passes into law automatically, as happened with this measure.

Because of the new law, an estimated 808,000 adults will be eligible to vote beginning Jan. 9, 2023, according to the City Council. They will be able to vote in primary and general elections for citywide contests, like those for mayor and public advocate, as well as in local races, like those for City Council and borough presidents. The law does not allow noncitizens to vote in state or federal elections.

On Monday, the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit against the mayor, City Council and the city Board of Elections, challenging the law as unconstitutional.

In a statement, Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, accused Democrats of attempting to subvert elections by allowing noncitizens to vote, adding: “American elections should be decided by American citizens.”

New York is not the first city to implement such a measure — similar policies exist in Vermont and Maryland, and are under consideration in Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts — but it is the largest to do so.

The measure stands in sharp contrast to other efforts nationwide to limit the right to vote. In August, Texas passed a bill limiting the use of absentee voting and drop boxes, and empowering partisan poll watchers. That measure has been challenged by the Justice Department, which contended that the law disenfranchised older, disabled and non-English-speaking voters.

Read the complete story here.

WI Disenfranchisement Laws Deny Voting Rights After Convicts Serve Time

From today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Under the buzz of hair clippers, men sitting in Much Better barbershop didn’t ponder New Year’s Eve plans or talk shop on the Bucks or the Packers.

The usual banter found at this north side business centered on a weightier topic — taxation without representation for more than 63,000 Wisconsin residents who cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws.

Ventae Parrow Bey, 44, is one of them.

He was released from the Wisconsin prison system in 2001, but has spent the last 13 years “on paper.” 

In Wisconsin, individuals who are “on paper” — on parole, probation or extended supervision — lose their right to vote until they complete their post-incarceration sentence.

There’s now an effort underway to restore those rights for them.

“When you think about this, you are taxing me, but you are telling me I can’t vote,” Bey said.

He expects to be off paper this year and plans to register to vote.

“It’s like an oxymoron…. How is it fair to tax someone that you are not going to allow to have a representation?” he asked. “If I can’t have representation, then you need to stop taxing me. You need to leave my money alone.”

Ramiah Whiteside was released in 2019, but will not be off paper until 2042 before he is eligible to vote. He’s now a prison inreach coordinator with EXPO, an advocacy organization supporting system-involved individuals.

Whiteside said voting would allow him to have a connection with the government or hold elected officials accountable.

Read the complete story here.

Senate Dems may punt spending bill in favor of voting rights legislation

From today’s Business Insider:

Senate Democrats’ chances to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda by Christmas were in renewed jeopardy on Wednesday, reflecting a brewing dispute between Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the White House about its true price tag. They may attempt to revive a stalled push on voting rights to salvage what’s left of their legislating this year.

NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning on punting the $2 trillion social spending and climate package into 2022, and may instead pursue a final push to pass voting rights legislation. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House appear in a stalemate with Manchin, a key swing vote needed to pass the bill. All 50 Democratic senators must coalesce around the plan to clear it and sidestep fierce Republican opposition.

Manchin is opposed to large swaths of the bill, like a one-year extension of the bulked-up child tax credit. A source familiar with his thinking told Insider that its estimated $1.4 trillion cost over ten years ran up to Manchin’s red-line on new federal spending.

Senate Democrats’ chances to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda by Christmas were in renewed jeopardy on Wednesday, reflecting a brewing dispute between Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the White House about its true price tag. They may attempt to revive a stalled push on voting rights to salvage what’s left of their legislating this year.

NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning on punting the $2 trillion social spending and climate package into 2022, and may instead pursue a final push to pass voting rights legislation. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House appear in a stalemate with Manchin, a key swing vote needed to pass the bill. All 50 Democratic senators must coalesce around the plan to clear it and sidestep fierce Republican opposition.

Manchin is opposed to large swaths of the bill, like a one-year extension of the bulked-up child tax credit. A source familiar with his thinking told Insider that its estimated $1.4 trillion cost over ten years ran up to Manchin’s red-line on new federal spending.

Read the complete story here.

Georgia election workers sue far-right website over false fraud claims

From today’s Reuters Online:

Two Georgia election workers targeted by former U.S. President Donald Trump in a vote-rigging conspiracy theory have sued a far-right website that trumpeted the false story, alleging it incited months of death threats and harassment against them.

The defamation suit against The Gateway Pundit was filed Thursday by Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a voter registration officer in the Fulton County elections office, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was a temp worker for the 2020 election. The women were featured in a Reuters report published Wednesday on their ordeal.

The lawsuit names the Pundit, its founder and editor Jim Hoft, and his brother, writer Joe Hoft. It alleges they repeatedly published demonstrably false claims that portrayed the women as “traitors” who conspired to “steal the presidential election in Georgia.”

A lawyer for Jim Hoft and The Gateway Pundit did not immediately respond to a comment request Thursday morning. Joe Hoft did not respond to a comment request.

The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, alleges that the Pundit’s “lies” about Freeman and Moss “devastated” their reputations and “instigated a deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats that has forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts, and fear for their physical safety.” the suit says. Freeman went into hiding.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, revolves around false allegations first raised by a volunteer Trump campaign attorney at a Dec. 3 hearing of Georgia state legislators. Freeman and Moss worked in heavily Democratic Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, where a strong showing by Democrat Joe Biden helped give him a narrow Georgia victory.

Read the complete story here.

Senate Republicans Block John Lewis Voting Rights Bill in Key Vote

From today’s CNN Online:

Senate Republicans blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Act from advancing on Wednesday when the Senate took a procedural vote on whether to open debate on the legislation.The final tally was 50 to 49 with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting with Democrats in favor. The John Lewis voting bill that the Senate considered is aimed at fighting voter suppression and restoring and updating key parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965. The measure is named in honor of the civil rights icon and late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

At least 10 Republicans would have needed to join with all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus for the legislation to advance. That was not expected to happen as most Republicans have decried any Democratic attempts to enact new voting legislation in the current Congress as partisan and unnecessary.

Democrats have been under intense pressure to pass voting legislation as the party currently holds a majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House. But efforts by the party to do so have run into a wall of opposition in the Senate as a result of GOP resistance.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a Senate version of the legislation early in October. Earlier this week, Leahy, along with Murkowski and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, released an updated, bipartisan compromise version of the bill making changes to the text to garner bipartisan support.Enter your email to sign up for CNN’s “What Matters” Newsletter.close dialog

The bipartisan compromise could only later be offered as an amendment if the Senate were able to proceed to the bill.

Murkowski, who voted to advance the bill on Wednesday, spoke on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.”I will be among those who vote to begin debate on this measure when we have this vote in a few minutes,” she said, “I will do so because I strongly support and I believe that Congress should enact a bipartisan, re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act.”Speaking of efforts to broker bipartisan compromise, Murkowski said, “At this point, I feel that we’ve got a good foundation to help provide access to the ballot that is equal for all Americans and free from any form of discrimination. We should all be able to support legislation to assure just that much.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked Murkowski after the vote on Wednesday, while criticizing the rest of the Senate Republican conference for blocking the measure. “I thank her for working with us in good faith on this bill,” he said, “but where is the rest of the party of Lincoln? Down to the last member, the rest of the Republican conference has refused to engage, refused to debate, refused to acknowledge that our country faces a serious threat to democracy.”

Read the complete story here.

How Voting Rights Activists Navigate New Restrictions For 2022 elections

From today’s CNN Online:

When activist Tammye Pettyjohn Jones knocks on voters’ doors in her rural corner of Georgia this month, she’ll have a new tool in hand: a portable printer.

sweeping voting law Georgia enacted this year now requires voters who do not have a driver’s license or state ID to provide a copy of another form of identification with their absentee ballot application. So Pettyjohn Jones and other volunteers with Sisters in Service of Southwest Georgia plan to take photos of that identification and print them out on the spot for voters to submit along with their absentee ballot applications.

“You don’t have time to hem and haw about how hard it is” to vote, said PettyJohn Jones, who is working to turn out voters ahead of November’s municipal elections in places like Americus, Georgia. “You’ve got to go into a problem-solving mode.”

In states from Georgia to Montana, activists are scrambling to help voters navigate the new restrictions passed largely in Republican-controlled states after record turnout in 2020 helped elect President Joe Biden and flipped control of the US Senate to Democrats. In Florida, for example, some organizations have taken iPads into the field so voters could use the devices to register to vote on their own, said Brad Ashwell of All Voting is Local Florida.

That helps the organizations bypass a little-noticed provision of Florida’s new law — one that requires third-party groups registering voters to deliver a mandatory disclaimer that they “might not” deliver registration materials to election offices in time. Activists say that’s a misleading statement aimed at curbing voter registration drives.

In neighboring Georgia, meanwhile, the New Georgia Project plans to train a cadre of criminal and civil rights lawyers on the nuances of the state’s 98-page voting law so they can assist voters who encounter problems on Election Day.

The lawyers will be deployed to help next month in Atlanta, during the city’s high-profile mayoral election, and their work will serve as a pilot project for the 2022 midterms, said Aklima Khondoker, the group’s chief legal officer.

Georgia is one of 19 states that have passed 33 new laws this year to restrict voting, according to an updated tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. But some of the most extensive changes are clustered in just a handful. Four states — Iowa, Georgia, Florida and Texas — enacted sweeping revisions of their existing laws, bundled together in single omnibus bills.

Read the complete story here.

Ohio is Part of a Shameful Trend to Erect Barriers to Voting in America

From today’s Columbus Dispatch:

At the heart of our country’s political debates are questions about our values and perspectives on legislating our deeper beliefs about right and wrong, relationships and priorities.

As a pastor and a citizen, when I weigh in on our country’s political debates, I strive to apply the principles of loving our neighbors and honoring the dignity of every person.

As I look at the bills in Congress and at the Statehouse in Columbus right now that would make voting more difficult for US citizens and Ohioans, I see no dignity or honor.

That these bills specifically target Black voters is even worse.

Ohio’s House Bill 294, currently under consideration in the Statehouse, proposes to drastically cut back voters’ access to secure drop boxes for ballots, which were crucial to ensuring strong turnout during the pandemic.

This bill would also cut back early voting and make absentee voting more onerous. Not coincidentally, these safe and verified voting methods are used by many Black voters, and the bill contains no corresponding proposals that would disproportionately disenfranchise white voters.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should shock our conscience.

Ohio is part of a shameful trend. Eighteen state legislatures, all controlled by Republican politicians, have begun erecting new barriers to voting that target Black, Brown and Native American voters.

Read the complete story here.