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.

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.

The Republican Party’s Irrational War on the Voting Rights of Americans

From today’s The Atlantic:

In February, Arizona state senators tried to have the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors thrown in jail.

The legislators had demanded that the county officials hand over documents relating to the 2020 presidential election in the state, which Democrat Joe Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, had already audited its results and found no evidence of fraud. The board argued that it was not legally allowed to hand over the ballots themselves.

“The two audits they have are a joke,” Senator Warren Petersen said. “They’re not going to find anything. They’re not meant to find anything, even if there is fraud.”

Senators tried to hold the board in contempt, which would have allowed its five members to be arrested. The motion failed, by a single vote, and supporters promptly tried to retaliate against the swing voter, tanking a pet bill of his.

Perhaps this sounds like just another skirmish in the vicious partisan battle over voting between Democrats and Republicans. But although the senators who wanted to lock up the county board are Republicans, so are four of the five members of the board. And the rogue senator who blocked the effort? He’s a Republican too. (The legislation that was punitively killed was a school-voucher bill—a top GOP goal.)

Republican legislators insist that they’re merely responding to the righteous indignation of their voters as they pursue a raft of new rules that would make voting more difficult. “When you have this many constituents that are emailing us and calling us and demanding that their questions be answered, it always should be a top priority,” Karen Fann, the president of the state Senate, told the Los Angeles Times. “If that’s what’s important to our voters, we take care of it.”

In the intramural Maricopa melee, that indignation has pitted the people actually conducting elections, who see the legislature’s interventions as counterproductive and possibly illegal, against superfans of former President Donald Trump who are demanding action to deal with nonexistent fraud. Around the country, indignation has driven Republicans to propose new restrictions on voting rights. Some of these are likely unconstitutional. Some appear to target particular constituencies. But one of the most striking features of these proposals as a whole is their incoherence.

In their eagerness to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump, Republican legislators are rushing to apply scattershot solutions to an imagined set of problems. And although they seem unmoved by warnings that these laws will disproportionately affect minority voters, they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.

Read the complete article here.

Republicans considering more than 100 bills to restrict Americans’ voting rights

From today’s The Guardian Online:

After an election filled with misinformation and lies about fraud, Republicans have doubled down with a surge of bills to further restrict voting access in recent months, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

There are currently 106 pending bills across 28 states that would restrict access to voting, according to the data. That’s a sharp increase from nearly a year ago, when there were 35 restrictive bills pending across 15 states.

Among the Brennan Center’s findings:

  • More than a third of the bills would place new restrictions on voting by mail
  • Pennsylvania has 14 pending proposals for new voter restrictions, the most in the country. It’s followed by New Hampshire (11), Missouri (9), and Mississippi, New Jersey and Texas (8)
  • There are seven bills across four states that would limit opportunities for election day registration
  • There are also 406 bills that would expand voting access pending across 35 states, including in New York (56), Texas (53), New Jersey (37), Mississippi (39) and Missouri (21)

The restrictions come on the heels of an election in which there was record turnout and Democrat and Republican election officials alike said there was no evidence of widespread wrongdoing or fraud. There were recounts, audits and lawsuits across many states to back up those assurances. Federal and state officials called the election “the most secure in American history”.

Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center, said the surge in anti-voting legislation was “countersensical” given that there were Republican and Democratic wins in key races across the country.

“The volume of anti-voter legislation is certainly revealing that a nerve was struck,” she told me. “There are certainly people who are sensitive to the idea of more progress … It ultimately comes down to an anxiety over the browning of America and people in power are afraid of losing their position.”

Battleground states urge SCOTUS to reject Texas bid to overturn Biden’s wins

From today’s CNBC News Online:

The battleground states whose presidential election results are being challenged by Texas at the Supreme Court urged the justices on Thursday not to take up the case.

The four states targeted in the lawsuit warned in uncharacteristically sharp briefs that granting Texas’ unprecedented request would “do violence to the Constitution” and “disenfranchise millions” of voters. Those states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — have all certified their election results, with Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump.

Nearly simultaneously, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a brief at the court on behalf of the District of Columbia and 22 states and territories defending the four states targeted by Texas. That friend-of-the-court brief was joined by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington.

The flurry of major briefs related to the case — including Trump’s own request to intervene — demonstrated the dramatic and lingering polarization of the U.S. just weeks after one of the most contentious elections in memory.

Pennsylvania in its brief called Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-shot bid to overturn other states’ elections “legally indefensible” and “an affront to principles of constitutional democracy. Texas seeks to invalidate elections in four states for yielding results with which it disagrees,” Pennsylvania’s scathing brief read.

Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, told the court in her state’s brief to reject Texas’ case outright. “To do otherwise would make this Court the arbiter of all future national elections,” Nessel wrote.

Christopher Carr, the attorney general of Georgia, told the court that Texas was seeking to “transfer Georgia’s electoral powers to the federal judiciary.” “Respect for federalism and the constitutional design prohibits that transfer of power, but this Court should never even reach that issue,” he wrote.

The replies came one day after Trump asked the high court to let him intervene in the case. The president, who is refusing to concede to Biden, has hyped Texas’ case as “the big one” — but election law experts say there’s little if any chance the court will allow it to proceed.

So far, the justices have not taken any action in the case. Despite Trump’s frequent pleas, the court has not shown an eagerness to get involved in any litigation related to the presidential election.

Read the complete article here.

California Eases Off Legal Threats Over GOP Unauthorized Ballot Drop Boxes

From today’s NPR News Online:

The state of California appears to be backing off legal threats against the California Republican Party over its use of unauthorized ballot drop boxes.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state and attorney general sent a cease-and-desist order to the California GOP and several county party offices, ordering they remove unauthorized boxes to collect ballots, some of which were labeled “official.”

At a press conference Friday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla, both Democrats, didn’t announce any additional enforcement action against the party, saying the California GOP agreed to modify how they were collecting.

But while the California Republican Party agreed not to place unauthorized ballot drop boxes outdoors, leave drop boxes unattended or present them as official, the party said it will continue to accept ballots delivered by voters to local party offices and secure them in boxes attended by staff or volunteers.

Becerra and Padilla said they would continue to monitor the party’s activities closely and proceed with an investigation.

“The Republican Party’s deployment of these unofficial and deceptive ballot drop boxes were in violation of state law, and they created voter confusion,” Padilla said.

In a statement Friday on Twitter, the party’s spokesperson, Hector Barajas, said the California Republican Party made no concessions to the attorney general or secretary of state and denied doing anything wrong in the first place.

Friday’s press conference left a lot of ambiguity about how the party is continuing to deploy ballot collection boxes and whether or not using unauthorized drop boxes in any form violates California law.

Padilla and Becerra reiterated that while ballot collection is allowed, state rules require that whoever assists with delivering a ballot sign the envelope to record a chain of custody. But they also said ballots without that signature would not be rejected either.

Read the complete article here.

CA Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State

From today’s New York Times:

The California Republican Party has admitted responsibility for placing more than 50 deceptively labeled “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange Counties — an action that state officials said was illegal and could lead to voter fraud.

The dark gray metal boxes have been popping up over the past two weeks near churches, gun shops and Republican Party offices, mostly in conservative areas of a deep-blue state, affixed with a white paper label identifying them as either an “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or a “Ballot Drop Box.”

To the average voter, they are virtually indistinguishable from drop-off sites sanctioned by the state, which are governed by strict regulations intended to prevent the partisan manipulation of ballots.

The actions of the largely marginalized state party come at a moment when Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a bitter national struggle over voting rights, with President Trump’s allies accusing Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere of undermining the integrity of the electoral process by expanding absentee voting and other measures to increase ballot access.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist order to the state- and county-level Republican parties, ordering them to remove the boxes. They also urged voters who might have unknowingly dropped off their ballots in the receptacles to sign up with the state’s voter tracking website to ensure their vote is counted.

“Misleading voters is wrong regardless of who is doing it,” Mr. Padilla said in a conference call with reporters, adding that the boxes “are not permitted by state law.”

Mr. Becerra called the boxes “fake,” adding that it was “illegal to tamper with a citizen’s vote.” He warned that anyone “engaging in this activity” could be subject to criminal prosecution or civil action.

Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, said the party would continue to distribute the boxes, without adding any label identifying them explicitly as Republican ballot drops.

Mr. Barajas — who disclosed that Republicans were responsible for the boxes only after being bombarded by questions by reporters on Monday — said the party’s actions were legal because state law did not restrict “ballot harvesting,” a practice that allows businesses or other organizations to collect batches of completed ballots.

Read the complete article here.

GOP leaders ask U.S. Supreme Court to halt Pennsylvania voting extension

From today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The two top Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Senate petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to put a halt to the three-day extension for counties to receive and count mail-in ballots this November.

At issue is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling this month that mail-in ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and delivered to county offices by mail during the three days following the Nov. 3 election — as long as they’re received by 5 p.m. Nov. 6 — shall be counted.

Arguing that the state Supreme Court violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution by altering the rules of the election and superseding the legislature’s authority, Republicans are asking the nation’s highest court to restore the original received-by ballot deadline — 8 p.m. on Election Day — pending the outcome of their forthcoming request for the court to review the ruling. 

Lawyers for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, argue that the Pennsylvania court “rewrote” the state’s law governing federal elections and violated the constitution, “sowing chaos into the electoral process mere weeks before the already intricate November General Election.”

“This is an open invitation to voters to cast their ballots after Election Day, thereby injecting chaos and the potential for gamesmanship into what was an orderly and secure schedule of clear, bright-line deadlines,” the Republicans claimed, alleging that the state ruling mandates that county elections offices count ballots “even if they lack a legible postmark or any postmark at all.”

The Senate leaders claim that if the Supreme Court doesn’t act, it will open the door for lower federal and state courts across the country to change deadlines before the election.

“Absent a stay, the machinery of the election will continue inexorably towards Election Day,” they wrote in the petition. “With each passing day, more and more voters will learn that the deadline is not Election Day — as established by statute — but three days after Election Day.”

In its Sept. 17 ruling, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined that voters can’t exercise their right to vote if the deadline passes and their applications are stuck in a postal facility because of United States Postal Service delays.

Read the complete article here.

McConnell says stimulus deal may take ‘a few weeks,’ putting millions with expiring jobless aid in limbo

From today’s Washington Post:

With days to go before enhanced jobless benefits expire, the White House and Senate Republicans are struggling to design a way to scale back the program without overwhelming state unemployment agencies and imperiling aid to more than 20 million Americans.

The hang-up has led to an abrupt delay in the introduction of the GOP’s $1 trillion stimulus package. The White House and Democrats have said they want a deal by the end of the month, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Friday that reaching an agreement could take several weeks, a timeline that could leave many unemployed Americans severely exposed.

“Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks,” McConnell said at an event in Ashland, Ky.

Part of the problem stems from a push by administration officials and GOP lawmakers to reduce a $600 weekly payment of enhanced federal unemployment benefits. The White House and the GOP disagree about how to do this, and talks remain highly contentious. They hope to release a proposal early next week.

After convulsing in March and April when the coronavirus pandemic shut down large parts of the United States, the economy showed signs of regaining its footing before sliding again in recent weeks. The effects of numerous stimulus programs appear to be wearing off, and the pace of layoffs has picked up again. Layoffs that many Americans thought would be temporary have dragged on and become permanent, particularly as new cases of the novel coronavirus surge in parts of the country.

This has put enormous pressure on state unemployment programs, which typically pay out about 45 percent of a worker’s prior wages. In March, Congress approved the $600-per-week emergency bonus for every unemployed worker on top of that traditional payment, funneling hundreds of billions of dollars to newly jobless Americans as the pandemic hit the country.

That federal benefit, being received by more than 20 million people, is to expire at the end of this month. And the expiry comes as a federal eviction moratorium also is ending, creating a dynamic that could greatly stress cash-strapped families. In practice, the coming lapse in the jobless benefit means millions of workers are receiving their last enhanced benefit payment this week.

Read the complete article here.

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.