Sen. Ron Wyden: Capitol riots prove we must strengthen American democracy by protecting voting rights for all

From NBC News Online:

On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn’t receive orders to assist for several hours. It’s a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn’t burn and that many more people weren’t killed.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.

Not in my book.

In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency means all is well in our country.

After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents’ concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.

Wednesday’s phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.

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Judge Dismisses Effort To Throw Out Drive-Through Votes In Houston

From today’s NPR News Online:

U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen on Monday threw out a suit challenging the legality of some 127,000 votes cast at drive-through voting sites in the Houston area. He ruled the plaintiffs don’t have legal standing to sue.

Harris County, Texas’ most populous county and majority-Democratic, erected 10 tents to expedite the early voting process as a way of allowing people to cast ballots safely during the coronavirus pandemic. They were also in place this summer before the state’s primary.

Noting that point, Hanen, a George W. Bush appointee, asked plaintiffs, “Why am I just getting this case?” He later said that the suit was not timely and that “this has been going on all summer.”

The suit was brought by Republican activists, who argued the move by Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat, was an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which is permitted under Texas law. The Texas Supreme Court dismissed a similar challenge on Sunday. All of that court’s justices are Republican appointees.

Hanen said that if he found the plaintiffs did have standing, he would have still ruled against them “as to the voting that has already taken place,” but that he would “probably enjoin tomorrow’s votes.” He also ordered that records of votes cast in the drive-through facilities be maintained in case his decision is reversed on appeal.

One of the intervenors in the hearing, lawyer Andre Segura of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, argued that a ruling allowing the ballots to be thrown out would cause people to have to vote a second time.

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Supreme Court Won’t Extend Wisconsin’s Deadline for Mailed Ballots

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court refused on Monday to revive a trial court ruling that would have extended Wisconsin’s deadline for receiving absentee ballots to six days after the election.

The vote was 5 to 3, with the court’s more conservative justices in the majority. As is typical, the court’s brief, unsigned order gave no reasons. But several justices filed concurring and dissenting opinions that spanned 35 pages and revealed a stark divide in their understanding of the role of the courts in protecting the right to vote during a pandemic.

The ruling was considered a victory for Republicans in a crucial swing state, which polls have shown Mr. Trump trailing in after winning by about 23,000 votes in 2016.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin immediately announced a voter education project to alert voters that absentee ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. “We’re dialing up a huge voter education campaign,” Ben Wikler, the state party chairman, said on Twitter. The U.S. Postal Service has recommended that voters mail their ballots by Oct. 27 to ensure that they are counted.

The ruling came as President Trump continued to attack mail-in voting, which Democrats are using far more heavily this year. In a tweet late Monday, Mr. Trump falsely declared that there were “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.” (Twitter quickly put a warning label on the tweet.)

The ruling was also the latest in a flurry of election-year decisions by the court that have mostly upheld voting restrictions, and the Trump campaign and its Republican allies are seeking similar restrictions on ballot deadlines in other states. Cases from North Carolina and Pennsylvania are pending before the court, the latter a second attempt after a 4-to-4 deadlock last week. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed and sworn in to the Supreme Court on Monday night, could cast the decisive vote in that case.

In Monday’s opinions, divisions over voting rights that had been hinted at in some of the previous rulings came more clearly into the open.

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Voting rights group files suit against Trump administration officials alleging voter intimidation

From today’s The Hill Online:

A voting rights group and others filed a lawsuit against President Trump and administration officials on Wednesday, alleging their actions have amounted to voter intimidation.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia less than two weeks from Election Day names Trump, Attorney General William Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf as defendants. 

Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, an advocacy group for Latino voters, and two registered voters assert in the 53-page complaint that all three officials have violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act and the Constitution. The group is represented by Free Speech for the People, Mehri & Skallet and Emery Celli.

The beginning of the complaint lists six actions the officials have taken that the plaintiffs said were equivalent to voter intimidation.

The actions in question include calling on Trump supporters to serve as “‘poll watchers,’” sending law enforcement to polling stations, having “sabotaged” mail delivery, threatening mail-in voting and those ballots’ ability to be counted, proposing to delay the election and not committing to a peaceful transition of power.

“Defendants’ actions over the past five months make these threats terrifyingly credible,” the complaint said. “Defendants have displayed a willingness to use the full force of the federal government to suppress constitutionally protected activity and incite private actors to do the same.”

“The pattern of conduct described above has had, as a foreseeable impact, an objective intimidating effect on eligible voters,” the complaint adds.

The complaint also criticized the administration for sending federal law enforcement to respond to protests “perceived to be in opposition to him” and not to demonstrations of those “perceived to support him.”

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SCOTUS denies GOP bid to stop an extended deadline for PA mail-in ballots

From today’s Washington Post:

The Supreme Court on Monday night allowed Pennsylvania election officials to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, refusing a Republican request to stop a pandemic-related procedure approved by the state’s highest court.

The justices’ action involved an arcane voting practice but carried outsize importance because of Pennsylvania’s pivotal role in the presidential election. It prompted a fierce battle between the state’s Democrats and Republicans.

It also showed a precariously balanced Supreme Court, which has only eight members after the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the potential importance of President Trump’s nominee to replace her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

The court was tied on the Republican request, which means the effort failed.

The court’s four most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — said they would have granted the stay.

But that takes five votes, which means Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with liberal Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Neither side explained its reasoning, which often is the case with emergency requests. But the outcome underscored the decisive role Barrett could play if she is confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate — with a vote there expected as soon as next week. Trump has said he wants his nominee on the court in case it is split on litigation arising from the election.

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Signature errors could disenfranchise a record number of voters in the election

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail in the November general election because of the pandemic — and a record number may have their ballots rejected over signature issues.

In nearly 40 states, election officials check the signatures on the ballot envelopes that voters send back against the ones on file — usually from voter registration forms or motor vehicle departments. A handful of states require voters to fill out their ballot in front of a witness, who must also sign.

If a signature doesn’t appear to match, or the necessary signatures are missing, what happens next depends on the state — and even the county — a voter lives in. Some states require county election officials to give the voter a chance to verify their identity or fix a mistake; others don’t, and their ballots are tossed out.

“There are more opportunities to get tripped up and to have your ballot not counted in mail voting than in in-person voting, said Wendy Weiser, the vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice. “That said, it’s not going to happen to most people.”

Nearly 1% of absentee ballots cast — 318,000 of 33 million — were rejected in the 2016 general election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Of those, nearly half weren’t counted because of a missing signature or a mismatch.

This election, 74 million mail ballots have already been requested by voters in 37 states and the District of Columbia, with deadlines for requesting ballots still weeks away in most states, according to a count by Michael McDonald, an elections specialist at the University of Florida, of states that have reported those data.

The risk of voter disenfranchisement has led to a flurry of legal challenges. Democrats argue there’s a larger than usual chance that valid ballots won’t count because of voter laws that haven’t adjusted to the circumstances of the pandemic. Republicans accuse Democrats of using the coronavirus crisis to rewrite election rules.

The outcome of those legal cases — over whether or not election officials need to help voters fix signature issues, how long voters have, and whether they need witness signatures — could affect thousands of ballots.

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.

SCOTUS takes up Arizona voting rights law that will be heard after the election

From today’s CNN Online:

The Supreme Court said Friday it will review two provisions of an Arizona voting rights law that a federal appeals court said could have a discriminatory impact for American Indian, Hispanic and African Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

One provision concerns an “out of precinct policy” that does not count provisional ballots cast in person on Election Day outside of the voter’s designated precinct. Another concerns the “ballot collection law” which permits only certain persons — family and household members, caregivers, mail carriers and elections officials — to handle another person’s completed ballot.

The dispute will not be resolved before the election because the argument calendar is already full through December.In January, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the state’s policy of “wholly discarding” rather than counting or partially counting out of precinct ballots and the criminalization of the collection of another person’s ballot has a “discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters in the state in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

The court also held that the ballot collection provision was enacted with discriminatory intent. The court agreed to put its decision on hold pending appeal. Mark Brnovich, Arizona’s attorney general, called the provisions “commonplace election administration provisions” used by Arizona and “dozens of states.” Over the dissent of four judges, the majority invalidated two commonplace election administration provisions used by Arizona and dozens of other states to prevent multiple voting, protect against voter intimidation, preserve the secrecy of the ballot, and safeguard election integrity.

But Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Democratic National Committee, argued that Supreme Court precedents and the law compelled the lower court to conclude that Arizona’s wholesale rejection of ballots cast out of precinct and its criminalization of ballot collection violated Voting Rights Act.

Read the complete article here.

TX governor orders only one mail ballot drop-off location allowed per county

From today’s The Hill Online:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a new proclamation allowing only one mail ballot drop-off location per county.

Starting Friday, mail ballots submitted in person by eligible vote-by-mail voters must be returned to a publicly designated county voting clerk’s office, a local NBC affiliate KXAN reported.

The proclamation allows early voters only one ballot drop-off location per county, and other drop-off satellite locations will be closed.

Abbott’s proclamation will also require early voting clerks to let poll watchers monitor the locations and “observe any activity conducted at the early voting clerk’s office location related to the in-person delivery of a marked mail ballot.”

“As we work to preserve Texans’ ability to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take extra care to strengthen ballot security protocols throughout the state,” Abbott said. “These enhanced security protocols will ensure greater transparency and will help stop attempts at illegal voting.”

In Texas, mail-in voters who drop off their ballots must show a photo ID, sign a roster and deposit a sealed envelope into their designated county ballot box, the Statesman reported.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa blasted the move in a statement, saying, “Governor Abbott and Texas Republicans are scared.”

“Republicans are on the verge of losing, so Governor Abbott is trying to adjust the rules last minute,” Hinojosa added, saying, “Courts all over the country … have held that it is too late to change election rules.”

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.