SCOTUS questions need for restrictive voting laws in Voting Rights Act case

From NBC News Online:

Supreme Court justices asked skeptical questions Tuesday about Arizona election laws in a case that has emerged as an important test of the Voting Rights Act.

The case is about whether two state laws violate Section 2 of the act: One blocks the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and another prohibits anyone other than a family member or caregiver from collecting and delivering a voter’s absentee ballot.

On one side is the state of Arizona and Republicans, who want to keep the strict laws on the books and argue they prevent fraud. And on the other side are Democrats, who want the laws stricken and argue the rules prevent voters, particularly minorities, from accessing the ballot.

The voting restrictions are being fought in a state where Republicans have dominated local and national races for generations but where recently Democrats have gained traction and won both U.S. Senate seats and the presidential contest last year. The outcome of the case could have far-reaching implications for voting laws in other states, too.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, two Republican appointees and potentially pivotal votes in the case, appeared to be wrestling with the arguments as they asked tough questions of lawyers on both sides.

Roberts asked the Arizona GOP lawyer, who is defending the laws, why it’s “a bad thing” for election procedures to seek “racial proportionality.”

Later, he pressed the Democrats’ lawyer to define what it would take in their opinion to make a law unacceptable. “What if the provision results in a 1 percent decline in participation by minority voters — is that substantial enough?” he asked.

Barrett told Arizona’s state lawyer that there were “some contradictions” in his argument and that his task was to show why the changes in laws preserved equal “opportunity” for white and nonwhite voters.

But later, she appeared torn about whether Arizona’s laws cross the line. “There’s a difficulty that the statutory language and its lack of clarity presents in trying to figure out when something crosses from an inconvenience to a burden,” Barrett said.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Are Making Federal Election Standards a Top Priority Under Biden

From today’s Associated Press Online:

Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol.

States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration?

Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.

“We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.”

The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.

Republican opposition was fierce during the last session. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., labeled it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and said in an op-ed that Democrats were seeking to “change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”

While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.

Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Push Voting-Rights Expansion With Fresh Urgency

From today’s New York Magazine:

When the House passed the For the People Act, a package of voting, redistricting, and campaign-finance reforms, in March of 2019, it was a symbolic and aspirational effort. It passed on a strict party-line vote. Its significance as a Democratic “messaging” vehicle was reflected in its designation as HR 1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

The bill is back as HR 1 in the 117th Congress, but this time it will also be the first bill introduced when Democrats take over the Senate this week. The Republican majority in the Senate over the past four years made democracy-reform legislation a nonstarter. But now a Democratic governing trifecta in Washington gives such reforms a new impetus, as does the baleful experience of the 2020 election cycle, in which Republicans aligned with the Trump administration doubled down on a strategy of suppressing as many votes as possible and then trying to keep votes already cast from being counted or reflected in the final Electoral College balloting for the presidency.

Here’s a list of reforms in the legislation, as compiled by Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf when it passed the House last year:

• Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies

• Same-day voter registration

• Online voter registration

• Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies

• Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting

That’s a lot of reforms, and many are at cross-purposes with the GOP’s renewed determination to make voting more, not less, difficult — especially via mail balloting — and the latter-day Republican conviction that massive spending on elections by wealthy interests is not a travesty but a cherished First Amendment right.

So unless Republicans experience some sort of radical post-Trump conversion to enthusiasm for democracy, passage of these reforms in the Senate will almost certainly be blocked by its GOP minority, barring filibuster reform (which in turn would require unanimous Democratic support, which it does not appear to have at the moment). This also isn’t the kind of legislation that can be moved around the filibuster barricades by a budget reconciliation bill, because it doesn’t involve significant fiscal issues.

Read the complete article here.

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.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia’s GOP senators falsely claim election fraud just to stay in power

From today’s NBC News Online:

We are a conservative and a centrist who — at various times in our careers — have served in significant federal government roles. From the time of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush through today, we have seen in action how the adherence to the principles of federalism and the separation of powers has served the people of the United States as our Constitution’s framers wisely intended.

But the position of Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., on federal interference in their own state’s electoral processes is unfaithful to that tradition; it is neither conservative nor effective. Georgians should demand more of their senators — and so should the people of every state where similar, spurious challenges against their electoral processes are being leveled on behalf of a failed president.

The joint statement of Perdue and Loeffler claiming mismanagement and corruption in their state’s elections reflects both bad temper and bad judgment. Their claim lacks any specificity or description of evidence of actual fraud, and was issued with a malicious, menacing tone befitting dark conspiracy theorists rather than high public officials.

And, since their initial statement, neither has provided any specific evidence of fraud. (On Thursday, Georgia finished a hand recount of ballots in the state showing Joe Biden had indeed won presidential race.)

Forced to demonstrate any possible sources of election fraud, Perdue’s cousin, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, also made hollow, unsupported assertions of unidentified people voting twice, others engineering votes by or on behalf of those who have died, moved out of state, and yet others voting despite being ineligible convicted felons. He cited no evidence — and, in fact, there may be no such illegal voters — of any such voter fraud or any basis for believing that it could disqualify enough ballots to flip the outcome.

To make matters worse, Sens. Perdue and Loeffler used the opportunity to demonize Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who not only voted to re-elect President Donald Trump, but also to re-elect both of them. “I’d like our side to win,” Raffensperger said in an interview with Atlanta’s Fox affiliate Nov. 10, “but then you have to win fair and honestly.”

He added: “I want 100 percent of the people to understand that the process was fair and accurately counted.”

That is how a democracy is supposed to work; anything else, and we might as well live in Russia or China.

Read the complete article here.

Fox News cuts away from Kayleigh McEnany news conference after she alleges vote fraud with no evidence

From today’s Washington Post:

Fox News cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s remarks at a news conference Monday evening because she claimed without evidence that Democrats were inviting fraud and illegal voting.

“There is only one party in America trying to keep observers out of the count room, and that party, my friends, is the Democrat Party,” she said, adding, “You don’t oppose an audit of the vote because you want an accurate count. … You take these positions because you are welcoming fraud and you are welcoming illegal voting.”

From the Fox News studio, anchor Neil Cavuto cut in to end Fox’s broadcast of the video feed from the Republican National Committee headquarters. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said. “I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”

He continued: “I want to make sure that maybe they do have something to back that up, but that’s an explosive charge to make, that the other side is effectively rigging and cheating. If she does bring proof of that, of course we’ll take you back. So far she has started saying right at the outset — welcoming fraud, welcoming illegal voting. Not so fast.”

The decision to cut away was Cavuto’s, not an edict from Fox’s top brass, according to people familiar with the show’s decision.

Fox has occasionally cut away from McEnany briefings in the past but notably did not do so even during the lengthiest of President Trump’s coronavirus task force briefings, when Trump took the lectern and veered away from information about the pandemic and straight into political messaging.

The move Monday came amid heightened attention on Fox News, whose decision desk was the first to call the state of Arizona for former vice president Joe Biden on election night, incurring the wrath of the president. The close relationship the network has long enjoyed with the president has cooled in the weeks since Rupert Murdoch, whose family controls Fox News, started telling associates that he predicted Trump would lose the election.”

McEnany would go on to say at Monday’s news conference that Republican poll watchers were barred from observing the counting, an allegation that Fox News reporter Eric Shawn, who had been reporting from Philadelphia during the counting, refuted on air numerous times last week, including at one point showing a photograph of the view a poll watcher could see. “That’s not true,” Shawn told host Dana Perino on air about such an allegation by Trump. “That’s not true. That’s just not true.”

Read the complete article here.

Trump lies in the White House briefing room, and networks pull the plug

From today’s New York Times:

President Trump broke a two-day silence with reporters to deliver a brief statement filled with lies about the election process as workers in a handful of states continue to tabulate vote tallies in the presidential race.

The president painted the election results so far as part of a broad conspiracy to deprive him of winning a second term by Democrats, election officials in various cities and the media.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the podium in the White House briefing room, a false statement that cast aspersion on the rest of the election. He offered no evidence.

He then listed a series of conspiracy theories about why ballots arrived late in places. And at the same time that he insisted Democrats were figuring out how many mail-in ballots they need in order to counteract his performance in various states, the president listed off a series of Republican wins on Tuesday. He appeared not to see the cognitive dissonance in saying that other Republicans won while he lost as he outlined a plot about others harming him, and left the room without taking reporters’ questions.

The three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — all cut away from President Trump’s appearance as the president’s false claims about the integrity of the election mounted.

Read the complete article here.

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.

Read the complete article here.

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.

Read the complete article here.

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.

Read the complete article here.