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.

On National Voter Registration Day, We Must Fight Restrictions on Voting Rights

From today’s Scientific American:

This week marks the 10th time that Americans have commemorated National Voter Registration Day, an occasion designed to encourage the one in four adult citizens who are unregistered to become part of those who can participate in elections. So far this year at least 18 states have enacted laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. And even when the right to vote is formally protected, the costs of doing so prevent many from making it to the polls, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, who are less likely to vote.

We need to reengineer the voting process to make it easier for everyone. While the focus is on the unregistered—and justifiably so—it is crucial to also direct our attention on the U.S.’s more than 4,500 local election officials (LEOs), who “determine who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” as a 2014 report from the think tank Demos put it. They determine whether voter registration applications are valid, in accordance with state and federal law. Hence we should give a shout out today to LEOs, who, until quite recently, toiled anonymously behind the scenes to ensure that elections went off without a hitch. Nearly 60 percent of states fill these positions through partisan elections, which can affect how LEOs carry out their tasks, but there are also strong professional norms.

During the 2020 election, many local election officials scrambled to implement state-mandated changes, such as providing no-excuse absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, as a means of ensuring that people could vote without risking exposure to COVID. Oftentimes LEOs made these efforts without additional resources and did so while being accused malfeasance. For example, according to the New York Times, Scott County, Iowa’s auditor and commissioner of elections and her staff put in about 200 hours of overtime while running an election that generated a nearly 80 percent turnout rate. But that election also brought out angry and threatening voters and led to the resignation of that election official. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, by this past spring a third of surveyed election officials felt unsafe because of their job and nearly 20 percent were concerned about threats against their life.

By late December 2020, 21 election directors and deputy directors of more than a dozen of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had either quit or were in the process of doing so. A Democracy Fund survey of roughly 850 local election officials reported that about one out of every six were planning to retire in the next three years. While retirements are a normal part of life, these numbers are higher than normal and indicative of the current partisan rancor. Of particular concern is the possibility that those leaving will be replaced by believers in former president Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” In fall 2020, prior to the election, Steve Bannon encouraged Trump supporters to try to become local election officials, according to Forbes. At this time of unprecedented threats against electoral integrity, let us remember the local election officials, who are on the front lines of preserving our voting rights, and tell Congress that it is time to pass legislation to protect those who protect our democracy.

Read the complete article here.

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North Carolina voting rights ruling offers model of anti-racist jurisprudence

From today’s The Hill Online:

Last Friday a divided, three-judge panel of the North Carolina Superior Court handed a small victory to groups determined to protect voting rights. These rights are being eroded by state laws under the deceptive label of protecting “election integrity.” The court struck down North Carolina’s voter identification law because it had a disproportionate impact on minority groups and would make it harder for Black people to vote.

In so doing, it offered an example of the important role state courts can play in an era when conservatives dominate the federal judiciary. More important, it offered a model of anti-racist jurisprudence.

The court’s decision resurrected an older and often demeaned theory of discrimination and gave the lie to the United State Supreme Court’s recently expressed view that voter identification requirements are nothing more than “mere inconveniences” inevitably associated with any voting scheme.

It echoed Justice Elena Kagan’s argument that “racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Indeed, the problem of voting discrimination has become worse …Weaken the Voting Rights Act, and predictable consequences follow: yet a further generation of voter suppression laws.”

The North Carolina voter identification law proves the accuracy of Kagan’s prediction: The weakening of the Voting Rights Act has allowed voter suppression laws to flourish.

Indeed, the Supreme Court has provided what The New Republic’s Matt Ford calls “a blank check for Republican state lawmakers: So long as they invoke voter fraud and don’t say anything too egregious, the Supreme Court will have their back.”

Moreover, the court has erected procedural and evidentiary hurdles that make it harder to challenge those Republican efforts.

As law professor Jamelia Morgan explains, federal court voting rights decisions have demonstrated “increasing reluctance to accept circumstantial evidence of discriminatory intent. Stated differently, these courts have declined to draw the inference that the challenged electoral policy or practice, when combined with historical and social factors, deprive minority individuals of the right to vote on account of race, and in some cases have required an evidentiary showing amounting to express discriminatory intent.”

Fortunately, the North Carolina court took a different path, insisting that what it called a “sensitive inquiry into such circumstantial and direct evidence of intent” is precisely what is required in the highly charged area of voting rights.

Read the complete story here.

How Democrats could actually pass “For the People” voting rights bill

From today’s The Guardian Online:

The bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, has been described as a “compromise”, hashed out over the summer by a group of Senate Democrats after Republicans filibustered an earlier version of it. But while the bill does get rid of some key things from the initial version, it still is pretty expansive. It would require states to offer at least 15 days of early voting, along with same-day registration, as well as automatic and online registration. It would enshrine new protections for local election officials and poll workers amid growing concerns about intimidation and partisan interference in their work. And it sets new criteria that states have to follow when they draw electoral districts to curb the practice of severely manipulating districts for partisan gain.

We’ve been here before. It’s no secret that the bill is probably dead on arrival in the US Senate as long as the filibuster, the rule that requires 60 votes to advance legislation, remains in place. A handful of Democrats, led by Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have vocally supported keeping the measure in place.

As I read through the cascade of statements praising the new bill, I was struck by how many of them coupled their enthusiasm with calls to eliminate the filibuster. It was a grim recognition of the quagmire Democrats have confronted since taking control of Congress in January: voting reform is impossible while the filibuster is in place.

Despite the huge obstacle that the filibuster still poses, I do think this new bill is significant. First, it shows that Democrats aren’t willing to let voting reform go; by coming back so quickly with a new bill, they’re signaling that they are prepared to force a fight over the filibuster.

Second, Democrats are showing Republicans that they are willing to make concessions in their signature piece of legislation. They dropped a provision from the earlier version that would have required officials to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. They also got rid of a provision that would have required every state to set up independent commissions to draw districts. The new legislation also allows states to require identification to vote while also setting up a process for people who lack ID to vote. These will all up the ante on Republicans to negotiate in good faith.

Third, it’s significant that Manchin played an active role in crafting the bill and is now the one shopping it around to get Republican support. That support seems unlikely (“It is a solution in search of a problem, and we will not be supporting that,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said on Tuesday). If Manchin is unable to personally persuade Republicans to sign on, despite the concessions from Democrats, it will only increase pressure on him to revise his stance on the filibuster.

Joe Biden also has indicated a new willingness to pressure reluctant Democrats on their filibuster position.

Read the complete story here.

California steps into national fight over ballot restrictions, voting rights

From today’s San Diego Union-Tribune:

Earlier this year, state Sen. Tom Umberg pointed to an often-overlooked confluence of events amid discussion about California’s efforts to make it easier to vote in 2020 — something typically thought to favor Democrats.

“Democrats lost four seats (in Congress) this past election and we had the highest voter turnout since 1952,” the Santa Ana Democrat said. “I think more people voting, irrespective of what happened to Democrats, is a good thing for democracy.”

Lots of Republicans in other state legislatures aren’t buying that and launched a methodical drive to restrict voting access not long after the 2020 votes were officially tallied — along with seeking to overturn the results in some states where then-President Donald Trump lost.

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans gained some California congressional seats last year, just as there were when they lost several in 2018. How much — or how little — California’s voting rules had to do with that is open to debate. But greater access didn’t seem to hinder them.

Umberg’s comments came in February as the Legislature was passing his bill to extend last year’s California vote-by-mail system to special elections this year, which includes the Sept. 14 recall election for Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The bill was drafted long before it was certain the recall would qualify and there already were two other special elections scheduled to fill legislative vacancies, according to The Associated Press.

Several states expanded the use of mail ballots last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, including some that sent a ballot to every registered voter whether they requested it or not, as California did. That was opposed by Trump and many Republicans, contending it was designed to boost Democratic prospects.

Regardless, the mail-ballot system was widely viewed as a success last year, not just because of turnout, but because it gave everyone an automatic option to skip voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic. There were still polling places available and opportunities for early voting in addition to the mail ballots. That will be the case next month.

In February, the COVID-19 outbreak was lingering, but appeared to be winding down when the Umberg bill was passed. Now the action seems prescient, given the pandemic resurgence with the Delta variant.

California is such a blue state that Democrats would seem certain to dominate regardless of how accessible voting is here. The national balance of power lies mostly in red states where political and demographic trends aren’t favoring the GOP, such as Georgia. And those are the states where voting laws are becoming more restrictive.

California’s accessible mode of voting may not be threatened, but the state is entering the fight over restrictive laws elsewhere. On Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was joining nearly two dozen other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging a new Georgia law passed as Senate Bill 202.

Read the complete story here.

Harris announces $25 million investment in DNC voting rights program

From today’s The Hill Online:

Vice President Harris on Thursday will roll out a $25 million expansion of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) “I Will Vote” initiative as Democrats look to combat a wave of voting restrictions that have been pushed this year by Republican-controlled legislatures.

Harris will announce the funding in remarks at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The $25 million investment surpasses the initial $20 million that DNC Chair Jaime Harrison announced in April the DNC would spend as the 2022 midterm races begin to take shape.

The money will go to strengthening the DNC’s efforts with voter registration, voter protection and voter education.

Voting rights is a key battlefront for congressional lawmakers, with two voting rights bills — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — key tenets of Democrats’ legislative agenda.

At the center of the partisan struggle over new voting bills across the country is former President Trump‘s baseless claim that November’s presidential election was stolen from him through rampant voter fraud.

Democrats have credited the “big lie” and efforts to suppress minority voters as the catalysts behind the GOP voter bills, though Republicans have maintained that their goal is to increase voter integrity.

“Republicans know that their policies are unpopular—and that the only way for them to hold on to power is to attack the constitutional right to vote, held by the people they swore to serve,” Harrison said in a statement before Harris’s scheduled remarks. “That’s why the Republican Party has made unprecedented efforts to keep people from voting.”

November’s presidential election saw historic turnout on several fronts, but advocates have specifically lauded the increase in Black and Latino voter participation as major factors that sealed President Biden‘s victory.

Harris and Biden are also expected to meet with prominent civil rights leaders later in the afternoon on Thursday.

Read the complete article here.

Emergency meeting draws corporate leaders to discuss state voting laws

From today’s CBS News Online:

More than 100 of the nation’s top corporate leaders met virtually on Saturday to discuss ways for companies to continue responding to the passage of more restrictive voting laws across the country, a signal that the nation’s premier businesses are preparing a far more robust, organized response to the ongoing debate. 

With some CEOs chiming in from Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters golf tournament, attendees on the high-level Zoom call included leaders from the health care, media and transportation sectors and some of the nation’s leading law and investment firms.  

“The gathering was an enthusiastic voluntary statement of defiance against threats of reprisals for exercising their patriotic voices,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale University management professor who helped organize the confab.  

The corporate leaders “recognize that they need to step up to the plate and are not fearful of these reprisals,” he added. “They’re showing a disdain for these political attacks. Not only are they fortifying each other, but they see that this spreading of disease of voter restrictions from Georgia to up to possibly 46 other states is based on a false premise and its’ anti-democratic.” 

The nonpartisan Brennan Center, which has been tracking voting law proposals across the country, found that lawmakers in 47 states have introduced 361 bills that would restrict voting access. Of those restrictive bills, at least 55 are currently moving through legislatures in 24 states. So far, 29 of them have passed one chamber, while 26 of them have made it through a committee vote. Overall, five bills have been signed into law, including Georgia’s in late March.

In the wake of Georgia’s new law, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and Aflac Insurance, among other companies based in the Peach State, spoke out in opposition to the law. Republican leaders, including former president Trump, have in turn called for boycotts of the companies for speaking out. Liberal organizations, civil rights groups and some Democratic Party leaders have said the firms didn’t speak out forcefully enough or before passage of the law, a move they argue that might have stopped the law’s passage.

Read the complete article here.

MLB Pulls All-Star Game from Atlanta in Protest of Restrictive New Voting Law

From today’s NBC News Online:

Major League Baseball on Friday pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest of Georgia’s new restrictive voting law.

The “Midsummer Classic” was set for July 13 at Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, in addition to other activities connected to the game, such as the annual MLB Draft.

“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft,” Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a statement. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”

Georgia Republicans passed restrictive changes to the state election process last month. The new law adds a host of restrictions, like requiring identification for mail voting and making it illegal to take food or water to voters in line.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law immediately, calling it “common sense” legislation while aligning himself with former President Donald Trump in remarks promoting the bill.

MLB is “finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly,” according to Manfred. The commissioner said All-Star Game festivities would still include tributes to Henry Aaron, the legendary Braves slugger who died earlier this year at age 86.

The All-Star Game, which features the best players of the National and American Leagues, had been slated for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last year but had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process,” Manfred added. “Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

The Braves said they were “deeply disappointed” by the MLB action and had hoped the All-Star Game would serve as a vehicle to highlight the importance of voting rights.

Read the complete article here.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restores voting rights for ex-felons

From today’s Axios Online:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor’s office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: Northam’s move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.

  • Last year, Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons’ voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.

The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia’s restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state’s constitution. In the future, any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, “even if they remain on community supervision.”

  • Current laws in Virginia state that “anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm,” the statement notes.
  • The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.

What they’re saying: “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in the statement.

  • “If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that,” he added.

What’s next: Earlier this year the state’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.

  • The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.

Read the complete article here.

U.S. voting rights activist Stacey Abrams nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

From today’s Reuter’s Online:

U.S. voting rights activist and Democratic Party politician Stacey Abrams has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her work to promote nonviolent change via the ballot box, a Norwegian lawmaker said on Monday.

Abrams, whose work was credited with boosting voter turnout last year, helping Joe Biden win the U.S. presidency, joins a long list of nominees, including both former President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, former White House adviser Jared Kushner.

“Abrams’ work follows in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in the fight for equality before the law and for civil rights,” said Lars Haltbrekken, a Socialist Party member of Norway’s parliament.

King, a Baptist minister who became a leader of the 1960s civil rights movement, won the Nobel prize in 1964 and remains among its most famous laureates.

“Abrams’ efforts to complete King’s work are crucial if the United States of America shall succeed in its effort to create fraternity between all its peoples and a peaceful and just society,” Haltbrekken said.

Thousands of people, from members of parliaments worldwide to former winners, are eligible to propose candidates, and a nomination does not imply endorsement from the Nobel committee in Oslo.

Read the complete article here.