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

From today’s USA Today:

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

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

Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Slow unraveling of basic democratic principles

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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

From today’s CNN Online:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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

From today’s New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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

From today’s New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

WI Disenfranchisement Laws Deny Voting Rights After Convicts Serve Time

From today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

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

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

Ventae Parrow Bey, 44, is one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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

From today’s Business Insider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

How Voting Rights Activists Navigate New Restrictions For 2022 elections

From today’s CNN Online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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

From today’s Columbus Dispatch:

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

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

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

That these bills specifically target Black voters is even worse.

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

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

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

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

Read the complete story here.

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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Texas Sues Biden Administration Over Transgender Worker Rights

From today’s Forbes Online:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday, seeking to block enforcement of guidance focused on transgender workers and employment discrimination, which was released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, arguing that it is “unlawful” and “increases the scope of liability for all employers.”

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Texas against Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Charlotte Burrows and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Paxton claims in the lawsuit that the EEOC violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came under scrutiny in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court found that Title VII protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender, according to the Texas Tribune.

The EEOC guidance, released in June following that ruling, said that employers couldn’t stop employees from dressing according to their gender identity and transgender employees couldn’t be denied from entering bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that correspond with their gender identity, according to The Hill.

Paxton said in the lawsuit that the guidance “misstates the law, increasing the scope of liability for the State in its capacity as an employer” and “allows private individuals to sue their employers for violating EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.”

Read the complete story here.