Texas Democrats Flee State to Highlight G.O.P. Voting Restrictions

From today’s New York Times:

Texas Democrats fled the state on Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law in the Republican-controlled legislature, heading to Washington to draw attention to what they portray as a damaging assault on the right to cast a ballot.

Democrats from the Texas State Legislature held a news conference outside the State Capitol in Austin last week.

The group left Austin in midafternoon on a pair of chartered flights that were scheduled to arrive by the early evening. An official involved with the effort said more than 51 of the 67 State House Democrats members had signed on, enough to prevent Texas Republicans from attaining a quorum, which is required to conduct state business.

But the Democrats’ move also lays bare their limited options in a legislature where the Republicans hold the majority in both chambers. Parliamentary procedures and efforts to add amendments can delay the process but not derail it, and leaving the state to prevent a quorum, Republicans said Monday, would ultimately fail as well.

Representative Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, said Democrats’ departure from the state “slows things down” but would not prevent Republicans from ultimately passing the G.O.P.-backed voter overhaul bill in the 30-day special session.

Read more 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.

Opinion: The Really Big Fight on Voting Rights Is Just Around the Corner

From today’s New York Times:

With the For the People Act on indefinite hold after a filibuster by Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday, the Voting Rights Act is about to return to center stage in Washington. The Supreme Court will soon decide a case on how a crucial part of the landmark law applies to voting laws challenged as racially discriminatory.

The country is already roiling with controversies over whether a variety of post-2020 state voting changes reflect legitimate policy concerns or racially discriminatory ones.

In Congress, Senators Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski have turned a spotlight on the Voting Rights Act with their endorsement of a version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It would reaffirm Congress’s central role in protecting the right to vote against racially discriminatory changes and give the Justice Department (or, in Mr. Manchin’s version, the federal courts) the critical power to approve changes that are legitimate and block those that are invidious.

The John Lewis Act might well offer the best chance of new national legislation protecting the right to vote in America, and its significance is best seen in historical context, especially that of two Supreme Court cases.

The John Lewis Act would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Sections 4 and 5) that were effectively invalidated by the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder. When enacted in 1965, these provisions identified certain parts of the country and put their voting systems under a regime of federal control. These areas had to submit voting changes to the federal government, which had the power to block a proposal if it would diminish minority voter power. The federal government does not normally have veto power over state laws, but Section 5 created one.

Congress identified those areas based on voting practices in 1964. This coverage formula mainly singled out the states where extensive disenfranchisement had been in effect since the turn of the 20th century — especially since a Supreme Court case from 1903, Gilesv. Harris.

Read the complete article here.

Texas Democrats’ walkout sets up epic battle over voting rights

From today’s The Hill Online:

Texas legislators are gearing up for a titanic battle over a Republican effort to overhaul voting procedures after Democrats conspired to block its passage late Sunday night.

Texas Voting Bill Nears Passage as Republicans Advance It - The New York  Times

The omnibus legislative package came to a screeching halt after Democrats quietly abandoned the floor of the state House, denying Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill in the session’s waning hours.

In an echo of a previous exodus 18 years ago, when state House members fled across state lines to Oklahoma to delay a redistricting plan led by then-U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R), Democrats managed to exit the legislature on Sunday without attracting Republican attention. 

Democrats began considering walking out earlier on Sunday, when senior Black and Latino members started urging their colleagues to slip out. Those minority Democrats were enraged by last-minute provisions added to the House version of the election overhaul that more closely mirrored the Senate version, which would have made it easier for a judge to overturn election results.

About 45 House Democrats were off the floor before 9 p.m. By the time a final text message to Democratic members urged them to clear out at 10:35 p.m., the House faced a midnight deadline that the elections overhaul failed to meet.

“Not only was there a will to do this but we had a way to do it successfully,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), one of the ringleaders of the exodus, told The Hill.

Read the complete article here.

The Democrats Are Walking Right into a Trap on Voting Rights Bills

From today’s Slate Online:

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.

The battle over voting rights in Congress has entered a critical stage. The Greeks have now rolled a large wooden horse up to the gates of Troy. Some among the Trojans believe the Greek Army has left. The debate now is whether to open the gates and bring the gift into the city.

It is our strong view that that would be a mistake.

The Trojan horse in this story is an idea floated by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the key vote in the Senate for any voting rights or democracy reform. Manchin, desperate to find bipartisan support for democracy legislation, has now signaled that he believes he could secure such agreement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R.4, at least if its provisions were expanded to cover the nation as a whole. And while he has not yet said this critical part definitively, the implication is that Congress should pass that bill with bipartisan support, and leave to another day the much more comprehensive democracy reform package also being considered by the Senate just now, the For the People Act, otherwise known as H.R.1 or S.1.ADVERTISEMENT

We strongly support H.R.4, and firmly believe that the constitution, properly interpreted, would support it. But we are also fully convinced that a clear majority on this Supreme Court would invalidate H.R.4 — even more certainly with Joe Manchin’s amendment. And because the reasons for that invalidation are so clear in the opinions of those justices, we are not convinced that offers of bipartisan support for H.R.4 are in good faith. We don’t doubt Senator Manchin’s intentions—he has long signaled his strong support for both voting rights in particular and democracy reform generally. But we are convinced that at least some on the right see an expanded H.R.4 as a simple way to give voting rights reform a temporary victory, but one certain to be undone by the Supreme Court after the sun sets on this Congress.

H.R.4 is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder sidelining section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision had required certain jurisdictions to preclear changes in voting laws, so as to give the Justice Department a chance to verify that those changes did not wrongfully impact minority voters. The Supreme Court rejected that system in 2013, finding, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, that “things had changed,” and that Congress could no longer simply presume the systematic racism that had justified the Voting Rights Act in 1965. To continue to regulate these jurisdictions in particular, Congress would have to make new findings to prove to the court that the racism of the past continues to this day.

That showing would be difficult enough, given the character of this Supreme Court. But even if it could be sustained in some jurisdictions, Senator Manchin’s idea to extend the remedy to all of America would certainly fail the Supreme Court’s test. Thus, even if Manchin could make good on his promise and get his version through Congress, it would, in our view, certainly be struck down by this Supreme Court. And Congress would have squandered its best opportunity for much-needed democracy reform by passing a proposal that is precisely contrary to what the current Court has determined is constitutional

The alternative to H.R.4 is H.R.1 — an omnibus reform package that includes, among other provisions, much more comprehensive voting rights reform, also penned by John Lewis, as well as gerrymandering reform and, for the first time ever, a way for congressional candidates to fund effective campaigns with small-dollar contributions only.

Read the complete article here.

Voting rights bill “For the People Act” advances in Senate over GOP objections

From today’s CBS News Online:

The Senate on Tuesday advanced S. 1, the For the People Act, setting up a floor vote for the controversial bill. Senators clashed over voting rights and election procedures for hours in a contentious committee meeting to consider amendments for the massive bill.

Democrats claim the legislation is necessary to counter new voting restrictions being considered by multiple states. But Republicans argued that the bill is a naked power grab, and voted down an amendment that would have made several changes to the legislation based on feedback from state and local election officials.

The committee deadlocked 9-9 along party lines on whether to approve the bill. The committee can’t report it out, but Senate rules allow Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the bill to the floor. All nine Republicans voted against the bill, even though some amendments proposed by GOP senators had been adopted.

The House approved the For the People Act by a vote of 220 to 210 in March, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states’ ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security and reform the redistricting process.

In a sign of how critical the issue is for both parties, Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both appeared at the “markup” session before the Senate Rules Committee, a rarity for committee meetings to consider bills.

In his statement, Schumer argued that there was a reactionary effort by states to limit voting rights, “led by one party and compelled by the most dishonest president in American history.” Several Republican-controlled states have recently passed or are considering legislation to restrict voting rights, in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss and a rise in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents argue such bills disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters, who tend to support the Democratic Party.

Read the complete article here.

Target, Google and others are under pressure to dump the Chamber of Commerce over voting rights

From today’s CNN Online:

Progressive activists are calling on Ford, Target, Google, Bank of America and other major companies that have pledged to support voting rights to cut ties with the US Chamber of Commerce, CNN Business has learned.

At issue is the Chamber of Commerce’s fierce opposition to the Democrats’ sweeping voting bill known as the For the People Act, which advocates say would counter efforts by Georgia and other states to impose new voting restrictions.

The Chamber of Commerce has slammed the legislation, which last month was approved by the US House of Representatives, as “extremely problematic” in part because of new curbs on political advocacy by companies and associations.

The Chamber is one of the most powerful trade groups in the nation. In 2020 alone, the organization spent $81.9 million trying to influence government policy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The only organization that spent more was the National Association of Realtors.

Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group, sent letters Wednesday to 25 companies that have a relationship with the Chamber of Commerce even though they signed last week’s statement in the New York Times vowing to oppose discriminatory voting legislation.

The campaign from activists underscores the enormous pressure companies are under to follow up their verbal support for voting rights with concrete action.Enter your email to receive CNN’s nightcap newsletter.close dialog

“By ignoring the Chamber’s opposition to a bill that protects an essential right in our democracy, these executives are violating their commitment and siding against the millions of Americans — including many of their own employees — fighting racist voter suppression tactics,” Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, told CNN Business.

Read the complete article here.

Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

From today’s New York Times:

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

Read the complete article here.

California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

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.