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.

Texas House Approves GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions Bill

From today’s NPR News Online:

Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules aftera session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.

The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn’t requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.

The ability for polling place “watchers” to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed “only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election.”

But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a “voter suppression bill.” Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as “sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box.” The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on “illegal activity” undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.

Read the complete article here.

Arizona near top of states for bills aimed at limiting voting rights

From today’s ABC 15 News Arizona:

Arizona lawmakers, who began the year with one of the highest number of voting restriction bills in the nation, are winding down a legislative session in which it appears only a few of those bills will survive.

But that doesn’t mean voting rights activists are happy.

Ryan Snow, associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called it a “death by a million cuts.”

“Officials … have taken to erecting a litany of barriers that any one of which might sound on its face that it’s not that big of a deal,” Snow said. “But when you take them together, it creates a restrictive process that disproportionately affects voters of color, low-wealth voters, young voters and other politically disabled voters.”

Supporters of the bills disagree and say that the state – coming off the divisive 2020 election and in the midst of a contentious audit of Maricopa County’s returns – needs to restore faith in the election process and “ensure Arizona’s elections are fair and transparent.”

“In order to maintain voter trust in our elections, it is important to provide the necessary safeguards so that voters can be confident in casting their ballots,” said Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action, in an emailed statement.

Arizona Republican lawmakers introduced the third-highest number of voting restriction bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which said the state’s 23 bills trailed only Texas, with 49, and Georgia, with 25. Nationwide, 361 such bills were introduced, it said.

Read the complete article here.

Why Michigan Republicans’ Attack on Voting Rights is Grossly Anti-democratic

From today’s The Guardian:

On the surface, the Republican effort to roll back voting rights in Michigan looks similar to what’s happening in states around the country: after Donald Trump narrowly lost a key battleground state where there was record turnout, Republicans are moving swiftly to implement sweeping restrictions to curtail access to the ballot box.

But the effort is raising unique concerns. Even though the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is likely to veto a package of dozens of pending bills to curb voter access, Republicans are already hinting they will use a loophole to implement the measures anyway. They can take advantage of a quirk in Michigan’s law allowing voters to send a bill to the legislature if just over 340,000 voters sign a petition asking them to take it up. These kinds of bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.

“This effort is particularly anti-democratic, not just in substance, but in procedure,” said the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who serves as the state’s top election official.

The proposals include measures that are breathtakingly restrictive, even when held up in comparison to other measures states are considering. One bill bans Michigan’s secretary of state not only from mailing out absentee ballot applications to all voters, but also blocks her from even providing a link on a state website to a mail-in ballot application. Another proposal does not allow voters to use absentee ballot drop boxes after 5pm the day before election day. A different measure would require voters to make a photocopy of their ID and mail it in to vote by mail.

The effort is being closely monitored in a state known for razor-thin elections and where Donald Trump and allies tried to overturn the result in 2020. Republicans are moving aggressively to put the new voting restrictions in place ahead of the 2022 elections, when there are races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Michigan also has several key swing congressional districts that will help determine who controls the US House of Representatives in Washington.

The new restrictions are also urgent for Republicans because they are about to lose one of their most powerful advantages in the state legislature. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the boundaries of electoral districts in such a way that virtually guaranteed they would hold a majority of seats. That manipulation, called gerrymandering, has allowed Republicans to control the legislature since 2011.Advertisement

But in 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strip lawmakers of their ability to draw districts, giving the power to an independent commission. With the commission set to draw new districts later this year, the new restrictions may be Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to distort voting rules to give them an edge in elections.

“Everything from January 6 forward is about 2022 and ultimately 2024. I believe we should plan for and anticipate that the very forces that emerged in 2020 to try to undermine democracy will be back in full force, potentially stronger, in more positions of authority, to try again in 2024,” Benson said.

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.

Georgia’s shameful new voting laws are a product of GOP desperation

From today’s Washington Post:

The tableau of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing a new elections law said it all: six White legislators flanking the Republican governor, his pen poised above a gleaming wood table. Behind them, a painting of the white-columned Callaway Plantation.

Not shown: the enslaved people who once picked cotton and raised livestock on the 3,000-acre plantation.

Not shown, either: Black state legislator Park Cannon, arrested by White state troopers after she knocked repeatedly to gain entrance to the bill-signing. Among other things, the new law makes it a crime — yes, a crime — to provide water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

Lawyers Criticize Arrest of Georgia Rep. Park Cannon

Welcome to 2021, where Republicans have embarked on a national effort to suppress the vote at all costs. And, not to avoid the obvious, to suppress Black votes, because those ballots would not be cast to Republican advantage.

“Un-American,” President Biden called it at his news conference Thursday, and he was right. “It’s sick. It’s sick.”

It’s also a product of GOP desperation to retain or regain power. Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the “terrible elections cycle” in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, “I’m like a dog with a bone,” she told fellow Republicans in January. “I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.”

Conservative lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Republican National Committee in an Arizona voting rights case before the Supreme Court earlier this month, was equally transparent — and transactional. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked why the RNC was involved in the case — in particular, why it had an interest in preventing people from having their votes counted if they were cast in the wrong precinct — Carvin didn’t bother to pretend this was about anything other than partisan politics.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he said. “Politics is a zero-sum game, and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of [the Voting Rights Act] hurts us.”

A shot at winning. Politics as zero-sum game. Proof positive that this isn’t about the phantom menace of voter fraud. It’s about making it as hard as possible for voters who aren’t inclined in Republicans’ favor to have their ballots cast or counted. You can debate whether the impact on voters of color is an intended feature or a problematic bug, but it’s an undeniable reality.

The new Georgia law stands as Exhibit A in the 2021 campaign to curtail voting rights but will not be the year’s last. Its final form was not quite as repulsive as initial proposals. Provisions to end early voting on Sundays — which happen to be “souls to the polls” turnout days at Black churches — were dropped. Weekend voting hours were expanded instead.

Read the complete article here.

The Republican Party’s Irrational War on the Voting Rights of Americans

From today’s The Atlantic:

In February, Arizona state senators tried to have the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors thrown in jail.

The legislators had demanded that the county officials hand over documents relating to the 2020 presidential election in the state, which Democrat Joe Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, had already audited its results and found no evidence of fraud. The board argued that it was not legally allowed to hand over the ballots themselves.

“The two audits they have are a joke,” Senator Warren Petersen said. “They’re not going to find anything. They’re not meant to find anything, even if there is fraud.”

Senators tried to hold the board in contempt, which would have allowed its five members to be arrested. The motion failed, by a single vote, and supporters promptly tried to retaliate against the swing voter, tanking a pet bill of his.

Perhaps this sounds like just another skirmish in the vicious partisan battle over voting between Democrats and Republicans. But although the senators who wanted to lock up the county board are Republicans, so are four of the five members of the board. And the rogue senator who blocked the effort? He’s a Republican too. (The legislation that was punitively killed was a school-voucher bill—a top GOP goal.)

Republican legislators insist that they’re merely responding to the righteous indignation of their voters as they pursue a raft of new rules that would make voting more difficult. “When you have this many constituents that are emailing us and calling us and demanding that their questions be answered, it always should be a top priority,” Karen Fann, the president of the state Senate, told the Los Angeles Times. “If that’s what’s important to our voters, we take care of it.”

In the intramural Maricopa melee, that indignation has pitted the people actually conducting elections, who see the legislature’s interventions as counterproductive and possibly illegal, against superfans of former President Donald Trump who are demanding action to deal with nonexistent fraud. Around the country, indignation has driven Republicans to propose new restrictions on voting rights. Some of these are likely unconstitutional. Some appear to target particular constituencies. But one of the most striking features of these proposals as a whole is their incoherence.

In their eagerness to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump, Republican legislators are rushing to apply scattershot solutions to an imagined set of problems. And although they seem unmoved by warnings that these laws will disproportionately affect minority voters, they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.

Read the complete article here.

Progressive groups launch $30 million effort to push voting rights legislation

From CNN Online:

Two left-leaning groups are teaming up to pour $30 million into an effort to persuade US senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would counter efforts by state GOP lawmakers to restrict voting access.

The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.

“Our goal is to get support to pass this bill and to show members of the Senate that their constituents believe this is a bill that just has to pass,” said Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-led House earlier this month, would expand voting access as well as improve transparency and accountability in Washington. But it comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights.

The legislation’s fate has also become entangled with the fate of the filibuster in the US Senate. Bozzi said the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.

“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”

The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. It was previously reported by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.