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.

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.

Georgia election workers sue far-right website over false fraud claims

From today’s Reuters Online:

Two Georgia election workers targeted by former U.S. President Donald Trump in a vote-rigging conspiracy theory have sued a far-right website that trumpeted the false story, alleging it incited months of death threats and harassment against them.

The defamation suit against The Gateway Pundit was filed Thursday by Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a voter registration officer in the Fulton County elections office, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who was a temp worker for the 2020 election. The women were featured in a Reuters report published Wednesday on their ordeal.

The lawsuit names the Pundit, its founder and editor Jim Hoft, and his brother, writer Joe Hoft. It alleges they repeatedly published demonstrably false claims that portrayed the women as “traitors” who conspired to “steal the presidential election in Georgia.”

A lawyer for Jim Hoft and The Gateway Pundit did not immediately respond to a comment request Thursday morning. Joe Hoft did not respond to a comment request.

The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, alleges that the Pundit’s “lies” about Freeman and Moss “devastated” their reputations and “instigated a deluge of intimidation, harassment, and threats that has forced them to change their phone numbers, delete their online accounts, and fear for their physical safety.” the suit says. Freeman went into hiding.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, revolves around false allegations first raised by a volunteer Trump campaign attorney at a Dec. 3 hearing of Georgia state legislators. Freeman and Moss worked in heavily Democratic Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, where a strong showing by Democrat Joe Biden helped give him a narrow Georgia victory.

Read the complete story here.

Senate Republicans Block John Lewis Voting Rights Bill in Key Vote

From today’s CNN Online:

Senate Republicans blocked the John Lewis Voting Rights Act from advancing on Wednesday when the Senate took a procedural vote on whether to open debate on the legislation.The final tally was 50 to 49 with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting with Democrats in favor. The John Lewis voting bill that the Senate considered is aimed at fighting voter suppression and restoring and updating key parts of the landmark Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965. The measure is named in honor of the civil rights icon and late Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.

At least 10 Republicans would have needed to join with all 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus for the legislation to advance. That was not expected to happen as most Republicans have decried any Democratic attempts to enact new voting legislation in the current Congress as partisan and unnecessary.

Democrats have been under intense pressure to pass voting legislation as the party currently holds a majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House. But efforts by the party to do so have run into a wall of opposition in the Senate as a result of GOP resistance.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a Senate version of the legislation early in October. Earlier this week, Leahy, along with Murkowski and Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, released an updated, bipartisan compromise version of the bill making changes to the text to garner bipartisan support.Enter your email to sign up for CNN’s “What Matters” Newsletter.close dialog

The bipartisan compromise could only later be offered as an amendment if the Senate were able to proceed to the bill.

Murkowski, who voted to advance the bill on Wednesday, spoke on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.”I will be among those who vote to begin debate on this measure when we have this vote in a few minutes,” she said, “I will do so because I strongly support and I believe that Congress should enact a bipartisan, re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act.”Speaking of efforts to broker bipartisan compromise, Murkowski said, “At this point, I feel that we’ve got a good foundation to help provide access to the ballot that is equal for all Americans and free from any form of discrimination. We should all be able to support legislation to assure just that much.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked Murkowski after the vote on Wednesday, while criticizing the rest of the Senate Republican conference for blocking the measure. “I thank her for working with us in good faith on this bill,” he said, “but where is the rest of the party of Lincoln? Down to the last member, the rest of the Republican conference has refused to engage, refused to debate, refused to acknowledge that our country faces a serious threat to democracy.”

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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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.

Eighteen states have enacted new laws that make it harder to vote

From today’s CNN Online:

Eighteen states have enacted 30 new laws that make it harder to vote, according to a new tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice that tracks state activity through July 14.

Eighteen states have enacted 30 new laws since the 2020 election
that make it harder to vote

Among the most common provisions, according to Brennan’s researchers: Measures in seven states that either expand officials’ ability to purge voters from the registration rolls or put voters at risk at having their names improperly removed. Those laws were enacted in Arizona, Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas and Utah, the center found.

Three of the 18 states with new voting restrictions have passed sweeping, omnibus bills that cover a broad range of voting activity: FloridaGeorgia and Iowa.

Republican attempts to pass an omnibus bill in Texas have been thwarted by Democratic state lawmakers who fled the state to deny Republican lawmakers from obtaining the quorum needed to conduct business. But their departure is likely to only delay action. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to call more special sessions to advance Republicans’ election proposals.

Brennan’s tally of individual statutes that restrict voting shows Arkansas and Montana leading the way, with four new laws apiece. Arizona was in second place with three new laws, including one that makes it harder to remain on the state’s absentee voting list.