2/01 A Legislative Battle for Democracy

Published: 2.1.21

The legislative tug-of-war over voting rights has ramped up this week, with states introducing competing bills attempting to either expand or restrict voting rights. The nation is facing a pivotal moment: in the wake of baseless claims of voter fraud, misinformation, and extremist-fueled violence, will efforts to limit the vote succeed, or will the steadfast work of state leaders to protect and expand access to the ballot prevail?

Voter Protection Program Advisory Board member and former Attorney General of Arizona, Grant Woods, penned an op-ed warning against bills that aim to chip away at the voting rights of Arizonans and limit vote-by-mail.

Meanwhile, in Congress, Republican Senators have coalesced around the position that impeaching a former President violates the Constitution, leaning on this argument to object to impeachment. Norm Eisen and Spencer Scharff, outside counsel to the VPP, penned an op-ed in USA Today arguing that the Constitution expressly gives the Senate the power to convict any impeached officer, including one who no longer holds office, and that any other interpretation “would make it possible for a rogue president to run amok in the last days of his term and then to run again for federal office with total impunity.”

Below you can find an update on impeachment proceedings, voting rights legislation, extremism on social media, and state news.

National Update

Censure Instead?: After 45 Republican Senators signaled their likely acquittal of former President Trump by signing on to an impeachment trial objection, several Senators are exploring different avenues to hold the former president accountable for his role in inciting violence. Senators Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are drafting a proposal to formally censure the President. The language of the censure proposal, which draws on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, is designed to try to prevent Trump from holding office again, and it would be able to pass with fewer votes in the Senate than the 67 required for impeachment.

Out Already: Over the weekend, five of Trump’s impeachment lawyers quit after he pushed them to reference unsupported claims of voter fraud in their defense case. This latest development signals a growing rift among Trump’s allies. Some are increasingly reticent to support the incendiary comments that precipitated violence on January 6th, while others continue to peddle baseless claims of voter fraud. Trump has since named two new lawyers to replace those who quit: Bruce L. Castor, Jr. and David Schoen. Schoen previously represented Trump advisor Roger Stone in the appeal of his conviction. Castor is a Pennsylvania-based attorney who served as Montgomery County district attorney, known for having declined to prosecute Bill Cosby.

Legislative Battlefield: Last Tuesday, the Brennan Center for Justice released a report detailing the 106 bills introduced to restrict voting rights in state legislatures. As these restrictive bills pile up, other lawmakers across the nation have countered the effort with pro-voting legislation. The competing bills reflect the crisis America faces regarding how to proceed in the voting rights space post-2020. At the national level, Democrats in Congress introduced two sweeping voting rights expansion bills in the last two weeks. The latest bill, the Vote at Home Act, was introduced by Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Earl Blumenauer last Thursday, and would significantly expand mail-in voting.

Social Media Fuels Extremist Fire: In recent weeks, social media platforms have faced increased scrutiny for their role in fueling extremism. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for allowing the spread of misinformation, creating echo chambers, and facilitating online gatherings of extremists. New internal documents from Facebook reveal that the company knew about the “hateful” sentiments brewing in extremist Facebook groups as early as five months before the Capitol riot. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since introduced sweeping changes to Facebook’s “Group” feature in an effort to clamp down on incendiary hyper-partisanship. But the problem goes beyond mainstream social media. An analysis of chats on Parler, a conservative-leaning platform, revealed that users openly called for a civil war during Trump’s speech ahead of the January 6th attack. This latest news confirms that tech companies — big and small — have a long way to go if they hope to quell extremism before it evolves into violence.

Waiting for Confirmation: After an unsuccessful filibuster attempt by some Senators last Thursday, the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stalled yet again. Originally scheduled for Monday evening (tonight), the vote has been pushed to Tuesday at 5:30 pm due to inclement weather. DHS has been under heightened pressure after the January 6th events and in the wake of increasing threats of future domestic extremist violence. All eyes have turned to Mayorkas’ confirmation, given the critical need for DHS leadership to be confirmed for the agency to respond to these threats.

State Updates

Arizona: On Wednesday last week, the chair of Arizona’s state House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill that would allow the state legislature to override the Secretary of State’s certification of the electoral votes. The bill, introduced by Representative Shawnna Bolick, would rewrite multiple sections of the state election law, including current provisions on election observers and ballot audits. If signed into law, the bill would allow the state legislature to revoke electoral certification at any time before a presidential inauguration by a simple majority vote.

Georgia: A coordinated effort to roll back recent voting rights legislation in Georgia is underway, with the first major bill to restrict voting introduced to the state legislature last week. Senate Bill 29, sponsored by Senator Jason Anavitarte, would require voters to present a form of voter ID twice — once when requesting an absentee ballot, and again when returning the ballot. State law already requires photo ID when voting in person, which most Georgians support, according to polling by AJC. According to the same poll, Georgia voters do not support additional voting restrictions and instead advocate for ballot drop boxes and no-excuse absentee voting. Next month, a member of the state election board, David Worley, says he plans to introduce a motion prompting Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to open a criminal investigation into former President Trump’s effort to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

Michigan: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Attorney General Dana Nessel – all three licensed attorneys themselves – filed complaints seeking the disbarment of four attorneys, including Sidney “the Kraken” Powell, who pushed a false narrative of widespread election fraud in legal proceedings before multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, in their frivolous lawsuit, King v. Whitmer. This follows motions for sanctions filed by Attorney General Nessel last week in federal court against the same four lawyers. Also today, Secretary Benson proposed sweeping voting reforms to improve upon recent changes in Michigan to expand access to the ballot box, provide infrastructure improvements, and enhance election security.

Minnesota: The rift over whether to expand or restrict voting rights in Minnesota has heighted over the past week, with state lawmakers advancing opposing legislation in the State House and Senate respectively. On Wednesday last week, a Senate panel endorsed a proposal requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls. The bill, introduced by Senator Scott Newman, is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate but will encounter resistance in the Democratic-controlled House. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon criticized the bill, telling the Associated Press that “voter fraud is ‘miniscule’ in Minnesota and that the ID requirement could disenfranchise ‘hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,’ particularly older people.” A competing proposal to make voting easier will be heard in the House on Thursday this week but is similarly expected to stall due to Republican resistance.

Pennsylvania: As state lawmakers float legislation restricting voting rights, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf made his priorities clear last week, announcing his commitment to protect and expand voting rights across the state. In a statement, Governor Wolf declared his support of pre-canvassing of ballots prior to election day, same-day voter registration, and strengthening protections against voter intimidation. South Carolina: On Saturday, the South Carolina Republican Party voted to censure Representative Tom Rice for his vote to impeach former President Trump. Rice was one of the ten House Republicans that bridged the aisle to vote in favor of Trump’s second impeachment. This formal censure is the latest in the GOP’s efforts to take retributive actions against Republicans who have publicly criticized the President. Lawmakers in Arizona — Cindy McCain, Governor Doug Ducey, and former Senator Jeff Flake — and Wyoming’s Representative Liz Cheney have also been formally censured by their state GOP.

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