2/24 H.R. 1 On Deck
With misinformation about the 2020 election continuing to spread, and with questions remaining about the January 6th insurrection, Congress is taking steps to explore that terrible event, its prelude and its aftermath. This week, and next, Congress is holding multiple hearings to dig into election misinformation and the violence that followed. Congress is also preparing to advance the sweeping election-protection bill, H.R. 1, next week.
In an op-ed for USA Today, Voter Protection Program communications director Lizzie Ulmer joined outside counsels to the VPP Ambassador Norm Eisen and Katherine Reisner to address the persistence of misinformation, and what must be done to prevent falsehood-fueled violence. They emphasized the importance of refusing to allow leaders to continue to promote the Big Lie that the election was stolen, and of pursuing legal, regulatory, and public discourse avenues to hold those who do accountable. “All of us who believe in the truth must be more committed to it than those sustaining the lie,” they wrote.
SCOTUS Updates: Next week, the Supreme Court will hear two voting-related cases that will potentially put key components of the Voting Rights Act on the chopping block. The cases, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee, concern new impositions on Arizona voters: one suit takes issue with a law requiring voting officials to completely discard ballots cast in the wrong precinct and the other addresses new prohibitions on “ballot collection.” With these two cases on deck, voting rights advocates worry that the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling that will gut what remains of the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination at the polls.
Senate Revisits the Riot: Yesterday, the Senate held a hearing to evaluate the security failures during the deadly January 6th riot. Facing questions about the security breakdown that allowed rioters to successfully storm the Capitol building, three former top Capitol security officials gave conflicting testimony. Some blamed failures on intelligence agencies, while others blamed members of the Capitol Police itself for the security breach. As Congress continues its investigation into the January 6th attack, the composition of the independent commission investigating the insurrection has come under scrutiny. Republicans demanded equal representation on the commission as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prepared an initial discussion draft contemplating seven Democrats and four Republicans on the commission.
DeJoy in the Hot Seat: Today, members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform questioned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and other U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Board members about delivery delays and the financial crises facing the national mail service. The USPS came under fire for significant delays in delivering absentee and mail-in ballots among other essential mail in August of last year. The delay in delivery time was especially concerning in states where ballots would be tossed if not received by tight deadlines after Election Day. Thankfully, state AGs and other litigants obtained nationwide injunctions and court supervision significantly mitigating the harm. The hearing exploring USPS’s financial crises and delivery failures comes as President Biden announced today that he will nominate a former USPS executive, a voting-rights advocate, and a former postal union leader to the USPS governing board.
H.R. 1 Progresses: The For The People Act is slated for debate in the House next week, and the Committee on House Administration has scheduled this first hearing on the bill for tomorrow. Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows will provide testimony on the election reform package along with Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams and Professor Guy-Uriel Charles. Bellows has voiced public support for the monumental voting rights legislation, reaffirming that its provisions are necessary to protect voting rights, limit big-spending in politics, and reduce undemocratic gerrymandering processes. With the bill on deck in both chambers, the legislation has generated heartening approval as well as significant pushback. Today, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh led a coalition of 21 state Attorneys General in support of the bill. This week, 15 Republican Secretaries of State signed a letter opposing the act, and former Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli is leading a newly-announced 5 million dollar campaign against H.R. 1. The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House, but its passage in the Senate is still unclear given the intense Republican opposition and the current filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to move legislation from floor debate to a vote.
253 and Counting: Yesterday, the Brennan Center for Justice released an update to their report on state efforts on voting rights. According to the analysis, actors in 43 states have introduced 253 bills this year alone to restrict access to the ballot box. The report illustrates the unprecedented scale and intensity of the efforts to suppress the vote.
Cable Carriers Criticized: Today, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on cable news’ role in spreading misinformation related to the 2020 election. The hearing explored how cable news networks and cable providers may have contributed to the January 6th insurrection by featuring commentary that increased viewers’ anger and warped their sense of the truth. On Monday, members of the panel sent a letter to AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Charter, DISH, Cox, Spectrum, Altice, Hulu, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) about their decision to carry Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN which repeatedly parroted false claims of election fraud in the months leading up to the election and the January 6th Capitol attack. The hearing has received pushback from right-leaning channels alleging that whatever content they choose to feature is protected under the First Amendment and is therefore off-limits for censorship. Members of the panel stated that the purpose of the hearing is to explore whether cable providers bear responsibility for the content featured on networks they choose to host.
Lawsuits Abound: Dominion Voting Systems filed multiple defamation lawsuits against high-profile figures who falsely advocated that the election was fraud-filled and “stolen” from former President Trump. So far, the voting technology company has sued Trump campaign election lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, as well as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Now, Dominion has pledged to file more lawsuits against individuals who disparaged the company’s name by spreading lies about election fraud. The company stated it was “not ruling anyone out.”
Arizona: Two independently-conducted audits released on Tuesday confirmed that the 2020 election in Arizona was fraud-free. The latest results reaffirmed the conclusion of previous audits– that the state’s election process was devoid of fraud, cheating, or illegitimacy. These newly released audits come on the heels of Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear an election lawsuit from Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, claiming she was denied due process when challenging the state’s election results. Ward’s attempt to block the state’s certification was based on the same argument of election fraud that multiple audits– including those released Tuesday– have since been disproven.
Georgia: As multiple bills to restrict voting make their way through the Georgia legislature, former Senator Kelly Loeffler launched a new voter engagement organization to rival those that worked to galvanize voters for the 2020 election. In 2018, Stacey Abrams launched Fair Fight to help engage minority voters who have faced decades of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement. Loeffler’s group, Greater Georgia, is intending to target those who feel their voice is unheard, though it is yet unclear which specific group of voters the group is seeking to engage.
Kansas: Lawmakers in Kansas are looking to make the deadline for mail-in ballots to count in the state’s elections more restrictive. Current law allows for a “trickle-in” period, where ballots can be legally counted if they are postmarked by 7 pm on Election Day and arrive at the county elections office up to three days after election day. The proposed changes would significantly shorten this window, requiring that ballots arrive by 5 pm the day after Election Day. Although post office delays– not voter fraud– are the main reason why ballots may arrive a few days late, lawmakers supporting these latest restrictions argue that shortening the trickle-in period would increase confidence in tallying procedures.
Michigan: On Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released criminal charges against two men who threatened public officials over election results. Clinton Stewart was charged for leaving a threatening voicemail for Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens, and Daniel Thompson was charged for threatening phone calls he made to Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Senator Debbie Stabenow. Nessel issued a powerful statement about these latest charges: “To those who think they can threaten public officials by hiding behind a keyboard or phone, we will find you and we will prosecute you, to the fullest extent of the law. No elected official should have to choose between doing their job and staying safe.”
Nevada: On Monday, state lawmakers in Nevada unveiled a new bill to require proof of identity at the polls. According to the bill, the Department of Motor Vehicles would have to issue voter identification cards to Nevada voters who don’t have a driver’s license. The bill would also require Nevada’s Secretary of State to crosscheck voter registration lists to ensure dead people are not on the lists, addressing the Trump campaign’s unfounded allegations that 1,500 ballots belonging to deceased voters were counted in Nevada.
Tennessee: Lawmakers in the Tennessee State House have introduced a bill to allow fingerprint technology for voter identity verification. Under the proposed bill, the state election commission and county election commissions would be permitted to match fingerprints of voters against existing state databases to confirm their identity. The bill does not lay out the logistical steps for how the law would be implemented or enforced.
Wisconsin: State lawmakers have introduced a new package of legislation that doubles down on the Trump campaign’s baseless allegations of election fraud by implementing sweeping restrictions on mail-in voting. The bill would restrict who is eligible to vote by mail by tightening the requirements for which voters can be considered “indefinitely confined” and therefore able to vote absentee. The bill would also prohibit the automatic sending of absentee ballots to these voters, instead opting to automatically send a ballot application. Among other changes, absentee voters would have to present their photo identification anytime they apply for an absentee ballot– current law only requires voters to present photo identification one time.
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