3/1 March Madness

Published: 3.1.21

Federal and state initiatives to expand and strengthen voter protection laws continue, as do federal and state efforts to suppress the vote propelled in no small part by baseless voter fraud claims. Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), perpetuating the “Big Lie” narrative. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two voting-related cases that could gut the Voting Rights Act. As Congress continues to debate the For the People Act (H.R. 1), the House is scheduled to hold a floor vote on the election-protection bill this Wednesday.

Tomorrow, March 2nd at 1:30pm ET, the Voter Protection Program will host a press call to discuss the impact of H.R. 1 on the states, especially those confronted with proposed  voter suppression legislation. The call will feature Rep. John Sarbanes, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon and will be joined by VPP Advisory Board member and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and VPP chair Ambassador Norm Eisen. To join the call, please contact Emma Thomas, emma.thomas@berlinrosen.com.

Here is today’s update:

National Update

SCOTUS Updates: Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear two cases concerning new impositions on Arizona voters: Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee. Both cases call for the removal of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Voting rights advocates explain that a ruling in favor of gutting Section 2 could further dismantle protections against racial discrimination at the polls. Several influential officials at the state and federal levels have voiced support for weakening Section 2 or removing it entirely. Voting rights advocates worry that the Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority will ultimately gut the VRA, paving the way for further state-level restrictions.

H.R. 1: This week, the House prepares to advance the For the People Act (H.R. 1), the sweeping election protection billLast week, during a House committee hearing on the billopponents voiced concerns about its impact, while supporters sponsoring the bill said the proposed reforms are not controversial, but rather necessary to protect the functioning of our nation’s democracy. The bill was a major point of discussion at CPAC this weekend, with many speakers branding the bill as a “power-grab” by Democrats. The bill is expected to pass in the House, where a floor vote will be held this Wednesday. The bill’s prospects in the Senate remain to be seen, with some predicting that the rules requiring 60 votes to move legislation could come under pressure if this vital bill is filibustered and prevented from receiving the up or down majority vote it deserves.

CPAC: Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend, former President Donald Trump continued to make false claims about the November 3 election outcome, and attacked his perceived adversaries, including members of his own party who have criticized him or voted for his impeachment or conviction. Baseless conspiracies of election fraud remained a topic of discussion during CPAC, with no fewer than seven panels devoted to the topic.

The Big Lie‘s Many Layers: As the nation continues to explore what led to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, some observers are focusing their attention on state-level developments. Recent analysis has uncovered that disinformation spread at the state level had an equal—if not greater—impact on fueling citizens’ anger and propensity for violence about false allegations of voter fraud. Just as national leaders like former President Trump, members of his administration, his campaign officials, and members of Congress spread misinformation about the 2020 election on a national level, state-wide and local officials did so as well. The spread of misinformation at all levels of government allowed falsehoods to take greater root, and ultimately cultivated enough anger to pave the way for the violence of the January 6th attack.

Protections for the Court:  Last Wednesday, the House Appropriations subcommittee disclosed a request from federal judges asking Congress to include $113 million in the American Rescue Plan. The request for special funding seeks to protect court buildings and court employees from being harmed if another attack similar to the January 6th insurrection were to happen again. The unusual request signals that the nation still faces the threat of disinformation-fueled violence.  The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed the House on Saturday morning, but does not include provisions for the requested $113 million.

State Updates

Arizona: Even after numerous audits found that Arizona’s 2020 elections were safe, secure, and free of fraud, a judge ruled Friday that the State Senate’s subpoenas requesting access to Maricopa County’s 2020 election records were “legal and enforceable.” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason’s ruling will allow the Senate access to Maricopa County election equipment and the county’s 2.1 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, state lawmakers introduced a new proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to give lawmakers final review over election results. Current Arizona law gives independent state election officials final review of results—by transferring that power to lawmakers, the proposal would allow for political bias to unfairly interfere with the election verification process.

Georgia: Efforts to restrict voting in Georgia are making their way through the legislature, and a number of proposed changes advanced late last week. On Friday, the Senate Ethics Committee approved a bill that would end automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting in the state. The House Election Integrity Committee passed similar voting restrictions last Wednesday, approving a bill that would shorten the amount of time before runoff elections, require photo IDs for absentee voting, and restrict ballot drop box locations. After considerable pushback, the committee struck an especially troubling piece of the legislation package that would have eliminated Sunday voting. This restriction would have affected Georgia voters who participate in “Souls to the Polls” events, an overwhelming number of whom are Black voters.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s probe into former President Trump’s effort to overturn election results in the state continues on, with District Attorney Fani Willis urging patience as prosecutors evaluate the evidence diligently and fairly. Meanwhile, two other counties in the state have filed to recover legal fees stemming from the Trump campaign’s frivolous lawsuits—based on unfounded claims of voter fraud—to overturn the state’s election results.

Michigan: This Thursday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers is expected to consider a petition calling for the formation of a new “Patriot Party” in the state. Some of former President Trump’ supporters have called for the creation of a national, pro-Trump Patriot Party to rival the GOP establishment, which has traditionally espoused more moderate platforms. The petition in Michigan is the first-of-its-kind nationwide—if approved, it could pave the way for other states to form their own in-state Patriot Party. The Patriot Party’s proposed platforms have been scrutinized for their dangerous uplifting of conspiracy theories, misinformation, and extremist views.

Virginia: State lawmakers in Virginia are on track to approve legislation that would significantly boost statewide voting protections. The first-of-its-kind in the South, the Virginia Voting Rights Act seeks to address the controversial 2013 Supreme Court ruling that resulted in changes to voting laws in states with histories of racial discrimination are not subject to federal approval. Following the Court decision, many Southern states and cities introduced more voter restrictions, photo ID requirements, voter roll purges, and polling locations cuts. By introducing this comprehensive voting protection legislation, Virginia breaks from that practice by making voting more accessible. The bill requires the Virginia Attorney General to approve any changes to voting laws, allowing the state AG to sue if changes disproportionately affect voters based on their race or minority group status. It would also require election officials to provide voting materials in foreign languages and would prohibit at-large municipal elections if they hamper the voting power of racial minorities.

Wisconsin: Newly released data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission revealed that a conservative group nearly succeeded in purging 17,000 residents from voter rolls ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In 2019, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty almost succeeded in removing 232,000 voters who had changed addresses  from the state’s voter registry. Of the voters flagged for removal, nearly 17,000 ended up confirming that they wished to remain registered at the same address. If the 2019 purge had been approved, these 17,000 residents would not have been able to vote in the 2020 election—ultimately 11,000 of these voters did indeed cast a ballot in the 2020 election The measure, which was blocked by lower courts back in 2019, is currently pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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