3/17 – VPP Speaks…
Today, as the U.S. Senate took up S.1, the For The People Act, the Voter Protection Program released statements urging its passage. VPP National Director Joanna Lydgate, VPP Chair Ambassador Norman Eisen, and VPP Advisory Board member and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman noted that S.1 builds on the best and most effective practices from states across the country, and that a majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle support the reforms in the bill
This legislation would be the most significant democracy reform bill in decades. It would play a major role in defending against an unprecedented effort to suppress voting rights in states throughout the nation, especially in the southern states (according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center).
Here is today’s update:
State by State: In an updated report, the Brennan Center for Justice explored in detail how the more than 250 bills across 43 states are aimed at increasing barriers to voting and curbing voting rights. The Brennan Center pulled no punches in clearly stating the stakes: “Fueled by the Big Lie of widespread voter fraud and often discriminatory in design, these bills have the potential to dramatically reduce voting access, especially for Black and brown voters.” But not all hope is lost. After going state by state and analyzing each restrictive bill, the Brennan Center report concluded “that The For the People Act (H.R.1/S. 1) would thwart virtually every single one” of the bad bills in the states. The nonpartisan law and policy institute also includes a handy—and searchable—table that “outlines each of the major themes of the pending state voter suppression bills and explains how the For the People Act would address them.”
CNN also generated a useful summary of the report with an additional section of Q&A, which covers the key states to watch, outlines how these policy changes could alter the outcome of future elections, and discusses why these changes are being pushed now.
Makin’ History: Mother Jones’s Ari Berman, author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America,” broke down why H.R.1 is the most significant legislative effort to reform our democracy in decades. His just over two minute video report is well worth the time.
Reports from the South: The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a new report exploring how “the election systems in the Deep South in 2020 suffered from an array of shortcomings, making it harder for many voters—particularly from communities of color—to safely cast their ballots and posing a serious threat to the integrity of our overall democratic system.” SPLC’s latest report “found that voting systems were hampered by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, bureaucratic mismanagement and systemic and well-organized efforts to suppress the vote, intimidate voters and spread online disinformation.” They took a hard look at five particular states in which the organization has offices: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Arizona: Yesterday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah ordered the state’s Republican Party and its attorneys to pay the Secretary of State’s Office $18,238. The agency has said that it had to spend more than $152,000 in defending itself from the state party’s failed attempts to undermine the election outcome. In a blistering ruling, Judge Hannah wrote, “Arizona law gives political parties a privileged position in the electoral process on which our self-government depends. The public has a right to expect the Arizona Republican Party to conduct itself respectfully when it participates in that process. It has failed to do so in this case.”
In replying to the order, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said that the “damage inflicted upon our democracy by frivolous lawsuits and conspiracy theories can’t be measured in dollars.” Despite the Court’s clarity in its ruling, Arizona GOP attorney Jack Wilenchik is confident that “it will be reversed” on appeal.
Michigan: Residents of Genesee County, the fifth most populous county in the state, gathered to protest the efforts to increase barriers to voting and to erode voting rights. The organizer of the event, county Clerk-Register John Gleason, asked, “Why are we not pursuing the path for 100 percent participation (in elections) rather than trying to subdue and limit participation?” and declared, “this was the best election Michigan ever ran.”
Nevada: Yesterday, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced that “staff had inventoried the contents of boxes that state Republican leaders delivered to the capital on March 4 and found far fewer complaints of alleged election fraud than state Republican Party Chair Michael McDonald had claimed.” McDonald claimed to have “proof of more than 120,000 instances of voter fraud that called into question the integrity of the 2020 election.” As a reminder, despite repeated claims by McDonald and others, there is no evidence of widespread irregularities or election fraud in Nevada.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania continues “to review its process, taking in feedback from its residents and from other states that laud the vote-by-mail system.” This week, two of Utah’s leading elections officials, Justin Lee, Utah Director of Elections, and Sherrie Swensen, Salt Lake County Clerk, provided insight into their state’s vote-by-mail system to legislators in Pennsylvania who are reviewing vote-by-mail ballots following criticism during the 2020 election. Lee and Swensen declared that “vote by mail has worked well for us in Utah.”
Texas: Governor Greg Abbott touted the recent voter restriction omnibus bill, Senate Bill 7, as “election integrity” legislation while speaking at State Senator Paul Bettencourt’s district office in Houston. Under the headline, “Abbott unveils voting integrity legislation despite low instances of Texas fraud,” a report by the local ABC affiliate noted not all Texans see the bill the same way. Ahead of the event, a protest took place, including Harris County community leaders who see Abbot and the lawmakers behind Senate Bill 7 as seeking to suppress the vote.
Virginia: Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that he “restored the civil rights of more than 69,000 Virginians” using new eligibility criteria that mirrors a proposed change to the Constitution of Virginia that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals upon completion of their sentence of incarceration. According to a CNN report, under current law, “Anyone convicted of a felony loses an array of civil rights, including the right to vote . . . The state Constitution gives the governor the sole power to restore most of those civil rights. This could change in the coming years. During session this year, legislators approved a constitutional amendment that automatically restores the civil rights of any individual, upon completion of their sentence of incarceration. The constitutional amendment has to be passed again by the General Assembly in 2022 before going to a voter referendum.
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