“Operative at center of NC election fraud hearing won’t testify”

News & Observer:

The stepdaughter of a Bladen County political operative detailed how she said his ballot harvesting operation worked on the first day of a hearing Monday into voting irregularities in the unresolved 2018 election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

Lisa Britt, whose mother was married to Leslie McCrae Dowless in the early 1990s, testified that Dowless paid workers to collect absentee ballot request forms and mail-in absentee ballots and drop them off at his office and his home.
She said Dowless and others made copies of request forms and had specific criteria for matching pen colors, where to mail ballots from, how many to mail at a time and even how to place stamps to avoid setting off alarms.
“He fussed at me for putting on stamps upside down,” Britt testified before the N.C. Board of Elections. “We didn’t want to throw up a red flag.”

Dowless, at the center of the controversy, declined to testify late in the day Monday. His attorney, Cynthia Adams Singletary, said he would only testify if granted immunity. When the board refused, Dowless was allowed to leave.


Center for Public Integrity Does Deep Dive into Donald Trump’s Campaign Fundraising Machine

Donald Trump created a permanent presidential campaign. Here’s how. – Center for Public Integrity

Sidebar: https://publicintegrity.org/federal-politics/donald-trump-army-super-pacs-maga-nonprofits/

Inside Donald Trump’s army of super PACs and MAGA nonprofits – Center for Public Integrity

Poll: https://publicintegrity.org/federal-politics/elections/center-for-public-i

Center for Public Integrity/Ipsos poll: How should presidential campaigns be regulated? – Center for Public Integrity

California State Court Holds City of Santa Monica Election System Violates California Voting Rights Act and CA Constitution; Orders District Elections on July 2 2019

You can find the 71-page statement of decision at this link.

Given the findings of both CVRA liability as well as intentional racial discrimination in using an at-large voting system in violation of the California Constitution, a path forward on appeal seems difficult for the City of Santa Monica, which has spent millions of dollars to keep its system of elections and avoid the creation of districts.

It is possible that Santa Monica will continue to argue on appeal that the CVRA violates the United States Constitution as an impermissible race-based voting law, an argument which could appeal to the conservatives on the Supreme Court should the Court ever take the case. But the independent finding that Santa Monica’s conduct showed intentional racial discrimination which also violated the California Constitution may make this less than an ideal case for the Supreme Court to consider the constitutional question.

In any case, any appeals would next begin in the CA Court of Appeals and then potentially the CA Supreme Court before reaching SCOTUS.


North Carolina: “This session might be the best chance in the next decade to end gerrymandering”

Will Doran:

Now might be the best chance to end gerrymandering in North Carolina, at least for another decade, a bipartisan group of legislators said Wednesday when they introduced a bill to do just that.

Their proposal would end North Carolina’s decades-long practice of allowing whichever political party controls the state legislature to draw the lines used to elect state legislators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, the bill would create a committee of non-politicians who would be in charge of drawing the lines with help from legal and technical experts.


“Laboratories of Democracy Reform: State Constitutions and Partisan Gerrymandering”

Sam Wang, Richard Ober, & Ben Williams have posted this draft on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Despite multiple opportunities to address the issue, the Supreme Court has declined to take action on partisan gerrymandering. Here we argue that the Court has successfully laid out several intellectual paths toward effective regulation – but that the best route for applying such reasoning goes not through federal law, but state constitutions. In Gill v. Whitford, 138 S.Ct. 1916 (2018), Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan proposed differing theories for justiciable tests for partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice Roberts described how a claim of individual harm to a voter could lead to a valid claim in a single district. Justice Kagan described how a claim of associational harm could be advanced at a statewide level. We propose that Roberts’ and Kagan’s theories can be used to bring partisan gerrymandering challenges in state court, with claims based on state constitutions and not the U.S. Constitution. We argue that such a federalist approach offers the most promising route to remedying partisan gerrymandering in America. All fifty state constitutions contain rights and protections which could be used to bring a partisan gerrymandering claim. These include analogues of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, guarantees of pure, free, and fair elections, and redistricting-specific guarantees such as geographic compactness. Because each of these protections involves either individualized or associational harms, the Roberts and Kagan opinions offer state courts persuasive guidance for how to analyze their own constitutional provisions to a partisan gerrymandering claim. Advancing such claims on a state by state basis allows courts to adapt the reasoning to local circumstances. Taken together, our arguments describe a federalist approach for eliminating partisan gerrymandering, a major bug in American democracy.


“Potential privacy lapse found in Americans’ 2010 census data”


An internal team at the Census Bureau found that basic personal information collected from more than 100 million Americans during the 2010 head count could be reconstructed from obscured data, but with lots of mistakes, a top agency official disclosed Saturday.

The age, gender, location, race and ethnicity for 138 million people were potentially vulnerable. So far, however, only internal hacking teams have discovered such details at possible risk, and no outside groups are known to have grabbed data intended to remain private for 72 years, chief scientist John Abowd told a scientific conference.


“Unqualified Ambassadors” (New Piece on Connection of Ambassadorships to Campaign Contributions)

Ryan Scoville has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming Duke Law Journal). Here is the abstract:

In making appointments to the office of ambassador, U.S. presidents often select political supporters from outside the ranks of the State Department’s professional diplomatic corps. This practice is aberrational among advanced democracies and a source of recurrent controversy in the United States, and yet its merits and significance are substantially opaque: How do political appointees compare with career diplomats in terms of credentials? Are they less effective in office? Do they serve in some countries more than others? Have any patterns evolved over time? Commentators might assume answers to these questions, but actual evidence has been in short supply. In this context, it is difficult for the public to evaluate official practice and hold accountable those who wield power under the Appointments Clause.

This Article helps to correct for the current state of affairs. Using a novel dataset based on a trove of previously unavailable documents that I obtained from the State Department through four years of requests and litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Article systematically reveals the professional qualifications and campaign contributions of over 1900 ambassadorial nominees spanning the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, along with the first two years of Donald Trump. In doing so, the Article substantially enhances the transparency of the appointments process and exposes developments of concern: not only are political appointees on average much less qualified than their career counterparts under a variety of congressionally approved measures, but also the gap has grown along with the size of their campaign contributions to nominating presidents, resulting in a significant number of questionable appointments to ambassadorships involving major U.S. partners. In short, it appears that campaign contributions may be generating an increasingly deleterious effect on the quality of U.S. diplomatic representation overseas. The Article concludes by exploring potential legal reforms, including Senate rule amendments and statutory measures to regulate qualifications and enhance transparency.


Supreme Court to Bypass Second Circuit, Hear Census Citizenship Question This Term, with Oral Argument in April

You can find the unusual cert. grant before judgment order here.

Here is what I wrote when the government asked for this petition to be granted: “As for the merits, the plaintiffs should win given the strength of Judge Furman’s opinion. But this is a highly charged political case before a partisan-divided Supreme Court, though CJ Roberts is trying to keep the temperature down.”

And earlier I wrote: “Justin suggests that would be procedurally irregular. But I’m not so sure. Yes DOJ has been running to SCOTUS a lot to try to get it to break its usual procedures and hear cases early. The Court has mostly rebuffed those requests. But not with the census, and for good reason. It seems to me that if the Court does not hear this case fully it would either (1) let plaintiffs run out the clock before the case gets full Court review or (2) the case gets decided as a stay, without a full SCOTUS opinion, on the so-called “shadow docket.” That’s really dissatisfying that we may get a dispositive SCOTUS ruling with no explanation. So I think things get expedited, and it would not be surprising for the normal schedules to be changed and contracted so that this all gets resolved by June (rendering other cases involving the census moot).”


“‘Point person’ for Texas secretary of state in controversial voter fraud inquiry quits”

Dallas Morning News:

Betsy Schonhoff, whom newly disclosed emails depict as the secretary of state’s office’s honcho of a nearly yearlong effort to match voter lists with databases at the Department of Public Safety, quit recently with no explanation, a spokesman for interim Secretary of State David Whitley said late Thursday.

“Betsy Schonhoff resigned last week after working at the Secretary of State’s office since 2012, and she didn’t provide any reason for her resignation,” Whitley spokesman Sam Taylor said in an email.

“She served as our Voter Registration Manager and we did not have any discussions with her about her resignation or her performance before she resigned.”


“Mississippi Felons Seeking Voting Rights Win Class Status”


Mississippi convicted felons won class status Feb. 13 in their suit to have their voting rights restored.
The state’s argument that class certification lacks utility has “practical appeal, but it finds no foothold in Rule 23’s text,” Judge Daniel P. Jordan III wrote for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 governs class actions.
The class includes tens of thousands of people convicted under Mississippi law and no longer incarcerated, attorney for the plaintiffs Jonathan Youngwood told Bloomberg Law. Youngwood is a partner in Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP’s New York office.


“North Carolina elections officials will give U.S. attorney vastly fewer records than he sought in voter probe”


Six months after a grand jury demanded millions of North Carolina voting records, state officials have announced they will release fewer than 800 voter files — a potentially significant setback for a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who has targeted noncitizen voting as one of his top priorities.

The state Board of Elections last week instructed 44 county election offices that received wide-ranging subpoenas for millions of voting records in August to hand over the files for only 289 voters. The state will turn over registration records for an additional 500 voters.

It is unclear whether the vastly reduced volume of records is the result of a court order or an agreement between the board and U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr., who sought the records in August, shortly after he announced the arrest of 19 noncitizens on charges that they had illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election.


“Democrats Swear off Big Money, but Will It Hurt Their 2020 White House Chances?”

Good Amanda Becker piece for Reuters:

Legally, Super PACs are supposed to operate independently of candidates and cannot contribute to them directly. In reality, they often are run by donors close to the candidates and their campaigns.

David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, a campaign finance watchdog group, said candidates are smart to “think twice about winking and nodding at the Super PACs that are set up for themselves.” They “may be more of an albatross than a benefit” with Democratic primary voters, Donnelly said.

Promising to reject all Super PAC support, however, could cause consternation. Super PACs supporting Trump, the presumed Republican nominee, have continued raising money throughout his presidency.
Donnelly said that “you’d see a lot of hand-wringing in Washington about a candidate” who would forsake any Super PAC support, saying such a stance could be read as a “signal you’re not serious about winning.”


More Entries Posted at SCOTUSBlog Symposium on Partisan Gerrymandering Cases

DateAuthorPost Title
02.11.19Justin LevittSymposium: Clarity of the record should bring clarity of purpose
02.08.19Tyler GreenSymposium: 1 First Street, NE, Punxsutawney, PA
02.07.19Guy-Uriel E. Charles and Luis E. Fuentes-RohwerSymposium: Precedent dictates a win for the plaintiffs in this term’s partisan-gerrymandering cases
02.07.19Kaylan PhillipsSymposium: Much ado about partisan gerrymandering
02.06.19Daniel TokajiSymposium: How to win the partisan-gerrymandering cases
02.05.19Derek MullerSymposium: Why not continue the political struggle in partisan-gerrymandering cases?
02.04.19Amy HoweJustices to tackle partisan gerrymandering … again: In Plain English

“ACLU sues to block NH voter fraud law deriding it as a ‘poll tax'”

Union Leader:

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state on behalf of two college students who claim a new law that requires a New Hampshire driver’s license to vote violates their constitutional rights and represents a 21st-century “poll tax.”

Caroline Casey is originally from Louisiana and Maggie Flaherty is from California. Both women are sophomores at Dartmouth College who voted in the 2018 primaries and general elections in New Hampshire but maintain driver’s licenses from their home states, according to the lawsuit.

Under HB 1264, which was signed into law last year but doesn’t take effect until July, anyone who votes in New Hampshire must obtain an in-state driver’s license and vehicle registration within 60 days of casting their ballot.

“Under this law, I have to pay to change my California license to be a New Hampshire one. If I vote and don’t change my license within 60 days, I could even be charged with a misdemeanor offense with up to one year in jail. Make no mistake — this is meant to deter young people from participating in our elections, and students are an important voting bloc here,” Flaherty said in a statement provided by the ACLU of New Hampshire.


“Texas secretary of state apologizes for how he rolled out voter citizenship review. But he still supports the effort.”

Texas Tribune:

Facing an uncertain path to confirmation after ordering a deeply flawed voter citizenship review that seemingly focused on naturalized citizens, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley is now apologizing to state lawmakers for the way his office bungled its roll out of the review — but he is still holding firm behind the overall effort.

In a letter sent to state lawmakers late Wednesday, Whitley largely defended the review efforts as a legally sound exercise, and he did not admit that his office had erred when it mistakenly threw into question the eligibility of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens or when it sent counties lists of voters they knew very likely included naturalized citizens.
Instead, Whitley vaguely admitted there were some shortcomings to the data his office used to flag almost 100,000 registered voters for citizenship reviews and noted his office should have devoted more time to “additional communication” with local and state officials to “further eliminate anyone from our original list who is, in fact, eligible to vote.”

“After close consultation with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the counties, and members of the Texas Legislature, I have discovered that additional refining of the data my office provides to county voter registrars, both in substance and in timing, is necessary to ensure a more accurate and efficient list maintenance process,” Whitley wrote in the letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.


“Gerrymandering & Justiciability: The Political Question Doctrine After Gill v. Whitford”

Mike Parsons has posted this draft on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Partisan gerrymandering claims occupy a unique purgatory in constitutional law, floating between justiciable and nonjusticiable. This term, the Supreme Court will finally decide. The issue said to divide the Justices is whether these claims pose a “political question” due to a lack of “judicially manageable” standards. To resolve this, the Court has interrogated numerous gerrymandering standards, questioning whether they can be made administrable or whether they would require the courts to play an inappropriate role in our constitutional scheme. 

But the Justices are focused on fixing the wrong set of standards. The problem is not with political gerrymandering claims, but with the political question doctrine itself. No Supreme Court majority has ever found “judicial unmanageability” alone sufficient to render a constitutional claim nonjusticiable under the doctrine. And for good reason: doing so would violate the limits and duties imposed by Article III.

Contrary to Justice Scalia’s characterization in Vieth v. Jubelirer, manageability is not an “independent test” of jurisdiction. It provides no coherent constitutional standard for controlling judicial power. Such an interpretation of the political question doctrine would invite federal courts to opine about abstract questions untethered from actual cases (an arrogation of judicial power) and to refuse jurisdiction over cases for purely discretionary reasons (an abdication of judicial obligations). This should be unacceptable to a Court increasingly disciplined about its jurisdictional jurisprudence and sensitive to its constitutional role.

This Article evaluates the modern political question doctrine, examines its tension with Article III, and recommends that the Court adopt a more limited and precise interpretation of the doctrine. This view of the doctrine reveals the Supreme Court’s debate about partisan gerrymandering claims and the proper role of the federal courts to be a practical (and resolvable) one over constitutional construction rather than a principled (and intractable) one over constitutional meaning. The Article then proposes and explores four paths that the Supreme Court might take this term in Rucho v. Common Cause, and what they mean for the future of partisan gerrymandering claims and the political question doctrine.


“BPC Launches 3 New Task Forces to Improve Voting Experience”

Release via email:

The Bipartisan Policy Center today launches three new task forces to develop recommendations that improve the voting experience in three key areas: voter registration, casting a vote, and counting the vote. 
“Having the people around the table who are charged with actually administering elections is vital when crafting smart election policy that can be implemented in any jurisdiction,” said Matthew Weil, senior associate director of the Democracy Project at BPC. “As we have seen over and over again, the challenges are many, but we remain optimistic that these bipartisan deliberations will improve the voting experience for all American voters.” 
The Task Force on Voter Registration will tackle the need for an accurate and secure list of eligible voters by looking at the entire registration process from start to finish. The primary focus will be to improve the ways voters get on the list, including the availability of registration options, the verification of voter eligibility, and the maintenance of voter rolls to keep lists accurate, which improves election administration.
The Task Force on Casting a Vote will analyze various methods for casting votes in an evolving, modern American voting system. These could include voting by mail, early voting, and vote centers.
The Task Force on Counting the Vote will produce recommendations that serve to ensure a full, transparent, and accurate count within a timeframe the public can understand with confidence. That will include looking at post-election audits, recounts, and certification. 
Participants in the three task forces are still being finalized and will include a bipartisan group of local and state election officials as well as election lawyers from across the country.
EARLY PEEK: BPC’s Voting Lines Project will release its results from the 2018 elections in the spring. So far, line data have been received from 3,736 polling places in 108 jurisdictions in 14 states, representing a total of 8.3 million registered voters. Stay tuned. 
WATCH today’s event “The Voting Experience: 2018 and the Future”


Travis Crum: A Lone Star Bail-in?

The following is a guest post from Travis Crum [cross-posted at Take Care]:

Last August, the three-judge district court overseeing the Texas redistricting litigation issued a briefing order on whether the State of Texas should be “bailed-in” under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act for its unconstitutional conduct during the 2011 redistricting cycle. Earlier this week, that briefing was finally completed. In a previous series of posts, I argued in favor of bailing-in Texas. Building off those posts, here’s the major takeaways from the briefs.

1.         Targeted and Temporally Limited Bail-in Requests: At the outset, there are two sets of plaintiffs’ briefs. All plaintiffs limit their bail-in request to redistricting plans, following the approach of previous targeted bail-ins like New Mexico. The “joint plaintiffs’ brief” filed by nearly all the plaintiffs asks for bail-in to last “no less than five years.” By contrast, the plaintiffs represented by MALDEF (“the MALDEF plaintiffs”) expressly request that bail-in last through 2030. To be sure, a longer bail-in is more vulnerable to challenge, but a twelve-year bail-in is well-within the historical norm and is sensible given Texas’s brazen and discriminatory mid-decade redistricting in the 2000s. This targeted, temporally limited bail-in is statutorily sound, constitutionally appropriate, and strategically prudent.

2.         The United States Now Opposes Bail-in: As Justin Levitt has highlighted, the United States changed its position in this litigation and now opposes bail-in. Given the Trump DOJ’s prior actions in the Texas voter ID case, this development is not surprising, just disappointing. The DOJ’s brief is a toned-down version of Texas’s argument and invokes an intervening Fifth Circuit decision as an excuse for its about-face. Nevertheless, I expect the Solicitor General to get tough questions about this reversal if the case reaches the Supreme Court.

3.         The Threshold Arguments against Bail-in: Pointing out that its 2011 redistricting plans were never used for an election, Texas asserts that bail-in cannot be premised on those plans. Although masquerading under different labels like ripeness and mootness, Texas’s argument boils down to a “no harm, no foul” mantra. In a related vein, Texas and the United States invoke the Fifth Circuit’s recent decision in Veasey v. Abbott to argue that the enactment of the 2013 redistricting plans precludes bail-in based on the 2011 plans. Recall that in Veasey the Fifth Circuit concluded that bail-in was unwarranted because Texas had passed a less stringent voter ID law.

These threshold arguments are unavailing for four reasons. First, the district court has already rejected Texas’s mootness argument because the plaintiffs can still obtain some relief, namely bail-in. Second, as the joint plaintiffs’ reply brief aptly notes, Texas’s “no harm, no foul” argument would preclude equitable relief whenever a preliminary injunction is granted. Such a result would be absurd. Third, Texas didn’t just sit on its hands in the run-up to the 2012 election. Texas relentlessly sought to use its intentionally discriminatory 2011 redistricting plans. But for the ancien preclearance regime and this ongoing litigation, Texas would have used those plans. Texas, moreover, would have never enacted the 2013 redistricting plans but for this litigation. Texas’s invocation of the VRA’s deterrent effect to preclude bail-in is simply bewildering. Finally and as I argued previously, the situation here differs from Veasey because the Fifth Circuit presumed that the revised voter ID law would apply for the foreseeable future whereas Texas must enact new redistricting plans after the 2020 census.

4.         The Statutory Standard for Bail-in: Unsurprisingly, the parties disagree on the appropriate statutory standard for bail-in. The plaintiffs rely on a list of equitable considerations first identified in Jeffers v. Clinton, a 1990 decision bailing-in the State of Arkansas. The Jeffers Court looked to the persistence, frequency, and recency of constitutional violations and whether those violations were likely to recur but for preclearance. On this front, the plaintiffs convincingly canvas Texas’s lengthy and recent history of enacting racially discriminatory redistricting plans and focus on the sheer scale of constitutional violations in the 2011 plans.

For its part, Texas declines to engage with the Jeffers factors. Instead, Texas argues that preclearance is justified only to combat the flagrant gamesmanship of the 1960s. After reading Texas’s brief, one could be forgiven for thinking that the coverage formula was enacted in 1965, upheld in 1966, and then invalidated in 2013. Texas’s narrative, however, skips some important history. Texas seems blissfully unaware that the Court upheld the coverage formula’s 1970 re-authorization in 1973, its 1975 re-authorization in 1980, and its 1982 re-authorization in 1999. Blatant defiance of federal court decrees was no longer the norm for these latter reauthorizations, as covered jurisdictions had shifted to more subtle means of disempowering minority voters. Preclearance, therefore, is not contingent on Jim Crow-style gamesmanship.

5.         Constitutional Violations that Qualify for Bail-in: Another flashpoint is what types of constitutional violations count under Section 3(c). Here, all parties agree that Section 3(c) encompasses intentional racial vote dilution, though the severity and frequency of those violations that trigger bail-in is hotly contested.

Most prominently, the parties dispute whether Shaw violations can trigger bail-in. This issue is important because the sole constitutional violation in the 2013 redistricting plans was a Shaw violation. But that Shaw violation occurred because Latino voters were added to a district in response to a complaint made by one of the MALDEF plaintiffs—who now argue that the Shaw violation mandates bail-in. It’s not hard to imagine the Roberts Court viewing a bail-in request based on that fact pattern skeptically.

Preclearance and Shaw, moreover, employ diametrically opposed methods of inquiry. Preclearance injects race into the decision-making process whereas Shaw seeks to root it out. As both Texas and the United States correctly note, these divergent approaches are reflected in the Section 5 regulations, which never authorized objections based on a Shaw violation. The Shaw line of cases and Section 2’s discriminatory-effects test have long been viewed as on a collision course; Section 3(c) should not be pushed onto the same path.

Another point of contention is whether violations of the one-person, one-vote principle qualify for bail-in. The plaintiffs don’t push this argument too hard, but they strongly imply that these findings are relevant because race often lurks just beneath the surface in those cases. That may well be true, but bail-in should not be premised on malapportionment violations. Indeed, in Blackmoon v. Charles Mix County, a district judge in South Dakota reasoned that granting Section 3(c) relief based on such violations would be “nonsensical” because it imposed a race-conscious remedy without a predicate finding of intentional racial discrimination.

The plaintiffs also identify the recent bail-in of the City of Pasadena, Texas, as additional evidence favoring bail-in. As the plaintiffs explain, Section 3(c)’s plain text looks to whether the relevant constitutional violations “occurred within the territory of such State.” Given this language, the fact that a jurisdiction within Texas has violated the Fourteenth Amendment is persuasive evidence that the district court should consider in balancing the equities and the likelihood that future constitutional violations will occur, even if Pasadena’s bail-in does not itself require that Texas should also be bailed-in.

Put simply, Texas is a poster child for bail-in. Given the number of times that Texas engaged in intentional racial vote dilution in the 2011 redistricting plans, the district court need not overreach by relying on Shaw and one-person, one-vote violations to justify bail-in. And because any bail-in of Texas will almost certainly be reviewed by the Supreme Court, the decision should be bulletproof and not create an easy target for reversal.

6.         No Constitutional Challenge to Bail-in: As I predicted, Texas did not raise a facial challenge to Section 3(c). Rather, Texas’s strategy appears to be a redux of Northwest Austin—invoke constitutional-avoidance concerns to implausibly re-write the statute. But as discussed above, Texas’s attempt to limit preclearance to Jim Crow-era gamesmanship is a grave misreading of Section 3(c) and the Court’s precedent

.7.         Looking Ahead: There’s currently no indication on the district court’s docket whether there will be a bail-in hearing, so we don’t have a reliable timeline as to when a decision will be issued. Given this litigation’s history, I expect a split decision bailing-in Texas, along with a vociferous dissent from Judge Smith. But at the end of the day, a Lone Star bail-in will almost certainly be resolved by the Supreme Court


“Trump’s DHS Guts Task Forces Protecting Elections From Foreign Meddling”

Daily Beast:

Two teams of federal officials assembled to fight foreign election interference are being dramatically downsized, according to three current and former Department of Homeland Security officials. And now, those sources say they fear the department won’t prepare adequately for election threats in 2020.

“The clear assessment from the intelligence community is that 2020 is going to be the perfect storm,” said a DHS official familiar with the teams. “We know Russia is going to be engaged. Other state actors have seen the success of Russia and realize the value of disinformation operations. So it’s very curious why the task forces were demoted in the bureaucracy and the leadership has not committed resources to prepare for the 2020 election.”


The Virginia Remedy

The federal court redrawing portions of Virginia’s House of Delegates map recently announced the new configuration of the district lines. PlanScore evaluated both the old plan and the new one. As you can see below, the improvement is dramatic. The new plan has a projected efficiency gap of just 1% (compared to 7% previously), a projected partisan bias of just 1% (compared to 4%), and a projected mean-median difference of almost exactly 0% (compared to 3%). These gains are especially impressive since it was racial — not partisan — gerrymandering that was being remedied.


“Manafort-Linked PAC Failed To Report $1 Million And The FEC Wants To Know Why”


A super PAC closely linked to Paul Manafort is facing questions about why it failed to report a $1 million contribution received just before the 2016 presidential election.

In a Tuesday letter, the Federal Election Commission asked the Rebuilding America Now PAC for more information about the contribution, which the PAC first disclosed in an amended report in November 2018—some two years after the fact.

The FEC letter raises new questions about the murky financial operations of the PAC, which was operated by two Manafort deputies. Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating whether Rebuilding America Now illegally received foreign funds and was connected to a scheme that Manafort allegedly lied about while purportedly cooperating with Mueller.


On Third Anniversary of Justice Scalia’s Death, His Influence is Greater Than Ever


Josh Douglas Takes on Mitch McConnell Again over Whether Democrats’ H.R. 1 Reform Bill is Good or Bad for American Democracy

Tweet thread starts here:


“Seattle mailing out ‘democracy vouchers’ ahead of 2019 City Council elections”

Seattle Times:

Seattle is mailing out “democracy vouchers” for residents to donate to candidates in this year’s hotly contested City Council elections.
Officials intend to send the vouchers to 463,000 residents Tuesday, weather permitting.

All seven of the council’s district seats are up for grabs in 2019, and 39 candidates already have registered campaigns.

It’s only the second election cycle for the first-in-the-nation voucher program, which voters approved in 2015 and which debuted in 2017.

Eligible residents each receive four $25 vouchers that they can sign over to candidates who abide by special rules, such as limits on cash contributions and campaign spending.


New NBER Study Finds Voter ID Laws Have Little to No Effect on Voter Turnout or Fraud Prevention

New paper:

Strict ID Laws Don’t Stop Voters: Evidence from a U.S. Nationwide Panel, 2008-2016

Enrico CantoniVincent Pons

NBER Working Paper No. 25522
Issued in February 2019
NBER Program(s):Political Economy 

U.S. states increasingly require identification to vote – an ostensive attempt to deter fraud that prompts complaints of selective disenfranchisement. Using a difference-in-differences design on a 1.3-billion-observations panel, we find the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation. These results hold through a large number of specifications and cannot be attributed to mobilization against the laws, measured by campaign contributions and self-reported political engagement. ID requirements have no effect on fraud either – actual or perceived. Overall, our results suggest that efforts to reform voter ID laws may not have much impact on elections.


Census Challengers in NY Case Agree That If Supreme Court Review is Necessary, It is Better to Review Now and Skip the Second Circuit

From the NY brief:

Respondents recognize, however, that the resolution of this dispute over the Secretary’s decision to add a citizenship question to the decennial census has consequences for the Nation that may lead this Court to conclude that its review is warranted, despite the narrow and well-grounded nature of the factual and legal conclusions presented. If the Court determines that this case will eventually require its review, whether on a writ of certiorari or on a stay application during or after review by the court of appeals, then the Court should grant certiorari before judgment and issue an expedited briefing schedule. As petitioners explain, there is insufficient time for two levels of merits review before June 30, 2019, the date that petitioners represent as the firm deadline for finalizing the census questionnaire for printing. And if this Court is inclined to review the case, it should do so now, rather than on an application for a stay at some later date, when there is no longer time for full briefing and argument.


Today’s Must-Read: “‘Private Mossad for Hire: Inside a plot to influence American elections, starting with one small-town race.”

Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker:

Psy-Group’s larger ambition was to break into the U.S. election market. During the 2016 Presidential race, the company pitched members of Donald Trump’s campaign team on its ability to influence the results. Psy-Group’s owner, Joel Zamel, even asked Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, to offer Zamel’s services to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. The effort to drum up business included brash claims about the company’s skills in online deception. The posturing was intended to attract clients—but it also attracted the attention of the F.B.I. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has been examining the firm’s activities as part of his investigation into Russian election interference and other matters.

Psy-Group’s talks with Benzeevi, after the 2016 election, spurred the company to draw up a plan for developing more business at the state and local levels. No election was too small. One company document reported that Psy-Group’s influence services cost, on average, just three hundred and fifty thousand dollars—as little as two hundred and seventy-five dollars an hour. The new strategy called for pitching more than fifty individuals and groups, including the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and major super pacs. The firm published a provocative brochure featuring an image of a goldfish with a shark fin tied to its back, below the tagline “Reality is a matter of perception.” Another brochure showed a cat that cast a lion’s shadow and listed “honey traps” among the firm’s services. (In the espionage world, a honey trap often involves deploying a sexually attractive operative to induce a target to provide information.)

Psy-Group put together a proposal for Benzeevi, promising “a coordinated intelligence operation and influence campaign” in Tulare to preserve Kumar’s seat on the hospital board. Operatives would use fake identities to “uncover and deliver actionable intelligence” on members of the community who appeared to be leading the recall effort, and would use unattributed Web sites to mount a “negative campaign” targeting “the opposition candidate.” All these activities, the proposal assured, would appear to be part of a “grass roots” movement in Tulare. The operation was code-named Project Mockingjay, a reference to a fictional bird in the “Hunger Games” novels, known for its ability to mimic human sounds….

Zamel had another opportunity to pitch his services in early August, 2016, when Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater security firm, helped arrange a meeting at Trump Tower among Zamel, Nader, and Donald Trump, Jr. (Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos became Trump’s Education Secretary, was a major Trump donor and had access to members of his team.) In the meeting, Zamel told Trump, Jr., that he supported his father’s campaign, and talked about Psy-Group’s influence operations. (Zamel’s lawyer, Marc Mukasey, played down the encounter, insisting that Zamel made no formal proposals during the meeting.)

Burstien said that his talks with the Trump campaign went nowhere; a representative for Zamel denied that his client engaged in any activity having to do with the election. But, according to the Nader representative, shortly after the election Zamel bragged to Nader that he had conducted a secret campaign that had been influential in Trump’s victory. Zamel agreed to brief Nader on how the operation had worked. During that conversation, Zamel showed Nader several analytical reports, including one that described the role of avatars, bots, fake news, and unattributed Web sites in assisting Trump. Zamel told Nader, “Here’s the work that we did to help get Trump elected,” according to the Nader representative. Nader paid Zamel more than two million dollars, but never received copies of the reports, that person said.


“6 Days When 2020 Democratic Hopefuls Scored With Small Donors”


In the 2020 race for the White House, small donors are expected to play a more significant role than ever before. With so many Democratic candidates running, and only so much money to go around, whom small donors choose to support will determine in part which contenders will have the cash to compete — and who will not.

So, what clicks with donors online?

The Times analyzed six years of online donations to potential 2020 candidates through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s main donation-processing platform, to tally the number of donations each candidate has received by day.

[See the rankings of 2020 Democratic hopefuls with small donors.]

The findings show that the art of inspiring online donors is very much about timing: It’s about having a moment in the national spotlight — and then capitalizing on it. Also, small donors are just like the rest of us: procrastinators inspired by a looming deadline.

With that, here are six days when some current and potential Democratic candidates for president scored big online, and why:


Utah: “A state lawmaker says a San Juan County split should be on the table, after a court-ordered redistricting that ‘disenfranchised’ his voters”

Salt Lake Tribune:

After a landmark power shift that gave San Juan County its first majority Navajo Democrat commission, a state lawmaker from mostly white, Republican Blanding is broaching the subject of secession.

The sheer size of the state’s largest county, which has more land area than Massachusetts and takes about two hours to traverse from top to bottom, has prompted past conversations about carving out one or more new counties. Now, with a fresh sense of disenfranchisement permeating some San Juan communities, Rep. Phil Lyman says county division is something to consider.


“Federal judges reject state of Ohio’s request to delay gerrymandering trial”


A three-judge federal panel on Friday rejected a request from the state of Ohio to delay a gerrymandering lawsuit that aims to put a new Ohio congressional district map in place in time for the 2020 election.

The state wanted to delay the trial, scheduled to start March 4, until after rulings are released this summer in two gerrymandering cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – one brought by Republicans in Maryland and one brought by Democrats in North Carolina.

But the judges in their Friday ruling cited time considerations. The state has said any changes to a map must be in place by Sept. 20, 2019, to get ready for the 2020 election.