Category Archives: legislation and legislatures

“America’s Hidden Crisis of Power and Place”

From David Fontana in the Washington Post Magazine. Perhaps a little Wendell Berry in our politics! A snippet:

Paul Ryan was elected to Congress in 1998 from Janesville, Wis., current population about 64,000. Ryan attended college outside Wisconsin. He then moved to Washington, where he would work as an aide to one senator and a legislative director to another. He also worked for influential Republican Jack Kemp — learning things and building relationships far from Janesville that he later described as important in his career.

In 2017, Jon Ossoff ran in a special election in Georgia to fill an empty seat in the House of Representatives. Ossoff was raised in an area close to the district in which he was seeking office, but went to Georgetown University and attended graduate school in London. He had not lived in the area for some time and did not live in the district when he was running for office — so he could not even vote for himself. Ossoff touted his experience as a “national security aide” in Washington during the campaign. He lost that election, but in 2020 ran for the Senate — and won.

Ryan and Ossoff do not share the same ideology, but they do have one thing in common: Like so many of their colleagues, their path to power ran through places other than the ones they were from. It is telling that only about half of new members of Congress in 2021, according to Forbes, had a degree from a college or university in their state.

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Brennan Center Updates Report

Voting Laws Roundup: July 2021. I saw this just after posting on Politfact’s caution on the need to be nuanced when characterizing these new state laws. To the Brennan Center’s credit, this July update prominently states up front: “The new laws restricting voting access are not created equal.” It goes on to explain that some of the new statutes are “mixed” and others are “narrower in scope.” Still, I might quibble with how the Brennan Center describes some of the specific measures. For example, it calls “harsher” the requirement for absentee voters to produce a numerical form of identification (like a driver’s license number) rather than to use signature-matching as the way to verify an absentee voter’s ID. I would argue, to the contrary, that an accessible form of numerical ID is actually more voter-friendly than the inherently fraught process of signature-matching. Even so, I consider it a positive development if the public discourse on these laws is becoming more detailed-oriented and less of painting with the broadest possible brush.

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Nuanced Analysis of New Laws

Kudos to Politifact for this careful and detailed explanation of the degree to which the new state laws on voting make it harder to vote in those states.

Their analysis makes clear that they considered only the issue of retrogression: “Would the new law make it harder for a voter to cast a ballot in their state in 2022, compared with 2020? We did not judge how the new law compared with voting laws in other states; we simply looked at which direction the law went.”

They also are measured in the extent of the restrictiveness of any such retrogression: “All told, we found that about two-thirds of the new laws made changes that can be considered significant restrictions for voters. Another quarter of the laws made changes where a restrictive impact is conceivable but more speculative. And a few of the laws included some restrictive elements, but also included separate provisions that made voting easier.”

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“The next voting rights battleground is Michigan”

Vox:

Michigan Republicans want to pass a blitz of legislation that restricts the right to vote in the key battleground state — and they have an audacious plan to get their ideas enacted, even though they have to contend with a Democratic governor who could ordinarily veto their bills….

[E]arly this month, the state’s Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) announced that Republicans plan to invoke a process that could allow them to bypass the governor’s veto and pass a package of “half a dozen” election-related bills. Under the state constitution, a relatively small group of voters can propose legislation through a petition and then this legislation can be enacted by the state legislature. Using this process, the GOP-controlled legislature could enact this package by a simple majority vote in both houses, and Whitmer would be powerless to veto it — although Democrats could potentially force a voter referendum on the GOP package.

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“Postponed Weddings, Stockpiled Insulin and Covid: The Bizarre Life of Texas Democrats in Exile”

Politico Magazine:

[O]ver 50 state House Democrats … fled Texas on Monday to deny Republicans a quorum for a major new elections bill that has stirred backlash: axing pandemic-era practices to expand voting access adopted in a large Democratic-leaning county, further restricting mail voting in the state and making election workers liable for new potential civil or criminal penalties. Democrats are in the minority in Texas, but Republicans can’t pass the legislation without them there — so they left for Washington, D.C.

In interviews with a dozen Texas lawmakers during their first week in Washington, they described a hectic, last-minute scramble to pack and get out of the state….

But their endgame is unclear. Every House Democrat who spoke to POLITICO indicated they intend to stay out of Texas until the current special legislative session is over, but they demur about what comes after that.

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Senate Rules Committee Hearing on Voting Rights in Georgia

The U.S. Senate Rules Committee will hold a field hearing in Atlanta tomorrow, on Protecting the Freedom to Vote: Recent changes to Georgia voting laws and the need for basic federal standards to make sure all Americans can vote in the way that works best for them. It begins at 10 ET, and you can view at the above link. The scheduled witnesses are Senator Warnock, State Senator Sally Harrell, Helen Butler of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and José Segarra of Warner Robins.

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Today’s Hearing on the Implications of Brnovich

Here are the witness list, written testimony, and video link for the hearing before the house House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties at 1:00 ET. Scheduled to testify:

Mr. Sean Morales-Doyle
Acting Director, Voting Rights & Elections, Democracy, Brennan Center for Justice

Mr. Robert D. Popper
Senior Attorney, Judicial Watch

Mr. Ezra Rosenberg
Co-Director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Mr. Nicholas Stephanopoulos
Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

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“Texas Democrats find voting rights are a tough sell as Capitol Hill turns its focus to Biden’s economic agenda”

WaPo reports: “Texas state legislators … arrived in Washington just as the congressional Democrats they are trying to prod into action on voting legislation have turned their full attention toward a trillion-dollar infrastructure deal and a potentially historic $3.5 trillion expansion of federal social and climate programs.”

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Voting Rights Tensions Flare at Pérez Confirmation Hearing

Bloomberg reports on questions from Senators Cruz, Hawley, and others:

Partisan controversy over voting rights flared at a confirmation hearing for a New York-based federal appeals court nominee who was questioned by conservative lawmakers over her record working on election and voting law issues.

Myrna Pérez, director of voting rights at the Brennan Center for Justice nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, faced questions about her advocacy from Senate Judiciary Committee Republican members on Wednesday with pressure building on the Democratic-led Congress to approve new voting rights legislation.

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“Biden must embrace his own logic on voting rights”

E.J. Dionne:

Biden’s speech assailing “merchants of fear and peddlers of lies” was refreshingly candid about the threats posed to democracy. They include the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Donald Trump’s scandalous falsehoods about the 2020 election — “The ‘big lie’ is just that: a big lie,” Biden said — and the mobilization of that lie to rationalize voter suppression.

Yet he declined to take the logical next step. If matters are as urgent as Biden said they are, there is no excuse — none — not to alter the Senate’s filibuster rule, which is getting in the way of legislation to protect voting rights, block gerrymanders and make access to the ballot convenient for every voter nationwide.

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“Biden’s Demagogic Voting Speech”

Rich Lowry of National Review, in Politico Magazine:

The presumption that marginal changes in election laws measurably affect turnout, a key assumption of the Democratic case against GOP election bills, is simply erroneous. Voter ID laws haven’t suppressed turnout. The Supreme Court’s Shelby decision ending federal pre-clearance of voting changes in certain states hasn’t stopped minorities from voting. And states that adopted no-excuse mail-in balloting last year didn’t have higher turnout than states that didn’t.

No matter how high octane his attacks on the GOP laws, Biden is unlikely to get the Democratic election bill, HR1, over the finish line in the Senate. But as Abrams has proved, the charge of voter-suppression is a powerful partisan motivator.

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