Category Archives: The Voting Wars

Credulous coverage of probable vaporware

The AP’s lede:

The Republican National Committee on Friday launched a swing state initiative to mobilize thousands of polling place monitors, poll workers and attorneys to serve as “election integrity” watchdogs in November — an effort that immediately drew concerns that it could lead to harassment of election workers and undermine trust in the vote.

Mobilizing a huge crew of volunteers to support the democratic process is great.  Mobilizing a huge crew of volunteers to undermine the democratic process is awful.  And I have no inside information about this effort — but if I were betting, I’d bet on …neither.  The most likely scenario for this “mobilization,” I think, is a press operation (here, here, here) that never materializes on the ground.

Here’s a version of the story in 2004. 2012. 2016. 2020. 2022.  I’m sure I could find other years – I just ran out of will.

(Long after the promises, there have been a few good stories reporting on what actually happens in these efforts: for example, here in 2012, here in 2016, and here in 2020.)

Hey, look, Lucy’s getting the football ready again – but I’m sure it’ll be different this time. 

I’ve actually run a successful national voter protection operation.  Even with a project that makes people feel good and helps voters, it’s hard to recruit people to actually do work all day.  It’s even harder to recruit people to do work that goes nowhere, looking all day for the UFO that never arrives.  It’s not that there aren’t plenty of people primed to believe in the need for greater election integrity.  (And it’s not that you need more than a few to cause problems when their enthusiasm outstrips their precision or their understanding of the facts.)  But it’s one thing to believe and it’s another to devote 15 hours a day to standing outside a polling place in the service of that belief.  Before anyone gets spun up about the scale of the promised operation, for good or for ill, let’s have a few tangible answers about numbers and locations.

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“Texas election laws allow certain ballots to be traced back to voters, official says”

CBS report noting what purport to be decoded ballots of some prominent Texas officials, though I’m not sure whether the culprit is Texas “election laws” or the outer limits of the scope of public records responses.  The controversy seems to be related to the ballot number generated at check-in for voters who vote in-person in certain Texas counties (and doesn’t affect mail-in votes at all), and is related (of course) to an ongoing lawsuit.

And now the public records requests have themselves become the subject of a letter from a coalition of nonprofits to the DOJ, asking the DOJ to step in to protect the chain of custody to ensure that election officials can comply with federal records retention laws, and to ensure that records requests don’t amount to intimidation or a conspiracy against the right to a secret ballot.

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“Michigan judge strikes down Benson voter signature match guidance — again”

That’s the headline from Bridge Michigan, though the subhead is quick to note that the “judge upheld separate rules that give clerks broad discretion to consider why a voter signature might not match the version on file,” and everyone declared victory.

The opinion is here.  The statutory language in question says that “An elector’s signature is invalid only if it differs in significant and obvious respects from the elector’s signature on file. Slight dissimilarities must be resolved in favor of the elector. Exact signature matches are not required to determine that a signature agrees sufficiently with the signature on file.”  The court interpreted that language to preclude an initial presumption that a signature is valid. 

I have to confess that I don’t understand the practical difference between a rule that “slight dissimilarities have to be resolved in favor of the elector” and a (rebuttable) presumption that two signatures are the same unless the differences are sufficiently significant to overcome that presumption.

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“House committee subpoenas 15 Biden Cabinet secretaries to hand over documents on voter mobilization ‘scheme'”

That’s the Fox headline for the continuing swirl of nonsense around Executive Order 14019 – but as I’ve mentioned before, the reality of the alleged “scheme” is an instruction to federal agencies to help facilitate customer service in a profoundly nonpartisan way, and only as consistent with each agency’s legal authority.  (Disclosure: as mentioned before, in my role as a federal official, I had a hand in helping to implement the Executive Order.

Here’s the set of cover letters for the subpoena mentioned in the piece.  One of the cover letters is to the Department of Defense, and asserts that “Congress’s delegation of authority to the Department of Defense does not include using funds and resources to provide Americans with voter registration materials.”  Which, as just one example, is a pretty weird understanding of the NVRA’s designation of DOD recruitment offices (52 U.S.C. 20506(c)), not to mention UOCAVA’s requirements (52 U.S.C. 20301(b)(2) and (b)(5) and 20305), all of which very explicitly authorize (indeed, mandate) the Department of Defense to provide Americans with voter registration materials.

Agency implementation of the Executive Order varies, because different agencies have different touchpoints with the public and different legal authorities.  Agency brainstorming that hasn’t crystallized into final agency action hasn’t been made public, but individual agencies that have made concrete decisions have announced those efforts.  And the Administration has periodically posted updates on agency steps in connection with the Executive Order, including cooperation with a bipartisan roster of state election officials. 

Here are the updates I know of: Sept. 2021, Mar. 2022, Sept. 2022, Mar. 2023, Feb. 2024.  Since then, I’ve seen the SBA accept designation by Michigan as a voter registration agency (joining the Department of the Interior in Kansas and New Mexico, and Veterans Affairs in Kentucky and Michigan), pursuant to the express requirement of 52 U.S.C. 20506(b).  There may have been other releases I don’t know of (and I’d welcome reliable news of other agency actions).  But none of those announcements of agency efforts to implement the Executive Order amount to the mysterious nefarious boogeyman the House committee seems to be suggesting.

UPDATE: More in Roll Call.

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“Trump’s mail-in ballot reversal: As he backs it, GOP lawyers are still fighting against it”

This USA Today piece highlights Republican efforts to tighten mail vote practices. 

I’m quoted in the piece explaining a dynamic that I think extends well beyond mail-in voting.  Most restrictions on voting practices – and particularly restrictions that may seem counterintuitive to eligible voters unfamiliar with the process, like failing to count mail ballots that are cast on Election Day but arrive in the mail afterward – are more likely to affect infrequent voters than regular voters.  

I suspect that many policymakers and some litigants may be making knee-jerk assumptions about who infrequent voters are more likely to support.  I don’t know if conventional wisdom about infrequent voters’ preferences ever truly reflected those preferences.  But I know that former President Trump has been particularly credited with reshaping the modern Republican party by energizing infrequent voters.  And so I suspect that unnecessary restrictions on voting practices may well have a notable impact on infrequently-voting Trump supporters this cycle.

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“Major NH voting law change nears finish line despite objections”

NHPR:

The largest change to New Hampshire election laws in recent history: That’s how some are describing a set of Republican-backed bills that would create new requirements for people looking to register to vote. The bills would also make New Hampshire among the strictest states in the country when it comes to new voter registration.

But despite the potential consequences, the top election official in the state — and Gov. Chris Sununu — have declined to say what they think of the bills.

State lawmakers and Sununu will make the final decision about whether these bills become law in the coming weeks. Here’s an overview of the potential changes coming to voter registration laws, and what the path ahead looks like….

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“Voter outreach groups targeted by new laws in several GOP-led states are struggling to do their work”

AP:

Florida is one of several states, including Kansas, Missouri and Texas, where Republicans have enacted voting restrictions since 2021 that created or enhanced criminal penalties and fines for those who assist voters. The laws have forced some voter outreach groups to cease operations, while others have greatly altered or reduced their activities.

The Florida law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last May, imposed a $50,000 fine on third-party voter registration organizations if the staff or volunteers who handle or collect the forms have been convicted of a felony or are not U.S. citizens. It also raised the fines the groups could face, from $1,000 to $250,000, and reduced the amount of time they are able to return registration applications from 14 days to 10 days.

A federal judge blocked portions of the law earlier this month, including the one targeting felons and those who are not citizens. Even so, the law had a direct effect on the operations of Equal Ground and other voter advocacy organizations in the state before the ruling.

The League of Women Voters in Florida, one of the plaintiffs, shifted away from in-person voter registration to digital outreach. Cecile Scoon, the league’s co-president, said the law stripped the personal connection between its workers and communities. Digital tools aren’t easy to use when registering voters and can be expensive, she said….

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“Georgia’s election integrity laws could create ‘hovering threat’ for poll workers in 2024”

USA Today:

In Georgia, in particular, a series of election rules passed over the last three years threaten to overburden election officials and, in some cases, issue criminal penalties against them. New election measures passed by the Republican-led state legislature in late-March that are awaiting a signature from Gov. Brian Kemp could further hamper the way elections offices operate if enacted, experts say.

Liz Avore, lead author of the Voting Rights Lab report, argued that these laws take “steps toward almost treating election officials like they are suspects in a crime” and “treating election offices like they’re crime scenes.” 

For the election workers that USA TODAY spoke with, however, the main concern is that the heightened regulations may hinder the recruitment of poll workers for the 2024 election who play a vital role in elections administration.

Republican leaders in the state, including Kemp and current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have defended the new laws, arguing that they bring enhanced security and provide clarity around laws for election officials.

Raffensperger said he didn’t see an issue with poll worker recruitment in 2022 after some of the initial election laws were passed, and doesn’t expect to see any in 2024. He also lauded Republican officials’ work in recent elections.

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