Monthly Archives: April 2023

“GOP election officials walking fine line on fraud, integrity”


The Republican secretaries of state in Ohio, West Virginia and Missouri have promoted their states’ elections as fair and secure. Yet each also is navigating a fine line on how to address election fraud conspiracies as they gear up campaigns for U.S. Senate or governor in 2024.

The split-screen messaging of Ohio’s Frank LaRose, West Virginia’s Mac Warner and Missouri’s Jay Ashcroft shows just how deeply election lies have burrowed into the Republican Party, where more than half of voters believe Democrat Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president. Even election officials who tout running clean elections at home are routinely pushing for more voting restrictions and additional scrutiny on the process as they prepare to face GOP primary voters next year.

All three withdrew their states last month from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a bipartisan, multistate effort to ensure accurate voter lists. LaRose did so less than a month after calling the group “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have” and vowing to maintain Ohio’s membership. He defied backlash against the organization stoked by former President Donald Trump before relenting.

he Republican secretaries of state in Ohio, West Virginia and Missouri have promoted their states’ elections as fair and secure. Yet each also is navigating a fine line on how to address election fraud conspiracies as they gear up campaigns for U.S. Senate or governor in 2024.

The split-screen messaging of Ohio’s Frank LaRose, West Virginia’s Mac Warner and Missouri’s Jay Ashcroft shows just how deeply election lies have burrowed into the Republican Party, where more than half of voters believe Democrat Joe Biden was not legitimately elected president. Even election officials who tout running clean elections at home are routinely pushing for more voting restrictions and additional scrutiny on the process as they prepare to face GOP primary voters next year.

All three withdrew their states last month from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a bipartisan, multistate effort to ensure accurate voter lists. LaRose did so less than a month after calling the group “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have” and vowing to maintain Ohio’s membership. He defied backlash against the organization stoked by former President Donald Trump before relenting.

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“Prosecutors in Jan. 6 Case Step up Inquiry Into Trump Fund-Raising”


As they investigate former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, federal prosecutors have also been drilling down on whether Mr. Trump and a range of political aides knew that he had lost the race but still raised money off claims that they were fighting widespread fraud in the vote results, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Led by the special counsel Jack Smith, prosecutors are trying to determine whether Mr. Trump and his aides violated federal wire fraud statutes as they raised as much as $250 million through a political action committee by saying they needed the money to fight to reverse election fraud even though they had been told repeatedly that there was no evidence to back up those fraud claims.

The prosecutors are looking at the inner workings of the committee, Save America PAC, and at the Trump campaign’s efforts to prove its baseless case that Mr. Trump had been cheated out of victory.

In the past several months, prosecutors have issued multiple batches of subpoenas in a wide-ranging effort to understand Save America, which was set up shortly after the election as Mr. Trump’s main fund-raising entity. An initial round of subpoenas, which started going out before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy in the 2024 race and Mr. Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in November, focused on various Republican officials and vendors that had received payments from Save America.

But more recently, investigators have homed in on the activities of a joint fund-raising committee made up of staff members from the 2020 Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, among others. Some of the subpoenas have sought documents from around Election Day 2020 up the present.

Prosecutors have been heavily focused on details of the campaign’s finances, spending and fund-raising, such as who was approving email solicitations that were blasted out to lists of possible small donors and what they knew about the truth of the fraud claims, according to the people familiar with their work. All three areas overlap, and could inform prosecutors’ thinking about whether to proceed with charges in an investigation in which witnesses are still being interviewed.

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“Formerly incarcerated North Carolinians can’t vote while serving felony sentences”

News & Observer on a third election-related ruling coming out of the North Carolina Supreme Court today:

Thousands of formerly incarcerated North Carolina residents serving felony sentences will no longer be able to vote.

A trial court ruling had made them eligible to vote in the midterm elections last November, but on Friday the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned that order.

The State Board of Elections said later Friday it has updated voter registration applications to comply. Now, once again, people serving a felony sentence cannot register or vote until their sentence ends, including any period of probation, parole or post-release supervision.

Elections officials will use lists of people serving felony sentences to cancel registrations of people who are now ineligible, the board said.

Arguments in the case, known as Community Success Initiative v. Moore, centered on whether the state law that delineates how people’s voting rights are restored is constitutional and whether it had discriminatory intent.

The high court reversed the trial ruling Friday 5 to 2, split along partisan lines, with Republican justices in favor of reversal and Democrats against.

For the majority, Justice Trey Allen wrote that it is “not unconstitutional to insist that felons pay their debt to society as a condition of participating in the electoral process.”

“The General Assembly did not engage in racial discrimination or otherwise violate the North Carolina Constitution by requiring individuals with felony convictions to complete their sentences — including probation, parole, or post-release supervision — before they regain the right to vote,” Allen wrote.

Republicans flipped control of the court in the November elections, flipping two Democratic-held seats and giving their party back a majority on the state’s high court. Allen was one of the newly elected justices.

Writing in the dissent, Justice Anita Earls said Friday’s ruling “will one day be repudiated on two grounds. First, because it seeks to justify the denial of a basic human right to citizens and thereby perpetuates a vestige of slavery, and second, because the majority violates a basic tenant of appellate review by ignoring the facts as found by the trial court and substituting its own.” Justice Michael Morgan joined in the dissent.

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Updated: In Ruling with Major Political Implications that Potentially Moots U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Moore v. Harper Independent State Legislature Case, North Carolina Supreme Court, on 5-2 Partisan Vote, Holds Partisan Gerrymandering Claims Cannot Be Brought Under State Constitution

[This post has been updated]

In a 5-2 decision along partisan lines, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that it cannot consider partisan gerrymandering claims under the state constitution. This ruling overturns an earlier ruling of the state supreme court, when that court granted a rare rehearing after Republican justices took control of the court after the most recent elections.

This case potentially moots the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of Moore v. Harper, an earlier stage of this same case that struck down North Carolina’s congressional districting (and other districting) as a violation of the state Constitution. The U.S. case concerns the so-called “independent state legislature” theory, and it presents a major question about the scope of the power of state courts and state election administrators to administer federal elections. [My amicus brief on the U.S. case is here.] There are some tricky questions, about which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered more briefing, about whether a ruling by the North Carolina Supreme Court would prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from deciding the independent state legislature issue.

But the fact that the state Supreme Court declares that “Accordingly, the decision of this Court in Harper I is overruled”, it is hard to see how the U.S. Supreme Court continues to review Harper 1.

If the U.S. Supreme Court now dismisses Moore v. Harper as improvidently granted, I think there’s a decent chance it grants review in an Ohio case raising similar issues, Huffman v. Neiman. It is crucially important that the Supreme Court resolve the scope (if any) of the independent state legislature theory in a case before the 2024 elections. It would be terrible for the country for the U.S. presidential election to turn on this issue without earlier guidance from the Court on the theory’s scope.

You can find today’s North Carolina Supreme Court 5-2 decision at this link.

As a political matter, this will allow the NC general assembly to engage in the most partisan gerrymander of congressional seats it can think of. In that state, the governor has no approval or veto over the maps. The NC court in its ruling today says that the general assembly has to start over in drawing district maps, because the maps drawn in 2021 and 2022 were drawn without full consideration of partisan data that should be available to legislators.

From the dissent of Justice Earls (who had written the now-overruled partisan gerrymandering standard):

In Harper I, this Court ensured that all North Carolinians, regardless of political party, were not denied their “fundamental right to vote on equal terms.” Harper I, 380 N.C. at 378 (cleaned up). 

Today, the majority strips the people of this right; it tells North Carolinians that the state constitution and the courts cannot protect their basic human right to self-governance and self-determination. In so doing, the majority ignores the uncontested truths about the intentions behind partisan gerrymandering and erects an unconvincing façade that only parrots democratic values in an attempt to defend its decision. Despite its lofty prose about the need for principled adherence to the state constitution, the majority follows none of these principles today. Nor does the majority even pay passing reference to the anti-democratic nature of extreme partisan gerrymandering. These efforts to downplay the practice do not erase its consequences and the public will not be gaslighted. Our constitution provides that “[a]ll political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only.” N.C. Const. art. I, § 2. But when Republican lawmakers are free to gerrymander redistricting plans without constitutional guardrails to ensure their party’s indefinite political domination, this constitutional requirement is abandoned. 

(my emphasis)

The court also reversed a finding on the state’s voter id law, now holding (contrary to the earlier holding, before Republican justices took a majority of the court) that the state’s law does not violate the state Constitution.

The voter id decision is at this link.

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What happens to Moore v. Harper after the latest North Carolina Supreme Court decision in the partisan gerrymandering case?

What a mess.

Rick H. links to the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in the partisan gerrymandering cases. The congressional piece of that is in front of the United States Supreme Court right now.

Earlier, I blogged about how “mootness” was not (yet) the problem because the North Carolina Supreme Court had not (yet) issued a decision. Now it has. Mootness becomes a problem.

But I blogged a bit after that first post about the oral argument in North Carolina. An exchange between counsel and the court suggested that the judgment on appeal before the United States Supreme Court was not being reviewed, that there was no power or intention to review it, and that it would remain on a separate track from whatever happened in the case before the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Then, today, from the North Carolina Supreme Court:

The three-judge panel’s 23 February 2022 order is vacated. Plaintiffs’ claims are dismissed with prejudice. . . .

The three-judge panel’s 23 February 2022 order addressing the Remedial Plans is vacated.

That February 23 order went to the North Carolina Supreme Court, then to the United States Supreme Court for an emergency stay. It was from that February 23 judgment that the petition for writ of certiorari was based upon.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around how the North Carolina Supreme Court can issue a decision vacating an order in a case that is currently pending before the United States Supreme Court on review.

Which isn’t to say the Supreme Court might not conclude the case is moot (on the basis of the holding of the state constitution) or simply dismiss as improvidently granted. (In either case, one or more justices may separately opine with a “statement” that resembles a merits decision.) But, separately, I’m not sure North Carolina could do what it did when it came to the February 23, 2022 order. I won’t rehash those lengthy blog posts from before except to identify the open question and yet another wrinkle facing this case.

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“Pence Appears Before Grand Jury on Trump’s Efforts to Retain Power”


Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared on Thursday before the grand jury hearing evidence about former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election, a person briefed on the matter said, testifying in a criminal inquiry that could shape the legal and political fate of his one-time boss and possible 2024 rival.

Mr. Pence spent more than five hours behind closed doors at the Federal District Court in Washington in an appearance that came after he was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury earlier this year.

As the target of an intense pressure campaign in the final days of 2020 and early 2021 by Mr. Trump to convince him to play a critical role in blocking or delaying congressional certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory, Mr. Pence is considered a key witness in the investigation.

Mr. Pence, who is expected to decide soon about whether to challenge Mr. Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, rebuffed Mr. Trump’s demands that he use his role as president of the Senate in the certification of the Electoral College results to derail the final step in affirming Mr. Biden’s victory.

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“Counting Electoral Votes: How the Constitution Empowers Congress—and Not the Vice President—to Resolve Electoral Disputes”

New report from Joseph Bessette and Gary Schmitt at AEI. Highlights:

  • The vice president does not have “plenary” authority under the Constitution to settle disputes over Electoral College votes.
  • Analysis of the Constitution’s history, text, and underlying principles, along with early practices, legislation, and debates, affirms that Congress possesses that authority.
  • Accordingly, the Electoral Count Reform Act of 2022, which recognizes congressional authority to resolve electoral disputes and denies the vice president any substantive power in these matters, is fully consonant with constitutional theory and practice.
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“In N.H. stop, Trump embraces woman convicted in Jan. 6 case”


Former president Donald Trump on Thursday praised and embraced a woman convicted of defying police orders on the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Listen, you just hang in there,” Trump told the woman, Micki Larson-Olson, who was found guilty on a misdemeanor charge of resisting police efforts to clear the grounds after the insurrection by a pro-Trump mob. “You guys are gonna be okay.”

Trump, who was campaigning here in New Hampshire, then agreed to sign the backpack she said she carried to the Capitol complex on the day of the interruption of the congressional proceedings to formally certify Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.

“I can’t tell you how much that meant to me,” Larson-Olson said when Trump returned the backpack.

Trump, the polling leader in the GOP presidential race, finished by taking a picture with her, hugging her, and giving her the personalized marker he used for his autograph….

Larson-Olson, 54, said she drove 30 hours from her home in Abilene, Tex., to see Trump speak on Thursday in Manchester. Since serving her 180-day sentence, Larson-Olson said she joined a spinoff of the QAnon extremist movement known as Negative 48 that has frequented Trump rallies and campaign stops since last year.

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“This is what it took for Arizona Republicans to expel an election denier”

Yvonne Wingett Sanchez for WaPo:

The story of how Republicans decided to oust Harris — marking only the fourth time in history that an Arizona state House member has been expelled — illuminates what it takes for GOP lawmakers to police their own when it comes to election-related misinformation.

Even given the extreme nature of the false claims, those alone would not have been enough to merit expulsion from the Republican-led House, according to interviews with 18 lawmakers, staff, local leaders and political operatives.

Instead, they said, she was done in both by her dishonesty with colleagues about whether she knew in advance the substance of her witness’s planned testimony as well as her willingness to help spread conspiracy theories targeting her party’s own leaders.

“There’s a lot of election deniers out there,” said one key state House Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment of a GOP caucus in which election denialism is common. “If that’s what we were going to be doing, there would be, like, 10 people expelled by now.”

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“The Jolt: Raffensperger calls disinformation top threat to democracy”


Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was in Chicago Thursday speaking to national political reporters at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. Georgia’s top election official discussed overseeing the 2020 Georgia elections, the lessons he learned and some of the fallout from the chaos.

Asked by journalist John Harwood about the “weakest link in the chain” for American democracy today, Raffensperger said it isn’t voting machines or election officials, which former President Donald Trump wrongly blamed for “election fraud.” Instead, Raffensperger pointed to disinformation from candidates and bad actors.

“It’s the candidates and their consultants, who don’t want to admit their candidate lost because that means, ‘I’m a bad consultant,’” Raffensperger said. “Well, you should have run a better campaign for your candidate or your candidate shouldn’t have said some of the dumb things that he did. But those are the consequences, because the voters are smart.”

Asked if elections officials like him should be elected as candidates, Raffensperger said yes.

“When it comes to your priceless franchise to vote, I think that person should be elected, because then you can decide if you want to reaffirm them. … When you have a state election board, you kind of wonder who’s in charge and who you can get mad at.”

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“Public tirades, recall threats as Shasta County roils from decision to dump voting machines”


Weeks after deciding to dump Dominion Voting Systems and become the largest government entity in the U.S. to hand-count its votes, Shasta County officials are now grappling with the complex logistics of actually carrying out that approach, accurately and legally, in a county of 200,000 people.

In a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday spiced with angry personal attacks — and during which Supervisor Kevin Crye was served with recall papers on the dais mid-session— county staff told board members that hand-counting ballots could cost an additional $3 million over two years. The board ultimately voted to fund seven more staff positions to carry out the effort, even as flabbergasted citizens in the audience bemoaned what they said were absurd new expenses for a county struggling to provide healthcare and homeless services.

The board’s decision earlier this year to sever the county’s long-standing relationship with Dominion, one of the largest suppliers of voting machines and software in the U.S, has garnered national attention as an example of the chaos wrought by unfounded claims of voter fraud pushed by former President Trump and his allies after his failed 2020 reelection bid. Last week, Fox News agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million to settle a defamation suit the company filed accusing the network of knowingly promoting false claims that its voting machines had been used to manipulate election results. As part of that settlement, Fox issued a statement acknowledging “certain claims” made on its programming about Dominion were false.

The fraud claims, nonetheless, found traction in Shasta County after a hard-right majority, including Crye, were elected to the board in November. Crye, the owner of a Ninja gym with no previous experience in elected office, recently announced he has been in touch with MyPillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, a prominent pro-Trump election conspiracy theorist, about aiding Shasta in its plan to pilot its own voting system.

Shasta’s shift from a mechanized voting system has provoked concern among a number of civic groups, including the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union, which have implored Shasta County to reconsider.

On Thursday, the Assembly passed a bill that would make it more difficult for any other California county to follow Shasta’s lead. AB 969, which now heads to the state Senate, would require a county board of supervisors to have a signed contract in place with a new voting system that meets state approval before canceling a contract with an old one. The bill was sponsored by Assemblywoman Gail Pellerin, a Democrat who formerly served as registrar of voters in Santa Cruz County.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Supervisor Mary Rickert implored her colleagues to reverse their decision, saying it was “irresponsible” and ”terribly reckless.”

“I am horrified with what is happening in Shasta County,” she told them. “This is going to be your legacy.”

Supervisor Patrick Jones, who spearheaded the movement to dump Dominion, shot back: “This is going to be our legacy. We are going to have free and fair elections in Shasta County.”

That prompted Crye to pipe up that his legacy “is not going to be in politics.”

“My legacy is going to be how I serve the Lord,” he continued. “That’s my faith first, and my family second, and definitely children third.”

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“A second firm hired by Trump campaign found no evidence of election fraud”


Former president Trump’s campaign quietly commissioned a second firm to study election fraud claims in the weeks after the 2020 election, and the founder of the firm was recently questioned by the Justice Department about his work disproving the claims.

Ken Block, founder of the firm Simpatico Software Systems, studied more than a dozen voter fraud theories and allegations for Trump’s campaign in late 2020 and found they were “all false,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“No substantive voter fraud was uncovered in my investigations looking for it, nor was I able to confirm any of the outside claims of voter fraud that I was asked to look at,” he said. “Every fraud claim I was asked to investigate was false.”

Block said he recently received a subpoena from special counsel Jack Smith’s office and met with federal prosecutors in Washington, but he declined to discuss his interactions with them. Block said he contemporaneously sent his findings disputing fraud claims in writing to the Trump campaign in late 2020…

The prosecutors have signaled extensive interest in experts who were paid with Trump’s own money and whose research was disseminated to campaign advisers and Trump himself.

Block, 57, was previously unknown to Trump’s political orbit. He formerly ran for governor in Rhode Island as a Republican and owns a company called Simpatico Software Systems, which he founded in 2001.

He said his firm has been used by other states and companies to look for fraud, and that he has acted as an expert witness in court cases involving fraud. Block said he was a computer engineer by training and had worked in technology for decades. He had also previously formed the Moderate Party in Rhode Island.

Block said he was sitting on his porch in Rhode Island with his family the day after the election when a Trump adviser called one day. “Would I be willing to look for voter fraud?” he said, describing the request. At first, his family would not give him the “immediate green light,” but he said he convinced them it would be OK to work for Trump’s campaign.

Soon, Block said, he was sent fraud claims by Trump’s campaign to study. Some came from the campaign itself, but others originated from sources outside the campaign and informal advisers to Trump, which the campaign passed along.

The claims were all without evidence, he said, and some were more ridiculous than others. He declined to specify the claims, saying they were part of the ongoing Justice Department investigation. Block also declined to identify what outside advisers were responsible for some of the claims, saying that was also part of the investigation.

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