2/18 Voting Rights Take Center Stage

In the weeks since the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers, prosecutors, and members of the public have sought justice for the reprehensible events of that day, exploring multiple avenues by which to denounce misinformation and hold accountable those who spread it. As detailed in our CNN op-ed earlier this week, the accountability era is only just beginning. Through legislation, lawsuits, and regulatory action, leaders are working to strengthen our democracy.

Here is today’s update:

National Update

Voting Rights Teed Up: With the For The People Act slated for Congressional debate during the first week of March, the landmark legislation is receiving renewed attention for its sweeping proposals. The bill received praise for tackling issues like the excessive influence of money in politics and undemocratic gerrymandering practices. The Act also enshrines voting protections on a national scale, which would help protect against extreme state-specific efforts to restrict voting. While the bill makes its way through Congress, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill would like to see President Biden take White House action to protect democracy. Just yesterday, 20 Senators signed onto a letter urging the President to sign nearly a dozen executive actions to protect voting and target big money in politics.

Legal Woes Persist: Though former President Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he still faces multiple lawsuits in state and federal criminal courts. House Homeland Security chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson and the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit three days ago in a D.C. court alleging that Trump’s actions on January 6th violated the Klu Klux Klan Act by conspiring to prevent public officials from carrying out their duties by force, intimidation, or threat. Multiple House lawmakers are expected to support the lawsuit in the coming days, either by joining as plaintiffs or by voicing support for the suit. Trump is facing at least two other high-profile legal actions in the states. Amidst this flurry of court activity, news broke that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is facing multiple lawsuits in his own capacity, will no longer represent the former President in “any legal matters.”

The January 6th Commission: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol has met with a positive response. The proposal received bipartisan support, with many heralding it as a way to unify the country through the impartial pursuit of truth and accountability. Former members of the 9/11 commission voiced similar hopes, declaring that an independent review of the riot is a necessary step in the national healing and reconciliation process. Others view the information-seeking commission as insufficient, calling for an accompanying criminal investigation. To create a 9/11-style commission on the events on January 6th, Congress must pass legislation for President Biden to approve.

Infighting Continues: Former President Trump issued a fiery response to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who denounced Trump as responsible for inciting the January 6th riot after voting to acquit him on grounds that convicting a former president would be unconstitutional. Trump’s scorching remarks underscore the growing rift between members of the Republican Party, some of whom have pledged fealty to the former President and his continued use of false claims that the election was stolen. Others have tried to distance themselves from the misinformation and conspiracy theories earning bipartisan support, including from Democrats, who are defending some of their GOP colleagues accused of being tied to QAnon.

Facebook Review: As Facebook’s independent Oversight Board considers whether to make the platform’s ban on the former President’s account permanent, new research highlights the misleading content in Trump’s previous posts– and the company’s lackluster response. According to a new analysis by Media Matters, roughly a quarter of Trump’s 6,081 Facebook posts from last year contained extreme rhetoric or misinformation. Yet, a report from The Markup confirms that the social media company was less likely to label Trump’s misinformation-filled posts as “false” or “misleading,” instead opting for more evasive labels like “missing context” or attaching a generic warning about election integrity.

State Updates

Arizona: Senate Bill 1069, a law that would purge voters from Arizona’s permanent early voting list, failed in a 15-15 vote Tuesday evening. Republican Sen. Paul Boyer joined with his Democratic colleagues to block the bill. Boyer’s colleagues retaliated against the lawmaker for his vote in an unusual way, recalling his bill to expand school vouchers which had previously passed on Monday.

Rep. Mark Finchem was back in the headlines yesterday after he filed a 10-page ethics complaint against Democrats in the Arizona legislature. The complaint alleges that his colleagues “conspired, maliciously and in bad faith, to have me (and others) punished for exercising my First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and contest the legitimacy of the recent Presidential election.” Finchem was a vocal leader in the “Stop the Steal” movement, regularly promoting false claims of election fraud, even calling for an “election integrity hearing” to make his case. Finchem is currently crowdfunding from his supporters online the $15,000 he owes for this hearing.

Florida: On Tuesday, the Florida State Senate Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved Senate Bill 90, which restricts mail-in voting in the state. The bill advanced along party lines, with Democrats arguing that changes to current absentee voting laws were unnecessary, given that the 2020 election passed without any significant incidents, errors, or confusion. Current law allows mail-ballot requests to stay active for two general election cycles unless the voter opts out. The bill would allow only one vote-by-mail application per election cycle and would require those who requested absentee ballots in 2020 to reapply for them in 2022.

Georgia: Today, lawmakers in the Georgia State House released a sweeping elections bill, House Bill 531, that would shrink the window in which voters can request an absentee ballot and eliminate early voting on Sunday, a day that is known to be a high turnout day for Black voters and for “souls to the polls” events. Yesterday, a Georgia Senate subcommittee approved two bills that would require voters to provide an approved excuse and a photo ID to receive an absentee ballot. The two bills, Senate Bill 71 and 67, will now advance to the full Senate Ethics committee. Senate Bill 89, which would require an elections officer in the Secretary of State’s office to oversee counties’ performance, and Senate Bill 93, which would only allow mobile voting buses in case of emergencies, also passed the subcommittee Wednesday morning.

State lawmakers are floating constitutional changes that would allow them to protect Trump from a guilty verdict in l Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ probe of his phone call asking Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to overturn the state’s 2020 election results. Senate Republicans introduced Senate Resolution 100, a constitutional amendment that would require a statewide grand jury to rule on any crime relating to voting and election law violations. The amendment would require local prosecutors– like Willis— to empanel a jury composed of members outside their district.

Michigan: In a radio interview Tuesday, Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader State Sen. Mike Shirkey falsely claimed that dead people voted in the state’s 2020 election. “Too many dead people voted and there was too much confusion at absentee counting boards, which is going to be the new reality,” Shirkey stated, arguing that President Biden would not have won the state without the numbers from these dead voters. These allegations have no factual basis.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Dana Nessel won dismissal of a lawsuit from Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund. Daunt sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Director of Elections Jonathan Brater last June alleging that voter registration lists were inadequately maintained. “The dismissal of this case is yet another example of a speculative claim and baseless allegations made during the 2020 election that ultimately proved unsustainable,” Nessel said. “I applaud Secretary Benson and her staff for their ongoing work in voter list maintenance registration, as well as their commitment to transparency, integrity and accuracy in Michigan’s elections.”

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