3/3 – For the People Act, Scene 1

Today, the House of Representatives is set to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a bill that will protect voters’ rights and enhance election security. Yesterday, H.R. 1 lead sponsor Rep. John Sarbanes, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon joined VPP Advisory Board member and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and VPP Chair Ambassador Norm Eisen for a press briefing to discuss the impact the landmark legislation will have on the states and the growing support for the bill from state leaders.  Although former Vice President Mike Pence pushed the lie that there was widespread voter fraud in an op-ed opposing H.R.1, Eisenurged leaders yesterday on the call  to “keep an open mind as to what will happen next in the Senate. Anybody who is prematurely predicting the demise of this critical bill is not paying attention to all the evidence.”

Today, the Capitol Police announced that they uncovered intelligence about a possible plot by militia to breach the U.S. Capitol tomorrow as part of a fringe conspiracy theory, largely pushed by supporters of QAnon, that former President Donald Trump will regain power tomorrow, March 4.  This follows on the heels of testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray before the Senate yesterday that the January 6 insurrection was “an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists,” both domestically and internationally.

Here is today’s update:

National Update

The VRA at SCOTUS: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court justices asked skeptical questions about the need for restrictive voting laws during oral arguments in two cases concerning new impositions on Arizona voters: Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee. Seen as an important test for the landmark Voting Right Act, these cases may decide the fate of Section 2 of the VRA, one of the remaining mechanisms in federal law to combat voting laws that discriminate on the basis of race. Experts interpreted the Justices’ questions as sending mixed signals over which restrictions will stand under their application of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. These cases are expected to be decided before July.

H.R. 1: Today, the House is expected to pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a bill that will protect voters’ rights and enhance election security. If signed into law, this sweeping election protection bill would remove many barriers to the right to vote, reform the gerrymandering process through independent redistricting, require the release of tax returns for presidential candidates, and ensure greater electoral security. 

Echoing those opposing H.R. 1, former Vice President Mike Pence published an op-ed in the conservative outlet The Daily Signal, repeating the lie that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections—a claim that his administration’s own attorney general disputed at the end of last year, declaring that he had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Plot Against U.S. Capitol: Today, the Capitol Police announced that intelligence information pointed to a “possible plot” to attack the Capitol tomorrow. Followers of a fringe conspiracy theory, widely pushed by supporters of QAnon, believe that on March 4, former President Donald Trump will regain power. The date carries significance as the time when U.S. presidents had been inaugurated until 1933, when in inauguration was changed to January 20.

FBI Director Speaks: In his first public remarks since the January 6 attack on the Capitol, FBI Director Chris Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that those attacks were “an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists,” both domestically and internationally. Despite claims from some, he noted that there is  “no evidence” that Antifa played a role. He called the insurgency “domestic terrorism” and warned that this threat was “metastasizing across the country.”

New (Real) Research on Fake News:  The Cybersecurity for Democracy project at New York University released a report  finding that while misinformation —  so-called “fake news” —  gets more engagement on Facebook, it’s largely a phenomenon of right-wing sources. The research outfit found that “fake news” from the far-right doesn’t suffer from the “misinformation penalty” that news sources from other places across the political spectrum face.

State Updates

Arizona: Yesterday, the Arizona Senate voted to pass a measure to restrict the state’s popular  “permanent early vote list.” The measure would purge registered voters from the list who did not vote in four consecutive elections, including both primary and general elections. The list allows voters to automatically receive an Early Voting Ballot for every election in which they are eligible to vote. Following Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason’s ruling last week to allow the Senate access to Maricopa County election equipment and the county’s 2.1 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election, the controversy continues. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met yesterday for an executive session that was closed to the public to discuss what was happening regarding the 2020 presidential election and the State Senate. The issues have yet to be resolved, but even after the Arizona Senate successfully sued for access to 2.1 million ballots, it has nowhere to store them.

Georgia: House Speaker David Ralston announced a plan to offer free Georgia ID cards that could be used for travel, banking, and voting. The cards would be used to potentially comply with the strict ID requirements that House Bill 532 would impose on absentee voting. Despite strong opposition, a measure to restrict voting rights passed the Georgia House along party lines by a vote of 97 to 72. It has been noted that the passage of this bill would have an outsized impact on Black voters who make up about one-third of the state’s population. District Attorney Fani Willis’ probe exploring former President Donald Trump and his associates is moving toward a grand jury seeking witnesses, subpoenas, and documents that may shed light on the pressure exerted by Trump and associates on Georgia officials in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. 

Michigan: On Tuesday, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced the completion of the most comprehensive series of post-election audits in the state’s history. “It is time for leaders across the political spectrum to tell their constituents the truth, that our election was the most secure in history, and the results accurately reflect the will of Michigan’s voters,” Benson said.

Pennsylvania: Despite the trend of other Republican Party organizations at the state level censuring those Members of Congress who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, the Pennsylvania GOP narrowly voted to not censure Senator Pat Toomey, who voted to convict the former president.  However, by a narrow margin of 128 to 124 they voted for a “strong rebuke” of the sitting senator. They did proceed with censuring Governor Tom Wolf, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and other statewide officials. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a letter to the editor from Khalif Ali, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania,  calling for passage of the  For the People Act, to ensure that all the state’s registered voters would be able to vote.

Wisconsin: After considering complications stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, special voting deputies will once again be allowed to deploy to nursing homes under new guidance that was given yesterday by the state’s Elections Commission for the upcoming election on April 6. The decision by the Commission also meant that they may also more frequently contact voters whose addresses may have changed so as to more easily resolve  instances in which a voter has been wrongly thought to have moved. This is all while some state lawmakers have started circulating a set of 10 bills that would increase barriers to voting in the state.

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