3/10 – The Devil’s Congressional Pin?

Yesterday, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine joined VPP Chair Norm Eisen in an op-ed for USA Today warning that there’s no time to wait while state-level voter suppression bills gain momentum. America may regress to historic levels of disenfranchisement unless dedicated ranks stand up to protect access to the ballot box by taking actions like passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act. 

Talk around reforming the Senate filibuster continues to pick up steam and, along with it, confusion. As with many consequential decisions of the upper chamber in this Congress, one figure has outsized influence on the outcome right now: Senator Joe Manchin. Advocates for reform were given some hope when Manchin seemed to signal a path forward, but today he made himself perfectly clear (at least for now) that he supports the 60 vote threshold. Given the history of the Senate as a “kill switch,” opponents of the filibuster point out that using this tool to prevent the needed expansion of voting rights would be rolling back the clock to voter suppression of the past. Opponents of H.R. 1 aren’t convinced.

Here is today’s update:

National Update

Regression Risk: “HR 1 offers a stark alternative to this regression to Jim Crow, building on the best and most effective practices from states around the country — red and blue — to strengthen our multiracial, inclusive democracy,” wrote FroshRacine, and Eisen in USA Today. “There’s no time to wait while state-level suppression bills gain steam. The Senate’s anti-majoritarian filibuster rules should not stand in the way of HR 1’s consideration. They have a long history of propping up racist policies, and if they clear the way for a new wave of voter suppression disproportionately targeting Black and brown Americans, that shameful history will add a new chapter.”

Manchin’s Machinations: Speaking with Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd on Sunday, Senator Joe Manchin seemed to indicate that he would support requiring a “talking filibuster” if a senator insisted on the higher threshold of 60 votes to pass legislation, instead of a simple majority. When asked by a reporter about his comments on Sunday, the senior senator from West Virginia replied in frustration: “I want to make it very clear to everybody: There’s no way that I would vote to prevent the minority from having input into the process in the Senate. That means protecting the filibuster . . . It must be a process to get to that 60-vote threshold.”

51>60: Is a tool with a history of being used to enforce racist laws in fact racist itself? Former deputy chief of staff to Senator Harry ReidAdam Jentleson, has a new book out tracing “the history of the filibuster, which started as a tool of Southern senators upholding slavery and then later became a mechanism to block civil rights legislation.” Jentleson’s book describes its use by both parties.

H.R.1: NBC News takes a deep dive into the 791-page bill and explores what it actually does, including how it would make it easier for voters to vote and stay on the rolls, restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, reform gerrymandering, increase election cybersecurity, and create public financing for congressional elections.

The Devil Went Down to Congress?: While speaking to Fox News, Senator Mike Lee issued a warning of biblical proportions on H.R.1. “Everything about this bill is rotten to the core. This is a bill as if written in hell by the devil himself,” said Senator Lee. It’s unclear if the senator knew that the bill’s author was Rep. John Sarbanes who has attended the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Baltimore, MD since childhood.

State Updates

Arizona: On Monday, the State Senate voted along party lines to “to require voters to include identification paperwork with their mailed ballots, insisting their motives aren’t racist as Democrats contended the measure would have an outsized impact on voters of color.” State Rep. Reginald Bolding, who is opposed to the effort, said that “there is a systemic effort in limiting the amount of people going to the polls.” Sen. Kelli Townsend, who voted to pass the bill, claimed that the Senate minority was asking them to “look the other way when there are irregularities.” Despite repeated audits in Maricopa County of the election results, there is no evidence of anything close to widespread irregularities.

Staci Burk, a Pinal County resident, shared in a Facebook post over the weekend that she purportedly saw “ballots shredded and in dumpsters behind the Maricopa County Ballot tabulation center” and declaring “physical evidence collected.” In response, Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department, noted that those “ballots weren’t cast in the 2020 general election. State law requires counties to keep all ballots for 24 months after an election is canvassed.” Gilbertson also posited that they might be sample ballots which are printed on the same paper as the real thing. “The ballot shown in the picture could be any one of those things. What it is not is an official voted ballot from the November General Election. The 2.1 million voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in a vault, under 24/7 surveillance,” she said.

Michigan: Yesterday, the State House passed a series of election reforms including those that were recommended by the auditor general in 2019. According to the Detroit Free Press, the wide-ranging measures include: a pair of bills that require voters with unknown birth dates and those who haven’t voted in a long time to take steps to ensure their registration isn’t cancelled. Some Democratic lawmakers are accusing their Republican colleagues of crafting legislation based on misinformation about the security of Michigan’s election. Other bills passed by the House seek to ensure clerks  stay current with their election training, consolidate precincts, require clerks to create a permanent absent voter list, and expand the number of voting jurisdictions that establish designated counting boards to process and count absentee ballots.

Georgia: Our nation’s oldest living president spoke out against the efforts of the State Senate to limit voting rights. A former governor of Georgia, President Jimmy Carter, released a statement, saying, in part, “I am disheartened, saddened, and angry. Many of the proposed changes are reactions to allegations of fraud for which no evidence was produced—allegations that were, in fact, refuted through various audits, recounts, and other measures. The proposed changes appear to be rooted in partisan interests, not in the interests of all Georgia voters.”

Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams tweeted that the bill, SB 1485, is “is a coordinated attack on voting rights. GOP-led legislatures in GA, AZ & NH are pushing dozens of bills to make it harder for people of color & young people to vote. We voted in Nov & instead of listening, they are trying to shut us out of the process.” The legislation, which moves next to the Georgia House, “would get rid of no-excuse absentee voting and limit those who can apply to vote by mail” and “curtail the criteria for absentee voting to those aged over 65, the physically disabled and military or overseas voters, as well as put in place other restrictions.”

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