Democrats Splinter Over Strategy for Pushing Through Voting Rights Bill

President Biden and leading congressional Democrats have made the far-reaching bill a top priority, but some proponents believe it needs major changes.

From The New York Times:

Democrats in Congress are quietly splintering over how to handle the expansive voting rights bill that they have made a centerpiece of their ambitious legislative agenda, potentially jeopardizing their chances of countering a Republican drive to restrict ballot access in states across the country.

President Biden and leading Democrats have pledged to make the elections overhaul a top priority, even contemplating a bid to upend bedrock Senate rules if necessary to push it through over Republican objections. But they are contending with an undercurrent of reservations in their ranks over how aggressively to try to revamp the nation’s elections and whether, in their zeal to beat back new Republican ballot restrictions moving through the states, their proposed solution might backfire, sowing voting confusion and new political challenges.

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Democrats Begin Push for Biggest Expansion of Voting Since 1960s

Democrats characterized the far-reaching elections overhaul as the civil rights battle of modern times. Republicans called it a power grab that would put their party at a permanent disadvantage.

From the New York Times:

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee, which convened the hearing, said states were taking appropriate steps to restore public confidence after 2020 by imposing laws that require voters to show identification before voting and limiting so-called ballot harvesting, where others collect voters’ completed absentee ballots and submit them to election officials. He said that if Democrats were allowed to rush through changes on the national level, “chaos will reign in the next election and voters will have less confidence than they currently do.”

The suggestion piqued Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and the committee chairwoman, who shot back that it was the current elections system — an uneven patchwork of state laws and evolving voting rules — that had caused “chaos” at polling places.

“Chaos is what we’ve seen in the last years — five-hour or six-hour lines in states like Arizona to vote. Chaos is purging names of longtime voters from a voter list so they can’t go vote in states like Georgia,” she said. “What this bill tries to do is to simply make it easier for people to vote and take the best practices that what we’ve seen across the country, and put it into law as we are allowed to do under the Constitution.”

With Republicans unified against them, Democrats’ best hope for enacting the legislation increasingly appears to be to try to leverage its voting protections — to justify triggering the Senate’s so-called nuclear option: the elimination of the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to advance most bills.

Even that may be a prohibitively heavy lift, though, at least in the bill’s current form. Liberal activists who are spending tens of millions of dollars promoting it insist that the package must move as one bill. But Senator Joe Manchin III, a centrist West Virginia Democrat whose support they would need both to change the filibuster rules and to push through the elections bill, said on Wednesday that he would not support it in its current form.

Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Mr. Manchin said he feared that pushing through partisan changes would create more “division” that the country could not afford after the Jan. 6 attack, and instead suggested narrowing the bill.

Read the full story here.

Republicans Aim to Seize More Power Over How Elections Are Run

G.O.P. lawmakers in at least eight states controlled by the party are trying to gain broad influence over the mechanics of voting, in an effort that could further undermine the country’s democratic norms.

From the New York Times:

Democrats began pushing on Wednesday for the most substantial expansion of voting rights in a half-century, laying the groundwork in the Senate for what would be a fundamental change to the ways voters get to the polls and elections are run.

At a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders made a passionate case for a bill that would mandate automatic voter registration nationwide, expand early and mail-in voting, end gerrymandering that skews congressional districts for maximum partisan advantage and curb the influence of money in politics.

The effort is taking shape as Republicans have introduced more than 250 bills to restrict voting in 43 states and have continued to spread false accusations of fraud and impropriety in the 2020 election. It comes just months after those claims, spread by President Donald J. Trump as he sought to cling to power, fueled a deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that showed how deeply his party had come to believe in the myth of a stolen election.

Republicans were unapologetic in their opposition to the measure, with some openly arguing that if Democrats succeeded in making it easier for Americans to vote and in enacting the other changes in the bill, it would most likely place their party permanently in the minority.

“Any American who thinks that the fight for a full and fair democracy is over is sadly and sorely mistaken,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “Today, in the 21st century, there is a concerted, nationwide effort to limit the rights of citizens to vote and to truly have a voice in their own government.”

Mr. Schumer’s rare appearance at a committee meeting underscored the stakes, not just for the election process but for his party’s own political future. He called the proposed voting rollbacks in dozens of states — including Georgia, Iowa and Arizona — an “existential threat to our democracy” reminiscent of the Jim Crow segregationist laws of the past.

Read the full story here.

A Close-Up Picture of Partisan Segregation, Among 180 Million Voters

From the New York Times:

The broad outlines of America’s partisan divides are visible on any national map. Republicans typically dominate in most Southern and Plains states, and Democrats in Northeastern and West Coast ones. Democrats cluster in urban America, Republicans in more rural places.

But keep zooming in — say, to the level of individual addresses for 180 million registered voters — and this pattern keeps repeating itself: within metro areas, within counties and cities, even within parts of the same city.

Democrats and Republicans live apart from each other, down to the neighborhood, to a degree that raises provocative questions about how closely lifestyle preferences have become aligned with politics and how even neighbors may influence one another.

As new research has found, it’s not just that many voters live in neighborhoods with few members of the opposite party; it’s that nearly all American voters live in communities where they are less likely to encounter people with opposing politics than we’d expect. That means, for example, that in a neighborhood where Democrats make up 60 percent of the voters, only 50 percent of a Republican’s nearest neighbors might be Democrats.

Democrats and Republicans are effectively segregated from each other, to varying degrees by place, according to the Harvard researchers Jacob Brown and Ryan Enos. And at least over the past decade, they believe this partisan segregation has been growing more pronounced.

Read the full story here.

Virginia Gov. Northam restores voting rights to 69,000 former felons with new policy

From CNN:

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he’s taking executive action to restore voting and other civil rights to former felons as soon as they complete their prison terms — a move that will immediately apply to more than 69,000 formerly incarcerated Virginians.

Northam’s action, shared first with CNN, is the latest push to expand the franchise to ex-convicts in the state, and comes just months before Virginia’s gubernatorial and state legislative elections.

It also occurs in the middle of a battle around the country over who has the right to vote. Republican-controlled legislatures are moving to clamp down on access to the ballot. As of February 19, lawmakers in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills that included voting restrictions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Arizona and Georgia — two traditionally Republican states that backed President Joe Biden last fall — have led the way in pushing new restrictions.

Removing obstacles to voting for former felons has been the subject of partisan warfare in some states because of the perception that this cohort of voters is more likely to support Democratic candidates.

Under current law in Virginia, anyone convicted of a felony loses an array of civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on juries or run for public office. The state Constitution gives the governor the sole power to restore most of those civil rights.

Previously, the state’s policy required former felons to finish serving “active supervision,” including probation or parole, before they were eligible to have their rights restored by the governor. Northam’s move means Virginians who have been released from prison but still remain on probation or parole now are eligible to vote.

Read the full story here.

Voter purges put eligible Wisconsinites’ rights at risk, new report finds

Wisconsin’s method of cleaning its voter registration list may disenfranchise a significant number of voters. 

From The Fulcrum:

A new study suggests some voters in Wisconsin, particularly members of minority communities in that perennial tossup state, may lose their voting rights thanks to flaws in the state’s process for maintaining registration lists.

At least 4 percent of Wisconsin voters’ registrations were incorrectly flagged as out of date in 2018 because they were suspected of having moved but had not done so, Yale University researchers found.

Their report offers a number of caveats that demonstrate the incorrect labeling is likely higher than 4 percent. And in a place where the state Supreme Court is considering whether to purge 129,000 voters — and where the last two contests for presidential electors were each decided by fewer than 25,000 ballots — every registration is critical.

Wisconsin participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, which shares data (like motor vehicle and Postal Service records) among 30 states and Washington, D.C., to help them maintain voter registration lists, or poll books. Yale’s researchers, led by political science professor Gregory Huber, compared ERIC’s Wisconsin data to actual voter files from 2018 and 2019.

From there, they could determine which suspected movers never responded to the state’s postcards seeking address confirmation but still cast ballots at the addresses on file — data totaling at least 9,000 registrants, or 4 percent of the registered voters. And minority voters were twice as likely as white voters to be mislabeled.

Read the full story here

The racial burden of voter list maintenance errors: Evidence from Wisconsin’s supplemental movers poll books

Administrative records are increasingly used to identify registered voters who may have moved, with potential movers then sent postcards asking them to confirm their address of registration.

From Science Advances:

Administrative records are increasingly used to identify registered voters who may have moved, with potential movers then sent postcards asking them to confirm their address of registration. It is important to understand how often these registrants did not move, and how often such an error is not corrected by the postcard confirmation process, because uncorrected errors make it more difficult for a registrant to subsequently vote. While federal privacy protections generally prevent researchers from observing the data necessary to estimate these quantities, we are able to study this process in Wisconsin because special poll books, available via public records requests, listed those registrants who were identified as potential movers and did not respond to a subsequent postcard. At least 4% of these registrants cast a ballot at their address of registration, with minority registrants twice as likely as white registrants to do so.

Read the full research article here.

Rightwing group nearly forced Wisconsin to purge thousands of eligible voters

New state data shows removal of almost 17,000 eligible voters ahead of 2020 election could have been disastrous

From The Guardian:

well-connected conservative group in Wisconsin nearly succeeded in forcing the state to kick nearly 17,000 eligible voters off its rolls ahead of the 2020 election, new state data reveals.

The group, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (Will), caused a national uproar in late 2019 when it successfully convinced a county judge to order the state to immediately remove more than 232,000 people Wisconsin suspected of moving homes from the state’s voter rolls. The state, relying on government records, had sent a postcard to all of those voters asking them to confirm their address, and Will sought to remove anyone who had not responded within 30 days.

Democrats on the commission refused to comply with the order, believing that they didn’t have the authority to immediately remove the voters and that the underlying data wasn’t reliable, and wanted to give voters until April 2021 to confirm their address before they removed them. Appeals courts intervened and blocked the removals; the case is currently pending before the Wisconsin supreme court. There were still more than 71,000 voters still on the list at the end of January who did not respond to the mailer (152,524 people on the list updated their registration at a new address).

But new data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission shows how disastrous such a purge could have been. And the dispute underscores the way fights over how states remove people from their voter rolls – often called purging – has become a critical part of protecting voting rights in America.

Across the country, Republicans and conservative groups have pushed for aggressive purging, saying it helps prevent fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the process can be done haphazardly, leaving eligible voters, particularly minority groups and students, at risk of being wrongly purged.

Read the full story here.