Colorado County Clerk Indicted in Voting Security Breach Investigation

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From The New York Times

March 9, 2022

The Mesa County clerk, Tina Peters, is charged with 10 counts related to tampering with voting equipment. A Republican running for secretary of state, she has promoted false claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

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Texas counties reject unprecedented numbers of mail ballots ahead of March 1 primary under restrictive new law

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Read Time:10 Minute, 33 Second

By Amy Gardner

Washington Post February 11, 2022

A restrictive new voting law in Texas has sown confusion and erected hurdles for those casting ballots in the state’s March 1 primary, with election administrators rejecting early batches ofmail ballots at historic rates and voters uncertain about whether they will be able to participate.

In recent days,thousands ofballots have been rejected because voters did not meet a new requirement to provide an identification number inside the return envelope.

In Harris County, the state’s most populous county and home to Houston, election officials said Friday that 40 percent of roughly 3,600returned ballots so far have lacked the identification number required under Senate Bill 1, as the new law is known. In Williamson County, a populous northern suburb of Austin, the rejection rate has been about 25 percent in the first few days that ballots have come in, the top election official there said.

“Twenty-five percent of mail ballots from the starting blocks is a big deal for our county,” said Chris Davis, Williamson County’s elections chief. “We’ve never seen it before. And yes, our hope is that we can get these voters to correct the defects in a timely fashion. But what if they don’t, because three months ago they didn’t have to? There’s a learning curve. There are going to be possibly painful lessons that their vote doesn’t count because they weren’t aware.”

All the officials said that the sample size is small at this early stage and that the rate of rejected ballotscould improve as more arrive. Jennifer Anderson, the elections chief in Hays County, southwest of Austin, said her staff had rejected 25 percent of the first small batch of returned ballots — but by Friday morning, the rate had dropped to 4 percent.

“It seems like our outreach is working,” she said.

Still, the defect rate so far is alarming election administrators, voting advocates and some voters as primary day quickly approaches and many thousands more ballots are still to be returned. The rejection rates provide an early opportunity to assess the impact of Senate Bill 1, one of dozens of restrictive voting laws enacted by Republicans across the country last year amid an avalanche of false claims, many from former president Donald Trump, that the 2020 presidential race was tainted by widespread fraud.

State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R), a leading proponent of Senate Bill 1, said in a text message that “Texans deserve to have confidence in the electoral system.” The new law ensures that, Cain said, by creating uniform voting hours across the state, expanding access for those who need assistance and enhancing transparency with provisions that protect the rights of partisan poll watchers.

“I’m confident that local election officials will prioritize assisting voters through the process instead of gaslighting to gin up fear and confusion,” Cain said.

In addition to adding identification requirements, the wide-reaching law imposes new penalties for anyone who registers to vote or casts a ballot but is not eligible to do so. It also empowers partisan poll watchers by imposing penalties on poll workers who impede their ability to observe the voting process, among other changes.

A federal judge delivered a narrow defeat to one part of the law on Friday. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled that in Harris County and in the Austin area, the state can’t enforce a provision forbidding public officials to encourage voters to vote by mail, the Associated Press reported. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a message.

The rejection of mail ballots is not the first challenge that Senate Bill 1 has presented, and election officials — who are nonpartisan in Texas — fear it won’t be the last. In January, counties also began rejecting a high percentage of mail ballot applications, which now require the same identification numbers as the ballots themselves. The law requires voters to provide either a Texas state identification number, typically from their driver’s license, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. The number they provide must match the identification number on file with their registration record.

Many counties are experiencing significant application rejection rates; in Harris, the figure is 35 percent to date, officials said.

In Texas, mail-in voting is open only to those who are over 65, will be away from home on Election Day or have a disability that prevents them from voting in person. Mail voting has for decades been the province of Republicans, who developed robust outreach programs and in many states championed legislation allowing the practice. In 2020, however, when Trump criticized mail balloting as an opportunity for fraud, many GOP voters began shunning the practice.

“It feels like people were just sitting up late at night thinking up ways to discourage people from voting,” said Jo Nell Yarbrough, a 76-year-old retired educator from Katy, Tex., west of Houston, who received a letter early this week from her local election office informing her that she had neglected to include an identification number on her application for a mail ballot.

Yarbrough sent out the application a second time and said she is optimistic that she’ll get the ballot in time to vote and mail it back again — and she is also willing to vote in person if necessary, once early voting begins Monday. But Yarbrough, a Democrat, said she fears that others might not be so persistent.

“It’s just making another hurdle for people,” she said. “And many people are going to give up and say, ‘I don’t feel like doing this or that.’ Not that it’s not worth it, but when you get older, you don’t want hassles.”

The GOP-controlled Texas legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) enacted Senate Bill 1 in early September after Democrats tried unsuccessfullyto halt the bill bydenying Republicans a quorum in the House for months.The law went into effect in December despite entreaties from county election officials to give them more time to educate their staffs and voters. Lawmakers also denied local officials’ requests to push back the primary date.

As a result, election administrators have been scrambling to understand the new rules, procure new materials such as ballot requests and voter registration forms required under the law — and teach the public how it will affect them. They have relied on guidance from the secretary of state’s office, which in some cases has taken months to develop.

That fueled the confusion about how to process mail-in ballot applications, said Remi Garza, the elections chief in Cameron County, at the state’s southern tip.

“There was a lot of information that had not been distributed to all the 254 counties in Texas, so different administrators had different levels of information with respect to how you could process these applications,” said Garza, who leads the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

That delay also contributed to a shortage of voter-registration cards as organizers with groups such as the League of Women Voters were unsure whether they could use their stockpiles of old cards or would have to wait to receive new forms from the state. The new form explains Senate Bill 1′s increased penalties for anyone providing false information on their voter registration application.

State officials told League organizers that they would not be able to provide the tens of thousands of registration cards they normally supply because of a nationwide paper shortage and rising costs.

Nancy Kral, an officer with the Houston chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the state’s top election official, Keith Ingram, told her during a telephone call that the state was not going to continue “subsidizing” the League’s registration efforts. The League provides voter registration cards to every participant in naturalization ceremonies in Houston — about 45,000 applications since June 2020.

A spokesman for the office of the secretary of state did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that exchange. But the spokesman, Sam Taylor, said the office has tried to inform election officials about all the changes. “Our office has been working as quickly and diligently as possible within a compressed time frame to provide guidance to both election officials and voters on changes to the voting process in Texas,” he said in an email. “Our goal from day one has always been to make sure that all eligible Texas voters can successfully cast a ballot, and that remains our goal going forward.”

Officials finally gave guidance — in either late December or early January, according to Taylor — that the old registration cards would be accepted this year. The deadline to register in time to vote in the primary was Jan. 31.Officials also provided more forms after the League threatened to sue under the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to provide voter registration forms to third-party groups.

The new law is the target of multiple ongoinglawsuits, including one filed by the League of Women Voters, arguing that it violates the law by restricting voting access.

Kral has been disheartened by the hurdles Senate Bill 1 has erected — as well as the tone it seems to have set, she said. “It’s just so complicated and confusing,” she said. “There’s a perception that the confusion is not only in the name of election integrity but also about influencing who feels comfortable voting. I don’t think they’d admit to that, but that’s the message I’m receiving. They’re bullying.”

The late guidance from the state, as well as the paper crunch, has created stress for election officials, too. Garza, in Cameron County, described having to wait for instructions on the new mail-ballot envelope requirements before he could place his order. The new identification requirements necessitated an envelope redesign that includes a large privacy flap to cover the box where voters must provide their identification number.

Garza said his envelopes had still not arrived last week, when counties were supposed to begin mailing ballots to eligible voters. So on Saturday, he sent three of his staff members on a four-hour road trip to San Antonio, where a local printer had the envelopes in stock.

“We put them in the mail on Monday, and through the cooperation of our local postmaster, the voters began to receive them in their mailboxes today,” Garza said Wednesday. “That’s at least a week and a half later than we would have liked.” And it gives voters that much less time to fix any errors or omissions on their ballots, he added.

Several election administrators said they are optimistic that the rejection rate for both ballots and ballot applications will continue to decline as more come in — and as they get the word out to the public about the new rules.

But they are braced for another source of confusion, which is Senate Bill 1′s new penalty for poll workers who impede the ability of partisan poll watchers to observe voting locations on Election Day.

Davis, the top elections official in Williamson County, said the law has had a chilling effect on his ability to recruit poll workers, who have told him they worry that any effort to maintain order or protect voter privacy could be construed as a violation. But he also said he is optimistic that new mandatory training for poll watchers and poll workers will clarify what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

“Poll watchers are not our enemy — at least they’re not supposed to be our enemy,” Davis said. “The problem up until now is that in a poll watcher’s quest to see irregularities, they may not have had a terribly firm grasp on the ‘regular’ — how things are supposed to run in a polling place.” The training should improve that, he said.

Cain, the Republican lawmaker, said the new law “has ample protections for partisan election judges in dealing with disruptive election observers.”

Several election administrators said clashes between watchers and workers will be less likely on March 1, because it is a primary election. The real test of the new poll watcher rules will come in the general election in November, they said.

That’s just fine with Garza, who believes that voters — and election administrators — have enough to get used to right now.

“Elections are robust,” Garza said. “But they’re also very delicate. People need to mindful of how much things have changed since the last election. That’s what’s keeping me up at night.”

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Why Voter Purging Matters in Swing States

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In states such as Kansas, elections for the state legislature can be decided by as little as 9 votes, which makes maintenance of voter rolls a vitally important part of the democratic process. Sometimes, these rolls are purged to account for voters who have died or moved out of state, among other reasons. Voter rolls can also be purged as a means of voter disenfranchisement, and affect much more than state-level elections.

For example, Florida recently purged 85,000 voters in a state where Trump only won by 113,000 votes in 2016. While many of the voters who were purged from the rolls may have been purged due to routine maintenance, state purges like Florida’s can have a profound effect on the turnout of larger events like federal elections, because unlawful purges or ones done in error can shrink the margin of victory and lead to contested elections.

While the process of voter purging is a necessary one, the problems it brings up in swing states are concerning, especially if it is the case that voter purges are being used to target certain demographics or political ideologies.

Even more critically, one political party in particular has experienced more instances of voter purging in some states. Voter purging is a non-partisan issue, as all ideologies maintain the right to vote, and when done correctly, voter purging is a natural part of the democratic process. Nonetheless, the fact that one group is being purged more thoroughly leads to questions about voter disenfranchisement. This means that voter purging is especially relevant in swing states, where excess purging of the voter rolls can earn a more definitive win.

Interested in learning more about voter purging? Check out this comprehensive list of voter data and purging here.

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Georgia’s Election Law, and Why Turnout Isn’t Easy to Turn Off

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Making voting convenient doesn’t necessarily translate into more votes, research shows.

From The New York Times:

There’s nothing unusual about exaggeration in politics. But when it comes to the debate over voting rights, something more than exaggeration is going on.

There’s a real — and bipartisan — misunderstanding about whether making it easier or harder to vote, especially by mail, has a significant effect on turnout or electoral outcomes. The evidence suggests it does not.

The fight over the new Georgia election law is only the latest example. That law, passed last week, has been condemned by Democrats as voter suppression, or even as tantamount to Jim Crow.

Democrats are understandably concerned about a provision that empowers the Republican-controlled State Legislature to play a larger role in election administration. That provision has uncertain but potentially substantial effects, depending on what the Legislature might do in the future. And it’s possible the law is intended to do exactly what progressives fear: reshape the electorate to the advantage of Republicans, soon after an electoral defeat, by making it harder to vote.

And yet the law’s voting provisions are unlikely to significantly affect turnout or Democratic chances. It could plausibly even increase turnout. In the final account, it will probably be hard to say whether it had any effect on turnout at all.

Read the full story here >>

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Opinion: Arizona Republicans’ desperate crusade to find nonexistent voter fraud

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As reported by The Washington Post:

ARIZONA SENATE President Karen Fann (R) says she is determined to “ensure the integrity of the vote” in her state. Which is supposedly why, five months after Election Day, following multiple credible audits that found no hint of substantial fraud, she insists that the state Senate must conduct yet another audit, re-scanning and hand-counting every ballot cast in Phoenix’s Maricopa County, as well as digging into electronic election systems.

This would be a big job for even the most experienced election official or voting company, never mind state legislators. So Ms. Fann and her Senate colleagues tapped Cyber Ninjas, a little-known Florida cybersecurity firm that boasts that it provides “general consulting” and “ethical hacking” services, to lead the audit. Arizona journalists quickly discovered one possible reason for this puzzling choice: Cyber Ninjas founder Doug Logan appears to have pushed pro-Trump election conspiracy theories on a Twitter account he apparently deleted in January.

“The parallels between the statistical analysis of Venezuela and this year’s election are astonishing,” one tweet read, which included the hashtag #StopTheSteal. “I’m tired of hearing people say there was no fraud. It happened, it’s real, and people better get wise fast,” read a tweet Mr. Logan apparently retweeted in December. He was also involved in a lawsuit claiming election fraud in Michigan.

“This firm’s CEO not only harbors conspiratorial beliefs about the 2020 election, but has shared conspiracies about Dominion election equipment, the exact equipment he has been hired to audit,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) objected.

“Dominion supports all forensic audits conducted by independent, federally accredited Voting System Test Labs — but this is not that,” said a spokesperson for Dominion Voting Systems, the target of much pro-Trump election conspiracy theorizing. “Over a thousand independent audits and recounts have taken place across the country since Election Day, and they all demonstrated the accuracy and reliability of our voting systems.”

Read the full story here >>

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Democrats Splinter Over Strategy for Pushing Through Voting Rights Bill

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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

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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.

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Republicans Aim to Seize More Power Over How Elections Are Run

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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