Businesses in Arizona can soon elect to opt out of any city, county, or state order requiring face masks in their establishments after Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law Friday.
Under the law, businesses can still elect to enforce mask mandates for their customers, but they can no longer be compelled to by any city, county, or even state order to do so.
“I am signing this bill, ensuring that our small businesses will no longer be required to enforce mandates imposed on them by their cities who are choosing not to enforce it themselves,” Ducey, a Republican, said Friday, according to a report from Arizona Central.
While Ducey signed the bill Friday, it won’t go into effect until 90 days after the Arizona legislature concludes its session. According to AZ Central, that date is different each year, meaning whether businesses will be at present be required to follow local orders isn’t clear.
While Ducey’s office says a March 26 executive order by the governor made it illegal for localities to enact their own mask mandates, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said later in March counties were still able to enforce mask mandates under a provision of the state’s Emergency Management Code.
Brnovich, also a Republican, said the code’s provision allowing counties to “investigate all nuisances, source of filth and causes of sickness and make regulations necessary for the public health and safety of the inhabitants” supersedes executive orders by the state governor.
According to KAWC, a spokesperson for Ducey said the attorney general’s informal legal opinion on the local public health measures was “inconsequential” because local governments were unable to effectively enforce their mask mandates even when they were “most necessary” earlier during the pandemic.
Ducey never issued a statewide mask order during the pandemic, even though public health experts stressed – and continue to stress – their effectiveness in stemming the spread of COVID-19.
“Our largest cities opted not to enforce their mandates, leaving the responsibility up to local businesses,” Ducey said Friday. “I understand the concern and heartache this caused for many of these businesses.”
According to AZ Central, Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Pima County in the state continue to require face masks in public areas.
Ducey signed the bill into law even though he acknowledged the bill’s language could inadvertently pose challenges for the enforcement of laws that require the wearing of masks in situations unrelated to COVID-19, like when workers handle harmful materials, according to the report.
“Some rational mask requirements that are not related to the spread of COVID-19 may not be enforceable,” the governor said. “The state needs to be able to enforce long-standing workplace safety and infection control standards unrelated to COVID-19.”
The state representative who authored the bill said he would amend the legislation’s language before the end of the current session to fix that portion, the AZ Central reported.
President Joe Biden’s administration has secured an $86 million contract for hotels to house migrants, Axios reported Saturday. The contract comes as the president struggles to address the surging numbers of families and kids trying to enter the US.
The contract is with hotels near the border in Arizona and Texas to hold about 1,200 migrants, and will last six months. It was made through Endeavors, a non-profit with programs that include housing services and disaster relief.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The latest decision to secure hotel rooms comes as the US is seeing the biggest surge of migrants at the border in decades, pacing towards a potential 2 million migrants at the US-Mexico border this year, The Washington Post reported. The surge is putting a heavy strain on government resources and border towns.
Upon taking office, Biden sought to portray his immigration policies as more humane and empathetic, immediately revoking several Trump-era immigration policies. Biden also offered a plan to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US.
As of Saturday, there were 5,000 unaccompanied children being held by US Customs and Border Protection in jail-like facilities, CNN reported. More than 600 children have been detained for longer than 10 days, in violation of the law.
Unaccompanied children are supposed to be moved from the custody of CBP within 72 hours and transferred to a shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Post reported thousands of children are instead being held by CBP for 107 hours on average, before being transferred.
According to the Associated Press, the numbers of encounters with families and kids at the border are currently lower than they were at different times during the last administration, including spring 2019. But experts have warned that the current surge is still rising and will likely peak in May, based on past surge patterns, CNN reported.
In addition to trying to manage the border surge, the Biden administration is also working on sweeping immigration legislation that would address ongoing problems.
That 60-day pause is due to expire this weekend, with few clues as to what will happen next. In the meantime, the Biden administration has been struggling to handle a surge in crossings.
While the pause has pleased anti-wall campaigners, the limbo is unsatisfying on either side of the political divide.
Prominent Republicans have slammed Biden for the surge at the border, blaming gaps in the wall. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a Monday press conference: “This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”
Speaking to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Tuesday night, Trump claimed that the wall could have been finished “in a month,” saying “the wall was almost complete.”
Around 453 miles of wall was completed during Trump’s four years in office, leaving more than 1,000 miles to go and little prospect of quick completion.
It is not clear whether the crossing flagged by Arizona are part of the broader surge at the US border. A large proportion of recent crossings appear to be taking place over the Rio Grande in Texas, the Associated Press reported.
But anti-wall campaigners have long predicted that wall construction in Arizona would worsen security there.
Half-finished walls with access roads
While much of the completed wall runs uninterrupted along Arizona’s flat plains, construction is much more challenging in the state’s mountainous areas, such as Guadelupe Canyon.
Here, tons of dynamite were in use to blast roads into mountains just for machinery to reach the build site.
In some places, ravines were blasted straight through the natural barrier of mountains, only for the wall to stop short at the bottom. In other areas, segments of border wall stand unfinished, with roads leading up to them over previously impassable terrain.
Clark told The New York Times of one ranch manager who had moved home after a break-in, the sort of crime that was previously rare.
As campaigners have repeatedly told Insider, these remote, rugged parts of Arizona were never a priority for border security.
In January, campaigners in Arizona told Insider that the situation was making border security worse – especially with the expectation that the work would soon stop incomplete.
Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, told Insider in a statement at the time: “Trump and CBP are so blindly obsessed by their shiny steel wall that they’ve entirely failed to consider how blasting roads into wilderness areas gives smugglers new avenues to cross the border.”
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told Insider at the time that the work was not harming border security.
Photographer John Darwin Kurc, who has spent the last two years documenting the process at the border, told Insider in January that he had also seen an increase in CBP responses in Guadelupe Canyon.
“I’ve sat many, many, many hours in this area and never saw Border Patrol,” he said. “And now you see them all the time down at the Guadalupe Canyon ranch, because they have to be there.”
Narrator: The 309th AMARG stores the world’s largest collection of military aircraft here in the Arizona desert.
Col. Jennifer Barnard: I like to call this the ugliest plane out here, the YC-14. It was an aircraft that never went into production.
Narrator: Eight hundred mechanics work nonstop, reclaiming critical old parts and regenerating aircraft so they can go back into service.
Barnard: I can’t just pull over an airplane like you can a car. And we have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly. Our goal is not to be like a cemetery for the aircraft.
Narrator: That’s Col. Barnard. She’s served 25 years as a US Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Officer.
Barnard: As a commander here, I am in charge of the whole operation. The assets stored here are worth somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion, if you were to try to replace them all. It’s a big number.
Narrator: She took us inside this massive facility to see how these military planes get a second chance at life. AMARG got its start back in 1946. After World War II, the Army needed a place to store old planes. They chose Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here in Tucson. With nearly 2,000 football fields worth of open desert, there was plenty of space.
Barnard: We’re known worldwide as the boneyard. Our guys take pride in being boneyard wranglers.
Narrator: Arizona has the perfect weather for storing these assets. It’s hot, there’s little rainfall, no humidity, and the soil?
Barnard: It’s as hard as concrete.
Narrator: So planes won’t sink.
Barnard: The dryness, as well as the lack of acidity in the soil, prevent corrosion on the assets.
Narrator: Aircraft come here from the Department of defense, military, other government agencies, and froeign allies.
Barnard: We have about 3,100 airplanes. The planes are mostly military. They come from the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, and the Marines. We have over 80 different types of airplanes here.
Narrator: Planes and helicopters arrive and are lined up in sections.
Barnard: So we’re driving down display row here, or celebrity row as some people call it. We do have a sense of humor here. That’s our stealth aircraft, which is actually just Wonder Woman’s jet. The LC-130s have skis along with their landing gear so they can land down in Antarctica and support the National Science Foundation all across that continent. We’re coming up on a NASA aircraft. It’s affectionately called the vomit comet.
Narrator: Some aircraft will be here for weeks before they’re called back into service. Other aircraft can be here for 50 years, similar to this A-4 Skyhawk. Each plane goes through a preservation process before it’s put in the desert. Those that may fly again are re-preserved every four years. They’re defueled, then oil is pumped through the engine to preserve it.
Barnard: The black material that we have on here is the base layer that seals up the aircraft. And then later, as you can see, the rest of the aircraft around here, the coats on top are white. And those white coats will reflect the heat so it better preserves the assets all on the inside of the aircraft.
Narrator: Like the inside of this C5-A Galaxy.
Barnard: The inside of the C5 is the largest cargo aircraft in the Air Force inventory. I have deployed on these.
Narrator: One of six deployments Col. Barnard’s had to Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Antarctica.
Barnard: And we can fit three HH-60 helicopters, and a lot of our equipment that we need, as well as all our maintainers. We have just over 60 of them here. And every one of them needs 72 tie-downs. Airplanes are designed to fly, and when it gets a little breezy out here we want to make sure they stay parked.
Narrator: But not every plane just sits around collecting dust. US military units around the world can request specific parts off these planes.
Barnard: An aircraft has so many thousands of parts. Just like a reservoir keeps things in case you need them. And then we release what’s out of the reservoir as needed.
Narrator: And some of the parts the military can only find here at AMARG.
Barnard: We are that assurance that there’s a part available when the supply system main sources don’t get it. We send anywhere from 4,000 to 7,000 parts out every year to the tune of a few million dollars each week worth of supply parts.
Scott and James here are removing the engines from the back of this T-38 as a reclamation effort because these have been requested to go back into service. So once the crews reclaim the parts out in the desert and bring them into the end of this building, they get washed, they get non-destructive inspection, and they’re going to pack and ship these right out the door as fast as we can.
Narrator: But sometimes, instead of being used for parts, an entire plane will be regenerated, meaning they’ll pull it out of the desert and wash it down.
Mike Serrano: We have to remove all the coatings that are used to preserve the aircraft out in the desert.
Narrator: After getting a nice shower, it’s fixed up.
Barnard: What our team is working on here is a C-130 that’s being regenerated for foreign military sales. In this hangar, the current project that we’re working on is F-16s in post-block repair. It’s a package of structural improvements on the aircraft to extend their flyable life.
Narrator: The unit also handles aircraft modifications.
Barnard: These aircraft come from US units that are active right now. And then they get some work done on them, and they go back out to that same unit. So we’re able to upgrade those and modify them to keep them up with the current standards in the active fleet.
Narrator: Complicated individual pieces are sent to separate back shops for repair and overhaul.
Barnard: Here in the wing shop … We have all the center portions of the A-10 wings being rebuilt here. And the outer portions being rebuilt there. There’s actually hundreds of pieces inside of an aircraft wing. The complexity and the level of structure, it’s really eye-opening for many folks. Each set of wings can take up to 20,000 man hours to overhaul.
Narrator: Once parts are fixed, they go through a thorough inspection. We’re here in the non-destructive inspection area. Pete’s working on a fluorescent dye penetrant.
Pete Boveington: It’s basically a liquid that absorbs into cracks, and we can apply a black light to it. And you can see there’s a crack right here that shows up. This crack right here on this part in the landing gear could cause catastrophic failure on the landing gear.
Narrator: Not a single crack on an entire plane can get past this team.
Barnard: We have to make sure that these aircraft are safe to fly so that we protect that asset, and we protect the air crew that’s inside of that asset. So the stakes are pretty high.
Narrator: Once fixed, the planes go through a rigorous final flight test. Pilot Scott Thompson is testing these regenerated F-16s.
Lt. Col. Scott Thompson: I will take them out to the airspace just south of here. Close enough to where if I do have a problem I can get back onto the ground immediately and pretty much put them through the wringer. We test flight controls, and the handling, and the engine performance, and all the systems on the plane pretty extensively, at all altitudes.
Barnard: They go out to become full-scale aerial targets.
Narrator: That’s a happy ending for a plane pulled from the desert here at AMARG. But for other aircraft, this is the end of the line. The planes marked with a big D are destroyed by a third-party contractor.
Barnard: So these are our guys that work the demil, and they prepare aircraft for disposal. Well, and I will get out of the way of the crowbar.
Worker: I’m pretty good with this crowbar.
Barnard: I’m pretty good at destruction too, but you guys are being super careful about it, which you should be.
Narrator: The planes are demolished for good reason.
Barnard: We’ll make sure everything’s accounted for and that the materials and the technology don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Narrator: While some Americans may not have heard of AMARG, it actually saves taxpayers a lot of money.
Barnard: The assets stored here are worth somewhere between $34 billion and $35 billion. And so to make a new one may not be possible, versus to rejuvenate an old one might be the best-case scenario.
Narrator: But for the workers, it’s not just about saving the military some money. It’s also about giving these planes another life.
Thompson: A lot of these airplanes haven’t flown for a very long time. I flew a lot of them operationally back in the day. It’s great to get back in them and bring them back to life.
Barnard: These airplanes have a lot of stories to tell, and it’s wonderful to spend time with them and think about that. There are very few of us military that are lucky enough to be assigned here. It’s just a joy to be able to work with these people every day and be around these airplanes.
A Republican Arizona state lawmaker, who chairs a committee overseeing election administration, said that new voting restrictions are needed because “everybody shouldn’t be voting” and “we have to look at the quality of votes.”
In total, Republican lawmakers in 43 states have put forth 253 bills with the goal of restricting registration and voting in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Center found.
While most Republicans cite the need to ensure “election integrity” and prevent fraud (which is already exceedingly rare) to justify such legislation, Rep. John Kavanagh, the chair of the state House’s Government and Elections Committee, took that argument a step further by saying that fewer people should vote.
“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Kavanagh told CNN. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote – but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”
The bills include measures that would eliminate Arizona’s permanent early voter list (which allows voters to sign up to receive a mail ballot every cycle), make it easier to remove voters from the list, further restrict already-limited third-party ballot collection, require voters to get their mail ballots notarized, mandate voters to return mail ballots in person, and require mail ballots be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day.
“Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” Kavanagh further told CNN. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
As things stand, Arizona already has a strict voter ID law in place, votes on all paper ballots, conducts signature matching of mail ballots, requires ballots to arrive by Election Day, and carries out post-election audits.
Research shows that expanding mail voting doesn’t always lead to higher turnout
Kavanagh is misinformed, however, about the relationship between voting laws and voter fraud as well as voting laws and voter turnout.
2020 was also the most secure and transparent election in US history, experts concluded, with no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud, despite former President Donald Trump’s claims otherwise.
Researchers at Stanford University authored a new working paper analyzing the results of the 2020 election. They challenge the conventional wisdom embraced by both Republicans and Democrats that making it easier to vote and offering more voting options boosts voter turnout and, thus, benefits Democrats.
The Stanford researchers, however, concluded that the rise of “no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic.”
In line with previous research on the matter, Stanford concluded that a voter’s preexisting interest in voting is a far better predictor of whether they’ll turn out to vote than whether their state has widespread no-excuse mail voting, especially in high-profile presidential elections like 2020.
“We argue that, in high-salience elections like 2020, there are probably very few marginal voters who base their decision to participate on the relative costs of one mode of voting over another,” the authors wrote.
The researchers specifically examined data from Texas, which allowed only voters 65 and above to request to vote absentee without an excuse. While the rates at which 65-year-olds chose to vote absentee increased, they turned out to vote at virtually the same rate as 64-year-olds, with the greatest turnout increases being reported among people between 20 and 30 years old.
In other words, Stanford’s research suggests that if someone is “uninterested in voting,” as Kavanagh put it, the existence of a no-excuse mail voting, a permanent early voting list, or the lack of a ballot notarization requirement in their state isn’t what will draw them to the ballot box.
“As we’ve shown, the major effect of expanding absentee voting is to change how people vote, not whether they vote,” the authors concluded.
The move drew some parallels to the late Republican Sen. John McCain, also from Arizona, who in 2017 flashed a thumbs down in a decisive vote that upheld a key provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Sinema was part of eight Democrats, which included Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Angus King of Maine, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, to reject the proposal made by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In a statement posted to Twitter Friday, Sinema said she supported raising the minimum wage in the future.
“I understand what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family’s most basic needs,” she said.
She continued: “Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill.”
New York legislators may be able to push through taxes on the ultrawealthy amidst the turmoil surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Bloomberg reports.
Cuomo previously outlined a worst-case scenario where New York’s wealthiest would see the country’s highest income rate taxes if the White House didn’t step in to help with the budget deficit. During the pandemic, Cuomo has said he wanted to make sure New York’s tax base was preserved, and wealth taxes would not help in that regard.
Now, according to Bloomberg, New York’s Democratic lawmakers are considering a package that would “go further,” given that the governor is embroiled in a sexual-harassment scandal and a federal investigation into his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
Progressives in New York have been champing at the bit to increase taxes on the wealthy. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio previously called for a progressive tax and a tax on billionaires in his final State of the City address. And New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has previously called to raise the top marginal rate on those earning over $10 million.
“New York City will fight for new progressive income taxes that establish brackets with increased tax rates for high earners and the ultra-wealthy,” de Blasio said in a release on the address. “And with more billionaires than any other city in America, New York City will push for a billionaires’ tax. The billions of dollars raised from these progressive taxes will go into investing in New York City’s schools, working families, and a recovery for all of us.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-February that some Democratic lawmakers in New York were coalescing around what’s called a mark-to-market tax on billionaires. Those billionaires would pay capital gains taxes annually on appreciating assets, not just at their sales.
As talk of a federal wealth tax grows, some places have already enacted them
Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently renewed her calls for a wealth tax, introducing the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act with several other progressives. Under Warren’s plan, households with a net worth between $50 million and $1 billion would see a 2% tax, and households with a net worth over $1 billion would see a 3% tax.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that a wealth tax poses “difficult” implementation problems, and it’s not favored by President Joe Biden. But some places in the US have already taken matters into their own hands.
San Francisco voters passed a tax in November on business owners and top executives who earn at least 100 times more than one of their average workers. Those CEOs earning 100 times more than their average worker would be taxed an additional 0.1% on business tax payments. The surcharge also increases to 0.1% of however much more they earn.
And Arizona passed an additional income tax on its high-earners; all of the money raised will go to public and charter schools. The creators of that proposition estimated that it could bring in $940 million annually.
In Washington state, lawmakers are considering a net-worth tax that could generate up to $4.9 billion in revenue. One millionaire, Dan Price, is out advocating for it. “I’ve been demanding to Washington State to tax me more,” he told Insider’s Hayley Cuccinello.
So, while there may not ultimately be a federal wealth tax, a patchwork of state and city taxes on the wealthy could arise to take its place.
“America does not love all its people,” Rep. Cori Bush, a progressive Democrat from Missouri, argued on the floor of the House, saying that more than 5 million Americans are prevented from taking part in an election because they are currently incarcerated.
On Tuesday, Bush and Rep. Mondaire Jones, a New York Democrat, offered an amendment to sweeping voting rights legislation, HR 1. The legislation, as written, would already restore that right for those with felony convictions, but not for those who are now behind bars – one in six of whom are Black.
“This cannot continue,” Bush said. “Disenfranchising our own citizens is not justice.”
The amendment failed. No Republican supported the amendment, and most Democrats opposed it too, leading it to be put down by a vote of 97 to 328.
As it stands, only two states, Maine and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia never take away the right to vote, even when someone is incarcerated. But, per the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states disenfranchise anyone with a felony conviction, even after they have served their prison sentence. And while voting rights are sometimes restored later, there are often additional obstacles.
In Florida, for example, a sweeping majority of voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote for convicted felons who were no longer imprisoned. But the Republican-controlled legislature eviscerated the measure, requiring those with felonies on their record – disproportionately Black, overwhelmingly Democratic – to pay off any related fines before they could participate in an election again. According to The New York Times, as many as 80% are financially unable to do so.
Despite being denied the right to vote, those who are imprisoned do count: the US Census considers them residents of whichever place they are incarcerated in, meaning Black and Latino prisoners often help boost the congressional representation of largely white, rural populations.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House committee that oversees federal elections, noted that HR 1 would end that practice. Under the bill, incarcerated people would be counted, instead, as residents of their own hometowns. But she said that granting them the right to vote appealed to her sense of justice.
“If you’re going to count the individuals for redistricting purposes, in their prisons, then I think they ought to be allowed to vote there,” Lofgren commented. “Further, it occurs to me, those who oppose it think that denying a vote would somehow be a deterrent to criminal conduct. In fact, empowering people to be full citizens encourages rehabilitation.”
In the meantime, Republicans, in power at the state level, are pushing to roll back access to voting. In Georgia, the GOP, most recently stung by a Democratic sweep of its two Senate seats, is pushing to restrict early voting and limit mail-in ballots.
And at the US Supreme Court, Arizona Republicans are defending a rule that throws out the vote of anyone who casts a ballot somewhere other than their designated polling place. As a lawyer for the party said Tuesday, lifting that restriction “puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.” Politics, after all, “is a zero-sum game.”
Fillmore’s comments sparked immediate backlash from both lawmakers and parents who listened to his remarks during the committee session.
State Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, for example, called his proposed bill “harmful,” KPNX reported.
“I was angry,” Hamilton said. “There were three moms who made themselves very vulnerable and put their families in the public arena by sharing their very personal experience as to why a bill like this can be hurtful and detrimental for their children’s well-being.”
Fillmore also has an ethics complaint filed against him.
“Representative Fillmore continuously made discriminatory and harassing comments during public testimony and in his response compared members of the LGBTQ+ community to farm animals,” the complaint reads, according to KPNX.
“By his actions, Representative Fillmore has engaged in conduct that compromises the character of himself, the integrity of the Arizona State House of Representatives, and shows a lack of respect for members of the LGBTQ+ community,” the complaint continues.
Fillmore’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
In a video posted to Twitter, Fillmore said he “in no way” is trying to “tear” down nonbinary people.
“What I’m trying to do is give clarity to our government,” he continued. “That when we give an identification such as on a driver’s license or a police officer is told to look out for a male and things of that nature, the gender dysfunction thing, which is being pushed by some people on the left, is now allowing, for instance, men to enter into the restrooms of little girls. And it creates situations that I don’t think are beneficial to society and the nuclear family as a whole.”
Gender-neutral bathrooms have been a point of tension for years. The Obama administration in 2016 granted transgender students the right to use public school bathrooms and locker rooms that matched the gender with which they identify. The Trump administration reversed some of these protections. Lawsuits sprung out of both decisions.
In December 2020, the Supreme Court struck down an appeal from an anti-LGBT group after Oregon parents complained that a school had allowed transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
In a statement to KPNX, Fillmore said the ethics complaint was filed “entirely without merit.”
“It’s rather unfortunate that some opponents of the bill have unfairly and grossly mischaracterized my comments at Wednesday’s hearing,” Fillmore said. “I invite people to listen to my actual remarks, which do not remotely match the distorted version critics have alleged.”
President Joe Biden has been in office for less than two weeks, but in state legislatures across the US, Republicans still reeling from former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss are devising ways to restrict the vote, from eliminating ballot drop boxes to requiring the notarization of absentee ballot applications.
In 2010, Republicans made historic gains in state legislatures, flipping 24 chambers that year, allowing them to control the redistricting process for the past decade. In additional drawing scores of safe GOP House seats, the party pushed a wave of socially-conservative legislation that centered on restricting abortion rights and minimizing the collective bargaining power of public-sector labor unions.
While Biden and Trump both won 25 states in the 2020 presidential election, Biden flipped five states that Trump carried in 2016, which included Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, along with Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district.
These presidential swing states are now home to some of the most dramatic election-related proposals that have been floated or filed in the legislature for a vote. However, even in states where Trump won easily, including Mississippi and Texas, voting restrictions stand a good chance of passing.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, 106 bills aimed at restricting voting access have been introduced or filed in state legislatures in 28 states, representing a nearly threefold increase from the same period last year.
Last November, countering Trump’s debunked claims of voter irregularities, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that the November 2020 election “was the most secure in American history.”
Here are some of the voting proposals that are being debated across the country:
Since 1952, Republicans have won Arizona in every presidential election except for Bill Clinton’s 1992 win and Biden’s victory last year.
Biden won the state by less than 11,000 votes out of roughly 3.3 million votes cast, performing strongly with Latino voters and even making inroads with a segment of the state’s Republican voters.
With the support of high-profile Republicans including Cindy McCain, the wife of the late GOP Sen. John McCain, and former Sen. Jeff Flake, Biden tapped into the independent-minded nature of the state, similar to the campaign strategy of Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who defeated appointed GOP Sen. Martha McSally last November.
However, conservative activists vigorously challenged the election results, including Trump, who criticized GOP Gov. Doug Ducey for certifying the election results, a normally-routine process. Since the GOP controls the state legislature in Arizona, the raft of restrictive bills are being taken up in committees.
Give the legislature the power to award two of the state’s 11 Electoral College votes
Award the state’s electoral votes by congressional district in lieu of the current winner-takes-all system
Curtail and/or end mail-in voting
Liming mail-in voting to those who cannot physically reach a voting precinct
Limit voting centers in each county according to the population size
Require mail-in ballot envelopes to be notarized or returned in-person
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, was sharply critical of House Bill 2720, which was introduced by GOP state Rep. Shawnna Bolick and would allow the legislature to overturn the election results.
“It is a punch in the face to voters,” she said in an NBC News interview. “It absolutely, 100%, allows a legislature to undermine the will of voters.”
She also tweeted: “So really, we should just get rid of the presidential election altogether? In reality, that’s what this bill would do.”
Georgia was the scene of deep political consternation for the GOP. Last November, Biden became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the state since 1992. Trump insisted that he won the state for months, asking GOP Gov. Brian Kemp to overturn the election results and even pressuring GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 12,000 roughly votes that he would need to overcome Biden’s margin of victory.
In the end, Trump caused so much internal political turmoil in the state that Democrats, fresh off of Biden’s win, had an enthusiasm advantage for two Senate runoff elections that featured then-GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue running against Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.
Warnock and Ossoff won their races, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats and giving the party their strongest anchor in the Deep South in years.
Georgia Republicans, stung by the losses, are now hoping to implement additional voting restrictions.
Top state officials, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, are backing a more rigorous voter identification process for absentee balloting.
A GOP lawmaker has proposed a bill that would require proof of identification, twice, in order to vote absentee.
Last year, House Speaker David Ralston floated stripping Georgia voters of their ability to choose the secretary of state by putting a measure on the ballot that would allow voters to cede that responsibility to the GOP-controlled legislature.
Michigan voted for every Democratic presidential nominee from 1992 to 2012. When Trump pulled off a narrow upset in 2016, Democrats pledged to outwork the GOP and win back the Midwestern state and its 16 electoral votes.
In 2018, the party had a banner year, electing Gretchen Whitmer as governor, Dana Nessel as attorney general, and Jocelyn Benson as secretary of state.
Last November, Biden won the state by over 150,000 votes and a nearly 3% margin (50.6%-47.8%), securing a victory in a state that Democrats were thrilled to put back in their column.
The state legislature is still in GOP hands, a lingering result of the party’s 2010 midterm election sweep, but Whitmer also serves as a check on any far-reaching proposals.
Michigan GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told The Detroit News that he would like to improve the state’s qualified voter files and party leaders, including home state Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, said last year that the state needed “election reform.”
With its 20 electoral votes, Pennsylvania has long been a top prize for Democrats, who won the state by combining overwhelming victories in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with growing suburban strength and blue-collar support in cities like Allentown and Scranton.
Democrats won Pennsylvania in every presidential election from 1992 to 2012, but similar to Michigan, Trump pulled off a narrow upset in 2016.
Biden, who was born in Scranton and represented neighboring Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, won the state 50%-49% over Trump last November.
Democrats, eager to build on Biden’s victory, have already zeroed in on the Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in 2022 and the governor’s race to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that same year.
There are currently GOP proposals on the table to nix no-excuse absentee balloting and make it easier for state officials to toss ballots that have a signature mismatch if the ballot isn’t fixed within six days of being notified, according to the Brennan Center.
Wisconsin is another key state in the Democrats’ Midwestern presidential electoral puzzle. After narrow wins in 2000 and 2004, the party won the state easily in 2008 and 2012 before seeing Trump narrowly win the state in 2016.
After a hard-fought race, Biden won the state over Trump by roughly 20,000 votes out of more than 3.2 million votes cast.
The Trump campaign, incensed that votes in Democratic-leaning Milwaukee County put Biden over the top, demanded a recount in Milwaukee and Dane County, home of Madison, the state’s liberal capital city. Not only was Biden’s win reaffirmed by the recounts, but he picked up additional votes.
A GOP legislator is floating a proposal to allocate eight of the state’s 10 electoral votes by congressional district, starting with the 2024 election, and the party may also seek additional restrictions on absentee balloting.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has the ability to wield his veto pen, but he is also up for reelection in 2022.
Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District
Last year, Biden carried Nebraska’s Omaha-based congressional district, the first time a Democrat had won the district since Barack Obama in 2008.
The win was a breakthrough for the party in the otherwise overwhelmingly Republican state.
Since 1991, Nebraska has awarded two electoral votes to the overall statewide winner, with the remaining three votes awarded to the winner of each congressional district.
In 2020, Trump secured four electoral votes to Biden’s one electoral vote.
A new GOP bill introduced in the state legislature would put into place a winner-takes-all system; if it had been in place in 2020, Trump would have won all five electoral votes.
The 2nd congressional district contains sizeable Black and Latino populations, and opponents of the bill argue that the legislation would be detrimental to minority voters.
“You see very clearly that there was a lot of excitement particularly from voters of color in the Omaha metro-area who engage in that process over the last few election cycles because they had that meaningful opportunity,” she said.