Arizona and Michigan election officials plead with Congress for protection against mounting threats and harassment: ‘We need your help’

Surplus election challengers yell behind windows at the central counting board in Detroit, Michigan
Surplus election challengers yell behind windows at the central counting board, as police helped to keep additional challengers from entering due to overcrowding, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Detroit.

  • Arizona and Michigan election officials on Wednesday appealed to Congress to address threats and harassment.
  • They testified one day after officers relived the harrowing Capitol attack in a widely-watched hearing.
  • “All of us have been threatened simply because we’re trying to represent our community,” Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Adrian Fontes, the former top election official in Maricopa County, Arizona recalled a bomb squad being called to his house in 2018 after his daughter brought in an unidentified package. By November 2020, he shared in written testimony, Fontes had prepared “go bags” for his daughters and dealt with direct threats to his staff that required law enforcement protection as pro-Trump protesters engulfed the office where workers were counting ballots.

After a rash of harassing text messages and calls in the wake of the 2020 election, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey recounted a man approaching and physically threatening her in her own neighborhood. “I have COVID-19 and I’ll spit on you,” Winfrey responded at the time.

Later, she testified, the man messaged her on Facebook threatening to blow up her block, with continued threats against her requiring law enforcement attention as recently as February.

On Tuesday, four law enforcement officers shared in a nationally-televised House hearing emotional, vivid recountings of their experiencing defending the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. The next day, Fontes and Winfrey shared with Congress their own stories of facing threats of violence for defending the outcome of the 2020 election.

In Wednesday’s smaller and more sparsely-attended hearing held by the House Committee on Administration, Fontes and Winfrey appealed to Congress for help addressing the root causes of the insurrection: pervasive GOP-backed efforts to undermine and subvert election results that escalated into threats against local election officials and, ultimately, the Capitol riot.

Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, argued in the hearing that the January 6 insurrection was, in essence, an attack on election officials since members of Congress were attacked for fulfilling their duty to count electoral votes and affirm the winner of the Electoral College.

“We encourage you to continue to listen to the voices of those who are most directly responsible for making our democracy work in service of this Republic,” Fontes told the committee. “We need your help. We need your protection.”

Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputies stand at the door of the Maricopa County Recorder's Office
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputies stand at the door of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office as President Donald Trump supporters rally outside, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Phoenix.

After Senate Republicans filibustered the For the People Act, also known as S.1, Democrats’ sweeping voting rights and democracy reform bill, in late June, election policy has taken a backseat to the landmark bipartisan infrastructure deal. But with the select House committee investigating January 6 putting political violence back in the spotlight, the witnesses hope Congress will also act on threats against election officials.

“I think bringing the real stories of real election officials across the country at the local, municipal, and county level is important for these folks to hear. I don’t know that they get a lot of stories told to them,” Fontes, now a Democratic candidate for secretary of state in Arizona, told Insider in an interview after the hearing.

Without the work of local officials, ‘none of you would be here in this room’

A recent report from the Brennan Center and other think tanks found that one in three election officials now feels unsafe in their jobs and one in five identified threats to their safety as a concern they face at work, compounding the low pay and lack of resources these officials have contended with for years.

“All of us have been threatened simply because we’re trying to represent our community. If it weren’t for the work of local election officials, none of you would be here in this room. We just want to uphold democracy. We just want to ensure everyone votes,” Winfrey told the committee.

“I feel afraid,” she added.

The physical threats have now been followed by efforts in GOP-controlled state legislatures to strip election officials of power, criminalize the work done by election officials, and exact more partisan influence into election administration.

A June report from Protect Democracy, States United Democracy Center, and Law Forward found that 14 state legislatures passed 24 laws that criminalize aspects of the election administration process and give partisan officials more control over how elections are conducted and certified.

Democratic lawmakers have responded with the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021, which would prohibit local election officials from being fired without cause, make it a federal crime to harass or threaten an election official, and establish more protections against voter intimidation.

Republicans on the committee largely didn’t engage with the physical threats described by the election officials, instead decrying the anti-election subversion bill as a federal takeover of elections and criticizing Democrats for vastly exaggerating the impacts of GOP voting laws for their own political advantage.

Municipal workers extract Luzerne County ballots from their envelopes, in Wilkes-Barre, P
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, file photo, municipal workers extract Luzerne County ballots from their envelopes, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa

GOP lawmakers lack ‘the courage to face responsibility for their own dangerous rhetoric’

Fontes, for his part, expressed dismay to the GOP’s “overblown” reaction in the hearing, telling Insider it “betrays a sense of desperation.”

“They’re grasping at straws to keep Americans from being protected for political gains, and that’s too bad,” Fontes said.

The election officials that process registrations, send out absentee ballots, and open polling sites at the crack of dawn for Democratic and Republican voters alike are now getting burned out and retiring in unusually high numbers.

And while burnout and threats aren’t exclusive to officials of any party, Fontes told Insider that GOP lawmakers casting doubt on election results or looking the other way when it comes to conspiracy theories fuels threats and harassment that election officials face in their communities.

“They avoided it on purpose because they know their rhetoric is what’s causing this,” he said.

Fontes continued: “They’re embarrassed about it, and they’re running away from it, and that was painfully obvious from the questions that they asked, and the questions that they didn’t ask. And it’s too bad that they don’t have the courage to face responsibility for their own dangerous rhetoric.”

While the hearing was ongoing, The Washington Post reported that on the other side of the Capitol, a group of Democratic senators met with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work out a revised, possibly slimmed-down version of S.1. While details on the new bill are so far scant, it could include elements of the Preventing Election Subversion Act.

“We’re working on as comprehensive of a package as we can get the votes for,” Sen. Alex Padilla of California, who previously served as the state’s chief election official, told Insider at the Capitol on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Fontes, who in 2020 ran an election where he was on the ballot and lost, told Insider that he hopes “the grown-ups can get back into the conversation and help folks understand that this is something that ought not to be politicized. This is something that you can be reasonable about, and that it’s OK to lose.”

“That’s what elections are for – to make a decision. And you won’t always win, and that’s OK,” he said.

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Democratic Sen. Mark Warner would support ‘small carve-out’ on filibuster to pass voting-rights legislation

Mark Warner
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

  • Sen. Mark Warner would back a “small carve-out” to the filibuster to pass voting-rights legislation.
  • Warner said he supports the For the People Act and lamented the raft of restrictive GOP-led voting bills.
  • He lamented the result of the 2013 filibuster rule change as it pertains to the Supreme Court.
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Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia on Sunday said that he would support a “small carve-out” on the filibuster to pass voting-rights legislation.

On “Fox News Sunday,” he cautioned against the Senate morphing into the House, where the majority party holds enormous sway over legislation, emphasizing the importance of preserving voting rights.

“I don’t want the Senate to become like the House,” Warner said. “But I do believe when it comes to voting rights, when it comes to that basic right to exercise and participate in democracy, I get very worried what’s happening in some of these states where they are actually penalizing, saying if you give somebody water waiting in line to vote, or in states like Texas where they’re saying a local government can overcome the results of a local election. That is not democracy.”

He added: “If we have to do a small carve out on filibuster for voting rights – that is the only area where I’d allow that kind of reform.”

Warner supports the sweeping voting-rights legislation known as the For the People Act, also identified as S.1, which would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other measures.

Read more: Gov. Kristi Noem’s inner circle is packed with family, Trump aides, and connected South Dakotans. Meet the gatekeepers for her potential 2024 presidential run.

Democrats would also like to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore federal preclearance from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was weakened in the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder.

Former President Donald Trump’s false election claims have only deepened the partisan divide on voting rights, and GOP congressional leaders have come out against the Democratic-led voting bills.

Last month, a vote to advance the For the People Act failed 50-50, with Democrats unable to win any Republican support. In order for the bill to pass under current rules, it would need to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a legislative filibuster.

In an evenly divided Senate, that task has become nearly impossible, especially since the bill cannot be passed through the budget reconciliation process and moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona oppose nixing the filibuster entirely.

Democrats, who have strongly opposed the raft of restrictive voting bills that have passed this year in states like Arizona and Florida, sense a narrowing window for voting rights as the 2022 midterm elections approach.

In the interview, Warner questioned former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2013 decision to change the filibuster rules for most presidential nominees, which now only require a simple majority.

“I would wish we wouldn’t even have started this a decade ago,” he said. “When the Democratic leaders actually changed the rules, I don’t think we would have the Supreme Court we did if we still had a 60-vote margin on the filibuster.”

He added: “But we are where we are, and the idea that somehow to protect the rights of the minority in the Senate, we’re going to cut out rights of minorities and young people all across the country, that’s just not right to me.”

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Capitol police arrested Rep. Joyce Beatty as she led a demonstration to advocate for voting rights

FILE PHOTO: United States Representative Joyce Beatty speaks at the Ohio Democratic election night party in Columbus, Ohio, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
United States Representative Joyce Beatty speaks at his election night party in Columbus

  • Rep. Joyce Beatty was arrested by USCP after leading a demonstration at a Senate office Thursday.
  • Beatty chairs the Congressional Black Caucus; she urged lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation.
  • Capitol Police said nine were arrested at demonstrations “in a prohibited area on Capitol Grounds.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio was arrested by Capitol Police Thursday afternoon after leading a demonstration advocating for voting rights at a Senate office building.

Beatty, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke outside the Capitol calling for the passage of the For the People Act – which is focused on expanding voting rights – as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Photos of her arrest were posted on Beatty’s Twitter with the caption: “Let the people vote. Fight for justice.”

“I stand in solidarity with Black women and allies across the country in defense of our constitutional right to vote,” Beatty said in a statement in response to her arrest. “We have come too far and fought too hard to see everything systematically dismantled and restricted by those who wish to silence us.”

“Be assured that this is just the beginning,” the congresswoman continued. “This is Our Power, Our Message.”

US Capitol Police said in a statement that nine people were arrested “for demonstrating in a prohibited area on Capitol Grounds.” Beatty’s arrest was not specified in the statement.

“At approximately 3:30pm, the United States Capitol Police responded to the Atrium in the Hart Senate Office Building for reports of illegal demonstration activity,” they said. “After officers arrived on the scene, they warned the demonstrators three times to stop.”

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McConnell criticizes Texas Democrats for staging a walkout, saying they’ve come ‘to snap selfies and bask in the limelight’

mitch mcconnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does a cable news interview before the start of a two-week recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

  • Mitch McConnell slammed Texas Democrats who fled the state for Washington, DC, this week.
  • McConnell accused them of coming “to snap selfies and bask in the limelight.”
  • The legislators staged a walkout to block a series of GOP-led bills in the state legislature.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had harsh words for Texas Democrats who fled the state Monday for Washington, DC, in a dramatic walkout to block passage of a series of Republican-led bills.

The Kentucky Republican accused the state Democratic lawmakers of coming to the nation’s capital to have a moment in the sun.

The legislators “decided to grab some beer, hop on a private plane and flee the state in what they are pretending is some great moral crusade,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, according to CNN’s Manu Raju. “In reality, they’ve just come here to Washington to snap selfies and bask in the limelight.”

The Democratic lawmakers left Texas during a special legislative session to deny the quorum necessary to pass legislation brought forth by Republicans.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held the special session to push through a slew of his conservative priorities, ranging from voting reform to abortion access.

Texas Democrats specifically aimed to block two key election bills, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, arguing the legislation imposes strict voting rules by requiring voter ID for absentee ballots, bans on drive-thru voting, among other measures.

The state lawmakers this week met with some of the nation’s top leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, to raise concerns about voting rights in the nation. Vice President Kamala Harris threw her support behind their walkout on Monday, saying: “I applaud their standing for the rights of all Americans and all Texans to express their voice through their vote unencumbered.”

Other prominent figures on the right besides McConnell that criticized the walkout include Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who on Tuesday night said the legislators were committing an “insurrection.”

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Biden denounces GOP’s election bills as ‘un-American’ restrictions ‘grounded in autocracy’ in his first major voting rights speech

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • President Biden on Tuesday criticized the wave of GOP-backed voting restrictions.
  • The president’s address in Philadelphia was his first major voting-rights speech.
  • Biden has faced mounting pressure from voting-rights activists to take more forceful action.
  • Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday forcefully denounced the wave of GOP-backed restrictive voting bills, using the concept of a free and fair democracy to make a moral argument for voting rights in his first major speech on the matter.

Biden spoke at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as the White House and his administration face mounting pressure to adopt a more forceful stance on voter suppression.

“The denial of full and free and fair elections is the most un-American thing that any of us can imagine, the most un-democratic, the most un-patriotic and sadly not unprecedented,” Biden said.

In his speech, the president lambasted Republican-led efforts to enact restrictive voting bills in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election.

“To me, this is simple. It’s election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history,” Biden said.

He added: “We have got to shore up our election system and address the threats to election subversion not just from abroad, which I spent time with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin talking about, but from home. From home. Will you ignore their voices? Are you on the side of truth or lies, fact or fiction, justice or injustice? Democracy or autocracy? That’s what it comes down to.”

In the speech, Biden forcefully defended the integrity of the 2020 election.

“More than 80 judges, including those appointed by my predecessor heard the arguments,” he said. “In every case, neither cause nor evidence was found to undermine the national achievement of administering the historic election.”

“The big lie is just that – a big lie!” Biden added.

The president also made the case that American democracy has been strained over the past year.

“In 2020, democracy was put to a test. First by the pandemic. Then by a desperate attempt to deny the reality of the results of the election, and then by a violent and deadly insurrection on the Capitol, the citadel of our democracy,” he said.

Biden has previously highlighted the growing trend of legislatures also passing provisions that add potential criminal penalties for election officials and give partisan state lawmakers more control over who runs elections and more power to overturn election results.

Republican lawmakers in 17 states have passed over 28 bills with provisions that tighten voting access as of June 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after Trump and his allies waged an unprecedented campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results based on false claims of fraud.

Read more: Justice Stephen Breyer’s former clerks want him to retire from the Supreme Court ASAP to open a seat for Biden

Biden’s speech also came as a group of dozens of Democratic state lawmakers from Texas left the state in droves to deny the quorum necessary to pass election legislation during a special legislative session set to last until August 6.

Those lawmakers visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers on passing federal legislation to protect voting rights.

But at the federal level, the White House is staring down the problem of a Senate filibuster rule that requires a three-fifths majority for most legislation and no room for error in a Senate that’s split 50-50.

Republicans in the Senate filibustered S.1, the For The People Act, Democrats’ wide-ranging voting rights and democracy reform legislation, on June 22, killing the bill’s chances for now.

Republicans have consistently defended GOP voting laws as common sense reforms that will bolster election security and claimed that the Democrats are overstating their potential to restrict voting.

“Joe Biden and Democrats have an election power grab playbook: lies and theatrics. After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections (H.R.1), Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts,” Republican National Committee Communications Director Danielle Álvarez said in a statement. “Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in state-led efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support these laws.”

Biden, to the chagrin of many liberal activists, has been unwilling to call for major changes to the Senate filibuster. But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision over whether to make changes to the filibuster “will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward.”

“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”

Biden will “continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” Psaki added, calling it “the most instructive” thing he can do.

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What’s in the GOP voting bills that Texas Democrats fled their state to block

Supporters hold signs for Texas legislative Democrats staging a walkout over voting legislation
Supporters gather on the street as Democrats from the Texas Legislature arrive by bus to board a private plane headed for Washington, D.C., Monday, July 12, 2021, in Austin, Texas.

  • Democrats in the Texas legislature left the state to stop two voting bills in a special session.
  • House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1 limit the ways that local officials expanded voting in 2020.
  • They also include new regulations for absentee voting and protections for poll watchers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On Monday, dozens of Democratic lawmakers in the Texas state House boarded two chartered planes and left the state altogether to head to Washington, DC to deny the quorum necessary to pass a slew of legislation in Texas’ ongoing special legislative session.

The stated purpose of their walkout is specifically to block two proposed omnibus election bills, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, that are part of an ambitious list of conservative priorities that Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to pass.

State House Democrats previously walked out at the end of the last legislative session in May in order to deny a quorum and run out the clock to pass Senate Bill 7, a bill that included new restrictions on voting and criminal penalties for election officials.

After the first walkout, Republicans dropped two of SB 7’s controversial provisions from the new bills: one that would have limited early voting hours on Sundays to began after 1 pm and a measure that would have made it easier for losing candidates to overturn election results.

But many lawmakers say their bold action isn’t as much about the specific provisions of the bills themselves than the overall principle of Republicans aiming to pass legislation that tightens voting rules in the wake of the 2020 election, – in addition to Abbott vetoing funding for the legislative branch in response to the previous walkout.

Texas already has strict voting rules, with no online, automatic, or same-day voter registration; requiring an excuse to vote absentee for those under 65; and mandating a photo ID to vote.

Biggest highlights of HB 3 and SB 1:

  • New early voting hours. Both bills require counties to hold at least nine hours of voting during the early voting period that can start as early as 6 am and end as late as 9 pm in SB 1 and 10 pm in SB 1. The bills set a more specific set of hours than current law, which just requires early voting to be held during a county clerk’s office during “regular business hours.”
    • Both bills also require early voting to be held for 12 hours a day during the last week of early voting in larger counties and allow small counties with less than 1,000 voters to hold fewer hours.
    • The new hours for early voting, however, would ban local officials from offering early voting overnight 24 hours a day, as Harris County did in 2020 during the pandemic.
  • Bans on drive-thru voting. Both bills prohibit officials from offering early voting in a “moveable structure” after officials in heavily Democratic Harris County offered it as a COVID-19-specific measure, prompting several unsuccessful last-minute lawsuits against the practice.
  • ID information needed to vote absentee. Texas, which already uses signature matching to verify absentee ballots, will now require voters to provide the number on their driver’s license, other state ID, or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the outer envelope when requesting an absentee ballot.
  • More restrictions on absentee applications. Both laws make it a state jail felony for election officials to send out absentee ballot applications unsolicited to voters both eligible and not eligible to vote absentee.
  • More protections and access for partisan poll watchers.
  • Enhanced criminal penalties for paid ballot collection, sometimes called ballot or vote harvesting, on behalf of a candidate or party.
  • More rules for people assisting voters, including requiring assistors to fill out a form stating their relationship to the voter.
  • The option for voters to “cure” or fix issues with their absentee ballots. In a move advocated by Democrats, both bills include a new provision that will require officials to notify voters if their absentee ballot is missing a signature on the outer envelope or has a mismatched signature, and give them an opportunity to fix the problem.
  • In another provision sought by Democrats, HB 3 protects against a person being convicted of a crime for voting a provisional ballot while unknowingly ineligible, a response to the prosecution of Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting on supervised release.
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In his first major voting rights speech, Biden to denounce GOP’s bills as ‘un-American’ restrictions ‘grounded in autocracy’

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden will call voting laws ‘grounded in autocracy’ and ‘un-American’ in a Tuesday address.
  • The president’s planned address in Philadelphia is his first major voting rights speech.
  • Biden is facing mounting pressure from voting rights activists to take more forceful action.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden will forcefully denounce GOP-backed voting bills as “grounded in autocracy, un-democratic, un-American, and un-patriotic” and make “the moral case” for voting rights in his first major speech on the matter, Politico and CNN report.

Biden will speak at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon as the White House and Biden administration face mounting pressure to adopt a more forceful stance on voter suppression with his bully pulpit.

“In the birthplace of American Democracy, President Biden will articulate how to meet the greatest threat to the right to vote and the integrity of our elections since the Civil War, renew his call for vital legislation- to overcome the rash of anti-voter laws motivated by the Big Lie, and underline the all-of-government effort the Biden-Harris Administration launched to use the powers of the executive branch to protect and advance the sacred, constitutional right to vote,” a White House official told CNN.

Republican lawmakers in 17 states have passed over 28 bills with provisions that tighten voting access as of June 2021, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, after former President Donald Trump and his allies waged an unprecedented campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results based on false claims of fraud.

And in recent remarks, Biden has also highlighted the growing trend of legislatures also passing provisions that add potential criminal penalties for election officials and give partisan state lawmakers more control over who runs elections and more power to overturn election results.

Biden will say that “these new insidious moves to empower partisans over independent election authorities in terms of who counts the votes are new and extremely dangerous,” and “are the most significant threat today to the integrity of our elections, and to the security of the right to vote for people of all races and backgrounds,” White House officials told CNN and Politico.

Read more: Justice Stephen Breyer’s former clerks want him to retire from the Supreme Court ASAP to open a seat for Biden

Biden’s speech also comes as a group of dozens of Democratic state lawmakers from Texas left the state in droves to deny the quorum necessary to pass election legislation during a special legislative session set to last until August 6.

Those lawmakers are set to come to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers on passing federal legislation to protect voting rights.

But from the federal level, the White House faces down the problem of a Senate filibuster rule that requires a three-fifths majority for most legislation and no room for error in a Senate split 50-50.

Republicans in the US Senate filibustered the For The People Act, Democrats’ wide-ranging voting rights and democracy reform legislation, on June 22, leaving that bill’s chances dead for now.

Biden, to the chagrin of many activists, has been unwilling to call for major changes to the Senate filibuster that requires 60 votes to advance to debate on and pass most legislation.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday that the decision over whether to make changes to the filibuster “will be made by members of the Senate, not by this president or any president, frankly, moving forward.”

“If it were waving a magic wand to get voting rights legislation on his desk through any means, he would do that,” Psaki said. “But it requires the majority of members in the Senate to support changes to the filibuster.”

Instead, Politico reported, Biden will call for a “new coalition” on voting rights to work at the grassroots level.

Psaki said Monday that Biden will “continue to lift up, elevate, advocate, engage, [and] empower people across the country,” calling it “the most instructive” thing he can do.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Texas Gov. Abbott vows to arrest Democratic lawmakers who staged walkout

Texas Governor Greg Abbot points at the camera with a stern expression.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott said Democratic lawmakers who fled Texas in a walkout would be arrested.
  • Democrats left en masse on Monday to block conservative bills in a legislative special session.
  • Two-thirds of lawmakers must be present for legislative business to proceed in Texas.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Gov. Greg Abbott promised that Democratic lawmakers who staged a walkout in Texas would be arrested.

Speaking to KVUE on Monday, the two-term Republican criticized Democratic lawmakers who fled en masse to block several conservative bills from passing in a legislative special session.

“As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” he said.

Democratic leaders in the Texas House said on Monday that they had flown to Washington, DC, to “refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote.”

Under Texas law, two-thirds of lawmakers must be present for legislative business to proceed.

Abbott convened the special session earlier this month to pass a litany of conservative priorities, including legislation targeting voting, abortion access, transgender rights, and critical race theory.

The marquee issue is a restrictive voting bill that Republican lawmakers have sought largely in response to President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.

The bill would modify early-voting hours, curb the 24/7 voting centers that were popular with shift workers in Democratic-leaning Harris County in last year’s presidential election, and scrap straight-ticket voting, among other measures.

Democratic state senators on Friday introduced a bill called the Barbara Jordan Fair Elections Act, named after the revered Black senator, designed to expand access to voting, allowing for online and same-day voter registration, among other measures, according to The Dallas Morning News.

However, the GOP-dominated Legislature is unlikely to take up that bill.

While no Democratic state senators had accompanied their House counterparts to the nation’s capital as of Tuesday, a Democratic official said several senators might travel there, according to The New York Times.

Abbott told KVUE that he would not relent from carrying out his legislative objectives.

The governor said he would “continue to call special session after special session” until Democratic lawmakers are present.

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The fight to protect voting rights at the federal level is dead. But there’s still a glimmer of hope.

voting rights protestor with sign
Activists from various grassroots organizations rally outside City Hall in Los Angeles, California on July 7, 2021, calling on Congress and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to remove the filibuster and pass the “For the People Act” to expand voting rights.

  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona’s law that makes it harder to vote.
  • Congress has stalled out on advancing legislation to protect voting rights.
  • But while the fight for voting rights may have died on the federal level, there is still hope to drive out people and protect voting at the state level.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court signed the death certificate for voting rights. In a 6-3 decision along ideological lines, the Court decided that Arizona could implement restrictions that hamper the ability of Black and brown voters to cast their ballot.

In essence, more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act became law, the federal protections against racially discriminatory voting policies have been stripped away. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court has given new energy to right wing states that want to keep minority voters away from the polls.

Democrats have the Supreme Court and red states against them. So their only choice left is to go local – and out-organize anyone standing in their way.

The big lie on steroids

While Republican-controlled states have passed onerous voting laws for years, the recent spate of voter suppression tactics all stem from former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” The fact that President Joe Biden won the reliably Republican states of Georgia and Arizona sent a shockwave through the GOP. We all know, and perhaps expected, Trump to falsely claim that there was voter “fraud” after his 2020 loss. But now Republicans are falling all over themselves to please the former President by enacting laws to prevent these nonexistent “irregularities” from happening again.

Arizona, where the Supreme Court case originated, prevents friends and neighbors from helping someone turn in absentee ballots. It also allows the state to disqualify voters who accidentally vote in the wrong precinct. Republicans claim they are trying to prevent fraud, but the actual intention is clear when you recognize that local GOP officials routinely shift voting locations in minority neighborhoods – making it easier for these voters to accidentally run afoul of the new law.

Georgia’s new laws, the cause of much outcry earlier this year, not only tighten voter ID requirements – a dog whistle for preventing Black folks from voting – but also make it a crime to pass out water to voters in line. Considering there are generally longer lines where Black voters vote, the water bottle law is designed to force Black voters out of line before making it to the front.

These laws aren’t just in swing states, either. States like Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma have all passed laws making it harder to vote by mail, on top of many other voting restrictions. This is an epidemic, and Democrats must use every means at their disposal to fight back before it’s too late.

Filibustering the filibuster

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats’ most effective response to voter suppression is to pass a new federal voter protection law. Indeed, some of the very first bills put forth in the US House and Senate this year were to protect voting rights, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The bills have not seen much success because of Republican intransigence.

The most common solution to move past the GOP is changing the filibuster, which prevents any bill from moving forward in the Senate unless it has 60 supporters. Given the 50-50 split in the chamber, this effectively gives the Republican minority veto power over almost every bill brought to the Senate floor.

After the Supreme Court decision, Democrats are calling again for an end to the filibuster so that the voting rights law can pass. But that ship has sailed. The Democrats in the ideological center of the Senate, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, have not moved on changing the filibuster. And with their stubbornness on the filibuster goes any chance of a new federal voting law.

Democrats across the country need to stop hoping that Congress or the courts will fix this problem. They won’t. Democrats need to take charge themselves.

Voter suppression boomerang

While efforts may be stymied at the federal level, Democrats do have a chance to harness the energy and outrage around voter suppression to increase voter turnout at the state and local level.

To start, they need to let Black, brown, and younger voters know that Republicans are trying to prevent them from voting, and inform them of how to stay on top of their right to vote. Major Democratic Super PACs are already investing in this kind of work, but more funds and more people will be necessary to make a real difference.

In Arizona, where casting a ballot in the wrong place can lead to disqualification, voter education campaigns are essential. The GOP technique only works to suppress the vote when voters don’t know their polling location. With solid organizing, Democrats can ensure every single voter knows where to cast their ballot.

In Georgia, ground zero for many false claims of election fraud, Democrats have already shown what it takes to fight back. Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight has been on the front lines of combating voter suppression. As a result, Georgia Democrats helped flip the White House and Senate in 2020. If Democrats are serious about combating voter suppression, they should set up a Fair Fight in every single state.

Perhaps the single largest step that Democrats can take to fight suppression and increase turnout is to invest in year-round organizing. In too many places, young Democratic staffers parachute in for one campaign cycle and then leave, forgoing the ability to forge the deep connections it takes to win over and help voters.

The chair of the Wisconsin Democrats credits year-round organizing for the slim wins in both Wisconsin and Georgia, and the Democratic state party in Texas is already investing in this. It gets results. Texas Democrats managed to defeat an earlier attempt to pass draconian voter suppression laws, although the governor is still trying.

For the time being, Democrats can’t do anything about the Supreme Court. But the right to vote is precious, and we can use the threat of these new laws to inspire people to hold onto what’s theirs and fight back against Republican attempts to subvert democracy.

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Moderate Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. says GOP-led restrictive voting bills ‘are about white supremacy’

Bob Casey Jr.
Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

  • Sen. Bob Casey Jr. criticized the raft of GOP-led voting laws being pursued across the country.
  • “We’re at a point of no return,” he said after the Supreme Court upheld two restrictive Arizona laws.
  • Casey said the GOP has concluded that it “can only win by voter suppression bills.”
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Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania on Saturday blasted the Republican Party for endorsing restrictive voting bills across the country, describing the push for such legislation as forms of “white supremacy.”

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Velshi,” the moderate lawmaker issued a dire warning about the state of elections in the US, just days after the Supreme Court upheld two restrictive voting laws in Arizona that had been challenged for violating Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Casey expressed that the Senate would likely have to alter its rules to move voting rights legislation through the chamber with 51 votes.

“We’re at a point of no return,” he said. “We’re either going to preserve our democracy, and thereby protect voter rights to preserve the democracy, or we’re not. Democrats have to stand up and get something done. I think we can do that, because it’s apparent to me that Republicans are just going to endorse these voter suppression bills.”

He added: “At its core, we should just be blunt about this, these voter suppression bills are about white supremacy.”

Casey said Republicans seemed to be working as “a one-or two-issue agenda party where they seem to be only interested in stopping [President] Joe Biden’s programs, especially on these caregiving issues and supporting voter suppression bills.”

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The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 6-3 to keep in place Arizona laws that toss provisional ballots filed at the wrong voting precinct and prevent third-party groups from returning mail ballots.

The former Arizona law was previously struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in January, with the judge ruling that it disproportionately affected Black, Latino and Indigenous voters.

Last week, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a GOP-backed voting overhaul bill that would have changed election deadlines and strengthened voter identification requirements, among other measures.

During the MSNBC interview, Casey said that Republicans would continue to push similar pieces of legislation.

‘This is agenda item number one for the Republican Party,” he said. “This is going to be the norm, because Republicans have concluded that they can’t win by getting more votes. They can only win by voter suppression bills.”

Democrats have seen their legislative push for voting rights languish in recent months.

The For the People Act, the party’s marquee voting rights legislation, would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, establish national standards for voter registration, and blunt voter purges, among other things.

The bill would also mandate that states offer mail-in ballots and same-day voter registration, which Republicans have long resisted in many states.

In March, the House passed the legislation in a near party-line 220-210 vote.

However, late last month, an attempt to advance the legislation failed in the Senate, with all Republicans opposed to the bill.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, an elections bill which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, also faces a difficult path forward, with GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposed to the legislation.

Read the original article on Business Insider