“Your place for all the information you need about voting rights,
voter suppression, and voting trends to prepare you to fight in the 2022 election.”
October 12, 2021
Senate Finally Takes Up John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
On October 5, the Senate finally introduced SB 4, its version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Among differences between the Senate and House versions—inclusion of New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Lujan’s Native American Voting Rights Act to remove “geographic, linguistic and legal barriers” to voting; and Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff’s Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act to provide legal protections to poll workers and their families against harassment (see our write-up on this Act in our August 31 edition, https://bit.ly/3t9BIXx). Democracy Docket has a great roundup of what’s in the new SB 4 at https://bit.ly/2Yux2Rm.
Republicans May Have Gotten What They Wanted from Failed AZ Recount
Happy that Arizona’s extensive recount of their 2020 ballots was a total flop? Not so fast, says former Obama White House speechwriter David Litt.
In a September 30 opinion piece in The Guardian, Litt writes, “Arizona Republicans’ goal was never really to overturn the last election – it was to lay the groundwork for overturning the next one.”
It’s not just the constant drumbeat of fraud claims or supposed fears of ‘election integrity’ that concerns Litt. It’s the fact that, should a legitimate recount need to be done in an extremely close election, whether local or presidential, Republicans may point to Democrats’ current condemnation of the Arizona recount to delegitimize a properly conducted, impartial real one.
Concludes Litt, “They have undermined a central element of the peaceful transfer of power—the idea that the losers of elections acknowledge the winners’ legitimacy.”
Read his entire opinion piece at https://bit.ly/3Ah6xf2.
Voter Registration Via the IRS? Why Not?
Tax experts Jeremy Bearer-Friend and Vanessa Williamson have proposed such a simple solution to voter registration that it’s a wonder no one has done it yet—add voter registration to your IRS tax return forms!
In a New York Times article, they describe a 2018 experiment conducted in Dallas and Cleveland where researchers offered voter registration forms to predominantly Black and Hispanic tax filers with average household incomes under $30,000. The program doubled the likelihood that an unregistered person would get onto the voter rolls. Further validation comes from Canada, where voter registration is part of tax filing. The practice has led to 96% of eligible voters appearing on the Canadian voter registry.
“Historically, federal intervention has been essential to the protection of voting rights; now is the time to use tax policy to increase voter access,” say the authors.
Read about their proposal at https://nyti.ms/39L04hx,
Current Alabama map with split counties and proposed map with no splits
Alabama, Ohio Hit with Gerrymander Lawsuits
On September 28, a group of Alabama voters filed a federal lawsuit contending that the state’s current congressional map is racially gerrymandered in violation of the 14th Amendment. Because it is not clear when redistricting will actually happen in Alabama, it is possible the current gerrymandered map will be used in the upcoming 2022 election.
According to Democracy Docket, the current map “packs black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district and minimizes their influence in five majority-white districts.” That’s because the current map splits counties between congressional districts. The suit argues that keeping county boundaries would solve the gerrymander problem. (https://bit.ly/3DiGndA)
Arkansas is apparently trying to do the same thing by approving a map that splits heavily Democratic Pulaski County, home to Little Rock, among three different districts to dilute the influence of minority voters. (https://bit.ly/3DrDZkC)
Meanwhile, in Ohio, the Republican-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission last month passed a redistricting plan that goes against redistricting reforms approved by Ohio voters in 2015 via an amendment to the state constitution. The maps, which will only be in effect for four years, are projected to maintain Republican supermajorities in the state’s General Assembly. Already, three lawsuits have been filed to overturn the redistricting plan. (https://bit.ly/3Ap5TvQ)
Voting Rights Win Some, Lose Some
Texas is considering a law that would make illegal voting a crime on a par with homicide. This was despite overwhelming public testimony against the bill, known as SB 9.
Also part of the legislation is a provision that would allow a partisan poll watcher to examine a voter’s ballot before it’s submitted if the voter is getting help from someone other than a relative. It would also grant the state’s attorney general direct access to voter rolls using a Kansas-based voter verification program that has been shown to be riddled with cybersecurity issues. (https://bit.ly/3oKAtxM)
Meanwhile, Kansas has gone in the opposite direction by allowing voter registration at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department for Children and Families. It’s the result of a lawsuit in 2019 stating that Kansas was not following National Voter Registration Act guidelines for state government agencies that provide public assistance to also provide voter registration assistance. (https://bit.ly/3arzIkJ)
Focus on Illinois Voting: Kane County Does It Right!
(Illinois’ Kane County had the highest percentage of voters –57%–voting prior to election day in 2020, with full results reported quickly on election evening. How did they do it? Voting Rights Gazette associate editor Ed Spire and his team visited to find out. Here’s what he found.)
I was fortunate enough to participate in a site visit at the Kane County Clerk’s office, along with a team that included Jim McGrath and Sandra Baskin of NWSOFA (Northwest Suburbs Organizing for Action). Clerk John A. Cunningham, a Republican, and his staff showed us how they did it.
Kane County heavily promoted early voting and vote by mail, and invested in sophisticated equipment that enabled them to scan mail ballot envelopes quickly. This enabled them to match envelopes up with voter registration records, and display on a video screen the signatures on the envelopes for comparison to the signature from the voter’s registration form. This also allowed for fast and easy validation by a team of election judges.
One of Kane County’s ballot-sorting machines
It also meant that ballot envelopes with signature problems were quickly identified and removed from the processing stream. Remaining ballots were automatically sorted by precinct and ready for further processing. All mail ballots were scanned before election day, and the counts were integrated with early voting and election day voting as soon as the polls closed on election day.
Kane County also uses some older, in-person voting equipment, which does not use paper ballots. Instead, the systems record a paper copy of the vote on a paper tape. Kane County has developed high-speed tape scanners to read those tapes quickly should a paper-based recount be necessary.
This equipment is due for an upgrade, but the county is hoping to see Illinois move towards the Colorado-style of voting, primarily focused on vote by mail instead of precinct-level voting. Such a move would greatly reduce the amount of in-person voting equipment the county would need to purchase. With its current equipment and procedures, Kane County is clearly well-positioned already to handle a primarily vote-by-mail system. –Ed Spire
Illinois Voting Rights News
Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford and State Sen. Mike Simmons plan to introduce a bill during the October veto session to restore voting rights to people in prisons. The bill would allow a person in a state correctional facility to “have his or her right to vote restored and shall be eligible to vote not later than 14 days following his or her conviction or not later than five days before the first election following the person’s confinement.” The Illinois Board of Elections claims the bill is unconstitutional. (https://bit.ly/3oFdx2O)
A recent review of new census data shows that of 70% of unregistered eligible voters—63 million people—44 million are people of color, young people, or unmarried women. Say the report’s authors, Democracy Docket’s Denise Juneau and Gail Leftwich Kitch, “These census numbers make clear why some politicians are actively seeking to limit access to voting.” Read the whole report at https://bit.ly/2YvIf3V.
A tally sheet from the Idaho vote recount
Idaho plans to bill MyPillow Guy Mike Lindell for the three election recounts that debunked his election conspiracies. Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck says the state conducted three audits due to Lindell’s claims of voter fraud in Idaho and found just a 0.1% margin of error. The office is counting up the costs and will send Lindell the bill in the next few weeks. (https://bit.ly/3iJx924)
Editorial: Words Matter
A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer announced they would no longer call the vote recount in Arizona, or attempts to do a recount in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, an ‘audit.’ An investigation, yes. A probe or a review, sure, though often with the qualifier ‘partisan.’ A box explaining this decision is supposed to appear in every article dealing with the subject.
Why? As the paper’s assistant managing editor, Dan Hirschhorn, told On the Media’s Sasha Pfeiffer in a September 24 podcast, “There are huge questions that remain unanswered regarding the extent to which partisan, political players may have a role in the process, so we’re not calling it an audit...’Audit’ is not an accurate word to describe what we know to be happening.”
Need more examples of how words might not accurately reflect what we know to be happening? On the Media’s Pfeiffer noted that when she was covering events at Guantanamo Bay, she stopped using the word “detainee” and used “prisoners” instead. “Enhanced interrogation?” She switched to “torture” because, as she said in the podcast, “You have to call it what it is.”
The fact is, when we accept words and descriptions without thinking about what those words are actually saying, we are tacitly accepting someone else’s narrative. When words are purposely used to try to hide reality, it’s up to us to change the narrative back to reality. “States rights?” It’s usually a shorthand for white supremacy. “Lost cause?” Shorthand for a rebellion to defend slavery. To sugar-coat it is to deny reality.
Journalists, unfortunately, are always looking for an easy catchphrase to use in their deadline writing. That’s why Hirschhorn says that now is the time to start educating everyone—not just voters, but also local and national journalists—that words matter, that it’s time to stop taking the easy way out.
“We told our readers for months before the November election that who’s in the lead and the vote margin would change as ballots were counted…that it’s not fraud, not any kind of vote-rigging. It will simply be the system working, albeit slowly.”
And that’s the way to report reality. –Terry Maher
(The entire On the Media podcast is at https://bit.ly/3A5eAeO.)