Senators deadlock on major U.S. elections bill in committee vote

NC in the spotlight as release of census data kicks off partisan statehouse brawls over U.S. House seats

Care about the integrity of the vote? Make time to read this op-ed.

This week’s must read editorial comes from Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, in Friday’s New York Times.

Hasen, the author of several books about elections and democracy, warns about ‘a new and more dangerous front in the voting wars.’ Here’s an excerpt from his column:

Professor Richard Hasen

We already know the contours of the battle over voter suppression. The public has been inundated with stories about Georgia’s new voting law, from Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game from Atlanta to criticism of new restrictions that prevent giving water to people waiting in long lines to vote. With lawsuits already filed against restrictive aspects of that law and with American companies and elite law firms lined up against Republican state efforts to make it harder to register and vote, there’s at least a fighting chance that the worst of these measures will be defeated or weakened.

The new threat of election subversion is even more concerning. These efforts target both personnel and policy; it is not clear if they are coordinated. They nonetheless represent a huge threat to American democracy itself.

Some of these efforts involve removing from power those who stood up to President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The Georgia law removes the secretary of state from decision-making power on the state election board. This seems aimed clearly at Georgia’s current Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, punishing him for rejecting Mr. Trump’s entreaties to “find” 11,780 votes to flip Joe Biden’s lead in the state.

But the changes will apply to Mr. Raffensperger’s successor, too, giving the legislature a greater hand in who counts votes and how they are counted. Michigan’s Republican Party refused to renominate Aaron Van Langevelde to the state’s canvassing board. Mr. Van Langevelde voted with Democrats to accept Michigan’s Electoral College vote for Mr. Biden as legitimate. He was replaced by Tony Daunt, the executive director of a conservative Michigan foundation that is financially backed by the DeVos family.

Even those who have not been stripped of power have been censured by Republican Party organizations, including not just Mr. Raffensperger and Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, but also Barbara Cegavske, the Republican secretary of state of Nevada who ran a fair election and rejected spurious arguments that the election was stolen. The message that these actions send to politicians is that if you want a future in state Republican politics, you had better be willing to manipulate election results or lie about election fraud.

Republican state legislatures have also passed or are considering laws aimed at stripping Democratic counties of the power to run fair elections. The new Georgia law gives the legislature the power to handpick an election official who could vote on the state election board for a temporary takeover of up to four county election boards during the crucial period of administering an election and counting votes. That provision appears to be aimed at Democratic counties like Fulton County that have increased voter access. A new Iowa law threatens criminal penalties against local election officials who enact emergency election rules and bars them from sending voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications.

So what can be done? To begin with, every jurisdiction in the United States should be voting with systems that produce a paper ballot that can be recounted in the event of a disputed election. Having physical, tangible evidence of voters’ choices, rather than just records on electronic voting machines, is essential to both guard against actual manipulation and protect voter confidence in a fair vote count. Such a provision is already contained in H.R. 1, the mammoth Democrat-sponsored voting bill.

Next, businesses and civic leaders must speak out not just against voter suppression but also at efforts at election subversion. The message needs to be that fair elections require not just voter access to the polls but also procedures to ensure that the means of conducting the election are fair, auditable and verifiable by representatives of both political parties and nongovernmental organizations.

Congress must also fix the rules for counting Electoral College votes, so that spurious objections to the vote counts like the ones we saw on Jan. 6 from senators and representatives, including Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, are harder to make. It should take much more than a pairing of a single senator and a single representative to raise an objection, and there must be quick means to reject frivolous objections to votes fairly cast and counted in the states.

Congress can also require states to impose basic safeguards in the counting of votes in federal elections. This is not part of the H.R. 1 election reform bill, but it should be, and Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution gives Congress wide berth to override state laws in this area.

Finally, we need a national effort to support those who will count votes fairly. Already we are seeing a flood of competent election administrators retiring from their often-thankless jobs, some after facing threats of violence during the 2020 vote count. Local election administrators need political cover and the equivalent of combat pay, along with adequate budget resources to run fair elections. It took hundreds of millions of dollars in private philanthropy to hold a successful election in 2020; that need for charity should not be repeated.

If someone running for secretary of state endorses the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, they should be uniformly condemned. Support should go to those who promote election integrity, regardless of party, and who put in place fair and transparent procedures. Ultimately, we need to move toward a more nonpartisan administration of elections and create incentives for loyalty to the integrity of the democratic process, not to a political party.

We may not know until January 2025, when Congress has counted the Electoral College votes of the states, whether those who support election integrity and the rule of law succeeded in preventing election subversion. That may seem far away, but the time to act to prevent a democratic crisis is now. It may begin with lawsuits against new voter-suppression laws and nascent efforts to enshrine the right to vote in the Constitution. But it is also going to require a cross-partisan alliance of those committed to the rule of law — in and out of government — to ensure that our elections continue to reflect the will of the people.

Read the full op-ed here in The New York Times.

Professor Richard Hasen is also the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”

NC Democratic legislators introduce sweeping election reform bills

Image: Adobe Stock

Rallying for election reforms, House Democrats unveiled a new bill entitled the “Fix Our Democracy Act” and highlighted a recently introduced measure designed to safeguard voting rights at a press conference Tuesday.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, said the Safeguarding Voting Rights bill (HB 446) she’s co-sponsoring “gives no favor to any party” by focusing on four areas to ensure ease and accessibility for voting: voter registration and absentee/mail-in voting, recruitment of pollworkers, increasing flexibility for voting hours and the rights to vote during state holidays.

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham

Morey stressed the importance of expanding mail-in voting. The bill would require the state Board of Elections to send out absentee ballot requests to every eligible voter with pre-paid postage at least 90 days before Election Day. The bill would make the one-witness requirement enacted temporarily by the General Assembly for the 2020 elections a permanent measure. The bill further requires at least one drop-off site in each county. Ballots postmarked by Election Day would still be counted if received no later than three days after the Election Day at 5 pm.

“My colleagues and myself strongly believe this is the time we encourage people to vote,” Morey said.She noted that  HB 446 seeks to make voting secure and easy and noted the many restrictive voting bills have been introduced across the country.

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford, previewed another new bill HB 542. She said the Fix our Democracy Act aims to fix our democracy “each person having an equal voice”

Rep. Ashton Clemmons, D-Guilford

Clemmons explained that the proposal builds upon House and Senate bills with the same name from 2019, by advancing a series of reforms in elections, redistricting, voting, campaign finance, lobbying and transparency. Neither of the 2019 bills made it out of their committees.

A Senate version of HB 542, SB 716 has also been introduced by Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

Among the Fix Our Democracy Act’s provisions are:

Voting and redistricting

  • Online and automatic voter registration – The measure allows eligible citizens to register to vote automatically whenever they interact with government agencies, such as the DMV, unless they decline to do so. A voter purge would only be allowed when the nonforwarding postcard from the county board of commission was returned.
  • At least one polling place required on college campuses with over 4,500 enrolled students. Read more

NC Democrats push for common sense voting reforms

Say this much, at least, for those legislators who favor making it easier, not harder, for North Carolinians to vote: They’re not ready to surrender to their vote-suppressing foes.

Even as key Republicans in the state Senate push changes to absentee voting rules whose main purpose would be to gum up the works, a group of House Democrats is pushing the other way.

Their bill entitled “Safeguarding Voting Rights,” introduced March 31 as House Bill 446, would protect popular voting options and in general encourage citizens to have their say at the polls.

It likely has zero chance of passage in a General Assembly controlled by Republicans in sync with the party’s national effort to downsize the electorate in its favor. But it shows the kind of steps that could be taken to strengthen our state’s voting procedures if maximum participation is the goal – while highlighting the divide between those who think maximum participation works in the public interest and those who don’t.

Here’s another point that needs to be made as Republicans from the former president on down continue to raise unfounded concerns about voter fraud. Of course the provisions of HB 446 would have to be carefully vetted to avoid any compromise of election security. But there’s no reason to think that shoring up access to the polls has to pave the way for cheating, or worse, that it’s meant to do so.

We should instead recall the high standard of efficiency and honesty that the state’s elections officials managed to meet even as turnout surged during the presidential election conducted last fall amid a deadly pandemic. For those worried about “election integrity,” now a favorite Republican cause, virus-era adjustments that helped people vote safely and securely should have drawn cheers, not jeers.

HB 446 so far has 32 sponsors, all Democrats – amounting to a majority of the party’s 51 House members (vs. 69 Republicans). Its primary sponsors are Reps. Marcia Morey of Durham, Allison Dahle of Raleigh, Kandie Smith of Greenville and Amos Quick III of Greensboro. Among the bill’s notable features, it would let absentee voters submit their ballots with the signature of only one witness rather than two.

The one-witness rule was approved by the legislature as a stop-gap response to the risks posed by in-person contact during the pandemic, but it now has lapsed. There’s ample reason to extend it, even if the COVID-19 threat continues to fade. It makes absentee voting more convenient with no evidence that it facilitates fraud. A huge increase in the number of absentee voters was a significant driver of 2020’s high turnout, and no doubt many of those voters would choose that method again if didn’t pose undue hassles.

Ballot ballet

The bill would affirm that as provided under current law, voters could apply for absentee ballots as late as the Tuesday before an election, and if a ballot was submitted by mail, it would count so long as it was received by the third day after Election Day.

However, it appears to drop the requirement that ballots also must be postmarked by Election Day. That presumably is in recognition that some mail these days isn’t postmarked at all. Yet the notion that ballots might be counted even if they were mailed after voting was supposed to have ended shapes up as a red flag.

Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 326, now pending, would advance the application deadline by a week and make Election Day the cutoff for receipt – essentially giving absentee voters the bum’s rush. Read more