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GOP stonewalling aside, Jan. 6 insurrection investigations continue to raise fresh evidence

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To date, as Ryan J. Reilly notes, there have been over 465 arrests of insurrectionists from nearly all 50 states. Over 130 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding police officers; more than 40 are accused of doing so with a dangerous weapon. Nearly 200 defendants have been charged with obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, a felony.

The report issued Tuesday by the Senate Rules and Homeland Security committees found, among other things, that authorities has been in possession of a number of alarming clues from intelligence sources that they failed to act upon. Capitol Police had, for instance, seen information from the rabidly pro-Trump website thedonald.com that included such comments about the Capitol’s tunnel system as: “There are tunnels connected to the Capitol Building! Legislators use them to avoid press, among other things! Take note.”

The report also noted that a Capitol Police official had shared a tip the night before the riot of a “significant uptick” in new visitors to the website WashingtonTunnels.com. It was shared with the FBI National Threat Operations Center.

Other comments at thedonald.com made clear that rally attendees intended to come armed and primed for violence. Some encouraged demonstrators to bring weapons in order to subdue members of Congress and police with the intention of reversing the presidential election’s results. A sampling:

  • “Exactly, forget the tunnels. Get into Capitol Building, stand outside congress. Be in the room next to them. They wont have time [to] run if they play dumb.”
  • “Deploy Capitol Police to restrict movement. Anyone going armed needs to be mentally prepared to draw down on LEOs. Let them shoot first, but make sure they know what happens if they do.”
  • “If they don’t show up, we enter the Capitol as the Third Continental Congress and certify the Trump Electors.”
  • “Bring guns. It’s now or never.”
  • “If a million patriots who up bristling with AR’s, just how brave do you think they’ll be when it comes to enforcing their unconstitutional laws? Don’t cuck out. This is do or die. Bring your guns.”

The report also noted that acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman at times contradicted herself as she described the agency’s preparations for the day of the attack.

Pittman came under fire from the Capitol Police union, which issued a statement: “The time has come for those in senior leadership who failed us, to stand aside. It is not enough to scapegoat others. Those most responsible, including Acting Chief Pittman … need to step aside for the good of the department.”

The ranks of Capitol Police have remained in turmoil since the insurrection, especially as officers have wrestled with the reality that Republicans in Congress have been fighting against accountability for the people responsible, as WKBW reports:

“I served my country,” [Capitol Police officer Aquino] Gonell said. “I went overseas to protect our homeland from foreign threats, but yet here I am battling them in our Capitol.”

Gonell led members of the department’s civil disturbance unit. For hours, they battled the rioters attacking the Capitol.

“I got hurt. I would do it again if I have to, it’s my job,” Gonell said.

Gonell suffered a cut to his hand on Jan. 6. He also suffered a severe foot injury that later required surgery.

“They kept saying, ‘Trump sent me. We won’t listen to you. We are here to take over the Capitol, we’re here to hang Mike Pence,'” Gonell said. “They thought we were there for them and we weren’t, so they turned against us. It was very scary because I thought I was going to lose my life right there.”

The failure of a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of the riot left him devastated and gave him a reason to speak out.

“It hurts me that the country that I love, that I came in, that I have sacrificed so much for, doesn’t care about us. They don’t,” Gonell said.

The legal proceedings involving the indictees already arrested and charged have continued apace, dominated in their early stages by the accused insurrectionists’ pleas for pretrial release to supervised home confinement. Only a handful of judges have acceded to these requests, with most asserting that the threat they represent has not fully receded.

“The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention the near-daily fulminations of the former President,” wrote U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson recently in a ruling in which a Colorado indictee was refused bond.

Trump’s continuing insistence that the election was stolen played a key role in the judges’ thinking: In a similar ruling involving a Trump supporter from Michigan with a felony record, Jackson pointed out a text in which the man said he was in Washington on Jan. 6 because “Trump’s the only big shot I trust right now.”

The man’s “promise to take action in the future cannot be dismissed as an unlikely occurrence given that his singular source of information … continues to propagate the lie that inspired the attack on a near daily basis,” Jackson wrote.

Likewise, Judge Amit Mehta ruled in favor of detaining a man accused of throwing a hatchet and a desk during the riot under the same logic: “Unfortunately, the political dynamics that gave way to January 6th have not faded,” he wrote.

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan similarly found that the threat of violence from a man charged with beating a police officer with a crutch and dragging him into a crowd remains intact: “The Court is not convinced that dissatisfaction and concern about the legitimacy of the election results has dissipated for all Americans,” Sullivan wrote April 20. “Former President Donald J. Trump continues to make forceful public comments about the ‘stolen election,’ chastising individuals who did not reject the supposedly illegitimate results that put the current administration in place.”

Sullivan took note of Trump’s Easter Sunday statement wishing a happy holiday to “the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election,” and noted a Trump speech to his donors criticizing other Republicans for not keeping him in the presidency.

In denying bond to physicist Jeffrey Sabol—who allegedly dragged an officer down the steps and used a baton to hold him down—Sullivan noted the same remarks. Sabol’s attorney had argued in court that his client now believes that he was “lied to” about the election. Sullivan responded that, given Trump’s recent comments, “There is ample reason to believe that fight is not finished for Mr. Sabol and others like him, making the threat of further violence present, concrete, and continuing.”

Not all judges have agreed. The Washington Post notes that at least half a dozen defendants have been released in recent weeks “in part by arguing that the insurrection was a singular event that could not be re-created. That argument was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which found that the dangerousness of any individual defendant had to be considered in light of the fact that ‘the specific circumstances of January 6’ created ‘a unique opportunity to obstruct democracy.’”

Judge John D. Bates on April 12 agreed to release a former State Department employee who joined the mob pushing back against police in a tunnel under the Capitol, saying that “the specific concerns in the wake of the January 6 events over future protests and violent attacks on the government . . . have dissipated to some degree.” He noted that despite concerns, there was no attempt to attack President Biden on his Inauguration Day or to seize the government on March 4, the day some conspiratorial supporters believed Trump would retake office.

“The threat to public safety must be continuing and prospective,” Bates wrote.

There were several noteworthy developments in the ongoing investigation, including several fresh arrests:

  • Kevin Creek, a Georgia roofing company owner who was captured on camera kicking and striking police officers, was arrested Thursday and charged disorderly conduct and assaulting and impeding officers, among other crimes. While it does not appear that Creek entered the Capitol itself, but was on the grounds Jan. 6 and was deterred by tear gas, and confessed to having been armed “with mace and a boot knife” at the time. Outside the building, Creek was captured in body camera footage striking one federal officer and kicking another. Creek admitted “the videos looked like him,” but said he “did not remember assaulting any officer.”
  • Christian Kulas, a 24-year-old from the wealthy suburbs of Chicago, was arrested early Tuesday for taking part in the Capitol siege. He was charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison. Investigators had received multiple tips about Kulas based on social media posts appearing to show him wearing an expensive Burberry designer jacket and following crowds into the Capitol. In one Instagram video, Kulas had turned the camera toward himself, smiling wearing a “Keep America Great” hat and a dark designer jacket. At another point, a voice could be heard saying “storming the Capitol.”
  • Rob Gieswein, a Colorado militiaman accused of assaulting an officer, interfering with a federal proceeding, and destroying property, filed a motion for release from jail that tried to argue that the 24-year-old was really a harmless fellow, and that his participation in a militia called the Woodland Wild Dogs that organized paramilitary training sessions was simply a kind of live-action role-playing game:

[T]his “militia” amounted to a group of friends who like to shoot guns, pretend to be in battles, and go camping to practice survival skills. Indeed, one of Mr. Gieswein’s closest friends, and the one who ordered “Woodland Wild Dog” patches for his friends, described it to the FBI as “more of a group of friends than anything else. There is no initiation, there are no membership rolls, and there are no dues. They are just a group of friends who like guns and Star Wars.”

Gieswein’s attorney also made the novel argument that “although Mr. Gieswein may have been holding a baseball bat, the defense has yet to see evidence of him ‘brandishing’ it in front of officers, let alone using it in a way so as to cause anyone great bodily injury or even an apprehension of imminent bodily injury.”


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Amazon is intentionally burning through warehouse workers, but it may not be sustainable forever

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Hourly warehouse employees also have few chances for advancement—again by design, a former human resources vice president for the company told the Times. The internal promotion rate for these workers is less than half that of Walmart, with Amazon preferring to hire “wicked smart” college graduates in management roles. And—surprise!—at JFK8 that and other policies translated to an hourly workforce that was 60% Black or Latino, while management was more than 70% white or Asian. Black workers were also almost 50% more likely to be fired than white workers.

Amazon really is treating people as disposable, bringing them in and burning them out. Partly that seems to come from Bezos’ contempt for workers. But HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson also highlights how this helps insulate Amazon from worker organizing efforts. 

High turnover is “definitely one way to avoid a union,” former JFK8 worker Chris Smalls, now launching an independent organizing effort at the facility, told Jamieson. That plays out in the development of solidarity between workers, the trust workers feel in each other that enable them to talk freely about things management wouldn’t want them talking about, the long-term investment workers feel in improving the workplace … and, very concretely, in the mechanics of getting a union representation election.

To get the National Labor Relations Board to set up an election, organizers have to have signed union cards for 30% of workers, but in reality, organizers need far more than that because some initial support may disappear in the face of an anti-union campaign by management.

“At an Amazon warehouse, high turnover means a union would be losing cards every day as workers leave and new employees unfamiliar with the campaign replace them,” Jamieson writes. “Even if the union manages to win an election, high turnover could hurt its position at the bargaining table if some of the most active organizers have quit or been fired. And churn could even help the employer purge the union from the facility by convincing newer workers to decertify it.”

Bezos is stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive soon, and on his way out he has made sounds about improving Amazon’s employment practices, vowing the company would become “Earth’s best employer.” That is … unlikely. But, the Times pointed out, Amazon’s turnover is so extreme that “multiple current and former Amazon executives fear there simply will not be enough workers. In the more remote towns where Amazon based its early U.S. operations, it burned through local labor pools and needed to bus people in.” Reforming its employment practices enough that the company can keep a workforce in place for the long run may be a necessity at some point. And that, in the most optimistic scenario, could also be an opening for organizers.


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Juneteenth is a new holiday for many Americans. For my family, it’s always been personal

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I’ve covered some of my research successes in other stories, like 2020’s “Juneteenth: We’re still on the road to freedom and justice,” but I have not shared many of my thoughts about Texas.

Texas has a strange history when it comes to Black folks and enslavement, as documented here in the “Free Blacks” entry in the Handbook of Texas, from the Texas State Historical Association.

As of 1792 the Black and mulatto population constituted 15 percent of the 2,992 people living in Spanish Texas. Within the Spanish empire, the legal status of free Blacks resembled that of the Indian population. The law required free Blacks to pay tribute, forbade them to carry firearms, and restricted their freedom of movement. In practice Spanish officials ignored such restrictions, often encouraging the manumission of slaves. The small number of Spanish subjects in Texas and the vast distances between settlements also brought about the intermarriage of Whites, Blacks, and Indians. While most free Blacks in Texas before 1800 were born there, thereafter an increased emigration to Texas of free Blacks and some escaped slaves from the southern United States began to take place. After the Mexican War of Independence (1821), the Mexican government offered free Blacks full rights of citizenship, allowing land ownership and other privileges. Mexico accepted free Blacks as equals to White colonists. Favorable conditions for free Blacks in Texas in the 1830s led one noted abolitionist, Benjamin Lundy, to seek authorization for the establishment of a Black colony from the United States. While the Mexican government expressed interest in the idea, opposition from Whites in Texas and the United States precluded its implementation. Free Blacks, as did other frontiersmen, continued to emigrate to Texas seeking an opportunity for advancement and a better life. […]

The Constitution of the Republic of Texas designated people of one-eighth African blood as a separate and distinct group, took away citizenship, sought to restrict property rights, and forbade the permanent residence of free Blacks without the approval of the Congress of the Republic of Texas. Interracial marriages were also legally prohibited. Ironically, local communities and legislators that favored the new provisions often did not want them enforced within their districts. Documents show that prominent Whites were known to intercede on behalf of free Blacks in danger of being prosecuted by the new regulations. A stricter law passed in 1840, which gave free Blacks two years to leave Texas or risk being sold into slavery, was effectively postponed by President Sam Houston. […]

After annexation, the legislature passed stricter laws governing the lives of free Blacks. These new laws called for harsh punishments usually reserved only for slaves, including branding, whipping, and forced labor on public works. In 1858 the legislature even passed a law that encouraged free Blacks to reenter slavery voluntarily by allowing them to choose their own masters. The increased restrictions and the rise in White hostility resulted in a virtual halt to additional free Black immigration to Texas and may have caused a reduction in the Texas population of free Blacks. The United States census reported 397 free Blacks in Texas in 1850 and 355 in 1860, though there may have been an equal number of free Blacks not counted.

That timeline became particularly relevant when my search for my first cousin’s Texan family hit that brick wall. They do not appear in any listing of free Blacks, therefore, they must have been enslaved. I knew that Anna Gibson was listed in the Freedman’s Bank Records as born in Texas around 1823. Her daughter Idella was listed as born in 1861, also in Texas. My uncle Louis—Idella’s grandson—said she was born in Galveston. That’s all I know. My family is luckier than most Black folks, as we have a picture of Idella when she was an adult.

Idella Gibson

What is clear from that photograph is that Idella has white ancestry. What does that mean for Anna, the enslaved woman who was Idella’s mother?

We may never know. But we do know that many children were born into slavery and kept enslaved, in spite of having white fathers. We also know that enslaved Black women were raped and bred for profit. Further, we know that in parts of the South, mixed-race Black women were often kept as concubines.

Anna got out of Texas as soon as she could and moved to Maryland, where she opened a sewing school. She was listed in the 1870 census there.

Now comes the hard part: Imagining her life under the yoke of enslavement. None of it is pretty. None of it fits the fairy tales offered to white children about “happy darkies” on the plantation lazing their days away. Nowhere in those fabrications are those “massa’s offspring” mentioned.

As some of you may know, the Black community has problems with “colorism,” an artificially developed hierarchy based on light-skin and European hair texture. On the other hand, and less discussed, is the ugly underbelly to which those fair complexions point; realities which often don’t get openly talked about in families, or are tales only shared in whispers among the elders. This unspoken “downside” of being light-skinned continues to this day. I have a friend who was much fairer than her parents. She was dubbed “trick baby” in the school yard, the other kids sneeringly insinuating that her mama had been a sex worker impregnated by a white “trick.”

There are thousands upon thousands of Black families with ancestors who were light-skinned with European-textured hair. Most have long opted to claim Native American heritage to explain away that great-grandma whose “hair was so long she could sit on it.” In most of those cases, DNA testing disproved those family legends. Think of the “why” for these narratives: Few people want to loudly proclaim that their great-grandma was repeatedly raped and brutalized by her owner (or the overseer), which is why Grandma looked like she did.

In a quick check of the 1880 census (using my Ancestry.com database) I find 1,017,015 people listed as “mulatto,” and 5,572,280 listed as Black; the 1870 census listed 629,806 “mulatto” people, and 4,140,145 people as Black. Census takers weren’t “race” scientists, of course; they weren’t offering DNA tests to prove ancestry. Instead, they simply eyeballed a person and determined whether they were or were not a “full-blooded” Black person, based solely on their skin color, facial features, and hair texture. 

In 2014, I wrote the following in “The ‘other’ U.S. slave trade”:

I once wrote about myself that “I am the product of a bicentennial of breeding farms.” Some of my enslaved ancestors looked whiter than many “white” people, like my great-grandfather Dennis Williams.

My great grandfather - Loudoun County VA - born to enslaved Hannah Carter, father - white man
My great grandfather, Dennis Williams, who was born to an enslaved mother, Hannah Carter, and freed

They were not descendants of Irish indentured women who had children with Black indentured men. They were born out of the rape of their mothers by overseers and/or owners.

In Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History, Gregory Smithers takes on the naysayers:

For over two centuries, the topic of slave breeding has occupied a controversial place in the master narrative of American history. From nineteenth-century abolitionists to twentieth-century filmmakers and artists, Americans have debated whether slave owners deliberately and coercively manipulated the sexual practices and marital status of enslaved African Americans to reproduce new generations of slaves for profit.

In this bold and provocative book, historian Gregory Smithers investigates how African Americans have narrated, remembered, and represented slave-breeding practices. He argues that while social and economic historians have downplayed the significance of slave breeding, African Americans have refused to forget the violence and sexual coercion associated with the plantation South. By placing African American histories and memories of slave breeding within the larger context of America’s history of racial and gender discrimination, Smithers sheds much-needed light on African American collective memory, racialized perceptions of fragile black families, and the long history of racially motivated violence against men, women, and children of color.

This is an ugly history we cannot ignore. So today, though I’ll celebrate Juneteenth, I’ll continue to think about Anna from Galveston. Maybe one day I’ll luck out and find someone who also has her in their family tree, and find out not just more of her story, but more of my kin.

The nightmare of enslavement finally ended on this day in 1865, but those of us descended from those who were freed back then have not all had a happy ending. In fact, the persecution faced by Black Americans has not ended at all.

We are simply in another chapter of a book that is not yet finished. We will, however, get to see the impact of Juneteenth being made a federal holiday; it passed the Senate via unanimous consent on June 15, passed in the House on the 16th with a vote of 415 to 14, and President Biden signed it into law on the 17th.

It’s been a long haul to get to this point in the road, and we still have farther to go. This victory along the way should lift our spirits and move us forward.


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Voting Rights Roundup: In major about face, Manchin lays out path for compromise on election reforms

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Manchin’s new memo identified several key aspects of H.R. 1 that he supports either in whole or in modified form, including provisions that would:

  • Mandate 15 consecutive days of early voting, including two weekends;
  • Ban partisan gerrymandering and “use computer models,” the latter of which isn’t further specified;
  • Establish automatic voter registration through state driver’s licensing agencies;
  • Require states to promote registration for groups such as people with disabilities;
  • Ban false statements intended to discourage voting;
  • Improve federal funding for training election officials;
  • Require that states notify voters of polling place changes at least a week before Election Day;
  • Adopt prepaid postage for absentee ballots;
  • Allow voters to vote if they show up at the wrong precinct but in the right jurisdiction for races that they are eligible to vote on; and
  • Require disclosure for “dark money” campaign donations and ads.

Manchin’s position on no-excuse absentee voting was more opaque, with his memo stating that the bill should “[r]equire states to send absentee by mail ballots to eligible voters before an election if voter is not able to vote in person during early voting or election day due to eligible circumstance and allow civil penalty for failure.” Separate reports, however, indicated he opposes mandating that all states that still demand an excuse (now just a small minority) remove that requirement for absentee voting.

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Although Manchin’s exclusion of existing provisions from the For the People Act in his memo doesn’t necessarily indicate he opposes them, he did specifically express opposition to the bill’s provisions that would set up a system of public financing for campaigns, which has been one of the main focuses of Republican attacks.

Perhaps most controversially, he urged a national voter ID requirement. While the voter ID bills passed by Republican-run states have enraged progressives due to their undisguised aim of suppressing turnout among communities of color, the suppressive effect of such a requirement could be greatly reduced if the federal government were to create a free and widely available national ID card. Democrats may understandably not be keen to include such a compromise, but it may be well worth the cost if it means securing a much more important ban on congressional gerrymandering and major expansion of other voting access measures like automatic registration.

Finally, Manchin also addressed the content of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would revive the invalidated “preclearance” regime of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court’s conservatives struck down on pretextual grounds in 2013.

Manchin has long said he wants to see this legislation passed and has proposed imposing a nationwide preclearance system that would require all jurisdictions seeking to change their voting procedures to first obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court to ensure they don’t discriminate along racial or ethnic lines. Manchin’s new memo, however, called for additional changes that could undermine the efficacy of the bill, such as reducing the attorney general’s power to deem a jurisdiction’s “actions as a voting rights violation without a judicial finding of discrimination,” which could potentially mean bogging down disputes in court for years.

While Manchin’s latest demands are likely to disappoint Democrats and democracy reformers who have called for as wide-ranging a bill as possible, Democrats hold little leverage over the West Virginia senator, whose vote is essential to overcome both GOP procedural obstruction and opposition to reform on the underlying merits. Manchin’s move to detail changes that could win his vote is a key first step toward reaching some sort of compromise that could one day pass Congress, though many more hurdles remain. One of those hurdles is quickly approaching after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Democratic senators this week that a procedural vote to advance voting legislation will take place on Tuesday.

Redistricting

Louisiana: Democrats have blocked the Republican majority in Louisiana’s state House from passing a constitutional amendment that had won bipartisan support in the state Senate to add two seats to Louisiana’s Supreme Court and redraw the malapportioned districts for the first time in decades, with a requirement to redraw the districts after every decennial census thereafter.

With a two-thirds supermajority needed in order to advance, Democrats had supported the amendment in the upper chamber because expanding the court would have made it easier to draw an additional district where Black voters could elect their chosen candidates. House Democrats, however, balked after Republicans stripped out a provision to require mapmakers to consider race when drawing the districts.

Only one district of the seven used to elect justices to Louisiana’s Supreme Court allows Black voters to elect their preferred candidates, even though Louisiana’s population is one-third Black and it would be eminently feasible to draw a second Black-preference district. Though Democrats had supported expanding the court in order to ensure a second Black district, that still would have left the court with fewer such districts (two of nine) than the Black share of the state’s population (three of nine).

Republicans, meanwhile, were likely interested in passing this amendment in order to moot an ongoing federal lawsuit that is seeking to compel the drawing of a second Black district under the Voting Rights Act.

North Carolina: North Carolina’s Republican-run state legislature has passed a bill with some bipartisan support to allow dozens of local governments to postpone this fall’s local elections for offices that are elected using districts in order to allow more time for redistricting thanks to the delayed release of key census data. Instead, those localities would move their elections to coincide with the March 2022 primary by extending the terms of some officials.

While the proposed change is a one-off measure intended to address census delays, the bill also permanently moves elections in the state capital of Raleigh to November of even-numbered years, starting in 2022, and extends the terms of current incumbents by a year. This provision’s inclusion has proved divisive for Democrats: Every Democrat in the state House backed the bill, but all of Raleigh’s Democratic senators shortly thereafter opposed it, arguing that city officials had violated requirements to obtain public input.

If Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signs the bill into law, combining these election dates with federal races could lead to higher turnout and will likely save money on election administration. However, the provision switching the dates of Raleigh’s elections also eliminates runoffs, allowing a winner to prevail with only a plurality.

Voting Access Expansions

California: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill intended to strengthen California’s automatic voter registration law by changing the way in which prospective voters are given the chance to opt out of registration. Currently, eligible voters who do business with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles are automatically registered unless they choose to opt out at the time of the transaction, known as a “front-end” system. This latest bill would instead shift that opt-out opportunity to a subsequent mailed notification, a “back-end” system that proponents hope will encourage more new voters to remain opted in.

Connecticut: Democratic legislators have returned for a special session and passed a spending bill that includes several voting expansion provisions that had failed to pass as a separate bill during this year’s regular session. Those provisions include:

  • Automatic voter registration at multiple state agencies;
  • Ending the disenfranchisement of anyone with a felony conviction who is not in prison by restoring the rights of people on parole;
  • Requiring employers to give their workers two hours of unpaid time off to vote.
  • Allowing online applications for absentee ballots; and
  • Making absentee drop boxes permanent after their temporary adoption last year during the pandemic.

The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont for his expected signature.

Delaware: State House Republicans have blocked Democrats from passing a constitutional amendment to remove Delaware’s excuse requirement for absentee voting, with Republican opposition denying Democrats the two-thirds supermajority needed for it to pass. The Democratic-run legislature had previously passed this amendment prior to the 2020 elections, the first of two times required for it to become law, and many of the same Republicans who voted against it this month had supported the measure when the House passed it in 2019.

Democrats are two seats shy of the necessary supermajority in the state House, and while this latest vote dims hopes of passing the amendment, it isn’t completely dead just yet. Two Republican members didn’t vote either for or against the measure, and since Democratic Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst also voted against it in order to allow her party to bring up the amendment again at a later date, it’s possible that those two Republicans could provide the votes needed for passage.

However, legislators are scheduled to adjourn this year’s session at the end of June, and if those Republicans don’t come on board either later this year or by next year’s session, Democrats will have to hope they can gain a two-thirds supermajority in a future election. That would entail pushing back the earliest date the amendment could take effect, since constitutional amendments in Delaware must pass in identical form in two consecutive legislative sessions with an election taking place in between.

District of Columbia: A majority of members on the Democratic-run Washington, D.C. Council are sponsoring a newly introduced bill that would give voting rights in local elections to non-citizens with permanent resident legal status, best known as green card holders.

A few smaller jurisdictions around the U.S. in recent years have granted voting rights in local elections to non-citizens, and San Francisco, California, has let non-citizens vote in school board elections, but no jurisdiction as large as D.C. has yet done so in local government races. Noncitizen voting was widespread in the U.S. during the 19th century but largely ended by around 1920 during an era that saw lawmakers pass major restrictions on immigration based on race and nationality.

Louisiana: Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed a bill passed by Louisiana’s GOP-run legislature with widespread bipartisan support to extend the early voting period in presidential elections from seven to 11 days.

Nevada: Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has signed multiple bills passed by Democratic legislators that aim to expand access to voting in Nevada, including measures that:

Abolishing the presidential caucus in favor of a primary will both make it easier to vote and let Nevada’s diverse electorate weigh in before heavily white Iowa and New Hampshire, the traditional first states. However, officials in those other states will almost certainly take action in retaliation that could involve moving up their own elections, which risks the national party committees imposing sanctions on states if they violate party rules governing election timing.

The enactment of these new laws follows on Sisolak’s earlier signing of another new law that will permanently adopt universal mail voting after its temporary adoption last fall due to the pandemic.

New York: Shortly before adjourning this year’s regular legislative session, New York’s Democratic-run legislature passed multiple bills to improve voting, including measures that would let voters request absentee ballots online and “cure” supposed problems with their provisional ballots, known in New York as affidavit ballots; currently this latter process is only available for absentee ballots. However, Assembly Democrats failed to approve a Senate-passed bill that would have made absentee ballot drop boxes permanent after they were temporarily introduced last year due to the pandemic.

In addition to the above measures, Democratic lawmakers also passed two other election-related bills recently. The first would let voters track the status of their absentee ballots and applications, while the second would require election officials to begin processing absentee ballots shortly after they receive them rather than waiting several days after Election Day to begin doing so. All four bills now need Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature before they can become law.

Voter Suppression

Florida: Voting advocates have filed what is now the fourth federal lawsuit challenging Republicans’ new voting restriction law, which among other things adds new limits on absentee ballots and drop boxes along with banning giving food or water to voters waiting in line. We’ve previously detailed the other three lawsuits here.

This latest lawsuit takes aim at part of the law that adds restrictions on third-party voter registration efforts. The plaintiffs claim that the law requires them to include warnings on registration forms that misleadingly tell potential registrants that the organization might not meet the deadline for delivering the forms, even though there’s no evidence that such groups have regularly failed to comply with relevant deadlines.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Republicans just unveiled a major new voting restriction bill, which they’ve already passed out of a state House committee. The legislation would roll back many of the voting access expansions that GOP lawmakers approved in a bipartisan deal in 2019. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Implement a voter ID requirement (voters who lack ID could sign a sworn statement that they’re eligible to vote under penalty of perjury);
  • Eliminate the state’s permanent absentee voting list;
  • Move the voter registration deadline back to 30 days before Election Day—the maximum allowed under federal law—from the 2019 law’s 15 days;
  • Require signature verification for absentee ballots; and
  • Ban private grants for election administration.

The bill also contains some policies that would strengthen voting access and election procedures, including measures that would:

  • Create six days of in-person early voting, but not beginning until 2025;
  • Let counties begin processing mail ballots five days before Election Day instead of waiting until Election Day, which caused delays in 2020 that helped fuel Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories;
  • Allow absentee ballot drop boxes for a week before Election Day;
  • Let voters fix problems with absentee ballots that are missing a signature;
  • Enable counties to open satellite elections offices where voters could cast an in-person absentee ballot, akin to regular early voting;
  • Require counties to obtain electronic poll books, which would help facilitate the adoption of early voting and eventually same-day voter registration (a policy Democrats support but Republicans generally oppose).

Republicans hold gerrymandered majorities that they could use to pass this bill over any Democratic opposition. However, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf sounded very skeptical toward the proposal and unless some of the voting restrictions are removed, he’d likely veto it, a move the GOP lacks the votes to override.

Republicans, though, have another plan to try to get around Wolf’s veto pen by passing these changes as constitutional amendments. Such amendments require legislative approval in two consecutive legislative sessions with an election taking place in between, followed by a voter referendum. Crucially for the GOP, the governor has no role in the amendment process.

To that end, Republicans in a state Senate committee have passed a constitutional amendment that would require voter ID, which could potentially go before voters as soon as 2023 and take effect ahead of the 2024 elections. Republicans previously enacted a strict voter ID statute in 2012 but a court struck it down.

Texas: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that would ban the use of post office boxes for voter registration, which could prevent homeless people or voters living in remote rural areas with limited mail service from registering. In response, Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, whose firm has been involved in a prolific amount of litigation in recent years, indicated he would sue over this latest law.

Ballot Measures

South Dakota: A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction blocking a Republican-backed law that required paid signature collectors to register with the state, indicating that it likely violated the First Amendment. The plaintiffs had argued that posting petition circulators’ information online could open them up to harassment.

South Dakota is one of many states where Republicans have tried to restrict the ballot initiative process to thwart progressive policies and democracy reforms in recent years, including upcoming efforts to put Medicaid expansion and an independent redistricting commission on the 2022 ballot. Republican legislators have already placed their own constitutional amendment on the ballot during next year’s primary that would raise the voter threshold needed for passage from a simple majority to 60% for any initiative that would tax or spend more than $10 million during a five-year period, which could affect measures such as Medicaid expansion.


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