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She Was a Black Election Official in Georgia. Then Came New G.O.P. Rules.

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LaGRANGE, Ga. — Lonnie Hollis has been a member of the Troup County election board in West Georgia since 2013. A Democrat and one of two Black women on the board, she has advocated Sunday voting, helped voters on Election Days and pushed for a new precinct location at a Black church in a nearby town.

But this year, Ms. Hollis will be removed from the board, the result of a local election law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican. Previously, election board members were selected by both political parties, county commissioners and the three biggest municipalities in Troup County. Now, the G.O.P.-controlled county commission has the sole authority to restructure the board and appoint all the new members.

“I speak out and I know the laws,” Ms. Hollis said in an interview. “The bottom line is they don’t like people that have some type of intelligence and know what they’re doing, because they know they can’t influence them.”

Ms. Hollis is not alone. Across Georgia, members of at least 10 county election boards have been removed, had their position eliminated or are likely to be kicked off through local ordinances or new laws passed by the state legislature. At least five are people of color and most are Democrats — though some are Republicans — and they will most likely all be replaced by Republicans.

Ms. Hollis and local officials like her have been some of the earliest casualties as Republican-led legislatures mount an expansive takeover of election administration in a raft of new voting bills this year.

G.O.P. lawmakers have also stripped secretaries of state of their power, asserted more control over state election boards, made it easier to overturn election results, and pursued several partisan audits and inspections of 2020 results.

Republican state lawmakers have introduced at least 216 bills in 41 states to give legislatures more power over elections officials, according to the States United Democracy Center, a new bipartisan organization that aims to protect democratic norms. Of those, 24 have been enacted into law across 14 states.

G.O.P. lawmakers in Georgia say the new measures are meant to improve the performance of local boards, and reduce the influence of the political parties. But the laws allow Republicans to remove local officials they don’t like, and because several of them have been Black Democrats, voting rights groups fear that these are further attempts to disenfranchise voters of color.

The maneuvers risk eroding some of the core checks that stood as a bulwark against former President Donald J. Trump as he sought to subvert the 2020 election results. Had these bills been in place during the aftermath of the election, Democrats say, they would have significantly added to the turmoil Mr. Trump and his allies wrought by trying to overturn the outcome. They worry that proponents of Mr. Trump’s conspiracy theories will soon have much greater control over the levers of the American elections system.

“It’s a thinly veiled attempt to wrest control from officials who oversaw one of the most secure elections in our history and put it in the hands of bad actors,” said Jena Griswold, the chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and the current Colorado secretary of state. “The risk is the destruction of democracy.”

Officials like Ms. Hollis are responsible for decisions like selecting drop box and precinct locations, sending out voter notices, establishing early voting hours and certifying elections. But the new laws are targeting high-level state officials as well, in particular secretaries of state — both Republican and Democratic — who stood up to Mr. Trump and his allies last year.

Republicans in Arizona have introduced a bill that would largely strip Katie Hobbs, the Democratic secretary of state, of her authority over election lawsuits, and then expire when she leaves office. And they have introduced another bill that would give the Legislature more power over setting the guidelines for election administration, a major task currently carried out by the secretary of state.

Under Georgia’s new voting law, Republicans significantly weakened the secretary of state’s office after Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who is the current secretary, rebuffed Mr. Trump’s demands to “find” votes. They removed the secretary of state as the chair of the state election board and relieved the office of its voting authority on the board.

Kansas Republicans in May overrode a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, to enact laws stripping the governor of the power to modify election laws and prohibiting the secretary of state, a Republican who repeatedly vouched for the security of voting by mail, from settling election-related lawsuits without the Legislature’s consent.

And more Republicans who cling to Mr. Trump’s election lies are running for secretary of state, putting a critical office within reach of conspiracy theorists. In Georgia, Representative Jody Hice, a Republican who voted against certifying President Biden’s victory, is running against Mr. Raffensperger. Republican candidates with similar views are running for secretary of state in Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.

“In virtually every state, every election administrator is going to feel like they’re under the magnifying glass,” said Victoria Bassetti, a senior adviser to the States United Democracy Center.

More immediately, it is local election officials at the county and municipal level who are being either removed or stripped of their power.

In Arkansas, Republicans were stung last year when Jim Sorvillo, a three-term state representative from Little Rock, lost re-election by 24 votes to Ashley Hudson, a Democrat and local lawyer. Elections officials in Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock, were later found to have accidentally tabulated 327 absentee ballots during the vote-counting process, 27 of which came from the district.

Mr. Sorvillo filed multiple lawsuits aiming to stop Ms. Hudson from being seated, and all were rejected. The Republican caucus considered refusing to seat Ms. Hudson, then ultimately voted to accept her.

But last month, Arkansas Republicans wrote new legislation that allows a state board of election commissioners — composed of six Republicans and one Democrat — to investigate and “institute corrective action” on a wide variety of issues at every stage of the voting process, from registration to the casting and counting of ballots to the certification of elections. The law applies to all counties, but it is widely believed to be aimed at Pulaski, one of the few in the state that favor Democrats.

The author of the legislation, State Representative Mark Lowery, a Republican from a suburb of Little Rock, said it was necessary to remove election power from the local authorities, who in Pulaski County are Democrats, because otherwise Republicans could not get a fair shake.

“Without this legislation, the only entity you could have referred impropriety to is the prosecuting attorney, who is a Democrat, and possibly not had anything done,” Mr. Lowery said in an interview. “This gives another level of investigative authority to a board that is commissioned by the state to oversee elections.”

Asked about last year’s election, Mr. Lowery said, “I do believe Donald Trump was elected president.”

A separate new Arkansas law allows a state board to “take over and conduct elections” in a county if a committee of the legislature determines that there are questions about the “appearance of an equal, free and impartial election.”

In Georgia, the legislature passed a unique law for some counties. For Troup County, State Representative Randy Nix, a Republican, said he had introduced the bill that restructured the county election board — and will remove Ms. Hollis — only after it was requested by county commissioners. He said he was not worried that the commission, a partisan body with four Republicans and one Democrat, could exert influence over elections.

“The commissioners are all elected officials and will face the voters to answer for their actions,” Mr. Nix said in an email.

Eric Mosley, the county manager for Troup County, which Mr. Trump carried by 22 points, said that the decision to ask Mr. Nix for the bill was meant to make the board more bipartisan. It was unanimously supported by the commission.

“We felt that removing both the Republican and Democratic representation and just truly choose members of the community that invest hard to serve those community members was the true intent of the board,” Mr. Mosley said. “Our goal is to create both political and racial diversity on the board.”

In Morgan County, east of Atlanta, Helen Butler has been one of the state’s most prominent Democratic voices on voting rights and election administration. A member of the county board of elections in a rural, Republican county, she also runs the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a group dedicated to protecting the voting rights of Black Americans and increasing their civic engagement.

But Ms. Butler will be removed from the county board at the end of the month, after Mr. Kemp signed a local bill that ended the ability of political parties to appoint members.

“I think it’s all a part of the ploy for the takeover of local boards of elections that the state legislature has put in place,” Ms. Butler said. “It is them saying that they have the right to say whether an election official is doing it right, when in fact they don’t work in the day to day and don’t understand the process themselves.”

It’s not just Democrats who are being removed. In DeKalb County, the state’s fourth-largest, Republicans chose not to renominate Baoky Vu to the election board after more than 12 years in the position. Mr. Vu, a Republican, had joined with Democrats in a letter opposing an election-related bill that eventually failed to pass.

To replace Mr. Vu, Republicans nominated Paul Maner, a well-known local conservative with a history of false statements, including an insinuation that the son of a Georgia congresswoman was killed in “a drug deal gone bad.”

Back in LaGrange, Ms. Hollis is trying to do as much as she can in the time she has left on the board. The extra precinct in nearby Hogansville, where the population is roughly 50 percent Black, is a top priority. While its population is only about 3,000, the town is bifurcated by a rail line, and Ms. Hollis said that sometimes it can take an exceedingly long time for a line of freight cars to clear, which is problematic on Election Days.

“We’ve been working on this for over a year,” Ms. Hollis said, saying Republicans had thrown up procedural hurdles to block the process. But she was undeterred.

“I’m not going to sit there and wait for you to tell me what it is that I that I should do for the voters there,” she said. “I’m going to do the right thing.”

Rachel Shorey contributed research.

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Luis Grijalva’s DACA status put halt to his Olympic dreams. A last-minute approval has changed that

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Grijalva and Jessica Smith Bobadilla, his attorney, “were unsure whether immigration officials would be able to grant Grijalva permission on time, but on Monday, he got cleared to travel after weeks of uncertainty,” CNN reported. Advance parole, the process that allows some DACA recipients to travel internationally for employment, humanitarian, or educational purposes, can take as long as 90 days to get approved, she told CNN.

They said they put together “a very detailed” application, then traveled to a USCIS in Phoenix to continue pleading their case. “Tomorrow morning I will be marching down the USCIS office in Phoenix to make one last effort in gaining an advance parole that allows me to leave the country and be able to return safely,” he wrote in an Instagram post the day before. Following the good news Monday, he told The New York Times“[i]t’s just a lot of emotions—excitement, just really happy.”

But even though he’s lived here since he was a baby and has excelled in American competitions and American schools (including winning a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University), Grijalva will be competing with the Guatemalan running team in Tokyo. CNN reports “he couldn’t represent the US in the Olympics for several reasons, including his immigration status.” The Times reported that the time Grijalva finished at last month’s NCAA race is a national record in Guatemala.

“It would be pretty special to represent Guatemala at the Olympics,” he said in that report. “To be able to represent my parents and my roots—that was where I started.” In his Instagram post the day before traveling to the Phoenix USCIS office, Grijalva had also said he was seeking “to be a voice and represent over 600,000 Dreamers like me.”

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The only thing Grijalva should have been worrying about right now was the competition itself, yet his immigration status would have ended his Olympic dreams for now if the last-minute approval hadn’t come through. But even that process is on shaky ground: When DACA was killed by the previous administration in 2017, so was advance parole. While it was forced to reinstate the program under court order last year, a federal judge this month has halted new applications for now. The lives of Grijalva and many others will continue to be in limbo until there’s permanent relief.

Democrats right now have the best chance in years to pass a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, as well as temporary status holders and essential workers. Just this week, more than 80 mayors across nearly 30 states issued a call to President Joe Biden and legislators to pass legalization through the budget reconciliation process, writing that “it’s time for Congress to act.”

“It is a failure of our government not to move forward in passing comprehensive immigration reform,” Tucson mayor and letter signatory Regina Romero said during a press call this week. “Now, we have the chance to pass a comprehensive plan for those who stepped up to support our country during the pandemic while contributing to our economy. For more than two decades, Congress has failed to act and now is the perfect opportunity through reconciliation.”

“I’ve been here for 21 years, some ways I feel as American as anybody else who was born here but just that having that birthright, that being born here, just takes away so many opportunities for myself but also for everyone else who’s on DACA,” Grijalva said according to CNN.


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New energy data shows solar and wind rising as ‘King Coal’ continues an epic crash

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That chart comes from a report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday morning. And it looks like this:

Renewable sources replace coal as the nation’s second largest source of electricity.

The headline here is certainly worth celebrating: Renewable sources of energy are now the second-largest source of electricity in America, generating 21% of the total. It’s not actually the first time this has happened; back in 1950 when the agency first began, hydro power was the nation’s No. 2 source of electricity. But there are only so many places that can be, or should be, dammed to produce electricity and unfortunately, coal is abundant. The next 60 years were the Age of Coal, with that most destructive of fossil fuels growing ever more dominant. 

But what’s happened since 2005 is genuinely amazing. King Coal was toppled from his throne in a revolution that was one part natural gas fracking and one part increasingly cheap wind and solar. And this is the first time that the EIA has placed production from renewables above that of coal.

The reason natural gas grew so rapidly over the last two decades is easy to describe. Gas is easily used in the same kind of steam-cycle power production as coal, but it has several advantages. First, gas need not be stored in huge stockpiles on the ground—stockpiles that are subject to both weathering and to spontaneously catching fire. Second, burning gas produces a lot of CO2, but in terms of other byproducts, it’s almost infinitely cleaner than coal so there’s no need for expensive “scrubbers” that eliminate things such as the sulfur dioxide from coal that causes acid rain. Third, gas doesn’t leave behind tons of ash that has to be stored in great eroding mounds or slurry pools that constantly threaten to flood the area in toxic sludge.

But more important than any of that, gas plants can be small. Utilities can create gas generators of almost every size, and simply add more when needed. Coal plants range from merely huge to absolutely titanic, and the economies of coal make it difficult to scale them up or down.

So why didn’t companies use gas to begin with? Because before the mid-1990s, the price of natural gas varied widely. That made gas suitable for building small “peaking” plants that could handle extra demand on those days when the grid was at maximum demand, but left cheaper coal to carry the main demand. It was only after fracking became widespread and the price of gas stabilized at a rate that made it competitive with coal that the big switchover began.

What’s striking about the renewables line on the chart is how fast it doesn’t grow until about 2005. That line reflects mostly more hydro power, small-scale solar, and an irregular trickle of wind projects over the span of decades. It’s not until prices for both wind and solar became cost-competitive with coal that things started to change quickly. The decades in which annual changes in renewables could be measured in a fraction of a percentage point charge abruptly into a steady rise, and the rate of that rise is increasing. 

By 2018, the cost of building new solar or wind power from scratch had reached a point where it was less than the cost of simply maintaining an existing coal plant, even ignoring the cost of coal. That’s a powerful incentive to switch. Even as Donald Trump was talking about how he was going to “save” the coal industry, it was plummeting in a near freefall, shedding both capacity and workers.

Overall, what the chart shows is just this: Things can change. With the right motivations, they can change quickly. The one problem with this chart is that it might tempt everyone to just sit back and let the market handle it. After all, the last two decades show that gigawatts of production can change almost overnight when dollars are on the line.

Only there are reasons that the government still has to shove, and shove hard, to make things move rapidly enough and in the right direction.

  • Gas is cheap. Thanks to fracking, there is an absolute glut of natural gas—so much that at several points, all the storage facilities in the nation have been nearly choked with the stuff. How long will fracking allow fields from Texas to North Dakota to Pennsylvania to continue producing at a record pace? No one knows. But right now the use of natural gas is still increasing. That means more CO2 and more spilled methane. 
  • Innovation needs to come home. When Republicans fume about Chinese solar panels, they’re at least half right. Part of the price reduction for solar has come through availability of cheap panels manufactured mostly in China or India. The U.S. continues to make breakthroughs in solar cell efficiency, but needs help in turning those improvements into an industry that sees American panels being shipped around the world.
  • Inequity is a market inevitability. Left to itself, the market will gradually close out coal plants and create more renewables. But it will also leave behind ecological disasters. Coal is a dying extraction industry. What such industries leave behind are unreclaimed lands, crumbling plants, and communities in ruin. Government intervention is absolutely necessary if this failing industry is going to be ushered out the door in a way that gives workers and the surrounding areas a soft landing rather than seeing coal executives wave bye-bye beneath golden parachutes. And the government needs to pay particular attention to both cleaning up and providing jobs to communities of color, which are often right in the zones of heaviest pollution.
  • It’s not fast enough. The chart shows the energy industry can change more quickly than anyone believed. Now it has to change faster. We don’t have more decades to make this transition, not when every wasted year represents more of that drought, fire, and flood we mentioned back at the beginning.

The abrupt change in America’s energy mix should be good news to everyone. Even if much of that production has switched to natural gas, it shows that enormous change is possible. 

Now let’s make it happen again. Faster.


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Latino officer and U.S. military vet says insurrectionists told him ‘you’re not even an American’

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Gonell testified during the hearing that at first he was “not even entertaining” this claim. “I mean, when I heard that, I wasn’t even thinking about any racial stuff.” He was just trying to survive the mob’s attack, which resulted in five deaths and hundreds of injuries. “Two other officers killed themselves after,” the Associated Press reported. Officers were “pulled into the crowd and trampled, assaulted with scaffolding materials, and/or bear maced by protesters,” an Arlington County Fire Department memo stated, the AP continued.

But Gonell said that only with some time did he realize what had been said to him, telling legislators that “it takes time for you to process that, and you only realize what was happening after you go back and see it from a different point in time.” He was just trying to do the job he was sworn to do, he said. “I’m there to stop them regardless. I’m not thinking what they were yelling in terms of my skin color or my race. I know I’m an American former soldier and a police officer. I didn’t take that into account when I was defending all of you guys.”

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The officer’s experience drives home the point that for racists, there’s simply nothing a person of color can do or achieve to be fully accepted as what they believe an American to be. To them, a person who isn’t white simply can’t be an American. Even if they’ve lived here since they were a child, even if they served in the U.S. military for eight years, even if it’s literally there on a piece of paper, or in their heart. Yet the white terrorists trying to overthrow the election dared to call him un-American.

“I was falsely accused of betraying my oath, of choosing my paycheck over my loyalty to the US Constitution, even as I defended the very democratic process that protected everyone in the hostile crowd,” Gonell continued. “While I was at the lower west terrace of the Capitol working with my fellow officers to prevent the breach and restore order, the rioters called me traitor, a disgrace and that I, an Army veteran and a police officer, should be executed.”

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Gonell said during his testimony that even relatives abroad were “frantically” trying to contact him to see if he was safe after watching images of the siege on television. “More than six months later, I’m still trying to recover from my injuries,” he said. “I could have lost my life that day, not once but many times. But as soon as I recover from my injuries, I will continue forward and proudly serve my country in the US Capitol Police. As an immigrant to the United States, I’m especially proud to have defended the US Constitution and our democracy on January 6th.”

Of course, Gonell wasn’t the only officer of color to be assaulted with verbal attacks in addition to physical blows. From the very start of his first campaign, when he called Mexicans criminals and “rapists” and then two brothers took a metal pipe to an unhoused Mexican American man in Boston in 2015, racist violence has been a key tenet of the previous president’s beliefs.

Capitol Police Pfc. Harry Dunn told the committee he has sought therapy and continues to struggle with emotional scars left by the assault, which became racially charged for him as a Black member of law enforcement,” Daily Kos’ Kerry Eleveld wrote yesterday. “The officer in fact described “a ‘torrent’ of racially offensive epithets,” she continued. “”Boooo! Fucking n****!’ they screamed, recalled Dunn. ‘No one had ever, ever, called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police Officer,’ Dunn added.”

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“I hope that everyone in the position of authority in our country has the courage and conviction to do their part by investigating what happened on that terrible day and why,” Gonell continued. “This investigation is essential to our democracy, and I’m deeply grateful to you for undertaking. I’m happy to assist as I can and answer any question you may have to the best of my ability.” I’d say he’s done more than enough already (and I don’t mean only his service on Jan. 6). The question now is what we’re going to do for him.


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