This Week in Statehouse Action: August and Everything After edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: August and Everything After edition

Don’t look now, but … August is fully upon us.

Normally, this month (August of an off-off year) would be chill as heck, but because Republicans are so desperate to cling to political power, statehouse action persists.

You Can’t Count On Me: Let’s be real—I just can’t responsibly write this missive without catching up on the GOP’s so-called election “audit” in Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Campaign Action

And guess what!

IT’S OVER!

… sort of.

But not really.

  • The actual ballot counting wrapped up just last week—months behind schedule (it was supposed to end in May).
    • But when you hire a firm called “Cyber Ninjas” with absolutely zero election audit experience to do your election audit and then change procedures every other week and have to vacate your counting facility for a while so high schoolers can hold graduations and you get sued a couple of times for violating open records laws … well, these are only a few of the issues Arizona Senate Republicans faced in their quest to prove that Joe Biden didn’t win more votes in Maricopa County than Trump (except that he did).

For any new readers out there (HI!), here’s a quick recap of this farce:

  • The GOP-majority Arizona Senate got mad that Joe Biden got more votes in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) than Donald Trump did, so they demanded that county supervisors turn over millions of ballots and hundreds of voting machines for an “audit.”
  • Maricopa County hired credentialed, reputable firms to conduct two legitimate audits, which found that the election was secure and that votes were correctly and properly counted.
  • Obviously this wasn’t the outcome the Senate wanted, so they cast about and hired a firm that’s seriously called called Cyber Ninjas, which has no experience or expertise in election audits and is run by a guy who posted a bunch of stolen-election conspiracy theories on a Twitter account that he just happened to delete in January.
  • Because this “Cyber Ninjas” firm is basically just a bunch of Trump stans in footie pajamas, Maricopa County has to buy new voting machines after their existing apparatuses spent a LOT of time in the spectacularly incapable hands of these “auditors,” pretty obviously undermining the integrity of their security.
  • How the audit was being conducted, the subcontractors involved in the effort, where the money for it came from, and what public officials are saying to each other about have mostly not been publicly known.

Anyway, more than 2.1 million ballots have finally been counted!

But “results” of the “audit” won’t be announced until later this month.

And now we may even have a price tag for these shenanigans!

  • Cyber Ninjas (… still can’t type that with a straight face) announced last Thursday that $150,000 in public funding for the audit was supplemented by nearly $5.7 million in private donations from groups that have promoted Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen.

That’s … like, a lot of money

  • But Arizona Republicans still aren’t done!
    • Last week, the Senate subpoenaed the (also GOP-controlled) Maricopa County board of supervisors for even more stuff, including routers, machine passwords, and voter registration records from the county.
    • The board reportedly has no intention of complying with this ongoing harassment from Republican senators, and the Senate itself can’t hold a contempt vote (which could result in board members’ actual arrests!) until the legislation session convenes in January 2022.
      • Besides, the failure of such a vote back in February indicates that another contempt vote won’t go Fann’s way, anyway.

So yeah, the total disaster in Arizona grinds on.

An(d it) Begins: As an erudite consumer of this missive, you likely recall coverage in this space of the heinous voter suppression law passed by the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature earlier this year.

To refresh your recollection, here are a few of the nasty things it does:

  • Voters seeking to vote absentee must provide a copy of their identification or the number of their Georgia driver’s license or state ID to both apply for and when returning the ballot.
  • The secretary of state’s office is prohibited from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications (as it did before the 2020 primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic).
  • Voters have to request absentee ballots 11 days before an election (currently absentee ballots can be requested up to the Friday before Election Day).
  • Ballot drop boxes can only be located inside of early voting locations and can only be used during voting hours (which kind of obviates the whole point of ballot drop boxes, no?).
  • Giving food or drinks (including water!) to a voter waiting in line to cast their ballot is now a crime.
  • The runoff cycle is shortened from the current nine weeks to just four weeks.

And don’t get me wrong, all of these things are very, very bad.

But some of the worst provisions of this measure are a little on the sneaky side.

Like, say, allowing for unlimited challenges to voter registrations and eligibility.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?

It’s not.

Let’s take a look back at the Georgia Senate runoffs to see why.

  • In January, the right-wing group True the Vote (lol) challenged the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of voters in those runoff elections based on an unreliable postal database.
    • On that occasion, only a few dozen votes were actually thrown out.
  • But under the new law, conservative activists are now able to challenge the eligibility of as many voters as they want.
  • Also, local election boards will be required to hear these challenges within 10 days, which could pressure county officials to hastily remove eligible voters from the rolls or erroneously reject their ballots.

But wait, it gets worse!

  • The new law also grants state officials the broad right to replace local election officials (hence the “pressure” mentioned above).
    • So not only will these eligibility challenges become more numerous and frequent, but local officials deemed reluctant or unable to remove suitable numbers of voters from rolls or reject enough ballots could be swapped out for folks deemed more … amenable.
  • The new law also removes Georgia’s elected secretary of state as chair of the state election board.

And now, a few short months after this measure was signed into law, we’re starting to see this diabolical plan start to actually unfold.

  • Georgia Republicans have taken the first step toward a potential state takeover of election administration in Fulton County (a Democratic bastion with a large Black population that’s home to Atlanta and also is the state’s largest county—one in 10 Georgians live there!) after key GOP lawmakers signaled their support for a “performance review” of the county.
    • This could eventually lead to the GOP-run State Board of Elections temporarily replacing the officials in charge of elections in the county, as permitted by the new law.
      • Because the replacement is temporary, the timing here will be key.
      • (Largely Democratic) Fulton County is likely to remove a GOP-appointed superintendent as soon as it can, so Republicans need to ensure that the temporary superintendent’s temporary stint in office (nine months) overlaps with the 2022 election and the post-election certification period.

This whole process is going to take a while to spin out, and it’s going to be wonky and boring, but it’s incredibly important.

Stay tuned!

Perfect Blue Buildings: So here’s a little bit of happy news for you: Maine’s Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has signed a new law that will allow voters to register online beginning in 2023.

  • With Maine’s adoption of online voter registration, every state where Democrats have trifecta control of state government (governor, House/Assembly, Senate) has passed such a law.
    • Just seven states (that require voters to register) do not allow full online registration at this point.
    • You’ll be just shocked, shocked to learn that all of them are run by Republicans.

And one of them is Texas, which reminds me …

Hanginaround: As Texas House Democrats remain out of state to break quorum (thus depriving the House of enough members to conduct business and consequently preventing voter suppression, anti-transgender, and other awful bills from passing), GOP Gov. Greg Abbott has called a second special legislative session—and he intends it to start this Saturday, immediately after his failed first special session is set to conclude.

  • Keep in mind, more than three weeks have gone by since Texas House Dems to came to DC to prevent these measures from passing in the GOP-majority state House and to lobby federal Democrats to get off their duffs and pass a voter protection bill.
    • That’s a long time to be away from your home, your family, your friends, your other responsibilities …
  • But Abbott has listed his voter suppression legislation at the top of his 17-point list of priorities for Special Session II: The Empire Strikes Back.

So what are Texas Democrats to do?

In a nutshell, here are their options:

  • Return to the Capitol in Austin
  • Return to Texas but stay put in their districts and risk arrest under House rules that allow members to be compelled to attend session
  • Extend their stay in DC or head to a state where they could continue to break quorum outside the reach of Texas law enforcement’s jurisdiction.

What’s it gonna be?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Daylight Fading: IT’S ALMOST HERE: The U.S. Census Bureau will release the population data necessary for redistricting at a press conference on Aug. 12 (a pretty serious delay from the original April 1 deadline, but Trump + COVID = ???).

  • After that, the new round of map drawing that will help determine the balance of power in the U.S. House and in state legislatures nationwide for the next decade will begin in earnest.

But more on that … soon.

In the meantime, thanks for hanging in! You’re a champ who deserves to enjoy your weekend, maybe even add an extra day to it.

Because whatever you’re doing it, you’re doing it hard.

And that’s awesome.

But taking a break lets you recharge so you can come back and do it harder … or better … or just at all!

Because whatever you give is valuable.

And it’s always enough.

Just remember: You’re important.

We need you.

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