This Week in Statehouse Action: May Sours edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: May Sours edition

You know the old saw: April showers bring … well, pretty things the next month.

Except that here in the world of statehouse action, GOP-controlled legislatures keep making things pretty ugly.

But yay, it’s May! … which means that a lot of state legislatures will be wrapping their business this month or next.

Here’s what one of them in particular is getting up to before heading home.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has just signed sweeping new voter suppression legislation into law.

Campaign Action

Anyway, this new law is a doozy.

  • The measure imposes several new voting restrictions targeting mail voting in particular, bringing the Sunshine State in line with many others where Republicans are enacting new measures making voting more difficult after the GOP’s 2020 election losses.
    • The law restricts absentee ballot drop boxes to only being available at early voting sites during early voting hours (instead of 24/7 availability, which is kind of the whole point of having a drop box) and requires that they be staffed by election office employees.
    • It also restricts who may turn in someone else’s mail ballot on their behalf with very limited exceptions, such as for family members.
      • Trusted friends or neighbors will not be able to return someone else’s ballot, which will voting more difficult for people in areas that lack reliable postal service and access to transportation.
    • The law also eliminates a policy that allows voters to make a single request to receive an absentee ballot for all upcoming elections held within the subsequent two federal election cycles.
      • Fun fact! The policy was put in place by Republican lawmakers.
      • Instead, voters will now have to make a new request each election cycle.
    • Additionally, the law echoes one of the more obviously outrageous provisions in the Georgia voter suppression law that effectively criminalizes giving food or water to voters waiting in line to cast ballots.
      • This—combined with the provisions making vote-by-mail more difficult and directing more voter traffic to early voting locations—will increase the odds that some voters in hours-long lines just give up, go home, and not vote.
    • Finally, Florida Republicans included another power-grabbing provision in the bill reminiscent of its Georgia counterpart: The (currently and frequently Republican) governor will have the ability to appoint (Republican) replacements when local elected offices become vacant.
      • This change might seem wonky and unimportant, but it’s actually going to have a huge impact on politics in the state, as well as on local governance itself.
        • For decades now, Florida has required that lower-level officials resign their seats when they run for higher office and be replaced in special elections (rather than via appointment).
        • So now, Democrats in those local government positions—even in heavily blue constituencies—seeking an electoral promotion will essentially automatically forfeit their existing position to a GOP appointee (until at least the next election).

Speaking of sunny places where Republicans are engaging in extreme “election security” theater, let’s talk about Arizona, where Republicans in the legislature still think that Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state somehow means that the election was “stolen.”

  • After the 2020 election, GOP-controlled Arizona Senate demanded the Maricopa County (which Biden won by more than 2 points) board of supervisors submit last fall’s ballots and voting machines to a forensic audit.
    • Republicans sent subpoenas to the county seeking access to 
      • 2.1 million ballots,
      • 385 voting machines, and
      • sensitive information including voting machine passwords and personal details on everyone who cast a ballot.
    • The Maricopa supervisors weren’t just going to hand all of that delicate material and information over, so they made a good-faith attempt to settle the matter by hiring two federally approved firms to conduct a forensic audit of the voting machines
      • … which, by the by, concluded that they’d performed impeccably.
    • But Arizona Republicans wanted another review, as though this would somehow produce a different result.
      • … and it might have, had the first firm selected for the task—Allied Security Operations Group—gotten the gig.

(And it might still, but we’ll get to that.)

So the Arizona Senate tried again.

Whoops

  • While the GOP-controlled Senate promised that this recount of 2020 ballots would be “transparent,” Cyber Ninjas fought to keep its procedures secret, though it’s finally been forced to publish some documents describing its practices. 

So with all this very cool and very normal groundwork laid for this totally unnecessary and completely performative “election audit,” everything’s going fine, right?

oh extremely not

  • (Democratic) Secretary of State Katie Hobbs asked (Republican) Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate the Senate’s handling of the audit, noting
    • a lack of transparency regarding ballot security and
    • the fact that some of the legislature’s far-right members had apparent unfettered access to the coliseum it’s being conducted in while members of the press and other impartial election observers were being denied access.

(Brnovich isn’t doing squat, by the by.)

  • This “audit” is clearly an unaccountable shitshow, and it’s definitely not on track to be completed by the May 14 deadline by which auditors and all elections materials are contractually obliged to vacate the facility.
    • Yes, that involves moving all 2.1 million ballots and 385 voting machines somewhere else.
      • There’s no word yet on a possible secondary location for this farce.
  • Anyway, after the secretary of state and the Arizona Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the audit for barring independent observers, the matter was settled with an agreement from the Senate and Cyber Ninjas to allow those observers and the press to access the audit.
    • And what these observers have observed points to the whole thing being … well, an unaccountable shitshow.
      • Observers from the secretary of state’s office have witnessed laptops sitting open, unlocked, and unmonitored and ballots left just sitting around on tables, totally unattended.
      • Procedures are reportedly shifting “constantly,” and workers are using different rules to count ballots.
        • Some workers are looking for watermarks that don’t exist.
        • Others are examining ballots’ weight, thickness, and folds because … seriously your guess is as good as mine.
      • And the workers themselves don’t appear to meet any standard of “unbiased,” since Republican former state Rep. Anthony Kern was spotted among the ballot counters.

Hm.

  • The former GOP official acting as a “spokesman” for the audit has admitted that most of the volunteer observers recruited by the folks running the show are Republicans.
  • And now that actual independent observers are eyeballing the situation, Cyber Ninjas is requiring all of them to sign non-disclosure agreements (which, incidentally, fail to explain what information is considered confidential).
    • … which kind obviates the whole point of having independent observers

And now Biden’s Justice Department may be stepping in.

  • This week, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division expressed its concerns in a letter that
    • Ballots, voting machines, and other election materials are no longer in the custody of actual election officials—a possible violation of federal law—and are “not being adequately safeguarded by contractors,” and
    • Plans for door-to-door canvassing intended to “confirm if valid voters actually lived” at an address and plans to ask voters about their voting history may be directed at voters of color and raise concerns of the “significant intimidating effect” such an investigation.

I mean, that’s pretty fair. If someone from a company called “Cyber Ninjas”—which I would assume was made up if I weren’t actually writing about this—showed up at my door and started demanding to know how long I’ve lived there and how I voted in past elections, I’d be legit kinda freaked out.

  • While this farce of an audit is incredibly troubling all on its own, the bigger fear is that imitations of this destructive circus pops up in other GOP-controlled states that Biden won, like New Hampshire and Georgia.

Maybe this comes to pass, maybe not, but remember: Republicans’ goals here are

  • To continue spoon-feeding lies about a “stolen election” to their Trump-loving base and
  • To create chaos and uncertainty around elections won by Democrats.

… which this shitshow in Maricopa County seems to be pulling off rather effectively tbh

Okay, time to pivot to some real data, not made-up tallies from a GOP-controlled company that sounds like it was named by a third grader.

  • Odd-numbered years are state-level election years in Virginia, and while most eyes are on the gubernatorial contest, I only moon over legislative races.

Lucky for me that all 100 House of Delegates seats are on the ballot this fall.

And maybe lucky for Democrats, too …?

Well, judge for yourself.

  • As an erudite consumer of this missive, you no doubt recall that Virginia Democrats won majority control of Virginia’s legislature for the first time in a quarter century in 2019.
  • In a … normal? world, Virginia would have already redrawn its legislative maps this year, and lawmakers would be running in those new districts this fall.
    • But nothing’s been normal for a long time, including the Census.
      • The delay in the release of 2020 Census data means that Virginia’s House candidates will be running on the same map in 2021 that was in place in 2019.
  • So my Daily Kos Elections colleagues went ahead and calculated Joe Biden’s 2020 performance in each of those 100 House seats.
    • Though we already know that
      • Biden tended to outperform down-ballot Democrats last year, and
      • Off-off-year turnout is always lower than presidential year turnout,
        • … these numbers are still useful indicators of a district’s potential performance.
        • And obviously they shouldn’t be taken as definitive benchmarks.

But the numbers are in, and they indicate some pretty positive news for Virginia Dems.

  • Under the current House map, Biden carried 60 House districts to Trump’s 40.
  • Current partisan makeup of the House is 55 Democrats/45 Republicans.
    • Every Democrat represents a seat Biden carried, while
    • Five Republicans sit in Biden seats.
  • So while Democrats are definitely playing defense to keep their majority this year (off-off-year turnout + Democrats in charge in D.C. and Richmond), they do have some pickup opportunities.

These races will be some of the country’s most-watched this year, but we’re not even past the primaries (June 8) yet, so this election is still very much taking shape.

It’s far too early to begin to speculate about outcomes, but don’t worry—that will come.

… I don’t think you were really worried that I wouldn’t talk more about Virginia this year

  • Anyway, you can dig into this and all of Daily Kos Elections’ district-level data—state legislative and U.S. House—right here.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week. I appreciate you hanging in!

Heck, I just appreciate you.

Thanks for being here.

Thanks for … being.

You’re important.

We need you.

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