This Week in Statehouse Action: Don’t Mask Don’t Tell edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Don’t Mask Don’t Tell edition

Big news today for the fully vaxxed: You can ditch your mask (in most circumstances)!

(As an erudite consumer of this missive, you are no doubt well on your way to or already at full vaccination activation, health/personal circumstances permitting.)

As someone whose face is basically its own emoji, I’m extremely excited about this (though I’m kissing my professional poker playing dreams goodbye).

How excited am I?

As excited as statehouse Republicans are about suppressing votes, that’s how!

The big action this week is in Arizona, where GOP Gov. Doug Ducey has just signed a bill I rang the alarm about back in January into law.

Campaign Action

  • This new voter suppression law kills the state’s permanent early voting list (to the detriment of the about 3.2 Arizonans currently on it).
    • Arizona’s permanent early voting list was created in 2007 and allowed residents to sign up to automatically receive a mail-in ballot in each election.
    • The new law boots any voter from that list who fails to vote by mail at least once every two years.
    • Vote-by-mail is super popular in Arizona and is used by voters all across the political spectrum.
    • The overwhelming majority of Arizona’s voters cast their ballots by mail; nearly 75% of all voters are on the (no longer permanent) early voting list, and nearly 90% of voters cast their ballots by mail last year.
      • … you know, that year when Arizona sent its second Democratic U.S. senator to D.C. and voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
    • This new law is expected to push an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 voters off the early voting list.

Yes, this is bad, but we can’t talk about Arizona without an update on the epic, democracy-endangering farce that is the Maricopa County election audit.

  • Last week in this space, I went pretty far down the rabbit hole to explain the whole debacle, but here are the dirty details:
    • The GOP-majority Arizona Senate is 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.

Whoops

  • While the GOP-controlled Senate promised that this audit 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.
  • This unaccountable shitshow of an “audit” is definitely not wrapping up by Friday, May 14, which is when it’s contractually obliged to vacate the facility to make way for a slew of graduation ceremonies scheduled to take place in the convention center next week.
    • The ballots and machines will be moved to “storage elsewhere in the building.”
      • Yes, that involves moving all 2.1 million ballots and 385 voting machines somewhere else that just happens to be in the vicinity of a bunch of likely tech-savvy teenagers.

What could go wrong?

  • Anyway, what’s a little innocent mischief among an operation that’s already an unaccountable shitshow?
    • Remember, observers from the (Democratic) 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.
    • 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.

  • And now the Arizona Senate is demanding that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors provide Cyber Ninjas with a lot of things they
    • Don’t need, and
    • Would create a real security crisis for county systems.
  • Among the things demanded by the Senate are county routers and administrative passwords.
    • Why not routers?
      • Because the routers demanded route network traffic across 50 different county departments, not just the Elections Department.
    • The former GOP elected official who’s acting as a “spokesperson” or “liaison” for this stupid audit claims the routers are necessary to check whether county voting machines were connected to the internet during the election—never mind that
      • Previous, legitimate audits found that these voting machines were not connected to the internet, and
      • That information is available without accessing county routers.
    • According to actual cybersecurity experts (and anyone who’s set up their own internet at home, probably), providing those routers risks exposing residents’ private information and increases the risk that county systems could be hacked.
  • Meanwhile, the secretary of state continues to raise concerns about the way the auditors are handling, storing, and securing the county’s ballots and data.
    • Legitimate audit monitors with the SoS said they spotted a Wi-Fi router in the facility attached to the server that is storing data downloaded by the contractors conducing the audit, which is … troubling.
      • According whoever’s handling handling the audit’s Twitter account, the router’s wireless internet was not enabled, but that “liaison” (who happens to be a former Republican elected official) hasn’t been able to answer questions about why the router was there at all, much less how it’s been used.

no not the least bit shady

  • While this farce of an audit remains incredibly troubling all on its own, remember:
    • The real danger here is that imitations of this destructive circus pop up in other GOP-controlled states that Biden won, like New Hampshire and Georgia.
  • Maybe this comes to pass, maybe not, but keep in mind Republicans’ goals here:
    • 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

Anyway.

The thing about the right-wing extremists in state governments (like, say, Arizona’s) is that they’ve actually been around for quite some time (a solid decade, at least), but they were generally held to the fringes by GOP leadership.

  • The Republicans in power were conservative, but rarely were they bona fide militia sympathizers or democracy underminers.

But times change.

Establishment Republican lawmakers retired or were term limited or, in some cases, lost primaries to candidates on their right.

The extremists’ ranks grew, as did their relative seniority and power in legislative chambers.

… which is how, instead of

  • “omg zany Republican Michigan Sen. Mike Shirkey is palling around with militia members who have been charged in the plot to kidnap and harm Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,”

we have

  • “omg Michigan’s SENATE MAJORITY LEADER is palling around with militia members who have been charged in the plot to kidnap and harm Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.”

Yes, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was photographed sharing a stage with William Null, who’s facing domestic terrorism charges for the plot to forcibly overthrow state government.

  • The photo, reportedly taken at an “American Patriot Council” (one of the many extreme anti-government groups that became super visible in recent years) rally last May, was posted to the conservative social media site Parler.
    • And while his name hasn’t come up in this space in a while, it probably rings a bell for you, because this jackwagon has had a busy year.
      • You remember, this is the Mike Shirkey who initially feigned outrage at the Capitol violence on Jan. 6 and then privately met with one of the organizers of the earlier, practice riot at the Michigan capitol to discuss the poor “optics” of the situation.
      • The Mike Shirkey who publicly cozied up with members of violent militias and spoke at one of their rallies.
      • The Mike Shirkey who was caught on video claiming that the Capitol riot was a “hoax” staged to make Trump supporters look bad.
      • The Mike Shirkey who likes to say super racist things about the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • The Mike Shirkey who’s arguably the most powerful Republican in Michigan.

But he’s not the only right-wing extremist with power and influence in the Michigan legislature.

  • Take GOP Rep. Mike Maddock (whose wife happens to be co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party), who introduced what should be a farcical, obviously unconstitutional attempt at legislation but instead managed to get eight co-sponsors for his bill.
    • The legislation in question is called the Fact Checker Registration Act and would require “certain fact checkers” to register with Michigan’s secretary of state and insure themselves with $1 million fidelity bonds.
      • Even better, someone could sue a registered fact checker for “any wrongful conduct that is a violation” of Michigan law.
      • Anyone in violation would be subject to a $1,000 per day fine for each day the violation continued or for each day they fail to register with the state.
    • Under Maddock’s bill, a “fact checker” is defined as someone who is paid by a national or international fact-checking organization, is a member of the International Fact Check Network, or publishes content in Michigan and presents themselves to the public as a fact-checker.
    • Anyway, it’s an obviously bad and unconstitutional bill that’s unlikely to get much oxygen even from the GOP-controlled Michigan legislature, but it’s still kinda staggering that he got those eight other Republicans to sign onto this nonsense.

Okay, just one last piece of bad news for the week:

  • The Human Rights Campaign has declared 2021 to officially be the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ attacks in state legislatures.
    • The previous bad-banner year was 2015, when 15 anti-LGBTQ bills were signed into law in states across the country.
    • This year is already blowing 2015 out of the water:
      • 17 anti-LGBTQ bills have already become law this year, and another 11 are awaiting governors’ signatures (or vetos, hopefully).
  • And y’all, it’s only May. While a lot of legislatures are wrapping up this month, there’s still quite a lot of year left.

Sigh.

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week.

Be careful out there! Masks are dropping faster than vaccination rates are rising, and there are a lot of folks (and kids!) who just can’t get vaccinated and are relying on the rest of us to not be jerks and get them sick.

But if you got that/those shot/shots in that arm, flex it. It’s warming up, time to show it off.

Sun’s out, vaccinated guns out.

Hail science!

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