Friday, October 2, 2020

Last Call For A Supreme End To Voting

The US Supreme Court today agreed to hear two Arizona voting cases that could spell the complete end of the Voting Rights Act, and the end of the Democratic Party. Ian Millhiser calls it the biggest direct threat to voting in decades:

The specific issue in the Democratic National Committee cases concerns two Arizona laws that require certain ballots to be discarded. One law requires voting officials to discard in their entirety ballots cast by voters who vote in the wrong precinct (rather than simply not counting votes for local candidates that the voter should not have been able to vote for).

The other law prohibits “ballot collection” (or “ballot harvesting”) where a voter gives their absentee ballot to a third party, who delivers that ballot to the election office. (Arizona is one of many states that impose at least some restrictions on ballot collection.)

Both of these laws disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. As a federal appeals court explained in an opinion striking down the two laws, “uncontested evidence in the district court established that minority voters in Arizona cast [out of precinct] ballots at twice the rate of white voters.” And Hispanic and Native American voters are especially likely to rely on a third party to ensure that their ballot is cast.

One reason for this disparity is that some parts of the state require voters to cast their ballot in counterintuitive locations. Some Maricopa County voters, for example, were required to “travel 15 minutes by car (according to [G]oogle maps) to vote” in their assigned polling location, “passing four other polling places along the way,” according to an expert witness.

In addition, according to the appeals court, many Arizona voters of color lack easy access to the mail and are unable to easily travel on their own to cast a ballot. As the appeals court explained, “in urban areas of heavily Hispanic counties, many apartment buildings lack outgoing mail services,” and only 18 percent of Native American registered voters have home mail service.

Meanwhile, Black, Native, and Hispanic voters are “significantly less likely than non-minorities to own a vehicle” and more likely to have “inflexible work schedules.” Thus, their ability to vote might depend on their ability to give their ballot to a friend or an activist who will take that ballot to the polls for them.

The legal rules implementing the Voting Rights Act are complicated. And the specific legal rules governing these cases are impossible to summarize in a concise way. Courts have to consider myriad factors, including “the extent of any history of official discrimination” in a state accused of violating the Voting Rights Act, and “the extent to which voting in the elections of the state or political subdivision is racially polarized.”

In any event, a majority of the appeals court judges who considered Arizona’s two laws determined that they violate the Voting Rights Act.
Of course this means that given Chief Justice John Roberts and his notorious hatred for voting rights, there's already 5 votes on SCOTUS to overturn this and allow states to make voting as difficult as possible for Black, Hispanic, and Native voters.
And that's the point.

Congress Goes Viral, Con't

Mitch McConnell may be willing to sacrifice the Senate GOP in order to hurt Democratic voters in need of COVID-19 relief, but the Senate GOP may not be willing to jump off this particular cliff.

With their majority on the line, Senate Republicans are beginning to fret about the prospect of facing voters in the final weeks of the campaign without a new round of coronavirus aid being enacted.

As the talks between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin teetered Thursday on the verge of collapse, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is trying to stay outside the blast zone. Many of his members up for reelection say it would be a mistake for the Senate to adjourn for the election without taking action to give people some relief.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t all be here until the election if that’s what it takes to pass a follow up to the CARES Act,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is in a tight race with Democrat Cal Cunningham. The pair were scheduled to face off in a debate on Thursday night.

“I do not think we should recess without a coronavirus package,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing Sara Gideon, the Democratic Maine state House speaker. “We're not that far apart.”

Heading into the election empty-handed would surely be a drag on vulnerable senators and House members in both parties. The U.S. economy is mired in a recession, the coronavirus is continuing to spread across the country with no signs of relenting and massive layoffs are being reported daily. Congress is in line to shoulder much of the blame for not offering any relief to the crisis since the spring.

The Senate appears to be sticking around for at least another week, if not more, to keep the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett moving forward. Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Barrett are set to begin Oct. 12. And the House can always reconvene to process a bill if there’s any deal. But it might take a push from those most at risk of losing their jobs in a month to get any deal over the finish line.

The effort to get Pelosi and Mnuchin back to the table started among moderate Democrats in the House. And it’s clear Senate Republicans in tough races are getting similarly antsy, even as they criticize Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for refusing to accept a slimmer stimulus bill in September.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), facing challenger MJ Hegar this fall, said what worries him most is that a vaccine “will be delayed because of the lack of funds because of no deal.”

“This should’ve been done three weeks ago,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who narrowly leads Democrat Jon Ossoff. “Yeah, I’m very frustrated by that. Mnuchin and [Pelosi] have been talking this week about some sort of compromise. … I’m hopeful. We’re coming back next week, and frankly, I don’t think we should leave until we get it done.”

Vulnerable Senate Republicans, though, aren’t blaming McConnell for the failure to reach an agreement. McConnell offered a roughly $500 billion package several weeks ago, only to see Schumer reject it as woefully inadequate to the needs facing the country. Democrats ultimately blocked the measure from advancing.

McConnell and his leadership team have been resolute that their conference is so divided over how much to spend that they have to keep spending levels as low as possible to generate maximum GOP support. But Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another Republican facing a surprisingly tough challenge this year, said his party is warming to the $1.6 trillion number set forth by the administration.

“We need a package. But it’s got to be something that’s reasonable. It doesn’t help me to throw money at the problem, it does help me to put money where it matters,” said Graham, who is narrowly leading Democrat Jaime Harrison. “Half of us would vote for a package. Maybe more now, if it’s reasonable."
If you still needed proof that Collins, Tillis, Perdue, Cornyn and Graham are all in real trouble in their internal polling, you have to look no further. And Nancy Pelosi just plunged the knife in with a $2.2 trillion package passed Thursday by the House that now leaves the Senate holding the bag with roughly 30 days to go before judgement. Mitch may be able to save himself, but he'll lose control of the Senate at this rate and he knows it.

Besides, Trump wants a deal. He clearly wants to bribe people to vote for him, and he so badly wants all the credit for the government doing things. He may go over Mitch's head on this one, especially with him still down 7 points with just a month to go.

I'm still convinced that no relief will come until after the election, and nothing may come at all as long as Mitch controls the Senate. But if he doesn't, or Trump gives him an ultimatum, we'll see just where this goes.

Retribution Execution, Con't

GOP senators have threatened for a while to take up the Trump regime's battlecry on social meadia "fairness" in order to make social media stop policing their white supremacist allies and to go after marginalized groups to silence them permanently, and now they are bringing the force of subpoenas and legislation to bear just in time for the election.
The Trump administration is pressuring Senate Republicans to ratchet up scrutiny of social media companies it sees as biased against conservatives in the run-up to the November election, people familiar with the conversations say. And the effort appears to be paying off.

In recent weeks, the White House has pressed Senate Republican leaders on key committees to hold public hearings on the law that protects Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies from lawsuits over how they treat user posts, three Senate staffers told POLITICO. They requested anonymity to discuss private communications.

And action is following. Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker held a vote in his committee Thursday to issue subpoenas to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify about how they police content on their platforms. That's after Democrats initially prevented the Mississippi Republican from pushing through subpoenas that could have compelled the CEOs to testify with only a few days' notice.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, last week introduced new legislation to address alleged bias on social media and the same day scheduled a markup of the bill for Thursday — a move that would have made it the fastest any bill on tech's liability protections has moved from introduction to a markup on Capitol Hill in recent memory. Graham announced Thursday that consideration of the measure had been tabled.

Both committees are targeting liability protections that have been credited with fueling Silicon Valley's success. The provision — enshrined in a 1996 law known as Section 230 — has allowed online businesses to grow without fear of lawsuits over user posts or their decisions to remove or otherwise moderate users' content.

Both lawmakers have reason to want to get in the White House's good graces. Graham, a prominent Trump ally, is facing the fight of his political life to hold onto his South Carolina seat against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. And Wicker will want to maintain a firm hold on his gavel, which gives him jurisdiction over most legislation targeting Section 230.

The congressional actions mark a sudden and dramatic escalation of efforts by Senate Republicans to revamp the legal shield — particularly with a Congress readying for elections and embroiled in negotiations over Covid relief. But Republicans say Section 230 has allowed social media platforms to discriminate against conservative viewpoints with impunity. Tech companies deny any such bias, and the administration itself has noted there's limited academic data to back up the concerns.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a top Trump ally on tech and longtime critic of Section 230, called the recent surge of activity by his colleagues "a sea change." President Donald Trump, he said, has been a driving force in rallying them.

“There’s hardly a conversation I have with the president where this doesn’t come up, where Section 230 does not come up, usually raised by him,” Hawley said in an interview. “It is much on his mind and I think his strong stance on this issue has had a big effect in opening the eyes of some of my Republican colleagues to realize this is a major issue.”
There are multiple reasons as to why Trump and the GOP want to go after social media giants, and frankly they are way too powerful and unaccountable.  But the real goal here is to force Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and other media platforms to knuckle under the GOP and serve as their digital media arm, or the GOP opens the floodgates for these corporations to be sued out of existence.

It's also a chilling reminder that if they don't stop tagging Trump's lies and disinformation as such in the final weeks of the election, the price they will pay will be in the tens of billions.


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