Voting Rights Roundup: Alaska court upholds new top-four primary and ranked-choice general election

Leading Off

Alaska: A state trial court has upheld the constitutionality of Alaska's new law that created a "top-four" primary followed by a general election using ranked-choice voting (aka instant-runoff voting). The ruling rejected arguments by the plaintiffs, who consisted of the right-wing Alaskan Independence Party and members of the Libertarian and Republican parties, that the law approved by voters in a 2020 ballot initiative violated political parties' rights under the state constitution to freely associate.

One of the plaintiffs, former Libertarian legislative candidate Scott Kohlhaas, said he and the other plaintiffs would likely appeal. However, Alaskan Independence Party chairman Bob Bird expressed skepticism that they have much of a chance at success before the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-1 majority of justices appointed by Republican governors.

Consequently, Alaska remains on track to become the first state in the country to implement a "top-four" primary with ranked-choice voting in the general election after Maine in 2016 became the first state to adopt ranked-choice voting overall; Maine's law differs in that it maintained traditional party primaries. By contrast, Alaska's variant of this system will require all the candidates for congressional, legislative, and statewide races to face off on one primary ballot, where contenders will have the option to identify themselves with a party label or be listed as "undeclared" or "nonpartisan."​

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​The top four vote-getters regardless of party will advance to the general election, where voters will be able to rank their choices using instant-runoff voting. The law will also institute ranked-choice voting in presidential elections, though traditional party primaries will remain in effect for those races. The law further sets up new financial disclosure requirements for state-level candidates.

The implementation of the new top-four ranked-choice voting system may play a key role in next year's Senate election, where Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is facing a tough challenge from the right by former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka after she voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial earlier this year. Tshibaka has been endorsed by the state GOP and Trump himself, but rather than face the constraint of needing to win a Republican primary dominated by Trump diehards to advance to the general election, Murkowski is all but assured of making it to the general election ballot under the top-four system.

However, the new voting system is hardly a guarantee that Murkowski will win another term in this conservative state. If Democratic voters consolidate around a Democratic candidate whom they rank ahead of Murkowski, the incumbent could end up getting squeezed out of the ranked-choice process in the general election; if she is many voters' second choice but few voters' first choice, she could be eliminated before a Democrat and Tshibaka. Thus, Murkowski will likely need some measure of initial support from Democratic and independent voters in addition to more moderate Republicans if she's to make it to the final round of the ranked-choice voting process.

Redistricting

2020 Census: Mark your calendars: The U.S. Census Bureau will release the population data essential for redistricting at a press conference on the afternoon of Aug. 12. The deadline was originally set for April 1, but it was delayed because of the disruptions from the pandemic.

Colorado: Colorado's state Supreme Court has agreed to extend the deadline for the new independent congressional redistricting commission to complete its work because of the delay in the release of the Census Bureau data needed to conduct redistricting until Aug. 16; the commission now plans to pass a final map by Oct. 1 instead of Sept. 1. Commissioners previously unveiled a preliminary map in June drawn using data estimates.

Voting Access Expansions

Guam: Democratic Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has signed a law that permanently adopts in-person absentee voting after the Democratic-run legislature temporarily adopted it last year due to the pandemic, effectively allowing voters to vote early in-person.

Maine: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has signed a law that will allow voters to register online beginning in 2023. With Maine's adoption of online registration, every state where Democrats control the state government has passed such laws. Only seven states that require voters to register have not allowed full online registration, all of which are run by Republicans, and Texas is home to roughly three-fourths of the people living in those states, who constitute roughly one in eight Americans.

Massachusetts: Republican Gov. Charlie Baker has signed a bill passed by the Democratic-run legislature with bipartisan support to extend pandemic-era voting access measures through Dec. 15 so that they will remain in place for upcoming local elections (such as Boston's mayoral contest) while lawmakers decide whether to make them permanent. The provisions in question include expanded early voting and no-excuse mail voting.

Voter Suppression

Georgia: Republican legislators have taken the first step toward a potential state takeover of election administration in Fulton County after key GOP lawmakers signaled their support for a "performance review" of the county, which could eventually lead to the GOP-run State Board of Elections temporarily replacing the officials in charge of elections in the county. Fulton County is a Democratic stronghold with a large Black population that is home to Atlanta and one in ten state residents, making it Georgia's largest county.

An eventual state takeover is possible under a law Republicans passed earlier this year that contained several new voting restrictions, which prompted a national backlash of condemnation and numerous lawsuits that argued it was a way to make voting harder for key Democratic-leaning groups and enable GOP officials to overturn election results after Trump's attempt to do so with the 2020 elections failed. Georgia is just one of several states where Republican lawmakers have passed legislation to give partisan GOP officials more control over election administration ahead of the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election.

Texas: Democratic Party organizations and civil rights advocates have reached a settlement with Republican officials in Texas that will see the latter permanently implement a limited online voter registration system after a federal court last year ruled that Texas was violating federal law and ordered the state to establish partial online registration. The court found that Texas had violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the "motor voter" law, by failing to offer online registration updates for eligible voters renewing their driver's license or updating their address with the DMV online, and roughly one million voters have registered online since the court's ruling.

Sarah Palin For Senate? She Says ‘If God Wants Me To’ She’ll Challenge Murkowski For Alaska Senate Seat

One-time Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin told a conservative Christian group that she’d consider running for a Senate seat in Alaska “if God wants me to.”

Palin, the former Governor of Alaska, made the comments in an appearance at the Leading with Conviction Conference in Pasadena, California, last month.

The conservative politician expressed interest in taking on Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who voted to convict former President Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial.

“If God wants me to do it I will,” Palin said after New Apostolic Reformation leader Ché Ahn asked her if she was planning on running for the Senate seat.

RELATED: Sheila Jackson Lee Becomes Third Democrat Arrested By Capitol Police After ‘Voting Rights’ Protest

Sarah Palin For Senate?

Sarah Palin warned the audience that conservatives and Republicans would need to have her back if she ran for Murkowski’s Senate seat.

“What I would do if I were to announce is say you know what, you guys better be there for me this time because a lot of people weren’t there for me last time and that’s why characterization-wise, I got clobbered,” she continued.

Palin went on to accuse former President Barack Obama and his administration of sending in “flying monkeys” to destroy her career.

The former governor said she was inundated with ethics probes, FOIA requests, and media criticism that she simply couldn’t continue battling while effectively running the state.

“The Obama administration sent their flying monkeys,” she claimed, suggesting “it stalled our administration.”

The harassment, she suggested, ultimately led her to resign. Still, she refused to concede that she had quit.

“Every e-mail, every conversation was scrutinized,” said Palin. “So, there’s a difference between quitting and saying enough is enough.”

RELATED: Sarah Palin Calls McCain Out For Lying About Choosing Her As Vice President in 2008

Murkowski Already Facing Primary Opponent

Sarah Palin isn’t the only conservative who would replace Murkowski.

Kelly Tshibaka released an ad a little over a month ago portraying herself as an outsider looking to upset the establishment. The ad featured some very Trump-like themes.

“I’m a conservative, pro-life, pro-second amendment,” she states. “And America first, always.”

Tshibaka, as Alaska’s News Source reports, is “closely aligned politically with former President Donald Trump.”

She has also reportedly hired several advisers with ties to the former President to help her campaign to defeat Murkowski.

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Palin spoke of Tshibaka and had some reservations about the name recognition factor when it comes to defeating the incumbent.

“Kind of the scary thing about it is I’ve been in politics seems like all my life in Alaska and I never heard of her so that kind of made me hesitant,” Palin worried.

The former running mate of John McCain, for better or worse, certainly has the name recognition to generate interest in a Senate campaign.

Trump and Palin have shared conservative values but also a shared disdain for both Murkowski and the late Senator McCain.

Trump has already endorsed Tshibaka, though it has more to do with Murkowski’s failure to advance the Republican agenda and do what is right for Alaska than anything else.

“Lisa Murkowski is bad for Alaska,” he said in a statement. “Murkowski has got to go!”

Would he possibly shift his endorsement should Palin jump into the race?

Murkoski famously joined McCain and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in abandoning their party and helping to keep the Affordable Care Act alive.

She more recently had a role in voting to confirm appointees for President Biden who have aided the revocation of ANWR drilling permits, a potentially devastating move for Alaska’s economy.

 

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Murkowski Challenger Kelly Tshibaka Is Endorsed By Alaska Republican Party

On Saturday, the Republican Party of Alaska officially endorsed Kelly Tshibaka in her primary challenge against long-time incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. 

Murkowski has been a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump and voted to convict him on his second impeachment of inciting the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump endorsed Tshibaka in June.

Local party branches typically support the incumbent, or at the most, stay out of primaries. It’s big news when a state party actually endorses an intra-party primary challenger.

RELATED: Lincoln Project Co-Founder Says January 6 Riot ‘Likely To Kill A Lot More Americans’ Than 9/11

Murkowski’s Favorable Ratings Plummet 

Tshibaka said in a statement, “I am grateful and thrilled to have the strong support of the Alaska Republican Party, which voted overwhelmingly to endorse my candidacy for the U.S. Senate.” 

“We all share a unified goal: to promote the principles upon which our country and state were founded. I have pledged that I will be true to our shared, conservative Alaska ideals and be a senator upon whom they can depend to make every decision based on what is best for our great state,” she said.  

“We need a senator who will stand with Alaskans and not cozy up to the Washington, D.C. insiders, a senator who has earned the trust of the people and strives to keep it every day,” Tshibaka continued, obviously referring to Murkowski.

“It is time for conservative leaders, with courage and common sense, to rise together across the nation,” the GOP primary challenger added. “I am honored to be endorsed as that candidate for Alaska.”

In the past Tshibaka has called Murkowski a “traitor” and has described her as someone who “sucks up to CNN” and the “radical Biden administration.”

In June, Murkowski saw her favorable rating among Republicans sink to a jaw dropping 6 percent.

Tshibaka Claims Murkowski Has Not Pursued A Conservative Agenda

Tshibaka said of Murkowski to Breitbart News on Saturday, “She’s been voting with them, hurting our way of life, and she’s not standing up to the radical Biden administration while they kill our oil and gas jobs.”

Tshibaka then gave a few examples of where she thought Murkowski had voted with Democrats more than her own party.

“She’s voted to allow illegal immigrants to come into our country,” Tshibaka accused Mrkowski. “Even if they commit crime, they can stay here.”

RELATED: Far-Left Democrats Pressuring Pelosi And Biden For Trillions More In Spending

Tshibaka: ‘We Are Absolutely Fed Up With Lisa Murkowski’

“She was the deciding vote to keep Obamacare and that means higher health care costs and fewer healthcare choices for us in Alaska,” she continued, adding that they have “some of the highest health care costs in the country.”

Tshibaka added, “She votes against common-sense judges that keep and protect our Second Amendment rights.”

“So, for all of those reasons, we are absolutely fed up with Lisa Murkowski,” Tshibaka thundered.  

With the endorsement of the state GOP and President Trump working against her, Murkowski has a steeply uphill battle for re-election.

 

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Pro-Trump Republican Challenging Lisa Murkowski Releases First Ad: ‘America First, Always’

Kelly Tshibaka, a pro-Trump conservative challenging Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, has released her first ad.

Murkowski, a Republican, voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial.

While the ad avoids making any negative commentary about her opponent, Tshibaka does sprinkle in some clearly Trumpian elements to her message.

“I’m a conservative, pro-life, pro-second amendment,” she confidently states. “And America first, always.”

Tshibaka also positions herself as an outsider running against an establishment Republican.

“The insiders don’t like me because I spent my career exposing taxpayer fraud and abuse,” she tells potential voters. “That’s okay, I’m not running for them, I am running for you.”

Tshibaka most recently served as Alaska commissioner of administration, a position from which she stepped down to announce her campaign to unseat Lisa Murkowski.

RELATED: Report: 9 Of The 10 Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Trump Facing Primary Challengers

Pro-Trump Kelly Tshibaka Ready To Take On Murkowski

While the new ad by Kelly Tshibaka doesn’t delve into any specific messages contrasting herself with Senator Lisa Murkowski, she is, as Alaska’s News Source reports, “closely aligned politically with former President Donald Trump.”

Tshibaka has defined herself as a “new generation” of Alaska conservatives and chastised Murkowski for siding with Democrats in the impeachment trial, voting to convict Trump for the charge of incitement of insurrection related to the Capitol protest.

“President Trump has been great for Alaska, and we need to remember that in both elections Alaska selected President Trump as our president,” Tshibaka told the outlet.

“I don’t think it helps Alaska when our senator goes against and picks a fight with a president who’s benefiting our state.”

Tshibaka has also reportedly hired several advisers with ties to the former President to help her with a campaign to defeat Murkowski.

“Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, deputy campaign manager Justin Clark and battleground states director Nick Trainer … will serve as Tshibaka’s senior advisers,” Politico reveals.

She also brought on Tim Murtaugh, who was communications director on Trump’s reelection effort.

RELATED: Here Are the 6 Republicans Who Voted That Trump’s Impeachment Trial Is Constitutional

Trump: I’ll be There To Campaign Against Murkowski

Donald Trump has yet to endorse anybody against Lisa Murkowski though Politico notes he is “on the hunt for a credible Murkowski opponent on the senator’s right flank.”

Trump has repeatedly bashed Murkowski not only for her impeachment vote but for consistently standing alongside Senator Susan Collins and the late John McCain in obstructing a conservative agenda.

He recently knocked Murkowski for her role in voting to confirm appointees for President Biden who have, he states, led to the revocation of ANWR drilling permits.

“Not only did Murkowski kill the biggest economic stimulant for the State, but also one of the biggest energy-producing sites in the world,” he criticized.

“She’s the best friend Washington Democrats ever had—and Alaska’s reward for that betrayal is an empowered Left coming after their wealth and jobs,” he added.

“I think she will be met very harshly by the Alaska voters in 15 months, and I will be there to campaign against her!”

“We can’t let the Radical Left destroy Alaska’s Energy Industry with their Socialist job-killing agenda,” Tshibaka recently tweeted.

“If Liberal Lisa Murkowski won’t protect us, I will!” she added.

 

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Report: Trump Plans To Resume MAGA Rallies

According to a report from CNN, former President Trump has been discussing the possibility of bringing back the Make America Great Again rallies that were so popular during his campaigns and president.

The report noted that Trump wants to remain a part of the political conversation despite no longer being president or having the ability to use Twitter, where he has been permanently banned. 

RELATED: Poll: 51% Have Unfavorable Impression Of Kamala Harris, Large Number Say ‘Not Qualified’ To Be President

Massive MAGA Rallies Were A Staple Of The Trump Years

Future rallies would reportedly be in support of Trump-endorsed candidates who are challenging sitting Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the January 6 Capitol protests.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is one of seven Republican senators who has criticized Trump and voted convict him in his second impeachment trial.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump held massive MAGA rallies throughout 2020. The rallies ended when Trump lost the general presidential election to Joe Biden. 

Trump Aide: ‘It Will Definitely Be Different In Terms Of The Setup’

A Trump aide told CNN of the planned rallies, “It will definitely be different in terms of the setup, but we got really good at planning these events in 2020, so we will probably use a lot of those same vendors again.”

Since Trump was banned from Twitter, he has been communicating through statements from his office, particularly speaking out against Republicans who have criticized him.

On Tuesday, Trump’s office released a statement calling Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney a “warmongering fool” after she said she had not running for president herself in 2024.

RELATED: Hawley Mocks Liz Cheney For Possible Presidential Run: She Has ‘No Support In Her Own Caucus’

New Trump Rallies Could Begin As Early As May

“Liz Cheney is polling sooo low in Wyoming, and has sooo little support, even from the Wyoming Republican Party, that she is looking for a way out of her Congressional race,” Trump said in a statement.

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Cheney is another sitting Republican who has received a GOP primary challenger due to her approach to Trump.

According to Trump aides via CNN, these rallies could begin in May.

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McConnell Vs. Trump! Warring Wings Of GOP May Face Off In Alaska Senate Race

The Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) announced on Friday that it will support Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in her re-election campaign.

The group is aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has said that he will “Absolutely” support Murkowski’s re-election bid.

Murkowski, often described as a moderate Republican, voted to convict former President Donald Trump during his second impeachment trial in January.

After her vote, the Alaska Republican Party voted to censure Murkowski for her conviction vote.

They also said that they would recruit a Republican challenger – which could set up a head-to-head matchup between the establishment wing of the GOP and Trumpworld.

RELATED: Republicans Release Video Of Migrants Caught Crossing The Border Right Behind Them

Race Will Be Portrayed As Experience Vs. Outsider

The 2022 midterm elections may come down to a simple matter of who decides the future direction of the Republican Party.

The McConnell-backed SLF had a war chest last election cycle of $475 million will now throw it’s weight behind not just Murkowski, but could also back a number of establishment incumbents like her.

SLF President Steven Law said, “Alaska needs the kind of experienced representation that Lisa Murkowski provides in the United States Senate. Whether fighting for Alaskan interests like expanding energy production and protecting fisheries, or advancing conservative priorities by confirming judges and cutting taxes, her strong leadership is vitally important to Alaska’s future.” 

In response to the SLF statement, Mary Ann Pruitt, advisor to Kelly Tshibaka – who is running against Murkowski in the GOP primary – released a statement saying, “It’s just like D.C. insiders to ignore the voices of Alaska voters to protect one of their own.”

Kelly Tshibaka is positioning herself as an outsider, saying in a video of her intent to run that Murkowski was “so out of touch” for voting to convict Trump after he had already left office.

Prior to her current run for Senate, Tshibaka has worked in the office of inspector general for the U.S. Postal service, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Justice.

She resigned her position in Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration to concentrate on her run for the Senate. 

RELATED: Kathy Barnette Is Fighting To Become The First Black Female Republican U.S. Senator

Republicans Picking Sides

Within the Republican Party, it is starting to look like a matter of picking sides. That began to be apparent during the waning days of the Trump administration.

A new breed of Trump-supporting, outspoken Republican Congress members like Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert came along.

Opposite that Trump wing stand establishment Republicans like Rep. Liz Cheney and McConnell.

From almost right after his second impeachment trial, Trump has had an eye on supporting any primary challenger of several members of Congress who had voted to impeach him.

It was thought that, should any of those Congress members received a primary challenge, Trump supporters would be fired up enough to support the challengers as well. 

Cheney garnered a primary challenge almost immediately following her impeachment vote. Several others have as well. Nearly every Republican Senator who had voted to convict Trump was censured by their local party. 

RELATED: Report: Biden Creating Commission To Study Court-Packing

Establishment GOP Should Know Trump Is Ready And Waiting For 2022

Donald Trump is already in position to endorse candidates and be a major player in the 2022 midterm election.

His new Save America PAC has, in the words of those in the know, ‘gargantuan’ amounts of cash. 

He has already began endorsing candidates, including Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), John Kennedy (R-LA), Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R), and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in her run for Governor of Arkansas.

Trump most recently endorsed Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks in his bid for the Senate, and America First Senator Rand Paul.

No word yet if Trump will be traveling to Alaska to give out an endorsement to Kelly Tshibaka. However, both wings of the party seem to be flush with cash, and 2022 could prove to be an interesting year.

 

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Lisa Murkowski Censured By Alaska GOP After Turning On Trump – Primary Challenger To Be Recruited

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has just been censured by the Alaska Republican Party after she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump last month.

Murkowski Gets Bad News

The Alaska GOP also announced plans to “recruit” a primary challenger if Murkowski runs for reelection, but the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) won’t be helping them if they follow through with this.

National party chair Ronna McDaniel had told Fox News back in January that “the RNC stays neutral in primaries for a very good reason. Because somebody has to be there to pick up the pieces of difficult primaries and help bring the party back together.” 

After Murkowski was censured, a RNC official doubled down in saying that the party committee remains neutral in Republican primaries.

Related: Manchin and Murkowski Solid for President in Senate Impeachment Vote

Murkowski Censured By Alaska Republican Party

On Saturday, the Alaska Republican Party passed a resolution that officially censured Murkowski for her impeachment trial vote, as well as multiple other votes that Alaskan Republicans were angry about.

The resolution stated that these other votes included her opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare, voting “present” rather than in support of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and her support for the confirmation of Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary earlier this month.

The resolution added that Murkowski has “repeatedly spoken critically of President Trump throughout his term in office” and that “the Alaska Republican Party hereby separates itself from Sen. Murkowski’s conviction vote of President Trump.”

It then said that “the party hereby will recruit a Republican primary challenger to oppose and prohibit Sen. Murkowski from being a candidate in any Republican primary to the extent legally permissible.”

Trump To Campaign Against Murkowski

This comes days after Trump pledged to campaign against Murkowski next year if she decides to run.

“She represents her state badly and her country even worse. I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be – in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad senator,” Trump said.

Related: Trump Pledges That He Will Campaign Against Lisa Murkowski In 2022

This piece was written by James Samson on March 16, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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Trump Pledges That He Will Campaign Against Lisa Murkowski In 2022

Former President Donald Trump spoke out on Saturday to vow that he will campaign against Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) when she is up for re-election in 2022.

Trump Pledges To Campaign Against Murkowski

“I will not be endorsing, under any circumstances, the failed candidate from the great State of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski,” Trump said in a statement obtained by Politico.

“She represents her state badly and her country even worse,” he added. “I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be — in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator.”

“Her vote to advance radical left Democrat Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior is yet another example of Murkowski not standing up for Alaska,” Trump continued, referring to the fact that Murkowski voted to confirm Joe Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee.

Murkowski was one of the seven Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump in his second impeachment trial last month.

Related: Manchin and Murkowski Solid for President in Senate Impeachment Vote

John Barrasso Stands By Murkowski 

After Trump pledged to campaign against Murkowski, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) spoke out to support her, according to Newsweek.

“In terms of Alaska, I want to always make sure we nominate somebody who can win in November,” Barrasso said.

“Lisa Murkowski knows Alaska better than anybody. And she’s an incredible fighter for American energy,” he added. “She hasn’t made an announcement of if she’s even going to run again. If she does, I’m going to support her.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also said that he will “absolutely” support Murkowski, despite what Trump had to say.

Related: Romney Says He’s ‘Very Likely’ to Join Democrats on Call For New Impeachment Witnesses

Murkowski Turns On Trump

Murkowski was quick to turn on Trump after the Capitol riots back in January.

“On the day of the riots, President Trump’s words incited violence, which led to the injury and deaths of Americans — including a Capitol Police officer — the desecration of the Capitol, and briefly interfered with the government’s ability to ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” Murkowski said at the time.

“Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequence and the House has responded swiftly, and I believe, appropriately, with impeachment,” she added. 

This piece was written by James Samson on March 7, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
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Voting Rights Roundup: Georgia Senate wins pave way for Democrats to pass historic election reforms

Leading Off

Congress: With victories in Georgia's Senate runoffs, congressional Democrats now have the opportunity to pass the most important set of voting and election reforms since the historic Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965. These reforms face a challenging path to passage given Democrats' narrow majorities, but their adoption is critical for preserving American democracy amid unprecedented attacks upon it by Republican extremists both in and outside Congress.

Chief among these proposals is the reintroduction of H.R. 1, the "For the People Act," which House Democrats passed in 2019 and would enact groundbreaking reforms by (1) removing barriers to expanding access to voting and securing the integrity of the vote; (2) establishing public financing in House elections to level the playing field; and (3) banning congressional gerrymandering by requiring that every state create a nonpartisan redistricting commission subject to nonpartisan redistricting criteria.

Democrats have also called for enacting a new Voting Rights Act, which the House passed in 2019 and subsequently named after the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement who died last year. Finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to bring a bill to the floor to finally end the disenfranchisement of 700,000 Americans by making Washington, D.C. a state, which House Democrats also approved last year. We'll detail each of these major reforms below.

Pelosi has indicated that passing H.R. 1, symbolically named as the first bill of the session, will be a top priority for the new Congress. This bill would adopt the following reforms for federal elections:

  • Establish automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies;
  • Establish same-day voter registration;
  • Allow online voter registration;
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they'll be on the rolls when they turn 18;
  • Allow state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies;
  • Ban states from purging eligible voters' registration simply for infrequent voting;
  • Establish two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours;
  • Standardize hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races;
  • Require paper ballots filled by hand or machines that use them as official records and let voters verify their choices;
  • Grant funds to states to upgrade their election security infrastructure;
  • Provide prepaid postage on mail ballots;
  • Allow voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose;
  • Allow voters to track their absentee mail ballots;
  • Require states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting (likely not until 2030);
  • End prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they're incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting;
  • End felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and require such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored;
  • Provide public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate;
  • Expand campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United;
  • Ban corporations from spending for campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders; and
  • Make it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, meanwhile, would restore the protections that the Supreme Court's conservatives eviscerated in an infamous 2013 decision. That ruling removed a requirement for a number of largely Southern states and localities with a pervasive history of racial discrimination to "preclear" all efforts to change voting laws and procedures with the Justice Department. The VRAA would establish new criteria for deciding which jurisdictions would fall under the preclearance requirement after the 2013 court ruling struck down the old formula.​

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​Under the new setup, any state where officials have committed at least 15 voting rights violations over a 25-year period would be required to obtain preclearance for 10 years. If the state itself, rather than localities within the state, is responsible for the violations, it would take only 10 violations to place it under preclearance. In addition, any particular locality could individually be subjected to preclearance if it commits at least three violations.

Based on this formula, the VRAA would put 11 states back under preclearance: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. While most of these states are still in the South (and also under Republican control), the list also includes the two largest Democratic-leaning states in the country, California and New York.

Lastly, the bill to grant statehood to D.C. would shrink the federal District of Columbia down to a handful of important federal buildings surrounding the National Mall while admitting the rest of the district as a new state. All but one House Democrat (who is now no longer in Congress) voted for D.C. statehood last summer, and 46 of the 50 incoming members of the Democratic Senate caucus either sponsored last year's bill or have expressed public support, while the remaining four have yet to take a firm position.

While Democrats winning full control of Congress and the presidency makes it possible to pass the above reforms, their success is far from guaranteed. For starters, Democrats would need unanimous support in the Senate and near-unanimous backing in the House given that every Republican is likely to oppose these reforms.

The most important hurdle, however, is the legislative filibuster, and the fate of these reforms will depend on Senate Democrats either abolishing or curtailing it. Progressive activists have relaunched a movement to eliminate the filibuster entirely following the Georgia victories, while some experts have suggested that Democrats could carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. Either way, Democrats will need to address the filibuster in some fashion, since Senate Republicans have made it clear they will not provide the support necessary to reach a 60-vote supermajority on any of these measures.

Voting Access

Connecticut: Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill and legislative Democrats are pushing to pass a series of voting reforms, including the adoption of no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and automatic voter registration. Last year, lawmakers passed a statute to temporarily expand the definition of illness to allow all voters to cast absentee ballots without needing a specific excuse, and Democrats are considering passing similar legislation this year for upcoming local and special elections with the pandemic still ongoing.

Democrats may also try to permanently remove the excuse requirement by passing a constitutional amendment, as well as once again approving an amendment they passed in 2019 to allow up to three days of early voting. Unless the GOP has a change of heart and supplies enough votes for a three-fourths supermajority, amendments must pass in two sessions with an election in between before going to a voter referendum.

Delaware: Democratic lawmakers in Delaware have introduced two constitutional amendments to expand voting rights: The first would remove the excuse requirement to vote absentee by mail while the second would enable same-day voter registration. Last year, the state temporarily waived the excuse requirement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amendments in Delaware must pass the legislature with two-thirds supermajorities in two consecutive sessions, so lawmakers could enact the no-excuse absentee voting amendment this session since they passed it the first time in 2020. (The same-day registration amendment could not go into effect until the 2024 elections at the earliest.) However, since Democrats are just shy of the two-thirds mark in the state House, they will need at least two GOP votes in support. Uniquely among the 50 states, Delaware does not require constitutional amendments to be approved by voters.

District of Columbia: In late November, the Democratic-run Washington, D.C. Council advanced a bill to make permanent a measure temporarily adopted in 2020 that let voters cast ballots at any "vote center" citywide in 2020 instead of just their local polling place. Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has yet to sign the bill, which also requires a polling place at the city jail, into law.

Hawaii: Hawaii election chief Scott Nago plans to ask the Democratic-dominated legislature to pass legislation giving voters more time to complete their ballots and to expand the number of in-person "vote centers," where any voter in a county can cast their ballot, to better accommodate voters who can't readily vote by mail or don't want to.

Additionally, voting rights advocates have announced that they will renew their push to ask lawmakers to adopt a bill enacting automatic voter registration through the state's driver's licensing agency and potentially other state agencies, too. The state Senate and House each passed separate bills to adopt automatic registration in 2019, but the proposal failed to become law after the two chambers couldn't agree on a single version.

Illinois: State House Democrats have passed legislation in committee that would make permanent some of the reforms lawmakers adopted in 2020 due to the pandemic, including: counting absentee mail ballots without postage; allowing officials to set up drop boxes for mail ballots; and continuing curbside voting for mobility-limited voters. However, the bill wouldn't extend the practice of sending applications for mail ballots to all voters who have cast ballots in recent election years.

Louisiana: Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has proposed an emergency voting plan for lawmakers to approve for upcoming local elections and the March 20 special elections for the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. Committees in the state Senate and House both advanced the proposal to their respective full chambers earlier this month.

The plan would let voters cast absentee ballots by mail if they are at higher risk for COVID-19, seeking a diagnosis for it, or are subject to a physician's isolation order or caring for someone under isolation. However, it would not waive the excuse requirement for all voters or expand the number of early voting days.

Maine: Democratic Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who was elevated to the post by Maine's state legislature last month, will push for lawmakers to adopt online voter registration and prepaid absentee ballot postage. Meanwhile, several Democratic legislators have introduced various bills to codify the use of drop boxes, implement a system for letting voters track their absentee ballots, and let absentee ballots be counted earlier.

Maryland: Maryland Democrats have introduced legislation intended to strengthen voting access on college campuses, military bases, retirement homes, and other "large residential communities." Sites like these would be able to request an in-person voting location, and colleges would also be required to establish voter registration efforts on campus and give students an excused absence to vote if needed. The bill would let military service members register online using their identification smart cards issued by the Defense Department.

New Jersey: Committees in both chambers of New Jersey's Democratic-run legislature have declined to advance a measure that would have adopted two weeks of early voting for this year's state-level general elections and some municipal races in May. The New Jersey Globe reported that it was unclear why the bill failed to move forward but also noted that legislative leaders have yet to reach an agreement on the specifics of early voting, including whether to extend it to primaries, despite supporting the idea in principle. Committees in both chambers also passed early voting bills last year, but they did not advance further in 2020.

New York: The past three weeks have been a busy period for voting rights expansions in New York, beginning when Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law an automatic voter registration measure that will involve a variety of different state agencies. Democratic state senators also passed several other reforms this week, including measures to:

The proposals to enact same-day registration and permanently remove the absentee excuse requirement are constitutional amendments that previously passed both legislative chambers in 2019 and must pass again before they can appear on this November's ballot, while the other measures are all statutory and can become law if the Assembly and Cuomo sign off on them.

Oregon: Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has called for several voting reforms in her budget proposal to the Democratic legislature, including reinstituting same-day voter registration; counting mail ballots that are postmarked by Election Day instead of only those received by Election Day; increasing the number of mail ballot drop boxes; and expanding Oregon's automatic voter registration system from just the DMV to include other agencies.

Same-day voter registration would likely require lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot thanks to an especially bizarre chapter in state history. Oregon previously offered same-day registration, but lawmakers amended the constitution to repeal it in 1986 after a religious cult called the Rajneeshees attempted large-scale voter fraud in concert with biological warfare that left hundreds of residents poisoned in their unsuccessful plot to take over rural Wasco County's commission in 1984. However, 21 states and D.C. use same-day registration today without problems.

Vermont: Both chambers of Vermont's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill that lets municipalities decide whether to mail every active registered voter a ballot for the upcoming March 2 "Town Meeting Day" or let them postpone the elections to the spring if needed due to the pandemic. Town meetings are a form of direct democracy unique to New England, during which localities can hold public votes on budgetary and other matters.

Virginia: Virginia Democrats have introduced several major voting reforms, which would expand on the sweeping changes they passed in 2020. This year's measures include:

Democrats have full control of state government, but constitutional amendments must pass both legislative chambers in two consecutive sessions with a state election taking place in between before going to a voter referendum. The felony voter reforms, therefore, could not become law before 2022 at the soonest. While civil rights groups and progressive Democrats support the amendment that would outright abolish felony disenfranchisement, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam backs the competing amendment that would keep those who are in prison, on parole, or on probation unable to vote.

Voter Suppression

Georgia: Republican state House Speaker David Ralston says he is open to considering removing oversight of Georgia's elections from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office, and Ralston claims he wouldn't need a constitutional amendment to do it.

Raffensperger recently incurred the ire of fellow Republicans after he refused to go along with Trump's illegal efforts to steal the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, prompting Raffensperger to release a recording of an incriminating phone call early this month during which Trump had pressured him to "find" 12,000 fake votes that would allow Trump to claim victory. The New York Times reported on Friday that state prosecutors are increasingly likely to open a formal criminal investigation into Trump over the incident.

Separately, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has called for adding a voter ID requirement to absentee voting, which Republicans exempted when they initially adopted a voter ID law in the mid-2000s. Up until 2020, absentee voting was disproportionately used by elderly Republican voters, but the GOP's push for new voting restrictions on the practice comes after mail voting heavily favored Democrats, both in November and the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

Many Georgia Republicans also want to reinstate the requirement that voters present an excuse in order to request an absentee ballot, along with calling for banning mail ballot drop boxes and restricting who can send ballot applications to voters. Ralston, however, says he opposes eliminating excuse-free absentee voting.

Kansas: The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to take up Kansas Republicans' appeal of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that had struck down a law requiring voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, effectively dooming the measure. The law was the signature legislative achievement of former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who rose to national notoriety as the leader of Trump's bogus "voter fraud" commission.

By the time it was blocked in 2016, the Kansas law had led to one in seven new voter registrations being suspended for lack of documentation, affecting 30,000 would-be registrants in total—a group that was disproportionately young and Latino. The lower court that eventually struck down the law also eviscerated Kobach's credibility and seriously undermined his reputation even among Republicans.

Separately, Kobach's successor as secretary of state, fellow Republican Scott Schwab, reportedly won't implement a bipartisan 2019 voting reform until 2023. That law allows counties to replace traditional local polling places with countywide "vote centers" where any voter in a county may cast their ballot. A provision of the law requires it to first take effect for odd-year local elections before it can be implemented for even-year federal and state elections, so if Schwab's foot-dragging delays it past this year, it couldn't take full effect until 2023.

North Carolina: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in December unanimously overturned a lower federal court ruling that had temporarily blocked a voter ID statute passed by North Carolina Republicans from taking effect last election cycle while the case proceeded on the merits. The appellate judges ruled that the lower court had "abused its discretion" by blocking the law.

The lower court had found that there were significant similarities between this law, which Republicans approved in a 2018 lame-duck session, and one they passed in 2013, which another federal court had struck down in 2016 for being part of a package of voting restrictions that they deemed had targeted Black voters "with almost surgical precision."

The 4th Circuit, however, held that the lower court had erred by not presuming that lawmakers had acted in "good faith" when passing the laws, despite the many times that Republican legislators have had their voting laws struck down in court for discrimination. The plaintiffs are in the process of filing a petition to ask the entire 4th Circuit to rehear their case over the preliminary injunction while the case proceeds on the merits.

However, even if they succeed at the 4th Circuit, there's a strong risk of the U.S. Supreme Court eventually reversing them, which is why voting rights advocates may have better odds of blocking the voter ID law in state court instead. Last year, in fact, a state court issued its own preliminary injunction that blocked the law for the November election, and that case is also still ongoing.

Unfortunately for voting advocates, though, the 2020 elections complicated their odds of success at the state level. Democrats suffered three close losses in last November's state Supreme Court elections, leaving them with a slim 4-3 advantage on the bench

The contest for control of the court and the narrowing of Democrats' majority may have implications not only for the voter ID dispute. It could also play a role in the resolution of ongoing litigation over a separate constitutional amendment that authorized the voter ID statute, as well as with cases over North Carolina's felony voter disenfranchisement law, and upcoming lawsuits over redistricting, where the court is the lone bulwark at the state level against renewed GOP gerrymandering.

Texas: The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority has refused to take up state Democrats' appeal in a lawsuit that sought to overturn a Republican-backed restriction that's used in Texas and several other red states to require that only voters under the age of 65 must have an excuse to vote absentee by mail. By refusing to take up the case, the high court left in place a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the Texas law in defiance of the 26th Amendment's ban on age discrimination by using logic that if applied to race would effectively result in the revival of Jim Crow voting laws.

Meanwhile, in the Texas state Senate, several GOP senators have introduced a bill that would ban the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballots applications. Populous Democratic-run counties such as Houston's Harris County sought to send applications to all voters in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Republicans convinced the GOP-dominated state Supreme Court to block them.

Existing Senate rules required 19 votes to bring bills to the floor, but after Republicans were reduced to just 18 seats following the November elections, they lowered that threshold for the third time in recent years so that they can overcome Democratic objections and pass new voting restrictions and gerrymanders.

Post Office: One key consequence of Joe Biden's victory and Democrats winning the Senate is that Biden will be able to appoint members of his choosing to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, who in turn could fire Donald Trump's postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who was instrumental in Trump's attempt to sabotage mail voting last year. With Mitch McConnell unable to block him, Biden can now fill three vacancies on the nine-member board, which currently has four Republicans and two Democrats, thereby giving it a new Democratic majority that could sack DeJoy.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Alabama: Federal District Judge Emily Marks, a Trump appointee, granted Republican defendants' motion for summary judgment in December in a lawsuit where the plaintiffs had sought to strike down a state law that serves as a de facto poll tax by requiring people with felony convictions who have served their sentences to also pay off any court fines and fees before regaining the right to vote. The plaintiffs say they are considering whether to appeal.

Minnesota: The ACLU is now asking a state appellate court to overturn a lower court's dismissal last August of their lawsuit that sought to strike down Minnesota's ban on voting for people serving out parole or probation for a felony conviction. If the effort succeeds, only people who are currently incarcerated would remain unable to vote.

Tennessee: Voting rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to simplify Tennessee's cumbersome process for people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences to regain their voting rights. Plaintiffs in particular object to the GOP's de facto poll tax requirement that requires affected individuals to first pay off all court fines and fees, which they argue violates state law.

Redistricting and Reapportionment

Illinois: Democratic legislators have passed a bill in both chambers that will end the practice of "prison gerrymandering" for state legislative redistricting, sending it to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The bill would count incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last known address instead of where they are imprisoned.

Iowa: The liberal blog Bleeding Heartland reports that top-ranking GOP state legislators won't rule out using their power to implement gerrymanders by amending the maps submitted to lawmakers by Iowa's nonpartisan redistricting agency. Republicans are in a position to do so because they hold unified control of state government in a redistricting year for the first time since the 1980s, when the nonpartisan agency first came into place.

Maryland: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order to create an advisory commission that will propose new congressional and legislative maps for the upcoming round of redistricting. The nine commissioners will include three Democrats, three Republicans, and three independents, three of whom will be chosen by Hogan while the other six will be ordinary citizens who can apply here.

Hogan has the power to submit legislative maps to the Democratic-run legislature at the start of the legislative session, but if Democrats pass their own maps within 45 days, Hogan can't veto them. The commission's congressional map, meanwhile, would be strictly advisory in nature. While Hogan could veto new congressional districts, Democrats have the numbers to override him. The commission's proposal could nevertheless influence a court in the event of litigation.

New York: In addition to the voting access measures in our New York item above, Senate Democrats also passed a third constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Democrats to gerrymander new maps next year by lowering the threshold for overriding the state's new bipartisan redistricting commission from a two-thirds supermajority to just three-fifths. Democrats already passed this amendment in 2020, and it would also appear on the November ballot if Assembly Democrats again follow suit. However, it's possible that the lowered threshold won't even matter for the upcoming round of redistricting, since Senate Democrats gained a two-thirds supermajority in November.

The amendment also includes some nonpartisan redistricting reforms, including enshrining in the constitution an existing statutory ban on "prison gerrymandering"; freezing the number of state senators at 63; sharply limiting how cities can be split among Senate districts to prevent a repeated of the anti-urban gerrymandering that occurred when the GOP drew the lines after 2010; and authorizing state to conduct its own census if the federal count is tainted.

Pennsylvania: State House Republicans have passed a constitutional amendment out of committee by a single vote that would effectively gerrymander the state Supreme Court and Pennsylvania's two intermediate appellate courts by ending statewide judicial elections and replacing them with elections based on districts that GOP legislators would draw.

This move comes as retaliation for the state Supreme Court's Democratic majority striking down the GOP's congressional gerrymander in 2018 and protecting voting rights in 2020. Republicans could place it on the May primary ballot if it passes in both chambers for the second required time after the GOP approved the amendment in 2020.

2020 Census: The Trump administration has confirmed in federal court amid ongoing litigation that it will not release key data needed for Donald Trump to implement his attempt to unconstitutionally remove undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census population counts that will be used to reapportion congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states. The Census Bureau said that it had in fact stopped work on producing those counts altogether.

Instead, the bureau won't compile that data until at least after Biden is sworn in, meaning the incoming president will have a chance to reverse Trump's memo ordering its production and release. The U.S. Supreme Court in December had overturned one of the three lower federal court rulings that had blocked Trump's executive memo, holding that it wasn't yet ripe for adjudication, but the delays will likely moot that litigation.

In addition to the postponed release of reapportionment data, the more granular data needed to conduct actual redistricting itself will likely be delayed past the existing March 31 deadline set by federal law. That could in turn cause several states to delay or even entirely postpone redistricting for elections taking place this year. Some states, however, have deadlines for redistricting written into their constitutions, meaning that late-arriving data could cause unpredictable legal havoc.

Electoral College

Electoral College: Republicans in three key states have proposed altering how their states allocate Electoral College votes in different ways that would have each given Donald Trump more electoral votes in 2020. It's unclear whether these plans have widespread GOP support, and two of them face long odds of passage, but they're by no means the first time that Republicans have floated efforts to manipulate the Electoral College for short-term partisan advantage, and they raise the specter that the GOP will one day go through with it.

In Michigan, GOP Congressman Bill Huizenga called for switching his state from winner-take-all to allocating electoral votes by congressional district, which of course happens to be gerrymandered by the GOP in a way that would have resulted in an 8-8 split in 2020 despite Joe Biden winning the state (Michigan Democrats in fact did this very same scheme way back in the 1892 election cycle). Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could veto such a proposal if the GOP actually tries to pass it, but she faces a potentially competitive re-election contest in 2022 that could leave the GOP with full control of the state heading into the 2024 presidential election.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Gary Tauchen went further and actually introduced a bill that would similarly assign electoral votes by congressional districts that were gerrymandered by Republicans, a bill that would have given Trump a 6-4 majority in November even though Biden carried the state. As in Michigan, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers could veto the bill if the GOP were to make a serious push to pass it, but he could also be defeated next year, leaving Republicans with unfettered power.

Lastly, Republican state Sen. Julie Slama introduced a bill that would move Nebraska in the opposite direction by abolishing the allocation of electoral votes by congressional district after Joe Biden won the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District and its lone electoral vote. Unlike in the other two states, Republicans already have full control over state government, but they narrowly lack a filibuster-proof two-thirds supermajority. However, the GOP could eliminate the filibuster rule with a simple majority.

These schemes may or may not work as intended and could even backfire on Republicans in the long term, especially if Wisconsin and Michigan one day turn reliably red. However, these proposals are all motivated solely by partisan self-interest rather than any good-faith concerns about the fairness of the Electoral College.

This is in fact the third straight election to which Republicans have reacted by putting forth plans to tilt the Electoral College in their favor, even though they benefited more from its skew in both 2016 and 2020 than in any elections in a century, according to one analysis.

Two-thirds of Republicans in the U.S. House and several in the Senate unsuccessfully voted last week to overturn Biden's Electoral College victory and steal the 2020 election for Trump mere hours after far-right insurrectionists incited by Trump ransacked the Capitol building itself. That followed an unsuccessful effort by Trump and his allies to agitate for disenfranchising countless voters by asking state legislatures to reject Biden's win and use their gerrymandered majorities to directly install a slate of Trump electors instead.

If the GOP entirely gives up on trying to win the popular vote and instead focuses exclusively on translating its minority support into an Electoral College majority, it's likely only a matter of time before Republicans successfully overturn a Democratic presidential victory, whether through a vote in Congress or state-level schemes to manipulate electoral vote allocation even when Democrats win the popular vote. Doing so risks sparking a far worse crisis than the one America has been living through this past month.

Electoral Reform

Alaska: The Alaska Independence Party, a right-wing fringe party that advocates for the state to secede from the union, filed a lawsuit in state court last month seeking to overturn a statute enacted by voters at the ballot box in 2020 that replaces traditional party primaries with a "top-four" primary and instant-runoff general election. Republicans are considering whether to join the legal challenge.

New York City, NY: A state court rejected issuing a temporary restraining order last month that would have blocked the use of instant-runoff voting ahead of an upcoming City Council special election after opponents of the new law, approved in 2019, filed a lawsuit in early December. The plaintiffs have announced that they will appeal, arguing that the law will lead to confusion that disenfranchises voters in communities of color unless changes are made, a charge that other candidates of color dispute.

Elections

Pennsylvania: Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster was finally seated by the Pennsylvania Senate's Republican majority after federal District Judge Nicholas Ranjan, a Trump appointee, upheld Brewster's narrow victory last year. Republicans sparked outrage after they had refused to let Brewster take the oath of office for another term even though election officials had certified his victory and the state Supreme Court had upheld it. GOP lawmakers even ejected Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from presiding over the chamber after he had objected to their power grab.

Republicans rejected the legitimacy of several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on the outer envelope, even though the Supreme Court said they were otherwise valid and should be counted. Mail ballots favored Democrats by a lopsided margin thanks to Trump's demagoguery against mail voting, even though it was Republican lawmakers who pushed for a state law that, among other things, removed the excuse requirement to vote by mail in 2019.

This ordeal is an example of state-level Republicans following the lead of Trump and their congressional counterparts in trying to reject the outcome of elections after they've lost. Particularly worrisome for the rule of law is that the GOP refused to abide by the decisions of Democratic state Supreme Court justices and election officials and only capitulated after a Trump-appointed judge rejected their ploy.

A Democratic wave pickup of 10 Senate seats is a real possibility

Early in the cycle, the big question was wether Democrats could pick up the net-four seats they needed to get control of the U.S. Senate (assuming they won the presidency, and the tie-breaking vote). It was a tall order, given that only one top pickup opportunity (Colorado) was in a 2016 blue state. But Donald Trump’s disastrous and deadly presidency hasn’t just crushed his own reelection chances, but is now threatening Republican Senate seats no one would’ve ever thought would be at risk, even in some solidly red states. 

Welcome to my inaugural ranking of Senate races, by most likely to flip. 

TIER ONE (expected to switch)

1. AlabamaDoug Jones (D)

Our two-year Democratic rental, thanks to a narrowly won special election against a child predator, should come to an end this November as Alabama’s strong Republican lean and a run-of-the-mill Republican challenger ends Jones’ term. No regrets. It was great while it lasted. 

2. Colorado, Cory Gardner (R)

Joe Biden will win Colorado by double-digits. There’s no way Gardner overcomes that margin, and especially not against former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who remained popular throughout his two terms in office. In fact, Gardner has acted as someone vying for a spot on a second Trump term, reliably defending his president during the impeachment proceedings, rather than a blue-state senator trying to differentiate himself from the top of the ticket. 

3. Arizona, Marth McSally (R)

McSally narrowly lost in the Democratic wave in 2018, and since appointed to fill Sen. John McCain’s seat after his death, she is headed toward another defeat at the hands of Democrat Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband to former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords. Polling is showing both Biden and Kelly pulling away, in a state in which resurgent Latino voters and suburban white women are heavily engaging. 

4. North Carolina, Thom Tillis (R) 

Democratic Iraq and Afghanistan war vet Cal Cunningham has proven a surprisingly strong challenger to first-term Republican Thom Tillis, handily leading him in all recent polling. It’s not even looking close, in a state in which Biden has also led (albeit more narrowly). Tillis runs weakly against Republicans, who see him as a traitor to Trump’s cause. And the double-whammy of Trump losing the state, and Tillis losing Trump voters, looks too much to overcome. 

5. Maine, Susan Collins (R)

Collins survived decades as a Republican in blue Maine by pretending to be a “moderate” independent-minded legislator. The Trump years have torn that facade away, as she’s sided with the wannabe despot in both his Supreme Court nominations, and in voting to acquit him during the impeachment proceedings. Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, is leading in all recent polling, and would be the first woman of color (Indian American) elected in Maine. 

These five races would net Democrats the +3 seats they need for a 50-50 Senate, with Biden’s vice-president casting the tie-breaking vote. But what a nightmare that would be, right? We’d have the nominal majority, but well-short of the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and without the Democratic votes needs to eliminate that stupid filibuster. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has already declared he’d vote against any such efforts. So it is imperative that Democrats pad their majority in order to have the votes to get rid of the filibuster and push through critical legislation like statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (if its residents vote for it), voting right protections, economic stimulus, police reforms, measures to address climate change, and other Democratic priorities. 

TIER TWO (toss-ups)  

6. Montana, Steve Daines (R)

How can Democrats be competitive in a state which Trump won by over 20 points? First, convince popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to run, then watch Trump’s numbers collapse to the point that Biden is actually competitive. Recent polling in this hard-to-poll state show Republicans with the narrow edge, but it’s narrow. 

7. Iowa, Joni Ernst (R) 

This wasn’t a state that was supposed to be competitive, with Trump winning by nine points in 2016. Yet Trump disastrous trade wars decimated Iowa farmers, and the coronavirus pandemic has only added to anti-GOP sentiment. So this state of rural non-college whites—the core base of the modern Republican Party—is suddenly flirting with voting Democratic. Most recent polling shows Trump leading by a hair, the same as Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. 

8. Georgia, Kelly Loeffler (R)

Georgia has a racist Jim Crow-era election system, in which candidates require 50% in the first round, otherwise the race moves to a January runoff. This is a special election, thus features a “jungle primary” in which all candidates, of all parties, run on the same ballot. If none reaches 50% (and none will), this gets decided January next year. Democrats are running several candidates, and would be best served if they rallied around Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Dr. Rev, Martin Luther King preached). 

While Democrats have traditionally suffered turnout woes during the runoff elections, I doubt that’ll be an issue this cycle. January will be HOT in Georgia. 

9. Georgia, David Perdue (R)

Same as above, except that there’s no jungle primary. Democrats nominated Jon Ossoff to take on the incumbent. Polling has been mixed in this race, with some showing a tied race, and others showing Perdue close to 50%. But at the same time, almost all polling is showing a competitive presidential contest. If Biden can extend his lead in this coronavirus-stricken state, he could very well pull Democrats across the line with him, at least into January runoffs where defeated and demoralized Republicans might just sit things out. 

TIER THREE (lean Republican)

These solidly Republican states shouldn’t be competitive at the Senate level, yet amazingly, they are! 

10. Kansas, Open (R)

The conventional wisdom is that if Republican nominate crazed right-winger Kris Kobach, that this seat in this +20 2016 Trump state becomes far more competitive in November. That would make sense, since Kobach cost Republicans the governorship in 2018. Our own Civiqs polling, actually, found Democrat Barbara Bollier competitive no matter who Republicans nominate. A tough state, for sure but Kansas is one of the few remaining Republican states with high educational attainment (the other being Utah). Given the nation’s partisan stratification based on college education, we can expect Biden to narrow the gap from 2016, improving Bollier’s chances down the ballot. And if Republicans nominate Kobach? That can’t hurt, either. 

11. Alaska, Dan Sullivan (R)

Alaska is competitive at the presidential level (more here), despite the fact that Trump won it by 15 in 2016. No polling has shown the Senate race competitive, but that’s because 1) there is no Democratic nominee—an independent is filling that slot, and 2) that nominee, Al Gross, has a name ID of about zero percent. Gross is now up in the air, and that should boost that name ID in this cheap state. Also, Democrats will now learn that he is their guy, and will answer accordingly the next time they’re polled. 

Without strength at the presidential level, this seat isn’t in play, but Alaska has been trending Democratic for several cycles now, and this year may be the year when that vast swath of land is painted in glorious blue. 

12. South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R)

Pinch me I must be dreaming. Infamous Trump bootlicker Lindsey is vulnerable? Yes. Yes he is. The polling has shown the state tightening at the presidential level, and the pandemic is hitting South Carolina hard, further weakening the state’s dominant Republican Party. Democrats have an awesome candidate in Jaime Harrison. His problem has been that while he’s running even with Graham, most undecideds in the race are conservative voters. It’s a tough hill to overcome. But this is happening: 

Every point Trump falls is a point that could cost him in the presidential election, and every point that presidential race narrows is one point less Harrison needs to overcome to win the Senate seat. The play here isn’t for Biden to win, he doesn’t need South Carolina (as nice as it would be!). We need it close enough to give ourselves a chance down ballot. 

This is a long-shot, by all means, but it’s a real shot. And Harrison has raised record amounts of cash and has the resources to wage a real campaign in this final three-month sprint to Election Day.  

13. Texas, John Cornyn (R)

The big question in Texas is whether it is competitive at the presidential level or not. It’s clear where the state is trending, and no doubt in a cycle or two it will be legitimately purple. But polling is mixed on whether this is the year. And that will inform whether the Senate race is flippable. On its merits, Cornyn should be cruising to reelection. He has none of the baggage Sen. Ted Cruz had in 2018, where he held on to his seat by just 2% of the vote. But if Texas Democrats can get the state’s chronically underperforming Latino vote to activate, then all bets are off—at both the presidential and senate levels. 

CONCLUSION

Of the 13 Senate seats currently in play, 12 of them are held by Republicans. The odds of Democrats picking up 10 or 11 seats are currently low, but the trends just keep getting worse and worse for the GOP. The toll of the pandemic isn’t just worsening nationwide, it’s currently disproportionately affecting some of the very states discussed above, like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Meanwhile, Trump is doing nothing to reverse his precipitous collapse in his national standing, while also refusing to allow Republicans to distance themselves from him. 

So can we get to a double-digit pickup in the Senate? Not today, we wouldn’t, but Republicans still have three months to fall.