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

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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.

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

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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.

He’s a monster. He’s their monster. But suddenly Senate Republicans have never heard of him

Donald who, now? Oh yeah—that crazy loon. Cut him from my ad rotation months ago.

That's what nearly every Senate Republican in a dogfight for their seat could say right now when it comes to Donald Trump, the president they all coddled and refused to criticize and even acquitted of impeachment charges without hearing from a single witness.

Let’s give Senate Republicans the heave-ho! They sold out the American people—give $2 right now to take back the Senate.

In seven states where incumbent GOP senators are either trailing their Democratic opponent or running neck and neck, the Republican senator has failed to give Trump so much as a mention in any single TV ad over the past week, according to The New York Times. That's 48 ads across Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and zero Trump mentions.

It's almost like they're embarrassed or something about the guy to whom they handed their spines after they had them surgically removed. And whether they say it or not, almost all of them are trying to overcome the deficit of voting to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without any viable path to maintaining preexisting conditions coverage. Here's a brief look at what these Senate Republicans are throwing at voters in hopes of Trump mercifully fading from memory. Ha! As if—we could all do with a few less ALL CAPS tweets. Oh, and much of what these GOP senators are selling are bold-faced lies.

Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona: The ad her campaign has run most consistently claims she has “always supported protecting anyone with a pre-existing condition, and I always will.” Lie. As the Times points out, "The only national law that protects people with pre-existing conditions is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Ms. McSally voted to repeal it." Lie away, McSally—the jig is likely up for you.

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana: Daines is almost identically claiming that he has “always fought to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions, and I always will.” Lie. Daines also voted to repeal the ACA without providing any alternative plan to protect people with preexisting conditions. Yet he says Gov. Steve Bullock is unfairly attacking that vote. Truly, these people have no conscience whatsoever—first voting to strip the protections, then flat-out lying about it after the fact. For that very reason, Bullock does have a chance of unseating Daines if Democrats have a big night on Election Day.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: Tillis is hoping a texting scandal that has beset his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham can salvage his ailing bid for reelection. He has leaned most heavily on an ad that edits together press reports concerning Cunningham's flirtatious texts with a woman who isn't his wife. The best that can be said for Tillis, who was getting trounced due to his wanting record on the pandemic, is that he didn't lie through his teeth about his record like Daines and McSally. Cunningham, however, has maintained his lead in recent polling.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: Gardner also hopes to capitalize on a misstep by his Democratic opponent John Hickenlooper, who skirted ethics laws by his use of a private jet and some other perks. Gardner personally recounts those reports in an ad that closes with, “You and I may not always agree, but you know I honestly work hard for Colorado.” Except for his votes to repeal the ACA, cut taxes for the wealthy and giant corporations, and clear Trump after he tried to steal the election with help from a foreign government. The polls still heavily favor Hickenlooper, the former governor of the state.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: Graham, who is getting absolutely crushed in fundraising, is slamming his Democratic opponent Jamie Harrison for being "too liberal" in ads heavily studded with appearances by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But it’s telling that Graham, who has become Trump’s chief bootlicker, isn’t playing up the alliance he very actively cultivated with Trump. Polls have shown Harrison in striking distance of unseating Graham in what has traditionally been a very conservative state.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa: Ernst is featuring an ad in which a supposedly former Democrat rants about "the radical left," says he wants "nothing to do with [Democrats] anymore," and claims Democrat Theresa Greenfield is a pawn of the left. Ernst is also trying to paper over her vote to repeal the ACA and kill preexisting conditions coverage with an ad in which Ernst's sister, who has diabetes, talks up Ernst's loyal support for her. The race has been tight, but Greenfield appears to have built a several-point edge

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine: Collins is leveraging the reputation of a retired TV personality, Bill Green, to account for her record of consistently enabling Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the state. Green calls attacks against Collins a "ridiculous smear campaign" and then encourages voters to split their ticket. “No matter who you are voting for for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine," says Green, who recently hung up the reins after a 47-year career as a broadcast journalist in the state. Democrat Sara Gideon has been maintaining a several-point edge in the state and appears poised to capitalize on Trump's unpopularity there.

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. 

Voting Rights Roundup: Trump order to remove noncitizens from key census data sparks lawsuits

Leading Off

2020 Census: Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday directing the census to exclude undocumented immigrants from the data that determines how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will get following the 2020 census.

Within days, civil rights advocates and Democratic officials filed separate federal lawsuits arguing both that Trump's order violates the Constitution because the 14th Amendment mandates counting the "whole number of persons" for reapportionment and that it intentionally discriminates against Latinos.

This order comes after Trump's failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census last year, a move that documents showed was motivated because GOP operatives believed it would be "advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites" in redistricting.

Campaign Action

​While that effort imploded, Republicans still aim to let states such as Texas draw districts based strictly on the adult citizen population instead of the more diverse traditional total population, which would shift representation away from Democrats and Latinos in states with large immigrant populations. To that end, Trump issued a separate executive order last year directing the Census Bureau to match existing administrative records with 2020 census responses in order to determine citizenship status, a step that prompted litigation of its own.

But while the Supreme Court could ultimately allow the use of citizenship data for redistricting, it's unlikely to do so for reapportionment: A unanimous 2016 ruling saw even arch-conservative Justice Samuel Alito acknowledge that the 14th Amendment required using the total population for reapportionment purposes. But even if the justices did overturn hundreds of years of precedent, excluding undocumented immigrants from reapportionment would likely have a far smaller partisan impact nationally than citizen-based redistricting would within states such as Texas.

However, Trump's continued push for this change shows that the GOP will not give up in its fight to exclude noncitizens from redistricting and representation, and further litigation is certain. Additionally, Trump asked Congress for $1 billion in the next pandemic spending bill to ensure a "timely census," which suggests Trump is backing away from a potential delay in the deadlines by which the administration must deliver apportionment and redistricting data to the states.

The Census Bureau has previously said it didn't expect to be able to meet its year-end deadline to give the White House its reapportionment data, or the March 31, 2021 deadline for sending redistricting data to the states. Any such delays mean that Joe Biden could block the release of citizenship data if he defeats Trump and takes office on Jan. 20. However, if the first batch of census data is released on time, that would mean Trump would still be in office, meaning opponents would have to rely on court challenges to block him.

Voter Registration and Voting Access

Deaths: Following the death of Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the nation's most prominent supporters of voting rights both during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and his long career in Congress, Senate Democrats introduced a bill named in Lewis' honor to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, a bill that House Democrats already passed last year.

Should the bill become law, it would be a fitting way to enshrine Lewis' legacy in public life. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer aptly called Lewis “an American Founder” for his role in creating the modern American republic, which was no less than radically transformed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These two landmark pieces of legislation ended the authoritarian one-party oligarchy that existed in the South under Jim Crow and finally established America as a liberal democracy nationwide—almost 200 years after the country's founding.

Lewis was one the leading figures in the civil rights movement for Black Americans from an early age. When he was just 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. Two years later, he marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. There, law enforcement reacted to the peaceful protest by brutally attacking the marchers and beat Lewis nearly to death, fracturing his skull. But even real and repeatedly threatened violence did not deter his activism.

The events in Selma became known as Bloody Sunday, and TV news audiences around the country were so shocked by images of police brutality against the marchers that it galvanized the ultimately successful effort to pass the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Civil rights leaders like Lewis and King deemed the Voting Rights Act the most important achievement of their movement because it protected the right that helped secure all the others that they were fighting for.

Lewis' career of activism for the cause of civil rights did not end with the 1960s, nor did his role as a protest figure end with his election to Congress in the 1980s: Even in his final decade, he led a sit-in on the House floor to protest the GOP's refusal to pass gun safety measures after a horrific mass shooting in Orlando left 49 dead and 53 wounded in 2016. Lewis would steadfastly make the case that the struggle for civil rights was an unending one, and his leadership inspired countless people who came after him. You can read more about Lewis' lifetime of activism in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution.

New York: Both chambers of New York's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill to enact automatic voter registration, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his likely signature. Senate Democrats had approved similar measures both this year and last, but Assembly Democrats refused to sign off until changes were made.

Part of the compromise between the chambers means the law wouldn't go into effect until 2023. However, automatic registration would involve a number of state agencies beyond just the DMV, which is critical since New York has one of the lowest proportions of residents who drive of any state.

Separately, Senate Democrats also passed a constitutional amendment that would let 17-year-olds vote in primaries if they will turn 18 by the general election, a policy that many other states have already adopted. The amendment would have to pass both chambers before and after the 2020 elections before needing the approval of voters in a referendum.

Felony Disenfranchisement

District of Columbia: Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill into law that immediately restores voting rights for several thousand citizens and will require officials to provide incarcerated citizens with registration forms and absentee ballots starting next year. However, because the bill was passed as emergency legislation, it must be reauthorized after 90 days, though Council members plan to make it permanent soon.

With this law's passage, D.C. becomes only the third jurisdiction in the country after Maine and Vermont to maintain the right to vote for incarcerated citizens. It is also the first place to do so with a large community of color: The District is 46% African American, and more than 90% of D.C. residents currently disenfranchised are Black.

Voter Suppression

Alabama: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 to uphold a lower court ruling dismissing the NAACP's challenge to Alabama Republicans' voter ID law. The two judges in the majority, who were both appointed by Republicans, ruled that "no reasonable factfinder could find that Alabama’s voter ID law is unconstitutionally discriminatory," even though Judge Darrin Gayles, an Obama appointee, noted in dissent that one white GOP lawmaker who supported passing the law said that the lack of an ID requirement was "very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats."

Republicans passed this law in 2011 to require a photo voter ID in nearly all circumstances, with the only exception being if two election officials sign an affidavit that they know the voter. However, the law didn't go into effect until 2014, after the Supreme Court's conservative majority gutted a key protection of the Voting Rights Act that had required states such as Alabama with a history of discriminatory voting laws to "pre-clear" all changes to voting laws and procedures with the Justice Department before implementing them.

The plaintiffs sued in 2015 by arguing that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and Constitution and presented evidence that Black voters were less likely to possess acceptable forms of ID than white voters. That year, Republicans sparked a backlash by trying to close 31 of the state's 75 driver's licensing offices, which subsequent reporting revealed was an effort by GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, who later resigned in disgrace, to pressure his legislative opponents, but Republicans ultimately reversed course amid litigation.

Election expert Rick Hasen called this latest decision "very troubling" because it ruled unequivocally for GOP officials without letting the case proceed to trial, despite the plaintiffs' evidence of both the intent and effect of racial discrimination against Black voters. The plaintiffs could seek to request that all judges on the 11th Circuit reconsider the ruling, or they could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. However, with Republican appointees holding majorities on both courts, their chance of success appears small.

Michigan: A panel of three judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 along ideological lines to uphold Republican-backed voting restrictions that Democrats were challenging. The ruling maintains a limitation on what counts as proof of residency for voter registration. It also rejects Democrats' demand that the state start automatically pre-registering all citizens under age 18 who conduct business with the state's driver's licensing agency so that they will be automatically added to the rolls when they turn 18. Currently, only citizens aged 17-and-a-half or older are automatically registered.

Democrats have not yet indicated whether they will appeal to Michigan's Supreme Court. The high court has a 4-3 Republican majority, though one of the GOP justices has been a swing vote when similar issues have come before the court.

Tennessee: Voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court to require Tennessee officials to comply with a 1981 law that restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony in another state if they have had their rights restored in that state. The plaintiffs argue that the state's Republican-run government has failed to educate affected voters of the ability to regain their rights. They also charge that the state is requiring the payment of any legal fines or fees, even though such repayment isn't required under the law.

Texas: A federal district court has rejected a Republican motion to dismiss a Democratic-backed lawsuit seeking to require that Texas allow voters to register online via a third-party website. The case concerns the website Vote.org, which allows applicants to fill out a registration form and then (on its end) automatically prints it and mails it to local election officials. However, the GOP-run secretary of state's office rejected thousands of such applications shortly before the registration deadline in 2018 on the grounds that the signatures were transmitted electronically rather than signed with pen on paper.

Democrats argue that these rejections violate both state and federal law. They note that the secretary of state already allows electronic signatures if they're part of applications when voters register in-person through the state's driver's licensing agency. Texas Republicans have long resisted online registration, making it one of just a handful of states that doesn't offer it to most voters. As a result, the Lone Star State is home to a majority of the Americans who live in states without full online registration.

Electoral Reform

Massachusetts: Massachusetts officials have approved an initiative for the November ballot that would enact a statute implementing instant-runoff voting in elections for Congress and state office. It would also apply to a limited number of local contests such as countywide posts for district attorney and sheriff, but not those at the municipal level, which is the primary unit of local government in New England. If adopted, the new system would come into effect in time for the 2022 elections and would make Massachusetts the second state after Maine to adopt this reform.

Redistricting

New York: Democratic legislators in New York swiftly passed a constitutional amendment with little debate that would increase the likelihood that they could exercise full control over redistricting after 2020 and gerrymander the state's congressional and legislative maps. However, the amendment's provisions are more complicated than an attempt to just seek partisan advantage, and it still has a ways to go before becoming law.

New York has a bipartisan redistricting commission that proposes maps to legislators for their approval. Legislative leaders from both parties choose the members, and the 2014 amendment that enshrined it in the state constitution requires two-thirds supermajorities for legislators to disregard the commission's proposals and enact their own if one party controls both legislative chambers, as Democrats currently do. The biggest partisan impact this new amendment would have involves lowering that threshold to three-fifths.

Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly but currently lack that in the state Senate. However, they exceed three-fifths in the upper chamber, meaning they would gain control over redistricting if the amendment were law today. However, there's a good chance the lowered threshold would be irrelevant for the next round of redistricting.

That's because Democrats have a strong opportunity to gain a Senate supermajority in November, thanks to a large number of Republican retirements in swing districts and an overall political climate that favors Democrats. Still, lowering the supermajority requirement to three-fifths could still prove decisive in the future, especially if Democrats fall short of their hopes this fall, so it's therefore fair to describe the move as an attempt by Democrats to gain greater control over redistricting.

Nevertheless, several other provisions in this amendment promote nonpartisan goals that would strengthen redistricting protections regardless of who draws the lines, complicating the case for whether or not New York would be better off in the short term if the amendment were to become law. Most importantly, the amendment would let New York conduct its own census for redistricting purposes if the federal census does not count undocumented immigrants, as Trump has ordered.

It also enshrines an existing statute that bans prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last address instead of in prisons that are largely located in whiter rural upstate communities, restoring representation to urban communities of color. In addition, it freezes the number of senators at the current 63; in the past, lawmakers have expanded the size of the body in an attempt to gain a partisan advantage. Finally, it sharply limits the splitting of cities between Senate districts, something the GOP used extensively in their successful bid to win power (supported by several renegade Democrats) after the last round of redistricting.

Democrats would need to pass this same amendment again in 2021 before putting it on the ballot as a referendum that year, meaning it could pass without GOP support, but it would still require voter approval. If enacted, it would immediately take effect.

North Carolina: Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill passed almost unanimously by North Carolina's Republican legislature to undo one of the GOP's many gerrymandering schemes, specifically one involving gerrymandering along racial lines in district court elections in Mecklenburg County. The GOP's about-face came as Republicans were facing a near-certain loss in state court for infringing on Black voters' rights in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Mecklenburg County is a Democratic stronghold that's home to Charlotte and more than one million residents. In 2018, Republican lawmakers changed Mecklenburg's procedures for judicial elections from a countywide system to one in which the county is split into separate judicial districts, even though all of the elected judges still retain countywide jurisdiction. The GOP's 2018 law gerrymandered the districts in an attempt to elect more white Republicans in place of multiple Black Democratic incumbents—precisely what came to pass that November.

Republicans had already agreed to revert back to countywide elections for 2020 while their case proceeded, but the lawsuit is moot now that Republicans have repealed the law in question. This GOP defeat means Republican legislators this past decade have lost lawsuits over their gerrymandering once or even multiple times at virtually every level of government in North Carolina, including for Congress, state legislature, county commission, city council, local school board, and, as here, judicial districts.

Ballot Access

West Virginia: A federal district court has denied the GOP's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit in which Democrats are challenging a law that gives the party that won the last presidential election in the state—which has voted Republican in every race since 2000—the top spot on the ballot in every partisan contest. Barring a settlement, the case will now proceed to trial, which was previously set for July 27.

The plaintiffs argue that this system violates the First and 14th Amendments because candidates listed first can enjoy a boost in support that can prove decisive in close elections, particularly in downballot races where voters have much less information about the candidates than they do for the top of the ticket.

Court Cases

Maine: Maine Republicans have filed yet another lawsuit in federal court arguing that instant-runoff voting violates the U.S. Constitution and should be blocked in November, when it will be used in all federal races. Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap recently determined that Republicans were roughly 2,000 voter signatures shy of the 63,000 signatures needed to put a veto referendum on the ballot in November that would suspend the use of IRV for the Electoral College until voters weigh in, but the GOP will separately challenge his decision in state court.

The federal suit is just the latest in the GOP's long running campaign against IRV after voters approved it in a 2016 ballot initiative for state and congressional races (a state court later blocked it for state-level general elections). However, they may not have much more success than former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin did when he argued that IRV was unconstitutional after he lost the 2018 election to Democratic Rep. Jared Golden once all instant-runoff calculations were completed. In that case, a federal court thoroughly rejected Poliquin's arguments that IRV violated voters' First and 14th Amendment rights.

ELECTION CHANGES

Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.

Arkansas: A panel of three GOP-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously overturned a district court ruling that made it easier for redistricting reformers to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. The lower court's ruling, which the 8th Circuit had already temporarily blocked while the appeal proceeded, had suspended a requirement that voter petition signatures be witnessed in-person, enabling supporters to sign the forms at home and mail them in.

Republican Secretary of State John Thurston had recently thrown out all signatures gathered for the redistricting reform initiative and a separate initiative to adopt a variant of instant-runoff voting, and initiative supporters are separately challenging that decision in state court. Organizers have not announced whether they will appeal this latest federal court ruling.

New Hampshire: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a law passed by New Hampshire's Democratic-run legislature that will allow voters to use a single application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Board of Elections has issued a rule that every county this fall must have at least one early voting location for every 20,000 registered voters and that smaller counties only operating one location must provide for a backup location and extra staff as a precaution.

Oregon: A panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit Circuit Court of appeals has ruled 2-1 against Democratic officials' request to block a lower court ruling that resulted in officials having to lower the number of signatures and extend the deadline to collect them for a ballot initiative to establish an independent redistricting commission. It's possible that the Supreme Court could block the district court's ruling if Oregon Democrats appeal, but they have yet to indicate whether they will do so.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to effectively short-circuit a federal lawsuit that the Trump campaign and several GOP Congress members recently filed to restrict voting access, which the federal district court recently agreed to expedite.

Democrats are asking the appellate-level Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to guarantee that counties can set up drop boxes for returning mail ballots; count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward; give voters a chance to fix problems with mail ballot signatures; count mail ballots lacking an inner secrecy envelope; and prohibit voters from serving as poll watchers in a county where they aren't a resident. The GOP's federal lawsuit is trying to block drop boxes and allow out-of-county poll watchers, which is likely intended to facilitate voter intimidation.

Rhode Island: Voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Rhode Island's requirement that mail voters have their ballots signed by two witnesses or a notary, something that very few other states require. The plaintiffs argue that this requirement violates the Constitution during the pandemic, and they're asking the court to waive it for the Sept. 1 primary and November general election.

Tennessee: A federal district court judge has sided against civil right groups seeking to ease access to absentee voting ahead of the state's Aug. 6 primary, ruling that the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their challenge, but the court allowed the case to proceed for November. The plaintiffs wanted the court to require that voters be notified and given a chance to correct any problems with their mail ballots and also allow third-party groups to collect and submit absentee ballots on behalf of voters.

Texas: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with state Democrats' request to expedite consideration of the GOP's appeal of a lower court ruling that had ordered that all voters be allowed to vote absentee without needing an excuse instead of only voters aged 65 and up. The expedited timeline means there's a chance of a resolution in time for November.

Democrats will win the Senate (only question is by how much)

No one should count their chickens before they hatch. This is not what I’m doing. What I’m saying is that if we keep doing what we’re doing, and that guy cowering in the bunker in the White House keeps doing what he’s doing, and Senate Republicans keep carrying water for the guy in the bunker … then yeah, Democrats will pick up the Senate. And I’m not going out on a limb in saying so. 

The big picture: Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Trump is going to lose. Therefore, Democrats need to pick up a net three seats to get to 50 seats, with the vice presidential tiebreaker putting the chamber in Democratic hands. 

We are probably going to lose the Senate seat in Alabama. That was a temporary gift won in a special election against a child molester. And we still barely won. In a normal year, against a normal Republican, with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket? If Democratic Sen. Doug Jones wins reelection, we’ve got a 60-seat majority landslide. So we assume he loses. 

The Daily Kos Elections crew just moved Arizona into “lean Democratic,” but that is probably still too kind.  

McSally (R) Kelly (D) Fox News (5/30-6/2) Highground (5/18-5/22) OH Predictive Insights (5/9-11)
37 50
41 51
38 51

Appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally already lost in 2018, and the whole state of Arizona seems to be moving strongly against Republicans. In that Fox News poll, Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden is leading 46-42. 

In Colorado, no one is pretending that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has any chance. Even he realizes it—he spent his impeachment time aggressively defending Trump in a state in which Trump will lose by double digits. And so will Gardner. Two polls in early March had former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper leading by 17 and 18 points. No one has wasted time polling there ever since. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins saw her “moderate” veneer shorn off after voting both to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial, and voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. A poll last month had Democratic candidate Sarah Gideon with a 51-42 lead. The race has been underpolled, but Collins ranks amongst the most unpopular senators in the country in a state that will solidly go blue this fall. She can’t count on ticket splitters anymore. 

And in North Carolina, incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis is looking weak, weak, weak:

Tillis (R) Cunningham (D) PPP (6/2-3) Meeting Street Insights (5/9-13) Civiqs (5/2-4) Meredith College (4/27-28)
41 43
44 46
41 50
34 44

Any incumbent below 45% is generally considered to be toast. People are looking for an alternative. 

Losing Alabama but winning Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina gets us to a 50-50 Senate. At this stage of the cycle, given current trends, this is the most likely outcome. 

TIER TWO RACES

These are races in which Republicans currently have the edge, but are in play. 

Georgia has two Senate seats in play: a regular election and a special one. The only recent polling is courtesy of Civiqs, which found both Senate seats effectively tied. The reason the GOP has the edge is that Georgia has a Jim Crow-era law that requires candidates to win with 50% of the vote. If none get it in November, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff election in January. 

Historically, the GOP has done much better in those runoff elections. I suspect this time will be different, but gut feelings don’t trump history. This is a true tossup for both seats. 

Montana pits an incumbent Republicans against the current popular Democratic governor. Montana is notoriously difficult to poll, but the only one to try recently—a sketchy-looking Montana State University effort—had Democrat Steve Bullock ahead 46-39. Trump will win the state, so we’re relying on ticket splitters to carry the day. Luckily, 1) Montana has a long history of split tickets—it currently has a Democratic governor and Democratic U.S. Senator despite being solidly red at the presidential level, and 2) Trump’s approvals in Montana have been in a steady decline over the last 12 months, from a net +12, to +4 today. And the worse Trump does in the state, even if he wins it, the fewer crossover votes Bullock needs to win. 

Depending on how these two states shake out, the Democrats can end up anywhere from the barest 50-50 majority to a better-looking 53-47 one. 

TIER THREE RACES

Incumbent Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst had appeared relatively safe earlier this year. Lily-white Iowa looked like another 10-point Trump win, and Ernst seemed to be doing whatever it was that was necessary to cruise to reelection. But the coronavirus has hit Iowa hard, and the trade wars with China have hammered its farmers. And now, any hope of a positive resolution has evaporated as Trump has decided to blame China for his own failures. In fact, Trump’s approvals are underwater in Iowa 47-50, according to Civiqs’ daily tracker. 

Polling has been scant, but just yesterday Public Policy Polling released a poll showing the Democratic challenger up 45-43. Civiqs has a poll in the field right now and we’ll have results next Tuesday or Wednesday. This one may be soon graduating to the second tier. 

Kansas. Kansas! Yes, Kansas. I explain Kansas here. Botton line: It’s tough, but given Kansas’ high education levels and an ongoing civil war between the state Republican Party’s moderate and crazy wings, we have a shot. 

Texas also gets included in this tier. Incumbent Republican John Cornyn isn't as hated as Ted Cruz, who was almost defeated in 2018. And there is no public polling to give us a sense of the state of this race. But the state is trending blue, and a Public Policy Polling poll released today showed the state a 48-48 tie in the presidential election. Honestly, not sure I buy it, not without additional confirmation. But the demographic trends are certainly in our favor. Have they moved enough to put this Senate seat in contention? I’m hopeful but skeptical.  

TIER FOUR RACES

These are races in which we have great candidates who are raising buttloads of cash, but they are in tough Republican states. 

In Kentucky, odious Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unpopular, but 1) he delivers more bacon than anyone else in the Senate—Kentucky is the ultimate mooch state, and 2) Kentucky gives Trump some of his highest approval ratings in the country (a rough count says seventh highest). 

Those are some pretty strong headwinds to fight no matter how good your candidate is and how much money she has. 

And in the same vein, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is protected by the partisanship of his state—the only one on both coasts that gives Trump a positive approval rating. Civiqs has the race tied 42-42, but undecideds are heavily Republican and the state suffers from extreme racial polarization. Southern whites, in general, just don’t vote Democratic. 

The Senate will be at least 50-50. Our job is to drag as many of these races across the finish line as we can. Can we make it 55-45? Or even more than that? 

Donate to our slate of Senate races. And if you live in any of these states, fight hard! 

A ‘very concerned’ Collins just rubber-stamped another Trump nominee. Of course

Back in March, Sen. Susan Collins was concerned about Rep. John Ratcliffe, impeached president Trump's pick to serve as director of national intelligence. That was when the nomination was fairly new, after Ratcliffe had already been considered and rejected as a "chicken-plucking liar" in Mark Sumner's perfect words. Since that time, Ratcliffe proved his fealty to Trump in a completely over-the-top impeachment hearing process/Republican shouting competition.

So of course Trump nominated him officially, no doubt appreciating a fellow fabulist, which gave Collins heartburn. As she loves to remind anyone who will listen, she sponsored the legislation which created the DNI position. Back in March, she fretted "I don’t know Congressman Ratcliffe. As the author of the 2004 law that created the director of national intelligence position, I obviously am very concerned about who the nominee is, the qualifications and the commitment to overseeing the intelligence community in order to provide the best-quality intelligence." So much for that.

Collins voted for him in committee Tuesday, in a closed hearing. Which means Collins didn't have to comment on it again. Go figure.

Let's make sure her time is up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

Biden Rape Charges Hurting Democrats In U.S. Senate Races

All across the country Democrats are turning on Joe Biden and backing a probe into Tara Reade’s rape charges, much to the consternation of the Biden campaign. Though some are sticking with Biden and some are trying to cut the baby in half.

Because Democrat Senate hopefuls are all over the road on their party’s de facto nominee, it is hurting their party unity and thus their races all over the nation. Here are some examples of how the Reade charges are playing out. We lead off with Mitch McConnell setting the stage.

Kentucky: “Well, at the very least it’s pretty obvious that the same people who were outraged about allegations — unproven allegations against Justice Kavanaugh when he was in high school — seemed to have little or no interest, or certainly not as much interest, in suggestions of improper behavior by an adult who was in the Senate,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“I was asked earlier today about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and I answered (that she would have voted to confirm) based upon his qualifications to be on the Supreme Court,” Amy McGrath said. She is the Democrat up against McConnell. First she was for Kavanaugh, knowing that would play in red state Kentucky. Then she turned tail after leftist pressure and said this, “But upon further reflection and further understanding of his record, I would have voted no.” Ducked the issue on Reade altogether.

Maine: “At the time of his confirmation, there was plenty of evidence that put into question Brett Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court,” Democrat Sara Gideon said.

Gideon is challenging GOP incumbent Senator Susan Collins. “Senators Collins cast a critical vote to confirm him anyway, and she said she doesn’t regret it.” Gideon has dodged all comment on the Reade story.

“Principles like the presumption of innocence, fairness, and due process always bear on my thinking in evaluating such an allegation,” Collins said. “Ms. Reade should be treated with respect and have a chance to tell her story. I served with Joe Biden in the Senate, and I have respect for his service to our country.” Cautious and down the middle. Very Susan Collins.

Georgia: “The law actually has a system for this that can be used in the political and civic world as well, and that is when a woman makes an allegation she makes a prima facie statement and it is to be believed, and then it is to be rebutted by the accused and then the burden’s on the woman to state her case,” Teresa Tomlinson said. She is in the Democrat primary to take on GOP Senator David Perdue (R-GA) this fall. She tries to go down the middle. Her legal mumbo jumbo fails.

“Any allegation of sexual assault needs to be taken seriously. In a supercharged political environment, we need to look carefully. And only Vice President Biden and the accuser really know what happened,” Jon Ossoff said. He is also in that primary. A little bit better than Tomlinson. But still not good enough to escape charges of Democrat hypocrisy.

“These accusations deserve to be heard in full and the voters deserve a full investigation of what happened,” Sarah Riggs Amico said. “And at the same time Joe Biden does deserve due process.” Still better and smarter, this time. But that wasn’t her attitude on Brett Kavanaugh.

“I will never be silent when it comes to fighting for what’s right. That’s why I’m offering my unwavering support to those who are coming forward and joining others calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment because this is no time for half measures, especially when it comes to our values. It is clear that Senate Republicans, including Senator David Perdue, put partisan politics ahead of good judgment by confirming Kavanaugh without a thorough investigation,” said Amico during the Kavanaugh hearings. Even later, she wasn’t so evenhanded about Kavanaugh.

All over the road. It will cost them, and Biden, in the fall.

This piece was written by PoliZette Staff on May 7, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
California Democrat Gov. Newsom hit with massive lawsuit over $75 million stimulus for illegal aliens
Influential COVID scientist promoting lockdown resigns after he’s busted breaking his own quarantine rules
Meghan McCain shuts down Whoopi Goldberg after she claims Trump is afraid of Fauci testimony

The post Biden Rape Charges Hurting Democrats In U.S. Senate Races appeared first on The Political Insider.

Susan Collins has nothing to say about lessons in latest post-impeachment retaliation from Trump

Sen. Susan Collins didn't even manage to work herself up to "concerned" in reacting to impeached president Donald Trump's firing of Michael Atkinson from his post as Intelligence Community inspector general. "I have long been a strong advocate for the Inspectors General," the senator, a member of the Senate Select Committee Intelligence wrote.

Then she fluffed herself a bit. "In 2008, I coauthored with former Senators Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman The Inspector General Reform Act (P.L. 110-40), which among other provisions requires the President to notify the Congress 30 days prior to the removal of an Inspector General along with the reasons for the removal. In notifying Congress yesterday, the President followed the procedures in that law," and here's where we finally get to her reaction. "I did not find his rationale for removing Inspector General Atkinson to be persuasive."

Let's make sure her time is up. Please give $1 to help Democrats in each of these crucial Senate races, but especially the one in Maine!

So what are you going to do about it, Senator? "While I recognize that the President has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted." Oh, that's it? You're not going to do anything? Even fret your brow?

Fortunately for Collins, this time Trump has retaliated against a perceived enemy, there aren't any reporters around to remind her about that whole "the president has learned from" impeachment nonsense. She gets to issue statements from self-isolation without having to face questions about her own culpability for Trump's actions.

Morning Digest: Progressive Marie Newman unseats anti-choice Rep. Dan Lipinski in Democratic primary

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Carolyn Fiddler, and Matt Booker, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.

Illinois held its downballot primaries on Tuesday, and you can find the results here. We’ll have a rundown in our next Morning Digest.

Leading Off

IL-03: In a huge win for progressives, businesswoman Marie Newman defeated eight term Rep. Dan Lipinski, who has long been one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus. With 99% of precincts in, Newman’s lead stands at 47-45 in their expensive primary rematch in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. While Newman had to fight hard to beat the powerful incumbent on Tuesday after narrowly losing to him two years ago, she shouldn’t have any trouble prevailing in the general election in this 55-40 Clinton seat in the Chicago area.

Lipinski made a name for himself during his nearly 16 years in Congress as a loud opponent of abortion rights and same sex-marriage, but he proved to be very tough to dislodge. Lipinski’s father, Bill Lipinski, represented this area from 1983 until 2005, and plenty of primary voters still supported the family and shared their conservative views. The younger Lipinski received the Democratic nomination in 2004 from party leaders after his father dropped his re-election campaign after winning the primary, and much of the old Chicago machine remained loyal to him throughout the years.

Lipinski turned back a well-funded primary challenge in 2008 by a 54-25 margin, and he didn’t face another serious threat for the next decade. During that time the congressman repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthoodopposed the Affordable Care Act, and refused to endorse Barack Obama's re-election campaign in 2012—despite the fact that his district is solidly blue.

Newman challenged Lipinski from the left in 2018, and while she looked very much like a longshot against the well-funded and entrenched incumbent for most of the race, she ended up holding him to a 51-49 win. Lipinski, though, quickly proved that he wasn’t going to change his conservative ways after that near-loss by headlining the anti-abortion “March for Life” in early 2019, an event he’d skipped the previous year when he was fighting to win renomination. Lipinski also signed onto an amicus brief alongside more than two hundred Republican Congress members asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Newman launched her second bid for this seat in May of 2019, and this time, it was clear to everyone from the beginning that she was a serious threat to Lipinski. While the incumbent enjoyed a massive financial advantage during his last campaign, the two candidates ended up spending a comparable amount this time. EMILY’s List also deployed $1 million on Newman’s behalf, while major outside groups didn’t do much to help Lipinski this time. Newman also picked up a high-profile endorsement in February from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who memorably took Lipinski to task by declaring, “[I]f it were up to Dan Lipinski, I wouldn't be able to marry my wife.”

Still, Lipinski had some strong advantages for his second campaign. The congressman still enjoyed the support of much of the Chicago Democratic establishment, including powerful state House Speaker Mike Madigan, and many labor unions. Two other candidates, activist Rush Darwish and underfunded perennial candidate Charles Hughes, were also on the ballot, and there was a real possibility that they could take enough support from Newman to allow Lipinski to win with just a plurality of the vote. However, this time it was Newman who ended the primary night as the victor.

Election Changes

Alaska: Alaska Democrats had already switched to mail balloting for their April 4 presidential primary before the coronavirus outbreak, so the election is proceeding as planned. Party officials say they haven't yet changed their plans to offer in-person voting at a limited number of sites, but they're exhorting voters to postmark their ballots by the March 27 deadline in case that changes.

Connecticut: Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill says discussions are underway about delaying the state's April 28 presidential primary, which the CT Mirror says Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has the power to unilaterally move. Merrill says she will issue a recommendation to Lamont but added, "We don’t need to make that decision now." In addition, because Connecticut's constitution requires voters to have an excuse to vote absentee, Merrill has asked Lamont to declare that all voters may request an absentee ballot due to the pandemic. While lawmakers have passed an amendment to change this provision, they need to do so a second time after 2020 before it can come into an effect.

Delaware: Elections Commissioner Anthony Albence, an appointee of Democratic Gov. John Carney, says there's no provision in state law allowing Delaware to postpone its April 28 presidential primary, though presumably the legislature could pass a bill changing the date. Delaware's constitution also currently requires an excuse to vote absentee. While lawmakers have passed an amendment to change this provision, they need to do so a second time after 2020 before it can come into effect like in Connecticut.

Florida: A federal judge rejected a last-minute request filed late on Monday night to extend the absentee deadline for Florida's presidential primary, which took place on Tuesday, until March 27. However, the judge did not rule on the underlying merits of the lawsuit but rather on plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order, so it's possible absentee balloting could be re-opened when a final ruling is issued.

Georgia: Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says his office is contemplating a plan to mail absentee ballot applications to the 2 million Georgia voters over the age of 60, and possibly to all 7.2 million registered voters regardless of age. Voting rights advocates, however, want Raffensperger to skip the application step and instead simply mail out ballots to all voters, but the secretary of state's office claims it cannot afford to administer an all-mail election.

Hawaii: Like their counterparts in Alaska, Hawaii Democrats are conducting their April 4 presidential primary largely by mail, but party officials say the fate of 21 in-person polling locations remains uncertain at this time.

Maryland: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has moved the date of Maryland's presidential and downballot primaries from April 28 to June 2. The special election for the state's vacant 7th Congressional District will still go forward on April 28, but it will be conducted entirely by mail.

Minnesota: Democrats in Minnesota have canceled their upcoming local and congressional district-level conventions, which had been scheduled throughout April and May, and will instead issue endorsements by online vote. No decision has yet been made about the party's statewide convention, which is set for May 30-31. Republicans, meanwhile, have postponed their local and district-level conventions through April 15.

Minnesota's primary for downballot offices is not until Aug. 11, and party conventions don't impact ballot access. However, candidates who fail to win their party's official endorsement during convention season often drop out rather than continue on to the primary.

New Mexico: Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says she plans to conduct "a heavy push toward absentee balloting" ahead of New Mexico's June 2 primary for the presidential race and downballot offices. She also says that any adjustments to in-person polling sites are "still under consideration," but it doesn't sound like a discussion of changing the date of the election is underway.

Texas: According to the Houston Chronicle, election officials in Texas are exploring a move to all-mail balloting for the state's May 26 runoffs, though the secretary of state's office would not confirm whether it's considering the idea.

Senate

AZ-Sen: Politico reports that the conservative group One Nation is spending $700,000 on a TV, radio, and digital ad campaign that commends GOP Sen. Martha McSally's work to expand mental health care for veterans.

GA-Sen-A: On behalf of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the University of Georgia is out with the first poll we've seen of the May Democratic primary to take on GOP Sen. David Perdue. 2017 House nominee Jon Ossoff is in first with 31%, while former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson edges out 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Sarah Riggs Amico 16-15 for the second spot in a likely July runoff.

Maine: Candidate filing closed Tuesday for Maine's June 9 party primaries, and the state has a list of contenders that can be downloaded on this page. Both the primary and general elections for downballot offices will be held using instant-runoff voting.  

ME-Sen: GOP Sen. Susan Collins easily won re-election in 2014, but her bid for a fifth term has already turned into a very expensive affair. The Bangor Daily News reports that, in the past week alone, Senate Majority PAC spent $600,000 against Collins, while the conservative 1820 PAC deployed $1 million against Democratic state House Speaker Sara Gideon.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will also benefit from about $4 million that several organizations, including Daily Kos, raised after Collins became the decisive vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Four Democrats filed to take on Collins, who does not face an intra-party challenger. Gideon has the support of prominent national Democratic groups, including the DSCC, and she's raised far more money than any of her primary rivals. Former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse has been doing some self-funding, though, and he launched a $200,000 ad buy at the start of March. The other two candidates are 2018 gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet and attorney Bre Kidman.

This will almost certainly be the most competitive re-election contest of Collins' career, and even the senator didn't dispute the idea that her once mighty approval rating had taken a dive when she was asked about it back in July. Polling has been infrequent, though, so we don't fully know the extent to which Collins has damaged her reputation with swing voters. Maine also moved sharply to the right in 2016 thanks to its large population of white voters without college degrees. Daily Kos Elections rates this contest as Lean Republican, but this is one we'll be watching closely.

Gubernatorial

NJ-Gov: Assemblyman Jamel Holley said on Friday that he'd been approached about challenging Gov. Phil Murphy in next year's Democratic primary by unnamed "[e]lected officials, community-based people, clergy." Holley continued, "I have no immediate plans. I haven't considered it. I haven't given any thought to it. But there are conversations."

Holley has been a prominent opponent of an unsuccessful bill to remove religious exemptions for school vaccinations. This attracted the attention of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is notorious for spreading misinformation about vaccines, and he headlined a fundraiser for the assemblyman in January. While scientists overwhelmingly agree that vaccines are safe, Holley argued in February that he'd seen children who had been "injured from vaccines."

WV-Gov: On Tuesday, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango received an endorsement from Sen. Joe Manchin, who is the most prominent Democrat in West Virginia politics. Salango is competing in the May primary to take on GOP Gov. Jim Justice.

House

CA-50: Former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter was sentenced to 11 months in prison on Tuesday, and he was ordered to surrender to the authorities by May 29. Hunter pleaded guilty last year to a single charge of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use, and he resigned from Congress in January. Hunter's wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter, pleaded guilty to her role in the scandal several months before as part of a deal with prosecutors, and she is set to be sentenced in April.

When prosecutors first indicted the Hunters, they alleged the couple had spent a total of $250,000 in campaign money on tuition to their children's private school, oral surgery, and vacations in Italy and Hawaii. In a later filing, however, they also said the congressman had used campaign cash to "pursue a series of intimate personal relationships" with at least five different women, including lobbyists and congressional aides. Margaret Hunter also admitted in her guilty plea that over $500 in campaign funds had been used to fly a pet rabbit on a plane.

FL-15: On Monday, Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin filed paperwork with the FEC for a potential campaign against freshman Rep. Ross Spano in the August GOP primary. Spano is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly violating campaign finance laws during his 2018 primary.

House

ME-02: Three Republicans are competing to take on freshman Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a northern Maine seat that swung from 53-44 Obama to 51-41 Trump.

The Republican with the most money at the end of 2019 was 2018 Senate nominee Eric Brakey, a former state senator who has the endorsement of the anti-tax Club for Growth. Also in the contest are former state Rep. Dale Crafts, who has the support of former Gov. Paul LePage, and real estate agent Adrienne Bennett. A fourth Republican, Penobscot County Treasurer John Hiatt, entered and exited the race in December.

Brakey ended 2019 with a $252,000 to $134,000 cash-on-hand lead over Crafts, while Bennett had just $37,000 to spend. Golden had $1.3 million available to defend this seat.

Mayoral

San Diego, CA Mayor: On Monday evening, Democrat Barbara Bry took a 9-vote lead over Republican Scott Sherman, a fellow member of the City Council, for the second-place spot in the November general election. More ballots were counted the following night, and Bry’s advantage widened to 169 votes. Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria secured first place in the March 3 nonpartisan primary, so if Bry maintains her edge over Sherman, Team Blue would be guaranteed to pick up this mayor's office.

Grab Bag

Deaths: Former GOP Rep. Richard Hanna, who represented a seat in upstate New York from 2011 until 2017, died Sunday at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer. Hanna was one of the few relatively moderate Republicans in the caucus during his tenure, and he famously endorsed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

Hanna, who had become wealthy in the construction business, sought elected office for the first time when he challenged freshman Democratic Rep. Michael Arcuri in 2008 in what was then numbered the 24th District. While Barack Obama only ended up carrying the historically red seat 51-48, it was still a surprise when Hanna held Arcuri to a surprisingly small 52-48 win in what was a terrible year for the GOP.

Hanna sought a rematch the following cycle and unseated Arcuri 53-47. However, the new congressman quickly proved to be very different than his many tea party-aligned fellow freshman. At a 2012 rally supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, Hanna notably advised women to donate to Democrats, saying, "Contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side—my side—has a lot of it." Hanna was also the rare congressional Republican to support same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Hanna had no trouble winning in 2012 in the redrawn 22nd District, but he faced a serious primary challenge from the right two years later from Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney. Hanna decisively outspent Tenney and received air support from a group dedicated to electing pro-same-sex marriage Republicans, but he only turned her back by a modest 54-46 margin.

Hanna announced in December of 2015 that he would not run for a fourth term, a move he insisted had nothing to do with Tenney's decision to seek a rematch a few weeks earlier. Tenney won the GOP nod this time against a candidate backed by Hanna, and the outgoing congressman never supported her for the general election. Hanna later mulled a 2018 run for governor or an independent bid for his old seat, but he ended up endorsing Democrat Anthony Brindisi's successful bid to oust Tenney.

Voter Registration: As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the administration of U.S. elections, experts are exhorting states to switch to voting by mail to keep the public and poll workers safe—and to ensure democracy carries on.

For safety’s sake, it’s also critical that every state offers residents the opportunity to register to vote online, or to update their existing registration records. However, as the map seen here shows, 10 states currently do not allow online registration for the November general election:

Arkansas Maine Mississippi Montana New Hampshire North Carolina Oklahoma (passed by lawmakers but still not fully implemented) South Dakota Texas Wyoming

Collectively, these 10 states account for 17% of the U.S. population, or one in six Americans. Americans must have the option to register safely and securely online when in-person opportunities will be limited for the foreseeable future. Each of these states must immediately enact online voter registration. If they do not, Congress has the power to mandate and fund the shift to online voter registration to ensure the November general elections can still proceed amid this historic global crisis.