Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick could return to Congress in a new district

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


AZ-02: Shortly after 1st District Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick recently formed an exploratory committee to run in the 2nd District, former state Rep. Matt Heinz released a PPP survey that shows him besting the former congresswoman by 40-30 in a hypothetical Democratic primary next year while state Rep. Randy Friese takes just 6 percent. These numbers are part of an early May survey from which Heinz had released the general election numbers last month. That portion of the poll showed both Kirkpatrick and Heinz narrowly defeating GOP Rep. Martha McSally by 48-44 in this 50-45 Clinton seat, which is located in Tucson.

Heinz argues that he leads in the Democratic primary despite having just 64 percent name recognition compared to 75 percent for Kirkpatrick, but this month-old poll doesn’t exactly seem that intimidating at this early stage in the race. If anything, it demonstrates that this contest is still wide open and that Heinz isn’t guaranteed to win the nomination a second time in a row. While Heinz does lead the former congresswoman, this survey also shows that voters are open to nominating her even though she switched districts, and Kirkpatrick could have a much easier time raising money than Heinz thanks to her existing national donor network.

The survey notably did not appear to include former Army assistant secretary Mary Matiella or former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, who unlike Kirkpatrick have already formally joined the race in the weeks since the poll was taken. Furthermore, Friese has seemed more interested in considering a Senate bid than running for the House seat, but other Democrats could be thinking about joining this race after McSally’s cavalier approach to passing Trumpcare has helped make her look vulnerable.


MO-Sen: Following a report last Wednesday that influential Missouri Republican mega-donor Sam Fox was trying to lock up donor support for his potential candidacy, GOP state Attorney General Josh Hawley once again refused to rule out running and now says he has “no idea” when he’ll make a decision. Hawley only won his current position last fall. But major state Republicans have already tried to lure him into the race in a snub to Rep. Ann Wagner, who similarly hasn’t ruled it out but is seen as an almost certain candidate. Wagner is a prodigious fundraiser, and regardless of Fox’s efforts to secure donor backing for Hawley, a primary between the two Republicans could quickly become an expensive ordeal.


CA-Gov: Republicans landed their first prominent elected official in 2018’s gubernatorial race on Thursday when Assemblyman Travis Allen launched his campaign. But they still face daunting odds in this deep-blue state. Allen is known as an outspoken conservative and his record could make him a poor fit for this progressive state. For instance, he recently opposed a new Democrat-backed law that treats child prostitutes as victims of sex trafficking rather than criminal offenders by falsely claiming Democrats legalized child prostitution.

Allen’s first challenge, however, will be even making it past California’s top-two primary. Venture capitalist John Cox is the only other noteworthy Republican in the race, and he has already put $3 million into his campaign, but that only goes so far in this absurdly expensive state. Both Republicans could struggle to get their names out there when much better-known Democrats like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have so far dominated the polls. GOP ex-Assemblyman David Hadley previously formed an exploratory committee while he considers the race, but each additional Republican candidate running increases the chance of splitting the GOP vote and sending two Democrats to the general election.

ID-Gov: Boise School Board member and businessman A.J. Balukoff has previously said he was considering mounting a second campaign for governor next year after he was the unsuccessful 2014 Democratic nominee. Balukoff now says he will likely decide this fall whether to run again. After self-funding more than $3 million, Balukoff lost by a relatively respectable 54-39 margin in 2014 despite taking on an incumbent in one of the most Republican states in the country during a strongly GOP year. Democrats still face daunting odds even without having to face term-limited GOP Gov. Butch Otter, but Balukoff could at least mount a serious campaign that gives Team Blue a chance to pull off an upset.

KS-Gov, KS-03: Ally Mutnick from National Journal recently reported on the lay of the land in Kansas for next year’s elections and gives us a few new tidbits about potential gubernatorial candidates. Republican state Attorney General Derek Schmidt previously hadn’t ruled out seeking the governor’s office, but Mutnick relays that unnamed GOP operatives say Schmidt is likely to just run for re-election instead.

Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder also hadn’t ruled out running for governor before, and Mutnick details that “a source familiar with Yoder’s thinking” indicated there’s a 50-50 chance on whether he jumps into the race, with a decision likely sometime this summer. Yoder’s suburban Kansas City-area 3rd District could become instantly competitive if he runs for governor after the historically red seat flipped from 54-44 Romney to 47-46 Clinton.

Kansas’ open-seat race to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in 2018 has already drawn intense attention from Republicans. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, businessman Wink Hartman, and ex-state Sen Jim Barnett, who was Team Red’s 2006 nominee, have already joined the Republican primary. Furthermore, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has said before that he’s considering it and is seen as a likely candidate.

MD-Gov: The Democratic field to take on GOP Gov. Larry Hogan grew larger on Thursday when attorney Jim Shea made his campaign official. Although Shea lacks widespread name recognition among the general public, the Baltimore Sun called him “well known in legal and Democratic circles,” and he previously served as chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. Shea says he has already raised more than $1 million while his campaign was in the exploratory phase, and he could consequently be a formidable player in what’s shaping up to become a crowded Democratic primary.

Shea joins a Democratic field that includes Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, state Sen. Richard Madaleno, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross. Also considering the race are Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Rep. John Delaney, the latter of whom recently said he will reveal his plans in late July.

NV-Gov: Amid Thursday’s news of Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak’s entry into Nevada’s 2018 gubernatorial race, fellow Democratic Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani also recently said that she’s “seriously considering” it, but is in “no rush” to decide. Giunchigliani is a former longtime Assembly member who previously ran for Las Vegas mayor in 2011, but lost the nonpartisan runoff 61-39 to independent now-Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

Both Sisolak and Giunchigliani serve on the seven-member commission for Nevada’s largest county, which covers Las Vegas and more than two-thirds of the state’s residents, making it a relatively high-profile launching pad for a governor’s race. Few other Democrats have publicly expressed interest in running, but multi-millionaire businessman Stephen Cloobeck has reportedly been thinking about it and could bring substantial self-funding to the contest.


FL-07: Republican state Rep. Mike Miller was recently reported to be interested in challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy next year, and on Thursday he confirmed that he was “strongly considering” running. Miller won his second term 53-47 last year even as his downtown Orlando district lurched from a narrow Obama win to a Clinton 53-41 edge, according to Florida political data expert Matthew Isbell. Consequently, he could be a strong candidate in this historically Republican-leaning congressional seat in Orlando and its suburbs, which swung from a razor-thin Obama win to a 51-44 Clinton victory.

Meanwhile, Republican Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has been rumored to be a possible candidate for higher office when she faces term limits next year. Jacobs refused to rule out a bid for the 7th District on Friday, but sounded somewhat more interested in running for the open state chief financial officer position next year instead. GOP state Sen. David Simmons has previously said he was “98 percent” likely to run, and other candidates might be looking at challenging the potentially vulnerable Murphy too.

GA-07: Republicans heavily gerrymandered Georgia’s 7th District in Atlanta’s northeastern suburbs to protect GOP Rep. Rob Woodall following his initial 2010 election. However, after the seat representing a diversifying and well-educated electorate zoomed from a 60-38 Romney victory in 2012 to just a 51-45 Trump edge last year, some Democrats are optimistic that Woodall could be vulnerable.

Attorney Steve Reilly recently announced his candidacy for the 7th, joining test-prep company founder David Kim in the Democratic primary. Reilly was Team Blue’s 2012 nominee and received the same 38 percent as Obama did, but he raised little money that year. It’s unclear if he has the campaign skills needed for a tough race, but he was previously a local party chairman and could have some valuable connections.

NH-02: Republican former state Rep. Jim Lawrence held Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster to a surprisingly soft 50-45 victory in 2016 despite raising little money, and he’s now not ruling out another bid against the three-term congresswoman next year in this 49-46 Clinton western New Hampshire district. However, Lawrence might find a 2018 bid even tougher now that there’s an unpopular Republican in the White House, given New Hampshire’s notorious habit of large swings against the president’s party in midterms. Nevertheless, Lawrence might not have the GOP primary to himself if he runs, since state Rep. Joe Negron said he was considering the race earlier in June.

NM-01: While it turns out that former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez had been reportedly considering joining the Democratic primary for this open Albuquerque seat, we can likely cross him off the list of potential candidates since he just recently joined a new law firm, which augurs against turning around and mounting a campaign next year. The 52-36 Clinton 1st District already has several noteworthy Democrats running, including: former state party chair Deb Haaland, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, retired University of New Mexico law school dean Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, ex-deputy Bernalillo County assessor Damian Lara, and Edgewood Mayor Pro Tem John Abrams.

UT-03: Republican state Rep. Chris Herrod earned the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund on Friday following his recent victory at the party convention for the special election in this dark-red Provo-area seat. SCF’s endorsement could help him solidify the support of the party base ahead of the Aug. 15 primary, where Herrod faces Provo Mayor John Curtis and consultant Tanner Ainge.

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Voting Rights Roundup: New Mexico House Dem sides with GOP to kill automatic voter registration-what?

New Mexico: Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and New Mexico Democrats recently introduced a plan to automatically register every eligible voter when they obtain a driver’s license, unless they affirmatively opt out. Despite Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, the bill nonetheless died a stunning death in committee late last month when Democratic state Reps. Debbie Rodella and Daymon Ely sided with Republicans to block it.

Ely claimed that he voted against the bill because doing so would allow him to re-introduce an amended version, which he later did. However, the revised bill was so watered-down that it effectively was no longer an automatic registration measure whatsoever. This new version, which unanimously passed committee, would simply ask eligible voters if they would like to register when obtaining a driver’s license rather than automatically doing so unless the person opts out.

The New Mexico Senate also approved a bill that would change the voter registration deadline from 28 days before Election Day to just three days prior. Moving the date would allow voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day during early voting, which could lead to higher turnout. However, Rodella once again sided with the Republicans on the House elections committee to kill that bill, too, before the full chamber could vote on it.

Automatic and same-day registration always faced the possibility of a veto from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, but had Democrats successfully demonstrated that the legislature could pass these bills, that would have been encouraging for 2018. Martinez faces term limits next year and Democrats could regain the governor’s office—and with it, unified control over state government. However, as these recent votes reveal, Republican opposition isn’t the only thing preventing New Mexico Democrats from passing laws designed to make voting easier.

Democrats need to get their own house in order, and that starts with a primary challenge to Rodella, who sits in an overwhelmingly blue district that Barack Obama won by a 74-22 margin and that Hillary Clinton undoubtedly carried easily as well. A strong progressive could assuredly win in this seat. What’s more, most of the residents of Rodella’s district are Latino, an often under-represented community that would benefit strongly from automatic voter registration and more generous registration deadlines. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is nothing new from Rodella, who in 2013 voted with the GOP to bottle up a same-sex marriage law in committee. It’s long past time for her to go.

Early Voting and Registration

Connecticut: When it comes to election reforms intended to make voting easier, the motto for progressives should be “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Connecticut Democrats are considering just that by debating whether to put a state constitutional amendment before the voters that would enable early voting. Democrats previously placed just such a referendum on the 2014 ballot, but the measure narrowly failed by a 52-48 margin during the Republican wave.

Democrats just barely have total control over state government thanks to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s ability to break ties in the state Senate. If the party is unified, they could pass the amendment this year without any Republican support. However, Connecticut’s constitution requires the legislature to pass proposed amendments in two consecutive sessions before a referendum can take place unless the legislature can obtain three-fourths majorities. Given Republican opposition, Democrats would have to pass the measure this year and then again after the 2018 elections before it could head to the ballot again in 2020.

Idaho: The Gem State’s Republican-dominated state House passed a bill that would effectively limit the availability of early voting in certain jurisdictions by setting a statewide standard for when early voting may take place. The bill would confine early voting to the period from between one and three weeks prior to Election Day. Some counties, however, have allowed early voting to commence even even sooner. The bill now moves on to the state Senate, where Republicans also hold an overwhelming majority.

Mississippi: Legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn is reputed to have once said, “The Republicans are the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.” That’s not a bad spin on what’s happened to voting reforms in Mississippi, where Republicans dominate all levers of state government. The state House, however, had nearly unanimously passed bills that would have created an early voting period, allowed online registration, and set up a study committee on reforming felony disenfranchisement. But just as they did when the lower chamber passed similar measures last year, the state Senate killed the bills by refusing to even give them a hearing thanks to opposition from the relevant committee chairwoman.

Mississippi is one of just 13 states that does not offer in-person early voting or excuse-free absentee voting, and at the same time, it disenfranchises a staggering one in 10 citizens due to past felony conviction, the second-highest rate of any state.

Nevada: The Silver State is one step closer to enacting automatic voter registration for eligible voters who interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles. A committee in the Democratic-controlled state Senate passed a bill on a party-line vote to implement the policy, while the state Assembly, which Democrats also hold, approved of the measure last month. Reformers had filed signatures to put the measure on the 2018 ballot, but Nevada law gives the legislature a chance to pass such proposals first in lieu of a statewide vote.

However, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval says he is undecided about whether to sign or veto the law. Given unanimous opposition from Republican legislators, a veto would be unsurprising. However, even if Sandoval thwarts the legislature, automatic registration would still appear on the November 2018 ballot, meaning Nevada could become the second state to pass the policy via the initiative process after Alaska did so in 2016.

New Hampshire: Republicans assumed a unified grip on state government after the 2016 elections, and almost immediately plotted new voting restrictions. Current law allows any eligible voter living in the state to vote as long as they don’t do so in another state, too. However, the latest GOP proposal would tighten residency requirements for voting by mandating voters provide more proof documenting that they intend to live in the state long-term. Most disturbingly, the measure would authorize election officials to send the police to voters’ homes to verify that they live there, which could result in voter intimidation.

Disappointingly, longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner lent his support to the bill. Gardner is nominally a Democrat, but he has long history avoiding partisan battles in his four decades in office. Unless a few Republican legislators defect, this bill will become law, and Democrats’ only hope of stopping it would be legal challenges.


Georgia: Without warning, Georgia’s Republican-dominated state House rammed through a bill last week that would re-gerrymander the chamber’s districts in order to protect their already lopsided majority. Donald Trump won Georgia by just a 50-45 margin, but Republicans captured nearly two-thirds of the seats in the state House thanks to the ultra-partisan map they drew at the start of the decade. Yet apparently even that huge 118-to-62 majority isn’t enough for the GOP. Redistricting normally only takes place immediately after the decennial census, so redrawing the lines in the middle of the decade simply because they were at risk of losing seats is nothing short of an attempt to nullify elections.

If the similarly GOP-dominated state Senate agrees to these alterations and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal signs off on them, Georgia would redraw the lines for eight Republican-held seats and one Democratic district. These changes would reduce the proportion of black voters—who lean heavily Democratic—in certain districts with vulnerable Republican incumbents. This new map could even lead to Republicans regaining a veto-proof majority in the legislature, preventing Democrats from blocking gerrymanders in the 2020s even if Team Blue wins the critical 2018 election to succeed the term-limited Deal.

Georgia Republicans are no strangers to just this sort of attack on democracy. After they won unified control over state government in 2004 for the first time since Reconstruction, the GOP swiftly passed a mid-decade gerrymander of the state’s congressional map in order to target two Democratic incumbents. Republicans similarly replaced the state Senate map, which had been draw by a court, with their own gerrymander, in order to protect their newfound majority in that same election.

If these changes become law, expect to see Democrats and civil rights groups launch a barrage of lawsuits challenging these plans as illegal racial gerrymanders in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Given the recent string of court victories against racial gerrymandering, and the possibility that the Supreme Court could soon impose limits on partisan gerrymandering, Georgia could soon find itself embroiled in one of the country’s biggest redistricting fights.

Virginia: Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court ruled for plaintiffs who had argued that 12 of Virginia’s state House of Delegates districts, which were drawn by Republicans, were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The high court overturned an earlier district court ruling that had found Republicans did not impermissibly rely on race in crafting their map. The Supremes sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration using a tougher legal standard that makes it much more likely that many of these challenged districts could ultimately be invalidated.

Under the Voting Rights Act, mapmakers are required to create districts that allow African-Americans and other minorities to elect their candidates of choice. Republican legislators admitted that when they redrew majority-black districts, they made sure they all were at least 55 percent African-American. The problem was that the GOP used this threshold without determining whether maintaining such a high proportion of black voters was actually necessary for those black voters to elect their representatives of choice. In most cases, in fact, the necessary proportion was likely below that number. But by packing black voters into a few heavily black districts, neighboring seats consequently became less black, and thus Republican legislators made it harder for black voters to elect their preferred candidates in those adjacent districts.

The district court had determined that because legislators’ map didn’t flagrantly override other traditional redistricting criteria (like compactness), it wasn’t immediately obvious that race “predominated” in the decision-making process. The Supreme Court’s ruling, however, faulted the district court for using the wrong legal standard, holding that plaintiffs in racial gerrymandering cases like this one do not need to prove that the state had violated these traditional redistricting criteria.

This distinction is important because not all gerrymanders have odd shapes, and it’s often far easier for plaintiffs to prove that a map has a racially discriminatory impact than to show that those drawing it acted with discriminatory intent. The case will now go back to the district court, where plaintiffs now won’t have to meet the much higher burden of proving that legislators subordinated other criteria to race.

A new ruling, though, may not come in time to affect Virginia’s state House elections this November. However, if the court strikes down the districts in question and orders legislators to draw new ones, black voters and consequently Democrats could gain significantly, whenever the next elections under new lines are held.

A state court in late February allowed an unrelated lawsuit to proceed to trial against both Virginia’s state House and state Senate maps. Unlike the federal racial gerrymandering case, that upcoming suit challenges the maps under a state constitutional provision that mandates districts be compact. However, Democrats might not fare so well before Virginia’s conservative-leaning state Supreme Court, where this case is likely to ultimately wind up.

Wisconsin: Late last year, a federal district court struck down Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn state Assembly map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Republican state Attorney General Brad Schimel now has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a potential landmark decision that could curtail partisan gerrymandering nationwide.

Under current law, partisan gerrymandering—that is, the act of drawing election districts with the explicit intent of benefiting one part of the other—is permissible, no matter how grossly unfair the practice may seem. However, in a 2004 ruling, the Supreme Court suggested that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional—at least in theory. In that case, though, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the swing vote, refused to strike down the particular map in question for lack of a manageable standard to determine when impermissible partisan gerrymandering takes place, thus allowing the practice to continue—and flourish.

The plaintiffs in Wisconsin have sought to overcome the problem identified by Kennedy by proposing a potentially viable standard called the “efficiency gap” that would mathematically examine how many votes get “wasted” in each election. Under this test, if one party routinely wins landslide victories in a few seats while the other party wins much more modest yet secure margins in the vast majority of districts, that could signify a map that has gone so far as to infringe upon the rights of voters to free speech and equal protection, thus making it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

The lower court didn’t rely exclusively on this “efficiency gap” in crafting its decision, but both its ruling and the statistical test itself are aimed squarely at persuading Kennedy to reach a different outcome this time. If the Supreme Court does agree to hear the Wisconsin case, a ruling would likely come in 2018, which could result in the Badger State having to use a new Assembly map in next year’s midterms. But more importantly, this ruling could unleash a torrent of litigation challenging partisan gerrymanders in other states. And that could in turn imperil Republicans, who’ve drawn vastly more congressional and state legislative districts than Democrats nationally.

Voter ID

Arkansas: Arkansas’ Republican-controlled state House recently approved a new voter ID law, and the state Senate appears poised to follow suit. The GOP suffered a temporary setback when the upper chamber passed the bill with less than a two-thirds majority in a vote on Wednesday, a threshold they believe is necessary to survive judicial review. However, Republicans will likely hold another vote soon once several senators who were absent this week are present and should be able to meet their two-thirds goal. And just to make sure, the legislature also passed a state constitutional amendment to require voter ID, which would take effect if voters agree to the change in a November 2018 referendum.

Iowa: Republicans gained unified control over Iowa’s state government in 2016 for the first time in nearly two decades, and they quickly began mulling a slew of voting law changes. The state House has now passed a voter ID bill on a party-line vote, sending it to the state Senate, where passage is likely. The bill also eliminates straight-ticket voting, which could lead to longer lines on Election Day and result in more undervoting in downballot races. Both provisions would likely disproportionately hurt voters of color and could subsequently spark lawsuits.

Texas: When Donald Trump took office and appointed civil rights opponent Jeff Sessions as attorney general, many worried that the Department of Justice would turn to the dark side and switch teams on several key voting rights lawsuits. Sessions quickly validated those fears when he dropped the DOJ’s opposition to Texas’ voter ID law as racially discriminatory. Although Sessions did not abandon the government’s opposition to the law entirely, this change signals that the Justice Department won’t take the side of voting rights advocates in future cases and may decline to bring new ones on its own.

However, the original plaintiffs in this case are still proceeding. Last year, an appeals court ruled that the law had a discriminatory impact, though it sent the question of whether legislators passed the law with discriminatory intent back to the district court to decide. As a result, the appeals court ruling forced Texas to soften the law’s restrictions, though it didn’t strike them down entirely. Voters who lacked the appropriate ID could sign a sworn affidavit and still vote in the 2016 election, but the law led to voter confusion and still had a burdensome impact, so plaintiffs are still hoping to see the court invalidate the entire law. In the meantime, Texas Republicans have recently introduced a bill to make that softer voter ID requirement permanent.

Electoral Systems

Florida: Progressives have scored several recent victories at the ballot box in Florida, including the passage of two crucial amendents to the state constitution in 2010 that significantly curtailed Republican gerrymandering. Those amendments had to clear a very high hurdle: Florida is the only state in the nation that requires a 60 percent supermajority for all ballot initiatives, rather than a simple majority.

But stung by progressive success, Republican legislators want to raise that threshold even higher, to two-thirds of all votes. A state House subcommittee passed a bill to refer the change to the voters, while a state senator introduced the measure in the upper chamber. If Republicans manage to put the question on the ballot, they’d therefore need 60 percent of voters to agree that in the future, 67 percent of voters would need to pass ballot measures.

In theory, it might seem like a good idea to require more than a simple majority for matters such as state constitutional amendments, but a two-thirds supermajority will simply be an impossible bar for most proposals; for instance, the redistricting reform measures received “only” 63 percent. The 60 percent threshold should be more than high enough to ensure that only measures attaining a broad consensus pass, and the higher threshold is nothing more than a Republican legislature’s attempt to block progressive policies.

North Carolina: Not a week goes by without North Carolina Republicans concocting new schemes to help them win elections, by hook or by crook. In late February, the state House passed a bill to turn races for district and superior court elections into partisan contests, and the state Senate followed suit on Tuesday. Simply put, Republicans believe that forcing judicial candidates to run under party labels will help them defeat Democratic-leaning judges in conservative areas.

However, the bill may already be functionally dead. The House will have to approve the Senate’s bill, which is slightly different, but unless the GOP can persuade a few Republican dissidents to change their votes, Republicans will lack the necessary three-fifths majority to over-ride a gubernatorial veto—and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper does indeed sound inclined to veto the law.

Utah: Election reformers got their hopes up in Utah when the Republican-dominated state House nonetheless easily passed a Democratic-backed bill in early March that would have implemented instant-runoff voting for primaries and municipal general elections. However, the state Senate threw cold water on that plan on Monday when the bill failed to pass a committee on a three-to-three deadlock.

The proposal would have allowed voters to rank candidates preferentially. If no one attained a majority in the first round, the last place candidate would have been eliminated, and votes for that candidate would have shifted to each voter’s second preference. That process would have repeated until one candidate achieved a majority, making it highly unlikely that a candidate would only win with a plurality of the vote over split opposition. It remains to be seen whether proponents will try again in the future.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Florida: The state Supreme Court heard arguments this week about whether to allow a proposed constitutional amendment regarding the restoration of voting rights to appear on the 2018 ballot. This amendment would restore the voting rights of those with a past felony conviction who have completely served out their sentences. If the court gives the go-ahead (which is required for all such proposals under Florida law), organizers would have to gather at least 600,000 signatures and attain 60 percent of the vote for the amendment to pass.

According to the Sentencing Project, Florida disenfranchises more citizens than any other state. One in 10 adults are unable to vote, including one in five African Americans. Since Florida imposes a lifetime ban on voting by those with felony convictions, roughly 88 percent of the disenfranchised have completely served out their sentences. The stark racial disparities also mean that those citizens would likely lean strongly Democratic if they could vote, possibly affecting close elections, which Florida is often home to. For instance, Donald Trump only carried Florida by 1 percentage point, and GOP Gov. Rick Scott twice won by that same slim margin. That’s why Republican legislators are so hostile to a reform that could add 1.5 million voters to the electorate.

Nebraska: Nebraska currently has a restrictive felony disenfranchisement law on the books, requiring those convicted of felonies to wait two years after they fully complete their sentence before they automatically regain their voting rights. (Most states don’t have any post-sentence restrictions.) While only 1 percent of Nebraska citizens are disenfranchised, that includes a far larger 6 percent of African Americans. That wide racial disparity is one reason why reformers want to get rid of the two-year waiting period.

In early March, a Democratic-backed bill easily cleared a committee in the state’s unicameral legislature, where Republicans hold a lopsided majority. It remains to be seen whether the full chamber will pass the bill and whether Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts will sign it, or if the legislature would have enough votes to override a possible gubernatorial veto.

The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.

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Voting Rights Roundup: North Carolina GOP plots to usurp Democratic governor’s powers yet again

North Carolina: Republican legislators in the Tar Heel State must be confusing reality for the film Groundhog Day, because they’re attempting to pass the same voter suppression measures over and over again. To refresh: Democrat Roy Cooper won the 2016 governor’s race, entitling his party to hold majorities on all state and county elections boards. In response, Republican legislators passed a law right before GOP Gov. Pat McCrory left office that created an even partisan split on the election boards, ensuring that that they’d deadlock and prevent Democrats from overturning previous Republican voter suppression measures.

Fortunately, a state court struck down that law as violating the state constitution’s separation of powers provision last month, but Republican lawmakers are back at it with a different proposal that tries to accomplish the same goal. Under North Carolina law, the governor gets to appoint all election board members, but the governor’s party is only allowed a one-seat majority over the other major party. Republicans in the legislature tried to give themselves the power to appoint half of all board members and to require that the boards have an even partisan balance, but the court deemed this as a usurpation of executive authority. The GOP’s latest bill seeks to circumvent this ruling by still letting the governor pick all members, but would require him to pick equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

The state House approved this latest scheme nearly along party lines. Thanks to gerrymanders that were ruled unconstitutional in 2016, Republicans narrowly have veto-proof legislative majorities, meaning they will likely be able to override a veto from Cooper. Democrats, in turn, will likely once again have to resort to litigation, and while Team Blue gained a critical majority on the state Supreme Court in 2016, their chances of success are not guaranteed.

On a positive note, bipartisan opposition in a state House committee sunk another GOP proposal cynically intended to give Republicans yet another electoral advantage. This bill would have extended two-year state legislative terms to four years. While four-year terms could potentially be a positive thing—some states exclusively use them—Republicans sought to have legislative elections occur only in midterms, when low turnout disproportionately favors their party, even though elections for governor and the state cabinet coincide with the presidential election cycle.

Voting Rights Cases

Supreme Court: On Friday, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Donald Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, restoring the five-to-four majority that conservatives lost when Antonin Scalia died in early 2016. Gorsuch’s appointment amounts to the theft of a Supreme Court seat, following the GOP’s unprecedented violation of longstanding political norms when it refused to even hold a hearing for Barack Obama’s nominee for a full year. Republicans even eliminated the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees—deploying the so-called “nuclear option”—to confirm Trump’s pick on a 54-45 vote.

What makes the GOP’s unrivaled destruction of norms even more dangerous is the potential for Gorsuch to now side with fellow conservative ideologues to roll back voting rights. Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by George W. Bush, the court has generally taken a hostile stance toward voting rights. It even went so far as to strike down a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which then allowed Republican-controlled states in the South, whose worst instincts had been curbed by the VRA, to pass a raft of discriminatory voting changes.

One such voter suppression law was passed North Carolina, where Republican legislators had ordered data on which voting methods black voters preferred so that they could eliminate them. A federal appeals court invalidated this law in 2016, ruling that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” However, now that Gorsuch will sit on the court in the coming term, Republicans stand an excellent chance of having such discriminatory laws reinstated on appeal. The court’s newest justice will likely similarly defend the ability of Republican legislators to engage in unparalleled gerrymandering and pass a slew of new voting restrictions around the country.


Greensboro, NC: On Monday, a federal district court struck down a map that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature had imposed on the city of Greensboro, the state’s third-largest city. In a remarkable affront to local rule, Republican lawmakers passed a law in 2015 that replaced the city council districts that the city itself had drawn and replaced them with gerrymandered lines intended to hurt Democratic and black voters.

Democrats quickly brought a challenge to this new map, and the judges hearing the case have now put a stop to this usurpation of power. The court concluded that the legislature’s map was an impermissible racial gerrymander; that it violated the principle of “one person, one vote”; and that it unfairly singled out Greensboro. The city-drawn map had remained in place for the 2015 elections while litigation was ongoing, and it will now stay in effect for elections in the fall.

Republicans have gone to greater extremes to gerrymander in North Carolina than in practically any other state, and no city has been a victim of their abuses more than Greensboro, a heavily Democratic city of 300,000 that is majority non-white. Since gaining control over redistricting in 2010, Republican legislators have tried to gerrymander Greensboro’s districts for Congress, state legislature, county commission, county school board, and city council. There is literally no elected federal, state, or local legislative body representing Greensboro that Republican state legislators haven’t attempted to distort.

In fact, these gerrymanders are so effective that Greensboro, which typically votes for Democratic presidential candidates by a two-to-one ratio, is represented in the House by zero Democrats. And Guilford County, which is home to Greensboro and roughly half a million people, likewise supported Hillary Clinton by a 58-38 margin, but Republicans have maintained a majority on the county commission ever since 2012—when, of course, they got to draw the map for it.

Courts have, fortunately, repeatedly smacked down these efforts, invalidating GOP gerrymanders of congressional, legislative, and now council districts affecting Greensboro, as well as gerrymanders of governing bodies in other populous locales. But these persistent attacks on the principle of self-rule are par for the course for North Carolina Republicans—just see our lead item above.

Voter Suppression

North Dakota: North Dakota’s Republican-dominated state Senate approved a bill that would impose a strict voter ID requirement when voters go to the polls. North Dakota is the lone U.S. state that doesn’t have voter registration at all, so an ID of some sort makes more sense here than in other states, but such a requirement still shouldn’t run the risk of disenfranchising eligible voters when fraud is nearly nonexistent. Under current law, those who lack the proper ID are allowed to sign a sworn affidavit to vote, but Republicans want to eliminate that option.

The state House passed a slightly different measure in February, but once the two chambers reconcile their separate proposals, GOP Gov. Doug Burgum will likely sign the final product into law. This change flies in the face of a 2016 federal court ruling that required an affidavit option because Republicans’ previous voter ID law effectively disenfranchised certain groups of voters like Native Americans, who often live on reservations without driver’s licenses, birth certificates, or even residential addresses.

One in 20 voters used the affidavit option in 2016, and preventing them from voting could help swing close elections to the GOP. Given that Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who is up for re-election next year, only won office in 2012 by less than a one percent margin, it’s easy to see a race like that going the other way if Republicans get their way.

Expanding Voting Access

Hawaii: As expected, legislators in Hawaii’s entirely Democratic state Senate have unanimously advanced a bill out of committee to switch the state to a fully vote-by-mail system by the 2020 elections. The measure recently passed the full state House, and approval from the full Senate appears likely too. However, proponents remain worried that possible differences between the Senate and House versions could sink the bill, which is what happened during the last session of the legislature. After Hawaii once again ranked dead-last in turnout in 2016, the renewed urgency of measures to boost participation might finally sway legislators to get their act together.

Montana: In a surprise development, Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock used his special “amendatory veto” to change an uncontroversial election bill in order to allow local election officials to conduct the upcoming May 25 special election for the state’s sole congressional district entirely by mail. Voting access advocates had been pushing the change as a cost-saving measure that would increase turnout, since every registered voter would be mailed a ballot rather than have to visit a polling place. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington already vote entirely by mail in this fashion, and they consistently rank well above average in terms of turnout.

The Republican-controlled state Senate had already consented to a vote-by-mail bill, but GOP legislators in the state House had blocked such a proposal from even receiving a floor vote. And we know the move was entirely cynical because the state’s Republican Party chair openly admitted that the GOP was opposed to such a measure solely because it could help Democrats!

But Bullock’s power play has put the screws to Republicans. The changes the governor made to this new election law with his amendatory veto don’t automatically become law; rather, the legislature gets the chance to vote on them. This time, though, it appears that the GOP can’t try to bottle things up with procedural moves and will have to allow a vote by the full House. Given what transpired in the Senate, there’s good reason to think Democrats could secure enough Republican support to pass the bill in the lower chamber, too, and thus complete an end-run around GOP obstructionists.

The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.

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on this day … 6/29 1953 – The Federal Highway Act authorized the construction of 42,500 miles of freeway from coast to coast.

1236 – Ferdinand III of Castile and Leon took Cordoba in Spain.

1652 – Massachusetts declared itself an independent commonwealth.

1767 – The British Parliament approved the Townshend Revenue Acts. The acts imposed import duties on glass, lead, paint, paper and tea shipped to America.

1776 – The Virginia constitution was adopted and Patrick Henry was made governor.

1804 – Privates John Collins and Hugh Hall of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were found guilty by a court-martial consisting of members of the Corps of Discovery for getting drunk on duty. Collins received 100 lashes on his back and Hall received 50.

1860 – The first iron-pile lighthouse was completed at Minot’s Ledge, MA.

1880 – France annexed Tahiti.

1888 – Professor Frederick Treves performed the first appendectomy in England.

1897 – The Chicago Cubs scored 36 runs in a game against Louisville, setting a record for runs scored by a team in a single game.

1903 – The British government officially protested Belgian atrocities in the Congo.

1905 – Russian troops intervened as riots erupted in ports all over the country. Many ships were looted.

1917 – The Ukraine proclaimed independence from Russia.

1925 – Marvin Pipkin filed for a patent for the frosted electric light bulb.

1926 – Fascists in Rome added an hour to the work day in an economic efficiency measure.

1932 – Siam’s army seized Bangkok and announced an end to the absolute monarchy.

1941 – Joe DiMaggio got a base hit in his 42nd consecutive game. He broke George Sisler’s record from 1922.

1946 – British authorities arrested more than 2,700 Jews in Palestine in an attempt to end alleged terrorism.

1950 – U.S. President Harry S. Truman authorized a sea blockade of Korea.

1951 – The United States invited the Soviet Union to the Korean peace talks on a ship in Wonson Harbor.

1953 – The Federal Highway Act authorized the construction of 42,500 miles of freeway from coast to coast.

1954 – The Atomic Energy Commission voted against reinstating Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s access to classified information.

1955 – The Soviet Union sent tanks to Poznan, Poland, to put down anti-Communist demonstrations.

1966 – The U.S. bombed fuel storage facilities near the North Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.

1967 – Israel removed barricades, re-unifying Jerusalem.

1972 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.” The ruling prompted states to revise their capital punishment laws.

1982 – Israel invaded Lebanon.

1987 – Vincent Van Gogh’s “Le Pont de Trinquetaille” was bought for $20.4 million at an auction in London, England.

1995 – The shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir docked, forming the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth.

1998 – With negotiations on a new labor agreement at a standstill, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that a lockout would be imposed at midnight.

2000 – In Santa Rosa, CA, the official groundbreaking ceremony took place for the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

2007 – The first generation Apple iPhone went on sale.

2011 – The state of Nevada passed the first law that permitted the operation of autonomous cars on public roads. The law went into effect on March 1, 2012 and did not permit the use of the cars to the general public. Google received the first self-driving vehicle license in the U.S. on May 4, 2012 in Nevada.