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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Texas Senate Approves Draconian New Voting Bill
      •  Alaska Gives the Texas Law a Dress Rehearsal
      •  New Hampshire Republicans Are Working on Getting Around H.R. 1
      •  Time to Fish or Cut Bait
      •  Biden's Budget
      •  Check Your Calendar: It's 2024 already
      •  Will We Ever Know?
      •  Exhausted Voters, Exhausted Ballots

Texas Senate Approves Draconian New Voting Bill

Sunday morning at 6 a.m., after an 8-hour debate, the Texas state Senate approved a bill, S.B. 7, that would making voting much more difficult. The bill passed strictly along party lines.

The bill is the output of a secret conference-committee meeting and still has to be approved by the Republican-controlled House. Texas House Democrats engaged in a little quorum-busting on Sunday night, walking out so that a vote could not take place. Texas' legislature only meets for five months every other year, and the current session is scheduled to end this week. Just maybe, the Democrats can make themselves scarce for long enough to keep this from passing, at least for now. However, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has the right to call a special session as he sees fit, which he would presumably do. Whenever the bill reaches his desk, he has said he will sign it.

Among other things, the 67-page bill:

  • Limits early-voting hours
  • Eliminates 24-hour voting centers, which are used by Houston to reduce lines
  • Clamps down on absentee voting—which is already very limited—by imposing ID requirements
  • Makes it harder for voters with disabilities to vote
  • Prohibits ballot drop boxes
  • Bans drive-through voting
  • Ends straight-ticket voting, which speeds up the voting process and reduces lines
  • Restricts Sunday voting to curtail "souls to the polls" used by Black churches
  • Makes it a crime for elections officials to send out unsolicited absentee ballots
  • Fines local officials $1,000/day for not following state election procedures
  • Makes it crime for election workers to stop partisan poll watchers from walking freely about the polls
  • Allows partisan poll watchers to photograph and video voters
  • Allows judges to throw out elections if the number of invalid votes exceeds the winner's margin

The Republicans were apparently in a big hurry to have a vote at 6 a.m. because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the state Senate, suspended the rule requiring a bill to be public for 24 hours before it can be voted on.

Joe Biden criticized the bill, calling it "un-American," adding: "It's part of an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans." Sarah Labowitz, the policy and advocacy director of the Texas ACLU, said: "S.B. 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation. It targets voters of color and voters with disabilities, in a state that's already the most difficult place to vote in the country."

Texas is not the only state trying to make voting difficult, especially for minorities, disabled people, and people who live in cities. Many states are working on doing it or have already done it, as shown on this map (in the states with stripes, one or more bills has already been enshrined into law, and one or more additional bills have been passed by at least one chamber of the legislature):

States with new voting laws

The main thrust of most of these bills is to restrict the opportunities to vote, which will have the effect of making voting lines longer in urban areas, but will have not so much of an effect in thinly populated rural areas. By making all the restrictions statewide, Republicans will be able to defend them in court by saying they apply to everyone. That's not actually a great argument, since "equal" laws that have unequal impacts are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. But before the right judge (ahem, Reed O'Connor), that argument might nonetheless get it done.

One of the few states where the Republicans have the trifecta and which has not introduced any bills to make voting more difficult is West Virginia. It could be that state Republicans are so sure of winning (almost) all the marbles that they don't see any need for help. Alternatively, they could be afraid that if they were to do so, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would feel threatened and would agree to reform the filibuster to allow H.R. 1 to pass the Senate, thus nullifying most of the new state laws. On the other hand, Arizona is at the forefront of voter suppression, so Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who is also hesitant to do away with the filibuster, may eventually sit up and take notice. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is planning to bring up H.R. 1 no later than July. That's when the senators are going to have to make real choices. (V)

Alaska Gives the Texas Law a Dress Rehearsal

Take off your cowboy hat and put on a parka. Texas' turn is over. Now it is Alaska's. The runoff election for mayor of Anchorage earlier this month could well be the prototype for future elections in Texas and other states—and not in a good way. Partisan poll watchers crowded the polling places, photographing voters and writing down their license plate numbers as they arrived to vote. Inside the polling places, the poll watchers challenged ballot after ballot. At times, some of the poll watchers became hostile. Officials were threatened in parking lots. Threatening e-mails came in. False claims were made on local talk radio.

A report issued by the city clerk talked about an "unprecedented harassment of election officials." The losing candidate, Forrest Dunbar (D), issued a statement about the supporters of his opponent, Dave Bronson (R), that started with "We have witnessed aggressive, confrontational, and frankly bizarre behavior from Bronson supporters and staff toward Election Center workers."

Anchorage has used absentee voting for years, but since Donald Trump attacked it, Bronson's supporters did, too. While counting the ballots, the election workers had to contend with "disrespectful, harassing, and threatening behavior," according to the city clerk's office. The observers, who clearly had not read the election manual, also challenged many of the processes. When told they were wrong, they became belligerent. There was a clear effort to intimidate the officials.

In the end, Bronson got 50.66% of the vote to Dunbar's 49.34% Dunbar conceded, but it is not known whether he would have won absent the tactics used by Bronson's supporters. Welcome to the future of Texas.

There were hundreds of comments posted to the Washington Post article linked to above. A number of commenters said that the goal of the Republicans was apparently to scare off the election workers so that they could replace them in future elections. Can democracy survive? (V)

New Hampshire Republicans Are Working on Getting Around H.R. 1

Congress has not yet passed H.R. 1, the new voting rights bill, and may never do so unless Joe Manchin decides he wants it, but New Hampshire Republicans are worried that it has a chance. So they have already sprung into action to work around it, just in case it does pass.

In particular, Republican lawmakers in the Granite State are busy splitting election law into one part for federal elections and another part for state elections. If H.R. 1 should somehow pass, it would override only the federal part of New Hampshire's new election laws but would not affect state elections. The state part would not include any early voting, online registration, or absentee voting, except in limited special cases. In short, it would greatly limit voting for statewide offices and the state legislature. A Republican-controlled state legislature could gerrymander the state to its heart's content. With only two House seats, the possibilities are rather limited at that level, however.

If the New Hampshire law passes, there will be two ballots and two sets of rules. To vote in both federal and state elections, a Granite Stater would have to register twice, with different rules for the two registrations. It would definitely be possible to be registered for federal elections but not state elections or vice versa. It would likely be chaos and might come close to doubling the cost of running elections, but Republicans don't care.

New Hampshire is a small state, but if it pulls this off, many larger states are going to take notice, especially if H.R. 1 does somehow pass. Making state elections subject to different—and much more stringent—rules than federal elections would provide a way for Republicans to keep control of state governments while still adhering to federal law for electing the president, senators, and representatives. It would especially allow Republicans to hang onto control of the all-important state legislatures.

No doubt if New Hampshire passes this bill and H.R. 1 also passes, the issue will be dumped in the lap of the Supreme Court. Most likely the Court will say that while Congress has the authority to regulate federal elections (because the Constitution specifically says it does), Congress does not have the authority to regulate state elections (because the Constitution doesn't give Congress that power). In that case, laws like the proposed New Hampshire one would stand up.

Have you noticed a common theme in today's stories about Texas, Alaska, and New Hampshire? We have. After their 2012 presidential loss, the Republicans conceded defeat and commissioned an "autopsy" report to find out why they lost and how to start winning again. The report said that the party needed to have a bigger tent, for example, by emphasizing family values to Blacks and Latinos, something that might actually work. They didn't carry it out, but at least the idea was out there. The report is now buried and the funeral is long over.

The reality now, which Republican officials fully understand is that spoken or unspoken, the Party has four pillars that hold it up:

  • Lower taxes for rich people and corporations
  • Less government regulation of business
  • More government regulation of women's reproductive lives
  • Allowing people to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people if they are so inclined

The first two are nonnegotiable core principles. The Party would dissolve itself before giving them up. The latter two are strategic. The leaders don't actually care about them one way or another, but have discovered they bring in a lot of votes, especially from blue-collar men and some women. But the leaders are smart enough to realize that this platform is not going to get them any new voters and the number they have now is not quite enough to win national elections, and maybe not even enough to win state elections in some states in the sunbelt that were formerly red and are now sort of purplish (and yes, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona, we are looking at you). So rather than carry out the 2012 autopsy plan, the Party is all in on making it harder for Democrats to vote and intimidating those who dare try. If need be, state elections can be run under different (and more GOP-friendly) rules than federal elections. Hence all the new laws and the emphasis on giving "poll watchers" free rein, as proposed in Texas and demonstrated in Alaska. If the only way to win is to end democracy, well, so be it. The poop is going to hit the ventilator when H.R. 1 comes up in the Senate. (V)

Time to Fish or Cut Bait

Yesterday Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" to talk about the administration's infrastructure bill, much of which relates to transportation (roads, bridges, tunnels, harbors, airports, etc.). When Jake Tapper asked him if Democrats would "go it alone," Buttigieg said: "I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment." He complimented Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) on her efforts, but he also said that "this can't go on forever." (English translation: "We are not going to let you run out the clock this time, as you did on the ACA.") He went on to praise the process, but made it clear that the Democrats are running out of patience.

Buttigieg wasn't the only Democrat on "State of the Union." Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also was interviewed by Tapper. She was far more blunt than Buttigieg, saying: "I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep. I would go forward." In other words, she has no expectation that the talks with the Republicans will lead anywhere and wants to get on with the budget reconciliation process right now.

Is this a "good cop, bad cop" routine for the benefit of the Republicans? Maybe, though it probably won't matter if the Republicans keep offering deals that they know Joe Biden will never accept. Gillibrand knows that and so does Buttigieg, but the latter wants to stay polite, in keeping with his "nice young man" image. In reality, if the Republicans want to strike a deal, what they have to offer is something like: "We'll accept all the hard infrastructure (the roads, bridges, etc.) and raise taxes to pay for $1 trillion of it on the condition that you abandon all the soft infrastructure (taking care of children and old people) and don't try to pass it using budget reconciliation." While the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would go bonkers at that, Biden might be willing to accept dropping all the "soft infrastructure" (which actually has nothing to with what has always passed as infrastructure) in order to get 20 or 30 Republican votes for the hard infrastructure bill. Maybe there will be some last-minute breakthrough when Congress returns after the holiday, but if that doesn't happen, Democrats are preparing to go it alone.

Republicans understand that the Democrats hold all the cards here, so they are falling all over themselves to praise Biden. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said of Biden: "I have had opportunities and dealings with him over the years, and he's a straight shooter. If he gives you his commitment, you can count on it." Capito told Fox News: "I think it stems from his [Biden's], kind of, innate Senate negotiating skills." Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) put it this way: "All of his training is as a senator who understands the importance of finding a place where everybody can be moving forward."

This kind of talk suggests that four years of Donald Trump has permanently altered Republicans' brains. During the Trump administration, the way to get things done was to go on Fox News and butter up the president and tell him how wonderful he is. That dog won't hunt anymore. Biden is not like Trump. He understands exactly how the legislative process works, including the budget reconciliation process. If they want to make a deal with him, they are going to have to make a legislative proposal that he likes. Telling him what a great guy he is won't cut it. (V)

Biden's Budget

Joe Biden released his proposed $6-trillion budget on Friday. Of course, Congress can throw it out and start again if it wants to, since determining how to spend the government's money is Congress' job, not the president's. But with Democrats in charge of both chambers, Biden will probably get most of what he wants.

The budget includes both the American Jobs Plan (hard infrastructure) and the American Families Plan (soft infrastructure), but it also has many other items, among them:

  • $37 billion for schools in areas serving poor children
  • $30 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers to expand housing assistance to an additional 200,000 families
  • $14 billion to address climate change
  • $11 billion for discretionary funding for the Dept. of HHS
  • $10 billion for global health programs
  • $9 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • $7 billion for research into cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's
  • $2 billion to address gun violence
  • $2 billion for the Indian Health Service
  • $2 billion for HHS to take care of migrant children
  • $1 billion for the Violence against Women Act
  • $1 billion for community policing
  • $900 million for affordable housing for Native Americans
  • $861 million to help Central America in an attempt to stem immigration from the region
  • $750 million to help repair the damage from the Solar Winds cybersecurity incident
  • $421 million to help states craft gun licensing laws

Of course, these are but some highlights in the budget, which contains thousands of provisions across the entire federal government. There are also a few notable omissions, including these:

  • The Hyde Amendment is missing, meaning that the government will now fund abortions for poor women
  • There is nothing about Medicare negotiating with drug companies to get lower prices, something Biden promised
  • No language in the budget sets a $15/hr minimum wage nationally, but it is there for federal contractors

But again, this is only a proposal. Once the sausage-making gets started in earnest in Congress, just about everything is subject to change. (V)

Check Your Calendar: It's 2024 already

When Republican presidential wannabees are all heading to Iowa, you know 2024 is upon us already. In the past, presidential candidates at least waited until the midterms before starting to run for the presidency. No more. It wouldn't surprise us if some of the candidates were eyeing the 2028 GOP nomination.

Nevertheless, it is still considered a little bit gauche to be openly running for the White House this early in the cycle. Also, given that Donald Trump might decide to run, Republicans have to be careful to hide their ambition somewhat to avoid antagonizing him. The way they are doing it is to nominally be in Iowa to help out the House Republican candidates there. This involves talking to local politicians and voters, helping raise money for the House members, and generally learning who's who and getting the lay of the land. It is tough for Trump to attack someone like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who is obviously more interested in his own 2024 run than the House Republicans, but who is going through the motions of trying to help flip the House.

Cotton isn't the only one not up in 2022 who is suddenly out on the trail. Mike Pompeo was in Iowa on Tuesday raising money for the NRCC. Nikki Haley has been helping female candidates in various states. One candidate she is really going all in for is Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA), who won in 2020 by only 6 votes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is backing several conservative House candidates and is even making ads for them. The 2024 candidates are also active in New Hampshire, but not in nearby Vermont. We wonder why. Is the weather better in New Hampshire? Is the New England clam chowder better there? Are they allergic to Ben & Jerry's ice cream?

By engaging in the shadow primary, the candidates can see how voters react to various themes. They can also size up local politicians, talk to pollsters, and hit up donors (albeit for the House candidates rather than for themselves for the time being). It's not exactly under the radar, but close enough for the moment.

The playbook isn't new. Richard Nixon barnstormed the country in 1966 (nominally) to support House candidates, but also to win friends and learn the lay of the land. Winning candidates who got help from Nixon were naturally grateful and supported him 2 years later. Mitt Romney did exactly the same thing in 2010. It makes sense, especially if you are trying to sort of campaign without it being too obvious that you are really in it for yourself. (V)

Will We Ever Know?

Now that the Senate Republicans have shot down the idea of an independent commission, a lot about what actually happened on Jan. 6 may never be known. It is possible that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) creates a select committee to investigate or that Joe Biden creates a blue-ribbon panel to ask questions and write a report, but they might not. Biden, in particular, could create a panel with an equal number of former Democratic and Republican politicians, the latter of whom put country above Trump (e.g., Jeff Flake, John Boehner, and Arnold Schwarzenegger). If either of them do this, the Republicans are likely to reject the report, claim it is partisan, and tell people not to read or believe it.

The response to the mob storming the Capitol is completely different from the response to previous nationally traumatic events, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy, or the Sept. 11 attacks. In those cases the country came together and almost everyone wanted to get to the bottom of it. In those cases, the suspected guilty party was either a foreign country or a small cadre of crazy people not affiliated with either of the political parties. This time is different because many people (especially Republican politicians) strongly suspect the final report will blame key Republicans. That will be hard to sell to the voters in 2022, so the GOP would greatly prefer no report at all.

Here is a list of some of the questions that need answering;

  • National Guard timeline: After the mob attacked the Capitol, the commander of the D.C. National Guard asked for permission to mobilize and send in his troops. It took three hours for permission to be granted. Why? Why wasn't it granted instantly? Did someone block it? If so, who?

  • What did Trump do and say?: What was Donald Trump doing during the insurrection? Was he in the White House watching it on television? Did he do anything about the insurrection while it was ongoing? When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called to ask him to tell the insurrectionists to go home, what did Trump tell McCarthy? At least one member of Congress has said that Trump sided with the mob. Cross examining Trump and McCarthy under oath separately might be illuminating.

  • Lax precautions: It was known for days in advance that (armed) Trump supporters were going to converge on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and a riot was possible. Leaders of the Capitol police were told not to use their most powerful crowd control techniques. Who told them that and why? Were there intelligence reports that they missed or simply ignored?

  • Did members of Congress help?: There have been reports and some videos of members of Congress giving insurrectionists tours of the building days in advance so they could find their targets more easily. Who are these members? Who got the tours? Did the tours violate any laws? Did the members violate any laws?

  • Ashli Babbitt: One protester, Ashli Babbitt, was killed by a Capitol police officer as she tried to force herself into a lobby off the House chamber. What are the details here?

  • The future: How can the country prevent a future mob from ransacking the Capitol again and threatening the members? Is that possible while still allowing people in the People's House?

Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana who was vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, asked: "How in the world could this happen in this country? It was unbelievable that this far along in a democracy, we could have this kind of an event occur. It needs exploration." But not everyone agrees. Many Republicans have since pooh-poohed the whole thing and said a mob trying to sack the Capitol is no big deal and we need to move on. Their strategy seems to be working, at least with the base. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 74% of Republicans said that too much is being made of the insurrection and it is time to move on, just as Republican politicians have told them. We don't know, of course, but we suspect that if Trump had won and Black Lives Matter protesters had sacked the Capitol, Republicans wouldn't have just shrugged and said it is time to move on. Among all Americans, 55% see the events of Jan. 6 as an attack on democracy while 39% do not. (V)

Exhausted Voters, Exhausted Ballots

The New York Democratic primary for mayor will use ranked-choice voting for the first time. It may also run into a not-so-well-known phenomenon called exhausted ballots, which may determine who wins in the end. Ideally, if there are 40 candidates running, each voter should make 39 choices, from 1 to 39. In practice, many voters in this kind of election just mark two or three choices and then leave it at that. If a voter makes only three choices—say, three very left-wing candidates—and all three are eliminated in early rounds, then the ballot is said to be exhausted and is thrown out at that point. If the voter had understood the system better, the voter could also have had a say in picking which of the centrist candidates he or she wanted, should it come down to that. The same holds, of course, for a voter who marks three conservative candidates and calls it a day.

Why does ballot exhaustion happen? Perhaps it is too much to expect voters to learn enough about 40 candidates to be able to rank them. It also takes time to make so many choices. For some voters on the far left or far right, voting for a centrist is anathema, even though that means that if all the extreme candidates get cut in early rounds, the voters will have thrown their vote away. In effect, a leftist voter needs to answer the question: "If I can't have a leftist mayor, which of the centrist candidates is the least bad?" Not filling in any of them is effectively saying "I don't care."

But in reality, it often matters. In 2011, in San Francisco, which also uses ranked-choice voting, 27% of the ballots were exhausted when two candidates reached the final round. Those voters didn't get any say in who eventually become the mayor. More recently, in 2018, Mayor London Breed (D) prevailed over Mark Leno (D) by 1 point, but 9% of the ballots didn't list either of them, so they weren't counted in the final round. There is reason to believe that if everyone had ranked every candidate, Leno would have won. Leno won transferred votes (people who picked neither Breed nor Leno as their first choice) by a margin of 69% to 31%. Thus, Leno was an acceptable alternative to a lot more people who really didn't prefer either one. If everyone had continued down the list and marked him as their last acceptable choice, he would have probably won.

For the New York election, no one really has a good idea who will be left in the final round. Andrew Yang, Eric Adams and Kathryn Garcia are all well known, but none of them polls above 20%, so the election could easily come down to the third or fourth choices of people who support a minor candidate.

Ranked-choice voting is more demanding than just voting for one candidate and it is not familiar to everyone. In an April poll, only 53% of the New York voters said they understood the system and 28% said they didn't like it. Consequently, many voters may just pick one candidate, not realizing they are throwing their vote away unless their choice is in the final round. That suggests there will be a lot of exhausted ballots, exhausted voters, exhausted pundits, exhausted pollsters, and exhausted politicians by June 22. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May30 Sunday Mailbag
May29 The Republicans' Line Holds on 1/6 Commission
May29 Saturday Q&A
May28 As the Senate Turns
May28 Many Republicans Would Like to Move On from Trump
May28 Trump Legal Blotter
May28 Something Else for Trump to Worry About
May28 Today's 2022 Candidacy News
May28 Vaxxpots Are Working
May28 COVID Diaries: The Numbers Are Dropping, in Spite of All the Things We Are Doing Wrong
May27 Schumer to Republicans: The Train is Leaving in July
May27 Trump Still Owns the Republican Party
May27 Is Wokeness Going to Destroy the Democratic Party?
May27 Ticket Splitting Is on Life Support
May27 Catherine Cortez Masto Is in for a Tough Race
May27 Missouri Congressman Met with Trump about Senate Race
May27 Yang Is Losing His Grip
May27 Former Virginia Senator John Warner Is Dead
May26 Trump Grand Jury Is Convened
May26 1/6 Commission Bill Speeds Up
May26 Infrastructure Bill Slows Down
May26 Newsom Looks Very Safe
May26 Don't Know Much about History, Part II: Marjorie Taylor Greene
May26 Santorum Just the Latest in the CNN Trump Talking Head Parade
May25 Whither the 1/6 Commission?
May25 Liz Cheney Is Still a Staunchly Partisan Republican
May25 DeSantis and Co. Lash Out at Social Media Platforms
May25 The Performance of "Infrastructure" Will Soon Close
May25 Today's 2022 Candidacy News
May25 Don't Know Much about History, Part I: Rick Santorum
May24 Biden Makes Concessions to Republicans
May24 Democrats See Republicans' Refusal to Investigate the Insurrection as Electoral Gold
May24 How Trump's Big Lie Continues to Affect Politics
May24 Jennifer Weisselberg: Allen Will Flip
May24 Why Is Arizona Really Recounting the Ballots?
May24 Georgia Also Wants to Get into the Act
May24 Republicans Try to Limit Ballot Initiatives
May24 One of Cheney's Challengers Has Admitted to Statutory Rape
May23 Sunday Mailbag
May22 Saturday Q&A
May21 Problem Solved--For Now
May21 Biden Wants to Know How Much Climate Change Costs
May21 Trump in Trouble
May21 And About that Reelection Bid...
May21 Gillibrand Will Be Back
May21 Newsom Collects $3 Million Check for Recall Effort
May20 McConnell Now Opposes the Jan. 6 Commission Bill
May20 Trump Lashes Out at Letitia James
May20 Many Democrats Want to Kill Negotiations with GOP on the Infrastructure Bill
May20 Catching Tax Cheats Won't Help Fund Infrastructure Bill