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Georgia Removes Over 300,000 Inactive Voters From Rolls

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  • A federal judge allowed Georgia’s Secretary of State to remove over 300,000 voters from the registry for being inactive. Around 120,000 of these voters were considered inactive because they had not voted, requested a ballot, or contacted county election officials since before 2012. 
  • Critics believe this is voter suppression, and that people should not be able to lose the right to vote just because they have not recently used it. 
  • Georgia has a controversial history when it comes to voter suppression. Many supporters of Stacey Abrams, who lost the state’s 2018 gubernatorial election, believe voter purging played a role in her loss.

Voters Removed

Over 300,000 voters were removed from Georgia’s registration list this week after a federal judge approved a plan from the Secretary of State’s office. 

The voters, which total to about 4% of Georgia’s registered voters, were officially removed on Tuesday. The state says this was part of list maintenance to get rid of inactive voters. 

“These updates are required by federal and state law in order to ensure that the state has the most up-to-date voter information,”  a statement from the Secretary of State’s office read when the plan was announced a little over a month ago.

Every state is required to update their voter lists, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that Georgia is “stricter” than most states. Georgia is one of nine states that follows a “use it or lose it” rule, which allows voters to be removed if they have not voted in a certain amount of time. 

When the state initially announced its plan, the list had 313,000 names. According to the AJC, 309,000 ended up being removed. Voters were considered inactive for three main reasons. First, because they filed a change of address showing they moved to a different state or county, which initially accounted for about 108,000 people. Another 84,000 had election mail returned as undeliverable. 

The last and most controversial policy was to remove voters who had not contacted their county election officials since 2012. In their original list, this accounted for 120,000 people who had not voted, updated their registration, signed a petition, renewed their driver’s license, or requested a ballot since then. 

“Election security is my top priority,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. “Accurate and up-to-date voter rolls are vital to secure elections, but at the same time I want to ensure that anyone potentially affected by this routine process has notice and opportunity to update their information.”

Raffensberg’s office released a full list of those subject to cancellation so that those who were eligible could update their information.

Context of Georgia’s Voter Suppression

Georgia is not the only state to make a recent move like this. Last week, a judge in Wisconsin ordered 234,000 voters to be swiped from the state’s list. Their Attorney General is working to appeal this. 

This removal is especially noteworthy in Georgia, however, as the state has seen high-profile voter suppression controversies in the last several years. When Democrat Stacey Abrams lost to Republican Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election, many believed voter suppression and purging played a role in the results. 

Abrams lost the election by 1.4%. She has called it a stolen election because of the potential voter suppression at hand, which she believes was orchestrated intentionally by Republicans in the state. Specifically, some believe Kem played a role because he was the Secretary of State at the time and did not recuse himself from overseeing elections and voter removals. Kemp is being investigated for voter suppression, and Raffensberger was asked to turn in documentation for this case. 

Since the election, Abrams has devoted much of her time to fighting for fair elections and increasing voter registration, not just in Georgia, but across the country. She founded Fair Fight Action in August, which is an organization devoted to making sure people have and exercise their right to vote.

Backlash to Voter Removals

Fair Fight Action filed an emergency motion against this sweep in Georgia, which they are referring to as a voter purge. The group’s CEO, Lauren Groh-Wargo, criticized the “use it or lose it” policy.

“Georgians should not lose their right to vote simply because they have not expressed that right in recent elections, and Georgia’s practice of removing voters who have declined to participate in recent elections violates the United States Constitution,” she said in a statement.

With the 2020 election looming just around the corner, many were upset with this removal. Democratic politicians have condemned it particularly, seeing it as a Republican effort to maintain control in the state. Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called the alleged effort cowardly. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said this was “a shameful attempt at voter suppression.”

What Happens Next

The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, defended his ruling. 

“It appears that any voter registration cancellations can be undone at a later date,” he said in his decision, obtained by the AJC. “The court’s ruling is based largely on defense counsel’s statement (at today’s hearing) that any voter registration that is canceled today can be restored within 24 to 48 hours.”

However, Jones still will be hearing Fair Fight Action’s side. In fact, on Thursday, he will hear arguments from both the activist group and state officials. 

See what others are saying: (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post) (Slate)

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House Approves Bill to Make Lynching a Federal Crime

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  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would make lynching a federal crime in a 410-4 vote. 
  • A version of the bill was passed last year by the Senate and once the two bills are formally reconciled, the legislation can advance to the president to be signed into law.
  • Trump is expected to approve the legislation.
  • The advancement of this measure is historic, as efforts to make lynching a federal crime have been attempted by lawmakers for over a century.

Bill Passed

In a historic move on Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to make lynching a federal crime. 

HR 35, also known as the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was proposed by Dem. Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois. Rush said on the floor Wednesday that the measure will “send a strong message that violence, and race-based violence in particular, has no place in American society.” He cited the violence at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the El Paso mass shooting that targeted people of color last year in his arguments for why the measure was needed today as much as ever before. 

The bill received widespread, bipartisan support and passed in a 410-4 vote. One independent representative, Justin Amash (MI), and three Republican representatives, Thomas Massie (KY), Ted Yoho (FL), and Louie Gohmert (TX), voted against it. 

Yoho told CNN that he did not approve the measure because he thought of it as an “overreach of the federal government” that suppresses states’ rights. 

The Senate unanimously passed a version of the bill last year called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. Because the numbers and the titles of the two bills differ, additional steps need to be taken to reconcile them. Once that happens, the legislation can advance to the president. A White House spokesperson said Trump is expected to sign it into law, according to The New York Times.   

America’s Gruesome Lynching History

Efforts to make lynching a federal crime have been made for over a century in the United States. In 1900 Rep. George Henry White, the only black member of Congress at the time, proposed a bill attempting this move. It failed to advance. 

Since then, the nation’s legislature has seen other attempts to make lynching a federal crime, but each to no avail for various reasons. HR 35 notes that “nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century.” 

Lynching and its racist roots run deep in American history. The text of HR 35 says that 4,742 people, mostly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968. 

One of these cases was that of Emmett Till, whom the just-passed House bill is named after. Till, a 14-year-old black boy, was brutally beaten and lynched in a 1955 racist attack for allegedly whistling at a white woman. 

The two men who killed Till were put on trial for murder but were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury. In 2017 Till’s accuser, Carolyn Donham, admitted that the boy did not actually make sexual advances toward her decades ago.

Till’s mother held an open-casket funeral for her son so the world could see his mutilated body and take in the horror of his murder, a move that helped to launch the civil rights movement. 

Wednesday’s vote is a strong push toward criminalizing a practice that killed Till and many more. 

“We are one step closer to finally outlawing this heinous practice and achieving justice for over 4,000 victims of lynching,” Rep. Rush said in a statement last week when the House vote was announced. 

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Washington Post) (CNN)

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Russian Election Interference Report Was “Overstated,” Intelligence Officials Say

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  • Last week, it was reported that the top intelligence official for election security told the House Intelligence Committee that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to get President Trump elected.
  • Intelligence officials are now saying that their assessment of Russian interference was overstated and that there is no evidence Russians are taking steps to help Trump’s campaign.
  • Some officials have also expressed concern over how the information has been distorted and politicized by both Democrats and Republicans.

Intelligence Report

Members of the intelligence community are now saying that a top official overstated their assessment of Russian interference in the 2020 election cycle during a briefing before a group of Congress members.

The briefing was given to the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13. by the top intelligence official for election security, Shelby Pierson.

When news of the briefing broke a week later, it was reported that the lawmakers were told Russia was interfering in the election in an attempt to get President Donald Trump re-elected. 

Trump responded to the reports in a tweet in which he claimed that Democrats were launching “another misinformation campaign.” 

Trump also later accused Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of leaking the intelligence report to the media without providing any evidence.

“The Democrats are treating Bernie Sanders very unfairly and it sounds to me like a leak from Adam Schiff because they don’t want Bernie Sanders to represent them,” Trump said.

Intel Officials Dispute Report

Now, intelligence officials are saying that Pierson overstated their assessment and that there is no evidence Russians are taking steps to help Trump’s campaign.

“The intelligence doesn’t say that,” an intelligence official told CNN. 

“A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that. It’s more that they understand the President is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker.”

One official who also spoke to CNN said that the way Pierson characterized the intelligence was “misleading,” while another just said she failed to provide “nuance” that was needed to convey the information.

The officials additionally told CNN that pointed questions from the lawmakers on the committee regarding Pierson’s characterization of the Russian interference caused her to “overstep and assert that Russia has a preference for Trump to be reelected.”

To that point, intelligence officials who spoke to NBC told them that Pierson’s description of the assessment “was an overstatement, fueled […] by a misinterpretation by some Democratic lawmakers on the committee.”

Notably, NBC also reported that two former officials briefed on the matter told them there is in fact evidence that indicates Russians would like Trump to stay in office.

One thing that is clear is that Russia is trying to sow discord in the election and create polarization— and it seems to be succeeding. The officials interviewed by NBC said that they were worried the information regarding Russian interference was being distorted by both Republicans and Democrats for political gain.

Some of the officials specifically expressed concern over Trump’s handling of the situation.

“Trump and his national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, have sidestepped questions about how they would respond to foreign election interference, and have instead put the focus on the Democrats,” NBC reported. “By doing so, they have also played politics with intelligence and national security, current and former officials say.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada Caucus

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  • Bernie Sanders won the Nevada Caucus by a landslide, receiving more than 46% of the vote. Joe Biden came in second with just over 20%.
  • Pete Buttigieg, who came in third with 13.9%, attacked Sanders for being too polarizing, though entrance polls showed that Sanders pulled in a broad coalition of voters.
  • Buttigieg’s campaign also complained about “inconsistencies” with the election in a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party.
  • Sanders separately received criticism for comments he made about Fidel Castro on 60 Minutes Sunday night, reigniting the debate over his left-leaning views and electability.

Sanders Wins Nevada 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won a decisive victory in the Nevada Caucus on Saturday, beating his competitors in a landslide vote.

With 96% of precincts reporting on Monday morning, Sanders has received 46.8% of the vote, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 20.4% and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 13.9%.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who got 9.8% of the vote, was below the threshold to take home any delegates, as were billionaire Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who received 4.6% and 4.2% respectively.

Source: The New York Times

Sanders’ sweeping win in Nevada is significant. Throughout his campaign, one of the major questions surrounding Sanders’ candidacy has been whether or not he can pull in voters outside of his base.

Now, entrance polls from Nevada show that a diverse group of voters turned out to support the Democratic Socialist senator.

“Sanders won not only with voters under 30 and people who identify as very liberal, but also with men, women, Hispanics (overwhelmingly), voters 45 to 64 and people with and without college degrees,” NPR reported.

According to CNN, Sanders won 53% of Latino voters, which is three times as much as Biden, who won the second-highest amount with 17%.

Sanders appeared to hit on this point while giving his victory speech on Saturday.

“In Nevada, we have just put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country,” he said.

Buttigieg’s Speech & Letter

Despite Sanders’ broad coalition, Buttigieg spent most of his post-election speech going after the senator for being too polarizing.

“I believe the best way to defeat Donald Trump and deliver for the American people is to broaden and galvanize the majority that supports us on critical issues,” he said. “Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”

“We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory,” he continued. “We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new and broad and big-hearted American coalition.” 

Separately, Buttigieg’s campaign sent a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party late on Saturday night, claiming that there were “material irregularities pertaining to the process of integrating early votes into the in-person precinct caucus results.”

“Given how close the race is between second and third place, we ask that you take these steps before releasing any final data,” the campaign wrote. 

At the time, about half of the results had been publicly reported and showed Biden firmly in second place with 19% percent of the vote to Buttigieg’s 15%.

The state party’s communications director Molly Forgey responded to the letter in a statement on Sunday.

“We laid out our early vote and Caucus Day processes step by step, and we communicated these processes to all campaigns,” she said. “We are continuing to verify and to report results.”

“We never indicated we would release a separate breakdown of early vote and in-person attendees by precinct and will not change our reporting process now,” Forgey continued. “As laid out in our recount guidance, there is a formal method for requesting a challenge of results.”

Sanders 60 Minutes Interview

But criticisms of Sanders’ polarizing nature and left-leaning politics resurfaced again after an interview the senator did with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes aired Sunday evening.

During the segment, Sanders responded to a clip of an interview he gave in the 1980s, where he claimed the Cuban people did not rise up against former leader Fidel Castro because of policies he implemented regarding education and healthcare.

“You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did?” Sanders asked. “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” 

“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” Cooper responded.

“That’s right. And we condemn that,” Sanders said. “Unlike Donald Trump — let’s be clear — I do not think that Kim Jung Un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin: not a good friend of mine.”

Many people on both sides of the aisle condemned Sanders for his remarks.

“He’s wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote on Twitter. “It’s not because ‘he educated their kids, gave them health care’ it‘s because his opponents were  jailed, murdered or exiled”

“The literacy rate in Cuba was already high before Castro (and many other countries have achieved 100% literacy without, you know, murdering and imprisoning dissidents),” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted.

A number of Democrats and more liberal figures also slammed Sanders’ comments about the Cuban leader. 

Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) said she wished Sanders would “take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro.”

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, himself a 2020 contender, also criticized Sanders’ remarks in a tweet.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Politico) (NPR)

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