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Court Decisions Force Wisconsin to Hold Primary During Pandemic. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state must hold its primary Tuesday, overruling Gov. Tony Evers executive order to postpone the election.
  • Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lower ruling that would have let absentee ballots be cast until April 13.
  • Both decisions were the results of legal challenges from the GOP-led legislature, which refused to delay the election or allow for full mail-in voting and also objected to extending absentee voting.
  • Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since shelter-in-place orders have been implemented all over the country.

Wisconsin’s Legal Battle

After a dizzying legal back-and-forth, Wisconsin held its primary election Tuesday despite warnings from public health experts about gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since it and the majority of other states issued shelter in place orders. More than a dozen other states postponed their primaries in response to the outbreak, making Wisconsin the only state to hold in-person elections in April.

That, however, is not for lack of trying on the part of Gov. Tony Evers. On Monday, Evers issued an executive order delaying the election until June 9.

According to reports, Evers held off on the move until the last minute because many local offices on the ballot start their terms in April, and Wisconsin state law says only the state legislature can change the date of the election. 

But the GOP-led legislature refused to change the date or allow the election to go forward with all mail-in ballots. When Evers went ahead with the executive order, the state legislature filed a legal challenge, saying the governor was exceeding his constitutional authority.

Shortly after, a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court shot down the order, ruling that the election had to go forward on Tuesday.

In a separate ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal court decision that would have extended absentee voting until April 13. The lower court’s decision had also received a legal challenge from the state’s Republicans.

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that extending the deadline for absentee voting “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.”

All four of the liberal justices dissented. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing review of the decision.

“The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic,” she wrote.

“With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”

Poll Workers and Condensed Locations

Similarly, there were also many concerns about the safety of poll workers and election officials as well.

While officials said they were taking precautions to protect their health at voting precincts, many also told reporters that all the legal back-and-forth created confusion and logistical problems.

That was made worse by the fact that thousands of poll workers said they will not work, with some reportedly saying they were being asked to risk their health.

According to the New York Times, “roughly 2,400 National Guardsmen were being trained as poll workers as late as Monday, it still won’t come close to the more than 7,000 who have already said they cannot work.”

The lack of poll workers has also prompted officials to shut down hundreds of polling stations. One of the most dramatic examples was in Milwaulkee, where the number of polling locations was cut from 180 to just five, despite the fact that election workers expected more than 50,000 voters to turn out.

The move forced those who did decide to vote in-person to wait in long lines and further risk exposing themselves to more people.

 Response

Many people took to Twitter to share videos of lines wrapping around buildings or spanning whole blocks.

A number of users argued that holding in-person voting during a pandemic was undemocratic or amounted to voter suppression.

Some directly accused the state’s Republicans of endangering their people, while others also condemned the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Many of those points were echoed by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“It’s outrageous that the Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has not said much since the decision, but on Thursday, he took a different stance.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done; that’s for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide,” he told reporters, adding that both in-person and mail-in voting could be done safely.

However, there were some who applauded the decision to keep in-person voting. 

Others appeared to downplay the move, like one Republican county chair, Jim Miller of Sawyer County, who said the voting process would be like picking up food under Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order.

“If you can go out and get fast food, you can go vote curbside,” he said. “It’s the same procedure.”

President Donald Trump, for his part, also chimed in Tuesday morning, encouraging people to go out and vote for a conservative state Supreme Court justice who supported the Second Amendment.

What’s Next?

Currently, it is unclear how voter turnout has been impacted. As for the election results, those are not to be expected for several more days.

The federal judge that initially allowed absentee ballots to be sent until April 13 also ruled that election officials had to hold results until that same date. According to reports, the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not seem to have changed that.

That said, Biden has been pulling out a strong lead over Sanders in Wisconsin’s polls for a while now. FiveThirtyEight predicts that the former vice president has a 90% chance of winning the most votes.

Wisconsin will likely be crucial to the future of Sanders’ campaign. In 2016, Sanders won the state, which has 84 pledged delegates up for grabs.

Wisconsin is also a key battleground state. Trump won the state in the general election in 2016, turning it red for the first time in 30 years.

Besides being an important state in both the primary and general, Wisconsin also has much bigger implications for both parties.

“The state stands as a first test case in what both national parties expect to be a protracted fight over changing voter rules to contend with the pandemic — potentially the biggest voting rights battle since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the Times explains.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

Politics

Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Politics

Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

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

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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