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Ella Jones’ Big Win, Steve King’s Loss, and Other Key Takeaways From Tuesday’s Primaries

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Photo by Christian Gooden for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • Eight states voted Tuesday in the biggest primary since the pandemic started and what many considered a “dry-run” for November. 
  • Despite issues here and there, election officials said the biggest problems leading up to Election Day were related to the large increase in demand for mail-in ballots, which were requested in record numbers in multiple states.
  • Rep. Steve King (IA), who has a long history of making racist remarks, lost the Congressional seat he has held for nearly 18 years.
  • Ferguson, Missouri, where large protests erupted six years ago that helped propel the Black Lives Movement to national standing, elected its first black mayor.

Cues for November

Eight states and Washington D.C. held primary elections on Tuesday as protests over the killing of George Floyd continued all across the country.

Tuesday’s elections marked the biggest day of voting since the pandemic began, and served as the first large-scale test of what voting might look like in November.

All of the states holding primaries either encouraged or expanded mail-in ballots, and many significantly reduced the number of in-personal polling locations.

But both of those precautions created some major problems.

Numerous polling locations reported long-lines and poor social distancing. In, Washington D.C., where only 20 of the usual 143 polling places were open, people reported wait times of more than an hour at 7:30 p.m in all locations.

Videos posted to social media showed lines that stretched on for blocks, even as the city’s curfew took effect.

There were also reports of confusion in some places over which polling places were open and where mail-in ballots needed to be dropped off.

Deadlines for mail-in ballots also created problems in some states like Indiana, where the clerk of the state’s most populous county said last week that thousands of ballots might not be counted because they would not reach their office by the noon deadline on Election Day.

Issues With Mail-In Ballots

However, in general, election officials have said that most of the major issues were related to a huge increase in demand for mail-in ballots, which was reportedly up by 1,000 in some places.

Tuesday’s elections saw record numbers of mail-in ballots both requested and cast in a lot of the states. Those requests, however, were also accompanied by numerous complaints about delayed ballots.

According to reports, a judge in one Pennsylvania county ordered the mail-in deadline to be extended for as many as 500 people who had requested their ballots but not received them. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also extended the mail-in ballot deadline by a week in six counties hit hardest by the coronavirus and protests.

People in D.C., Maryland, and Rhode Island also reported that they did not receive their mail-in ballots or had a hard time submitting requests.

In D.C. election officials reportedly resorted to hand-delivering ballots and even accepting emailed ballots. Security experts have warned that emailed ballots are incredibly vulnerable to hacking, because there is no way for voters to verify that they were accurately recorded.

But those problems could just be a small taste of what could happen in November if more states do not prepare for the massive surge in mail-in voting.

Some states are used to only 10% of voters or even less casting mail-in ballots, and experts say it us absolutely essential that they immediately start preparing to receive a lot more.

“These decisions need to be happening now. It’s a June kind of thing, and July is even pushing it,” Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute told the Washington Post.

High Costs and Partisan Barriers

Unfortunately, expanding mail-in voting is an incredibly expensive feat, and currently, there are a lot of questions about whether or not states have enough money to do so.

In March, Congress appropriated $400 million for elections in the stimulus bill, but experts have said the cost of operating safe elections during the pandemic could be up to $2 billion. 

While Congressional Democrats have pushed for another $3.6 billion for election funding for the next stimulus bill, it is unclear if Republicans, who have been hesitant to even discuss any new legislation concerning pandemic stimulus, will support the idea.

Leaders in Washington are also facing pressure from President Donald Trump, who has been increasingly vocal about his opposition to mail-in voting.

Trump has repeatedly insisted that expanding mail-in voting will lead to more voter fraud, despite the fact that his claims have been repeatedly debunked and he himself voted by mail in the last two elections.

But Trump’s efforts to undermine expanding vote-by-mail, at least at the national level, are still going strong. Recently, his campaign teamed up with the Republican National Committee to dump millions of dollars into lawsuits against states that are trying to expand mail-in voting.

However, at the state level, the debate is a lot less partisan. In fact, multiple states with Republican governors or top election officials have started the process of expanding mail-in voting.

Steve King Voted Out, Ella Jones Voted In

In addition to serving as a test-run for the general election in November, Tuesday’s primaries also brought about some other newsworthy moments.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who has a long history of making racist remarks, was voted out of Congress after nearly 18 years after losing his seat to State Senator Randy Feenstra by nearly 10% of the vote.

While King’s loss is significant, it was not entirely unexpected. After the 2018 midterms, it was clear that King’s seat was in jeopardy when he almost lost his seat to a Democratic challenger in an incredibly conservative district.

While Democrats have long criticized King for openly voicing and promoting racist views, he finally crossed the line with his own Republican party in January 2019, when he told the New York Times in an interview: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

Those remarks sparked backlash within the party, and King was stripped of all his committee assignments. Even though he decided to run for re-election, he did so without the backing of the mainstream Republican establishment both in DC and Iowa, which chose to throw its support behind Feenstra, his leading opponent.

On a very different note, another major highlight from the night came from Ferguson, Missouri which elected its first black mayor, a City Council member named Ella Jones, who is now also the first woman to lead the city.

Ferguson was thrust into the national spotlight in 2014 when massive protests broke out in the city after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager. Those protests and the activism surrounding them was one of the major catalysts that pushed Black Lives Matter to become the national movement it is today.

And now, nearly six years later, Jones’ election comes as protests over the death of George Floyd, police brutality, and justice for black communities are being held all over the country— many of which are organized and led by BLM.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NPR)

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Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week

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Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.


Voting Bill Set for Floor

Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.

The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.

While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.

The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.

Pathway for Filibuster Reform

Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed. 

That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.

It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.

As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).

This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.

Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)

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McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024

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The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.


McConnell Doubles Down 

During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.” 

McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.

The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.

McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.

“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.

McConnell’s Calculus

Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.

“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).

Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.

“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.

Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.

The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.

On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”

With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)

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Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico

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The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.


Texas Border Wall 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.

Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.

While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.

Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.

During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.

The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.

Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.

While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.

“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”

Ongoing Feud

Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.

Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months. 

Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.

Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.

The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.

During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.

“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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