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SCOTUS Deals Massive Blow to Voting Rights for Nearly 1 Million Ex-Felons in Florida

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  • On Thursday, the Supreme Court allowed Florida to enforce a ban that prohibits ex-felons from voting if they have outstanding debts related to their case.
  • Nearly 1 million ex-felons in the state will likely be unable to vote in this year’s elections as they will be unable to pay their debts.
  • On top of that, because Florida is offering little assistance, many will likely have a difficult time trying to find out how much they owe or if they even owe anything at all.
  • In 2018, nearly two-thirds of Floridians approved a measure allowing convicted felons to cast ballots; however, Florida’s legislature has worked to severely limit the scope of their voting rights ever since. 

SCOTUS Rules Florida Can Enforce Law

The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the state of Florida to enforce a law that bars convicted felons from registering to vote if they have court-related debt. 

While such a predicament might seem rather niche upon first glance, SCOTUS’ decision impacts nearly 1 million ex-felons in Florida who owe outstanding fines or fees related to their case. What’s more, the law also bars some 85,000 ex-felons who are already registered to vote from participating in next month’s primary if they also have not paid fines or fees.

The problem? Many ex-felons might not be able to pay off their debts, and others might not even be able to easily figure out how much they owe, if anything at all.

Florida’s ability to enforce the ban came Thursday when SCOTUS refused to reinstate an injunction that would have blocked the law. An indefinite injunction against that law was first ordered last year after it was challenged in court. In May, a district court judge then made the injunction permanent; however, earlier this month, that injunction was thrown out by an appeals court.

SCOTUS’ refusal also comes just days ahead of Florida’s July 20 voter registration deadline. On top of that, Florida is one of the most hotly sought after battleground states in presidential elections, and this year’s election is expected to be no different.

While the majority did not offer a written explanation for why it refused to reinstate that injunction, three of the Court’s liberal justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—noted their dissent. Sotomayor, who wrote the dissenting argument for the three, said the Court’s inaction “prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.”

“This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning disenfranchisement,” Sotomayor wrote, describing the Florida law as a “voter paywall” against poor convicts.

Though not written, the reason why the Supreme Court refused to extend that injunction is because of a 2006 case, Purcell v. Gonzalez. In that case, SCOTUS advised against lower courts allowing sudden changes to laws too close to an election. 

Because of that, the state of Florida argued the permanent May injunction had violated Purcell v. Gonzalez. 

Sotomayor, on the other hand, argued the opposite, saying that the appeals court’s overturning of a year-long injunction violated Purcell v. Gonzalez. 

“[SCOTUS’ decision] allows the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to disrupt Florida’s election process just days before the July 20 voter-registration deadline for the August primary,” she said.

Florida’s Complicated History With Felon Voting Rights

For years, Florida has struggled with how to handle its felon population when it comes to voting. Originally, it had been one of only a few states that imposed a lifetime voting ban on convicted felons.

That changed in 2018 when voters finally approved a ballot measure that would restore voting rights to most felons,. At the time, 64% percent of voters cased a ballot in favor of the change. The ballot had needed a 60% supermajority to pass.

Notably, that vote granted almost 1.4 million people in the state—roughly 10% of Florida’s adult population—the ability vote. It also restored voting rights to more than 20% of otherwise eligible African-Americans, a group that was disproportionately affected under the original ban. 

To be eligible, felons would need to complete their parole and probation periods. Voting rights were not restored at all for felons who had been convicted sex crimes or of murder.

While that vote had bipartisan support outside of Florida’s GOP-led legislature, lawmakers quickly rushed to limit the scope of the amendment. That included passing a law that prohibited any felon from voting if they had outstanding fees, fines, or restitution associated with their case.

In June 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed that bill into law.

Despite that, the state offered little assistance to help felons determine how much they owed or even if they owed anything. In fact, the state said it would take six years to create a centralized database that felons could utilize. 

The law was then challenged in court by two ex-felons, where a preliminary injunction was ordered. In May, district court Judge Robert Hinkle sided with them.

In his ruling, Hinkle found that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment on the basis of wealth. According to Hinkle, an “overwhelming majority” of convicted felons would be left unable to pay for outstanding debts if they could even figure out how much they owed.

Hinkle also ruled that the law amounted to a ballot tax, which violates the 24th Amendment. 

Hinkle’s decision would have led to a permanent injunction and would have ordered the state to tell ex-felons whether they are eligible to vote and how much they owe. If the state did not answer those requests within 21 days, the ex-felons would be able to register to vote. 

But his order was inexplicably stopped from going into effect by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 1.  

The case itself has not yet been heard in the appeals court. That’s set to happen on August 18, the same day that Florida will hold its primary elections. 

Other Voting Rights Cases This Year

Thursday’s vote marks the fourth time this year that SCOTUS has refused to extend voting right protections. The other three cases each come from Wisconsin, Alabama and Texas.

Notably, those cases were not about convicted felons; rather, they concerned measures that would allow more absentee ballot voting in those states due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

For example, the Texas case sought to allow voters under the age of 65 to request absentee ballots. Currently, Texas only permits absentee voting for people 65-year-old or older.

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

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Boston Authorities Arrest a Man for Setting Ballot Box on Fire

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  • An official ballot drop box caught fire early Sunday morning, and authorities have now charged a man with purposefully setting it aflame.
  • This is the second suspected arson case reported at a drop box location, following a similar situation in California last week.
  • Boston authorities said most of the ballots in the box were able to be fully counted.
  • Voters whose ballots could not be saved will receive replacements and officials are encouraging those who used the box this weekend to check their ballot’s status. 

Suspected Arsonist Arrested

Authorities in Boston are investigating a potential election-related arson after a fire broke out inside of a ballot drop box Sunday morning. Later that night, they arrested the man they believe started the fire, charging him with willful and malicious burning.

Photos from around 4 a.m. show a man walking up to the box before seemingly lighting a fire. Shortly thereafter, people reportedly began to notice smoke coming from the box. 

Source: Boston Police Department 

After arriving on the scene, firefighters were able to put out the fire by flooding the ballot box with water. 

The situation in Boston follows another ballot box fire in Los Angeles County, California, last week. Like in Boston, that fire is also being investigated as arson. 

Around 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, officers reportedly spotted a man matching the description of the suspect. While speaking to that man — 39-year-old Worldy Armand — police learned that he had an active warrant for receiving stolen property.

While in police custody, members of a fire investigation unit formally accused Armand of starting the ballot box fire. 

Boston Mayor: “A Disgrace to Democracy”

In a Sunday joint statement with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the act “a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime.”  

“We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” the statement added. 

Ballot box fires aren’t just meant to invalidate the votes inside; in many cases, they are likely also meant to intimidate voters and add another level of concern to a system that is already facing fears around in-person voting and ballots mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Because of that, the Boston Election Department has worked to reassure voters by stressing that all ballot drop boxes are “under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis.”

Since the fire, Galvin has also pressed officials to start emptying boxes more than once a day.

In the nearby town of Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll said officials there “are using chemical fire suppressants inside the box to ensure ballots don’t go up in flames.”

“Sad that we have to take these measures,” she added. 

On Monday, after news of Armand’s arrest was made public, Walsh said, “From our election workers who are working hard to trace every legible ballot in that drop box, to our firefighters who quickly responded to the fire, and our police officers who launched an immediate investigation, voters can be assured that our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process.”

“We remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election, and maintaining transparency and trust with voters,” he added. 

How Many Ballots Were Destroyed?

Reportedly, there were 122 ballots inside of the box when the fire started. Of that, 87 were still legible and able to be processed; however, at least 35 were partially destroyed. 

Of those 35, Galvin said that most “probably could be read.” Still, he noted that about 5 to 10 of the ballots were unreadable. 

As for what happens to those ballots, officials are urging voters who used the box after Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to track their ballot online or contact the Boston Elections Department. 

Galvin’s office said affected voters will be mailed replacement ballots. They will also be able to vote in-person if they choose. 

Still, it’s not guaranteed that those affected voters will ever realize that their ballots are now, at least, partially unreadable. According to Galvin’s office, if those affected voters don’t turn in another ballot, their original ballot will be hand-counted to the fullest extent possible. 

See what others are saying: (WCVB) (The Boston Globe) (Fox News)

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Iran and Russia Obtained Voter Data for Election Meddling, U.S. Officials Say

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  • Top officials obtained the first concrete evidence of foreign interference in the 2020 election cycle, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.
  • Ratcliffe said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information for the purpose of meddling in the election.
  • Officials also said that Iran was specifically responsible for a slew of email spoofs sent to voters, including emails sent to Democratic voters in four states on Tuesday threatening them to vote for Trump “or else.”
  • Many condemned Radcliffe for claiming that Iran sent the emails to hurt President Trump and downplaying Russia’s role in election interference.
  • Other’s also accused him of selectively declassifying intelligence to benefit Trump’s campaign. 

U.S. Officials Announce Election Interference

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday that Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration information that could be used to disrupt the election, marking the first time top officials have provided concrete evidence of international interference in this election cycle.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran, and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said in a last-minute press briefing. “This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe also specifically claimed that Iran was behind a string of spoofed emails, including threatening messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four states earlier this week. Those emails, which were sent from a domain associated with the far-right group the Proud Boys, claimed to have “gained access into the entire voting infrastructure.” The messages also told recipients if they did not vote for President Donald Trump the group would “come after” them. 

The Proud Boys denied any involvement, and Radcliffe’s announcement appears to support that. Notably, both Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also spoke at the press conference, did not indicate that either foreign country had hacked into election infrastructure or voter registration systems. They also did not say that any election results or voter registration information had been changed.

In fact, intelligence officials who spoke to reporters said that the data they claimed both Iran and Russia and Iran had obtained was largely public, such as the names, party affiliations, and some basic contact info of registered voters.

That information, Ratcliffe said, was also used by Iran to email a video “that implies that individuals could cast fraudulent ballots, even from overseas.” He added that both emails were “designed to intimidate voters, insight social unrest, and damage President Trump.” 

“Although we have not seen the same actions from Russia, we are aware that they have obtained some voter information just as they did in 2016,” he continued.

Ratcliffe Criticism

Shortly after Ratcliffe’s announcement, Google appeared to back up some of his claims about Iran. In a statement, the company confirmed that it had detected around 25,000 emails that targeted users as part of what it described as an Iran-linked disinformation campaign. Google added that about 10%, or 2,500 emails, had slipped through their spam filters.

But many people still had serious issues with Ratcliffe’s characterizations of the situation and dredged up past criticisms of him.

Many Democrats and former intelligence officials have accused Ratcliffe — who is supposed to be apolitical in his role of DNI — of being a Trump loyalist who has used his position to promote the president’s political agenda.

Those allegations are specifically concerning when it comes to foreign interference in the election because Ratcliffe has both actively spread information that the intelligence community had deemed to be false regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. and has promoted debunked conspiracies about the following investigation.

Beyond that, the DNI has also explicitly been accused of selectively declassifying intelligence pertaining to election interference to help the Trump campaign. In fact, earlier this month, many former top officials condemned him for doing just that when he released intelligence about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign that was not only unverified but also, according to intelligence experts, may have been Russian disinformation.

As a result, many condemned Ratcliffe’s announcement Wednesday as yet another example of him publicizing information to benefit Trump, specifically pointing to his claims that Iran sent the emails to “damage” the president.

Unpacking Ratcliffe’s Claims

It is true that since August, intelligence officials have said that Iran opposes Trump’s re-election. Still, Ratcliffe provided no evidence for the claim that Iran was trying to explicitly hurt Trump. On the contrary, many others have said the current evidence indicates that the country is simply trying to create general chaos and distrust.

Many pointed to the fact that the emails reported Tuesday explicitly threatened Democratic voters, and while some did argue that it was an attempt to make the Proud Boys and Trump look bad, at the end of the day, it was still an attempt to dissuade Democrat voters from either voting blue or going to the polls entirely.

Bennett Ragan, the campaign manager for a Democratic State House candidate in Florida, who claimed he received both of the threatening emails, told The Washington Post that he believed the messages were sent to intimidate Democratic voters in one of the most contested swing states.

“When you have people who have a voter roll and then send off emails, they will make a big splash,” he said. “They will scare people. That is without a doubt the intent.” 

Similarly, others also pointed to the video that Ratcliffe said Iran sent voters with disinformation about voting overseas. According to The Post, which reviewed the video, it consisted of “Trump making disparaging comments about mail-in voting, followed by a logo with the name of the Proud Boys,” then going on to document what is supposed to “appear as a hack of voting data in an effort to produce a fraudulent ballot.” 

Regarding the video, critics of Radcliffe argued that it was not intended to make Trump look bad because it was an attempt to spread disinformation about fraud in mail-in balloting by drawing from false statements the president himself made to undermine confidence in voting systems.

This general idea about undermining confidence is also another reason used to dispute Ratcliffe’s claim that this was meant to hurt Trump. The president has spent months trying to undermine the election results. Critics argued that, as a result, these alleged attempts by foreign actors are just them playing off the distrust and discord the president has already created.

That idea was also echoed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) who said that based on a classified briefing he received, he “had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

“I’m surprised that DNI Ratcliffe said that at his press conference,” he added.

The official Twitter account for the House Homeland Security Committee also hit on a similar point, directly contradicting Ratcliffe, and calling his credibility into question.

“These election interference operations are clearly not meant to harm President Trump,” the committee tweeted. “Ratcliffe has TOO OFTEN politicized the Intelligence Community to carry water for the President.” 

“You can’t emphasize one threat over another to suit the President’s ego,” it added.

To that point, many other people also accused Ratcliffe of playing down Russia’s role in election interference. In his announcement, Ratcliffe mostly focused on Iran and claimed that while Russia had the same information, they were not using it the same way. However, multiple U.S. officials who spoke anonymously to The Post “stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.”

As for Iran and Russia, both have directly disputed the claims that they are interfering in the U.S. election. In a statement to the media, and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the country strongly rejects “American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims.”

A spokesperson for Kremlin also denied Russia’s role in influencing the election in a similar statement. 

“The accusations are poured out every day, they are all absolutely groundless, they are not based on anything, rather it is a tribute to the internal political processes associated with the upcoming election,” they said.

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

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Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court Nomination Despite Democratic Boycott

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  • Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee bypassed rules Thursday, voting to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.
  • The vote was 12-0 because Democrats boycotted the session in protest, leaving posters in their seats of people they say will be negatively impacted if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and helps strike down the Affordable Care Act in a case the court will hear November 10.
  • The nomination now will move to the full Senate, with a final vote to confirm Barrett happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after Trump nominated her and just eight days before the election.

Democrats Protest Amy Coney Barrett’s Nomination

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to advance the nomination of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justice pick, Amy Coney Barrett.

Republicans skirted the panel’s rules to recommend her confirmation as Democrats boycotted the session in protest. The committee requires two members of the minority party to be present in order to conduct business, but Democrats remained firm in their opposition to selecting a new Supreme Court Justice before the election. 

Instead of attending the hearing, Democrats put large posters around their seats of individuals they talked about during last week’s hearing– people who they argued would be negatively affected if Barrett joins the Supreme Court and possibly helps it strike down the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s significant because on November 10, the court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the constitutionality of Obamacare. 

However, their protest was largely symbolic since Democrats don’t have the votes to block Barrett in either the committee or the full Senate. 

Experts say they’re mostly trying to tarnish the legitimacy of her confirmation and show the party’s progressive base they had fought until the end.

What Comes Next?

As far as what comes next, the nomination now moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already indicated that he’s taking the rare step of keeping the chamber in session over the weekend in order to limit the opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

By Friday, procedural votes are expected, with a final vote to confirm Barret happening as soon as on Monday, only a month after President Trump nominated her.

If all goes to plan, Trump and his fellow Republicans will have raced to win this battle just eight days before the election, making Barrett the first justice in history to be confirmed so close to Election Day.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (CNBC) (The New York Times)

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