This Week in Statehouse Action: Breaking Spring edition

Bourbon Peach Smash: It feels like I’ve been writing about the Georgia legislature’s proposed voter suppression bills all year (… wait, I have been), but finally, after lots of legislative horse trading, a raft of these bills has been signed into law by the governor.

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The GOP’s anti-democratic omnibus—SB 202—fully passed the legislature on Thursday and was immediately signed into law by Georgia’s GOP governor.

Here are some of the new obstacles that will make voting harder for Georgians:

  • Voters seeking to vote absentee must provide a copy of their identification or the number of their Georgia driver’s license or state ID to both apply for and when returning the ballot.
  • The secretary of state’s office is prohibited from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications (as it did before the 2020 primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic).
  • Voters have to request absentee ballots 11 days before an election (currently absentee ballots can be requested up to the Friday before Election Day).
  • Ballot drop boxes can only be located inside of early voting locations and can only be used during voting hours (which kind of obviates the whole point of ballot drop boxes, no?).
  • Giving food or drinks (including water!) to a voter waiting in line to cast their ballot is now a crime.
  • The runoff cycle is shortened from the current nine weeks to just four weeks.

And don’t get me wrong, all of these things are very, very bad.

But some of the worst provisions of this measure are a little on the sneaky side.

Like, say, allowing for unlimited challenges to voter registrations and eligibility.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?

It’s not.

Let’s take a look back at the Georgia Senate runoffs to see why.

  • In January, the right-wing group True the Vote (lol) challenged the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of voters in those runoff elections based on an unreliable postal database.
    • On that occasion, only a few dozen votes were actually thrown out.
  • But under the new law, conservative activists will now able to challenge the eligibility of literally as many voters as they want.
  • Also, local election boards will be required to hear these challenges within 10 days, which could pressure county officials to hastily remove eligible voters from the rolls or erroneously reject their ballots.

But wait, it gets worse!

  • The new law also grants state officials the broad rights to replace local election officials (hence the “pressure” mentioned above).
    • So not only will these eligibility challenges become more numerous and frequent, but local officials deemed reluctant or unable to remove suitable numbers of voters from rolls or reject enough ballots could be swapped out for folks deemed more … amenable.
  • In this vein, the new law will also remove Georgia’s elected secretary of state as chair of the state election board.

So, yeah, this new law is deeply diabolical.

It will surely be challenged in court, but even if it’s thrown out, how many elections will be conducted under its authority in the meantime?

  • And while we’re talking about legislative voter suppression, let’s make a quick swing through West Virginia, where the GOP-controlled state Senate passed a bill this week that would 
    • Repeal automatic voter registration (which became law in 2016 but was never actually implemented lol),
    • End early voting on the seventh day before Election Day (instead of the third, as is current law), and
    • Let so-called “idle” voter registrations be purged if voters don’t vote in just a two-year period (instead of the current four-year period).

But why stop at just suppressing the vote when you can just ignore voters?

Missouri Mule: Last August, Missouri voters approved a ballot measure expanding Medicaid to some 230,000 residents with 53% of the vote.

  • This Thursday, Republicans on the Missouri House committee voted to block the funding required (90% of which would come from the federal government) to pay for the program’s expansion.
    • The proposal won’t even make it to the House floor for a full vote; just 20 Republicans in the 163-member chamber overrode the will of state voters.
  • But, according to GOP lawmakers, those voters just don’t count because they’re not from the right part of the state.
    • Rep. Ed Lewis claimed that, since that 53% didn’t amount to a majority of the state’s population or eligible voters, their say doesn’t really matter.
    • Rep. Sara Walsh put a finer point on it: “Rural Missouri said no.”
  • … the thing is, Medicaid expansion wouldn’t have passed last summer without the one in three rural voters who supported it.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned: Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are still using Trump’s Big Lie (about the 2020 presidential election being “stolen,” which, as an erudite consumer of this missive, you know was extremely not) to facilitate legislative showboating, wasting taxpayer dollars on sham “hearings” about supposed election malfeasance—but they’re turning it up a notch.

  • This week, the GOP-controlled Assembly effectively escalated the hearings they’ve already been holding to “investigate” 2020 elections into the statehouse equivalent of a show trial as they voted to give themselves the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
    • The language of the resolution reveals Republicans’ true intent with these hearings, which claims that election officials, “through willful disregard or reckless neglect[,] have failed to adhere to our election laws” by “ignoring, violating and encouraging noncompliance” of election laws and administration.
  • And I’m sure it’s just a wacky coincidence that Assembly Republicans have also introduced a slew of voter suppression bills very obviously designed to assuage the election “issues” raised by Trump and his supporters.
    • These measures include:
      • Drastically limiting the number of ballot drop boxes
      • Requiring absentee voters to provide an ID for every election
      • Limiting who can automatically receive absentee ballots for every election
      • Prohibiting election officials from completing missing information on the certification envelopes returned by voters that contain absentee ballots
      • Creating more paperwork for those who vote early in clerk’s offices

… okay it’s not a coincidence

Well, I don’t know about you, but that’s all the bad news I can stomach along with all this alcohol right now.

So let’s end on a happier note.

New York Sour: New York is finally moving forward with recreational marijuana legalization in the state.

  • Thanks in part to his desire to divert attention from his multiple scandals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently became more amendable to the Democratic-majority legislature’s legalization proposals, which includes key equity provisions:
    • 40% of most marijuana tax revenues would be reinvested in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs
    • 40% would be steered to public education
    • 20% would go toward drug treatment, prevention, and education
    • Programs would be established to provide loans, grants, and incubator programs for small farmers and people from disproportionately impacted communities who want to enter the industry.

And finally …

Virginia: … has finally officially abolished the death penalty.

  • Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law this week, making the state that has executed more prisoners than any other (nearly 1,400) the first in the South to ban state-sponsored murder.

Hooray!

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week.

If you drink, you should make yourself a cocktail (using one of the above-linked recipes or not, you do you).

If you don’t, do something that chills you out and makes you happy.

You deserve it.

Because you’re important.

And we need you.

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