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Purges, poll watchers and gridlock: Five developments in the voting battles

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Arizona just became the latest Republican-led battleground to impose new voting restrictions, enacting a law that could purge tens of thousands of voters from the state’s early mail-in ballot list.

And in other key states, GOP lawmakers are charging ahead with efforts to change the ground rules for future elections — with big bills pending in Texas, Michigan and elsewhere.

As Republicans erect barriers to the ballot box, voting rights advocates are putting fresh pressure on congressional Democrats to pass a sweeping federal rewrite of election rules to counter the new laws. But a contentious committee meeting in an evenly divided Senate only underscores the near-insurmountable hurdles Democrats face in passing their elections overhaul.

Here’s a look at recent developments in the battles over voting rights:

Ending permanent mail-in voting in Arizona

A law signed last Tuesday by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey targets the state’s Permanent Early Voting List. Under that system, people on the list automatically receive a ballot for every election.

The new law removes voters from the list if they fail to cast an early mail-in ballot in at least one primary or general election in a four-year period and don’t respond to mailed notices warning them of their removal.

But voting in person during that window won’t count as casting a mail ballot.

Proponents say the change will ensure ballots aren’t going to people who have died or moved. Critics, who say the new law could affect as many as 150,000 voters, argue it will make it harder for occasional voters to participate in elections and could disproportionately affect rural and minority voters.

Barring a ballot fix

The new law came just days after Ducey signed another controversial measure that bars election officials from establishing a grace period for voters who forget to sign their mail-in ballot to fix the problem.

As a result, mail-in ballots must be signed by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.

The Navajo Nation had gone to court to demand extra time for ballot fixes. And last week, tribal leaders denounced the new laws, noting that tribal members often live hundreds of miles away from election offices.

An analysis by The Arizona Republic found Native American voters in Arizona overwhelmingly supported President Joe Biden last November. Biden flipped the traditionally red state by fewer than 11,000 votes.

“The voting power of the Navajo people changed the outcome of the 2020 election in the state of Arizona and certain groups did not like it,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “It’s voter suppression; it’s voter disenfranchisement, and it’s an unprecedented attack on our right to vote.”

Arizona law still gives voters five business days to “cure” or fix mismatched signatures on mail-in ballots.

Texas weighs sweeping change

Arizona is the latest political battleground to enact new restrictions, joining states such as Florida, Georgia and Iowa with new voting laws this year. Texas could be next.

On May 7, the Republican-controlled state House passed a broad bill that would empower partisan poll watchers, increase penalties for voting crimes and make it a felony for an election official to send unrequested vote-by-mail applications to Texans.

The Texas Senate previously approved an even more sweeping measure. It would allow poll watchers to videotape people receiving assistance to vote and would ban drive-thru voting and other measures employed in metro areas such as Houston in 2020 that made it easier to vote in the pandemic.

The differences between the two bills could get hashed out in closed-door negotiations before the Texas legislature’s scheduled adjournment at month’s end.

Restrictions considered in Michigan

In another closely watched political battleground, Michigan lawmakers continue to work on a Republican-backed package of voting bills that critics say could make it harder to vote.

Among the proposals: requirements that voters submit identification or only be allowed to cast provisional ballots and a prohibition on Michigan’s secretary of state mailing all of the state’s registered voters forms to request absentee ballots.

In the 2020 election, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office mailed all voters absentee ballot request forms. And those who did not have IDs could vote by submitting affidavits attesting to their identities. Republicans also have sought to ban pre-paid postage on return envelopes for absentee ballots.

One Michigan bill would prevent the “name or likeness” of an elected official from appearing on any publicly funded communications that mention election activity. Violators would face fines.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said that could prohibit local election officials from posting basic information about voting on their official social media accounts. “The people who you trust most to get voter information from would be prohibited from being able to talk about the election,” Nessel told reporters recently. “I don’t know what’s more ridiculous than that.”

When contacted by CNN, Michigan state Sen. Dale Zorn, the bill’s author, referred questions to leaders of the Senate elections committee. The committee’s chairwoman, state Sen. Ruth Johnson, did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Gridlock stymies federal voting measure

Even before a Senate committee met on the For the People Act last week, the Democrats’ sweeping elections and campaign-finance overhaul faced trouble.

The 9-9 partisan deadlock last Tuesday on moving the measure forward only confirmed its long odds. And it’s not just Republicans who oppose the bill. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, has indicated he won’t back his party’s far-reaching bill, which touches on everything from early voting rules to public funding for Senate campaigns.

He suggests pushing a narrower bill forward as an alternative. That bill, named for the late Rep. John Lewis, would restore pieces of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — including provisions that require federal government sign off before states can make major changes to their election rules.

The Senate is divided 50-50 along partisan lines with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast the deciding vote on ties. Senate rules, however, require 60 votes to end filibusters on legislation.

With congressional redistricting and the 2022 midterms looming, progressive activists say time is running out for Congress to blunt new GOP laws in the states. They are imploring Democrats to gut the Senate legislative filibuster.

Tuesday’s contentious committee debate made clear that there is “no chance that Democrats will get 10 Republicans on board,” said Eli Zupnick of Fix Our Senate, a coalition of nearly 70 groups lobbying to end the filibuster.

Senate Democrats, he said, “are going to have to make a choice very soon: Are they going to stand up to voter suppression or are they going to protect the filibuster?”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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