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'About Power.' Lawmakers in Kansas, Missouri Race to Change Voting Laws After Election
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=58172"><span class="small">Jonathan Sharman, Bryan Lowry and Sydney Hoover, McClatchy DC</span></a>   
Tuesday, 02 February 2021 13:31

Excerpt: "In Jefferson City last week, Missouri's Republican secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, urged passage of a bill restoring much of the state's voter photo ID law, gutted as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court."

Jay Ashcroft. (photo: News-Press Now)
Jay Ashcroft. (photo: News-Press Now)

'About Power.' Lawmakers in Kansas, Missouri Race to Change Voting Laws After Election

By Jonathan Sharman, Bryan Lowry and Sydney Hoover, McClatchy DC

02 February 21


n Jefferson City last week, Missouri’s Republican secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, urged passage of a bill restoring much of the state’s voter photo ID law, gutted as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

The next day, Kansas lawmakers in Topeka weighed eliminating the secretary of state’s power to extend deadlines for the delivery of mail ballots — a tool that ensures votes still count even in an emergency that disrupts an election.

But in Washington, Democrats are aiming to expand voting rights after taking narrow control of the U.S. Senate. They say the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — a brutal attempt to overturn the will of Black voters — should serve as a rallying point to pass legislation that has stagnated for the last two years.

The aftermath of the extraordinary 2020 election, conducted in a pandemic and then challenged by former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud, has produced immediate, but sharply divergent, responses in statehouses and in the U.S. Capitol.

Kansas, Missouri and other Republican-controlled states are advancing measures to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. Temporary expansions of mail-in voting, implemented because of COVID-19, may not be renewed. Congressional Democrats and voting rights advocates want to pass measures to limit the effects of the more extreme state-level proposals.

“What we saw in D.C. was about power, who has the power to decide the leadership of this country,” said Kayla Reed, co-founder and executive director of Action St. Louis. “And while there are no longer white supremacists scaling the buildings of Congress and attempting to kick down the doors of the halls of Congress, there are many who will use the power of their office in the coming years to suppress the Black vote.”

Reed, in a voting rights panel discussion two weeks after the riot with Missouri Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver and Cori Bush, said the “backlash will be aggressive and it will be swift and we must be ready.”

More than 100 restrictive voting bills have already been filed in 28 states, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. That is far more than early February 2020, when just 35 bills had been filed in 15 states.

Most seek to roll back 2020’s explosive increase in mail voting, impose stricter voter ID rules or limit more expansive registration policies. Others would make it easier to purge the rolls of registered voters, according to the Brennan Center.

In swing states that decided the election, GOP lawmakers are proposing measures that would have helped Trump allies scuttle the 2020 results. In Arizona, for example, a Republican has offered a bill that would enable the legislature to overturn the secretary of state’s certification of an election.

Pennsylvania Republicans are moving to repeal the state law that Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley made the focus of his attempt to cancel the state’s electoral votes. The measure, which expanded mail voting, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support just 18 months ago.

At the same time, at least 406 bills to expand voting access have been filed across 35 states. But in those controlled by Republican supermajorities, like Kansas and Missouri, these measures are unlikely to advance far.

“I think people have sort of put the pieces together over the past several months that these voter suppressive policies are trying to keep Black and brown voters from the ballot box,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and lead author of its report. “Those implications cannot be denied anymore. That connection has been made very plain.”

Republicans in Kansas, Missouri and Congress are adamant that strengthened election security and protections against fraud are their motivations — not disenfranchisement of voters. Confirmed cases of fraud are extremely rare, however, and courts have overturned some of the strictest GOP voting laws, including a Kansas law that required voters to provide proof of citizenship.

Republicans have accused Congressional Democrats of trying to expand their own power through voting and election access legislation.

“Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues are advertising it as a package of urgent measures to save American democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said last year. “What it really seems to be is a package of urgent measures to rewrite the rules of American politics for the exclusive benefit of the Democratic Party.”

Missouri, Kansas proposals disputed

In Missouri, Republicans are trying to wind back the clock to Jan. 13, 2020. That is the day before the state Supreme Court struck down most of the state’s photo voter ID law.

The 2016 statute established three-options: vote with an approved photo ID like a state-issued driver’s license; cast a provisional ballot, or present a non-photo ID and sign an affidavit stating under penalty of perjury that you have no form of personal identification approved for voting,

The high court found the affidavit’s wording confusing unconstitutional. Legislators have now filed several bills in an attempt to restore the voter photo ID requirement.

Ashcroft, who testified in favor of one measure on Wednesday, warned against equating a lack of prosecutions with a lack of fraud.

“So what frequently happens when people ask whether or not fraud occurs, they say, ‘Well, how many people have been prosecuted for it?’ We can’t find that person, we don’t have a photo of them, no one remembers what they look like, we didn’t require them to do that. But we have had that happen,” he said of voter impersonation.

Still, Ashcroft also drew attention to high-profile instances of prosecuted voter fraud. He alluded to how two relatives of then-Rep. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat, admitted to providing false addresses in order to vote in a highly-competitive 2010 primary. Rizzo ended up winning the race by a single vote, meaning fraudulent votes could have delivered his victory.

Rizzo, who has won multiple elections since then and is now the Missouri Senate minority leader, has said he was unaware of the illegal votes by his aunt and uncle.

“It happens and it shouldn’t happen,” Ashcroft said.

Critics of the measure question whether it would actually bring state law into compliance with the court. Sharon Jones, a lobbyist for the Missouri NAACP State Conference and the Missouri LGBT advocacy group PROMO, told legislators that under the bill, voter identification cards wouldn’t be sufficient ID.

“And that’s just one example of a way this bill makes it more difficult to vote than it is to exercise our other constitutional rights,” Jones said.

The Missouri General Assembly is also wrestling with whether to re-authorize the expanded mail voting it approved last year in response to the pandemic. The provisions expired at the end of 2020.

Under the temporary rules, mail balloting was available to all voters, but under different rules. Some ballots had to be notarized — a rare requirement nationally — and some didn’t.

Despite the multiple-tier system, the rules represented a significant, if uneven, expansion of mail-in voting. Previously, Missouri voters weren’t allowed to vote absentee without an excuse.

“We know the public appreciated the special provisions that applied during the pandemic,” said Evelyn Maddox, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri.

But extending the law doesn’t appear to be a priority for Republicans. Gov. Mike Parson made no mention of it in his State of the State speech last week, even though some legislators had urged him to extend the rules through an executive order.

In Kansas, state senators held a Thursday hearing on legislation to strip the secretary of state’s power to extend deadlines for ballot delivery. Current law allows ballots to count if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive up to three days after Election Day. But the secretary also has the discretion to extend the time frame.

The law hasn’t been used since it was implemented ahead of the 2016 election, but could be deployed in extreme circumstances.

“My reasoning for introducing this bill is I personally do not want to have one single person in the state of Kansas to have unilateral ability to change the due date on an election,” said Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Galena Republican.

If approved, the bill would require the secretary of state to only count ballots received by the third day — typically a Friday — after an election. The secretary of state’s office was neutral on the bill, but Deputy Secretary of State Clay Barker said there was no opposition to it.

Austin Spillar, policy associate for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued the bill would restrict voters’ rights in extreme events such as a pandemic, natural disaster or war, calling it an “overt act of voter suppression.”

“It is a punishment to hardworking, civically minded Kansans to do their part and mail their ballot on time, and who in turn expect every properly postmarked ballot to count,” Spillar said.

A ‘small change that has a big effect’

The push by state legislatures to restrict voting has increased the urgency to pass voting rights bills at the federal level, said Cleaver, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who represents Kansas City.

“Almost 15 minutes after the Georgia elections, legislators in the state down there were talking about… ways they can make voting more difficult for minorities,” Cleaver said, referencing the victories in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections by Democrats Ralph Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively the first Black and Jewish senators to represent the southern state.

“I think there’s going to be a whole round of voting restrictions in predictable states and the only way to deal with that is for us to pass this Voting Rights Act quickly,” Cleaver said.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named for the Civil Rights icon and Georgia congressman who passed away last year, would restore voting rights protections that were ended under a 2013 Supreme Court decision.

In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required state and local governments with histories of discrimination to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting changes to their laws.

The court didn’t find the concept of preclearance unconstitutional, but rather it ruled the preclearance formula was impermissible because it was “based on decades-old data and eradicated practices,” from the Jim Crow era. Chief Justice Roberts said that there was no longer compelling evidence for its continued use.

The bill would set a new formula based on the last 25 years. If it passes and is signed into law by President Joe Biden, it could be used to strike down many of the state-level restrictions being floated in legislatures.

Another bill, H.R. 1, goes further and seeks to aggressively expand voting access throughout the nation.

The bill would expand mail voting nationwide and permit same-day registration for unregistered people who come to the polls but are otherwise eligible. It would restore to those who have completed prison sentences the right to vote in federal elections.

H.R. 1 would also create automatic registration for people who interact with state agencies, such as the DMV. These agencies already register people to vote, but the process would change from opt-in to automatic unless the person chooses not to register.

“It’s actually a very small change that has a big effect,” said Sweren-Becker.

These bills face strong opposition from Republicans. McConnell has repeatedly blasted H.R. 1 as a Democratic “power grab.”

Both pieces of voting rights legislation passed the House in the previous congressional session, but went nowhere in the Senate as McConnell blocked any election-related legislation from moving forward for the last two years.

With Democrats in control of the Senate, election reforms are expected to get new life. Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar will take the Senate Rules Committee gavel from Missouri GOP Sen. Roy Blunt.

Blunt, a former Missouri secretary of state who began his political career as a county clerk, bristled at Democratic proposals that would expand the federal role in setting state-level election policies during his chairmanship of the Rules Committee, which oversees most election legislation.

“The wrong thing here would be to federalize these elections and take away the protections that people truly have by elections locally administered under state laws that meet the needs that you have in your state,” Blunt said on a radio show last year about proposals to expand mail voting.

Blunt has not weighed in on the John Lewis bill, which was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Both election bills are more likely to advance to the floor with Democrats setting the agenda, but it is uncertain they can achieve the 60 votes needed to break the Senate’s filibuster.

“The problem has been in the past McConnell wouldn’t put it on the floor,” Cleaver said. “I’m convinced if he puts it in on the floor a measurable number of Republican senators are going to vote for it.”

Blunt’s office did not respond to a question about Cleaver’s prediction. your social media marketing partner