If you care about elections and democracy beyond what you glean from a Facebook meme, the next week is the time to plug into fact, even if it's not as sinister as fiction.
Reform has been a long time coming, amped up by one man’s ego, but what happens from Denver to D.C. in the next few weeks will stretch its legs generations into the future — if we’re lucky.
I question how truth and facts stand up to chicken conspiracies. Have you heard this one?
In Arizona, it was advanced that a Republican Maricopa County supervisor threw the race to Joe Biden with fowl play.
Clint Hickman's family owns a commercial egg ranch west of Phoenix, and a barn fire back in March cooked 163,000 hens.
As is completely logical, goofball site Gateway Pundit hatched the theory, based on a Facebook post, that Hickman stole a truckload of ballots, shredded them and fed them to his birds.
Then five months after the election he got nervous that remnants of the ballots, which of course were printed in China, could be CSI'd from the barnyard poop. The only solution was to set his family business ablaze to cover his tracks.
The sheriff’s department felt the need to note, “The arson investigation revealed no election ballots."
We are through the looking glass, Alice.
Back in the real world on Tuesday, the U.S. House passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act aimed to combat Republican states that have passed new voting laws spurred by the myth of a stolen election. The measure passed on a party-line vote and moves to the Senate which has a more narrow and challenging partisan gap.
The legislation is named for the late congressman from Georgia who was beaten savagely on the Edmund Pettus Bridge as he marched for voting rights in Alabama in 1965, which led to the original Voting Rights Act in the months that followed.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the standards for fair elections in the act were outdated and unnecessary. Further, this past July a high court ruling limited the ability to collect someone else's ballot to relative or caregiver, and in another ruling disqualified any ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
“The right to vote has been sacred to our country since our founding, but since the Big Lie, states across the country have tried to enact restrictive, anti-voter laws," Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Aurora said after Tuesday's vote. "It's never been more urgent than it is today to protect the right to vote.”
The bill promises a lot:
- Gives plaintiffs more ability to seek an injunction over voting rights violations before an election
- Allows federal courts to block voting changes until a final ruling is made
- Allows the federal government to review enacted but not-yet-implemented changes
- Allows the Justice Department to have federal election observers present wherever discriminatory practices are a risk
- Requires reasonable public notice for proposed voting changes.
- Creates a grant program to help small jurisdictions comply with the bill’s requirements
For the big picture, I turned to Colorado’s best-informed expert, Amber McReynolds. She was Denver’s director of elections until 2018, when she left to lead the national Vote at Home Institute.
She's since become a prominent voice in the national debate over voter integrity, and Coloradans should be proud to call her one of us.
An update is overdue, she told me.
“I think it's a different type of protection now,” Amber said, comparing the old voting rights law to the proposed one. “Technology has changed systems. Voting methods have changed, so even when the Voting Rights Act was passed to allow voting by mail, for instance, that was still largely for military voters or voters with specific issues for why they were doing it. There was no other early voting.
“All these things are new. Online voter registration, same day registration, all this stuff has changed the dynamics of elections.”
In May the U.S. Senate confirmed Amber to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors. A voting-by-mail expert was a good addition to the 12-member board, since Trump implicated the post office as one of the conspirators against him in states, like Colorado, that vote by mail.
“This was not a partisan issue,” Amber said. “Basically one person made it a partisan issue mixed in with election conspiracies. What does that say to the public when you have a magnifier in the White House who lost and refuses to accept the outcome, even though the election officials have certified it and the audits haven’t shown anything happened.”
Not all the news about elections is fractious, though. Amber also sits on the first Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission.
This year, for the first time, legislative and congressional political boundaries will be drawn by the independent commissions. Heretofore, they were drawn by mostly the majority party in the legislature to reward incumbents with a friendly electorate, then sorted out just enough in the courts.
“Most of the time these decisions are made by political pundits and politicos trying to angle for their vision in closed rooms at the Capitol, and then they wind up in the court system,” Amber said. “Up until this point, it has been driven by partisans who want to win. Now it's being driven by four Democrats, four Republicans and four independents on two commissions, and it's all out in the open.”
She called that transformational. I call that democracy, though it would be more entertaining if it involved an electoral sacrifice of chickens.
Amber is the level head we need working on these decisions, not Gateway Pundit.
“I'm an independent, I could care less who people vote for,” she told me, “but I deeply care about the system and the process, and so seeing it defamed, whether it was a Democrat doing it or a Republican, I would call that out, and I have.”