This Week in 200 Words

This week, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court heard arguments on the state’s new proposed measure to fight gerrymandering. Florida’s voting rights battle continued; the Court upheld a Republican measure preventing formerly incarcerated individuals from voting until they’ve paid all legal fines and fees. Wisconsin’s voting rights saga, meanwhile, looks more optimistic thanks to a ruling temporarily blocking the purge of over 200,000 voters from its rolls. And more good news: Missouri’s voter ID law was the latest of its kind to be struck down in court.

In other news, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision turned 10 this week, prompting a review of the damage it has done this decade. Senator Tom Udall and Rep. John Sarbanes detailed in an op-ed how big money has prevented the passage of popular measures on climate change and gun control. Reports showed that half of all super PAC donations this decade came from just 25 mega-wealthy donors. And the Brennan Center report highlighted H.R.1. as the democracy reform solution to counter the Citizens United decade.

National News

CNN – Tom Udall and John Sarbanes – The US cannot afford another 10 years of Citizens United

[…] Take, for example, the fact that nearly eight in 10 Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity, according to a Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Despite broad public support for climate action, Congress has failed to address the crisis, because the energy industry has spent, according to data from Center for Responsive Politics, more than $700 million in the 2010-2020 election cycles.

As another example, look at the issue of gun safety. The vast majority of Americans — 89% — favor universal background checks for gun purchases. That includes 83% of Republicans. But Congress has not passed this basic legislation in large part because the National Rifle Association has poured more than $150 million in outside spending into our elections since 1998.

Newsweek – Nearly half of all individual donations to Super PACs were made by 25 mega-wealthy donors, new report says

Twenty-five mega-wealthy political donors contributed nearly half of the almost $3 billion donated to super PACs by individuals over the last decade, a new analysis from the good-governance group Public Citizen has found.

The report, released on Wednesday, details just how starkly the political economy is controlled by a small subset of wealthy contributors. Almost $1.4 billion was given to super PACs—independent organizations which spend money to campaign for or against office-seekers—by these 25 donors and their spouses since 2010.

Unlike traditional candidate committees, super PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, although they do have to disclose their donors and list their expenditures.

Brennan Center – The Reform Law Needed to Counter Citizens United: H.R. 1

In March 2019, the House passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a comprehensive democracy reform package. The bill includes a system of public financing for House elections that would multiply small contributions by matching donations of $200 or less at a rate of six to one. A $200 donation would get a $1,200 match, making it worth $1,400 to the campaign. Candidates can choose to opt in if they show they have substantial public support. Those participating may not accept more than $1,000 in private funds from each donor — significantly lower than the contribution limit of $5,600 for the 2020 election cycle. And the amount of public funds each candidate can earn in an election cycle is capped.

State Updates

Oklahoma – KOCO News – Supreme Court of Oklahoma hears arguments on gerrymandering petition

A new state question that Oklahomans could soon get to vote on hopes to end gerrymandering in the Sooner State.

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma heard arguments from people who challenge the question, which is about to go to the signature-gathering stage. If passed, State Question 804 would take the power to U.S. House and state legislative districts away from state lawmakers and give it to a nine-person commission comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents.

Florida – The Guardian – Florida Republicans win latest attempt to restrict voting rights of ex-felons

With Florida’s primary election quickly approaching, the state’s supreme court ruled it was constitutional to place restrictions on up to 1.4 million former felons who regained the right to vote in the state last year.

Thursday’s advisory opinion lends legal support to a Republican measure that requires Floridians with felony convictions in their past to repay all fines, fees and obligations ordered as part of their sentence to the state before they can cast a ballot. If it remains in place, this could disenfranchise an estimated 80% of the newly enfranchised Floridians who had won the right to vote through Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that passed with majority support in 2018.

The opinion is a blow to voting rights advocates and a win for Republicans who imposed restrictions on one of the most significant expansions of the right to vote in a generation. If carried out, this could affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential election since Florida is a politically competitive state where just a few thousand people can swing an election.

Missouri – Vox – Voting rights advocates just won a small but important victory in Missouri

A 14-year battle to enact a voter ID law in Missouri hit a speed bump on Tuesday, when the state Supreme Court struck down key provisions of a 2016 law making it harder for many voters to cast a ballot.

Voter ID laws require voters to show photo ID at the polls before they can cast a ballot. Although they are often defended as a way to prevent individuals from impersonating another voter, this particular kind of voter fraud barely exists in the United States.

Meanwhile, critics of voter ID argue that they are disproportionately likely to disenfranchise students, low-income voters, and voters of color — groups that are less likely to have ID than the average voter, and that tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. The empirical data on just how many voters are disenfranchised by such laws, though, is highly uncertain.

Wisconsin – Rolling Stone – Wisconsin Appeals Court Stops Voter Purge, But Concerns About Disenfranchisement Remain

After a whirlwind 24 hours in Wisconsin, an appeals court Tuesday blocked a lower judge’s decision ordering the state Elections Commission to immediately begin purging more than 200,000 voters from its rolls — a directive that would disproportionately impact Democratic-leaning minority voters, critics say.

In halting that ruling, the Madison court likely ensured the voters in question will remain registered for the November presidential election and other contests in the state. But even with the temporary stay, officials here worry that the confusion surrounding the breakneck developments in the case could become their own barrier to ballot access in the key swing state.