This Week in 200 Words

In state updates, Georgia activists succeeded in re-opening a polling site in a predominantly Black area that had been shut down by local election officials. Los Angeles cracked down on political contributions from real estate developers and Ohio bolstered its election security measures. Sarasota County, Florida’s redistricting measures, Pennsylvania’s voting machines, and New York City’s new public campaign finance system may be headed for court. Florida and Illinois both passed government ethics reform packages.

In other news, last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4, a bill restoring anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Southern states are fighting for democracy reform. Lastly, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has come under scrutiny for her connection to dark money groups.

National News

Washington Post – House passes voting rights bill to restore protections struck down by Supreme Court

The House passed legislation Friday restoring protections of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that were undone when the Supreme Court struck down federal oversight of elections in states with a history of discriminating against minority communities.

The bill passed 228 to 187, with unanimous Democratic support and the vote of one Republican — Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.).

“No longer will cynical politicians and states with dark histories of discrimination have the green light to freely continue their systemic suppression campaign,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the floor.

Facing South – Southern states take up fight for bold democracy reforms

On Jan. 3 of this year, the first day of the 116th U.S. Congress, the new Democratic majority in the House introduced as its first bill a sweeping reform of the country’s elections. H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a bold package of measures aimed at improving voting access, tackling Big Money’s corrupting influence in politics, and bolstering ethics rules. The Washington Post called it “perhaps the most comprehensive political-reform proposal ever considered by our elected representatives.”

Iowa – ABC News – ‘Dark money’ ties raise questions for GOP Sen. Ernst of Iowa

An outside group founded by top political aides to Sen. Joni Ernst has worked closely with the Iowa Republican to raise money and boost her reelection prospects, a degree of overlap that potentially violates the law, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

Iowa Values, a political nonprofit that is supposed to be run independently, was co-founded in 2017 by Ernst’s longtime consultant, Jon Kohan. It shares a fundraiser, Claire Holloway Avella, with the Ernst campaign. And a condo owned by a former aide — who was recently hired to lead the group — was used as Iowa Values’ address at a time when he worked for her.

State Updates

Georgia – The Philadelphia Tribune – Voting site reopened in Georgia after grassroots fight

When local election officials shut down a polling site in a predominantly Black area of a rural Georgia county, displaced voters couldn’t look to the federal government to intervene as it once did in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement.

So residents banded together, circulating petitions pressuring the Jeff Davis County elections board to reconsider, while advocacy groups sent pre-lawsuit demands and organized turnout at board meetings. The grassroots struggle took two years, but county officials finally relented and agreed to reopen the polling site.

California – Los Angeles Times – LA to Restrict Developers from Campaign Contributions

The city of Los Angeles has decided to start reining in the real estate industry’s contributions to political campaigns for elected officials. Real estate companies with projects pending at city hall have been some of the biggest sources of political funds for elected leaders. But newly approved rules aim to curb the power of political spending at city hall as well as the perception that developers have too much influence over land use decisions, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ohio – Cincinnati Public Radio – Ohio Secretary Of State Says Progress Being Made On Election Security Efforts

Secretary of State Frank LaRose is pushing county elections officials to complete a series of security preparations for the 2020 election. The meeting comes only a month after an election where hackers attempted to break into the Ohio Secretary of State Office’s website. That attack, which LaRose says was thwarted, raised the stakes for a security directive he issued in June.

“Fifty-two counties are more than halfway done,” LaRose says. “Thirteen counties already have their Albert sensor installed and operational, and guess what, we’re already getting alerts.”

Pennsylvania – Philadelphia Sunday Sun – Philadelphia’s voting machines challenged in federal court

A federal court was asked last Tuesday to force Pennsylvania to rescind its certification of a voting machine newly purchased by Philadelphia and at least two other counties in the state ahead of 2020’s presidential election.

The filing casts doubt on how 17% of Pennsylvania’s registered voters will cast ballots in the April 28 primary election, as well as next November, when the state is expected to be one of the nation’s premier presidential battlegrounds.

Florida – West Villages Sun – Sarasota County’s redistricting may be headed for legal battle

On Nov. 9, following a contentious public hearing, [Sarasota County] commissioners by a 3-2 vote adopted a map that moves the historic African-American community of Newtown from District 1 into District 2, and Precinct 233, the largest precinct in the county, into District 1. Those moves now makes District 1, represented by Commissioner Mike Moran, a Republican-leaning district, when it formerly had a majority of Democratic registered voters.

The approval of the map, a derivative of a map submitted anonymously and later revealed to come from local Republican power broker Bob Waechter, angered many. Several speakers during the public hearing mentioned litigation if commissioners moved forward with redistricting in advance of the 2020 Census.

Illinois – Chicago Business – State lawmakers pass ‘tiny step’ ethics bills

SB1639 passed the House with only five dissenting votes. It requires state lobbyists to disclose other units of local government they also lobby and any elected or appointed offices they hold. Lobbying firms would have to disclose when they contract out to other lobbyists for each business or client. The Secretary of State will also be required to update its website to make it easier to use.

Florida – Tallahassee Democrat – ‘This is big’: City of Tallahassee ethics package passes amid challenging year, FBI probe

Tallahassee city commissioners unanimously signed off on sweeping changes to the city’s ethics code, including expanding the Independent Ethics Board’s jurisdiction to cover more employees and officials.

After a year-long process and contentious debate, commissioners unanimously approved the new ethics ordinance Wednesday. Mayor John Dailey heralded the ordinance as the “strongest reform ethics package in the history of Tallahassee.”