Kira Lerner Archive

These are the Floridians trying to overturn a Jim Crow-era disenfranchisement law

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Marquis McKenzie lost his right to vote before he’d even earned it.

Late one evening more than a decade ago, he held up a stranger at gunpoint. It was a crime that McKenzie, who was just 14 at the time, admits in retrospect didn’t make much sense.

“Only thing I got from him was a wallet and a cell phone and I had a wallet and cell phone of my own in my pocket,” he said. But he was young and immature, and wanted to prove himself on the streets. A teenage brain isn’t completely developed and he said he didn’t fully understand right from wrong.

The state of Florida didn’t see it that way. Prosecutors charged McKenzie as an adult. He was convicted and sent to prison but continued his education behind bars, ultimately earning a GED. When he was released for good behavior in 2008 after serving two years, he was determined to turn his life around.

His hope for a fresh start hit an immediate roadblock, however, when he learned that because of his criminal record, he would never be allowed to vote. “It’s hard to be back into society if you’re not going to be treated like a citizen,” said McKenzie, now 28 years old.

Florida is one of just four states that permanently bars people with felony convictions from voting. More than 1.6 million citizens are prohibited from casting a ballot in Florida, which excludes more people from the democratic process than any state in America. Like McKenzie, many of those affected are African American. One third of Florida’s 1.6 million disenfranchised are black. Nearly one in four black adults in the state is denied the right to vote.

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Georgia GOP gubernatorial candidate sued for blocking 53,000 voter registrations

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Two voting rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) of unlawfully blocking 53,000 voter registrations ahead of the November election. Kemp is currently in a tightly-contested race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the first black woman governor in the United States.

Using an “exact match” voter registration system, Kemp’s office flagged tens of thousands of voter registration forms where the voter’s information does not exactly match the information on file by the Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration databases. In many cases, the error was as small as a missing hyphen. According to an AP report this week, 70 percent of the registrations placed in a “pending” status belong to African American voters.

“Kemp has been a driving force behind multiple voter suppression efforts throughout the years in Georgia,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. “If there is one person in Georgia who knows that the ‘Exact Match’ scheme has a discriminatory impact on minority voters, it’s Brian Kemp because we successfully sued him over a mirror policy in 2016.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Lawyers’ Committee and the Campaign Legal Center, alleges that the exact match system violates the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the U.S. Constitution. As Clarke noted, legal groups sued Kemp over the same issue before the 2016 presidential election, and a court ordered Kemp to restore the more than 40,000 registrations he put on hold that year.

“Georgia’s ‘exact match’ protocol has resulted in the cancellation or rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration applications in the past,” Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement. “The reintroduction of this practice, which is known to be discriminatory and error-ridden, is appalling.”

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This Florida woman had to travel 10 hours by bus to have her voting rights restored

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

On Monday, Takesha Tyler took a ten-hour bus ride from Miami to Tallahassee, Fla. She had requested three days off work without pay from Target, where she unloads trucks, and spent about $450 between the roundtrip bus and hotel, all to be in the state capital for less than 24 hours.

“I’m just hoping for a good outcome,” she told ThinkProgress. “I don’t mind the money if it means that I’m able to vote. Then all of it will be well worth it.”

Tyler, who is now 46 years old, lost her right to vote more than two decades ago when she was convicted of selling drugs. Florida is one of four states that permanently bars anyone with a felony conviction from voting for life, unless they are able to petition the governor for clemency.

On Tuesday morning, Florida’s Clemency Board considered Tyler’s petition to restore her civil rights. Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the other GOP members of the board asked a few questions about her job and criminal history before agreeing to grant her voting rights.

“I’m relieved. Really relieved,” she told ThinkProgress Tuesday afternoon, yelling to be heard over the noise of the highway from a bus on her way back home. “This fight is over. I’m tearing up thinking about it all over again. It brings joy to know you’re back into society again.”

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Majority-black Georgia county rejects plan to close 7 of its 9 polling places

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

The election board in majority-black Randolph County, Georgia voted Friday morning to reject a proposal to close seven of its nine polling locations before the November election.

The vote comes shortly after the county announced it had fired the elections consultant, Mike Malone, who conceived of the plan. Malone was initially hired to temporarily fill the role of an elections supervisor, but he undertook efforts to close all but two of the county’s polling precincts instead.

The racial implications of the plan generated immense backlash. The county is over 61 percent black, and one of the polling locations that would be shuttered serves a precinct where more than 95 percent of voters are African American. Before the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the closures would most likely have been blocked by the Department of Justice.

Voting advocates, including representatives from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, attended Friday’s voting, vowing to file a lawsuit if the county approved the plan.

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Meet the lesbian Native American woman running for Congress in Kansas

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Like mixed martial arts, running for Congress involves patience, determination, and the ability to fight without taking attacks personally.

Sharice Davids, a professional MMA fighter, Native American, openly gay attorney, and first-time candidate made that comparison on Sunday, just two days before she will have face other Democrats in a tightly contested race for Kansas’ 3rd congressional seat. Early this year, Davids said she looked at the field of candidates challenging Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and found there was nobody who looked like her on the ballot.

“We need more people who look like the rest of the country to be running for office,” Davids, who had a White House fellowship until the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency, told ThinkProgress.

Davids said she saw that there were no leading women in the race for the district that includes Kansas City and its suburbs, which includes one county that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She also recognized that she would be the only candidate with federal policy experience and the only candidate with a distinctive background.

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North Carolina Republicans renew voter suppression efforts that were struck down by Supreme Court

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

In 2013, just weeks after the Supreme Court gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act, North Carolina passed one of the worst voter suppression laws in the country. As part of a long list of new requirements, the law forced voters to show one of a short list of acceptable forms of photo identification to cast a ballot.

That law was overturned by the Supreme Court, which found last year that it targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

But North Carolina’s Republican Party was not dissuaded. On Monday, the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision, the state general assembly voted 74-44 to move forward with a renewed voter ID bill that could impose exactly the same restrictions on the state’s voters.

“We’ve been down this path before,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, told ThinkProgress.

More than the required 60 percent of the state’s lower chamber voted in favor of an amendment Monday night that would add a voter ID requirement to the state constitution. If given another favorable vote in the House this week and then if passed by the Senate, North Carolina voters will decide on the amendment in November. The bill does not specify which forms of ID would be accepted or any other details about the potential law. The GOP hopes it would have time to pass the law between November and January, when the party might lose its supermajority.

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This is how Florida makes it nearly impossible for ex-felons to get their voting rights restored

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Ladetra Johnson stood up straight behind the lectern in the cabinet room of the Florida State Capitol Building Thursday morning, holding the hand of her 5-year-old daughter. Dressed in a frilly white dress, the young girl smiled as Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his cabinet first complimented her outfit, then questioned Johnson on how she has rehabilitated her life since her felony conviction.

Johnson told the governor that she owns a salon, is enrolled in school to get a professional license, and works part-time at a beauty supply store.

Without further questions, the four members of the clemency board — Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Adam H. Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — agreed to restore Johnson’s civil rights. The young mother will now be able to vote in a state that disenfranchises more than 1.5 million people for their felony convictions.

After hearing the good news, Johnson asked if she and her family could take a photo with the board. Though they had just said they wanted to keep the schedule moving — there were more than 100 people being considered for various forms of clemency on Thursday — the governor agreed. “How can you say no to that girl,” Scott asked.

Johnson left the room happy, but a majority of the 101 people seeking some form of clemency — including 68 specifically asking for the restoration of their civil rights — did not. Florida has one of the strictest felon disenfranchisement laws in the country, requiring anyone with a felony conviction to apply for clemency from the governor in order to restore their right to vote. The process has become even more difficult since Scott took office in 2011 and instated a five to seven year waiting period before people like Johnson could even petition for their rights. The board meets just four times a year, and just a small fraction of the thousands of people who apply for clemency are even considered.

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The Supreme Court just cleared the way for the mass disenfranchisement of voters

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

With its ruling Monday upholding Ohio’s practice of removing infrequent voters from its rolls, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the mass disenfranchisement of low-income, minority voters across the country.

In a 5-4 ruling, Justice Samuel Alito found that the National Voter Registration Act does not prevent Ohio from purging from the rolls voters who do not participate in federal elections for two years. If inactive voters do not respond to a mailer asking them to verify their address and do not vote for two more years, they are purged from the rolls.

The ruling will have implications beyond Ohio.

“Today’s decision threatens the ability of voters to have their voices heard in our elections,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which challenged the state’s practices.

Six other states — Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — use similar practices to remove voters from the rolls if they fail to vote. A total of 17 GOP-controlled states signed onto a brief supporting Ohio’s position, indicating that they would be interested in using a similar list-maintenance procedure if it’s found to be constitutional.

With the approval of the Supreme Court, more states are likely to begin discriminatory purges like Ohio’s, and more states will likely remove a disproportionate number minority, low-income, and housing-insecure voters — people who are more likely to support Democrats. Those voters are more likely to move frequently and not respond to mailers asking them to verify their registration status.

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North Carolina tries to revive its discriminatory voter ID law as constitutional amendment

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Two years after federal courts struck down North Carolina’s discriminatory voter ID law, Republican lawmakers are trying to revive their strict requirements by passing an amendment to the state’s constitution.

In an effort to stop the lawmakers from reinstating the law, which the U.S. Supreme Court said last year targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision,” advocates are going after two unlikely targets: Apple and Amazon.

If the voter ID amendment passes with 60 percent in both chambers — which is likely given the GOP’s supermajority in the legislature — voters would decide on the issue on the November ballot. 

Though courts could also invalidate this new form of the voter ID law, opponents don’t want to take any chances. So voting advocates affiliated with Color of Change, a civil rights organization, launched a campaign this week against the two tech giants, pressuring them to threaten not to move their headquarters to North Carolina if the the state intends to enforce a voter ID law.

“Amazon and Apple are two of the biggest corporations in American and they’re looking at moving to a state that legitimately is trying to block black people from voting,” said Matthew Williams, a Christian musician. Williams grew up in North Carolina and recently launched a petition calling on Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook, the CEOs of Amazon and Apple, to “say no to North Carolina’s racist attacks on voting rights.”

“Amazon and Apple are two of the biggest corporations in American and they’re looking at moving to a state that legitimately is trying to block black people from voting”

Both Apple and Amazon have been eyeing Raleigh, the state capital, as a potential location for new headquarters, and a new report puts the city as a frontrunner among 20 finalist locations vying for the coveted Amazon HQ2.

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Religious leaders arrested in Capitol while demanding restoration of Voting Rights Act

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Revs. Jesse Jackson, William Barber, and other prominent religious leaders were arrested for demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, demanding the restoration of the Voting Rights Act and the end of racial gerrymandering.

Dozens of others were also arrested across the country as part of the second week of protests organized by the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that originated in 1968 with Martin Luther King Jr. at the helm. The campaign, a coalition of progressives and faith-based organizations, plans to hold demonstrations and risk arrest every Monday for six weeks.

At a rally ahead of the demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda, Barber drew a connection between systemic racism and policies that suppress voters of color.

“America’s democracy was under attack long before the 2016 election by racist voter suppression and gerrymandering, which are tools of white supremacy designed to perpetuate systemic racism,” he said. “These laws target people of color but hurt Americans of all races by allowing politicians to get elected who block living wages, deny union rights, roll back Medicaid, attack immigrants, and underfund public education.”

Throughout the six weeks, Barber and the other organizers hope to draw attention to the policies and laws that keep 140 million Americans trapped in poverty. On Monday, voting advocates highlighted how racial gerrymandering, voter ID laws, an other suppressive voting measures keep people of color from gaining political power.

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Kansas Secretary of State seeks to deliver a devastating blow to voting rights

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

When Tad Stricker moved to Kansas from Illinois in 2013, he procrastinated getting a new driver’s license. He was busy with work and settling into his new city, and wasn’t eager to spend a day at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But when the registration deadline for the upcoming gubernatorial election approached, he decided it was time.

When he first arrived at the local DMV, he was told he didn’t have the proper documentation to get his license, so he hurried home to collect several forms of ID and proof of address.

“I grabbed every piece of document that I could find in my house,” he told ThinkProgress. “I grabbed mortgage statements, I grabbed tax documents, I grabbed my birth certificate, I grabbed utility bills, literally everything I could get my hands on to prove I was who I said I was.”

Back at the DMV, he was told he’d receive his permanent license and voter registration card in the mail.

“I left the DMV that day under the impression that I was registered to vote,” he said. The license arrived in the mail, but the voter registration card never did.

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Democrat on defunct voting commission says Kobach lied about why it dissolved

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) had strong words for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) on Thursday after Kobach tried to lay blame for the failure of President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission at the feet of Dunlap and three other Democratic commissioners.

“[It’s a] bunch of balderdash,” Dunlap told ThinkProgress in an interview.

Since Trump announced Wednesday that he was dissolving the commission he created to investigate his false claim that widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote in 2016, he and his advisors have assigned blame to everyone other than themselves.

On Twitter, Trump said Democratic elections officials who refused to provide the President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with voter data led to its demise. A White House advisor said it was unable to operate transparently. And Kobach, the commission’s vice-chair, claimed that Democrats on the panel jeopardized their opportunity to be involved in setting federal voting policy.

“Anyone on the left needs to realize that by throwing the food in the air, they just lost a seat at the table,” Kobach told Politico, likely referring to over a dozen lawsuits against the group by Democrats and voting advocates, including one by a Democratic commissioner against his own commission.

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New Hampshire advances bill to disenfranchise thousands of college student voters

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

New Hampshire’s Senate voted on Tuesday to advance legislation that would require voters to be residents of the state, effectively disenfranchising thousands of college students who are currently considered eligible voters.

All 14 Republicans voted to advance House Bill 372, which would tighten the state’s voter registration requirements to require eligible voters to be legal “residents” of New Hampshire. Current law allows people with a “domicile” in the state to cast a ballot.

In order to declare residency, citizens would have to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and register their cars in the state within 60 days of registering to vote. According to Slate, a driver’s license costs $50 and car registration is even more expensive — leading Democrats and voting advocates to criticize the requirement as a modern-day poll tax.

The bill now moves to the House, which passed a different version of the legislation last year. Gov. John Sununu (R) has expressed his opposition to the measure, although he has not yet promised a veto.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, who has led the opposition to the legislation, has called it “a sly political ploy to stop democracy from happening,” according to New Hampshire’s WMUR. Woodburn also noted that the bill “builds on the myth” propagated by President Trump that there was widespread voter fraud in the state in 2016.

After the 2016 election, New Hampshire became a ripe target for claims of voter fraud, as Hillary Clinton won the swing state and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) narrowly defeated her Republican opponent. Trump, prominent members of his administration, and members of his voting commission falsely claimed that because thousands of people with out-of-state IDs registered and voted in New Hampshire, massive fraud was able to swing the state’s vote.

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Black Alabamians discuss their decisive role in Doug Jones’ victory

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Outside Doug Jones’ campaign headquarters on Sunday, after the candidate appeared alongsideSen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) to make a last-minute pitch to Alabama voters, I approached Birmingham City Councilor Sheila Tyson to discuss the race. Tyson had been doing outreach in black communities in 23 counties through an effort called Power of the Sister Vote. “Will black voters turn out?” I asked her.

“The problem isn’t going to be with the black voters,” she responded. “If Jones doesn’t win, it’s not our problem.”

Two days later at Jones’ election night party — after the results came in, the confetti fell, and Jones thanked the diverse coalition that made the historic moment possible  — I bumped into Tyson among the still-teary and joyous supporters. She grabbed me by the wrists and pulled me close.

“Did I not tell you? Didn’t I tell you? I told you,” she said. “Ninety-three percent of black women that voted in the state of Alabama voted for Doug Jones… That’s the power of the sister vote.”

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Democrats on Trump’s Voting Commission Iced out Since First Meeting

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

When President Trump announced the formation of his Commission on Election Integrity in May, the White House said the group would “study vulnerabilities in voting systems” and “utilize all available data” in order to strengthen elections. But several Democrats serving on the bipartisan panel said they have had no voting-related communication and have been assigned no tasks since they first met in July.

“I have not received much information nor been working on much,” West Virginia county clerk Mark Rhodes told ThinkProgress on Tuesday, clarifying that by “much,” he meant anything at all.

Rhodes said commission chair Mike Pence and vice-chair Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, have given him no information about what he is supposed to be doing between meetings, and he has no idea if the co-chairs or Republican members are hard at work without Democratic input. “I honestly don’t know because I haven’t spoken to anybody else that’s on the committee,” he said.

Since the initial July 19th meeting, Kobach himself has been busy as commission co-chair. On July 26, he followed up his controversial letter requesting a massive amount of voter data from all 50 states — a request that was at least partially rejected by 44 states — with a second letter addressing the backlash and requesting publicly available voter information. Still Rhodes heard nothing.

“I’ve just been reading some articles and studies and things of that nature on my own,” he said. “Nothing assigned by the chairs.”

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The 3 Most Compelling Moments from the Senate’s Late Night Health Care Debate

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

The Senate continued its health care debate late into Thursday night, debating whether or not to strip health care from 16 million people while many Americans slept.

Before the vote on the so-called “skinny repeal bill” narrowly failed early Friday morning — with three Republicans casting votes against it — lawmakers held the floor to speak out about the legislation. Tensions were high, and senators bickered over policy and procedure.

Here are three memorable moments from the late night session:

1. When Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who is battling kidney cancer, pleaded with her colleagues to show her compassion.

After 11 p.m. on Thursday, Hirono took to the floor to speak out against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In an emotional speech, she talked about losing her sister at a young age and her experience battling cancer.

“Here I am a United States senator, I am fighting kidney cancer and I’m just so grateful that I had health insurance so I could concentrate on the care that I needed rather than how the heck I was going to afford the care that was probably going to save my life,” she said.

She spoke about how when she was first diagnosed, she heard from many of her colleagues across the aisle. “You showed me your care,” she said. “You showed me your compassion. Where is that tonight?”

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First Meeting of Trump’s Voting Commission Makes Clear That Suppression is the Goal

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Vice President Mike Pence claimed during the first meeting on Wednesday of the White House’s Commission on Election Integrity that the group will go about its work with “no preconceived notions.” Just minutes later, commissioners took turns insisting there is mass fraud across the country that could influence elections.

Kansas Secretary of State and commission co-chair Kris Kobach claimed in his introduction that as many as 18,000 non-citizens could be registered to vote in Kansas, without mentioning the shady math and questionable studies he used to arrive at that number. The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky insisted that massive fraud is occurring across the country. And even New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Garder, a Democratic commissioner, argued against making voting easier, saying it doesn’t require a massive amount of fraud to influence elections.

One by one, as the commissioners introduced themselves, they made it clear the commission would be laying the groundwork to suppress voters, whether through actions like cross-checking state rolls for duplicates or purging lists of inactive voters.

Kobach outlined the topics he hopes the commission will address, including the accuracy of voter rolls, vote fraud, voting by mail, cybersecurity, and voter intimidation.

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Republican Senator Confronted by His Daughters’ Pediatrician over Health Care Bill

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Last month, as the Senate GOP was crafting its health care bill in secret, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) faced angry constituents at a town hall when he said he would vote for an Obamacare replacement, even if there were no public hearings.

On Thursday, he told constituents in his rural Kansas home county the same thing. But Moran — one of just three Republican senators holding a town hall this recess — received a better reception this time because of his decision to come out against the Republican health care bill last week, after the vote was delayed.

Constituents thanked him for that decision and urged him not to support a plan that would take insurance away from Kansas residents.

One constituent who spoke out was Bob Cox, Moran’s daughters’ pediatrician, who joked that he knew the senator’s daughters before he met Moran.

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The Kansas Democrat who nearly pulled off the impossible has some advice for his party

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

James Thompson may not be heading to Congress, but not everyone is calling his loss in Kansas’ special congressional election a defeat.

On Tuesday, Republican Ron Estes beat Thompson in the solidly Republican district by a margin of roughly five points. Just a few months ago, President Trump carried the district with a wide margin of 27 points.

The Democratic Party never expected to win the seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) didn’t conduct polling or invest money in the race until the final days, when Republicans appeared to be worried and made a last minute push. In recent days, the GOP spent close to $100,000 on ads and dispatched party leaders like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to campaign and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to raise money for Estes.

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Illinois Republicans Want To Shut Down Same-Day Voter Registration

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

As Illinois’ Republican governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed the state to automatically register millions of voters, state Republicans filed a lawsuit attempting to make it even more difficult for people to register to vote.

Illinois currently allows voters to register on Election Day in counties with populations of more than 100,000 people. Some polling places in smaller counties can get away without allowing same-day registration, as long as they allow the practice at the county’s main office or at polling places in larger population centers.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court last month, members of the state GOP claim that same-day registration shouldn’t be allowed because it’s “unfair” and “unequal” and favors Democratic candidates.

“This scheme’s arbitrary geographic discrimination appears to have been designed to benefit candidates who draw support from high-population counties at the expense of candidates who draw support from low-population counties,” the complaint alleges.

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Chris Christie Vetoes Yet Another Voter Registration Bill

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed two bills on Thursday that would have made it easier for state residents to cast a ballot, including one that would have automatically registered voters when they get or renew a driver’s license.

The second-term governor and Donald Trump surrogate rejected the automatic registration bill, calling it a “cocktail of fraud” because it would “almost certainly register ineligible voters.”

“This bill should be called ‘the Voter Fraud Enhancement and Permission Act,’” he said in his veto message.

Also on Thursday, Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed 17-year-old New Jersey residents to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the time of the general election. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries in order to increase political engagement.

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Ted Cruz Invokes ‘Free Stuff’ Dogwhistle

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

For Sarah Sadowski, a mother of four children under the age of seven, the issue of paid family leave is personal. Because Sadowski’s employer did not offer her paid time off when each of her children were born, she was forced to experiment with “so many permutations” of child care.

“Every single year, my kids have to have a different child care arrangement,” she told ThinkProgress. “It’s really upsetting because they need continuity.”

During a campaign stop in Washington, NH on Monday, Sadowski asked Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz what he would do about the current lack of federally mandated paid family leave. Cruz, who has previously said employers should be allowed to deny their employees paid family leave, said that politicians should not promise “free stuff.”

“There’s no doubt that all of us would like to see everyone have paid family leave,” the candidate said. “That would be a good thing. But here’s the problem. Politicians love to campaign on giving away free stuff. It’s very good politics.”

He specifically pointed to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who has called for college tuition to be free.

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Six GOP Candidates Pledge To Sign Anti-Gay Discrimination Into Law

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

Six GOP Candidates Pledge To Sign Anti-Gay Discrimination Into Law

Six of the Republican candidates vying for the presidency have signed a pledge promising to support legislation during their first 100 days in the White House that would use the guise of “religious liberty” to give individuals and businesses the right to openly discriminate against LGBT people.

Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee vowed to push for the passage of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), legislation that would prohibit the federal government from stopping discrimination by people or businesses that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” or that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

The pledge is supported by three conservative groups: the American Principles Project, Heritage Action for America, and Family Research Council Action.

“It has become clear that the First Amendment Defense Act is rapidly becoming a signature issue that unifies the GOP,” Maggie Gallagher, Senior Fellow at American Principles Project, said in the group’s statement announcing the pledge. “Three out of the four top contenders for the nomination — Carson, Cruz, and Rubio — have pledged to prioritize passing FADA in their first 100 days of office. Additionally, Bush, Graham, Paul, and now for the first time, Donald Trump, have publicly expressed support for FADA.”

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Ted Cruz Tells Fabricated Story About A Girl Threatened With Jail For Saying ‘Jesus’

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

During a town hall event in South Carolina on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz made the bold claim that he will defend religious liberty because “what kind of country are we living in where…we’re threatening teenage girls with going to jail if they say the name of Jesus?”

Cruz made the remark after telling the story of Angela Hildenbrand, a high school valedictorian who he claims was “threatened with jail if she exercised her right to pray during her graduation speech.” At the South Carolina event and at other campaign events in the past, Cruz has discussed her story as an example of the government’s war on Christianity. As he explained on Monday, Hildenbrand was initially barred from leading prayer, but attorneys from the Liberty Institute filed an emergency motion and won an appeal shortly before her graduation.

Cruz has named Hildenbrand one of his “religious liberty heroes”, and she appeared beside him on stage last month during his South Carolina Rally for Religious Liberty.

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