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Voting comes with ‘immense power’: Q&A with Texas voting rights activist Maya Patel

by Chaya M. Milchtein

When Maya Patel discusses her work registering young voters, she doesn’t talk much about herself. Instead, she focuses on the facts and issues. Her passion comes through loud and clear as she dives into not just what the obstacles are in Texas to get young voters registered, but also the solutions that she knows work. Patel is a recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in Travis County, where she created a classroom voter registration program ahead of the 2016 presidential election, allowing her to register students right where they were.

That dedication to provide access to students inspired Patel to help write a bill in the Texas legislature to open voting locations on campuses statewide. Patel co-authored HB 375, requiring universities with over 10,000 students to include a polling station on campus. The bill was then filed by Austin Democratic Rep. Gina Hinojosa. Since the filing of the bill, similar bills have been filed in other states by students like Patel.

The daughter of immigrants, Patel’s memory of taking pride in voting started early. ”I remember sitting at the dining table as a 9-year-old, quizzing my dad with flashcards as I helped him study for the U.S. citizenship test,” she says. “In the 2008 presidential election, he voted for the first time.”

Kassie Phebillo is the program coordinator for TX Votes. She both mentored and oversaw Patel’s work as a student at UTA. “Every single time Maya is given a seed of an idea, she turns it into something much bigger than any of us dream,” she says. “The fact that she was able to take that project from on-campus to a bill authored by our state representative and is now actively participating in MTV's nationwide +1 the Polls campaign speaks to her tenacity.”

I interviewed Maya for Prism, and she discussed how she shows young people the importance of voting, why being the child of immigrants inspires her to exercise her civic duties, and how she sees the movement for on-campus voting rights moving forward.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Getting young voters to the polls has been your mission since early in your college career. What motivated you to take on the challenge of registering young voters?

When I first came to campus right before the November 2016 election, I wanted to do something to help engage my fellow students. I joined TX Votes—at the time UT Votes—and became a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR), because in Texas you have to be a VDR to register others to vote. [I] registered over 250 of my peers in the month before the registration deadline for the 2016 general election. Come early voting and election day, the one UT on-campus polling location saw lines that were out the door and at times over three hours long. I saw so many students leave the line because they had to go to class or work.

Students were leaving the lines and not voting because they lacked access to a polling location with a reasonable wait time and transportation to get to another location with a shorter line. This made me realize that registering voters is only good if they have access to polling locations, which is why I advocated for a second on-campus polling location at UT for the 2018 election—which also saw incredibly high turnout—and today UT has two on-campus early voting locations and three election day locations.

My parents are immigrants to this country. The amount of civic power that comes with being able to vote is something that a lot of people who were born with that right take for granted. I firmly believe that democracy only functions when everyone participates. It's important for me to help people navigate any barrier to participation so that they can act on the immense amount of power that comes with voting and can help make our democracy function.

What obstacles do young voters face when registering to vote and actually making it to the polls? 

In Texas, registering to vote is the first big hurdle. There is no online voter registration and online tools that help you register to vote still require that you have a "wet" signature, which means physically signing the registration form and mailing it in. To put it frankly, a lot of students don't own stamps or know where the post office is.

In addition to that, young people move around and every time, you have to reregister. From an organizer's perspective this is an additional challenge given that the voter registration deadline is 30 days before an election.

What strategies have you implemented that have been the core of the success of your work in Travis County?

We have built up a Civic Engagement Alliance (CEA) that includes more than 100 student organizations. This has really helped us expand our reach and create a culture shift to make civic engagement more ingrained into everyday life on campus. Also, we use the CEA to engage students that we know have traditionally low levels of engagement. For example, we know our STEM students vote at much lower rates, so when we have the Student Engineering Council telling their fellow engineering students that they should vote, that comes across much better than a government student telling an engineering student that they should vote.

We have an amazing relationship with our county that has allowed us to do things like have on-campus VDR trainings and bring our elected county officials to campus to talk to students. In addition, having a great relationship with our county allowed us to successfully get a second on-campus early voting and election day polling location and a third location for election day only that was in West Campus, where lots of students live.

In February, Wisconsin held a local primary. I was unable to convince my 18-year-old sister to go out and vote. She said it didn't even matter or make a difference. How do you encourage young voters to care and show them that their votes matter?

2020 is the first presidential election in which millennials will be the largest generation in the electorate and people under 35 will make up the largest-size voting block. If every single young person who has the ability to vote actually votes, we have the power to influence the results of the election in a big way and make sure that politicians are listening to our needs and making policies that benefit us.

I always like to remind people that local elections are so important to their daily lives. I try to find examples of local races in the area that were decided by only a small amount of votes and show someone that these close races are determined by voters like them.  

Since you started this movement, you inspired legislation to allow more polling on college campuses in Texas. How do you envision the movement you started spreading beyond Travis County and even beyond Texas?

Ever since I was able to file a bill in the Texas legislature to place polling locations on the campuses of large public universities in Texas, I've seen this turn into a national movement. I've spoken to students in New York who are filing something similar in their state. I've worked with students at other campuses to help them through the process of advocating for a polling place on their campus. I've seen this be talked about more in working group meetings and be listed as a priority more for groups that work in this space.

I've also had the pleasure of working on the +1 the Polls program, which is the first national movement to place polling locations on college campuses. I've been able to take everything I learned while advocating for a second polling place on campus and also writing a bill in the Texas legislature and help develop resources like a toolkit, office hours, webinars, and mini grants to help students like me do this work.

Chaya M. Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer and speaker who is passionate about educating the average automotive consumer and uplifting the voices of women in the industry. Learn about her work on her website, Mechanic Shop Femme, and on Twitter @mechanicfemme.

Prism is a nonprofit affiliate of Daily Kos. Our mission is to make visible the people, places, and issues currently underrepresented in our democracy. By amplifying the voices and leadership of people closest to the problems, Prism tells the stories no one else is telling. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

, 10 minutes ago

News Origin

COVID-19 news: U.S. deaths top 3,000; nuclear aircraft carrier captain begs for aid

Three weeks after Donald Trump said it would "go away" and two months after he claimed it was "very well under control," U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic topped 3,000 yesterday evening, outnumbering deaths in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The month of April is going to see mass deaths in the United States.

In recent days, government experts have been floating a new estimated eventual death toll of 100,000—200,000 Americans. Trump has seized upon that number, if it creeps no higher, as representing a possible "very good job" by him.

In today's pandemic updates:

• It is now evident that the Trump administration and its congressional allies had overwhelming evidence of the pandemic's dangers during the same period of time they were publicly downplaying the threat of the virus—and, in the case of several Republican senators, cashing out of the stock market before those markets collapsed.

• In a hint of what may be to come, a New York City hospital today reminded its doctors that they are allowed to withhold care for "futile" intubation efforts.

The nation's critical shortage of protective masks continues.

• The captain of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt wrote a four-page letter begging the Navy for quarantine rooms in Guam after between 150 and 200 sailors tested positive for the virus. The ship has over 4,000 on board, and little to no ability to contain further spread.

Republicans coordinated to again push the notion that January’s impeachment trial of Donald Trump "diverted" the Trump administration's attention away from the pandemic. Attempting to address Trump's known criminality, in other words, only exacerbated his known incompetence.

• Talks of the next stimulus measures to salvage the pandemic-ravaged economy are beginning. Those measures need to be much bolder than the first few attempts.

• As U.S. testing continues to lag behind that of other nations, rural counties may soon face the same consequences of sparse testing that allowed the pandemic to explode in more urban areas.

• Democratic mayors in Republican-held states are battling against the more lax pandemic policies of their Republican governors.

The New York Times and other outlets continue to privilege Trump's false statements, framing them as political disagreements rather than provable lies.

• Trump's attacks on black female journalist Yamiche Alcindor for asking him to explain his past pandemic statements did not go unnoticed.

After three federal judges temporarily blocked legislation ending abortion services in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama by declaring them "unnecessary" medical services, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals swiftly issued an order staying that decision, allowing the Texas legislation to be enforced.

A second federal judge is now urging immigration officials to work more urgently to release detained children, warning officials that he will "revisit" demands for emergency releases if "there are [COVID-19] cases in these centers" or "there are other problems that are not compliant." Detained immigrants and immigration attorney's groups are now suing for the immediate closure of U.S. immigration courts due to severe pandemic risks.

• A ventilator manufacturer took $13.8 million of federal money to design and produce 10,000 ventilators for the emergency stockpile. They delivered none, but are instead selling more expensive variants of the designed machine overseas.

• Ohio voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit asking the state's pandemic-delayed, now vote-by-mail primary be further delayed, arguing the April 28 date set does not allow enough preparation time for either boards of election or voters.

• Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden's campaign released another video highlighting Trump's own words downplaying the pandemic as it unfolded.

• The Trump administration is using the pandemic crisis to nullify environmental regulations, allowing widespread air, water, and soil pollution without consequence.

• After Trump publicly invented an alleged new website he claimed was in the works, a Jared Kushner-tied company quickly scrambled to try to create one.

• While much of the rest of the economy shutters, construction of Trump's demanded wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is not just continuing, but "ramping up."

• The conservative legal scholar who impressed the Trump team with his ... unusual ... theories about the virus gave an interview to defend his claims. It did not go well.

Large corporations continue to furlough workers by the tens of thousands as pandemic-related shutdowns wreak havoc on newspapers, retail stores, and other industries. The CEO of Columbia Sportswear, however, slashed his own salary to help avoid layoffs during the crisis.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic, and 69% support a "national quarantine." Republicans, however, remain "remarkably insular" in their support for Trump and his (non)responses.

DACA recipients are playing vital roles in the nation's pandemic response.

• For decades, the U.S. militia movement has prepared for disaster to strike America. Now that a disaster is taking place the same idiot brigades are resisting social distancing measures, believing them an illegitimate use of government power.

• Farm work was already one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Now it's even more dangerous.

• Fox News has promoted reckless and false conspiracy theories, medical advice, and dismissals of the emerging pandemic throughout its early days. If you have cable television, you are probably helping to subsidize those lies.

• While Trump congratulates himself (now, for potentially allowing "only" 200,000 deaths), Rep. Maxine Waters isn't having it.

, 35 minutes ago

News Origin

Meet the conservative legal scholar who impressed Team Trump with his brand-new virus theory

Last week incompetent stain on humanity Donald Trump floated the mother of all trial balloons when he proposed, as did innumerable conservative pundits and hangers-on, that perhaps we should lift social distancing advisories early and let the virus take its course. The "cure" of economic turmoil might be "worse than the disease," he opined. The "disease," to make sure we are clear here, is Americans dying inside tents set up in hospital parking lots.

The New Yorker set up an interview with the conservative Hoover Institution lawyer guy, Richard Epstein, whose newfound expertise on worldwide pandemics was said to be influential, in Team Trump circles, in the belief that the danger of virus was being overplayed. It is quite the read. You will note once again the defining feature of newfound conservative expertise: It all revolves around the supposition that every actual subject matter expert in the world is wrong because I, Conservative Thinker Guy, ran my own numbers and made my own assumptions that none of you eggheads previously thought of. Debate mah!

If you haven't read the New Yorker interview yet, go do that if you want to get a feel for the very uppermost echelons of conservative … let’s say ... "scientific rigor." If you’ve had about all you can take of coronavirus misinformation, however, you might want to bow out. We’ve had a long, long damn month.

The summary version is this: Epstein, whose original piece suggested we might see "about 500 deaths" from the pandemic (he now says his math was wrong and is very sorry about that), does not know how pandemics work, and so he set out to reinvent or reexplain or (???) the same pandemic curve (see: #FlattenTheCurve) that every actual expert already knows about. Hang on, you've got to get a taste of this:

"[...] you cannot use any exponential system because essentially then everybody is going to be dead, because things just keep doubling, doubling, and doubling. So you have to develop a model which is going to explain why there’s a fairly rapid increase at the outset, and then why the thing starts to turn flat, ultimately down, and then disappears."

Yes. Yes, that is how pandemics (and brontosauruses) work. The numbers go up. Then they flatten. Then they go down, because everybody has either recovered or is dead. Nobody, anywhere, believes that an "exponential" rate of increase lasts forever because if nothing else—think zombie hoards—you begin to reach a point where the scattered survivors are all quite nicely social distanced because of, you know, everyone between them being zombies.

Every flu, every cold season, every new disease—they all follow that same basic pattern. But Epstein instead believes he has discovered something novel here, which is both difficult to explain and very, very wrong. He hinges most of his argument on a theory that "natural selection" will or already has produced a "strong" and a "weak" version of the virus, and the "strong" version will kill people until "adaptation" sets in and changes in "genetic viral behavior" will take place while people with the "weak" version live longer and so infect more people with the "weak" version and with social distancing "the evolutionary process should be more rapid than that for the ordinary flu."

Got it? No you don't, you're lying. This is not how evolution works, not on a March-until-June basis, anyway, and there is no data supporting this made-up theory that there are strong and weak versions of this virus. None. It is his speculation. It is his self-described "sense," unsupported, based on no knowledge of epidemiology, viruses, biology, evolution, or medicine in general. (But "I've done a lot of work in these particular areas," Epstein pipes up. "One of the things you get as a lawyer is a skill of cross-examination.")

After that things begin to fall apart in the interview as reporter Isaac Chotiner probes the various flaws with Epstein's assertions and Epstein retreats into allowing that sure, perhaps he's wrong, but "I'm always willing to debate somebody on the other side."

A debate. He has printed something based on only the most rudimentary understanding of his subject matter, called the experts wrong, and suggested that it is only fair that they Debate Him.

Where oh where have we heard that refrain before? Ah—right. Every self-proclaimed new conservative expert, in every field and genre, from the Ben Shapiros to the Dinesh D'Souziis. Because you cannot prove to my own satisfaction that I am wrong, you experts, I must be more clever than you. (Also, you are not allowed to provide any evidence that I am wrong because I don't have time to read or absorb new information. Also you are expected to provide endless amounts of your own free time devoted entirely to proving to me all the various conclusions of your field that I have not heard of and which therefore I shall declare to be probably made-up. Also you must invite me to your scientific conferences or you are Afraid Of My Genius.)

The staples of conservatism remain constant, through every year and crisis. The same insistence that knowing a smattering of key words and phrases is intellectually equivalent to a lifetime of study. The same belligerence at book-learners who would even bother with more than that smattering before writing up their conclusions under a just-asking-questions byline. The same ideological rigor—come up with the desired conclusion first, the reasons afterwards.

Nobody is bored with this yet? Nobody is maybe up for a little self-reflection on whether this pattern is, in fact, not working out? The Iraq War was not a cakewalk, and did not spread peace throughout the region. Tax cuts, over and over and over again, have failed to produce the results boastingly predicted every last sodding time. Years of bank deregulation did not work out well. The United States is not uniquely immune to the same pandemic that spread rapidly through the rest of the world. A movement that is contemptuous of science and intellectualism cannot produce either, it can only crudely mimic the gestures used.

Is there a museum devoted to past takes of the Hoover Institution that turned out to be catastrophic in practice? Shouldn't there be? Are there trading cards with each conservative thinker, listing their past major works and giving a batting average on how that all worked out?

Shouldn't there be?

, 56 minutes ago

News Origin

Pelosi, Trump start talking about the next phase of coronavirus stimulus, need to be talking bigger

The new Daily Kos/Civiqs poll is chock-full of important and astounding information about how the American public is handling the COVID-19 pandemic. In and amongst that data is the suffering, and the reason why Congress still has a lot of work to do to get us through this crisis. Through March 30, one in FIVE Americans who were working before the outbreak say that they have been laid off or furloughed from their position. Nearly 40%—fully 39%—of households have lost income. More than a quarter, 26%, has already been affected by a layoff, furlough, or cut hours and another 15% feel extremely concerned that it will happen to them. Another 28% are moderately or slightly concerned they'll lose income because of the disease and its economic impact.

That's a lot of economic uncertainty that a one-time check for $1,200 isn't likely to allay. The enhanced unemployment benefits that were included in the third coronavirus stimulus bill will help a lot of people, but it won't help everyone including all those people still working but with fewer hours. There's still so much work to be done to get the country through this, and with money practically free to borrow now, yes, Congress should be "tossing money out of helicopters" to answer it, since the Fed is unlikely to do it. Give everyone money, and while you're at it, all the things Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about, especially what was in the House bill that didn't make it into the Senate's bill.

In an interview in The New York Times Pelosi "emphasized the need to secure more equipment for health workers on the front lines, known as personal protective equipment, and ventilators for hospitals" and House Democrats would make another "push to bolster pensions and medical leave provisions, and would work to ensure that other aspects of treatment for the coronavirus, beyond the initial test, would be covered by the government." She also talked about more direct aid to families, including "a possible retroactive rollback of the limit on the state and local tax deduction, a change that hurt high earners in states like New York and California." Fine, if that's what it takes to get Republican support, but that's not a sword to die on.

The sword to die on is health care for everyone infected by this disease. It's food security for everyone. It's making sure that the nation's millions of incarcerated people aren't left to die locked up. It's making sure that the gig workers and minimum-wage workers and the undocumented workers who are securing our food supply have the protections they need on the job and in society. It means at least $2 billion to secure this year's elections AND saving the U.S. Postal Service to conduct the necessary vote-by-mail elections.

It means not just postponing student loan payments, but cancelling student loan debts. It needs to have Housing Security, including a moratorium on evictions, a national mortgage and rent holiday, and at least $200 billion to keep housing stable.

It could also have the infrastructure Donald Trump endorsed in a tweet Tuesday: "Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4." Whatever, if that gets Trump on board, as long as it's green, sustainable infrastructure. That, by the way, should include broadband infrastructure—the entire nation needs to have access to reliable, high-speed internet. That's one thing this crisis has demonstrated in spades; the technology gap can cripple communities. Earmarking those trillions now would be great for getting people to work on infrastructure right out of the gate when it's safe for people to be out in the world again.

So yes, Phase 4 or whatever Donald Trump wants to call it, provided he gets Republicans in Congress—who are so far rejecting the notion that more has to be done—on board. They're not going to have much choice, realistically. It's not going to take very long for the pressure to build on them to realize that they haven't done nearly enough to get us out of this thing standing.

, 1 hour ago

News Origin

Democrats rush to close the digital gap with Trump as coronavirus makes it more important than ever

It’s not the most noticeable change to our lives that coronavirus is forcing, but it might be one of the more consequential ones in the long term: Political campaigns can’t be conducted in person right now. No rallies, no door-knocking, no in-person fundraisers. That shifts the playing field—and it may shift it toward Republicans, who have spent recent years investing in digital campaigning and bringing it to new depths of ruthless dishonesty, which social media companies often let stand.

Democrats are stuck fighting over whether to be ruthless and dishonest to compete with Republicans, and if not, how to take the high road to victory. 

A New York Times article details some of the ways Republicans have raced ahead of Democrats: billionaires exploiting changes in campaign finance law and creating whole alternate party infrastructure and investment in outlets like Breitbart News. The Times is less straightforward about the role lies have played in Republican online organizing, but let’s face it: they lie. A lot. And Facebook lets them do it.

Republicans are also just plain willing to do things Democrats would never do. Progressive donors to last year’s climate strike vetoed the idea of using a technique called geofencing to capture the cell phone numbers of people at the event. But guess what: Republicans went ahead and did it, so now they have the phone numbers of New York climate strikers and the people who support the climate strike do not.

It’s always difficult. Because is that a creepy and invasive tactic? Why, yes, it is. But will it work for Democrats to keep bringing a spork to a gun fight? Probably not.

Democrats are working to adjust both to coronavirus and to the digital deficit. Super PACs like Priorities USA and American Bridge 21st Century, and groups like NextGen America and Acronym are investing in digital and planning major ad campaigns, currently highlighting Donald Trump’s denial and incompetence around coronavirus. But Trump has Facebook keeping its thumb on the scale in his favor, Russian backing, a ton of money, and an utter disregard for honesty or decency. It’s a lot to catch up with.

, 1 hour ago

News Origin

Ohio voting rights groups file lawsuit challenging ‘cumbersome’ election date

With Ohio’s primary election just weeks away, last night a group of registered voters—along with the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute—filed suit against the Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, complaining that the “cumbersome” vote-by-mail process adopted due to the coronavirus pandemic risks shutting out voters. The primary election will be conducted entirely by mail, with an exception for voters with disabilities who need special assistance and those who do not have a home mailing address.

Represented by the ACLU of Ohio, Dēmos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the groups are requesting several changes be adopted, most notably that the court order a new, later election date to allow the state more time to prepare for an all-mail-ballot election. Signed into law last Friday, COVID-19 relief bill HB 197 set the Ohio Primary election for April 28, leaving just a month for the secretary of state to implement an all mail-in voting system.

“Our concern is that April 28 is not enough time for boards of elections to administer a vote by mail election, and it's not enough time for voters to participate in one,” said Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters. 

Under normal circumstances, Ohio holds an in-person primary with the option to request an absentee ballot by mail or to vote early in person by absentee ballot. Numbers released by the secretary of state’s office indicate that 523,522 ballots were cast during this year’s early voting period from Feb. 19 to March 16.

Among elected officials, disagreement over the election date and procedure

The lawsuit comes after days of confusion around the shifting Ohio primary election and how to conduct the election safely in light of the escalating coronavirus pandemic. In-person voting was initially canceled due to a health emergency by order of the state health department.  

Recognizing the potential challenges with changing the election date, LaRose proposed the Ohio Voters First Act. The Ohio Voters First Act would have set the election date at June 2, requiring absentee ballots to be postmarked by June 1 to be counted. It would also have provided the discretion to hold in-person voting on June 2 if the health emergency order was no longer in effect.

In a March 21 letter to the Ohio General Assembly, LaRose wrote that June 2 was “the earliest date by which that can be done due to the logistical realities of conducting a vote-by-mail election, the ever-evolving health realities of protecting against the spread of Coronavirus and the sacred responsibility we have as public officials to preserve the integrity of our election.”

“A plan that sets unattainable timelines for mailing absentee requests to voters, or calls for inadequate procedures for ensuring every voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot at no charge, would likely fail a legal challenge,” the letter warned.

But despite LaRose and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s public statements about the election change, they lack the legal authority to delay or reschedule the election. Setting the election calendar is a part of the job of the state legislature, and the legislature declined to take up their proposed legislation to set the election for June.

After Friday’s passage of HB 197 set the primary date for late April, LaRose issued a statement expressing disappointment in the limited time frame for the primary.

“The proposal that Governor DeWine, Lt. Governor Husted and I laid out was preferable, and unlike the plan enacted today, our proposal would have concluded the election by putting a ballot request directly in the hands of every voter along with a postage-paid return envelope,” the statement said.

Ohio does not permit requests for absentee ballots to be submitted online. The absentee ballot application has to be downloaded, printed, and mailed in to the voter’s county board of election.  

Advocates warn of potential disenfranchisement with quick shift to new system

As the lawsuit makes clear, voting rights advocates are especially concerned about the impact of the requirement to request an absentee ballot by mail. The process “threatens to shut out voters who do not have a printer at home [because] the absentee ballot must be printed and signed in hard copy,” said Chiraag Bains, director of legal strategies at Dēmos. “People are being told not to leave their homes, and for many people, doing so as the coronavirus spreads could be life-threatening. As it is, places where people go to print documents for free, such as libraries, are closed.”

Miller raised concerns about the time the request process could take, estimating it would take three to five days for an application to be received by a county board of elections, plus another several days to process the absentee ballot application, and then another three to five days for the ballot to be received by the voter and then again back to the county board of elections. “It's a very intensive process that relies on the mail system that is not super fast, and is also not operating under optimal conditions right now,” said Miller.

In addition to requesting a later election date, the lawsuit also seeks to ensure that all registered voters who still need to vote receive an absentee ballot with paid return postage, and asks the court to extend the voter registration deadline for 30 days before the newly established election date as required by federal law.

“When the state postponed the primary, it failed to extend the voter registration deadline, which was February 18,” said Bains. “Based on federal law, voters must be able to register until 30 days before an election.”

Unlike Georgia, which delayed its presidential primary to coincide with the state primary and stopped collecting absentee ballots, Ohio officials have treated this as an ongoing election with voters having an extended period to request and mail in their absentee ballots.

Read the full complaint here.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs are determined not to allow the coronavirus pandemic to open new opportunities for disenfranchising voters.

“This public health crisis should not also be a crisis for our democracy,” said Naila Awan, senior counsel at Dēmos, in a press release. “When elections move, our Constitution still protects all of us.”  

Anoa Changa is Prism’s electoral justice staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @thewaywithanoa.
Prism is a nonprofit affiliate of Daily Kos. Our mission is to make visible the people, places, and issues currently underrepresented in our democracy. By amplifying the voices and leadership of people closest to the problems, Prism tells the stories no one else is telling. Follow us on Twitter @ourprisms and on Facebook.

, 1 hour ago

News Origin

Democratic mayors in red states battle coronavirus in unfriendly territory

Mayors of blue cities stuck in red states across the country aren't just fighting the firehose of coronavirus disinformation flowing from Donald Trump's mouth to keep their citizens safe. In many cases, they are also battling policies set forth by the governors of their own states.

In states like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Missouri, big-city Democratic mayors have practically been begging their governors to enact statewide social distancing policies, according to CNN. "We need a statewide 'safer at home' order," says Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is effectively the county supervisor in Dallas, Texas. But Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal to issue that order is making it more likely the state will experience an overwhelming surge of sick patients, accompanied by a statewide shortage of hospital beds. In fact, far from issuing a statewide order, Abbott—who has often aggressively challenged the laws and policies of liberal-leaning cities in his state—has stressed the need for local autonomy in responding to the epidemic.

Campaign Action

Robyn Tannehill, the mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, where the University of Mississippi is located, gave CNN a very similar account of her city’s efforts to implement social distancing measures. "We are a regional health care and shopping destination," Tannehill said, so "we have people coming through from surrounding counties that are not [imposing] a stay at home order." That means many outsiders passing through Oxford actually have greater exposure to the coronavirus and are more likely to pass it on as they shuttle through the city running errands.

Meanwhile Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves spent last week painting life-saving social distancing measures as an overzealous government intrusion on individual liberty. "In times such as these, you always have experts who believe they know best for everybody," Reeves said. "You have some folks who think that government ought to take over everything in times of crisis — that they, as government officials, know better than individual citizens."

The same thing is true in Missouri, even as coronavirus cases have started to spike in cities like Kansas City and St. Louis. GOP Gov. Mike Parson has banned gatherings of more than 10 people statewide but has declined to issue the stay-at-home order that St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and other Democratic officials have pushed for.

In recent days, cities like St. Louis, Miami, Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, Jackson (Mississippi), Houston, Dallas, Austin, Phoenix, and Tucson have all issued stay-at-home directives to their citizens. But most of them have done so in defiance of the statewide messaging from GOP leadership. Arizona's Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did take some steps Monday to encourage social distancing. Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee sent out a voluntary stay-at-home advisory. And Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis  carved up his state, ordering only the four most populous counties in South Florida to stay at home.

But overall, most red state residents are getting a patchwork of conflicting directives and information that is greatly hampering Democratic mayors’ ability to protect their constituents from the growing public health crisis the nation is facing. In the meantime, the internal conflict in conservative states is also exacerbating the growing fault lines between Democratic leaders of larger urban areas that happen to be situated in red states and the Republican officials that sit atop the leadership of those states.   

, 2 hours ago

News Origin

Hezbollah Prepares for Its Next War: Against the Coronavirus

The militant group seeks to gain an edge on other parties in responding in Lebanon.

by Rebecca Collard , 2 hours ago

News Origin

Border fencing construction funded by our money continues as U.S. struggles from pandemic

“Non-essential government projects and construction have ground to a halt so that as many resources as possible can be diverted to coronavirus pandemic response” might be a sentence you’d read if someone were in charge around here, and by here I mean the kleptocracy that is currently the United States. Instead, construction for impeached president Donald Trump’s wind-challenged border fencing isn’t just continuing unimpeded during this epidemic, in areas like Arizona, it’s only ramping up.

“’This administration’s priority is to get the wall done. The rest of us might as well be damned,’ said Maria Singleton, 57, an Ajo resident who has documented in Facebook posts how wall construction is affecting the town—with traffic, noise, dust and, now, new worries about getting sick,” The New York Times reported. It wasn’t until Monday that the state’s Republican governor issued a shelter-in-place order that, apparently, considers golf courses “essential,” The Times said. So golfing continues—and so does dumping our money (not Mexico’s) into useless fencing as doctors and nurses are forced to use trash bags as protective gear.

Newsweek’s Chantal Da Silva reported this week that Trump administration officials boasted about completing more than 140 miles of new fencing as of last weekend, with a couple hundred more expected by the end of 2020, when coincidentally, the impeached president is up for reelection. Trump’s wall was always a dumb, racist chant that stayed just that—until he actually had the power to use our money to erect it, pilfering billions in military funds as he defies congressional authority. 

In Arizona, “Many of those living in Ajo are older adults, and there are fears that they are especially vulnerable to any transmission among the crowds of construction workers, engineers and truck drivers who have been descending in recent months,” The New York Times reports. And as the U.S. is falling deeper into this pandemic, “So far, there appears to be no plan to slow down construction. Raini Brunson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency was following ‘government and C.D.C. guidelines’ to determine how best to proceed with the work.” Ah, CDC guidelines that say to stay at least six feet away from other folks. Unless, of course, you’re helping erect a wall fencing, and then the virus knows to skip you. It’s science.

“The border wall has always been a stupid, offensive, and wasteful idea that is all about Trump’s ego and re-election campaign, but the notion of moving forward with the wall construction at this critical moment is unconscionable,” Pili Tobar of immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said. “All of us should be singularly focused on pandemic response and containment efforts, but Trump is refusing to budge on his wall obsession and related plans to divert funds and personnel that could be better used to help in our state and national effort against COVID-19.”

The group’s statement points to a new lawsuit from the attorneys general from eight states “calling for ‘an immediate permanent injunction” against the Trump administration’s diversion of $3.8 billion for the border wall, raided from appropriated military budgets by the Trump administration for the National Guard and others who may be helpful in the Covid-19 crisis.” Money that could all go to, oh, protective face masks, gloves, ICU beds, temporary hospitals, disinfectants, and of course ventilators, so that no loved one has to be forced to spend their final moments gasping for breath in a hospital lobby.

That’s what a responsible president would have done. A responsible president would do, well fuck, the opposite of everything this one is doing, and is humble and intelligent enough to step back so the experts can help direct this ship. Instead, this is a man who has actually said that his assistance to states during this public health crisis might just depend on how nice they are to him. If so many lives, including our own, weren’t in the balance right now, this would be laughable.

, 2 hours ago