South Dakota’s Governor Succeeds in Blocking Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization

“South Dakota voters made history last November by simultaneously approving ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing recreational and medical use of marijuana. The success of the broader initiative, Amendment A, was especially striking because it prevailed by an eight-point margin in a state that is mostly Republican and largely conservative. But thanks to a legal challenge backed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, Amendment A was almost immediately tied up in litigation, and last Wednesday the South Dakota Supreme Court definitively overturned it, ruling that the measure violated the “single subject” rule for constitutional amendments.”

“State legislators proved more willing to set aside their personal views on marijuana in deference to the policy preferred by voters. “In my mind, [legalization is] inevitable because we’ve already seen the support from the public,” Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack said after Klinger’s decision. “I didn’t vote for recreational marijuana, but my constituents did,” added Greg Jamison, another Republican senator. “Rarely do we get a chance to enact a law and not for sure know what our constituents think of that. Here we know.”

In response to such comments from members of her own party, Noem threatened to veto any legalization bill the legislature might decide to pass. Noem later suggested she might be open to decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession. Possessing two ounces or less is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.”

How the Christian right embraced voter suppression

“White evangelical Protestants now make up 14 percent of Americans, down from 23 percent in 2006, “the most precipitous drop in affiliation” for any religious group, according to a 2020 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. Even though white evangelicals made up 34 percent of Trump’s voters, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of election data, their support wasn’t sufficient to propel him to reelection. “Without such broad support for Trump among White evangelicals, [Joe] Biden would have beaten him by more than 20 points,” the Pew analysts wrote earlier this year.

Trump’s defeat proves that even massive conservative Christian turnout is no longer enough to win. The strategy white evangelical supporters have coalesced around to supplement it: election laws built on the lie that the other side’s ability to turn out voters must be “fraudulent.””

“As Trump tried to strong-arm state election officials to throw out the ballots of 11,780 Georgians and declare him the winner of the state’s 16 Electoral College votes, the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia sent a fundraising email to its supporters in December: “Election reform is coming to Georgia, and we are all in!”

Cole Muzio, the group’s executive director, acknowledged that this was new territory for his organization. “As you know, this is not one of our ‘core issues’,” he wrote. “However, issues like life, religious freedom, and school choice will never win if the vote is being diluted by radical leftists exploiting the system to cheat.””

“When Democrats stunned even themselves by winning both seats in the January 5 runoff, Georgia Republicans sprang into action, introducing a slate of bills that would, among other things, eliminate drop-box sites, impose more restrictive rules for absentee ballots, and prohibit judges from extending voting hours at precincts experiencing long waits, all under the guise of stopping fraud. Another objective was to defeat Warnock, who is up for reelection in 2022.

The flurry of legislation overtly became about religion and race, pitting white evangelical Republicans against Black church leaders, whose flocks are predominantly Democratic. One provision would have eliminated Sunday voting, a potentially dire blow to get-out-the-vote efforts of Black churches and their “souls to the polls” events that have been at the core of Black voter mobilization for decades.

A national outcry led legislators to nix that provision. But Republican lawmakers ignored the objections of the state’s Black pastors to the bill’s many other restrictive provisions. Black leaders couldn’t even get a meeting with GOP leaders, said Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “They didn’t pay any of us any mind.”

Less than two months after the bill was introduced, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a 98-page law that criminalizes providing water or food to voters standing in line and empowers state officials to replace local election officials — for example, the Democratic registrar of voters in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta — with appointees from their own party. The impact would be greatest on Black voters. “It is How to Steal an Election 101,” McDonald said.”

“National organizations aligned with the Christian right embraced “election integrity” with fervor. In March, Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the right-wing policy hub the Heritage Foundation, announced it would pour at least $10 million into lobbying and TV and online ads about the urgent need to “protect the rights of every American to a fair election.” In a video obtained by Mother Jones, a Heritage Action official admitted that the organization drafted the legislation in many states, including Georgia, and helped organize support.

At the same time, evangelical leaders opposed measures that would make it easier to vote. Advocates particularly targeted the For the People Act, which would create nationwide automatic voter registration, restore voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, and expand voting by mail and early voting, while shoring up the security of election infrastructure. The Phyllis Schlafly Eagles — an offshoot of the group once headed by the late conservative figure best known for helping kill the Equal Rights Amendment — claimed (falsely) that the bill “would enshrine Democrat ballot stuffing into federal law forever.” The Family Research Council called it “a federal power grab that cripples states’ ability to run elections and increases the likelihood of voter fraud” (another lie). Other conservative activists contended that the act’s financial disclosure requirements violated First Amendment protections for religious speech.”

“There were plenty of true believers. A June Washington Post/ABC News poll found that while only 30 percent of all respondents favored passing “new laws making it harder for people to vote fraudulently,” 51 percent of white evangelicals supported such legislation. While 62 percent of all Americans expressed support for “new laws making it easier for people to vote,” only 43 percent of white evangelicals did.

By that time, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 17 states already had enacted 28 new laws suppressing voting rights.”

How America lost its commitment to the right to vote

“The Voting Rights Act is arguably the most successful civil rights law in American history. Originally signed in 1965, it was the United States’ first serious attempt since Reconstruction to build a multiracial democracy — and it worked. Just two years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, Black voter registration rates in the Jim Crow stronghold of Mississippi skyrocketed from 6.7 percent to nearly 60 percent.

And yet, in a trio of cases — Shelby County v. Holder (2013), Abbott v. Perez (2018), and Brnovich v. DNC (2021) — the Court drained nearly all of the life out of this landmark statute. After Brnovich, the decision that inspired Kagan’s statement that the Court has treated the Voting Rights Act worse than any other federal law, it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would rule in favor of voting rights plaintiffs even if a state legislature tried to outright rig an election.

These cases are the culmination of more than half a century of efforts by conservatives who, after failing to convince elected lawmakers to weaken voting rights, turned to an unelected judiciary to enact a policy that would never have made it through Congress. All of this is bad news for minority voters in America, who are most likely to be disadvantaged by many of the new restrictions currently being pushed in statehouses across America, and for the country’s relatively young commitment to multiracial democracy. And there are at least three reasons to fear that decisions like Shelby County and Brnovich foreshadow even more aggressive attacks on the right to vote.”

“Georgia recently enacted a law that effectively enables the state Republican Party to disqualify voters and shut down polling precincts. If the state GOP wields this law to close down most of the polling places in the highly Democratic, majority-Black city of Atlanta, it’s unclear that a Voting Rights Act that’s been gravely wounded by three Supreme Court decisions remains vibrant enough to block them.”

“The impact of Shelby County was fairly swift. In 2013, for example, Texas enacted racially gerrymandered legislative maps, even though a federal court had rejected many key elements of these maps under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provisions. Yet, with preclearance dead, the Supreme Court upheld nearly all of Texas’s gerrymandered maps in Abbott v. Perez (2018).

Similarly, if preclearance were still in effect, it is unlikely that many of the controversial provisions of Georgia’s recently enacted voter suppression law would survive. And certainly no federal official acting in good faith would permit Georgia to simply start closing down polling places in Black neighborhoods.”

“The biggest uncertainty surrounding the Court’s voting rights decisions, in other words, is whether the Court will enable efforts to lock Republicans into power no matter what voters do to elect their candidates of choice, or whether the Court’s majority will, at some point, tell their fellow Republicans in state legislatures that they’ve gone too far.

The answers to these questions, moreover, won’t be found anywhere in the Constitution, or in any law enacted by Congress. The Roberts Court’s voting rights cases bear far more resemblance to the old English common law, a web of entirely judge-created legal rules governing areas such as contracting and property rights, than they do to the modern, more democratic model where federal judges are supposed to root their decisions in legal texts. The future of democracy in the United States will be decided by six Republican-appointed justices’ arbitrary whims.

And, if a majority of the justices do support a wholesale attack on liberal democracy, their actions will hardly be unprecedented.

Nearly a century before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Congress and state legislatures passed a different kind of legislation that was supposed to guarantee the franchise to people of color.

It’s called the 15th Amendment, with its command that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The pre-Voting Rights Act United States did not deny voting rights to millions of African Americans because we lacked a legal guarantee protecting the right to vote. We did so because powerful public officials — including judges — decided that they did not care what the Constitution had to say about voting rights.

We’re about to find out whether the Supreme Court is going to repeat that history.”

American Politics Now Has Two Big Racial Divides

“In many ways, the 2020 election was basically like every recent American presidential election: The Republican candidate won the white vote (54 percent to 44 percent, per CES), and the Democratic candidate won the overwhelming majority of the Black (90 percent to 8 percent), Asian American (66 percent to 31 percent) and Hispanic (64 percent to 33 percent) vote. Like in 2016, there was a huge difference among non-Hispanic white voters by education, as those with at least a four-year college degree favored Biden (55 percent to 42 percent), while those without degrees (63 to 35) favored Trump. (There wasn’t a huge education split among voters of color.)1

Other surveys tell the same general story: Trump won white voters overall by a margin in the double digits and won whites without four-year degrees by even more; Trump lost among whites with at least a four-year college degree, lost by a big margin with Asian American and Latino voters and lost by an enormous margin among African Americans.

So the main reason that Trump nearly won a second term was not his increased support among Latinos, who are only about 10 percent of American voters and are a group he lost by more than 20 points. Trump’s main strength was his huge advantage among non-Hispanic white voters without college degrees, who are about 42 percent of American voters. His second biggest bloc of support was among non-Hispanic white Americans with degrees, who are about 30 percent of all voters. According to the CES, over 80 percent of Trump’s voters were non-Hispanic white voters, with or without a college degree. In contrast, around 70 percent of nonwhite voters supported Biden, and they made up close to 40 percent of his supporters. So it is very much still the case that the Republicans are an overwhelmingly white party and that the Democratic coalition is much more racially diverse.”

“however …”

“Trump did 7 percentage points better among Asian American voters in 2020 compared to 2016, 4 points better among Hispanic voters and 1 point better among both white and Black voters, per the CES. Biden did 4 percentage points worse among Asian American voters and 1 points worse among Hispanic voters compared to Hillary Clinton, while doing 1 point better among Black voters and 3 points stronger among white voters compared to Clinton.

“Other surveys and precinct-level data suggest that the Trump swing among Hispanics could have been larger than CES found, with Trump gaining in the upper-single digits and winning the support of over 35 percent of Latino voters. (Ultimately, we will never know exactly how different racial and ethnic blocs voted, since people aren’t required to state their race or ethnicity when they cast ballots.) But generally, the story of 2020 is that Trump did better with Asian American and Hispanic voters than in 2016, while Biden did better than Hillary Clinton among non-Hispanic white voters.”

“Wokeness is a problem and we all know it”

“Right, but we can’t say, “Republicans are going to call us socialists no matter what, so let’s just run as out-and-out socialists.” That’s not the smartest thing to do. And maybe tweeting that we should abolish the police isn’t the smartest thing to do because almost fucking no one wants to do that.

Here’s the deal: No matter how you look at the map, the only way Democrats can hold power is to build on their coalition, and that will have to include more rural white voters from across the country. Democrats are never going to win a majority of these voters. That’s the reality. But the difference between getting beat 80 to 20 and 72 to 28 is all the difference in the world.

So they just have to lose by less — that’s all.”

“You ever get the sense that people in faculty lounges in fancy colleges use a different language than ordinary people? They come up with a word like “LatinX” that no one else uses. Or they use a phrase like “communities of color.” I don’t know anyone who speaks like that. I don’t know anyone who lives in a “community of color.” I know lots of white and Black and brown people and they all live in … neighborhoods.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these phrases. But this is not how people talk. This is not how voters talk. And doing it anyway is a signal that you’re talking one language and the people you want to vote for you are speaking another language.”

How Trump Won One of America’s Most Diverse Counties — By a Lot

“Trump and his campaign targeted voters regardless of their racial differences with his rural-resonant messages of social conservatism—pro-gun, pro-life, pro-military—and anti-NAFTA broadsides that are catnip for an electorate that blames free trade agreements and globalization for shuttered factories and a sinking standard of living. The campaign also added to the equation a hyperspecific and transactional component: very publicly backing the federal recognition the Lumbee have been seeking since the 1800s. Finally, Trump and his most prominent surrogates kept showing up, a persistence that crested with Trump’s rally in the county seat a week and a half before the election—something no sitting president had ever done here.”

The Way to Keep Georgia Blue

“Based upon available exit polling, Democrats won Georgia with a combination of white college-educated, Black and Latino voters. Black voters led the way with a whopping 88 percent of those voters supporting Biden; they make up 29 percent of all voters in Georgia. Latinos and white college-educated voters made up the rest of this winning coalition of voters with 62 percent and 57 percent of these voters turning out for Biden, respectively. Combined, these voters make up a large subsection of all voters in Georgia. Based on data currently available on the final vote counts, we are tracking an increase of about 200,000 more Black voters in 2020 than in 2016.

Add in increased Asian American and Latino Democratic participation, and a true Obama-era coalition emerges. This is thanks to the work of Black Voters Matter, New Georgia Project founded by Stacey Abrams, and other state-based organizers who turned out what we call high-potential voters — voters who don’t have vote histories, but if you talk to them, are likely to engage and lean Democratic.”

Why Democrats Keep Losing Rural Counties Like Mine

“Roughly two-thirds of rural voters across the country cast their ballots for Trump.”

“Why did Trump do so well with rural voters? From my experience, it’s not because local Democrats failed to organize in rural areas. Instead, after conversations with dozens of voters, neighbors, friends and family members in Dunn County, I’ve come to believe it is because the national Democratic Party has not offered rural voters a clear vision that speaks to their lived experiences. The pain and struggle in my community is real, yet rural people do not feel it is taken seriously by the Democratic Party.

My fear is that Democrats will continue to blame rural voters for the red-sea electoral map and dismiss these voters as backward. But my hope is for Democrats to listen to and learn from the experiences of rural people.

The signs of desperation are everywhere in communities like mine. A landscape of collapsed barns and crumbling roads. Main Streets with empty storefronts. The distant stare of depression in your neighbor’s eyes. If you live here, it is impossible to ignore the depletion.”

“Small-business growth has slowed in rural communities since the Great Recession, and it has only worsened with Covid-19. As capital overwhelmingly flows to metro areas, the small-town economy increasingly is dominated by large corporations: low-wage retailers like Dollar General or agribusiness firms that have no connection to the community.

The source of our wealth is in the things we grow. But today, those things get shipped off into a vast global supply chain, where profits are siphoned off and little remains for us to save or invest. Farmers’ share of every retail food dollar has fallen from about 50 percent in 1952 to 15 percent today. Corporations control more and more of the agriculture business—from the seed and fertilizer farmers buy to the grain, milk and meat they sell—sucking out profits instead of giving farmers a fair price or a fair shot at the market. Every day, small farmers are squeezed: They can either expand their operations and take on more debt in an attempt to produce more, or close their business entirely because of chronically low commodity prices.

The digital divide is also real: About 28 percent of rural Wisconsinites lack high-speed internet, which stifles rural economic growth. Working from home or starting a new business is next to impossible in today’s economy without high-speed internet. Kids can’t learn from home without it either.

Rural health care is a disaster. At least 176 rural hospitals have closed since 2005, the majority of them in the past 10 years; it’s generally not profitable for hospitals to operate in low-population areas. Wisconsin has not been hit as badly as other states, but those hospitals that remain open in rural parts of the state are scaling back services and struggling to retain doctors. In my own county, there are zero ICU beds, even as Covid infection rates surge. Our profit-based health care system is failing rural people.

Rural people in Wisconsin are dying by suicide at rates higher than folks in suburban and urban parts of the state. This is not just a matter of poor mental health services—many rural counties lack a single practicing psychiatrist. It is also about an inescapable feeling of failure and an overwhelming sense that there is no future here.”

“Rural voters appreciated Obama’s repeated campaign promises to challenge the rise of agribusiness monopolies. But as president, he allowed for the continued consolidation of corporate power in the food system. His Department of Agriculture balked when it came time to enforce anti-monopoly rules such as those in the Packers and Stockyard Act, and failed to enforce Country of Origin Labeling, which would have allowed independent farmers and ranchers to better compete within the consolidated meat industry. The Obama Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission presided over a series of corporate mergers in the food and agriculture sectors, including the Kraft-Heinz and JBS-Cargill mergers. Taken together, these moves signaled that his administration did not have the backs of family farmers.”

“When people feel left behind, they look for a way to make sense of what is happening to them. There is a story to be told about rural America, yet Democrats are not telling it. That leaves an opening for other stories to be told to fill the vacuum—stories that villainize and divide us along racial, geographic and partisan lines. That is the story Trump told, but it’s the wrong one. The real story is that rural people feel our way of life is being sold off. We see the wealth of our sweat and soil being sent away to enrich executives, investors and shareholders.
For Democrats to start telling a story that resonates, they need to show a willingness to fight for rural people, and not just by proposing a “rural plan” or showing up on a farm for a photo op. Rural people understand economic power and the grip it has on lawmakers. We know reform won’t be easy. A big step forward for Democrats would be to champion antitrust enforcement and challenge the anticompetitive practices of the gigantic agribusiness firms that squeeze our communities. In his rural plan, Biden pledged to “strengthen antitrust enforcement,” but the term doesn’t appear until the 35th bullet point. For rural voters, antitrust enforcement is a top priority, and it should be coupled with policies to manage oversupply in commodity markets, so farmers can get a fair price. Another step forward would be an ambitious federal plan, in the spirit of the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Act, to bring high-speed internet to every corner of America.

What rural voters want is a glimmer of hope that things will change. They want politicians who see a future for rural communities in which food production is localized, energy is cheap and clean, people have good jobs, soil is healthy, Main Street is bustling with small businesses, schools are vibrant and everyone can see a doctor if they need to. Here in Wisconsin, we can look back in our state’s rich history of progressive populism to a time when politicians like Bob LaFollette, our former governor and U.S. senator, understood that concentrated wealth and corporate power are a threat to people’s livelihoods. As president, Biden will have the chance to prove he understands this, too. Democrats can win rural Wisconsin again, but they’ll need to try.”

How fake news aimed at Latinos thrives on social media

“Democrats are increasingly worried about the influence of misinformation on social media aimed at Latino voters in the runup to the election. The misleading narratives continue to spread on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as in closed chat groups like WhatsApp and Telegram, in addition to the more traditional platforms like television, radio, and talking points coming directly from elected officials.

Several misinformation researchers told Recode that they’re seeing alarming amounts of misinformation about voter fraud and Democratic leaders being shared in Latino social media communities. Biden is a popular target, with misinformation ranging from exaggerated claims that he embraces Fidel Castro-style socialism to more patently false and outlandish ones, for instance that the president-elect supports abortion minutes before a child’s birth or that he orchestrated a caravan of Cuban immigrants to infiltrate the US Southern border and disrupt the election process.

“What I’ve seen during this election looks to be a multifaceted misinformation effort seeking to undermine Biden and Harris’s support amongst the Latino community,” said Sam Woolley, a misinformation and propaganda researcher at the University of Texas Austin. “I think that political groups understand that the Latino vote matters and they are showing they are willing to use any and all informational tactics to get what they want.””

“Some of the misleading messages — like that Biden is a radical socialist — aren’t uniquely aimed at the Latino community; Trump often made this claim during his campaign. But these comparisons take on a new intensity with some immigrants from countries like Cuba or Venezuela who have lived under socialist governments and may be deeply opposed to them.”