Voter Turnout Soared In 2020 Thanks To Flexible Options

By Steven Rosenfeld

In the 2020 presidential election, 66 million Americans voted with a mailed-out ballot after most states loosened restrictions on qualifications to vote by mail to make voting safer in the pandemic. Another 36 million people voted in person at an early voting site before Election Day after many states expanded this option.

Together, more than 56 million voters cast a ballot in a different way than in 2016, which was “extraordinary,” as one recent scholarly study said. North Carolina’s increase in using mailed-out ballots, alone, was fivefold. Georgia’s was sixfold. Wisconsin’s was fifteenfold.

The presidential election set a turnout record and has since led to a record number of election administration bills in state legislatures, some preserving last fall’s expanded voting options and others rolling back those choices. Those state-by-state fights have led to some of the highest-profile voting rights battles since the early 1960s. Both parties are claiming that their vision for political representation faces existential threats.

In recent weeks, an influential voice, election scholars, who rely on “observed facts and data,” have begun to weigh in on what was most important, less so, and not at all important with helping 159 million Americans vote last fall. Their findings, while preliminary and sometimes contradictory, provide an important counterpoint to the partisan claims in the state-by-state voting rights battles.

An examination of a half-dozen academic draft papers, policy institute reports, and scholarly articles finds some consensus on which voting options boosted 2020’s turnout. These options include mailing every registered voter in a state or county a ballot and allowing voters to register or update their registration information and then vote. But there were also conflicting data and assessments over specific voting regimes and rules that were suspended to help voters get a ballot into their hands.

Last year, 29 states and the District of Columbia passed 79 laws to institute a grab bag of options centered around using mailed-out ballots and early in-person voting. While lawmakers were concerned about making voting safer, these steps also made voting more convenient and accessible by cutting bureaucracy and extending deadlines.

In many respects, 2020 was an unprecedented and successful experiment in making voting more convenient. While broad findings about these trends are coming in—including some work that has been misreported in the media—further research will explore what options were embraced by voting blocs with historically low turnout rates, such as communities of color and younger voters.

“We are at the very beginning of a period in which academic researchers can study the 2020 election,” said Rutgers University’s Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist who has studied voter turnout issues for more than a decade. “What’s coming out right now is preliminary. A fuller picture has yet to emerge, which is why you are seeing such disparate research designs and findings.”

Contours of Voting in 2020

Nationally, 2020 saw the highest presidential election turnout in 116 years. Almost nobody expected that result last spring, when state and local election officials pivoted to more flexible methods of casting ballots that protected the health of all involved. Notably, 159.7 million Americans or 67 percent of registered voters cast ballots, 23.8 million more voters than in 2016.

The biggest-picture contours of voting options and turnout in 2020’s general election—voting last fall—was the “America Goes to the Polls” report from Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. Nonprofit VOTE works to increase participation. The U.S. Elections Project, founded by the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald, created a national repository of early voting and vote-by-mail data.

In 2020, 45 percent of Americans voted with mailed-out ballots, they reported. Twenty-five percent of Americans voted early at an in-person voting site. The final 30 percent voted in person on Election Day. In 2016, in contrast, 21 percent of the presidential electorate voted with a mailed-out ballot and 60 percent voted at an Election Day poll. The highest and lowest turnout states in 2020 reflected different regimens—from the starting line of voter registration to the finish line of getting and casting a ballot.

“All of the top 10 turnout states either sent all their voters a mail ballot, have same-day registration that allows voters to register or update their registration when they vote, or both,” the Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project report said. “Eight of the bottom 10 turnout states cut off voter registration four weeks before the election or required an excuse [on a separate application] to use a mail ballot.”

Other policy reports and draft academic papers offered more detail on where there was a consensus about what voting options had the biggest impact on 2020’s voter turnout. There was agreement that the states offering a same-day voter registration and voting option, which 24 states and the District of Columbia did in 2020, boosted turnout by 5 percent, as noted in the Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project report.

There also was an affirmation of prior research that mailing a ballot to every registered voter in a state or county boosts turnout. In 2020, the increase, reported by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), averaged 3.9 percent nationwide in the 10 states and the District of Columbia that mailed registered voters a ballot. Of those, the six states and the District of Columbia that did this for the first time in 2020 saw voter turnout increase 4.6 percent.

PPIC’s top finding—based on a working academic paper—was that mailing every Californian voter a ballot led to a 12 percent increase in statewide turnout compared to 2016. Their paper noted that California did other things to encourage turnout, such as offering more choices on how and where to return ballots, adding the ability for voters to track their ballot’s whereabouts and launching an extensive public education effort about the new voting regimen.

Another working paper, from a team at the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; and the University of Washington, noted that its Colorado research, conducted prior to 2020’s presidential election, found turnout increases among several low-propensity voting cohorts:

    Young voters (16.6% increase in turnout),

    Blue-collar voters (10.0%),

    Voters without a high school diploma (9.6%),

    and all low-income voters (8.1%).

The turnout increase among Democrats and Republicans was 8 percent, but it was 12 percent among independents.

Inconsistent Data, Methods, Findings

But there were differences in preliminary research over other absentee voting regimes and their more specific rules—bureaucratic details that are now being removed or revived by some state legislatures. In general, there are four absentee voting regimes, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:

The fine print of these absentee voting regimes, many of which were suspended in 2020, is now being reinstated or toughened in Republican-majority legislatures. These reforms include stricter voter ID requirements and shorter filing timetables.

In most states, registered voters must apply to receive a mailed-out ballot. In 2020, 15 states mailed voters an application, as opposed to leaving that task to voters. Fourteen states suspended their requirement that voters had to satisfy a predetermined “excuse” that they could not vote on Election Day, such as age, infirmity or travel. Four states kept their excuse requirement.

Consider the excuse requirement that 14 states suspended. A Stanford University team found that suspending the excuse led to a 0.8 percent increase in turnout. But the PPIC report found that suspending the excuse led to a 2.7 percent drop in turnout nationwide.

This apparent conflict is an example of where different methodologies yield different results. PPIC’s report offered no explanation for the turnout drop other than a footnote, which academics said was common in preliminary papers. In a follow-up phone call, Eric McGhee, a coauthor of the PPIC report, said that his team’s research and Stanford’s were different. As for the 2.7 percent drop, he said that states made many changes in the voting rules to help voters—some of which voters embraced; others that they apparently did not.

“If some jurisdictions were anticipating a bad outcome [with accommodating voters] and they adopted a particular reform to get ahead of that, and the reform had no effect on it, that could make it appear it was causing a decline,” he said. PPIC’s methodology did not allow his team to delve into this more nuanced scenario, he said.

On another absentee balloting issue, PPIC reported that directly sending voters an application to receive a ballot by mail led to a 1.7 percent turnout increase, which it called “modest.” That turnout increase might seem small to the public or “modest” to cautious scholars, but it was larger than Joe Biden’s presidential victory margin in the states of Georgia (0.23 percent), Arizona (0.30 percent) and Wisconsin (0.63 percent).

Another area where there was disagreement concerned whether voters choose their method of voting based more on convenience—what was more accessible—or more based on coronavirus fears. In 2020, 29 states and the District of Columbia changed their laws to allow people to vote by mail or early due to public health concerns, as noted in an April article in the Journal of Democracy coauthored by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law School professor, and Charles Stewart III, an MIT political scientist who oversees a research lab known for its parsing of U.S. Census data of voters. (In 2020, they created the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, a resource for election officials.)

The Nonprofit VOTE/U.S. Elections Project team said that 66 percent of voters chose what was “most convenient” when deciding when and where to vote, while 24 percent cited “concerns about coronavirus” as a major influence on their decision. It drew on a Pew Research Center survey of about 12,000 voters in November 2020 asking why those individuals chose to vote early or via a mailed-out ballot. On the other hand, the Persily-Stewart article cited post-election census data and found the opposite response.

“Postelection responses to the SPAE [Survey of the Performance of American Elections] describe the reasons behind the shift to mail balloting,” they wrote. “Overall, 59 percent of respondents who stated that they were very worried about family members catching covid reported having voted by mail, compared to 28 percent who said they had no covid worries.”

Blinders or Not?

Academics have long played an important role in shaping election law and voting rules. Their facts and findings are a counterweight to partisan arguments. But insightful work is not always ready when lawmakers are reforming voting laws. Moreover, the push by some academics and the press to report findings that defy conventional wisdom can lead to premature, if not mistaken, reporting with high political stakes.

A recent episode of high-profile press coverage offers a cautionary tale about the perils of overclaiming about preliminary research and omitting important contexts, and other factors that affect the topic at hand, such as whether turnout alone is the best metric of what contributes to a more representative electorate. In this case, the focus was on which voting options and their associated bureaucracy did or did not boost overall turnout.

In an April 4 analysis, Nate Cohn, a New York Times data journalist and analyst of political trends, sparked a storm in election circles when he wrote that Democrats and Republicans were both mistaken “about whether making it easier or harder to vote, especially by mail, has a significant effect on turnout or electoral outcomes.” He continued, “The evidence suggests it does not.”

Cohn’s blanket assertion mostly relied on a preliminary paper that focused on one bureaucratic hurdle in one version of voting with mailed-out ballots, in 2020. The Stanford study that Cohn drew on mostly looked at Texas, but said that its findings were applicable to 14 statesthat suspended their rule that voters declare why they cannot vote at the polls.

The researchers reported that removing the excuse, alone, boosted turnout by 0.8 percent. But they concluded that increase could be “statistical noise” that did not prove anything about making voting easier and boosting turnout. Cohn’s conclusion, pinned on the preliminary study and older, pre-2020 research—before 45 percent of the electorate voted with mailed-out ballots—struck several nerves.

“The idea that making voting easier *won’t* improve turnout is one of political science’s worst takes,” immediately tweeted Charlotte Hill, a University of California, Berkeley, PhD candidate and coauthor of a 2020 working paper finding otherwise under Colorado’s universal vote-by-mail system. “And to be clear, many political scientists don’t buy it.”

Cohn did not discuss other versions of mail-based voting where 2020 turnout went up—such as the 10 states that mailed every voter a ballot to minimize the health risks. But he cited older research—from before voting with mailed-out ballots more than doubled nationally in 2020—that found, as he wrote, that “[a]lmost everyone who cares enough to vote will brave the inconveniences of in-person voting to do so.”

That assertion offended advocates who applauded election officials’ extraordinary efforts to expand voting options. And it was seen as immoral by organizers who strove to help millions of voters who used these options for the first time, despite ex-President Donald Trump’s attacks on 2020’s expanded options and on the voters using them.

“Voters are more than just numbers on a @Nate_Cohn spreadsheet,” tweeted Fair Fight, a Georgia-based group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams. “They are people. Implying [that] 12-hour lines are not that bad because voters will find a way to make up for lost wages or they’ll vote after they faint is cruel and racist. Turnout would be even higher if not for barriers.”

Cohn, notably, had defenders. Rice University’s Robert Stein, who has studied elections for decades and worked in Texas and elsewhere to expand 2020’s voting options, said that Cohn’s report stayed within the boundaries of the academic research that he cited.

“Nate Cohn did not write what I will call ‘fake news,’” Stein said. “He wrote the right article based on much of the literature on convenience voting… What Nate was writing about was one form of vote by mail, and that is excuse or no-excuse mail-in voting.”

But Cohn’s critics countered that voting in 2020 was so different from prior presidential elections—with 56 million people casting ballots in a new way for the first time—that it was premature to overly rely on new research or on pre-pandemic literature. (The 56 million figure is based on U.S. Elections Project data from 2016 and 2020, and its recent report comparing turnout differences for early and mail voting.)

“The assumption of a continuity in the research findings from studies of absentee voting and the like in the past and this election could be incorrect, certainly at the margins,” said Minnite. “But it is at the margins that elections are won or lost.”

What Doesn’t Turnout Measure?

Voter turnout is the “most basic measure of the success of an election,” Persily and Stewart noted in the Journal of Democracy. But in 2020 that metric “does not inventory the ways in which the Trump administration, allied election administrators and outside groups undermined the execution of the election,” another data scientist commented in his private newsletter. Nor does turnout, alone, address another core issue: if specific voting options helped historically infrequent or low-propensity voters.

“There is an assumption that the more people are participating, then the closer we have gotten to the goal of the electorate being the same as the overall population,” PPIC’s McGhee said. “I think it is true that turnout level and the representativeness [are] certainly likely to be correlated with each other, but they are not the same thing. We have to be really careful about that. And the follow-on question of ‘how does this voting method affect that representativeness?’ is a super important one.”

The equity, or representativeness question, is what researchers like McGhee are now delving into next as they keep studying 2020’s voting options and voter turnout. But in the meantime, other data, including from nonacademics such as political data firms, about the impacts of certain voting options is filtering into 2021’s political fights.

Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located and an election jurisdiction larger than 25 states, operated eight 24-hour voting centers last fall to accommodate voters who could not leave their work or family obligations. It was one of many innovations to make voting more accessible, including drive-through voting sites and mailing voters absentee ballot applications.

A New York Times report in late April said that a majority of those who used late-night voting were people of color, and that the voting hours expansion was targeted by a bill in Texas’ GOP legislature to be barred from future elections. The Times linked to a tweet thread from the Texas Civil Rights Project, which said “56% of voters who voted during late-night hours were Black, Hispanic, or Asian. … Data proves these options offered by @HarrisVotes were popular with voters AND made voting more accessible for everyone.”

How reliable is this claim, which is drawn from data from TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm, according to an attribution on the Texas Civil Rights Project’s tweets? Their raw data is one source among many that is being compared and studied by academics, said Stein, whose students are working on papers about Harris County’s voting using data from TargetSmart and other data firms. But that research will not be done before Texas’ legislature likely passes its 2021 voting reforms, he said.

The 2020 election shows that if politicians give voters more accessible options, some of those options will be used. But beyond the broad trends, the scale and impact may not be quickly known as they pertain to deregulating specific prior mail-based and early voting regimes, and newer accessible options.

That absence of definitive research has not stopped partisan Republicans bent on rolling back last fall’s array of voting options. But it has given a few Republicans pause and led to some of the most draconian proposed rollbacks to be deleted from bills. Many GOP legislators know that their party’s impulse could backfire, as their base, not just Democrats, took advantage of various voting options.

“Once you give voters opportunities to do things, you can’t pull them back,” Stein said. “Their concern is not whether Democrats will vote with [reinstated] voter ID or [more limited] early voting, but whether their voters will show up.”

The Democrats’ “Killer App” Against Voter Suppression Unveiled

By Thom Hartmann

With all their new “voter suppression” laws in the states, Republicans are working to keep and improve a corrupt system that’s put them in power and keeps them in power, despite only representing a minority of Americans nationwide.

That’s why they’re trying to change our election law with little tweaks like making it harder to get a mail-in ballot or preventing people from bringing a drink of water to somebody in line.

This is not about making genuinely new law. The bigger picture, for them, is hanging onto to the power they and their billionaire supporters have already grabbed.

In fact, they’re trying to solidify, cement, deepen and broaden an already corrupted system that got them power in the first place and has kept them in power for the better part of at least two decades since the Supreme Court Bush v Gore decision in 2001 and the later Shelby County decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Billionaires were brought into the act with Citizens United in 2010.

In several states, like Michigan and Wisconsin (among others), the majority of voters in the state vote for Democrats — resulting in Democrats as governors and in other statewide offices — but Republicans, because of the corrupt system that includes things like gerrymanders, still control the state House and Senate as well as sending a majority of Republicans to Congress in DC.

They’re trying to maintain this larger status quo while tweaking and tightening it with these new laws.

Which is why when state officials and even Trump-appointed judges concluded, in Red state after Red state, that the 2020 election was clean, fair and accurate, the GOP decided to do something about the new crisis they now confront.

That crisis is that they repeatedly lost even more elections in 2020.

Georgia lost two Senate seats, numerous formerly Republican states went for Joe Biden instead of the previous guy, and Democrats got elected to state legislatures and as governors.

Republicans lost the House, the Senate, and the White House. Emergency! It’s not supposed to work this way!

The Republican solution to this, of course, is to make it harder to vote, harder to register to vote, and harder to mail-in vote. But while those are the things that get the headlines, the really insidious stuff is rarely mentioned.

It comes in two parts.

The first is that they’re replacing professional, long-term, non-partisan polling officials and election referees with Republican partisan hacks, so they can decide which votes the state is going to count and which votes they’re going to throw out.

The second is that they’re inviting goons into the polling places to harass, intimidate and threaten people whose only crime is that they want to participate in their own democracy. They call these goons “poll watchers,” and in the past such people have shown up with baseball bats, Confederate flags, and even video recording equipment.

This poll-watching thing used to be a big deal across the country before it was first outlawed in 1965: former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist actually got his start in Republican politics in the early 1960s doing this with something called Operation Eagle Eye in Arizona. Mostly it was stopped by the Voting Rights Act, but the US Supreme Court has since gutted that so now the GOP wants to get back to it.

Thus, Republicans are now reviving a pair of strategies that Democrats used to use in the Old South, before 1964/1965 when Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which flipped the white-racist vote from Democratic to Republican in a single decade.

Republicans are now trying to stop people from voting — or having their votes counted — pretty much any way they can.

And they’re picking up steam! As of a bit over a month ago, the Brennen Center for Justice noted:

    As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. That’s 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021 — a 43 percent increase in little more than a month.

    These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law. In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).

Democrats, however, have a “killer app” that will stop these Republican voter suppression and election-rigging efforts dead in their tracks.

It’s the first piece of legislation passed out of the House of Representatives and the first put on the floor of the United States Senate, HR1 and SB1, with the official name of the For The People Act.

Outside of reducing the ability of states to mail out absentee ballots, every one of the dozen-plus strategies Republicans are building into their laws to rig the vote would be blocked or outlawed by this legislation.

It’s the giant killer.

It will guarantee that every citizen in this country, regardless of their race or economic status, will have an equal right to vote in all elections that have any federal component whatsoever. (Most Americans don’t realize that there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution, so we need laws like this to protect that right.)

It also means that the small number of billionaires who spend the largest amount of money on our elections will have to identify themselves, something they strongly object to.

As People for the American Way President Ben Jealous noted, in the 2016 election alone, “just 400 political donors gave a combined $1.5 billion — more than five million small donors combined.” This law will will require transparency on their part and give campaigns that rely on smaller donors a boost.

And the majority of the people want it! Multiple studies and polls have shown that when the provisions of the law are explained to voters, an overwhelming majority of Democrats and a solid majority of Republicans are heartily in favor of it.

The For The People Act is also co-sponsored by 49 out of the 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats; the lone holdout is a West Virginia multimillionaire who shows up on Fox News a lot.

It’s a 100% certainty that Republicans will filibuster this legislation, which means 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats need to get together and either end the filibuster or, as I’ve frequently suggested, convert it into a “Jimmy Stewart Filibuster,“ where senators can talk as long as they want and as long as they have 40 colleagues with them on the Senate floor, but when they’re done or their number of colleagues drops below 40, a vote will happen.

It’s unlikely that you or I will have much influence on Joe Manchin (unless you live in West Virginia or are a major campaign donor of his), but we can make our opinions known to President Biden and Senator Schumer, who have a variety of options, both carrots and sticks, when it comes to dealing with recalcitrant or attention-seeking senators. We can also let our own senators know our opinion so they can speak with Manchin.

Right-Wing Extremism Networks Are Growing, US Just Catching Up

By Sebastian Rotella

During the past two years, U.S. counterterrorism officials held meetings with their European counterparts to discuss an emerging threat: right-wing terror groups becoming increasingly global in their reach.

American neo-Nazis were traveling to train and fight with militias in the Ukraine. There were suspected links between U.S. extremists and the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group that was training foreigners in its St. Petersburg compounds. A gunman accused of killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 had denounced a “Hispanic invasion” and praised a white supremacist who killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and who had been inspired by violent American and Italian racists.

But the efforts to improve transatlantic cooperation against the threat ran into a recurring obstacle. During talks and communications, senior Trump administration officials steadfastly refused to use the term “right-wing terrorism,” causing disputes and confusion with the Europeans, who routinely use the phrase, current and former European and U.S. officials told ProPublica. Instead, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security referred to “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism,” while the State Department chose “racially or ethnically motivated terrorism.”

“We did have problems with the Europeans,” one national security official said. “They call it right-wing terrorism and they were angry that we didn’t. There was a real aversion to using that term on the U.S. side. The aversion came from political appointees in the Trump administration. We very quickly realized that if people talked about right-wing terrorism, it was a nonstarter with them.”

The U.S. response to the globalization of the far-right threat has been slow, scattered and politicized, U.S. and European counterterrorism veterans and experts say. Whistleblowers and other critics have accused DHS leaders of downplaying the threat of white supremacy and slashing a unit dedicated to fighting domestic extremism. DHS has denied those accusations.

In 2019, a top FBI official told Congress the agency devoted only about 20% of its counterterrorism resources to the domestic threat. Nonetheless, some FBI field offices focus primarily on domestic terrorism.

Former counterterrorism officials said the president’s politics made their job harder. The disagreement over what to call the extremists was part of a larger concern about whether the administration was committed to fighting the threat.

“The rhetoric at the White House, anybody watching the rhetoric of the president, this was discouraging people in government from speaking out,” said Jason Blazakis, who ran a State Department counterterrorism unit from 2008 to 2018. “The president and his minions were focused on other threats.”

Other former officials disagreed. Federal agencies avoided the term “right-wing terrorism” because they didn’t want to give extremists legitimacy by placing them on the political spectrum, or to fuel the United States’ intense polarization, said Christopher K. Harnisch, the former deputy coordinator for countering violent extremism in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau. Some causes espoused by white supremacists, such as using violence to protect the environment, are not regarded as traditionally right-wing ideology, said Harnisch, who stepped down this week.

“The most important point is that the Europeans and the U.S. were talking about the same people,” he said. “It hasn’t hindered our cooperation at all.”

As for the wider criticism of the Trump administration, Harnisch said: “In our work at the State Department, we never faced one scintilla of opposition from the White House about taking on white supremacy. I can tell you that the White House was entirely supportive.”

The State Department focused mostly on foreign extremist movements, but it examined some of their links to U.S. groups as well.

There was clearly progress on some fronts. The State Department took a historic step in April by designating the Russian Imperial Movement and three of its leaders as terrorists, saying that the group’s trainees included Swedish extremists who carried out bombing attacks on refugees. It was the first such U.S. designation of a far-right terrorist group.

With Trump now out of office, Europeans and Americans expect improved cooperation against right-wing terrorists. Like the Islamist threat, it is becoming clear that the far-right threat is international. In December, a French computer programmer committed suicide after giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. extremist causes. The recipients included a neo-Nazi news website. Federal agencies are investigating, but it is not yet clear whether anything about the transaction was illegal, officials said.

“It’s like a transatlantic thing now,” said a European counterterror chief, describing American conspiracy theories that surface in the chatter he tracks. “Europe is taking ideology from U.S. groups and vice versa.”

The Crackdown

International alliances make extremist groups more dangerous, but also create vulnerabilities that law enforcement could exploit.

Laws in Europe and Canada allow authorities to outlaw domestic extremist groups and conduct aggressive surveillance of suspected members. America's civil liberties laws, which trace to the Constitution's guarantee of free speech spelled out in the First Amendment, are far less expansive. The FBI and other agencies have considerably more authority to investigate U.S. individuals and groups if they develop ties with foreign terror organizations. So far, those legal tools have gone largely unused in relation to right-wing extremism, experts say.

To catch up to the fast-spreading threat at home and abroad, Blazakis said, the U.S. should designate more foreign organizations as terrorist entities, especially ones that allied nations have already outlawed.

A recent case reflects the kind of strategy Blazakis and others have in mind. During the riots in May after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, FBI agents got a tip that two members of the anti-government movement known as the Boogaloo Bois had armed themselves, according to court papers. The suspects were talking about killing police officers and attacking a National Guard armory to steal heavy weapons, the court papers allege. The FBI deployed an undercover informant who posed as a member of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group, and offered to help the suspects obtain explosives and training. After the suspects started talking about a plot to attack a courthouse, agents arrested them, according to the court papers. In September, prosecutors filed charges of conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, which can bring a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. One of the defendants pleaded guilty last month. The other still faces charges.

If the U.S. intelligence community starts using its vast resources to gather information on right-wing movements in other countries, it will find more linkages to groups in the United States, Blazakis and other experts predicted. Rather than resorting to a sting, authorities could charge American extremists for engaging in propaganda activity, financing, training or participating in other actions with foreign counterparts.

A crackdown would bring risks, however. After the assault on the Capitol, calls for bringing tougher laws and tactics to bear against suspected domestic extremists revived fears about civil liberties similar to those raised by Muslim and human rights organizations during the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” An excessive response could give the impression that authorities are criminalizing political views, which could worsen radicalization among right-wing groups and individuals for whom suspicion of government is a core tenet.

“You will hit a brick wall of privacy and civil liberties concerns very quickly,” said Seamus Hughes, a former counterterrorism official who is now deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. He said the federal response should avoid feeding into “the already existing grievance of government overreach. The goal should be marginalization.”

In recent years, civil liberties groups have warned against responding to the rise in domestic extremism with harsh new laws.

“Some lawmakers are rushing to give law enforcement agencies harmful additional powers and creating new crimes,” wrote Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s national security project, in a statement by the organization about congressional hearings on the issue in 2019. “That approach ignores the way power, racism, and national security laws work in America. It will harm the communities of color that white supremacist violence targets — and undermine the constitutional rights that protect all of us.”

The Pivot Problem

There is also an understandable structural problem. Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have dedicated themselves to the relentless pursuit of al-Qaida, the Islamic State, Iran and other Islamist foes.

Now the counterterrorism apparatus has to shift its aim to a new menace, one that is more opaque and diffuse than Islamist networks, experts said.

It will be like turning around an aircraft carrier, said Blazakis, the former State Department counterterrorism official, who is now a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“The U.S. government is super slow to pivot to new threats,” Blazakis said. “There is a reluctance to shift resources to new targets. And there was a politicization of intelligence during the Trump administration. There was a fear to speak out.”

Despite periodic resistance and generalized disorder in the Trump administration, some agencies advanced on their own, officials said. European counterterror officials say the FBI has become increasingly active in sharing and requesting intelligence about right-wing extremists overseas.

A European counterterror chief described recent conversations with U.S. agents about Americans attending neo-Nazi rallies and concerts in Europe and traveling to join the Azov Battalion, an ultranationalist Ukrainian militia fighting Russian-backed separatists. About 17,000 fighters from 50 countries, including at least 35 Americans, have traveled to the Ukrainian conflict zone, where they join units on both sides, according to one study. The fighting in the Donbass region offers them training, combat experience, international contacts and a sense of themselves as warriors, a theater reminiscent of Syria or Afghanistan for jihadis.

“The far right was not a priority for a long time,” the European counterterror chief said. “Now they are saying it’s a real threat for all our societies. Now they are seeing we have to handle it like Islamic terrorism. Now that we are sharing and we have a bigger picture, we see it’s really international, not domestic.”


The assault on Congress signaled the start of a new era, experts said. The convergence of a mix of extremist groups and activists solidified the idea that the far-right threat has overtaken the Islamist threat in the United States, and that the government has to change policies and shift resources accordingly. Experts predict that the Biden administration will make global right-wing extremism a top counterterrorism priority.

“This is on the rise and has gotten from nowhere on the radar to very intense in a couple of years,” a U.S. national security official said. “It is hard to see how it doesn’t continue. It will be a lot easier for U.S. officials to get concerned where there is a strong U.S. angle.”

A previous spike in domestic terrorism took place in the 1990s, an era of violent clashes between U.S. law enforcement agencies and extremists. In 1992, an FBI sniper gunned down the wife of a white supremacist during an armed standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The next year, four federal agents died in a raid on heavily armed members of a cult in Waco, Texas; the ensuing standoff at the compound ended in a fire that killed 76 people.Both sieges played a role in the radicalization of the anti-government terrorists who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people, including children in a day care center for federal employees. Oklahoma City remains the deadliest terrorist act on U.S. soil aside from the Sept. 11 attacks.

The rise of al-Qaida in 2001 transformed the counterterrorism landscape, spawning new laws and government agencies and a worldwide campaign by intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military. Despite subsequent plots and occasionally successful attacks involving one or two militants, stronger U.S. defenses and limited radicalization among American Muslims prevented Islamist networks from hitting the United States with the kind of well-trained, remotely directed teams that carried out mass casualty strikes in London in 2005, Mumbai in 2008 and Paris in 2015.

During the past decade, domestic terrorism surged in the United States. Some of the activity was on the political left, such as the gunman who opened fire at a baseball field in Virginia in 2017. The attack critically wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican legislator from Louisiana who was the House Majority whip, as well as a Capitol Police officer guarding him and four others.

But many indicators show that far-right extremism is deadlier. Right-wing attacks and plots accounted for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the country between 1994 and 2020, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Anti-Defamation League reported in 2018 that right-wing terrorists were responsible for more than three times as many deaths as Islamists during the previous decade.

“There have been more arrests and deaths in the United States caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years,” said Michael McGarrity, then the counterterrorism chief of the FBI, in congressional testimony in 2019. “Individuals affiliated with racially-motivated violent extremism are responsible for the most lethal and violent activity.”

During the same testimony, McGarrity said the FBI dedicated only about 20% of its counterterrorism resources to the domestic threat. The imbalance, experts say, was partly a lingering result of the global offensive by the Islamic State, whose power peaked in the middle of the decade. Another reason: Laws and rules instituted in the 1970s after FBI spying scandals make it much harder to monitor, investigate and prosecute Americans suspected of domestic extremism.

The Trump Administration and the Europeans

Critics say the Trump administration was reluctant to take on right-wing extremism. The former president set the tone with his public statements about the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, they say, and with his call last year telling the far-right Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by.”

Still, various agencies increased their focus on the issue because of a drumbeat of attacks at home — notably the murders of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 — and overseas. The Christchurch massacre of worshippers at mosques in New Zealand in March 2019 caught the attention of American officials. It was a portrait of the globalization of right-wing terrorism.

Brenton Tarrant, the 29-year-old Australian who livestreamed his attack, had traveled extensively in Europe, visiting sites he saw as part of a struggle between Christianity and Islam. In his manifesto, he cited the writings of a French ideologue and of Dylann Roof, an American who killed nine people at a predominantly Black church in South Carolina in 2015. While driving to the mosques, Tarrant played an ode to Serbian nationalist fighters of the Balkan wars on his car radio. And he carried an assault rifle on which he had scrawled the name of an Italian gunman who had shot African immigrants in a rampage the year before.

Christchurch was “part of a wave of violent incidents worldwide, the perpetrators of which were part of similar transnational online communities and took inspiration from one another,” said a report last year by Europol, an agency that coordinates law enforcement across Europe. The report described English as “the lingua franca of a transnational right-wing extremist community.”

With its long tradition of political terrorism on both extremes, Europe has also suffered a spike in right-wing violence. Much of it is a backlash to immigration in general and Muslim communities in particular. Responding to assassinations of politicians and other attacks, Germany and the United Kingdom have outlawed several organizations.

Closer to home, Canada has banned two neo-Nazi groups, Blood and Honour and Combat 18, making it possible to charge people for even possessing their paraphernalia or attending their events. Concerts and sales of video games, T-shirts and other items have become a prime source of international financing for right-wing movements, the European counterterror chief said.

During the past two years, officials at the FBI, DHS, State Department and other agencies tried to capitalize on the deeper expertise of European governments and improve transatlantic cooperation against right-wing extremism. Legal and cultural differences complicated the process, American and European officials said. A lack of order and cohesion in the U.S. national security community was another factor, they said.

“There was so little organization to the U.S. counterterrorism community that everybody decided for themselves what they would do,” a U.S. national security official said. “It was not the type of centrally controlled effort that would happen in other administrations.”

As a result, the U.S. government has sometimes been slow to respond to European requests for legal assistance and information-sharing about far-right extremism, said Eric Rosand, who served as a State Department counterterrorism official during the Obama administration.

“U.S.-European cooperation on addressing white supremacist and other far-right terrorism has been ad hoc and hobbled by a disjointed and inconsistent U.S. government approach,” Rosand said.

The semantic differences about what to call the threat didn't help, according to Rosand and other critics. They say the Trump administration was averse to using the phrase “right-wing terrorism” because some groups on that part of the ideological spectrum supported the president.

“It highlights the disconnect,” Rosand said. “They were saying they didn’t want to suggest the terrorism is linked to politics. They didn’t want to politicize it. But if you don’t call it what it is because of concerns of how it might play with certain political consistencies, that politicizes it.”

Harnisch, the former deputy coordinator at the State Department counterterrorism bureau, rejected the criticism. He said cooperation with Europeans on the issue was “relatively nascent,” but that there had been concrete achievements.

“I think we laid a strong foundation, and I think the Biden administration will build on it,” Harnisch said. “From my perspective, we made significant progress on this threat within the Trump administration.”

This article was produced by ProPublica.

Republicans Are Following Trump Down A Dark Path

By Farron Cousins

Donald Trump famously told his followers during the 2016 election that there would be “so much winning” that they would get tired of winning. Five years later and that promise has aged like milk.

Regardless of what he says, Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, fair and square. The Republican Party also lost control of the Senate in that election (more specifically, the runoff races in Georgia that took place in early January 2021.) Republicans lost control of the House in 2018. And Republicans lost ground in every single special election that took place during Trump’s four years in office. And we can’t forget about the fact that Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million votes. In every possible way, Trump was one of the biggest political losers in a generation.

So the Republican Party was given a choice when Trump left office: Either follow Trump and continue to watch their Party slowly die, or let him drift off into obscurity as they attempt to rebuild. They chose the first option.

On the morning of May 12th, 2021, the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to strip Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) of her leadership position as the third-ranking Republican in Congress. Her crime was that she wouldn’t spread the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged and she voted to impeach Donald Trump during his second impeachment in the House. It was during this vote that the Republicans made it clear that they were going to follow Trump down the dark and twisted path that he put them on several years ago, and at that point there was no turning back.

How Did They Get Here?

There is no shortage of speculation about where the Party heads now, but before we can even begin to entertain those possibilities, we have to remember how they got here. You can find volumes of work explaining the slow descent of the GOP to where they are today. Articles abound detailing the how the Iraq War pushed Republicans further to the right or how the rise of the Tea Party Movement allowed some of the more extreme members of the Party to rise to prominence, ultimately paving the way for Trump. And while all of those reasons contributed to Trump’s rise (along with many others) they leave haven’t touched on the biggest problem the Republican Party faced before Trump came along: They needed a hero.

In the decades prior to Trump’s rise, Republicans all clamored to be like Ronald Reagan. He was their mythical savior that helped to put the Party on track after the embarrassing days of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Reagan came in with a bold new economic idea (that ultimately proved to be a farce,) he destroyed unions, attacked social programs, and brought the U.S. out of the Cold War. He was the hero that Republicans needed and the didn’t even know it.

The years after Reagan were spent trying to emulate him. Candidates would routinely invoke Reagan’s name on the campaign trail, even into the 2010’s. But as the real cost of Reagan’s policies came into focus – increasing inequality, multiple recessions brought on by disastrous trickle-down economic policies, and regulatory capture that has given corporations the greenlight to gamble with our lives – Reagan’s name no longer had the same impact on moderate voters that it once held.

The Republican Party needed a new hero. They couldn’t find one in their current ranks. Politicians like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in 2016 offered nothing more than the status quo who wouldn’t actually shake things up and forge a new path the way that Reagan had. And as the Party was so desperate for a savior that they welcomed Donald Trump with open arms.

Except they actually didn’t.

We can’t forget the fact that most Republican politicians at the onset of the 2016 Republican primaries loathed Trump. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham famously tweeted “If we nominate Trump we will get destroyed, and we will deserve it.” Other prominent Republicans expressed disgust at Trump’s brash and fallacious attacks on immigrants and the content of the Access Hollywood tape. But for some reason, none of that mattered to Republican voters, and they propelled him into the White House.

He represented something that the Party hadn’t seen since Reagan. He was an outsider, someone that wasn’t corrupted by the “swamp” of Washington, D.C. He wasn’t afraid to say what he means, even if it was the most racist or sexist thing they ever heard. Even though most didn’t like hearing those statements, they ended up endearing him to them because they thought that he was at least being honest, unlike the rest of the 2016 candidates. He was a larger-than-life figure that drew tens of thousands of people to his rallies, partly because people wanted to see the spectacle. They wanted to see who would be the next target of his rage, what clever insults he would hurl at them, and how he would put those nasty liberals in their place. But the important thing was that they had found their hero, and that was all that mattered.

Almost immediately after Trump took office, things began to fall apart for him. The Mueller investigation and allegations of election interference called the legitimacy of his election into question. He packed the courts with unqualified hacks that the public was not fond of. He got the United States into a trade war that he didn’t know how to manage. He bungled responses to major hurricanes and other natural disasters throughout the U.S. He packed his cabinet with individuals who had no business being in power. He attacked groups like the LGBTQ community and immigrants with a hatred that began to turn off some of his supporters. He was accused of sexual harassment or assault by at least two dozen women. He continued to refuse to release his tax returns in spite of numerous promises to do so. The Ukraine scandal that led to his first impeachment. And this was all before the Coronavirus Pandemic exposed how incompetent he truly was. The “hero” façade fell apart quickly, and sensible Republicans wanted nothing to do with him.

The main problem with this disturbing tale is that there weren’t enough sensible Republicans to make a difference, and the May 12th ousting of Liz Cheney proved it.

What Now?

This all brings us back to the present. The Republican Party chose Trump, even though he cost them so dearly over the past four years. Hero worship can’t explain all of that, so what good reason could the GOP have for sticking with Trump even though the public at large – and even now the majority of Republicans – are unhappy with this decision? That answer is actually easy: Fear.

When Trump left Washington, D.C., he was upset about his second impeachment and the small handful of Republicans who voted to convict. He was so upset that in the early days of his post-presidential life he was meeting with advisers and family about the possibility of starting a new political party to challenge Republicans that he believed were not loyal to him. A move like this would have created a fracture within the Republican base, with loyal Trumpists flocking to his new party while the Republicans were left with the rest of the base. Neither would have had the numbers to win tight districts or states, thereby giving Democrats a major advantage in all future elections. The thought of this happening sent shivers down the spine of Republicans in D.C., so they began holding talks with Donald to find out how to avoid the fight. But the only thing that would appease Trump would be for those who went against him to pay, and we all know what that led to.

This helps to explain why so many Republicans were willing to continue spreading election lies even months after the November election took place. It wasn’t because they believed those lies; it was because they had to keep Trump happy. Liz Cheney was just the first person they could sacrifice to Trump in order to appease him.

That sacrifice came with a cost. Polls and focus groups that have been conducted following Cheney’s expulsion from leadership show that moderate Republicans and swing voters are not happy with where their Party is headed. And more than 100 former Republican officials from both the federal and state levels signed onto a letter demanding that the Party change course away from Trump or THEY would leave to start their own political party. So by trying to save their base from fracturing the Republicans ended up putting the rift on steroids, and they are once again staring down a situation where they can’t hope to keep everyone in their big tent.

Don’t waste any time shedding tears for the Republican Party. They did this to themselves, and they are the ones to blame for their current predicament. They were given every possible chance to reverse course and move on from Trump, but they decided that the future of the Party was forever tied to his desires. They nominated Trump, and though it may have taken a few years, they got destroyed, and they deserve it.  

No Tears For Liz Cheney – She Helped Create The Trump Monster

By Chauncey DeVega

It is a compulsion. It may be an addiction. Whatever the cause, it reeks of desperation. Every day the problem is getting worse.

The American news media is obsessed with Liz Cheney. The hope peddlers and other happy pill-sellers have anointed the Wyoming congresswoman, along with Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as valiant warriors, "responsible" and "traditional" Republicans who will somehow rehabilitate their party from the rise of neofascism and its assault on democracy.

This quest for respectable and honorable Republicans is a function of a profound, pathetic desire to return to a pre-Trump version of "normal," a time before the standing norms and rules of American democracy were shattered by Trump and his political cult.

In reality, Liz Cheney and other "respectable" and "traditional" Republicans are wolves in sheep's clothing. She supported almost all of Trump's policies. She did not denounce or otherwise choose to leave the Republican Party out of protest or disgust or principle.

Cheney is no savior or defender of American democracy. Her "traditional" Republican performance is a political gambit, a means to secure more power in the future and perhaps even become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 or beyond. In too many ways, Liz Cheney is best described as a "friendly fascist."

In her much-praised Washington Post op-ed from May, Cheney wrote:

    While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.

Cheney concluded her op-ed by writing, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."

Signaling to her right-wing political bonafides and motivations — using language purportedly meant to repudiate Trump's coup attempt and his assault on democracy — Cheney chose to attack the Democrats for their "ridiculous wokeness." Such language is a racial dog whistle, a coded message that the Democrats "caring too much" about social justice and human rights for Black and brown people.

Predictably, too many of the professional smart people in the mainstream commentariat took the bait.

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait offered an analysis of why other House Republicans are likely to oust Cheney from her leadership position:

There is no hidden agenda at work, no subtext of quiet sympathy for Biden's policies. Cheney believes in right-wing policy and settling control of government at the ballot box.

    The Republican party is sliding into authoritarianism at a terrifyingly rapid clip. To stand by is to let it happen. Republicans who have reservations about this trend have tried quiet hand-wringing for five years. It hasn't worked. Somebody has to fight back, and Cheney has volunteered for the role.

The more complex (and depressing) truth is that the Republican Party's slide into neofascism, white supremacy and racial authoritarianism has been a long process, one that occurred gradually over the course of several decades. Trumpism is not some aberrant outlier, separate and apart from the Republican Party's agenda and orthodoxy. Trump's presidency and his movement are the logical result of that party's downward evolution, a type of endgame where friendly fascism and authoritarian impulses have been replaced with political sadism and outright contempt for democracy.

To elevate Cheney as a defender of American democracy is to fundamentally misinterpret Trumpism and the Republican embrace of neofascism and white supremacy, reducing it to a discrete moment in American political history.

Political scientists have shown that today's Republican Party has more in common with far-right political parties in countries like Hungary and Poland than it does with mainstream democratic parties in Europe. It is also clear that the Republican Party has dragged the Democrats (and American politics more generally) further and further to the right through a process known as "asymmetrical polarization." One obvious result is that the most "liberal" Republican is now far to the right of the most conservative Democrat, which was clearly not true in earlier eras.

As the Republican Party became more anti-democratic and pro-fascist, Liz Cheney actively enabled and contributed to that outcome. In short, she helped to create Trumpism, and should not be allowed to wash her hands of a mess that has stained her permanently.

At the end of President Biden's speech to Congress in May, he and Cheney exchanged pleasantries with one another. When criticized by her fellow Republicans for this gesture toward political normalcy, Cheney responded on Twitter: "We're different political parties. We're not sworn enemies. We're Americans."

That statement is essentially false. Republicans increasingly view the Democratic Party and its supporters as existential enemies. Trump and his followers are so committed to their hatred of the Democrats and multiracial democracy that they launched a lethal assault on the Capitol as part of a coup attempt. The Republican Party as a whole aided, abetted and supported that criminal assault.

The sooner Democrats realize that it is they who are in a literal existential fight for the existence of American democracy, and that today's Republicans have no limits in terms of how far they will go to achieve and keep power, the safer the future of our nation will be.

An old adage suggests that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the case of Liz Cheney, this is simply not true. For the most part, the hope peddlers in the news media will not tell the American people that painful truth. For the sake of American democracy, one can only hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party are not suckered by Liz Cheney's friendly-fascist performance.

An earlier version of this article appeared on

Bill Barr Is The Master Of Covering Up Political Scandals

By Thom Hartmann


George HW Bush and Ronald Reagan were facing the possibility of treason charges. Who did they call? Bill Barr.

That was in the ’80s and early ’90s, but now we discover the Bill Barr really, truly, definitely also lied to America about presidential treason this decade. Shocking.

Mueller laid out 10 prosecutable incidents of Donald Trump committing felony obstruction of justice, all to cover up the assistance he was seeking and receiving from Russian oligarchs and the Russian government that ultimately helped him win the 2016 election.

Looking back now, seeing the actual documents from the time, Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted that Barr’s lies to the American people, to Congress, and to federal judges were “so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.”

In other words, Barr lied through his teeth.

And he did it to avoid prosecuting Trump, who we can now see had clearly committed crimes — particularly reaching out to a foreign power for help — that would’ve landed any other American in prison for decades.

But this is not Bill Barr‘s first time playing cover-up for a Republican president who had committed crimes that rise to treason against America.

Back in 1992, the first time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iron-Contra.”

Christmas day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.

But Bush’s biggest concern wasn’t that he’d have to leave the White House to retire back to Connecticut, Maine, or Texas (where he had mansions) but, rather, that he may end up embroiled even deeper in the Iran-Contra treason and that he and his colleagues may face time in a federal prison after he left office.

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on him and Reagan, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.

Walsh had been appointed independent counsel in 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra activities of the Reagan administration and determine if crimes had been committed.

Was the Iran-Contra criminal conspiracy limited, as Reagan and Bush insisted (and Reagan said on TV), to later years in the Reagan presidency, in response to a hostage-taking in Lebanon?

Or had it started in the 1980 presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter with treasonous collusion with the Iranians, as the then-president of Iran asserted? Who knew what, and when? And what was George H.W. Bush’s role in it all?

In the years since then, the President of Iran in 1980, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, has gone on the record saying that the Reagan campaign reached out to Iran to hold the hostages in exchange for weapons.

“Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan,” President Bani-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013, ”had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

That wouldn’t have been just an impeachable crime: it was treason.

Walsh had zeroed in on documents that were in the possession of Reagan’s former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who all the evidence showed was definitely in on the deal, and President Bush’s diary that could corroborate it.

Elliott Abrams had already been convicted of withholding evidence about it from Congress, and he may have even more information, too, if it could be pried out of him before he went to prison. But Abrams was keeping mum, apparently anticipating a pardon.

Weinberger, trying to avoid jail himself, was preparing to testify that Bush knew about it and even participated, and Walsh had already, based on information he’d obtained from the investigation into Weinberger, demanded that Bush turn over his diary from the campaign. He was also again hot on the trail of Abrams.

So Bush called in his attorney general, Bill Barr, and asked his advice.

Barr, along with Bush, was already up to his eyeballs in cover-ups of shady behavior by the Reagan administration.

Safire ultimately came refer to Barr as “Coverup-General” in the midst of another scandal—one having to do with Bush selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein—because the Attorney General was already covering up for Bush, Weinberger, and others from the Reagan administration in “Iraqgate.”

On October 19, 1992, Safire wrote of Barr’s unwillingness to appoint an independent counsel to look into Iraqgate:

“Why does the Coverup-General resist independent investigation? Because he knows where it may lead: to Dick Thornburgh, James Baker, Clayton Yeutter, Brent Scowcroft and himself [the people who organized the sale of WMD to Saddam]. He vainly hopes to be able to head it off, or at least be able to use the threat of firing to negotiate a deal.”

Now, just short of two months later, Bush was asking Barr for advice on how to avoid another very serious charge in the Iran-Contra crimes. How, he wanted to know, could they shut down Walsh’s investigation before Walsh’s lawyers got their hands on Bush’s diary?

In April of 2001, safely distant from the swirl of D.C. politics, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was compiling oral presidential histories, and interviewed Barr about his time as AG in the Bush White House. They brought up the issue of the Weinberger pardon, which put an end to the Iran-Contra investigation, and Barr’s involvement in it.

Turns out, Barr was right in the middle of it.

“There were some people arguing just for [a pardon for] Weinberger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound,’” Barr told the interviewer. “I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Which is exactly what Bush did, on Christmas Eve when most Americans were with family instead of watching the news. The holiday notwithstanding, the result was explosive.

America knew that both Reagan and Bush were up to their necks in Iran-Contra, and Democrats had been talking about treason, impeachment or worse. The independent counsel had already obtained one conviction, three guilty pleas, and two other individuals were lined up for prosecution. And Walsh was closing in fast on Bush himself.

So, when Bush shut the investigation down by pardoning not only Weinberger, but also Abrams and the others involved in the crimes, destroying Walsh’s ability to prosecute anybody, the New York Times ran the headline all the way across four of the six columns on the front page, screaming in all-caps: BUSH PARDONS 6 IN IRAN AFFAIR, ABORTING A WEINBERGER TRIAL; PROSECUTOR ASSAILS ‘COVER-UP.’

Bill Barr had struck, and, like with Trump and the Muller investigation into his treason, Reagan and Bush’s treason was now buried.

The second paragraph of the Times story by David Johnston laid it out:

“Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger’s private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush’s endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran.” (emphasis added)

History shows that when a Republican president is in serious legal trouble, Bill Barr is the go-to guy.

For William Safire, it was déjà vu all over again. Four months earlier, referring to Iraqgate (Bush’s selling WMDs to Iraq), Safire opened his article, titled “Justice [Department] Corrupts Justice,” by writing:

“U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in rejecting the House Judiciary Committee’s call for a prosecutor not beholden to the Bush Administration to investigate the crimes of Iraqgate, has taken personal charge of the cover-up.”

Safire accused Barr of not only rigging the cover-up, but of being one of the criminals who could be prosecuted.

“Mr. Barr,” wrote Safire in August of 1992, “...could face prosecution if it turns out that high Bush officials knew about Saddam Hussein’s perversion of our Agriculture export guarantees to finance his war machine.”

He added, “They [Barr and colleagues] have a keen personal and political interest in seeing to it that the Department of Justice stays in safe, controllable Republican hands.”

Earlier in Bush’s administration, Barr had succeeded in blocking the appointment of an investigator or independent counsel to look into Iraqgate, as Safire repeatedly documented in the Times. In December, Barr helped Bush block indictments from another independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, and eliminated any risk that Reagan or George H.W. Bush would be held to account for Iran-Contra.

Walsh, wrote Johnston for the Times on Christmas Eve, “plans to review a 1986 campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush.” The diary would be the smoking gun that would nail Bush to the scandal.

“But,” noted the Times, “in a single stroke, Mr. Bush [at Barr’s suggestion] swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort, which began in 1986.”

And Walsh didn’t take it lying down.

The Times report noted that, “Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President’s action, charging that ‘the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.’”

Independent Counsel Walsh added that the diary and notes he wanted to enter into a public trial of Weinberger represented, “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The phrase “highest ranking” officials included Reagan, Bush and Barr himself.

Walsh had been fighting to get those documents ever since 1986, when he was appointed and Reagan still had two years left in office. Bush’s and Weinberger’s refusal to turn them over, Johnston noted in the Times, could have, in Walsh’s words, “forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan” through a pattern of “deception and obstruction.”

Barr successfully covered up the involvement of two Republican presidents—Reagan and Bush—in two separate and impeachable “high crimes,” one of them almost certainly treason.

Months later in January of 1993, newly sworn-in President Clinton and the new Congress decided to put it all behind them and not pursue the matters any further.

Will Biden do the same, for both Trump and Barr? He’s publicly said that he’s going to let his new attorney general, Merrick Garland, make those kinds of decisions.

And Garland, it seems, has unleashed the FBI and other investigators in ways that must be sending shock-waves through Mar-a-Lago and the ranks of former Trump officials.

One can only hope.

Biden’s Drug Policies Are A Small Step In The Right Direction

By Phillip Smith, Drug Reporter

On April 1, the Biden administration gave us the first big hint of what its drug policy will look like with the release of the congressionally mandated “Statement of Drug Policy Priorities for Year One.” The result is a definite mixed bag, with the statement not only focusing on a heavy dose of drug prevention, treatment, and recovery—along with an acknowledgment of harm reduction—and a nod in the direction of racially sensitive criminal justice reform, but also a reflexive reliance on prohibitionist drug war policies both at home and abroad.

And there is no mention of the most widely used illicit drug by far: marijuana. The words “marijuana” or “cannabis” do not appear anywhere in the main statement. That’s perhaps not so surprising, given that in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on April 5, Vice President Kamala Harris said the administration was “too busy” dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to make good on its campaign pledges relating to marijuana reform.

What is on the administration’s mind is “the overdose and addiction crisis.” Citing ever-increasing drug overdose deaths, the statement says “addressing the overdose and addiction epidemic is an urgent priority for his [Biden’s]administration.” But the solution is not to imprison drug users, with the statement noting that “President Biden has also said that people should not be incarcerated for drug use but should be offered treatment instead.” This might come across as a seemingly humane approach, but it is actually based on an errant presumption that all or most drug users are addicts and need treatment when, depending on the drug, only between 5 percent and 15 percent of drug users fit that dependent or problematic drug user description.

Here are the Biden administration’s drug policy priorities, all of which are dealt with in detail in the statement:

Prioritizing treatment, prevention, and recovery is bound to be music to the ears of advocacy groups such as Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), whose own federal policy and advocacy priorities, while focusing on specific legislation, lean in the same direction. But the group also advocates for harm reduction practices the administration omits, particularly supervised consumption sites. FAVOR took note of the administration’s statement without making a comment regarding it.

As with the failure to even mention marijuana, the Biden administration’s failure to include supervised consumption sites in its embrace of harm reduction—it is wholeheartedly behind needle exchanges, for example—is another indication that the administration is in no hurry to rush down a progressive drug reform path. And the prioritizing of supply reduction by the Biden administration implies continued drug war in Latin America (while working “with key partners… like Mexico and Colombia”) and at home, via support of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program and “multi-jurisdictional task forces and other law enforcement efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.” Prohibition is a hard drug to kick.

Still, naming advancing racial equity issues as a key priority is evidence that the Biden administration is serious about getting at some of the most perverse and corrosive outcomes of the war on drugs and is in line with its broader push for racial justice, as exemplified by Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” issued on Biden’s first day in office. And it is in this context that criminal justice system reform gets prioritized, although somewhat vaguely, with the promise of the creation of an “interagency working group to agree on specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform.”

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), meanwhile, has some specific policy priorities for criminal justice reform, too, and they go far beyond where the administration is at. In its 2021 Roadmap for the new administration released in February, the group calls for federal marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, and a slew of other criminal justice and policing reforms including ending mandatory minimum sentencing and the deportation of non-citizens for drug possession to barring no-knock police raids, ending the transfer of military surplus equipment for counternarcotics law enforcement, and dismantling the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the federal government should get out of the way of supervised consumption sites, or in DPA’s politically attuned language, “overdose prevention centers.”

“We’re glad the administration is taking important steps to address the overdose crisis—by increasing access and funding to harm reduction services and reducing barriers to life-saving medications—especially as people are dying at an alarming rate. We also appreciate their commitment to studying how to advance racial equity in our drug policies and best implement innovative practices on the ground. But it’s clearly not enough. We need action,” DPA’s Office of National Affairs director Maritza Perez said in a press release while responding to the administration’s statement. “Black, Latinx and Indigenous people continue to lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement in the name of the drug war, and yet, the Administration has chosen to prioritize increased funding for law enforcement. We need supervised consumption sites, not more money for police.”

“And while we commend the Administration for taking steps to reduce employment discrimination, unless we address the biggest barrier for people trying to get a job—past drug convictions and arrests—we will still be left with significant inequities and racial disparities in the workplace,” Perez continued. “It’s time we get serious about saving lives and repairing the damage that has been caused by the drug war, particularly on Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities. We can start by passing federal marijuana reform and ending the criminalization of people for drugs in all forms.”

Young drug reformers also had a few bones to pick with the administration’s priorities. In their own statement in response to that by the administration, Students for Sensible Drug Policy applauded priorities like more access to treatment and more research on racial equity. But the group complained that the administration priorities “fail to provide adequate support to Young People Who Use Drugs (YPWUD) in this country”—especially those who use drugs non-problematically.

“[T]here are no steps being taken to support YPWUD that do not want to and will not stop using drugs,” SSDP said. “Young people have feared and faced the consequences of punitive drug policies and shouldered the burden of caring for their peers who use drugs for far too long. Young leaders calling for drug policy reform recognize that simply using drugs is not problematic and that we can support the safe and prosperous futures of People Who Use Drugs (PWUD) without forcing them to stop as a pre-condition for compassion, care, and opportunity.”

Although only time will tell, for drug reformers, the policies of the Biden administration are looking like a step in the right direction, but only a step. Its policy prescriptions still seem like they are limited by a vision of drug use rooted in the last century. Perhaps the administration can be pressured and prodded to plot a more progressive drug policy path.

Bill Barr Has Done This Before

by Mick Dumke

As violent crime continued to climb in Chicago and other cities across the country, Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the U.S. Department of Justice was mobilizing to help: Dozens of federal agents would be sent to work with local police to combat gangs and illegal guns.

“Our message to gangs, gang leaders and gang members is this: When we throw the federal book at you, it will be a knockout blow,” Barr said.

That was in 1992, during Barr’s first stint leading the Justice Department under former President George H.W. Bush.

If it sounds too recent or familiar to have happened nearly three decades ago, that’s because Barr, now attorney general under President Donald Trump, made a strikingly similar announcement on July 22.

Some of the details were different, of course. In 1992, Barr said the FBI was shifting about 300 agents from monitoring spies from the recently collapsed Soviet Union to taking on gangs and violent crime in American cities. Eighteen of the agents would be redeployed to Chicago.

In late July, Barr stood next to Trump as he announced a Chicago “surge” of more than 100 agents from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and other agencies, along with staffing increases in other cities where gun casualties were making headlines.

Residents of Chicago could be forgiven for concluding that they’ve heard this before, since, of course, they essentially have. Barr even acknowledged that federal law enforcement agencies have carried out such operations “for decades.” Every presidential administration in the last 30 years has announced it was sending more federal agents to Chicago to try to stem violent crime.

But this time, the circumstances are different — the politics are shifting. After 3 ½ years of Trump’s inflammatory comments and tweets, some thinly coded and others overtly racist, his administration’s announcement is widely seen in Chicago as a political move to use the troubles of a majority-nonwhite city to fire up his supporters.

And it is happening as a growing number of people are demanding that their governments send something into their communities other than more guys with guns.

Chicago has a long, ugly history of violence. As in other cities, violent crime surged in Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s, dropped and leveled off, then spiked again during the 1990s. But since then, as murder and shooting totals plummeted in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, Chicago’s numbers didn’t fall as far or as fast, and they’ve climbed again during several devastating stretches in the last ten years.

The reasons have long been debated and are probably more complex than most would acknowledge. But politicians, law enforcement leaders and many residents have repeatedly blamed Chicago’s gang culture and open-air drug markets, then called for policing strategies to attack them.

The fact that most of the hardest-hit neighborhoods have also been shelled out by segregation, business closures and job losses — including thousands of layoffs from government agencies and shuttered schools — is well known. Yet the need for immediate responses to the bloodshed, rather than those that tackle the deeper problems, always seems to consume political and financial capital in Chicago.

In 1992, the city banned loitering by people deemed to be gang members until the measure was ruled unconstitutional. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley led an effort to sue gun manufacturers for creating a public nuisance in Chicago and other cities; the case was tossed out of court. Speed bumps and cul-de-sacs were built on dozens of side streets to thwart drive-by shootings, though as police and paramedics discovered, such obstacles also made it harder for them to respond to emergencies.

Far more common have been announcements that more police will be deployed in high-crime areas, often under the banner of a new task force, program or initiative. That’s where the feds often come in — literally.

Soon after Trump took office in 2017, he called Chicago a “war zone” and blamed local leaders for being “politically correct.” He also threatened, via Twitter, “I will send in the Feds!”

Rahm Emanuel, then Chicago’s mayor and a frequent Trump sparring partner, rejected the idea of troops in the city. “I’m against it, straight up,” he told reporters. But Emanuel added that he welcomed additional resources to fight gun crimes. Within two weeks, CNN reported that 20 more ATF agents were being sent to Chicago.

Since Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor last year, she has repeatedly blasted Trump for racism and disrespect for civil rights — even as she’s been attacked in Chicago for not yet delivering on promises to reform the Police Department and drive up investment in underserved neighborhoods.

On July 20, after another weekend of appalling violence in Chicago — dozens of people were reportedly wounded in shootings and at least 12 people killed — Trump suggested at a press conference that he was again ready to send in federal agents. Lightfoot responded with a letter that criticized his administration’s “incendiary rhetoric” as well as the tactics of Department of Homeland Security agents who had seized people off the street in Portland, Oregon.

Yet Lightfoot also said the city could use other kinds of federal help, including “more federal prosecution or investigatory resources” to pursue violent crime and gun cases. She added that the government could help Chicago invest in underserved neighborhoods. “The violence our city is confronting is symptomatic of a larger public health and economic crisis.”

Trump and Barr announced the latest “surge” of federal agents to Chicago that week, describing it as part of a national crime-reduction initiative called Operation Legend. The FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, and Homeland Security would together send dozens of investigators and agents to the city, with the U.S. attorney in Chicago, John Lausch Jr., overseeing the operation.

Underneath the politics and symbolism, the announcement signaled that federal and local officials were returning to their old strategy: send in more cops.

Shifting federal agents to cities under fire is “commonly done, and as a matter of fact, when I was the special agent-in-charge there, I asked for it,” said Jack Riley, who formerly served as the top agent in the DEA’s Chicago office. “It’s been called 20 different things in the past. [Operation Legend] is just the newest version of it.”

This federal surge may involve more agents than previous efforts, and Riley believes it could help tamp down violence in Chicago if it is carefully coordinated and sustained. Operations on the street should be carried out by agents who know the city, with those from out of town used in support roles. And as agents are conducting investigations and making arrests, the U.S. attorney’s office needs enough staff to prosecute the increased caseload, said Riley, who went on to serve as the No. 2 official in the DEA, overseeing global operations, before retiring.

“Are there going to be additional prosecutors?” he said. “That’s been an issue before.”

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago received a staffing boost in 2018, but no additional prosecutors are included in the latest operation. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.

Plus, the agent surge is only likely to last until fall, when the city’s usual spike in violence typically recedes along with the warm weather. So, like previous efforts, the surge is temporary.

If those earlier short-term operations worked to reduce gun violence, it’s hard for city residents to see as shootings spike again.

Bill Barr with his right arm raised swearing an oath

Over the last three years, the U.S. attorney’s office here has prosecuted more than 500 defendants on weapons charges, records show. Some of the defendants are traffickers or leaders of other criminal enterprises. But many tend to be lower-level players caught with illegal guns that have traded hands multiple times. Law enforcement officials argue that prosecutions for illegal possession help deter others. Still, the approach hasn’t shut down the gun marketplace, as firearms continue to flow into the city from suburbs and neighboring states.

So far, Operation Legend appears to be following the playbook of those earlier initiatives. The first three arrests made as part of the Chicago surge were all for illegal gun possession, according to court filings.

On July 23, the day after the latest federal deployments were announced, Black Lives Matter Chicago and ten other organizations sued Barr and other administration officials. The groups, seeing no reason to trust the Trump administration, asked for a federal court order to protect their right to protest in the event of any Portland-style tactics. In addition, they made what amounted to a defund-the-federal-police argument, claiming federal resources would be better spent on investing in their communities than flooding them with more law enforcement officers.

“We should take their money and use it to help people facing eviction, use those resources for people who need access to food,” Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, said in an interview. “The police haven’t been able to do anything [about the violence]. We need to actually address the root causes.”

More and more leaders are signing on to this approach. Over the last week, advocacy groups, churches and more than 30 state and local elected officials added their names to a letter urging Lightfoot and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart not to cooperate with the federal operation.

“Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated both his callous disregard for Black, indigenous, and immigrant lives, and his increasing inclination towards fascism and authoritarianism,” the letter said. “We grieve deeply the lives lost to gun violence in Chicago. … At the same time, we are clear that we cannot police ourselves out of this terrible situation.”

Chicago is now on a pace to record one of its highest annual murder totals in two decades. It’s hard to argue that the old strategies have worked.

This article was produced by ProPublica, and an earlier version appears on their website.

Can Lawsuits Save Us From Trump’s Secret Police?

By Ernest Canning

Under the guise of protecting federal property and public safety, a militarized secret federal police force, deployed by President Trump to Portland, Oregon, has unleashed a totalitarian assault on democracy and the rule of law. The brutal assault has trampled the civil liberties of peaceful protesters, journalists, legal observers, and bystanders.

The astonishing offensive has extended well beyond the boundaries of federal enclaves. It also entailed a great deal more than the arbitrary application of police violence. Wearing military fatigues with patches bearing only the word "POLICE", previously unidentified, armed federal stormtroopers roamed city streets and sidewalks, arbitrarily snatching-up terrified citizens, who they whisked away in unmarked vehicles.

In a federal lawsuit filed in late July, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenbaum challenged these wholesale violations of civil liberties and alleges that the arbitrary snatch and grab operation also creates a "risk" that law-abiding, peaceful protesters could be kidnapped by armed and unaccountable, civilian right-wing "militias".

Separately, the ACLU, seeking to rein in what its staff attorney, Vera Eidelman, aptly described as an "unconstitutional nightmare", filed a 2nd amended complaint, which added the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) as party Defendants to the ACLU's already successful federal lawsuit. That lawsuit was initially filed previously against the City of Portland.

Earlier in July, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and, later, a Preliminary Injunction, that blocked the Portland Police Bureau "from arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force...against any person they know or reasonably should know is a Journalist or Legal Observer...unless the Police have probable cause to believe such individual has committed a crime." The injunction also prevents police from seizing photographic, audio and video-recording equipment. (To its credit, the City of Portland agreed to the issuance of the preliminary injunction.)

By way of a newly filed Motion for a TRO [Temporary Restraining Order] and Preliminary Injunction, the ACLU now seeks a ruling from Judge Simon that would provide the same injunctive relief against the DHS and the USMS. In their motion, the ACLU described Trump's secret police as "shock troops" who "were successfully subjugating protesters and carrying out [the President's] longstanding vendetta against the press."

DHS and USMS were not the only federal agencies that have taken part in the trampling of civil liberties in Portland. In its federal complaint, Oregon also named the Federal Protection Service (FPS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as party Defendants.

Where both the ACLU and Oregon complaints lay out facts that support the assessment offered by Kelly Simon, ACLU Oregon's interim legal director, that Trump's stormtroopers have been "terrorizing the community, risking lives, and brutally attacking protesters," Oregon's complaint, unlike the ACLU's, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief designed to remedy the violations of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendment rights of all affected citizens, including protesters and bystanders. Oregon also alleges that these agencies, especially the CBP, have violated Oregon's sovereign right to protect its own citizens.

Despite this disturbing, uninvited and unwelcome federal deployment --- as well as the now very serious legal challenges --- on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox "News" to expect a "roll out" of similar deployments to "Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country"...

Protecting a Free Press

The ACLU alleges, in its 2nd amended complaint, that "police have repeatedly and intentionally shot, gassed, and beaten journalists covering the George Floyd protests"; that police not only knew they were attacking credentialed journalists but did so to retaliate against press coverage.

The ACLU's new motion to protect journalists from Trump's military-garbed troopers was supported, in part, by a declaration submitted by plaintiff Mathieu Lewis-Rolland, identified as "a freelance photographer and photojournalist". Lewis-Roland filmed protests in downtown Portland on the night of July 11 and into the early morning of July 12.

Relying upon the TRO Judge Simon previously issued to protect the press from illegal assaults by Portland police, the photojournalist mistakenly believed that he could avoid being assaulted because his bulky camera equipment and the word "PRESS", which appeared in large block letters on both sides of his t-shirt, made his status as a journalist patently obvious.

Lewis-Roland was quickly dissuaded of that belief shortly after Trump's enforcers emerged from the federal courthouse and began firing "tear gas and impact projectiles at protesters in Lownsdale Square".

Within minutes, Lewis-Roland found himself surrounded by an estimated 50 to 100 federal agents. One of them shoved him with a gun, shouting, "GET BACK, GET BACK!"

The photojournalist's declaration includes an unsettling picture of a black-clad stormtrooper who pointed a weapon directly at him. After Lewis-Roland retreated well beyond the limits of federal property, he turned slightly, seeking to film the events. He was then struck ten times on his right side and back by hard plastic bullets even though he posed no threat to the federal agents.

In their TRO/Preliminary Injunction Motion, the ACLU alleged that the feds by no means confined their assault to Lewis-Roland: They also chased away legal observers associated with the National Lawyers Guild by threatening to beat them with batons. The next day, the President announced, "We very much quelled it. If it starts again, we'll quell it again very easily. It's not hard to do." In the days that followed, federal agents have continued attacking journalists and legal observers and using indiscriminate military violence to chill Plaintiffs' protected activities.

Citing case law describing a "free press as the guardians of the public interest", the ACLU attorneys, who represent the Portland Mercury newspaper and a number of professional journalists, argued: Plaintiffs have a right to witness important public events and recount them to the world. Their newsgathering, observing and recording activities are at the core of what the First Amendment protects...Federal agents' efforts to intimidate and suppress reporting on their own misconduct violate clearly established First Amendment law and are causing irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and the public. Federal agents are not above the law. They cannot attack media and legal observers for trying to document and observe law enforcement activities --- that is the hallmark of a totalitarian regime.

Other civil liberties?

The ACLU lawsuit represents a vital tool for defending the newsgathering function of a free press. It is unfortunate, however, that an organization, which describes itself as our nation's "guardians of civil liberties", failed to step forward to seek adequate relief for the manner in which the federal agents trampled on the Constitutional rights of peaceful protestors and bystanders. That, despite the fact that, in its own pleadings, the ACLU listed not only multiple occasions in which journalists and legal observers were victimized by police violence, but also acknowledged unprovoked assaults on peaceful protestors and bystanders.

In its TRO/Preliminary injunction motion, for example, the ACLU alleged that at 1:54 a.m., on July 12: "Federal agents began rushing out of the federal courthouse to eject protesters and neutrals alike from the area with tear-gas, impact projectiles, and physical force."

The front of a large stone building with the word Judicial carved in it

Those "protesters" included 26-year old Donovan La Bella, who, as reported by The Oregonian, had been peacefully standing alone, across the street from the courthouse, holding a speaker above his head. According to his sister, La Bella was broadcasting the lyrics of a hip hop tune that ironically included the words, "let's all come together, join hands."

After a tear-gas canister landed at his feet, La Bella picked it up, tossed it into the middle of the street, and again raised the speaker above his head. Without La Bella having shown "any sign of aggressive provocation," The Oregonian asserted on the basis of contemporaneous video, one of the federal stormtroopers fired an impact projectile at his face, striking La Bella at the center of his forehead, between his eyebrows and just above the bridge of his nose. La Bella was then hospitalized for skull and facial fractures. He underwent reconstructive surgery.

The problem isn't simply that the ACLU did not step forward to protect the First Amendment right of people like La Bella to engage in peaceful protests without being shot, injured or killed by federal police. The injunction it obtained protects only legal observers and those who the police know or should know are journalists.

The ACLU's narrowly crafted injunction ignores a 21st-century reality. Many individuals, often bystanders, are not readily identifiable "journalists". Yet, they perform the same important First Amendment function of baring witness and gathering news via cell phones and livestream videos. Indeed, it was a "bystander", (aka a "citizen journalist"), who provided a vital and damning video that has already led to the handing down of criminal indictments against four police officers in relation to the alleged police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Is there a valid reason why a bystander's First Amendment right to gather the news via cell phone video should be considered less deserving of First Amendment protection than the exercise of the same freedom of the press rights by easily identifiable, professional journalists?

Oregon to the rescue

Where the ACLU legal action was narrowly limited to protecting the press and legal observers, Oregon broadly sought to protect civil liberties guaranteed to all of its citizens by the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Oregon specifically addressed what Sam Seder of the Majority Report described as a "harrowing" incident, in which then unidentified stormtroopers snatched a man, Mark Pettibone, off a public sidewalk. Ignoring demands from legal observers to either identify themselves or the reasons why they grabbed him, the troopers then whisked Pettibone away in an unmarked van.

As Pettibone later explained to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), he and a friend, Connor O'Shea, were returning home after attending a peaceful protest near the federal courthouse when they received a warning from others about people being grabbed off the street by guys in camouflage driving unmarked vans --- something that Pettibone regarded as "terrifying" because he and his friend had no way of knowing whether people were being picked up by federal agents or by right-wing vigilantes.

"You have laws regarding probable cause that can lead to arrests," attorney Juan Chavez, Director of the Oregon Justice Research Center, Civil Rights Project told OPB. "It sounds more like an abduction. It sounds like they're kidnapping people off the streets."

Pettibone informed OPB that he was driven to a building, which he later learned was the federal courthouse. The agents patted him down, "rummaged" through his belongings, took his picture, and placed him in a cell. Two agents returned to question him. After they provided a Miranda warning, the agents asked Pettibone if he was willing to waive his constitutional rights. Pettibone wisely asked for an attorney. The interview abruptly ended. Pettibone returned to his cell. Approximately 90 minutes later, Pettibone was released, sans any explanation as to why he'd been arrested or even being given the name of the agency that had abducted and detained him. Pettibone didn't even receive a record of his arrest.

In her legal filing, Oregon's AG notes that this abduction of a U.S. citizen had been carried out on the streets of Portland --- approximately 284 miles south of the U.S./Canada border --- by agents employed by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol --- an agency whose mission is supposed to entail the prevention of "illegal trafficking of people and contraband" across U.S. borders.

Oregon's AG asserts that CBP's abductions and detentions, without probable cause, not only violated the civil rights guaranteed to its citizens by the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments but also violate "the state's sovereign interests in enforcing its own laws and in protecting people within its own borders from kidnap and false arrest."

Trump Has Placed Over 200 Judges Who Will Shape Policy For Generations

By Peter Montague, Truthout

After Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate in early 2015, they set out to pack the federal courts with radical right-wing judges. Mitch McConnell said, “My goal is to do everything we can for as long as we can to transform the federal judiciary, because everything else we do is transitory.” Under Article III of the Constitution, federal judges serve for life, so a 50-year-old appointed today could serve 30 years or even longer.

McConnell and his sidekick, Sen. Lindsey Graham, started by refusing to confirm President Obama’s judicial appointments. Most notably, they wouldn’t even consider Obama’s appointment of moderate Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. When President Trump took office, there were more than 100 empty federal judgeships waiting to be filled with Trumpian favorites.

In today’s hardball politics, the federal courts are especially important. Even if progressives were to win the House, the Senate and the White House, every law and regulation could still be challenged in court. Republicans have spent decades preparing to fill the federal courts with judges who will rule in favor of what the radical right espouses — the idea that government is the enemy of freedom, corporations need more freedom from regulation, and both corporations and billionaires should exercise their freedom to use their money to determine who can run for office and who can win.

In Civics 101, we all learned that courts and judges are nonpartisan, impartial and independent. However, that view of the judiciary began to change radically, along with the rest of the nation’s politics, after Newt Gingrich was elected to the House of Representatives in 1979. As Princeton historian Julian Zelizer has written, “Gingrich promoted a style of smashmouth combat aimed at delegitimizing his opponents by whatever means possible. Politics, as he saw it, was like warfare. The only way to win a battle, he decided, was to unleash the full fury of one’s firepower on the foe.” Zelizer credits Gingrich with creating the “unorthodox, nativist populist campaign” that Donald Trump mounted in 2016, “which aimed to tear down the political leaders of both parties and to destabilize the entire U.S. political system.”

In this new political environment, federal courts (especially the U.S. Supreme Court) are not impartial — they have become partisans in ideological warfare. The change did not happen by accident. In 1982, a small group of lawyers formed the Federalist Society as an idea factory where libertarians and ultraconservatives could meet to strategize ways to transform the courts from impartial and nonpartisan to conservative and libertarian.

The Federalist Society promotes a conservative view of the Constitution, called “originalism.” Originalists want the Constitution interpreted exactly as they imagine the framers would have interpreted it in 1787 as if the world has not changed since then. Because the Constitution was written by wealthy white property-owning men who saw women as inferior, Black people as less than human and democracy as dangerous, an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution thus tends toward a society dominated by wealthy white property-owning men who adhere to racist and sexist ideas and view democracy as dangerous.

A few years after it was founded, the Federalist Society started receiving funds from the Koch brothers and other radical-right billionaires who envisioned a feeder system to identify right-thinking law students and groom them for eventual positions on the federal lower courts, then on to the Supreme Court. “The funders all got the idea right away — that you can win elections, you can have mass mobilizations, but unless you can change élites and the institutions that are by and large controlled by the élites, like the courts, there are limits to what you can do,” says Amanda Hollis-Brusky, a professor of politics at Pomona College and the author of Ideas with Consequences, a study of the Federalist Society. “The idea was to train, credential, and socialize a generation of alternative élites,” she says.

It’s working. Today, five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court have close ties to the Federalist Society — Roberts, Thomas and Kavanaugh as members or former members, and Gorsuch and Alito as frequent speakers at Society gatherings.

One of the best-known members of the Federalist Society is its executive vice president, Leonard Leo. Periodically, Leo takes time off from his Society duties to orchestrate campaigns to persuade the Senate to confirm judges appointed by the president. Leo says modern confirmation campaigns are very similar to election campaigns. He should know; between 2014 and 2017, he raised $250 million for campaigns to get federal judges confirmed. He personally led confirmation campaigns for Justices Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

Man standing in front of a large building with stone columns and stone steps in front of it with security guards out front

So far, President Trump has appointed 53 judges to the federal appeals courts, many of them recommended by the Federalist Society. Orrin Hatch, the former Republican senator from Utah, said in 2018, “Some have accused President Trump of outsourcing his judicial selection process to the Federalist Society. I say, ‘Damn right!’” The appeals courts are especially important because that’s “where policy is made,” as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) charges that the courts are supposed to referee disputes, but now the referees have been captured by corporate money. In an op-ed titled, “The Supreme Court has become just another branch of the GOP,” Whitehouse writes, “From 2005 through the fall term of 2018, the Roberts court issued 73 5-to-4 partisan decisions benefiting big Republican donor interests: allowing corporations to spend unlimited money in elections; hobbling pollution regulations; enabling attacks on minority voting rights; curtailing labor’s right to organize; denying workers the ability to challenge employers in court; and, of course, expanding the NRA’s gun rights ‘project.’ It’s a pattern.”

In August 2019, Whitehouse and four other U.S. senators filed a brief with the Supreme Court warning the justices that, “The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it.” The federal courts are facing a crisis of legitimacy. For example, Trump lost the popular election by 2.8 million votes, yet he has installed 201 federal judges who he appointed to serve for their remaining lifetimes, in accordance with Article III of the Constitution. In a very real sense, those 201 judges are serving without the consent of the governed.

Radical-right Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, appointed by Trump, was confirmed by 54 senators who represented 19.8 million fewer people than the 45 senators who opposed his confirmation. Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure on the court is even less legitimate than Gorsuch’s. Appointed by Trump, Kavanaugh was confirmed by 50 senators representing only 143 million people, versus the 48 senators opposing him, who represented 181 million people.

Likewise, Clarence Thomas was confirmed by 52 senators who represented 2.9 million fewer votes than the 48 senators who opposed his confirmation. Samuel Alito was also confirmed by 58 senators who represented 1.8 million fewer voters than the 42 senators who opposed his confirmation.

In sum, whenever the present Court delivers a 5-4 majority vote in favor of some radical-right legal proposition, the U.S. populace has not given its consent.

For almost two decades, many liberals and progressives tended to ignore the legal earthquakes being engineered by Federalist Society members. After the Supreme Court put George W. Bush in the White House even though he had received 547,000 fewer votes than Al Gore, progressives and liberals realized they’d been snookered by the right. They then created the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) to identify and groom progressive lawyers who might one day become federal judges. Measured by its annual budget of $6 million, ACS is still only one-third the size of the Federalist Society, which has 70,000 members and a budget of $20 million.

Caroline Fredrickson, who served as president of ACS from 2009 to 2019, told a reporter in 2019, “We still struggle to get people to recognize that the courts are one of the most important battlegrounds for public policy.”

Now, however, progressives have developed new energy around judicial appointments. Brian Fallon and Christopher Kang, founders of the judicial advocacy group Demand Justice, have organized a campaign calling on Democrats to stop appointing corporate lawyers to the federal bench. They say Democrats appoint the most progressive lawyers they can without provoking a fight. But, they argue, Republicans have shown they will oppose all progressive nominees; therefore, Democrats should just engage in battle, selecting lawyers who have worked for ordinary people — public interest lawyers, public defenders and plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The brazen politicization of the federal courts has spurred a deep and persistent backlash against the Supreme Court itself. Even mainstream groups like the Brookings Institution are now discussing ways to reform the Court, such as adding more justices or setting time limits on their tenure. Still, reform will be difficult, if not impossible, until Democrats win a large majority in the Senate, where filibuster rules allow just 41 Republican Senators to block any regulatory legislation.

This article originally appeared online at and is reprinted here with permission.

Libertarian Policies Are Now Killing Americans

By Thom Hartmann

We have now reached peak Libertarianism, and this bizarre experiment that has been promoted by the billionaire class for over 40 years is literally killing us.

Back in the years before Reagan, a real estate lobbying group called the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) came up with the idea of creating a political party to justify deregulating the real estate and finance industries so they could make more money. The party would give them ideological and political cover, and they developed an elaborate theology around it.

It was called the Libertarian Party, and their principal argument was that if everybody acted separately and independently, in all cases with maximum selfishness, that that would benefit society. There would be no government needed beyond an army and a police force, and a court system to defend the rights of property owners.

In 1980, billionaire David Koch ran for vice president on the newly formed Libertarian Party ticket. His platform was to privatize the Post Office, shut down all public schools, privatize Medicare and Medicaid, end food stamps and all other forms of “welfare,” deregulate all corporate oversight, and sell off much of the federal government’s land and other assets to billionaires and big corporations.

Since then, Libertarian billionaires and right-wing media have been working hard to get Americans to agree with Ronald Reagan’s statement from his first inaugural address that, “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

And Trump is getting us there now.

Every federal agency of any consequence is now run by a lobbyist or former industry insider.

The Labor Department is trying to destroy organized labor; the Interior Department is selling off our public lands; the EPA is promoting deadly pesticides and allowing more and more pollution; the FCC is dancing to the tune of giant telecom companies; the Education Department is actively working to shut down and privatize our public school systems; the USDA is shutting down food inspections; the Defense Department is run by a former weapons lobbyist; even the IRS and Social Security agencies have been gutted, with tens of thousands of their employees offered early retirement or laid off so that very, very wealthy people are no longer being audited and the wait time for a Social Security disability claim is now over two years.

The guy Trump put in charge of the Post Office is actively destroying the Post Office, and the bonus for Trump might be that this will throw a huge monkey wrench in any effort to vote by mail in November.

Trump has removed the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, and fossil fuel lobbyists now control America’s response to global warming.

Our nation’s response to the coronavirus has been turned over to private testing and drug companies, and the Trump administration refuses to implement any official government policy, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar saying that it’s all up to “individual responsibility.”

The result is more than 140,000 dead Americans and 3 million infected, with many fearing for their lives.

While the Libertarian ideas and policies promoted by that real estate lobbying group that invented the Libertarian Party have made CEOs and billionaire investors very, very rich, it’s killing the rest of us.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt put America back together after the Republican Great Depression and built the largest and wealthiest middle class in the history of the world at the time.

Now, 40 years of libertarian Reaganomics have gutted the middle class, made a handful of oligarchs wealthier than anybody in the history of the world, and brought an entire generation of hustlers and grifters into public office via the GOP.

When America was still coasting on FDR’s success in rebuilding our government and institutions, nobody took very seriously the crackpot efforts to tear it all down.

Now that they’ve had 40 years to make their project work, we’re hitting peak Libertarianism and it’s tearing our country apart, pitting Americans against each other, and literally killing hundreds of people every day.

If America is to survive as a functioning democratic republic, we must repudiate the “greed is good” ideology of Libertarianism, get billionaires and their money out of politics, and rebuild our civil institutions.

That starts with waking Americans up to the incredible damage that 40 years of libertarian Reaganism has done to this country.

Pass it on.

The Trump Administration Is Now A Death Cult

By Sonali Kolhatkar, Economy For All

When President Donald Trump was challenged by Axios national political correspondent, Jonathan Swan, to respond to the fact that, "a thousand Americans are dying a day" due to COVID-19, the president responded as though the grim tally was perfectly acceptable, saying, "They are dying, that's true. And it is what it is." While observers were aghast at the callousness of his statement, it should not have surprised us. Trump had warned that the death toll would be high, and he had asked us months ago to get used to the idea. In late March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force had projected that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from the virus. Rather than unveil an aggressive plan to tackle the spread and prevent the projected mortality figures, the president had said, "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."

The New York Times saw this warning as a contradiction to Trump's stance in February and early March when he had said that "we have it totally under control" and "it's going to be just fine." The paper seemed to heave a sigh of relief that a few weeks later, "the president appeared to understand the severity of the potentially grave threat to the country." But the report's authors failed to grasp that Trump is willing to accept anything—including mass deaths—in service of his political career.

In fact, mass death appears to be part of Trump's reelection strategy as per a July 30 Vanity Fair report on the administration's strategy to contain the pandemic. The investigative piece explained that Trump's adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was part of a group of White House staffers that frequently corresponded to discuss the rapidly spreading virus. According to a public health expert who was described as being "in frequent contact with the White House's official coronavirus task force," one of the members of Kushner's team had concluded that, "because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically." The unnamed expert told Vanity Fair, "The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy."

If it is true that Kushner embraced the idea of COVID-19 deaths as part of a political strategy for Trump's reelection, there can be no clearer evidence that the Trump presidency fits the definition of a "death cult."

But Trump's team is also deeply inept, and its macabre tactics appear to have backfired. If Kushner expected a highly contagious virus to follow his political rules and relegate itself to Democratic-run states, he was proven very wrong, very quickly with Republican-run states like Florida, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona being among the hardest hit.

For years, the Republican Party has cast itself as a self-righteous force for morality, embraced the "pro-life" movement, and claimed to align with "Christian values." But just as Trump—arguably the most criminal of all U.S. presidents—has adopted a mantle of "law and order" with no hint of irony, the GOP as a whole has also shown time and again that its embrace of morality and law is a purely political tool. Now, as the nation grapples with mass deaths from a disease that a Republican president spectacularly and willfully failed to contain, conservative politicians appear willing to simply accept it. Their silence is deafening compared to the angry denunciations many Republican lawmakers hurled at President Barack Obama over his response to the Ebola epidemic—a crisis that resulted in a nationwide total of 11 infections and two deaths.

Ultimately it may be Trump's own base that suffers as it internalizes the president's mixed and confused messaging on ignoring social distancing guidelines, eschewing protective masks, swallowing hydroxychloroquine preventatively, and even accepting the inevitability of their own death (because "it is what it is" according to Trump). Even after more than 150,000 Americans have died from the virus, a majority of Republicans trust Trump's coronavirus comments.

Donald Trump standing and talking with a man and a woman

When Trump loyalist and former presidential candidate Herman Cain died of COVID-19, testing positive 11 days after attending Trump's Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally without a mask on, his death did not change minds. The 74-year-old was reportedly on a ventilator during his last days, but conservatives are vehemently opposed to "politicizing" Cain's death. Right-wing commentator and talk show host Ben Shapiro slammed those who made a connection between Cain's refusal to take the virus seriously and his own infection and death. Shapiro said, "The kind of dunking on people after they die of COVID is pretty gross." Certainly, Cain did not deserve to be vilified for his own sad fate. But his death offers a cautionary tale about the dangers of the Trump death cult—a point Shapiro, of course, refused to acknowledge.

We should hardly be surprised at this acceptance of death as inevitable. For years, conservatives have responded to gun violence with angry renunciations of any links to gun proliferation or lax gun control laws, offering instead "thoughts and prayers." The one exception where Republicans express outrage is over the "death" of fetal cells inside women's bodies—indicating that the fight is less about "murder," as the anti-abortionists like to call it, than it is about controlling women's bodies. By and large, the nation's right-wing factions have, for years, wanted us to accept mass deaths and preventable mortality as a price for our "freedom." They expect the same during a pandemic.

But we do not have to all be members of the death cult. According to a new study, states where people live the longest also have the strictest environmental laws, stronger gun control and stronger protections for minorities. These are also states that tend to be run by Democrats. California, for example, which has among the most stringent protections for minorities and the environment, also has one of the highest average life expectancy rates in the United States.

COVID-19 infections and deaths are hardly inevitable, and Americans are starting to see it. A Texas woman named Stacey Nagy penned an obituary for her late husband David that has garnered widespread attention. She wrote in her local paper that, "Family members believe David's death was needless. They blame his death and the deaths of all the other innocent people, on Trump, [Gov. Greg] Abbott and all the politicians who did not take this pandemic seriously and were more concerned with their popularity and votes than lives." Nagy also blamed "the many ignorant, self-centered and selfish people who refused to follow the advice of the medical professionals, believing their 'right' not to wear a mask was more important than killing innocent people."

Perhaps the only way out of Trump's death cult is to speak out as Nagy has done.

The Washington Post, which interviewed Nagy, explained, "Feeling helpless, Stacey approached her husband's obituary as a chance to speak out about how she felt her country had failed her family." While Trump's most loyal supporters might choose death in his service, the rest of us need not be bound by their blind, cultish and suicidal ideology.

There’s A Simple Way To Thwart Trump’s Attempted Election Theft

By Steven Rosenfeld

In 2000, Ion Sancho had a front-row seat to the partisan mayhem and legal posturing surrounding Florida's presidential recount. The Florida Supreme Court asked Sancho, then supervisor of elections in Florida's capital, to be its technical adviser—second in charge—of overseeing the recount, which the U.S. Supreme Court abruptly halted in its Bush v. Gore decision, elevating George W. Bush to the presidency.

As the U.S. heads toward 2020's general election amid a pandemic and President Trump's continued attacks on voting from home, Sancho has been reviewing trends from the resumed primaries and sees both how Trump and the GOP are positioning the party for another court-decided electoral outcome—and the single remedy that would frustrate those plans.

"The plan that Trump is doing is to denigrate mail ballot voting and force people to show up at the polls on Election Day—and overwhelm the polls so it looks like massive chaos and fraud," said Sancho, who recalled the "Brooks Brothers riot" by GOP operatives that disrupted Miami's recount. "But it's all dependent on overwhelming the polls on Election Day; having people wait in line for five, six, seven hours, and then adding to the cacophony of 'vote fraud, vote fraud.' If it's done smoothly on Election Day, that whole strategy really melts away."

Since 2020's primaries and runoffs resumed in April, there has been a historic shift to voting from home with mail-in ballots in many states. The pandemic has also prompted a poll worker exodus and steep reductions in in-person voting sites, especially in swing states. Many voters have waited for hours to cast a ballot, especially in urban centers and communities of color, disenfranchising unknown numbers of voters.

"The reason we are not getting people working the polls is that poll workers, traditionally, are in the center of the target range for COVID-19: 65-to-75-year-old individuals," said Sancho, who added that the younger people now demonstrating against racist policing should not just be urged to register and vote this fall, but should also enlist as poll workers—especially in cities.

"These young people who are demonstrating in the streets, understanding for the first time that institutional racism is America, these people, if they work the polls, could save the entire elections process," said Sancho, who ran Leon County's elections for 28 years. "What if all of the African American students at the historically Black colleges [and universities (HBCUs)]—I know Atlanta has a couple—what if they staffed the polls in Fulton County? Here in Tallahassee, what if FAMU [Florida A&M University] ensured that the African American polls are completely covered on November 3? And you get paid for it."

"If you do it, you frustrate the plan that Trump has set up to call that there was massive fraud and chaos and try to send this to the courts—to the SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] where they will try to pull off the same thing they did in 2000 on a 5-to-4 vote."

Staffing America's Polls

Sancho, a law school graduate, is thinking more widely about 2020's general election than many election administrators, who tend to see their jobs as implementing the rules issued by the state. But he is not the only election veteran thinking about staffing the polls this fall. There has been talk in political circles in recent months about the need to recruit a new cadre of poll workers. In recent weeks, a handful of these efforts surfaced.

Washington's Fair Elections Center released an online poll worker sign-up tool that it hopes will help facilitate a national recruitment campaign. On June 30, a mix of businesses, corporate alliances, entertainment networks, and nonprofits announced the "Power the Polls" coalition, whose goal is to recruit "250,000 new workers" using the portal.

Other efforts include those by the Massachusetts-based Voter Protection Corps, a new advocacy group, working with We The Action, a nonprofit that enlists lawyers in civic projects and has been recruiting poll workers for Texas's July 14 primary runoff.

"Despite the challenges in recruiting poll workers presented by COVID, we've been pleasantly surprised by the interest from Texas lawyers serving as poll workers," said Paydon Miller, We The Action spokesman. "Dozens of lawyers have signed up to volunteer, and many others have indicated interest in helping in November."

"I do want to emphasize the big takeaway from this effort: states need to be planning now," he said. "Our experience is that lawyers stand prepared to help how they can, but if states and localities aren't thinking this through now, we may face the same challenges we've seen during the primaries: long lines, unclear voting laws, and voters turned away."

Staffing America's polls is a monumental task akin to deploying a civilian army one small squad at a time. In 2016's presidential election, nearly 110 million Americans voted in person at nearly 117,000 locations, according to a report from the Voter Protection Corps, "Keep the Polls Open: An Action Plan to Protect In-Person Voting and Voting Rights in the Era of COVID-19."

"More than 917,000 poll workers—sometimes known as election judges, booth workers, wardens, or commissioners—operated these sites. The EAC [U.S. Election Assistance Commission] has reported an average of between seven and eight poll workers per voting site consistently since 2012," the report said. "Urban areas have fewer polling locations per capita and are at greater risk of long lines and overcrowding in the event of poll closures and consolidation."

"If you think of the scope of the poll worker recruitment problem, it's almost as big as the decennial [U.S.] Census," said Quentin Palfrey, Voter Protection Corps chair. "In ordinary years, a lot of places have trouble recruiting poll workers. But during the pandemic, I think we are going to have massive shortfalls. And part of that is because more than 50 percent of poll workers, historically, have been over the age of 60. That population is going to be very reticent."

According to Sancho, the states that ran the smoothest recent elections (including the historic shift to voting from home) saw roughly three-quarters of their electorate vote by mail and one-quarter vote in person. He cited Iowa and Kentucky as examples. Should that ratio hold for the fall's general election, it means that hundreds of thousands of poll workers would be needed.

Historically, county-level officials—not political campaigns, political parties or activist groups—recruit poll workers, said Mike Firestone, co-author of the Corps' report. Those officials can be a county election supervisor, appointed election official, judge, or municipal clerk who hires poll workers and is responsible for their training. Individuals must apply to be poll workers, which isn't the same as being assigned by a political campaign or party to be a poll observer.

"There's a hodgepodge of rules that we only lightly touch on in the report that create a ton of different restrictions and criteria for who can serve," Firestone said. "In many, many cases, you need to be registered to vote in the jurisdiction where you're going to serve. There's a residency requirement plus an active voter status requirement. In some cases, you'll need to add onto that a party affiliation to fill a particular spot. So outside organizations, particularly political campaigns, have left this function to local government and really focused their own efforts to having observers at the polls to make sure people aren't getting disenfranchised or knocking on doors to get out the vote."

Filling Needed Ranks

Ryan Pierannunzi, Fair Elections Center's project manager for's data and poll worker recruitment tool, said the portal seeks to help people sift through the application process. Individuals can find their state and county, view required local qualifications, access application forms (for students and non-students), and see their potential pay. The Work Elections portal also has contact information for local election officials.

"We're trying to team up with everyone who's interested," he said. "We just launched Power the Polls on June 30. We have a plan to reach out to a lot of different groups. One member of Power the Polls is Civic Alliance, which is made up of leading companies across the country. The Time to Vote coalition is part of that as well; they're committed to giving Election Day off for their employees… We have Comedy Central and MTV involved. Another big part of this is college students and young people. So we're working with groups like Students Learn Students Vote and other nonprofits to get the word out."

A citizen mailing in their ballot by mail

Some grassroots voting rights activists and organizers contacted by Voting Booth, who have formidable field operations aimed at contacting voters in swing states and communities of color, said they had heard some talk about potential poll worker campaigns, but not more than that.

"I have heard this as a strategy coming from several different corners. I haven't really seen anybody who's actually launched a detailed recruitment campaign other than occasional social media posts saying 'let's get more young people to apply' or people posting a link on how people can get involved," said Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund. "A real recruitment campaign—I haven't seen that. I know it's in the works from different groups… It's a potential strategy to deal with a key problem and also get younger people engaged in a different way."

The Black Voters Matter Fund is focusing on eight states, including mostly Southern states—like Florida, Georgia and North Carolina—as well as Pennsylvania. One of its partners is a voter contact operation targeting Southern states, including Texas run by Andrea Miller of People Demanding Action, which has been sending hundreds of thousands of texts and postcards weekly since early 2020. She, too, said that she had not heard about a serious recruitment campaign—but was fully supportive.

"We have got to have our people inside the polls. Not just outside. So this is great," Miller said. "It would be interesting. How do we recruit poll workers? Where do they go? We are running phone banks and we are running text banks. We could easily work this in. What would we be asking people to do? How would we be telling them to go sign up?"

"There needs to be an activation process. Most people have no clue about this," said Gabriela Lemus, treasurer of Mi Familia Vota, a Latino voting rights group. "They don't even know what poll workers do. When they go vote, they think, 'All these nice people. They must be volunteers.' Which they are. But the fact is it is a very organized system."

Sancho said he only heard about the Fair Elections Center's poll worker campaign in early July. The portal was a good start but didn't go far enough, he said, based on years of experience recruiting registering voters and poll workers from Tallahassee's HBCU, Florida A&M University. During his tenure, those Black students helped turn Leon County's judiciary from a mostly all-white bench to having half of the elected judges be people of color.

The Work Elections portal will send voters to their state and county election websites, where they can access online applications and other information. But it doesn't collect follow-up information to assist people trying to apply to be a poll worker, Sancho said. It also doesn't walk students through the steps to update their voter registration information, so that they can be a poll worker in their county where they are attending school or now living—which may not be the same as their county of residence when they initially registered to vote. (Many states, like Georgia, require poll workers to be residents and registered voters in the county they will serve.)

Black Voters Matter's Albright agreed that specifics like these needed to be laid out.

"If you're just telling people to be a poll worker, but you are not laying out what that process is, then it's not going to happen. It's really that simple," he said. "You can tell people to be a poll worker. You can post a link that makes it easier for them to be a poll worker. You can post a link and give a somewhat detailed description of what this is really going to require of you."

Despite the constructive criticism, Sancho said the effort was achievable, especially in urban counties with large non-white populations that have seen some of the biggest poll closures in pandemic primaries. Leading examples include Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which went from 182 to five polling places in its April primary. Or Philadelphia, which closed 77 percent of its polls—600 locations. Or Las Vegas, which had only three in-person sites.

"Most of the urban supervisors have the training modules to be poll workers on the internet," Sancho said. "In Leon County, we do. If you're a first-time worker, they like to bring you into a training room. But after that, everything can be done online. You can review daily your tasks. And again, the people who are most likely to be able to use the internet on a regular basis are this target audience [younger people]. It's the older ones who have difficulty going on the internet to do the reviews."

"Training can be accomplished in a way that it couldn't have been 20 years ago if this pandemic had hit back then," he said. "They didn't have information on the internet. There was nowhere to go to remotely access it. It exists today."

Sancho reiterated that Trump's and the Republican Party's game plan for November appears to be attacking vote by mail now, while not discussing or planning to accommodate in-person voting—to sow Election Day chaos that would be used as pretext to file suits so that federal courts, or even the Supreme Court, would end up deciding winners. The GOP's operatives likely won't be as explicit as Trump, but instead, cite more mundane reasons to create those conditions. "A lot of what is happening is the poll worker shortage is becoming part of the rationale for polling place closures, particularly in communities of color," said Palfrey. "Even when it happens for reasons that are not nefarious, it has the effect of making it harder for folks to vote, and often the people it affects the most are historically disenfranchised groups."

William Barr’s Abuses Of Power Cannot Be Ignored

By Ernest Canning

At a Congressional hearing in late June, the mainstream media paid scant attention to the damning testimony provided to the House Judiciary Committee by John W. Elias, a career attorney at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Elias revealed astonishing details on the corrupt manner in which Attorney General William Barr and the "political leadership" of the DOJ's Antitrust Division abused our antitrust laws; corruptly ordering career staff to open unwarranted but burdensome, politically-motivated antitrust investigations.

It's not that Elias' testimony was unimportant. His words were simply drowned out by the testimony provided by other witnesses about other Barr/DOJ misconduct, and by a separate, but related event. The combined effect of the other testimony provided to the Judiciary panel and the separate news event was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Still, Elias' previously unthinkable allegations were, in fact, no less so...

So much prosecutorial abuse, so little time...

At that very same Judiciary Committee hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney-turned-whistleblower, Aaron Zelinsky, in a sworn opening statement, exposed the political pressure applied by the Barr-led DOJ on behalf of President Donald J. Trump, to significantly reduce the DOJ's initial sentencing recommendations for Roger Stone, a convicted federal criminal and Trump crony.

Even as the hearing was underway, a three-judge D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal panel handed down a disastrous 2 - 1 decision relating to the DOJ's motion to dismiss the long-running prosecution of former National Security Advisor (and Trump crony) Michael Flynn. That motion was filed by Barr's DOJ despite Flynn's sworn, in-court admissions of guilt and the acceptance of his formal guilty pleas by two different U.S District Court judges.

Earlier, in an erudite amicus curiae brief, a retired federal judge described the DOJ's abrupt about face in the Flynn case and the DOJ's motion to dismiss as "preposterous", "corrupt" and "politically motivated". The DOJ's reversals in the Stone and Flynn cases so troubled U.C. Berkeley Law Professor Orrin Kerr that he expressed concern that Trump, with Barr as a willing accomplice, had engaged in "Banana Republic style interference" in DOJ prosecutions. That concern was shared by more than 2,000 former federal prosecutors who signed an open letter encouraging U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan to carefully scrutinize the reasons why the DOJ sought a dismissal.

The appeals court majority opinion was authored by Judge Neomi Rao, a Trump appointee. Even though the Federal Rules of Court restrict a prosecutor's ability to dismiss a pending case absent "leave of court", the appellate panel majority refused to permit Sullivan to proceed with a scheduled July hearing on the motion to dismiss in the lower court, or to even question the DOJ's reasons for its stunning reversal on the Flynn case. The appeals court ordered Judge Sullivan to immediately grant the dismissal motion. The dissenting jurist, Robert L. Wilkins, described the panel majority's ruling as an unprecedented and "grievous" overstepping of the appellate court's authority. The majority ruling, as this author previously observed, was "tantamount to an abandonment of the Judiciary's constitutional function to act as a check against Executive Branch abuse." (Under court rules, the full D.C. Court of Appeal has the authority to rehear the matter en banc, and is now believed likely to do so.)

Those two earth-shaking events --- Zelinsky's testimony and the Flynn appellate decision --- were then topped off by the powerful assertion made by Republican former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer, in his opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee, that "Attorney General Barr is a major threat to our legal system and to the public trust in it."

Small wonder that most of the air had been sucked out of mainstream media newsrooms. That said, the somewhat overshadowed Elias revelations about the DOJ's antitrust abuse warrant meticulous coverage. His disturbing allegations are important, if only because they serve as a bookend for the prosecutorial abuse revealed by the Flynn and Stone cases.

The Flynn and Stone cases involve a "corrupt", "politicized", "gross abuse of prosecutorial power" in order to benefit the President's allies. The cases described by Elias entail instances in which the Barr DOJ abused our nation's antitrust laws to frivolously and maliciously (a) target Trump's perceived "enemy" (the State of California) and to (b) harass an industry, whose product (marijuana), offends Barr's extreme personal religious beliefs.

A group of protesters gathered to  protest William Barr

In both instances, per Elias, the DOJ's Antitrust Division strayed far away from the purpose of our antitrust laws, which, according to the DOJ's 2015 Mission Statement, are to promote "free and fair competition in the marketplace" by prohibiting "a variety of practices that restrain trade, such as price-fixing conspiracies, corporate mergers likely to reduce the competitive vigor of particular markets, and predatory acts designed to achieve or maintain monopoly power".

When clean air offends the President

Elias alleged in his sworn testimony that, on August 20, 2019, shortly after California announced that four major automakers had agreed to comply with its air quality emissions standards --- standards that were more stringent than the lax standards contemplated by the Trump administration's less than environmentally conscious Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) --- the "New York Times reported that President Trump was 'enraged' by the deal and wanted to retaliate."

The career prosecutor laid out how, under established DOJ precedents and doctrine, the agreement to comply with California's emission standards didn't even come close to an antitrust violation. He also added, in a footnote, that if there had been a serious question of antitrust violations, since they entailed a commodity (automobiles), that "would normally be handled by the Federal Trade Commission rather than the [DOJ's] Antitrust Division". "The FTC", Elias explained, "is an independent agency, and its Commissioners cannot be removed by the President over mere political differences."

On August 22, one day after Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with the automakers' willingness to comply with CA emissions standards, and without any input from career staff, "Antitrust Division political leadership instructed staff to initiate an investigation that day," Elias charged.

Despite criticism of the probe from many of Elias' colleagues and sworn affirmations from the four automakers that "each company had independently entered into an agreement with California" --- thereby undercutting any claim that the investigation could be justified on the basis of a "competitor-to-competitor" agreement --- the Trump-appointed head of the DOJ's Antitrust Division, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, "instructed staff to examine an announcement by California that it would purchase state vehicles only from automakers that comply with stricter fuel efficiency standards." (Before being appointed to head the Antitrust Division, Delrahim had served as Trump's Assistant White House Counsel.)

Elias laid out why this didn't come close to a basis for continuing the investigation:

When operating as a market participant, states have a wide latitude to determine their own purchases. Moreover, California’s annual purchase of fewer than 2,700 vehicles in a state of nearly 40 million did not confer it with the market power that could lead to antitrust liability.

Nonetheless, the Division refrained from even notifying the automakers that it had closed its ill-considered investigation until February of 2020.

Refer Madness

Unscientific hysteria gave rise to our costly, failed "war on drugs" --- a war that is the shameful source of mass incarceration. The U.S. (aka "Land of the Free") accounts for less than 5% of the world's population, but 25% of its prisoners.

Marijuana is the least dangerous recreational drug --- far less so than many "legal" substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Multiple studies have also established marijuana's medicinal benefits. Those benefits include a significant reduction in opioid dependence.

At the state level, huge strides have made to eliminate the harsh impact of marijuana prohibition. Forty-four states have legalized its use for medicinal purposes. Eleven of those 44 have legalized recreational use as well.

Marijuana is still classified as illegal on the "flawed, outdated and unscientific" federal drug schedule. However, as Elias observed, an "appropriations rider restricts the [DOJ] from prosecuting medical marijuana usage in states that have legalized it".

Despite the science and the appropriations rider forbidding DOJ medical marijuana prosecutions, Elias reports that, as part of his personal bias against marijuana, Barr misused the DOJ's Antitrust Division to harass marijuana companies, subjecting proposed mergers to onerous scrutiny even though career staff found no reasonable basis for doing so.

The first of those cases involved the merger of two marijuana dispensary companies, MedMen and PharmaCann. As a result of its initial investigation of the reported proposed merger, "career staff examined the transaction," Elias detailed. "They determined that the cannabis industry appeared to be fragmented with many market participants in the states that had legalized the product." There being no competitive concerns, there was no reason to next institute a rarely used "Second Request" investigation.

"Second Request investigations are infrequent", Elias explained, "because they require the companies to respond to burdensome subpoenas...and produce hundreds of thousands or millions of documents."

Instead of accepting seasoned career staff's conclusions about the lack of antitrust concern, Barr "called the Antitrust Division leadership to his office for a meeting entitled 'Marijuana Industry Merger Review'." Ignoring the identical conclusions in a staff memo prepared for that meeting, "Barr ordered the Antitrust Division to issue Second Request subpoenas".

As a result of a "negotiated subpoena compliance", Elias testified, the Division obtained "1.3 million documents from the files of 40 companies. The investigation confirmed that the markets at issue were 'unconcentrated' and closed in September 2019 without any enforcement action." Elias went on to explain that the "merger collapsed, nonetheless, with MedMen citing unexpected delays in obtaining regulatory approval."

Under Barr's "leadership", in FY2019, the DOJ's Antitrust Division went on to conduct nine additional marijuana merger investigations, eight of which entailed burdensome Second Requests. "In several instances, staff sought to make the investigation less narrowing the subpoenas," alleged Elias. "Political leadership refused such requests". That same "political leadership", however, allowed cases to be closed even though they had reviewed only a few the millions of documents the beleaguered cannabis companies were forced to turnover. "In one case," Elias alleged, "the Division records show that the closing process began before the documents had been uploaded and made available for viewing by Division staff."

In Elias' estimation, the marijuana merger probes were a colossal waste of Antitrust Division resources: At one point, cannabis investigations accounted for five of the eight active merger investigations in the office that is responsible for the transportation, energy, and agricultural sectors of the American economy. The investigations were so numerous that staff from other offices were pulled in to assist, including from the telecommunications, technology, and media offices.

During a September 17, 2019 all-staff meeting, any and all doubts as to the source of this colossal waste of Antitrust Division resources were eliminated, according to Elias' sworn opening statement, when Delrahim "acknowledged that the investigations were motivated by the fact that the cannabis industry is unpopular 'on the fifth floor', a reference to Attorney General Barr's offices in the DOJ's headquarters building."

The Coronavirus Could Change American Elections…Forever

By Steven Rosenfeld

Across the country, as voting rights attorneys and election policy experts keep issuing increasingly detailed prescriptions on how 2020’s elections can continue in a pandemic, the civil servants who run elections are facing their version of a shortage of face masks and ventilators.

The first hints of a scramble over voting materials, machinery and manpower were behind-the-scenes actions following the seemingly simple decisions by ten states and territories to postpone primaries until June.

“Of course, there is nothing ‘straightforward’ about ‘simply’ postponing an election date,” noted Gavin Weise, election data manager for the U.S. Vote Foundation, which focuses on voting by Americans abroad. “All deadlines must be adjusted, materials reprinted with new dates, the workforce rescheduled, and facilities procured. In many cases, new resources are required as election administrators’ needs change — for example, to deal with the increased volume of mail ballots.”

The prospect of new multitudes voting by mail — starting with primaries (Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island), special elections (Maryland, California) or loosening eligibility for mail-in ballots (Alabama, West Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, New York, Virginia) or extending mail-in periods (Iowa, Alaska, Wyoming) — has led county and state election administrators to speak of coming supply shortages.

“We have already contacted the vendor about leasing a high-speed scanner. Of course, everybody is [thinking about] doing that,” said Tammy Smith, Wilson County, Tennessee, assistant election administrator. “So, again, we get to the supply chain. Everyone is asking for the same thing all across the U.S. I’m concerned, are they going to be able to provide all of us with everything we need? If we can’t get high-speed scanners, then we need people.”

“I do have some pretty serious concerns about the supply chain,” said David Stafford, Escambia County, Florida, supervisor of elections. “I know a lot of people that are on this call have been participating in other calls. It’s not like these discussions have not already begun… Is there enough paper out there? Are there enough ballot envelopes to accommodate a massive expansion?”

Smith’s and Stafford’s remarks were from a March 25 e-briefing organized by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center to lay out the state of elections in the short term through the fall. Participants included state and local election administrators, foundation representatives, vendors, and congressional staff. Another speaker was Stephen Trout, the state elections director from Oregon, the first state to shift to voting by mail entirely.

“The challenge is going to be on the back end, where we have manual processes that have to happen. But I think the challenge that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about is the supply lines,” Trout said. “What’s your procurement process? For me, I still don’t have authorization to spend the federal funds that were granted in December [for cybersecurity] by my legislature yet. Then it will take me four-to-five months to be able to procure anything. Those are real things. People would have to procure central count vote tally systems, paper, [and] envelopes. There’s just a lot of logistics that would have to come into place — and that’s not even talking about the policies.”

The scramble for supplies goes beyond stocking in-person polling places and absentee ballot drop-off locations with “disinfectant, gloves and hand sanitizer, as well as additional pens for marking ballots,” as Weise noted.

“The other piece is, who is going to print the ballots? Are there going to be enough envelopes? Frankly, I told my counties two weeks ago, ‘There’s going to be more people voting by mail. You need to get on the phone to your vendor today, your envelope vendor, and make sure that you’ve got enough envelopes to get through November because there’s probably going to be a rush,’” Trout said. “Some voting systems require specific paper. Is there going to be enough?”

These nuts-and-bolts concerns are not what most experts in election policy circles ponder. They are not the focus of legislative debates and lawsuits by partisans, which usually concern the laws and regulations that govern how voters are credentialed, how their ballots are validated, and how their votes are counted or rejected. Those issues, typically called policy, are from the political arena, which is not the same as civil servants doing their jobs.

“I think the biggest challenge my counties are having right now is with the social distancing in their [counting] boards that are opening the envelopes that are verifying the signatures,” Trout said. “And so we are looking… at setting up some temporary locations, either adjacent to the county election office. I had suggested maybe high school gymnasiums because the schools are all closed, and then I found out that those were the backups for the hospitals.”

A citizen voting behind a screen at a voting center

Other Simmering Issues

Matthew Weil, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s elections project director, said the webinar was to help election managers and policymakers move from the speculation around what needs to happen to specifics about the likely shift to more remote voting in 2020. The supply chain issues were genuine, he said, adding that they were not the only issues facing election officials.

“They are in competition with each other over a limited number of machines, ballots, envelopes, etc.,” Weil said by email after the briefing. “Re: printing stock. Again, from some election officials, it is the case that some of the high-speed scanners may need a certain stock of paper that is milled only by a few plants.”

“The procurement timeline for states is very long,” he continued. “When the initial HAVA [Help America Vote Act cyber] security grants were made available in March 2018, many in the public were surprised when election officials told them there would be little impact on the 2018 election. That includes members of Congress. But the reality is the government procurement processes are lengthy and usually involve soliciting multiple bids. Whether it can be faster under states of emergency, I don’t know.”

Another large area of unknowns were policy changes — state laws and administrative rules — that would govern the fine print of voting by mail. During the e-briefing, Trout listed many examples of decisions that affect how voters, their ballot envelopes, and their ballots would be processed.

“Ultimately, there’s a bunch of policy decisions that have to be made,” he said. “Are you going to notify people if their signature doesn’t check? What are you going to compare the signature against? Do you have signatures in your voter file now? If not, how are you going to get them? How are you going to authenticate those voters if the signature does not match? If you decide that you are going to notify people, how are you going to do that? How long is that going to take? Is that going to impact your supplies? Is that going to impact how soon you can get results out?”

“Those are all huge policy questions that are going to have to be decided if people are trying to move to a vote-by-mail process that never have” had one, Trout continued. “Those are big policy calls that are going to have to be made. This election [was already] contentious enough before we added all of this virus stuff to it. Any time you’re changing laws in the middle of a major election, that’s just fuel for lawsuits if results end up being close. You can’t just jump into this. We have to make sure that we do it right.”

Whether those policy questions will be addressed promptly by states is another open question because most legislatures have adjourned either temporarily or for the rest of the term, Weil said.

“Most could come back, though whether they will focus on election policy concerns over other pressing needs is unknown,” he said. “Some of the changes being made now are through executive orders [by governors] and authority given to governors by states of emergency. When those states of emergency are lifted, if before November, it’s not clear whether legislatures will endorse all of the executive’s actions for November. It varies by state.”

Beyond questions of whether policies will be updated, and whether there will be supply and personnel shortages — due to the need for additional poll workers to process a surge in absentee ballots — are still other concerns. Even if election policy changes were made, election workers would need training in new procedures.

The next sign of how states are adapting to this changing landscape will likely be in June when they will conduct their presidential primaries. States like Wisconsin, which does not have a history of widespread voting by mail, will see hundreds of thousands of ballots cast that way, Charles Stewart III, the co-founder of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, told the webinar.

“So we’re going to learn a lot over the next few weeks about the uptake among voters,” he said, adding that the big test will be next fall when a different electorate will turn out. “We need to remember that the new voters coming into the electorate in November will not be necessarily the ones who are voting in these primaries.”

Whether election managers will be able to accommodate these voters is an open question that cannot be answered now. The best that they may be able to do is proactively flag issues like supply shortages, policy gaps, and other emerging concerns, such as registering voters when state offices are closed. All these challenges are new and not occurring in a vacuum.

“Everybody is focused about how we are going to deal with the virus and all that, but the [cyber]security threat is still real. It may be more of a threat in the current environment,” Trout said. “My biggest concern as we entered 2020 was misinformation. I think that’s still my biggest concern. Given people concerned about how they’re going to get their ballot cast, questions about how vote by mail really works, I think that we are susceptible to even more disinformation…

“We all knew 2020 was going to be a crazy year, even before we had all the security and the pandemic to deal with.”