It is a mystery wrapped in a conundrum.
As yet another regular reminder that you should never trust Republicans when their lips are moving (or at any other time), the Washington Post reports (free gift linky) that former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich ordered his staff to do a comprehensive investigation back in 2021 of claims of fraud and irregularities and shenanigans and HOOPLA in Arizona's administration of the 2020 election. So how did that turn out, exactly?
Investigators prepared a report in March 2022 stating that virtually all claims of error and malfeasance were unfounded, according to internal documents reviewed by The Washington Post. Brnovich, a Republican, kept it private.
Instead of releasing the full report that debunked the Big Lie many Arizona Republicans fervently believed in, and ran on in the midterms, Brnovich issued a bogus "Interim Report" that just plain lied about the investigation, claiming it turned up "serious vulnerabilities" in Arizona's election processes.
Oh, yes, it gets worse, too: not only did that "interim" report leave out "edits from his own investigators refuting his assertions," Brnovich then sat on a second report from his investigators in September last year, an "Election Review Summary" that once again "systematically refuted accusations of widespread fraud and made clear that none of the complaining parties -- from state lawmakers to self-styled 'election integrity' groups -- had presented any evidence to support their claims."
Brnovich never released it. It only came to light after Arizona voters elected Democrat Kris Mayes to replace Brnovich. Mayes released the documents to the Post this week in response to a request from the paper. The Post notes that Mayes "said she considered the taxpayer-funded investigation closed[.]" Hooray for sunshine!
The story also says Mayes has let leaders in Maricopa County know the state is no longer investigating the county's election processes. Wingnut World has focused much of its rage on Maricopa, since it's the state's most populous, and is where all those liberal RINO city slickers who think they're better than you obviously rigged the election for Biden. How could a large, diverse metro area possibly have voted blue without cheating?
Trump-endorsed dipshit Kari Lake has also accused Maricopa County officials of cheating her out of a win in the governor's race last fall, either by incompetence or outright theft.
The Post explains that Brnovich advanced bullshit claims about the 2020 vote in Maricopa "that his own staff considered inaccurate." As the story puts it as delicately as possible, the documents also "suggest" that Brnovich and his team "privately disregarded fact checks provided by state investigators while publicly promoting incomplete accounts of the office’s work."
The story paints Brnovich as a wishy-washy mainstreamish Republican who immediately after the election said Trump lost, and even stood up to Trump's attempts to get the vote thrown out. But in the run-up to last year's GOP primary for US Senate, which he lost to eventual nominee Blake Masters, Brnovich tried playing in the MAGA sandbox.
On wingnut radio, Brnovich promoted his bullshit "interim report" — the one prepared after the real report found no evidence of fraud — and hinted that "It’s frustrating for all of us, because I think we all know what happened in 2020."
That interim report was red meat to election deniers, who were certain it was proof of rampant cheating. Delivering it to then-state Senate President Karen Fann (R), Brnovich wrote in a cover letter that investigators had found "problematic system-wide issues that relate to early ballot handling and verification."
No they hadn't. They wrote on a draft of the letter that "We did not uncover any criminality or fraud having been committed in this area during the 2020 general election."
For some dark depressing larffs, see the full draft of the "interim report" (no paywall) with portions of Brnovich's text highlighted in yellow and the investigators' NO WE DID NOT, FUCKSTICK replies in blue. For instance, Brnovich suggests maybe Maricopa County didn't do a very good job of verifying signatures on mail-in ballots. There's a note politely pointing out that the county hired a handwriting expert to train staff, and that they had a process to escalate iffy cases for further review. Brnovich claimed Maricopa County didn't always reply to requests for records. The staff said YEAH THEY DID, YOU PUKE (a loose paraphrase).
Surprise, surprise: hardly any of their notes made it into the revision.
In September last year, a bit more than a month after Brnovich lost the Senate primary to Masters, Brnovich's investigators wrote up an eight-page memo titled "Election Review Summary" that explained they received 638 complaints about the 2020 election, of which 430 were worth investigating. (The memo doesn't say what sort of complaints they rejected; we'll just speculate that any claims Maricopa County was infested with communists, demons, and pedophiles weren't given too much credence. But there we go making up excuses for the cover-up.)
Out of the 430 investigations, just 22 cases went to prosecutors, and a whopping two cases of felons who voted illegally ended in convictions. The investigators also noted that "high profile allegations" of widespread fraud by groups like Cyber Ninjas, True the Vote, and from various politicians didn't amount to a hill of beans. Cyber Ninjas, the outfit that did the months-long fraudit of Maricopa ballots, claimed to have turned up a long list of allegedly dead voters whose votes were counted, but "no one on the list of dead voters was dead, nor had they voted."
And so on.
Mark Finchem, the Trump-endorsed election denier who lost his bid for secretary of state, claimed an unnamed "source" tipped him off to 30,000 fake votes in Pima County, home to Tucson, but he curiously didn't tell the investigators this, "specifically stating he did not have any evidence of fraud and he did not wish to take up our time." Finchem did provide four absentee ballots that had been sent to people who had moved from the addresses where they were sent, but the memo notes that the Postal Service doesn't forward ballots, the envelopes weren't opened, and Maricopa County hadn't received any change of address information from the voters who'd moved. Fraud!
Again, Brnovich never made public any of these findings, even though the real report was ready in plenty of time for the midterms, in which virtually all the statewide Republican candidates promoted lies about massive fraud in 2020. Might have been useful information for voters, as Mayes, the new AG, pointed out:
“The people of Arizona had a right to know this information before the 2022 election,” Mayes said in an interview. “Maricopa County election officials had a right to know that they were cleared of wrongdoing. And every American had a right to know that the 2020 election in Arizona, which in part decided the presidency, was conducted accurately and fairly.”
Mayes has pledged to refocus the AG office's "election integrity" task force. Under Brnovich, it had been sent to look for election fraud, and found practically none. Mayes thinks it would be a much better use of taxpayer funds for her office to ensure people are all able to vote, so the task force will now be weeding out illegal barriers to voting.
God damn, we love a happy ending.
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How about a nice grandma who's a community leader? Sure why not.
Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias this week brings us another true story of voter suppression at his Democracy Docket blog. Elias examines how Arizona's 2016 law banning ballot collection has done a bang-up job of making some Latino voters in the state afraid that if they make a mistake while voting, they may end up in jail. After all, that's what happened to Guillermina Fuentes, a 66-year-old grandmother in San Luis, Arizona, after she committed the unspeakable felony of delivering four valid absentee ballots from eligible voters to an elections office so they could be counted.
Ms. Fuentes, the former mayor of San Luis, had no criminal record but got one anyway when she became the first person convicted under the 2016 law. Compared to some election horror stories, like the cases of folks sentenced to years in prison for mistakenly attempting to register to vote (with help from elections officials, even), Ms. Fuentes at least won't spend a long time incarcerated; she was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of probation, during which she's barred from voting. But the insanity of it all is that her "crime" — delivering valid votes to the polls — was perfectly legal in Arizona until the 2016 law forbade it.
Also, not at all coincidentally, the law had very clear racist roots, not that the Supreme Court notices that anymore.
As Elias points out, the law, Arizona's HB 2023, likely never would have passed Justice Department scrutiny prior to the Supremes' 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, which gutted the "preclearance" portion of the Voting Rights Act. Arizona was one of the nine states whose voting laws and procedures had to be screened by the DOJ or a federal court before it could go into effect, because Arizona had a long history of denying the vote to Latino and Native American voters.
Elias explains that Yuma County, where San Luis is located, is exactly the sort of place that needed — and had, until 2013 — protection under the Voting Rights Act:
As of 2020, the city of San Luis was 98% Latino. The median income was $22,000. The city has no mass transit and many households have no cars. Geographically, it is a three-hour drive from Phoenix and is closer to Mexico than any other city in Arizona. Perhaps most importantly, home delivery is not provided by the U.S. Postal Service, and a major highway separates almost 13,000 residents from the nearest post office. As a result of all of this, many San Luis voters often had to rely on members of their communities to help them deliver their mail-in ballots if they wanted them to be counted.
In 2011, state Sen. Don Shooter (yes really), a Republican who'd barely won reelection in 2010 because Latino voters went for the Democratic candidate, decided it would be a good idea to crack down on Yuma County, part of his state Senate district. He was also the leader of the Yuma County Tea Party, and as Elias says, "Demonizing Latinos living near the Mexico border was the Tea Party’s bread and butter."
State and federal investigations of voting in San Luis found no evidence of illegal voting, but Shooter introduced a bill to limit what he was sure was massive illegal voting by sneaky noncitizens, evidence be damned. The bill would have limited vote collectors to turning in 10 absentee ballots from voters, and would have required they show photo ID when turning in the ballots at elections offices. Shooter claimed that
“political machines fill their car trunks with ballots and then take them to the county recorder’s office.” He wanted to “prevent people from bringing in ‘buckets full of ballots.’”
The state Senate didn't move Shooter's bill forward once the DOJ said it was likely to violate the Voting Rights Act if it were submitted for preclearance, and that was that.
But then in 2013 the Shelby decision determined racism had gone away forever, so Arizona was ripe for another bite at the racist apple. You see, in the early 2010s, more and more Arizona voters preferred voting absentee, especially older voters, who liked the convenience. That was fine when it was white retirees, who mainly voted Republican, but what about those troublesome Latinos who also liked absentee ballots, but who voted for Democrats? Republicans were especially mad that voting rights groups often used ballot collection — still legal at the time — to deliver sealed, legal absentee ballots to election offices.
In 2014, the rightwing chair of the Maricopa County GOP, AJ LaFaro, circulated a video (since deleted from YouTube) showing a Latino man delivering absentee ballots to the Maricopa County elections office drop box during early voting for the primary election. The man wore a T-shirt from the group "Citizens for a Better Arizona," which sounds pretty suspicious, too, since Arizona was just fine already. Yr Wonkette covered the rightwing panic at the time.
In a now defunct blog post (archive link) that got lots of coverage in rightwing media, LaFaro described how he "watched in amazement" as the man "dropped a large box of hundreds of early ballots on the table and started stuffing the ballot box" (with sealed, legal ballots). He claimed he confronted the man and demanded to know who he was — because white guys get to do that — but the man said it was none of LaFaro's business. Even worse, the man told LaFaro "fuck you, gringo" as he left the building, so we all know who the real racist is.
LaFaro explained just how upsetting it was to see someone legally delivering sealed legal absentee ballots to an election office, because it was so traumatizing:
I don't know if that person in the video is an illegal alien, a dreamer or a citizen. What I do know is that he was a vulgar, disrespectful, violent thug who has no respect for our laws. I would have followed him to the parking lot to take down his tag number, but I feared for my life.
Again: Everything the guy did was perfectly legal, including telling the gringo to fuck off. Happily, no shots were fired.
But there was no more Voting Rights Act preclearance to get in the way, so in 2016 Arizona passed HB 2023, which made it a felony for anyone to collect another person's mail-in ballot unless they were the voter's relative, household measure, or caretaker.
Elias and other attorneys sued to have HB 2023 overturned, and in January 2020, after years of litigation, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it violated Section 2 of the VRA. The decision noted the widespread furor over the video, and determined that "racial discrimination was a motivating factor" in the law's passage. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit put its ruling on hold until the Supremes could rule on the appeal, leaving the law in effect.
While that case was pending, the 2020 elections got rolling, and in August 2020, Ms. Fuentes delivered those four valid ballots during the state primary election. A Republican who was running for office in San Luis recorded video of Fuentes delivering the ballots, leading to Fuentes's arrest. Because the Supreme Court hadn't yet ruled on HB 2023, her prosecution was put on hold.
In July 2021, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit, ruling that Arizona's law was just peachy, with Samuel Alito writing, "Limiting the classes of persons who may handle early ballots to those less likely to have ulterior motives deters potential fraud and improves voter confidence." Fuentes's case went forward, and in June 2022 she pleaded guilty to one count of "ballot abuse," a felony.
Unfortunately, the real outcome of the case was to reduce the confidence of voters in San Luis. Elias notes that shortly after Fuentes was sentenced in 2022, the New York Times reported that Latino voters there became more fearful of voting, a reasonable response in a state where they're regularly attacked by the Right. Many worry about "receiving a visit from investigators, being monitored by activists or running afoul" of the ballot collection law — and no, there still isn't home mail delivery in San Luis. Mind you, the official rightwing reply to such fears is that no one should be afraid of voting if they aren't breaking the law, so how about we send armed goons to stake out ballot drop boxes.
And so we can look forward to more rightwing paranoia about "ballot harvesting," and more voter suppression laws, because it makes such an irresistible story to the Right.
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How dare you accuse him of what he gloated about over email!
Robert Spindell, a Republican member of Wisconsin's bipartisan elections commission, is really proud of the work he's done to democracy. Not only was he one of the state's fake electors for Donald Trump in 2020 (he's facing multiple lawsuits for that one), but as former Republican Charlie Sykes explains at The Bulwark, Spindell is
one of those ubiquitous figures who shows up at every Lincoln Day dinner, fundraiser, and meetings of the Republican Bowling and Macrame Club. He is also the chairman of the GOP’s 4th congressional district in Milwaukee.
On top of that, Sykes says, Spindell "also, apparently, likes to put things in writing," including an email sent to about 1,700 Fourth District Republicans in which Spindell boasted about the impressive job the state had done in suppressing the vote in Milwaukee, where there are far too many Democrats and far too many people of color, as first reported by Urban Milwaukee.
That email is, even if you've never seen a Duesenberg automobile or a dictionary company's fact check, a doozy:
In the City of Milwaukee, with the 4th Congressional District Republican Party working very closely with the RPW, RNC, Republican Assembly & Senate Campaign Committees, Statewide Campaigns and RPMC in the Black and Hispanic areas, we can be especially proud of the City of Milwaukee (80.2% Dem Vote) casting 37,000 less votes than cast in the 2018 election with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas. [Emphasis added by Sykes in this and other quotes — Dok]
Spindell should be very very proud of the reduced voting in Milwaukee, especially in the "overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas." Was there more? Of course there was, because there is no longer a quiet part with these fucknuggets.
Spindell went on to swoon over his organization's “well thought out multi-faceted plan,” which included:
- “Biting Black Radio Negative Commercials run last few weeks of the election cycle straight at Dem Candidates…
- A substantial & very effective Republican Coordinated Election Integrity program resulting with lots of Republican paid Election Judges & trained Observers & extremely significant continued Court Litigation.”
Also, while he was at it, Sykes notes, Spindell reminded his readers that all that voter suppression did a dandy job of making a close Senate election far less of a concern:
In a Democrat City or Democrat County where up to 80% of the people are voting for the Democrats - that’s a good thing and helped insure that Sen. Johnson got over the goal line.
Urban Milwaukee showed the email to Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler, who was duly impressed by just how sleazy it was.
“Wow,” Wikler said. “That’s as ugly as it gets. I have never seen someone take credit so blatantly for suppressing the vote. We saw the same techniques with the Russian effort to suppress the vote in 2016.”
Lest anyone get the idea this is just one rogue GOP operative taking credit for a perfectly ordinary change in voter behavior, Urban Milwaukee reminds us that a former GOP state Senate staffer said that when Republicans were putting together the state's first voter-ID law back in 2011, they were "giddy" over the prospects for reducing turnout among young and minority voters. And as it turned out, the GOP had good cause for all that gid:
In fact, in the 2016 presidential election, the first one fully effected by the law, there was a 61,000 reduction in the number of voters in Milwaukee, with Neil Albrecht, then the executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, saying that the greatest declines were “in the districts we projected would have the the most trouble with ID requirements.”
So yeah, this has been a long-term project for Republicans, although until fairly recently they've at least made a token effort at sticking to dogwhistles instead of bragging how good they are at suppressing the vote.
Wikler also pointed out that Wisconsin Republicans have taken other actions aimed at making sure 2018's high turnout in Milwaukee wasn't repeated, passing laws and suing to get rid of absentee ballot drop boxes and to reduce early voting from six weeks to two weeks.
But let's not get carried away and call Spindell some sort of racist vote suppressor just because he happened to exult about lower turnout by Milwaukee's minority Democrats. After all, he told the AP he wasn't boasting at all, no sir, and Spindell didn't fold or mutilate any ballots, either.
"I will not stand for that," Spindell said in an interview. "The last thing I want to do is suppress votes."
Spindell said his email was an attempt to detail positive steps Republicans did to counter the Democratic message in Milwaukee.
You see? It was about countering Democratic messaging, is all, and if Democrats stayed home instead of voting, that's not suppression, it's just good messaging, by having lots of poll watchers and sending the message to people in minority communities so they know they're being watched when they vote.
Elsewhere in the email, Spindell called on Republicans to make even greater "messaging" gains:
The Democratic candidates were unable to obtain — even though they really tried hard — the votes they needed, expected and demanded from the Black Community," Spindell wrote. "There is still a great deal of much more concentrated work we need to do in the Black and Hispanic Communities by continuing to show how the Democratic Elected Officials and Candidates are not watching out for the livelihoods of the people who live in these areas and the Republicans can.
We suppose we should congratulate Spindell on somehow avoiding the phrase "Democrat Plantation" there. But it's funny that if his goal was getting minority voters to switch to voting Republican, Spindell portrayed declining minority votes as the victory, not any gains in those communities voting for Republicans. But why try too hard to convince people to choose you when you can just as well tell them to stay home?
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Rarely is the question asked: Is our Republicans learning? Haha, probably not.
We always like to recognize those moments when Republicans do the Right Thing, because positive reinforcement is very important to helping people change their ways. So we'll give Montana state Sen. Keith Regier at least a pat on the head, if not an entire cookie, for having the good sense to drop his plans to introduce a resolution calling on Congress to eliminate Native American reservations and replace them with something else. It might have something to do with the fact that an Associated Press story about his suggestion went viral last week for its WTF-ness, compounded by condemnation by the Montana Lege's American Indian Caucus and no end of ridicule on social media.
As the AP reported last week, the resolution,
riddled with racial stereotypes, is unlikely to pass and would have no practical effect if it did. But it’s causing tensions to surface at the Republican-controlled Montana Legislature that kicked off this week.
Native American lawmakers in the Montana Lege weren't just offended by the resolution's great big pile of stereotypes, which we'll discuss in a moment, but also by the fact that they had to even think about such a stupid proposal at all, as the AP reported, because there are real issues they want to address instead, like
extending the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force for another two years, creating a grant program to train community-based groups to search for missing people and encouraging the state to determine the economic impact of reservations on the state’s economy.
“I hate spending energy and time on this kind of stuff because I feel like it sidetracks us,” state Sen. Shane Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said Thursday. “But at the same time, it clearly signals to me that we have a lot of educational work to do in this state.”
The flatly racist resolution came a couple weeks after a would-be member of the state House, Drew Zinecker, said at a meeting of Lewis and Clark County Republicans that maybe Native Americans should lose their right to vote in Montana elections, Just Asking, "If the reservations want to say they are independent countries … but they want a lot of handouts, why are we counting their ballots?"
Regier told the AP that the resolution had actually been written by Mark Agather, a rightwing activist from Kalispell, near the Flathead Reservation in the western part of the state. The AP notes that Agather "didn’t respond to inquiries from The Associated Press, including on whether he sought input from tribal members."
Ya think? Among the very thoughtful racist claims in the draft resolution, we're told these WHEREASes:
WHEREAS, the Indian reservation system has clearly failed to positively enhance the lives and well being of most of the Indians or the other citizens of the State of Montana; and
WHEREAS, for most of our Indian citizens, the Indian reservation system has produced the negative effects of drug abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, welfare dependence, poverty, and substandard educational achievements, resulting in lack of opportunity for their future well-being and happiness
The draft also claims — contrary to the Supreme Court since roughly forever — that reservations are in fact illegal because they are "based entirely on race," although in mere reality, federal law recognizes tribal membership as a political, not a racial status.
It also says that the reservation system
is a policy conferring "sovereign nation" status to individual tribes inside of the borders of the United States, a policy that is, again, diametrically opposed to the Constitution of the United States
Agather's draft does at least note that federal courts have consistently upheld the reservation system, but that those decisions "have produced confusion, acrimony, and animosity among the general population in the past and at present," and will surely do so in the future, so can't Congress just replace them with something that eliminates tribal sovereignty, thereby saving Native America from itself.
State Sen. Morigeau told The Missoulian that the draft resolution seemed like a "political stunt" to him:
You know, attack the Indians to muster excitement from your base. And if that’s the case, it’s really sad. … Unfortunately, in this political game, people just want attention. It’s disappointing, but we expected this.
In response, Morigeau posted the draft to Facebook and said that he would be "bringing a bill forward this session to require Indian Education for all for legislators." He didn't specify whether the classes would include giving Republican members of the Lege a good dope slap any time they repeated stereotypes.
On Monday, Regier said he would not introduce the draft resolution after all, noting that he'd "had a productive conversation with Sen. Shane Morigeau about it," so hooray for eventually listening to a Native American colleague, although we're not sure how much Regier really understood, since he also said that the draft "was certainly interpreted by some of the press and the public in a way that wasn’t intended."
OK, we aren't even sure about that pat on the head now.
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