Progressives Every Day: Lots of news for people who like voting news

And some shocking stats

Happy Monday!

In case you need some more evidence in a Facebook debate with someone who believes Donald Trump’s claims about voter fraud in mail-in elections, we published this piece at Observer today. Voter fraud is very rare, and as it turns out, it’s even rarer in mail-in elections.

Two poverty shockers:

Leading the news today is a truly surprising discovery: If you give poor people money, they tend to be less poor.

Two news studies of the federal government’s coronavirus stimulus programs — namely the $1200 checks sent to many Americans and the beefed-up unemployment benefits provided to jobless citizens — significantly curbed the expected devastating impact of the COVID-19 shutdown. Here are the pertinent numbers, via NYT, emphasis mine:

The Columbia group’s midrange forecast has poverty rising only slightly this year to 12.7 percent, from 12.5 percent before the coronavirus. Without the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act … it would have reached 16.3 percent, the researchers found. That would have pushed nearly 12 million more people into poverty.

In a separate study, analyzing Census Bureau survey data, found that incomes rose among needy Americans in April, despite cresting unemployment, as government payments began.

They estimate that poverty in April and May fell to 8.6 percent for the previous 12 months, from 10.9 percent in January and February. (They use a different census definition of poverty than the Columbia group.)

None of this should come as a shock to anyone, but I’m willing to bet that some lawmakers are going to be a bit surprised by the stark, obvious math here. After 40 years of conservatives slashing government services in deference to trickle-down economics, even most Democrats are trained to avoid direct payments and investment at all costs. They largely stick to proposing expensive, complicated bureaucratic programs and tax schemes that provide credits and refunds that offer far less help to the people who actually need it. Then let the infrastructure rot until Republicans can either eliminate it or sabotage it until it’s fully irrelevant and useless.

See what’s happening with Florida’s unemployment system, for instance. The state has the stingiest weekly allowance ($275) and the nation’s shortest benefit period (12 weeks) and the laws governing extensions make it both hard to hit the triggers and too far away to be effective during this crisis. Compounding that problem is the absolute disaster that is the application process, which former Gov. Rick Scott intentionally mucked up to keep people from getting help.

This story, in Florida Today, outlines some of the frustration and desperation being felt by out-of-work Floridians right now. The state won’t call them back, benefits aren’t being delivered, and outside vendors can only assist in certain areas. The premium $600 topper on unemployment benefits will expire in just over a week and many people haven’t gotten their first check yet.

Here’s a typical story, from early last week:

“This is a real issue that needs a proactive response,” said Tonya Olson.

A registered physical therapist, Olson had to put her small business on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She says she has now waited more than 90 days to receive full benefits, after months of jumping through one DEO hurdle after the next.

Republicans in Congress refuse to consider extending the unemployment benefit topper, and if that doesn’t change, prepare to see a lot more devastation and a cratering recession.

Oh, and speaking of purposefully evil governance in Florida:

Good news for voters in Michigan:

With one of the most egregious Republican gerrymanders in the country making it impossible for Democrats to flip either chamber of the Michigan legislature in 2018, progressives focused on a more long-term solution: independent redistricting. Voters, clearly sick of having their votes not count, turned out in droves and approved a ballot initiative that proposed creating an independent council of citizens that will draw legislative and congressional lines. The proposal got bipartisan support, passing 61-39, and is now enshrined as an amendment to the Michigan constitution.

Republicans, not interested in respecting the will of voters, immediately went on the attack. Just as the GOP legislature spent the rest of 2018 passing last-minute laws to limit incoming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s power, Republicans asked a federal court to invalidate the redistricting amendment approved by an overwhelming majority.

We’ve seen the federal judiciary go the wrong way on a lot of voting rights issues of late, but here, both a district and Circuit ruled against the Republicans. In 2021, gerrymandering in Michigan should be a thing of the past.

In other good Michigan voting news, a judge declined to stop Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from sending voters absentee ballot applications for both the primary and general election.

Looming disaster in Kentucky?

Kentucky will hold its primary election tomorrow, offering voters just 200 polling sites instead of the 3700 that the state usually provides due to the coronavirus pandemic. The shortage will be particularly pronounced in the districts where most of the state’s Black voters live, including Jefferson County in Louisville, which will have just one site despite being home to half the state’s Black voters. With state officials are predicting record turnout, there’s a good chance it’s going to be a mess — just how big a mess will depend on a few factors.

In Jefferson County, which has 600,00 registered voters, 218,404 voters requested absentee ballots as of Monday and over 7,000 voted early last week. Nearly 100,000 of those absentee ballots were already completed and returned. Josh Douglas, an election law and voting rights professor at the University of Kentucky, suggests that about 300,000 of the county’s registered voters will wind up voting when all is said and done and that perhaps 25,000 of those voters will have cast their ballots on Monday.

That leaves about 50,000 people to vote on Tuesday at that one (large) poll site. It ain’t great, but it is still far different than the headlining 600,000-to-one number making the rounds.

As for the rest of the state, it seems as if a similar situation is playing out. As of Monday, nearly a million Kentuckians either requested an absentee ballot or voted early. While reports about problems with the absentee ballots have surfaced, the state said it had received 503,400 ballots back as of Monday, with many more to come.

Give Kentucky — which has a Democratic governor — credit for proactively providing absentee ballots and weeks of early voting. It’s not going to be nearly enough, especially for Black voters as well as the disabled and people without permanent addresses at the moment, but hopefully, it eliminates the worst-case scenarios and the state looks nothing like Georgia did a few weeks ago.

We’re voting in New York tomorrow, too:

This is quirky:

I just got my absentee ballot in the mail this afternoon. I’m not sure why the state has to wait forever to start counting absentee ballots, but I’m glad that mine will definitely be counted so long as I get off my butt and put it in the mailbox early tomorrow.

We have a number of big primaries here in NY tomorrow, so we are in for a weird few weeks… not that the last four months have been in any way normal.

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