Guest: Grace Chimene, President, TX League of Women Voters on alarming mid-term primary ballot rejection rate; Also: Biden announces 'first tranche' of Russian sanctions in response to 'invasion'...
By Brad Friedman on 2/22/2022, 6:22pm PT  

On today's BradCast: The greatest threat to autocracy is, of course, democracy. Which is why, I believe, Vladimir Putin is now threatening Ukraine and why Republicans in this country are (successfully) attacking the right to vote itself. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]

On Ukraine today, we share the latest in the increasingly dangerous standoff that threatens to spark all out war in Eastern Europe, unlike anything seen since WWII. That, on the heels of Putin's increasingly militaristic and bellicose pronouncements and his unilateral declaration on Monday that two Russia-backed, separatist-controlled regions in the eastern part of Ukraine are now independent "republics" that Russian troops may enter (invade) at will, in defiance of international law.

In response to the increased aggression, and in hopes of staving off a full-scale invasion, the U.S. and some 27 European Union members have begun to institute a series of sanctions, including Germany's announcement that they are halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a lucrative project for Russia which they had spent years working to open.

In Washington today, President Biden offered brief remarks which we share, decrying the Russian President for "carving out a big chunk of Ukraine" in defiance of international law, even as Biden remains hopeful that diplomacy is still possible. At the same time, however, he announced what he described as the "first tranche" of economic sanctions against Russian financial institutions, as well as several elites and their family members, with much more to come if a full scale invasion is launched.

There is, of course, much discussion and debate about all of this, with experts and pundits choosing up sides and offering explanations for Putin's behavior. The U.S. and EU and NATO certainly play a part in this potentially lethal failure of post-WWII, post-Cold War European diplomacy. But the point for now that rings most true, at least to me, was cited today by the WaPo Editorial Board arguing that Putin's "true reason for targeting Ukraine is not Russian national security but to preserve his own power in Moscow, which would be threatened by a successful democratic experiment in a former Soviet republic of Ukraine’s size and cultural importance."

Yes, authoritarians hate democracy. It's as simple as that. Which is why we've seen, in this country of late, so many voter suppression laws adopted by GOP-controlled states in the wake of Donald Trump's loss in 2020 and his false, evidence-free claims that the election was stolen from him through some sort of "fraud".

We've covered --- and warned about --- the many new voting restrictions adopted by Republican-controlled states and legislatures since 2020 for months. Now we are finally seeing how those new suppression laws are having a direct and disastrous effect on actual elections, beginning with Texas, which is the first state to hold its primaries for the 2022 mid-terms, next Tuesday.

With new restrictions on absentee voting --- in one of the most difficult states to vote by mail already! --- an extraordinarily high percentage of absentee ballot applications have been rejected in recent weeks in the state's most populous counties. Many of the rejected applications --- more than 30% in Houston's Harris County --- were due to the new, and at times impossible, requirements to include identifying information that exactly matches that on the voter's record, even if they registered to vote decades ago and have no clue whether they included a drivers license number or a social security number or no number at all at the time.

But of those who are able to finally get an absentee ballot, the rejection rates, so far, of actual ballots in advance of next week's Election Day are stunning. 35% of ballots are being rejected in Harris County, the state's most populous (and most African-American); 26% of mail-in ballots in Dallas County; and 25% of ballots are being nixed in Collins County, just north of Dallas.

We're joined today by GRACE CHIMENE, President of the League of Women Voters of Texas, to explain what is going on in the Lone Star State; why it's going on; whether Republicans (whose voters are also being suppressed, if not in as large numbers) have any concerns about what is going on; and what, if anything, can be done about any of it in time for next Tuesday or, at the very least, before this November, when the number of voters --- and rejected applications and ballots --- will be much much higher unless the state's SB1 law is amended or blocked by the courts.

Chimene cites Texas officials who declared the 2020 election as "a very safe and secure election." Nonetheless, she notes, "the officials and the politicians who are writing these bills were the ones who won during the election. And it was safe and secure. So, really, I don't think they thought of this SB1 voter suppression bill, I don't think they thought of these ideas themselves. I think they came from someplace else and they were pushed out trying to meet somebody else's agenda of suppressing the vote even further here in Texas."

Election officials are now barred from informing eligible voters that they may vote by mail and, even when their applications or ballots are rejected, they are forced to be circumspect about why. Chimene explained that eventually officials were allowed to send a postcard to notify voters about rejected applications, but "what they don't tell them is where the mistake was in their application. They're not being told why the application was rejected, they're just notified that it was a rejected application." Notifying voters of rejected BALLOTS has been similarly fraught. "It's just a mess," the longtime non-partisan voting advocate tells us.

Chimene says that she "was hoping for some federal help, through federal legislation, such as updating the Voting Rights Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and it was so disappointing that that didn't happen." She calls out Texas Republicans for targeting voters and federal law enforcement for an inadequate response to it: "The issue is, who do they want to vote in the election, and how can they stop it? And it's just very disheartening to see this happening and that there's no help coming from the federal government."

What is now happening, in alarming numbers in Texas, Chimene explains, is "a way to stop people who have been voting for a very long time, very successfully, very securely and safely, and now they're unable to participate in the democracy. It's just bad news for democracy."

We seem to have quite a bit of that today...And not just in Texas...

CLICK TO LISTEN OR DOWNLOAD SHOW!...

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