Wins For Voters in Louisiana and Wisconsin | Crooked Media
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May 16, 2024
What A Day
Wins For Voters in Louisiana and Wisconsin

In This Episode

  • This week, we saw some big wins in the fight to expand access to the ballot box. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court reinstated a second majority Black congressional district in Louisiana. Earlier in the week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s liberal majority looked poised to overturn a two-year-old decision banning nearly all absentee ballot drop boxes. Still, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice shows voters in more than half the states will face new restrictions on voting that weren’t there four years ago. Kareem Crayton, senior director of voting rights and representation at the Brennan Center, gives us the lay of the land on ballot access heading into November.
  • And in headlines: House Republicans moved to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt after the White House blocked the release of audio of President Joe Biden’s interviews with a special counsel over his handling of classified documents, the Supreme Court rebuffed a conservative-backed effort to challenge the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and an Indiana judge says tacos and burritos are legally sandwiches.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, May 17th, I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What a Day, the show where we can’t tell if the Welch’s company is ruining or honoring our juice box filled childhood memories by introducing their very own line of canned cocktails. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Their signature grape lime flavor is called Vodka Transfusion, and I just need to know if the good people over at Welch’s are okay. We didn’t ask for this. [music break] On today’s show, President Biden invokes executive privilege to keep recordings of his classified documents deposition private. Plus, a judge in Indiana rules that tacos are in fact, sandwiches. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But first, it’s been a big week for ballot access all across the country. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court reinstated, at least temporarily, a second Majority-Black congressional district in Louisiana after roughly two years of legal challenges. It’s not the final say on the Louisiana map, but at the very least, it means that the state cannot draw a different map before the presidential election. It’s a win for Louisiana’s Black voters, especially in a year when ballot access and representation are huge issues ahead of what’s expected to be a very, very close election and not just at the top of the ticket for president. Control of the House and the Senate are also likely to come down to razor thin margins. We know that local elections happen to be decided by small numbers as well. So really, really important. It’s also the first presidential election since Republicans went all in on the big lie that Trump won the election and used it to pass a bunch of restrictive voting laws at the state level all across the country. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. What I’m hearing is that this, at minimum, is good news for Black voters in Louisiana. So–

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I will take that as a win. Where else did we see some good news? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, we also saw some good news in Wisconsin. So earlier this week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard a case challenging a two year old decision to ban nearly all absentee ballot drop boxes in the state. A more conservative version of the court mostly barred their use ahead of the midterm elections. But the court has a new Liberal majority now, and those justices signaled that they will likely overturn that ban. That would mean that voters in Wisconsin could use drop boxes again in the 2024 election. I don’t know about you Tre’vell. I have voted by drop box before. I did it in 2020. Very, very convenient. Highly recommended if it’s available in your area. So big win for the voters of Wisconsin. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. You don’t have to worry about lines. You don’t have to worry about talking to people. You just fill out your little ballot and drop it on in. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Perfect. It’s a cheat code. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I love that. So what is the state of play nationally right now? Because like you said, Republicans have used the big lie to pass lots of state laws that restrict ballot access. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for justice that’s out today, it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. The center says that voters in more than half the states will face new restrictions on voting that weren’t in place ahead of the last presidential election, so that’s not great. A lot of those laws restrict voting by mail. Some states, like South Dakota, created criminal penalties for election workers for making minor mistakes, like if they don’t allow poll watchers enough space to observe the election. But it wasn’t all bad news. The centers report also says that 11 states passed laws expanding access to the ballot this year. Nearly two dozen did so last year, and some states like Arizona, Idaho and Tennessee did both. So they restricted access in some ways, but expanded it in other ways. We’ll put a link to the Brennan Center’s report in our show notes. Ahead of the report’s release, I spoke with Kareem Crayton. He is the senior director of voting rights and representation at the Brennan Center. I started by asking him about Wisconsin and what overturning the state’s near-total ban on absentee ballot drop boxes would mean for voting access in this crucial swing state. 

 

Kareem Crayton: Well, what we know is that over the last few years, Wisconsin has been one of the states that has always been quite competitive politically, but also, while traditionally it had a lot of access to really great ways of getting people engaged in voting, this latest turn has really cut back on the opportunities and ultimately what that means with this turn, if the newly constituted Wisconsin Supreme Court overturns the ban, it really will make more opportunities available for more people to vote. So we think it would actually get things back to what traditionally, Wisconsin has been known for, really being a sort of leader in free and fair elections. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And Republicans have been fighting drop box access in dozens of states since 2020, when they became necessary during the pandemic. That is how I voted in 2020. Big fan of the drop box. Very easy. But who are the people who are most likely to vote this way? And why does expanding voting access seems to make Republicans so nervous? 

 

Kareem Crayton: Well, what we know is that voting is a process that usually takes some time, and the things that you can do to make make voting easier and certainly available for people to use more rapidly at different times of the day makes it easier for people who have work a day jobs that you know are hourly, where you can barely fit things in and just spend the time to actually do the act of voting. If you can drop the completed ballot off, you spend far less time than you have to stand in line and the like. And so it’s going to make more people able to cast ballots, even when, let’s say, they have a really otherwise packed schedule. So it’s really open to a lot of people. Why people are concerned about it, some people, unfortunately, aren’t really excited about adding more people to the electorate, maybe because there’s fear that they’re not going to vote for them. But the view always in democracies is if you’ve got more people in the process, you just have to campaign to get their vote. And some people aren’t very comfortable with that. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: What fights are we seeing around access in other key swing states right now, like Arizona, Nevada and Georgia? You know, all places that we’re watching really closely in the run up to 2024 and November. 

 

Kareem Crayton: There are, you know, laws that are going into effect in a lot of places that make it more difficult to help people to cast ballots. You know, there is currently litigation in places like Georgia that challenge third party support efforts where you can’t give a person water if they’re in the polling place. But in my home state of Alabama, there’s recently a passed law that limits what they would describe as vote harvesting, which is, in fact, for most places that do it, organizations that are really trying to assist people to get absentee ballots, even in the very limited circumstances in places like Alabama where it’s available. So fights like these are happening around the country, they are both in legislatures before this stuff gets enacted. But in many places, organizations around the country, ours included, are working to make sure that when these laws are on the books, and we think that they offend the Constitution that we are suing and holding them accountable in federal court. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We also saw earlier this month a move by Wyoming to purge more than a quarter of its registered voters from the voter rolls. Now, Wyoming is a small state. It’s not particularly up for grabs or considered that way in November. But are we likely to see more states and key states do something similar to this ahead of November? And where do those pushes come from? 

 

Kareem Crayton: Well, it’s hard to predict where these strategies are going to be applied, but certainly we’re in an era now where there’s less oversight for states to have to prove that what they’re doing is justified and that they’re doing it in a way that’s fair and equitable. We will see this happen in even places where, as you say on the national level, there may not be a great question as to who’s going to win the presidential election. Remember, we have ballots that are going to go all the way down, and they’re going to be candidacies where at the local level, this stuff matters. And so we should be on the lookout as we are not just for purges, because that definitely is going to be one strategy. But all of these efforts to go into court and to try to upend the ability of secretaries of state and local election officials to do their job to hold a free and fair election. So a lot of it is unprecedented, but we have to be prepared, as we are at the Brennan Center, to confront it. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Which other efforts to kind of restrict or even expand access are you paying attention to specifically at the moment?

 

Kareem Crayton: We’re taking account of places where people are trying to show up in the court and offering, you know, outlandish theories to try to rethink that. We’re also, of course, confronting in different units questions about misinformation and disinformation, making sure that people are able to get the full and fair information about where to vote, how to vote, and obviously what the candidates positions are on issues. That’s important and a foundational element of what makes a democracy work. So all of that we’re looking at and of course, it comes around the country. We’re certainly expecting to see some of that in competitive states, but we are prepared for it even in places where maybe people aren’t looking right now. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: You published research earlier this year showing that the turnout gap between white and nonwhite voters had widened since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act back in 2013. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what is contributing to the growing gap there? 

 

Kareem Crayton: Well, we, as you said, worked on a study with over a billion data points to try to track nationwide what is happening with this pattern of voter turnout. And we know in political science, voter turnout is affected by a lot of different features socioeconomics, education, where you live and taking all of that into account we were still finding that race accounts for a significant difference in the gap between voters. African-Americans and nonwhite voters tend to trail white voters around the country. But what we found in this piece since 2013, as you point out, that was a really key point when the Supreme Court got rid of section five of the Voting Rights Act, as a practical matter. And what we found is in those places where the act used to apply, the gap got bigger and grew faster in those jurisdictions. And we can say, even taking into account all the different features that affect turnout, that that ruling, the absence of this key protection of the Voting Rights Act accounts for a significant growth in that gap. And that represents over the years that we’ve looked at hundreds of thousands of votes, all of votes that would have been cast by people of color. And that, we think, is a serious threat to democracy when more people who have opinions can’t get access to be able to share those opinions and direct who wins and who should represent us, that’s a problem. And so a lot of that is encouraged by, unfortunately, the passage of new suppressive laws, some of which we’ve been talking about that have been more easily gotten on the books because of the absence of federal oversight. And so that’s what we would say is the quantum of what’s been lost on account of Shelby County versus Holder. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s very easy to see these stories, see this assault on people’s rights and targeted efforts all around the country, and feel overwhelmed and helpless. What can we do at this point to combat these efforts and protect our rights? 

 

Kareem Crayton: Absolutely. Well, the first thing you can do is make your way to a phone, your computer, be in contact with your elected officials. It’s their job to represent your interests. The second thing you can do is make sure you show up at the polls this year and vote. It’s important. And every vote, if you don’t know by now, decisions are made by the smallest of margins. It’s really important to vote. And that leads to the third thing, that absolute thing that you can always do, not just with yourself, but take friends and family. Make sure that they have all the tools necessary to vote. This whole process only works with all the fights that are going on. None of it matters if you can’t make sure that voters and everybody, not just some voters, show up and have their say. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That was my conversation with Kareem Crayton, the senior director of voting rights and representation at the Brennan Center. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you for that, Priyanka. We’re going to get to some headlines. In a moment, but if you like our show, make sure to subscribe and share it with your friends. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break]

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s get to some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: On Thursday, the White House blocked the release of President Biden’s audio recordings with special counsel Robert Hur, who investigated the president for his handling of classified documents. The DOJ announced that Biden claimed executive privilege over those recordings, keeping them from being publicized. In response, the GOP led House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. In his report after the investigation, Hur had described Biden as a, quote, “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory,” and Republicans have been eating that second half up. Keep in mind, Republicans do already have the transcripts of the Biden and Hur conversations from October 2023, but that hasn’t stopped them from pushing for the recordings, which they claim would be more revealing of Biden’s actual demeanor and cognitive stability. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: In some rare good news from the Supreme Court, justices rebuffed a conservative backed effort to challenge the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau was created after the 2008 financial crisis in order to, as the name says, protect consumers. It regulates the prices of goods and services like credit cards, banking accounts, and loan services. A right wing legal group filed a lawsuit claiming that the bureau has too much power and that the Federal Reserve should stop funding it. The CFPB’s funds from the fed come from its profits, not an annual allotment by Congress, which was an attempt to separate the Bureau from political influence. The justices ruled seven to two that the existing funding structure is constitutional and should remain. The bureau issued a statement on Thursday saying, quote, “the Supreme Court has rejected their radical theory that would have devastated the American financial markets.” 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And over in North Carolina, the state’s Senate voted this week to approve a bill that bans wearing face masks in public. And yes, that includes for health reasons. The bill which is called, Unmasking Mobs and Criminals, which– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: It’s wild. So it passed 30 to 15 along party lines. It was a tense debate leading up to the vote, with mostly state Democrats arguing that this risks the health of immunocompromised folks. Face masks have actually been banned in North Carolina since 1953, in case you were wondering. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: But during the pandemic, lawmakers made an exception to that law. How kind of them to allow people to wear masks to protect themselves. And the GOP has been real antsy to get back to those good old days again. This bill was also partly prompted by the recent campus protests, where masked pro-Palestinian demonstrators camped out on university properties. The bill heads to the state’s house next. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: There are all kinds of problems with this. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: It’s wild. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And now for another serious court decision. An Indiana judge ruled on Thursday that tacos and burritos are, quote, “Mexican style sandwiches.” You are probably wondering why are the courts having this food discourse? But it’s actually a very interesting story. So this case centers around a strip mall in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The developer of the mall signed a contract with the county to keep fast food chains like McDonald’s out of the strip. The agreement does, however, allow restaurants that sell made to order food or sandwiches like subway. A local taco restaurant wanted to open up a location at the strip mall. But the county refused and took the issue to court, claiming that the restaurant would violate its agreements with the mall’s developer. But Thursday’s ruling clears the way for the taco shop to do business in the strip mall because their food technically can be considered sandwiches. But Tre’vell, I am going to need your take here. Is a taco actually a sandwich? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I don’t like this. Priyanka. Okay.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Tell me more. Tell me more. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: A taco might technically, if you squint your eyes just the right way, be a sandwich. But you mean to tell me Taco Bell and Subway are the same thing? Come on, stop playing with me. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, okay. That is offensive to Taco Bell. Whatever side of that debate you fall on, it’s offensive either way, [laughter] I am happy that the court made this distinction and allowed the taco restaurant to move in here, so that’s a win. But um, I am asking questions. I do see their logic from a technical perspective. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Well, I’m gonna eat it regardless. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It’s more of a wrap than a sandwich, but I guess a wrap is– 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –Is a sandwich?

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –a sandwich. So fine. It all lathers up. This is what you come to this show for. And those are the headlines. 

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Enter the heated is a taco a sandwich debate, and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And if you are into reading and not just about conservative judicial efforts failing spectacularly like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 

 

[spoken together] And send us some samples, Welches.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Just a little taste okay. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: We got some ad slots on this show. We’re open. Your people should talk to our people. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I used to love a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. So I imagine– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –Delicious. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –this might be. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –black cherry, best flavor.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: You know. [laughing]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I hate it about myself, but it is kind of good. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I know. Right? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: It is kind of good. [music break] What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters, and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Erica Morrison, and our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. 

 

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