'A harbinger of what comes next': In Idaho governor's race, a far-right candidate leans into extremism

Originally published by The 19th

In 2019, just months into her job as Idaho’s lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin posted a photo of herself outside her statehouse office with two men linked to a militia group. Weeks later, she delivered an oath to militia members that is often reserved for state military.

McGeachin’s embrace of extremism would continue: In October 2020, she appeared in a libertarian group’s video against state COVID-19 restrictions, placing a gun on top of a bible. In February, she agreed to a pretaped speech at a conference hosted by the white nationalist Nick Fuentes. This month, McGeachin told an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist that “God calls us to pick up the sword and fight, and Christ will reign in the state of Idaho.”

McGeachin is challenging Gov. Brad Little in Tuesday’s primary for governor, arguing her candidacy better reflects the values of a state where former President Donald Trump received more than 60 percent of the vote in 2020. Idaho has a history of anti-government sentiment, which has gradually created factions within its Republican Party between far-right populists like McGeachin and more traditional conservatives like Little.

Like many GOP candidates across the country, McGeachin has highlighted her opposition to COVID-19 mitigation efforts as well as teachings about racism in schools. But McGeachin has taken these issues further than many in the Republican Party by not only sowing doubt about the 2020 election results but also supporting “state sovereignty” that actively rejects areas of federal government oversight.

Whether McGeachin’s long-shot bid in a crowded primary is successful or not, her attempt to unseat Little has become a flashpoint in the discussion of extremism in state politics — and White women’s role in it.

“What happens on the far right is that there’s a way in which White women are kind of the velvet glove on the iron fist,” said Jessie Daniels, a researcher on extremism and author of “Nice White Ladies.” “They soften in some ways the real brutality of these policies.”

McGeachin, a business owner who was elected lieutenant governor in 2018 after a brief stint away from serving in the statehouse, has campaigned on a platform of challenging the 2020 election. At a campaign rally this month, the 59-year-old described her vision as “protecting individual liberty, defending your health freedom and upholding your constitutional rights.”

“It includes defending Idaho’s state sovereignty, reducing Idaho’s financial dependence on federal dollars and strengthening our economy through the development of our state’s many resources,” she said.

She has also embraced many of the issues propelling the right. At the same campaign rally, McGeachin committed to “fixing” Idaho’s education system, “eradicating” critical race theory — a catch-all phrase used by some Republicans to describe certain lessons about race — and what she calls “other forms of Marxist indoctrination.” Last year, McGeachin announced a task force that would target “indoctrination” in schools. And after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft indicated Roe v. Wade will be overturned, McGeachin called for a special legislative session to end exemptions to abortion that include cases of rape and incest. Such exemptions have been widely supported by conservatives who oppose abortion.

Little, a sheep and cattle rancher, has tried to frame his campaign around cutting taxes and state regulations. But he also signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy this year. In 2020 he signed anti-trans legislation into law.

However McGeachin has also chosen to publicly associate with media personalities who hold views about the pandemic, immigration, elections and race that are outside mainstream conservatism. McGeachin defended her speech at the America First Political Action Conference — hosted by Fuentes, who participated in the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and has denied the Holocaust — by claiming she didn’t know who he is. McGeachin also said she wanted to reach young conservative people.

“There’s a growing number of conservatives, young conservatives all across the country, that are really concerned about the direction that our country is headed,” she told television station KTVB in February.

McGeachin, whose campaign did not return a request for an interview, has also not shied away from other far-right figures. Her May 4 rally was attended by Stew Peters, who has pushed anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and Michelle Malkin, who has been described by the ADL as supportive of white supremacists. Wendy Rogers, an Arizona senator who was censured by fellow state lawmakers in part because she, too, recorded a message for Fuentes’ conference and suggested the hangings of unspecified “traitors,” was also in attendance.

Kelly J. Baker is an author who has studied religion and white supremacist movements. She noted that McGeachin sometimes echoes language used by far-right personalities but can also be ambiguous about it. Trump, who has endorsed McGeachin, took a similar tactic, refusing at times to denounce white supremacists who supported him.

“When she’s speaking at something organized by white nationalists or participating in events with far-right figures, she isn’t disavowing them,” Baker said. “But that kind of ‘winking in that direction’ is a strategy that I think works to get voters who are sympathetic.”

Baker added that McGeachin’s self-described identity as a mother, coupled with being a White woman, may be advantageous to her campaign and has echoes of politicians like Sarah Palin and her bid for vice president more than a decade ago.

“Their rhetoric is still rough, right? And the things they are saying are pretty bombastic and controversial,” Baker said. “But I do wonder if there’s something about gender roles that are working for them — that they’re able to play into this somewhat in a way that White men don’t have the option to.”

Heath Druzin is an Idaho-based journalist who hosts the “Extremely American” podcast covering militia groups and politics. He has reported on McGeachin for years and noted that other far-right women candidates are running campaigns in Idaho, including for lieutenant governor and secretary of state. Many of them have been elected to office before their current bids.

“It’s not that they appeared out of nowhere,” Druzin said. “They have been leaders in the far-right movement in Idaho for a while. But it’s more that the far right just gained a lot more prominence recently, especially with the pandemic. And they were sort of there ready to step into the spotlight.”

In Idaho, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets in both the primary and general election. The fissures between McGeachin and Little started soon after the two were elected. McGeachin would gain acting governor status when Little was out of the state, and several times she used that authority to try to change state policies. Her informal oath to two members of a militia group happened during one such stint.

Some of her administrative actions focused on pandemic measures: In May 2021, McGeachin signed an executive order banning mask mandates. Little rescinded the order and called it an “irresponsible, self-serving political stunt.” Then in October, she signed an executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and testing. Little again quickly rescinded the order.

Druzin said his reporting indicates the effects of COVID-19 restrictions gave far-right movements and its supporters new talking points.

“Without the pandemic, Janice McGeachin might still be running,” he said. “But I think she would be getting a lot less oxygen.”

McGeachin’s campaign is being tracked as one indicator of Trump’s ongoing political power as he eyes a 2024 presidential run. He endorsed her in November, something McGeachin has featured heavily in her promotional materials, including on social media. Trump’s snub of Little has not weakened the incumbent’s public support for the former president — and it may not be hurting him either. Little has a substantial lead over McGeachin in both polling and fundraising.

Jaclyn Kettler, an associate professor of political science at Boise State University, said that while McGeachin’s pandemic-related actions appears to have boosted her popularity, it still may not be enough to best an incumbent.

“She clearly had some strong support, but whether or not that’s enough to mobilize against the incumbent governor, was probably going to be a fairly large task,” Kettler said.

Robert Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, has studied the intersectionality between primaries and extremism. He cautioned against making too many assumptions about what a primary outcome in a state with a history of conservative infighting means for other areas of the country.

“It’s important to put these things in context so that we don’t draw these giant lessons from it,” he said. “We can make an idiosyncratic race this giant national narrative about what is happening in our politics, and sometimes, that’s a little bit of an over interpretation.”

Others see McGeachin’s bid as a possible preview of future election dynamics elsewhere. Melissa Ryan, a consultant who works to combat disinformation and extremism and writes a newsletter on the subject, said gerrymandering, as politicians draw more safe seats for both major parties, could lead to more extreme views from candidates as they don’t have to court voters with as many perspectives. She specified the Republican Party’s gerrymandering tactics.

“I think it’s really important to point out that what’s happening in Idaho is happening in races all across the country, everywhere from city council to U.S. Senate,” she said. “The trend is going to get worse before it gets better.”

And it’s not just American politics. Daniels noted the gradual political rise of other far-right women in countries like France, where the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen lost against President Emmanuel Macron in April but by a smaller margin than her previous attempt in 2017. Le Pen took a more moderate approach this time, focusing on economic issues. It’s possible more women with extreme views outside of mainstream conservatism will pick up the mantle. Daniels recommended people hold their elected officials accountable when that happens.

“I think that the Idaho governor’s race is really going to be a harbinger of what comes next on the national and international stage,” she said.

What happens if officials who run elections think they’re rigged?

Originally published by The 19th

Tina Peters says she was just looking into potential election fraud. Prosecutors say the county election official in western Colorado was involved in an illegal election security breach.

Even as she faces criminal charges, Peters is continuing to spread falsehoods about the integrity of the 2020 election, which experts have said was the most secure in U.S. history. She’s doing so as she runs for the Republican nomination for Colorado secretary of state. Peters is among candidates in more than a dozen states, overwhelmingly Republicans, who are running for top election posts and also have shared baseless skepticism about the accuracy of America’s election system.

These candidates and current elected officials who have embraced debunked myths about the 2020 election raise concerns about the potential for future insider threats to election integrity. While this type of threat is still rare, it’s particularly troubling when local election officials like Peters take up these false ideas because they have power over day-to-day election operations and how ballots are counted, according to one author of a report released Wednesday on partisanship and election officials.

“Those are the individuals that actually have the kind of proverbial keys to the kingdom,” said Matt Weil with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates around several issues including bipartisan policy solutions for elections administration. “They’re overseeing the actual voting apparatus. They touch the ballots. They count the ballots.”

For now, insider threats from election officials are very uncommon, said David J. Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works with election officials from both major parties to ensure elections run smoothly. Only a handful of cases involving election workers have emerged, including in a different Colorado county and one in Michigan.

“It’s not so much that we’ve just put our faith and trust in people to do the right thing. It’s that that faith and trust has been well earned,” he said. “And as it turns out, nearly 100 percent of them are incredibly noble and dedicated public officials. We can literally name the people who aren’t.”

Wednesday’s report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the group Election Reformers Network examines how most of America’s election officials are chosen through partisan elections or picked by members of political parties — a system that has traditionally relied on people to run elections ethically and without favoring party affiliation. That setup is now ripe for future problems if more people who believe the country’s elections aren’t free and fair win local and state election positions or are appointed to related roles.

Already, some local election boards tasked with double-checking voting results are being filled with people who are expressing partisan views about elections. Elsewhere, local boards of elections are being replaced with conspiracy theorists and Republican-led legislatures are attempting to appoint themselves to help oversee elections.

Among the Bipartisan Policy Center’s recommendations:

  • Codifying ethical norms that would prohibit activities like election officials openly endorsing or campaigning for candidates. More standardized policies could also set expectations for election offices, such as election experience or certification.
  • Reconsidering the use of elections to select election officials. One idea is nominating commissions sometimes used to select judges.
  • Reducing the “privileged status” of the Democratic and Republican Parties by incorporating other stakeholders in the election process; codifying bipartisan collaboration between parties at all levels of election administration; and implementing neutral tiebreakers in evenly split bodies to ensure no advantages in the system.

Weil said the recommendations are intentionally broad.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every state,” he said.

The recommendations come as money pours into Democratic and Republican secretary of state races that were once considered low-key administrative offices but are now at the center of the fight over voting rights.

Trump, who attempted to overturn election results that showed President Joe Biden defeated him in 2020 and who is weighing another bid for office, has also drawn attention to some of these races. He has endorsed several candidates for attorney general and secretary of state — key positions that may be involved in addressing disputed election results around the country in the 2024 presidential election.

In Colorado, the Democratic-led statehouse is advancing legislation that aims to more immediately address the issues raised by Peters’ alleged security breach — which state officials say included accessing hard drive images of equipment. The bill would add security requirements for voting equipment and require that county clerks and other staff receive training.

A provision that would have banned election workers from “knowingly or recklessly” making false statements about elections was removed.

Democrat Jena Griswold, Colorado’s current secretary of state who is seeking reelection, has been vocal in fact-checking election misinformation and disinformation that continues to stem from the 2020 election. She has highlighted Peters’ case in campaign materials and is advocating a package of election security bills.

“The big lie has morphed into a big threat to our democracy,” Griswold said. “Whether it’s what happened in Mesa County, fake audits, insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists running to be chief election officers, we are seeing a coordinated attack on democracy which has been fueled by the extreme right insiders trying to tilt future elections in their favor.”

A judge last year removed Peters’ authority to oversee the 2021 elections. Last month, Peters was indicted on seven felony charges and three misdemeanor charges related to the alleged security breach. The felony charges include attempting to influence a public servant and conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation. She has denied all wrongdoing. A co-worker, Belinda Knisley, has pleaded not guilty to six charges. Both are expected back in court in late May.

Peters appeared Tuesday at a rally outside of the state Capitol where she continued to push debunked conspiracy theories about elections. In a statement, she doubled down on her claims.

“I am running for Colorado Secretary of State to restore trust and confidence in the people’s vote,” she told The 19th.

Becker said Peters’ case shows the current checks and balances worked because her alleged actions triggered charges. While he understands why Colorado might consider adding additional security protocols, he also hopes more states consider comprehensive protections for workers who have reported increasing instances of harassment and threats of violence. His group has established a legal defense network that has been helping election workers seeking legal advice and representation. Some states are considering new protections to ensure the safety of election workers, many of whom are women and make up a mix of full-time and part-time workers.

“That is another area — protection of election officials — where we might want to consider additional policies,” he said. “Because it looks like law enforcement doesn’t have the tools it needs.”

Weil with the Bipartisan Policy Center said policymakers and the public have relied on most people acting in good faith and respecting democratic norms. He worries that is not guaranteed going forward.

“The risk is now real,” he said. “And it’s not going to go away on its own.”

What happens when you have an all-women city council? New Mexico is about to find out.

Originally published by The 19th

At city hall in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a wall of photographs displays the faces of elected city council members. Come January, the photos will all be of women.

Becky Corran’s face will be new on the wall, as will that of Becki Graham. They’ll join Yvonne Flores, who won reelection in November, and three other women who were not up for election this year. The Las Cruces City Council, for the first time ever, will be all women.

Technically the chair of the council is the mayor, and opposite the wall of city council members is another wall of photographs revealing that only men have served as mayors in Las Cruces.

“It makes me think about how representation matters, and if there were one woman on that wall, what would it mean,” said Corran, who will be sworn in Monday along with the members starting new four-year terms. “That there will be all women on the wall on the other side — it’s going to be really exciting.”

Las Cruces, a city of roughly 100,000 people in the southern part of the state, has a long to-do list of policy issues around the pandemic, the economy and general equity. How an all-women city council might address them is yet to be determined. But the fact that it joins a short list of all-women or nearly all-women governing bodies is a sign of how underrepresented women remain at all levels of government.

“I think that I’m coming into it with this idea that, as cliche as it may sound, maybe this is going to be a space where leaders are more willing to listen to one another,” said Becki Graham, the other newly elected councilor. “To take the time to consider things outside of the traditional power hierarchy, if that makes sense.”

Councilor Johana Bencomo agreed that they will have the power to do things in new and distinct ways.

“I just think that our approach to some of the things that really matter to Las Cruces will be inherently different, and honestly, I think more compassionate,” she said.

The Las Cruces council seats are nonpartisan, but councilors lean Democrat. The new councilors will replace people from similar ideological backgrounds. Before the November election, women and people of color already made up the majority of the council.

Research on women-led governments shows that party affiliation instead of gender is a greater indicator of policy action. But on the local level, it’s more of a mixed bag.

Mirya Holman, an associate professor of political science at Tulane University who has written extensively about women in municipal government, said a “critical mass” of women’s representation on a council is among the key indicators for policy change that centers on what she described as “urban women’s issues” — children, education, affordable housing, social welfare and domestic violence. She said early women’s community activism can be traced back to these policy areas, and many of these issues are still intertwined with local government intervention. The presence of more women on a council can also be motivating to the public.

“You have the potential for members of the community to perceive the council as different, and thus be more willing to approach council members about their problems,” she said. “So there’s tons of ways where you might have the potential for some changes to occur.”

But Holman cautioned that existing power structures in local governments, which vary depending on the city or county, can impact what local officials are able to get done. She noted that cities tend to give preference to economic development issues, which can then affect other policy priorities.

Women hold 30.5 percent of municipal offices nationwide, including mayoral offices, city councils and other similar bodies, according to data released earlier this year that shows similar representation limitations in state and federal offices. It makes all-women or nearly all-women governing bodies — and the sexism they face — all the more noteworthy.

Becky Corran poses for a portrait.Becky Corran

(Courtesy of CTE Becky Corran)

In 2015, after women won a majority on city council in Austin, Texas, officials at the time approved training for city staff on how to respond to a more gender-diverse council. The training warned city staff that women do not like math and ask a lot of questions. Women council members later held a news conference to call out the sexist training.

Holman said Austin’s training fiasco, which led to apologies from city officials, was flawed from the beginning because it implied that such training to address more women on a council was even needed.

“There’s never, ‘Oh, how do we deal with all of these men?’” she said. “Instead, it’s always like, ‘Oh, this strange set of women, we don’t know what to do with this.’”

The earliest known example of an all-women governing body in America was recorded in 1887 in the city of Syracuse, Kansas, when an all-woman city council was elected to serve with a man mayor. One year later, residents in the city of Oskaloosa, Kansas, elected an all-woman city council who served with a woman mayor.

In 1920, the city of Yoncalla on the western side of Oregon voted in an all-woman city council, including a woman leading it. The mayor-elect reportedly promised: “We intend to study conditions and do all in our power to give Yoncalla a good, efficient government. At the worst, we can’t do much worse than the men.”

A handful of other all-women governing bodies have popped up from time to time since then. One of the latest examples is in Asheville, North Carolina, where six women and a woman mayor have served on the city council since late 2020.

Esther Manheimer, the mayor of Asheville, told The 19th that it’s hard to definitively measure how the gender makeup of the council has impacted their work. The council this year approved a budget that included eight weeks of paid parental leave and six weeks of paid family leave for city employees, but Manheimer noted that North Carolina gives its city councils limited jurisdiction on policy decisions about health, education and child care.

Manheimer said while she’s not close to everyone serving on the council, some members share personal details about their lives in the course of their work. She thinks that brings them closer together, and in turn has an effect on their policymaking.

“When you have those closer relationships, it’s easier to talk to one another,” she said. “It’s easier to work through challenging situations and tough decisions.”

Organizers in New Mexico politics said that the state has been gradually investing in women candidates and that it has had a direct impact on representation on the local level. Women make up the state’s entire congressional delegation, and they have majority representation in the House chamber of the state legislature. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is one of only nine women governors in the country.

Johana Bencomo poses for a portrait.Johana Bencomo

(Courtesy of Johana Bencomo)

Jessica Velasquez, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said local government, including city councils and county commissions, have a very immediate impact on people’s day-to-day lives and serve as a pipeline for higher office. She watched November election returns alongside her 12-year-old.

“Watching my daughter’s face light up when she heard that Las Cruces had elected an all-woman city council for the first time in history … the look of inspiration and happiness on her face said it all for me,” she said.

Las Cruces has used ranked-choice voting since the city council approved an ordinance in 2018. The system — which allows residents to pick multiple candidates by preference — has been credited with helping women and people of color candidates because it’s less likely to create false choices amongst diverse candidates. Preliminary research shows women and people of color candidates win in higher numbers under a ranked-choice voting system.

At least three women on the Las Cruces city council are alums of the New Mexico chapter of Emerge, a national organization that recruits Democratic women to run for office and has been attributed with pipeline candidates building in communities including Boston. Sondra Roeuny, executive director of Emerge New Mexico, said she doesn’t think these things happen by accident.

“The work that we do to help recruit, train and continue to support women and nonbinary individuals run for office — and when — really matters for what comes down the pipeline,” she said. “It matters for the policies. It matters for what gets discussed.”

Corran, the first out queer person to be elected to the council, said it was incredibly important that Emerge encouraged her to run for public office.

“I never really pictured myself as someone in politics. I think being a queer woman, being a woman, that meant a lot of barriers that I had constructed. Like, ‘Oh, people are going to look at me and see me and it will hurt,’ basically,” she said. “I think I had constructed a lot of those things in my mind.”

That fact that all-women governing bodies aren’t more common is a result of the realities of running for office, Holman said.

“Networks of power are self-reproducing, and generally exclude anybody that’s not a White man. That applies at the national level, that applies in state politics, and that applies at the local level,” she said. “It’s not that nobody can get into those networks of power — women frequently do, people of color do, women of color do — but we haven’t seen this sort of whole-scale transformation of what those networks of power might look like.”

Still, Bencomo is hopeful about what Las Cruces’ nearly all-women city council signifies. She said women, particularly women of color, have been key political organizers in the state, and she attributes it to more public support for issues like increasing the minimum wage.

“I really do feel like it’s been a lot of grassroots power-building that has allowed for people who never traditionally saw themselves in leadership positions to take ownership of it and represent their communities,” she said.

Cops keep arresting Black women elected officials

When Attica Scott saw the news that Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon had been arrested at the state Capitol while protesting voting restrictions, it quickly brought Scott back to the fall.

Scott, herself a Black woman lawmaker in the Kentucky legislature and author of a police accountability bill in honor of Breonna Taylor, was arrested in September during a Black Lives Matter protest following the news that no police officers would be charged criminally for the death of the 26-year-old emergency room technician.

“This is what happens to us as Black women, time and time again, who are in elected leadership," Scott said.

A growth in Black women's representation in statehouses and other levels of government in recent years — powered in part by community activists seeking more legislative action to address racial and gender inequities — has increased their political power. Black women elected officials often are the ones who challenge policies over issues like police killings, racist monuments and voting restrictions. It has also led to increasingly visible resistance, with several Black women being arrested or facing criminal charges in the midst of their work in statehouses or in their communities.

Black women elected officials who have been on the receiving end say it's an effort to silence them.

“We're seen by law enforcement, we're seen by other elected officials, as vulnerable. But we're also seen as people who carry respect and support from our communities," said Scott, whose charges related to her arrest were later dropped. “When they arrest us, it's to send a message to our communities that we can come for the very people that you put in offices to speak for you and to be your voice."

In Atlanta on Thursday, Cannon knocked on the door of the office of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to protest his signing of a sweeping law that includes restrictions on mail-in voting. The video and photos that circulated of Cannon showed state troopers taking her away, her arms behind her back.

L. Louise Lucas in Virginia watched video of the arrest and, like Scott, also was brought back to last summer. That's when the state senator was charged with a felony in connection with the partial dismantling of a Confederate monument months earlier. Lucas decided to turn herself in to the sheriff's office after she was served with a warrant for her arrest to make sure law enforcement would be unable to physically put handcuffs on her.

“It was pretty much a flashback for me," Lucas said. “It's just another example of how the system treats Black women who finally get into a position to be a voice for constituents and how there's such a concerted effort to try to silence our voices."

The imagery is also not new. In 2018, then-state Sen. Nikema Williams — now a member of the U.S. House from the seat formerly held by civil rights leader John Lewis — was also arrested at the Georgia Capitol after she joined a protest inside the rotunda over voting access. Like Cannon, Williams was taken away by law enforcement officers, detained with her arms behind her back.

Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta) is arrested by capitol police during a protest over election ballot counts.Georgia state Sen. Nikema Williams is arrested during a protest at the state Capitol building on November 13, 2018.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

There is a significance to these arrests, which extend beyond statehouses, said Jennifer Driver of the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), which works with state lawmakers to pass what the group describes as progressive public policy. Olivia Pearson, a Black woman city commissioner in the town of Douglas, Georgia, has been arrested twice in connection with helping people trying to vote.

“Black women repeatedly put their physical and their mental space on the line to protect some form of democracy for this country," Driver said. “Regardless, white supremacy still can be upheld."

Nadia Brown is an associate professor of political science at Purdue University who studies Black women's politics, intersectionality, gender and politics. She said there are parallels to the history of Black women fighting for voting rights, including activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who was arrested in 1963 and beaten.

“Thank God this didn't happen to Representative Cannon, but it was a very essential reminder that Black women's bodies are a site for state-sponsored violence," Brown said.

Krystal Leaphart is operations and policy associate of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women). The organization partnered with SiX for a report released this month that showed while Black women remain underrepresented in statehouses, their numbers hit new records every year. There are 39 Black women in the Georgia legislature, the most of anywhere in the country. But most state lawmakers around the country are still White and male.

“To most people in those positions, seeing so many Black women rise up is a little intimidating," said Leaphart, also a Black woman. “It's not the norm, but the norm hasn't been working for us."

Scott in Kentucky said it shows that there must be more efforts from elected officials to protect Black women and protest rights.

“You become a target because you dare to speak out for justice, you dare to do what Congressman Lewis called us to do, which is get in good trouble. You dare to demand accountability and transparency from even the highest offices of government in your state," Scott said. “Then what happens is you get retaliated against. You get unjustly arrested, and it's a form of intimidation, not only of you, but of the people you represent."

Last November, a judge dropped charges against Lucas in Virginia. Lucas, the highest-ranking Black woman legislative leader in the Virginia statehouse, said she and other Black woman elected officials will not be intimidated by the actions of law enforcement.

“We will not be silenced," she said. “It doesn't make any difference how many times they try to arrest us, we're going to continue to speak out for what's right."

Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta) is placed in handcuffs by Georgia State Troopers.Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon is placed in handcuffs by Georgia troopers at the Capitol on March 25, 2021.

(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Hours after her arrest, Cannon posted on Twitter that she had been released from jail. On Friday, the National Black Justice Coalition, a major civil rights group, demanded that charges against Cannon be dropped.

Cannon did not respond to a request for comment from The 19th on Friday, but she wrote in a Facebook post that she was seeking privacy for herself and her family “as I heal from this experience, so that I may continue this fight again."

In the post, Cannon added that she would continue to oppose the legislation that led to her arrest.

“I will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened across this state, the state I swore an oath to represent with integrity, honesty, and respect for the millions of people who live and work in this community," she wrote.

Originally published by The 19th

Republican claims lack of election confidence due to Trump's lies is the 'ultimate voter suppression'

On March 8, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed this bill into law.

Under the law:

  • The number of early voting days in the state will be cut, from 29 to 20 days.
  • Polls will close one hour earlier during primary and general elections, at 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
  • Absentee ballots must be returned by the close of the polls on Election Day. The current system allowed ballots to be counted days later as long as they were postmarked before Election Day.
  • Each county can have only one ballot drop box.
  • Local election officials face felony charges if they violate provisions of the law.
  • There will be new limitations on who can return a person's absentee ballot to an election office.

Republican state legislators in Iowa, embracing false and dangerous claims about voter fraud, are fast-tracking a bill that would add restrictions to early and absentee voting.

While the exact proposals are still being debated, the legislation is expected to reduce the number of early voting days, limit when election officials can mail absentee ballot request forms to voters, and limit the use of drop boxes for completed ballots.

Nearly 1.7 million of Iowa's roughly 3.1 million residents voted in the 2020 election, a record. More than 1 million of them voted absentee, another record. The voter turnout helped Iowa Republicans expand their majorities in the statehouse and flip two of the state's four congressional districts.

Iowa Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, one of the bill's sponsors, defended the bill during a public hearing on Monday, saying that while the November election ran well, people don't trust the U.S. election system. Kaufmann did not acknowledge that the public mistrust has been fueled by the false narrative from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans that the election was stolen. Fact checkers have rated this false, and the federal government called the November 3 election “the most secure in American history."

“The ultimate voter suppression is a very large swath of the electorate not having faith in our election systems, and for whatever reason, political or not, there are thousands upon thousands of Iowans that do not have faith in our election systems," he said.

Iowa, where the Republican Party plans to hold the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in 2024, is among a handful of states with Republican-led statehouses that are quickly advancing bills that experts warn will make it harder to vote. Many of the bills are based on false accusations of voter fraud in the November election, often tied to urban Black voters in swing states.

In Georgia, lawmakers have introduced a sweeping bill that would add restrictions to early voting, including new ID requirements to vote by mail. In Arizona, a bill would allow the legislature to overturn the results of a presidential election.

The Brennan Center for Justice is keeping track of voting bills moving through state legislatures and estimates that, as of early February, at least 36 states have introduced, prefiled or carried over more than 165 bills that they describe as “restrictive."

Iowa Republicans passed the bill in the state Senate on Tuesday, one week after filing it. They were scheduled to vote on it in the state House on Wednesday.

During one of the first votes on the Iowa legislation last week, a Republican lawmaker promoted debunked conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud.

“I think myself that Iowans' votes were disenfranchised by some shady dealings in five cities around the country that I think shows what happens when you don't strengthen your election system, when you allow people to game elections to the point that they did in cities such as Philadelphia," Sen. Jason Schultz said ahead of a subcommittee vote Wednesday.

The new election bill, first made public on February 16, would add restrictions on when election officials can mail absentee ballot request forms to voters. It would also limit drop boxes to one per Iowa county. Another proposal would criminally charge local election officials who violate the bill if it becomes law. Legislators are also considering earlier times for closing polls and requiring absentee ballots to be returned.

A current version of the bill would reduce the number of days that people can vote early in Iowa from 29 days to 18 days. Kaufmann has defended the change by saying it puts Iowa more in line with the national average.

Lia Merivaki, an assistant professor of American politics at Mississippi State University, said the shortened early voting will not address purported concerns about election integrity.

“In terms of say, reducing voter fraud, it is not clear how this policy reaches the goal," she said in an email.

Iowa used to have one of the longest early voting periods in the country. In 2017, the new Republican-controlled legislature passed a voter ID bill that reduced the period from 40 days to the current 29 days.

The Iowa State Association of County Auditors, which represents the local officials who help administer elections in the state, opposes the bill.

Ryan Dokter, president of the association and an election official in northwest Iowa, said during virtual testimony last week that the shortened early voting period: “Increases staffing needs for the counties over time, and also creates opportunities for mistakes."

Kaufmann said on Monday that Republicans plan to send the measure to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday. Reynolds told reporters last week that she was open to reviewing the bill.

A spokesman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request from The 19th for comment.

Originally published by The 19th

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