Thursday, February 2, 2023

Electionline Weekly February-2023

Legislative Updates

Arizona: A House committee has passed a measure that would require the secretary of state to recuse themselves from running certain portions of an election, if they are also on the ballot. Republican Rachel Jones is the bill’s sponsor. “I think the optics of that of a secretary of state running their own election for governor and then certifying that election was a major concern to some of my constituents, and that is why I put forth this bill,” Jones said. But voting advocates and Democrats don’t see the same concern. They say that no other state has any such requirement, and that this bill is a solution in search of a problem. The bill was ultimately approved 7-3, with one Democrat voting to support it along with the panel’s Republican members.

House Bill 2378 would bar election officers or employees who oversee a significant portion of an election from joining a political action committee. House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said the bill was an attempt to ensure election officials don’t influence the outcome of the races they are in charge of. The bill was unanimously approved by all 10 committee members, with Democrats adding the caveat that the bill needed work to pass muster later.

Early ballot signature verification was also targeted. House Bill 2322 would allow observers appointed by each party to be present during signature verification and give them the ability to challenge the decisions of election workers at polling places, voting centers and other counting facilities. Signature verification on early ballots became a tenet of election conspiracies during the 2020 elections, when Republican candidates began casting doubt on the process and advising their base to vote in-person. Allegations that voting by mail, which is used by more than 80% of Arizonans choose, is fraudulent resurfaced after the November midterms, when a significant party discrepancy between mail-in and Election Day voters emerged. All three Democrats voted against the bill, and with the support of the six Republican members, it was passed out of the committee along party lines.

Out of the seven bills that the Senate Elections Committee approved this week, six passed 5-3 along party lines, and just one passed with unanimous support.

Senate Bill 1105, introduced by Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, would require early ballots returned to a polling place on Election Day be tabulated on-site at the polling location.

Senate Bill 1135 would require those who received an early voting ballot in the mail but who wanted to turn it in on Election Day to spoil that ballot — the technical term for canceling it — and turn it in at their polling place, at which point they’d be required to show identification and then vote a regular in-person ballot instead.

Senate Bill 1095, would require early ballot envelopes to include a written warning that ballots dropped in a ballot drop box or mailed after the Friday before the election could cause delayed election results.

Senate Bill 1178, allows counties to skip signature verification on ballot envelopes for voters who vote early in-person and who have to show their IDs to obtain a ballot. Marson spoke in favor of the bill, saying it eliminated the redundancy of verifying a voter’s identity twice: Through an ID check and signature verification.

Senate Bill 1180, would prohibit organizations that work to register voters from paying workers per registration form. Bennett said the bill was requested by county officials, and that they hoped it would prevent those organizations from turning in junk forms that county workers must sift through.

Senate Bill 1068, would require that each voting location include one worker from each of the two major political parties. This is a change from the current law that if the workers are members of a political party, they must be equally divided between the two parties.

Senate Bill 1066, would require nongovernmental organizations to include the words “not from a government entity” on election-related mail that resembles official election correspondence.

Arkansas: A Republican-sponsored bill in the Arkansas Legislature would make it illegal to circulate petitions at or near polling places during elections. House Bill 1025 would amend the state law about circulating petitions to limit signature-gathering within 100 feet of the primary entrance to a polling place. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, and Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Little Rock. Bonnie Miller, president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, said the bill appears to be a remedy in search of a problem. She said there haven’t been any issues around circulating petitions as people are voting. Miller said the 100-foot limit that currently exists is for candidates, to prohibit what’s known as electioneering. She said voters circulating a petition are not the same thing.

California: Republican Assemblymember Bill Essayli’s legislation would overhaul California’s elections and strike the requirement to mail a ballot to every California registered voter while also trying to speed up the vote count. AB 13, which would make Election Day a state holiday, also seeks to end the practice of someone turning in multiple completed mail-in ballots, regardless of whether they live with the people who signed those ballots — an exercise known derisively in conservative circles as “ballot harvesting” that’s legal in California but banned in other states. An AB 13 fact sheet from Essayli’s office states that the public’s trust in government and concerns over election fraud “have been an ever-growing issue across the nation.” To speed up the vote count, AB 13 would shorten the deadline for county registrars to receive mail-in ballots from seven days to three days after Election Day. It also would do away with vote centers — replacements for the traditional network of neighborhood polling places that open before Election Day and can be used by any registered voter to cast a ballot or change their voter registration. Under AB 13, only family members or someone living in the same household would be able to return a filled-out mail-in ballot that’s not theirs. The bill also would bar counties from conducting all-mail-in elections.

Connecticut: Connecticut would explore a ranked-choice voting in congressional races and presidential primaries under a bill proposed last week by a bipartisan pair of state senators. anked-choice has recently gotten some attention in Connecticut. After being sworn in for a second term in office earlier this month, Gov. Ned Lamont suggested the system may “take some of the sting out of politics and bring some of the decency back to public service.” But a bill on the subject has already been filed by an unlikely pair state lawmakers: Sens. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. In an interview Wednesday, Hwang said he believed the system could encourage more voter engagement than the current methodology. “I think ranked-choice voting allows a greater opportunity for different viewpoints to be voiced during the campaign and to engage every vote as a factor even if their candidate didn’t win on the first round, it allows that individual’s vote to have far greater resonance,” he said. Osten said she agreed to co-sponsor the bipartisan bill after speaking with advocates of ranked-choice voting.

Legislation that would create a Connecticut Voting Rights Act. The bill aims to codify in Connecticut elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The bill has been raised during prior sessions but so far failed to gain passage. In the past, the legislation would have prevented communities from adopting additional prerequisites for voting if they impaired the franchise of members of a protected class. The bill would also have authorized the secretary of the state to pursue civil actions for violations of the law and would establish a state database to evaluate. Another provision of the bill would require municipalities to provide language assistance for those who need it in communities where non-English speakers comprise a certain threshold of the voting-aged residents. Last year, the bill cleared the GAE Committee but expired on the Senate calendar due to inaction.

Roswell, Georgia: The Roswell City Council has unanimously agreed to push forward on plans to have the city conduct its own municipal elections. At a special called meeting Jan. 30, the council drew from discussions raised at a Jan. 23 work session and Jan. 24 committee meeting to avoid skyrocketing election costs from Fulton County, which has run municipal elections for years. In 2019 and 2021, Fulton County charged cities $2.96 per registered voter to manage their elections. In December 2022, the county proposed a new fee, $11.48 per voter. The Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections pushed back against the price hike and negotiated the county charge down to $9.38 per registered voter for this fall’s elections. Roswell is one of several North Fulton County cities pushing to split from the county-run arrangement. The Roswell City Council agreed to have city staff “work on due diligence with sister cities” on conducting municipal elections. The details of the possible intergovernmental agreement are still in the early stages, and Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson said the council cannot answer all the questions right now.

Idaho: A new bill introduced in the Legislature would prohibit the use of student IDs as an acceptable form of identification for voting in Idaho elections, and it would remove a voter’s ability to sign an affidavit to prove their identity to vote. First-year Rep. Tina Lambert, R-Caldwell, is sponsoring the new three-page bill. Without giving any specific examples of the practice, Lambert said she is worried about students being able to commit voter fraud with their student IDs. In addition to prohibiting student IDs as an acceptable form of identification for voting, Lambert’s bill would also prohibit voters’ ability to sign a personal identification affidavit to prove their identity if they do not have or bring acceptable forms of identification to the polls.

Indiana: The House Elections and Apportionment Committee has been assigned over 25 different bills, including House Bill 1225, which has not been heard yet. Authored by Rep. Michael Aylesworth, R-Hebron, the bill pushes for “the interim study committee on elections to study all issues relating to making voting by absentee ballot by mail as secure as in-person voting.” In addition to studying the security of voting, HB 1225 includes language to make training more accessible to poll workers. If passed, poll workers could receive their training online, by video presentation, in person or with a combination of all three. Also addressing absentee voting, House Bill 1334, authored by Wesco, pushes to tighten the requirements for absentee voters. If submitting an absentee voter application, the applicant would have to include the last four digits of their Social Security number as well as either their Indiana driver’s license number, Indiana identification card number for nondrivers, or the identifying number assigned to the applicant’s voter registration record.

Authored by Senate Elections Committee Chair Jon Ford, R-Terre Haute, Senate Bill 262 would create an audit of election systems. If passed, the bill would require the secretary of state to work with a forensic company to conduct an audit of the 2023 municipal election and the 2024 general election in 10 Indiana counties selected at random. This would include elections toward the top of the ballot like the run for Indiana governor and U.S. senator.

St. Joseph County, Indiana: The St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners voted to consolidate the Board of Voter Registration. Those duties are now under the county clerk. There will be less positions, still split across party lines, meaning less taxpayer dollars. St. Joseph County was one of only three in the state that has a separate board of voter registration that is not under the county clerk. “There’s always a concern when anything changes with voter registration, or with the election board or state election laws,” Elizabeth Bennion, director of voter services and education for the League of Women Voters of the South Bend area. A resolution passed this week essentially abolished the Board of Voter Registration. The board of commissioners argued this would save over $200,000 of taxpayer dollars.

Kansas: Legislators are considering a bill that proposes eliminating a three-day grace period for advance mail ballots to be returned and counted. Republicans proposed its elimination before, with the Kansas Senate advancing a bill last year. The most recent proposal would only allow mail ballots to be counted if a county election office receives them by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Currently, ballots returned through the mail are counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and received within three days after polls close. Republican Rep. Pat Proctor, chairman of the committee, said increasing public confidence in elections through the change is a good policy decision. But some lawmakers questioned if ballots would be thrown out for no fault of the voter. Rep. Kenneth Collins, a Republican from Southeast Kansas, said one of his constituents told him she couldn’t mail her ballot until the weekend before Election Day, but she was confident it would be counted because of the grace period. Many opponents of the bill also said the change would disenfranchise specific voters. Some military voters stationed overseas may cast ballots by mail, but sometimes have the ability to vote through email.

Under House Bill 2013, if a candidate for a statewide office doesn’t receive a majority of votes in a general election, a runoff election would be held between the two candidates who garnered the most votes. The legislation would be in effect for candidates running for the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and commissioner of insurance. Runoff elections would be held the first Tuesday in December, unless postponed by court order. If passed, the legislation would take effect immediately. Rep. Les Mason, a McPherson Republican and the only person who spoke in favor of the bill during a hearing by the House Elections Committee, said HB2013 would shore up Kansans’ faith in elections. Mason, who asked for the bill to be introduced, said he wanted to open “this can of worms” because of his concerns about recent gubernatorial elections.

During a House Elections Committee hearing, House Bill 2057 was opposed by a slew of election officers and voting rights advocacy groups questioned the need for the legislation. The legislation would impose strict regulations on remote ballot boxes. County election offices with populations of less than 30,000 would be allowed to use only one remote ballot box per election. For county election offices in areas with more than 30,000 people, another box would be granted for each additional group of 30,000. The remote box would have to be under continual observation by an employee or via video, and closed when the election office is closed. The video recording would have to be situated so the faces of people dropping off the ballots into the box would be recorded, and the recording would be kept for a year, available for public record, among other stipulations. Mike Taylor, who spoke on behalf of the Kansas County Commissioners Association, which represents the elected commissioners in all 105 counties, said the organization opposed the legislation on many grounds and felt it would harm voter privacy. “We are opposing this bill because we think it’s going to disenfranchise many, many voters who depend on easy access to those drop boxes,” Taylor said. “We also think it’s going to add a lot of unneeded expense to the counties and taxpayers.”

Maryland: Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill which would require all polling locations to have a curb-side-voting option, aimed at making voting easier for those with disabilities. Anyone with a disability that is recognized under the Americans With Disabilities Act would be allowed to use this option. “Local polling places, they try to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, but things like a threshold at the entrance, or door ways that are too narrow, an access ramp that may be blocked, things of those nature make it difficult,” says Adith Thummalapalli with Salisbury Mayor’s Disability Advisory Committee. “If you think about it, it’s like installing a ramp somewhere. Someone using a wheel chair can use that but so could a mom with a stroller or an elderly person with a walker. Using that same idea if curb side voting is an option I think it would allow more people to share their voice.”

Minnesota: A bill ready for a vote in the Minnesota House would restore voting rights for thousands of Minnesotans with felony convictions currently barred from the ballot box until their sentence is complete. The state’s current policy allows people to vote after they complete time for probation, parole or supervised release. The proposal, which advanced out of the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday, would allow Minnesotans to vote when they leave prison. For supporters of the measure, the issue is simple: If Minnesotans are now longer incarcerated and live and work in communities across the state, they should be able to weigh in on the leaders elected to represent them. They also say it’s an essential part of re-entering society. Republicans on Monday questioned if reforming probation should be the focus of change, not voting rights. “As you walk out the door of prison, I’m not sure that that is exactly the time that most Minnesotans believe it is time to have those rights restored,” said Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia. “Being on paper for 40 years — there’s an argument to be made there. But I do believe there is a reason to not have voting rights yet restored until that probation period is met.” The bill advanced on a voice vote, with Republicans voting no. The bill now advances to the House floor, though there isn’t a vote scheduled yet.

Montana: In the Senate State Administration Committee, a pair of bills that would modify Montana elections had hearings this week. Senate Bill 190 would expand the situations where races go to recounts. Under the proposed legislation, races with a margin of .05% or less would to an automatic recount, double the current 0.25% cutoff. The losers of races with a margin between 0.5-1% would be able to request a recount if they post bonds to cover the costs, also double the current margin of 0.25-1%. Senate Bill 189, sponsored by State Sen. Theresa Manzella (R-Hamilton), would require a three-fourths supermajority of legislators in both chambers to allow federal and state special elections be conducted by absentee ballot. Regular federal, state and county elections are not allowed to be done by all absentee ballot, although an exception was made in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Nebraska: An amendment to a proposed voter ID law, one that calls for mail-in voters to see a notary, was among points that drew fire during a public hearing this week that stretched nearly six hours. LB 535 attempts to shape a voter ID law that comes in the wake of a constitutional amendment that voters passed in the November election, requiring Nebraskans to show photo ID before voting. Just before the hearing began, State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar presented the committee a revised bill, calling the earlier proposal a placeholder. Many who spoke expressed frustration, as they were unfamiliar with the changes, including that people seeking to mail in ballots see a notary who would sign their return ballot envelope after verifying the voter’s identity. It is now up to the Legislature to hammer out its details. The committee took no action on whether to advance the bill to debate by the full Legislature. “It’s going to go through a lot of morphing,” State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, chair of the committee said.

New Hampshire: Senate Bill 157 would require the office to audit at least two AccuVote machines on Election Day during state primaries and up to eight machines during the general election. The audits would need to be conducted at specific towns and city wards across the state, selected at random, the bill states. They would be carried out in public by people appointed and trained by the secretary of state. For each machine, at least 5 percent of the ballots scanned must be examined, the bill adds. The choices on the ballots must be compared to the results recorded in the machines, and any differences must be documented.

The top Senate and House Democratic leadership proposed no-excuse absentee voting. Secretary of State David Scanlan opposed the bill (SB 220), maintaining it would require a change in the state constitution to allow any voter to receive an absentee ballot for any reason. Current law limits absentee ballots to disabled individuals or those unable to make it to the polls on Election Day because of work requirements, care for a dependent or for religious reasons. All 10 Senate Democrats signed onto this bill, as did House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm of Manchester.

New Mexico: A bill that would prohibit firearms at polling places during elections with exceptions for police officers cleared its first hurdle at the Legislature this week. A Senate panel voted 6-3 along party lines, with Republicans in opposition, to advance the bill from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe. A second committee endorsement could send the bill to a full Senate vote. New Mexico already prohibits guns on school grounds, where many election polls are located. But firearms can be carried at many other polling locations, openly or with a concealed-handgun permit. Under the proposed changes, New Mexico would join at least 12 other states that prohibit guns and weapons at polling places, including neighboring Texas and Arizona. Wirth said he heard concerns from constituents in his district about firearms at polls during the 2022 election cycle, including one person who decided to stop working at the polls because people were bringing guns with them to vote.

North Dakota: House Bill 1314 would prohibit drop boxes as lawful places of deposit for absentee and mail ballots. But county auditors reminded the House Political Subdivisions Committee, how inconsistent the postal service is saying relying solely on USPS to deliver their ballots, would create more issues. Many local election officials who argued against the bill pointed out how frequently these drop boxes are used, not just for election ballots. “While intended only for ballots, we continue to receive tax payments, court documents and many other types of documents dropped off during the year. Voters have expressed their gratitude for the availability, and even use it during normal courthouse hours as its more convenient,” said Erica Johnsrud, the McKenzie County auditor and treasurer.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced more than 90 election and voting bills ahead of the upcoming legislative session. About one-fifth of these proposals are shell bills titled “Oklahoma Elections Reform Act of 2023.” Lawmakers will be tasked with adding more substantive language before the bills are considered. Legislative committees will begin taking up bills after Feb. 6, when the session begins. Bills face a March 2 deadline to advance out committee in their chamber of origin. Republicans have introduced at least 80 election-related bills. Approximately a dozen measures propose additional requirements or restrictions, including eliminating no-excuse absentee voting and forbidding the State Election Board from joining multistate voter-list maintenance organizations. Another category of proposals seeks to exempt the state from following federal election laws in non-federal elections and mandate state officials to report any election or voting-related contact from the U.S. Department of Justice. Two bills seek to increase pay and strengthen legal protections for precinct officials. Senate Bill 290 by Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, would increase daily compensation for clerks and judges from $100 to $200 per day. Inspectors, who act as the lead official at their precinct, would receive $225 per day, up from $110. Senate Bill 481 by Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, would classify intimidating or threatening an election official as a felony offense.

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania county commissioners are outlining a handful of policy goals they want state lawmakers to tackle in the next year. Commissioners are pushing for pre-canvassing rules that would let election workers process mail-in ballots before elections. They also want to make the state’s mail-in ballot application deadline earlier. Voters are allowed to hand in their application as late as one week before an in-person election is held. County workers have said that makes it virtually impossible for latecomers to receive their ballots in time to have them counted. “[We] need clear rules that enable consistent implementation [of elections] across the Commonwealth,” said Joe Kantz, who chairs Snyder County’s Board of Commissioners. “Reforms are needed to resolve ambiguities.” Despite bipartisan urging, state lawmakers have failed to agree to either of those changes since Act 77 – the state’s most recent election law update – was implemented four years ago.

State Sen. Lisa Boscola wants to make sure there are plenty of election ballot drop boxes, provide money for counties to operate them, and make it legal for family members to drop off voters’ ballots. The ideas are part of a seven-bill election reform package that Boscola, a Northampton County Democrat, says she will introduce in Harrisburg. Specifically, her proposals would: Set a minimum number of drop boxes that counties must provide, create a grant program to give counties money to operate a suitable number of drop boxes, and permit an immediate family member, member of the same household or caregiver to put a ballot in a drop box. Allow voters to fix mail-in ballot discrepancies, including problems with their signature, and provide election officials with FBI training to enhance their ability to verify signatures. Eliminate the need for a secrecy envelope for a mail ballot. Change the term “permanent” in state law when used to refer to mailing lists for absentee and mail-in ballots to “annual.”

South Dakota: Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree and House Majority Leader Will Mortensen said South Dakota has strong election laws already in place, but lawmakers have worked with county auditors about finding ways to improve the system. “No one in the state likes things done to them, but they are willing to make progress if you are doing things with them,” Mortensen said. “Our auditors are honest and capable folks. They know what they are doing in administering our elections.” Crabtree and Mortensen said Republicans would be introducing a series of bills regarding secure ballot tabulation machines, a post-election audit process, distance requirements and poll watchers’ rights, ban on unmonitored drop boxes, ban on ballot harvesting activities and attempts to clean up the state’s voter rolls. Crabtree said election dates are important and that’s why there is no time to wait to make changes. Senate Bill 82, regarding a set distance for poll watchers, passed the Senate State Affairs committee 8-0 and moved to the full Senate. Another bill, SB 160 would authorize a post-election audit in South Dakota. SB 160 requires a post-election audit to take place within 15 days after an election. The audit will happen in 5% of the precincts in the county by hand counting all votes cast in two statewide contests and comparing the results of the hand count to the results for those precincts at the county canvass.

The Senate State Affairs Committee has advanced a bill prohibiting ranked choice voting. Senate Bill 55 would ban ranked voting in any South Dakota election. Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of their preference, rather than voting for a single candidate. Republican Sen. John Wiik is the bill’s sponsor. He say the bill “protects our Republic and the process we take to elect our leaders.” Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba said the bill is not needed. “I have no idea why this bill is necessary, it’s banning some that’s not happening,” Nesiba said. The bill passed the Senate State Affairs Committee 7 to 1. It next heads to the full Senate.

Utah: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require post-election audits. “HB 269 sets process in place for us to be able to go forward and audit every general election and every primary election that is associated with the general elections,” said Rep. Mike Schultz who introduced the legislation. If passed into law, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General would have to conduct an audit of elections every other year. Election officials all over the state approve of the bill, Davis County Clerk Brian McKenzie said. “We believe strongly that our elections are safe and secure,” he said. “We believe that our elections have integrity. Do we believe our elections are 100% perfect? No, of course not. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our systems or processes.” Members of the House Government Operations Standing Committee unanimously voted in favor of the election audit bill, and it will next be voted on by the state’s full House of Representatives.

Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott announced that he’s signed a new bill into law related to elections. The bill is H.42, “An act relating to temporary alternative procedures for annual municipal meetings and electronic meetings of public bodies.” He released a statement after its signing: “I’m signing this bill at the request of Vermont municipalities who value an extension to pandemic-era flexibilities. … However, I have concerns with the removal of the disclosure of per pupil costs from Vermonters when voting. Voters deserve this transparency, and I see no defensible reason why we should extend its omission from ballots.”

Wisconsin: Voters could sign up to receive a text message when their absentee ballots are received under a proposal being circulated in the Legislature. The bill, co-authored by Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, would not be mandatory. Instead, voters would opt into the service as a way of solidifying confidence in the absentee voting system, Steffen said. “Unfortunately, there’s still some people who have some reservations about voting absentee,” Steffen told Wisconsin Public Radio. “And by adding this form of confirmation … I think there’s gonna be more people who will be open to the idea of voting absentee, and that’s my goal.” Currently, voters can check on the status of their absentee ballot applications and ballots by visiting the state’s MyVote Wisconsin website, which is run by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. If passed, Steffen’s plan would let voters provide their cell phone numbers to receive a text confirmation when their ballot applications or ballots are scanned by their clerk. This new program would fit into the existing MyVote system, Steffen said, while offering voters a more convenient way of checking on their absentee ballots.

Wyoming: Elections would be subject to post-election audits and early voting windows would be shortened under a bill advanced by a legislative committee. Senate File 153, titled “Election Security,” would reduce early voting to 28 days from the current 45 for domestic applicants. Overseas applicants and military would still have 45 days to vote early or with an absentee ballot. On post-election audits, state law doesn’t require them, but there’s an outstanding directive to require them by former Secretary of State Ed Buchanan. Pressure to require audits has increased in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which former President Donald Trump and his supporters have maintained was tainted by widespread fraud. If SF 153 passes, Wyoming would still have the 12th longest early voting period in the country. Mary Lankford, a representative from the Wyoming County Clerks Association, said the average length of early voting offered by U.S. states is 23 days. It passed unanimously out of the Senate Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

Legal Updates

Arizona: U.S. District Judge Michael Liburdi preliminarily declined to block members of the group Clean Elections USA from gathering within sight of ballot drop boxes following complaints that armed and masked members intimidated potential voters during the 2022 election. The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a joint lawsuit against Clean Elections USA in October after Arizonans in multiple cities complained of masked, sometimes armed men in tactical gear and bulletproof vests intimidating voters by recording them and taking photos of their cars and license plates. The Arizona League of Women Voters filed a similar suit against Clean Elections USA and another group called Lions of Liberty two days later. The court consolidated the cases on Oct. 31. The Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino were later dismissed from the case along with Lions of Liberty and other individual defendants, leaving only the League of Women Voters against Clean Elections USA and Jennings. Liburdi granted the league a two-week temporary restraining order on Nov. 1, telling the defendants they couldn’t be within 75 feet of a drop box or entrance to a building containing a drop box, follow individuals delivering ballots to the drop box, speak to voters within 75 feet of a drop box unless first spoken to, or openly carry firearms or wear visible body armor within 250 feet of a drop box. Liburdi also ordered Clean Elections to post to its website and Jennings’ Twitter page a statement clarifying that submitting multiple ballots at a time isn’t always illegal. Nearly three months later, Liburdi decided during a morning status conference to deny the League of Women Voters’ motion for a preliminary injunction. “I view that as an extraordinary remedy,” Liburdi told the league’s attorney Orion Danjuma. “Particularly where we have First Amendment speech rights, assembly rights.” Liburdi said he would need to ensure that Clean Elections’ presence at ballot drop boxes poses a real danger to voters before making that decision and that the league is free to file another temporary restraining order for now.

Florida: Circuit Judge Jenifer Harris is considering whether to dismiss a voter fraud case against an Orange County man, one of 20 statewide brought by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office overseeing election crimes. Peter Washington, 59, is charged with illegally casting a ballot in the 2020 election despite being cleared to vote by officials in Tallahassee. The Office of Statewide Prosecution, which can only charge defendants accused of crimes committed in two or more judicial circuits, is pursuing the case, but attorney Roger Weeden said in court Tuesday they have no authority to do so. Prosecutor Robert Finkbeiner argued the alleged crime happened in Orange and Leon counties, but Weeden countered that Washington has no ties to Leon other than having submitted a voter application later accepted by the Florida Secretary of State in Tallahassee. Harris didn’t rule on Weeden’s motion to dismiss the case, giving him and Finkbeiner until Friday to provide supplements to their arguments before deciding.

Georgia: U.S. District Judge Steve Jones is considering whether True the Vote’s effort to challenge 364,000 voters before Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs in early 2021 went too far. During a hearing this week, he questioned whether sweeping challenges to the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters amounted to voter intimidation by Texas-based True the Vote, a conservative organization that has promoted unproven claims of election fraud. But an attorney for True the Vote responded that Georgia laws allow residents to cast doubt on individuals who might have moved away, and the group didn’t confront or discourage anyone from casting a ballot. County election officials threw out almost all the challenges, but the lawsuit alleges that mass challenges amounted to a violation of the Voting Rights Act’s protections against voter intimidation and coercion. The case was brought by several voters and Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams. Jones asked whether True the Vote was responsible for using the voter challenge law in such a broad way that it affected eligible voters, in some cases forcing them to prove their residency before they could cast a ballot. “The argument being made of these challenges being reckless does cause some concern,” Jones said. “… I have a concern that if you challenge someone so close to an election, there could be an intimidating factor.”

Indiana: A new settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit in Indiana should make voting easier for voters with print disabilities. The state has agreed to acquire a new remote accessible ballot marking tool. It will allow voters to access and mark their ballots digitally with their own assistive technology. Then, they can submit it via email. “Print disabled people deserve equity in voting rights. By ensuring an accessible electronic means for voting absentee, this settlement agreement provides many of Indiana’s blind and print disabled voters an accessible means to exercise our voting rights, privately and independently,” said Dee Ann Hart, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of the Blind of Indiana and its Advocacy and Awareness Committee Chair. The tool will be available to voters in time for the May 2023 primary election. According to Indiana Disability Rights, the court has granted two preliminary striking down Indiana’s rule that absentee voters who could not independently mark their own ballot may vote absentee by mail only by appointment with a “traveling board” of elections officials. A legislative amendment removing that requirement is being sought.

Kansas: During oral arguments this week, Kansas Supreme Court justice raised concerns about the “chilling” effect a 2021 law could have on League of Women Voters volunteers and others who participate in voter registration drives. Part of the legislation makes it a crime to engage in conduct that would cause someone to believe you are an election worker. In response, multiple nonprofits suspended or limited efforts to educate and assist prospective voters. The League of Women Voters joined with Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Council in challenging provisions of the law. A district court judge and court of appeals panel dismissed the case on the grounds that those organizations couldn’t demonstrate how the law impairs their operations. Justice Melissa Standridge said the appeals court made a mistake. Standridge sparred with Bradley Schlozman, who defended the law on behalf of the state. “This case presents a completely manufactured controversy in which for inexplicable reasons, plaintiffs are asking the court to interpret the statute in the most unreasonable manner possible in order to expose themselves to criminal liability,” Schlozman said. “The statute does not support the interpretation that they have advanced.” Schlozman’s argument was that no reasonable person would believe a volunteer at a voter registration drive was an election worker, especially if that volunteer disabused anyone of the wrong idea. But multiple justices, including Standridge, Evelyn Wilson and Caleb Stegall, pointed to the absence of language in the law that would define a “reasonable person.” They appeared sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ argument that someone will mistake a volunteer for an election worker.

New Jersey: According to the New Jersey Globe, Superior Court Judge David Bauman aggressively interrogated Deputy Attorney General Dominic Giova on the legalities of new vote counts 85 days after the election. Bauman questioned why Giova submitted a hearsay statement attributed to the vice president of Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Monmouth County’s election machine supplier, without obtaining a certification of the statement. According to Giova, the programming error that caused the election tally mishap was acknowledged by an ES&S official to the Monmouth County Board of Elections chairman. “That’s classic hearsay. And you’re offering that as a reason to believe in the court of law. If this were a trial and you offered that statement that admitted that statement into evidence, somebody would stand up and object on hearsay grounds. And that objection, hypothetically, would probably be sustained,” Bauman said. “It has to be competent and credibly competent.” Bauman chastised Giova for not citing the legal authority of county election officials to seek a recount – something that the attorney general’s office had initially declined to do, and then being overruled by their client.

Pennsylvania: The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case against the Delaware County Board of Elections that originated with the 2020 election. The court announced it would not hear the case of Gregory Stenstrom and Leah Hoopes v. the Delaware County Board of Elections. “The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to not hear the case was entirely expected,” Delaware County Solicitor William F. Martin said. “Every month, hundreds of parties file motions seeking their cases to be heard by the Supreme Court. Only a few, raising significant legal and public policy issues, are selected. There was no possibility this case was going to be heard. The county had been so confident that we formally advised the court that we would not be filing a legal response to the request.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Biden Clears Way For AK Willow Oil Project

The Biden Administration on Wednesday, took a crucial step toward Approving a $8 billion ConocoPhillips Oil Drilling Willow Project, on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, drawing the anger of Environmentalists who say the vast New Fossil Fuel development, poses a dire Threat to the Climate.

Willow was initially Approved by the Trump Administration, and the Biden Administration later Defended the Approval in Court. The Project was then temporarily Blocked by a Judge, who said that the prior Administration’s Environmental Analysis was Not sufficient and did Not fully consider the Potential Harm to Wildlife or the further Impact on Climate Change.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), issued an Environmental Analysis that says the Government prefers a scaled-back Version of the Willow Project. The Assessment calls for curtailing the Project to Three Drill sites from Five, aand Reducing the proposed Length of both gravel and ice Roads, Pipelines, and the length of Airstrips to support the Drilling.

The Analysis is the Last Regulatory hurdle before the Federal Government, makes a Final Ruling on whether to Approve the Willow Project. If approved, it would produce about 600 million barrels of Oil over 30 years, with a peak of 180,000 barrels of Crude Oil a day.

Separately, BLM and White House Officials, are considering additional measures to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Environmental Harm, such as Delaying decisions on Permits for One of the Drill sites and Planting Trees. The Final decision could come within the next month. But, in concluding that Limited Drilling could occur on the Land in Alaska’s North Slope, the Biden Administration has already sent a strong signal that it is likely to give the Project a green light, both Supporters and Opponents said.

The Department of the Interior (DOI), issued a Statement saying the agency still had “substantial concerns” about the Willow Project, “including direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and impacts to wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence.” The Analysis notes that the agency might make Final Changes “that would be more environmentally protective”. The Report was greeted with relief by Alaskan Lawmakers and ConocoPhillips Executives, who wanted a more Expansive area for Drilling, but were worried that President Biden, who has made tackling Climate Change a Centerpiece of his Agenda, would work to block the Project entirely.

ConocoPhillips said in a Statement that it welcomed the Environmental Analysis and said the alternative selected by the Bureau of Land Management provided “a viable path forward” for the Willow Project. “We believe Willow will benefit local communities and enhance American energy security while producing oil in an environmentally and socially responsible manner,” Erec S. Isaacson, President of ConocoPhillips Alaska, said in a Statement. He said the Project had undergone Five years of Regulatory Review and called on the Administration to approve the plan “without delay.”

Alaska’s Senators, Lisa Murkowski (R) and Dan Sullivan (R), issued Statements calling on the Biden Administration to Approve the Project without additional Restrictions beyond those outlined by the Bureau of Land Management. “Thousands of good union jobs, and immense benefits that will be felt across Alaska and the nation, will hang in the balance until a positive final decision has been issued,” Ms. Murkowski said.

The Option is the smallest footprint possible for the Willow Project, with a more limited Impact on the immediate Environment, but still allows the company access to the area’s vast Petroleum Reserves. In addition to the Three Drilling sites, the BLM’s preferred Option calls for about 482 acres of Gravel Fill, more than 400 miles of ice roads and about 89 miles of Pipelines.

The Agency said the Blueprint would Reduce the proposed Project’s footprint within the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, a critical Ecological area in the Petroleum Reserve that supports Migratory Birds and is a Primary Calving area, and Migration corridor for the Teshekpuk Caribou herd.

Environmental Activists said Biden was Betraying his own Climate Change Agenda. They noted that even Reducing the number of Drill Sites would still allow the company to Extract most of the area’s vast Petroleum Reserve, leading to 278 million metric tons of Carbon Dioxide Emissions over the Project’s 30-year lifetime, about the Annual equivalent Emissions of 66 new Coal-Fired Power plants.

Biden has pledged to cut U.S. Eemissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by the End of this Decade, in order to help Avoid the Worst consequences of Global Warming. He also made a Promise on the Campaign Trail, to End New Federal Leases for Oil and Gas Development. Environmental groups said they intend to work to Oppose Willow, despite the signal from the Administration that the Project will Proceed. “No other oil and gas Project has greater potential to undermine the Biden administration’s climate goals,” said Karlin Itchoak, Alaska Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. “If this Project were to move forward, it would result in the production and burning of at least 30 years of oil at a time when the world needs climate solutions and a transition to clean energy.”

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the Mayor of Nuiqsut, an Inupiat community near the proposed Willow Project, said late Tuesday evening, that she was Disappointed by the Administration’s finding. She said Delaying the Approval of One or more Drilling sites, would only spread out the Harm, over time, to her Community of about 500 Residents. Ms. Ahtuangaruak traveled to Washington recently, to tell Policymakers that the Project encroaches on the Habitat of the millions of Migratory Birds who use the area, as well as Whales, Polar Bears, and the more than 80,000 Caribou that Locals depend on for subsistence Fishing and Hunting. If Willow is approved, her Community would be surrounded by Oil and gas Projects, she said. “We have enough oil and gas development around us and enough areas that are already leased in this area that they could do work for a long time,” Ms. Ahtuangaruak said. “There’s no reason they have to go into this area. It’s about wanting to.”

Willow’s Supporters, including Alaska’s Congressional Delegation, Labor Unions, Building Trade groups and some Residents of the North Slope, say the Project would bring much-needed Crude to a Market still seeking alternatives to Russian Oil while bolstering America’s Energy Security, creating about 2,500 Jobs and generating as much as $17 billion in Revenue for the Federal Government.

A number of other Alaska Native Tribal Governments, Organizations, and Corporations, have voiced their Support, including: the Alaska Federation of Natives, Voice of the Arctic, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Alaska Native Village Corporation Association, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and the Cities of Wainwright, Atqasuk, and Utqiagvik.

“For the North Slope Inupiat, the Willow Project is a new opportunity to ensure our communities and our people have a viable future,” Nagruk Harcharek, President of the Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, a group representing Indigenous People in the Region, wrote to Lawmakers and Members of the Biden Administration.

ConocoPhillips has said it was hoping for a Fast Decision from the Biden Administration, that would allow Construction to begin this winter. If spring sets in and warmer temperatures begin to melt the frozen roads, it could make it more difficult for crews to pass and construction would have to be shelved for another year.

Therein lies one of the Willow Project’s ironies. Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. and the Region, is expected to continue to warm by, an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the 30-year life of the Willow Project, thawing the Frozen Arctic tundra around the Drilling Rigs, and Shortening the winter season during which Ice roads and Bridges remain Frozen.

The proposed Solution: ConocoPhillips plans to eventually install “chillers” into the thawing Permafrost to keep it solid enough to support the Equipment to Drill for Oil, the burning of which will release Carbon Dioxide Emissions that will Worsen the Ice Melt.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

FTC Broader Crackdown On Data Brokers

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s heightened interest in Protecting your Privacy fron Data Brokers.

The FTC has pursued Two Eenforcement Actions since 2020. Most recently, it filed a Lawsuit against Data Broker Kochava, in August 2022, in a Federal District Court in Idaho, where the Firm is based, after it Sold Data the FTC said could identify if a Person had been to an Abortion Clinic.

In 2020, the Commission took an Enforcement Action against Period Tracking App, Flo Health. after it allegedly Shared User Health Data with Facebook and Google, after telling Customers it would keep that Data Private. Flo Health settled with the FTC in 2021, while Kochava filed a Preemptive Suit against the FTC, Challenging Enforcement.

Both of those Cases rely on the FTC’s long-established Power to Police Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices. The FTC is outlining a New Approach to Regulating Data Collection relying on a 2009 Rule.

Chair Lina Khan, has signaled the FTC plans further Rulemaking to Increase its Power over Data-Sharing Online. Since her Senate Confirmation in 2021, Khan has pushed the idea that the way Personal Data is Collected on Websites and on Internet-connected Devices by Marketers and Data Brokers, is itself Unfair and often Deceptive, opening these Practices up to Scrutiny by the FTC.

“The expanding contexts in which users’ personal data is used — from health care and housing to employment and education — mean that what’s at stake with unlawful collection, use, retention, or disclosure is not just one’s subjective preference for privacy, but one’s access to opportunities in our economy and society, as well as core civil liberties and civil rights,” Khan wrote last August, following the FTC’s Release of an Advanced Notice of proposed Rulemaking asking for Public Input on whether the FTC should write New Rules governing Commercial Surveillance and Data Security.

The 2009 Economic Stimulus Law, directed the FTC to create a Rule in Collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Protect Health Data Not governed by HHS or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which sets Privacy Rules for Medical Providers. The resulting Data Bbreach Rule states that any Entity Not covered by HIPAA, that collects Personally identifiable Health Information, must tell Consumers when there’s been a Breach of their Data or Face Action from the FTC. Since then, the FTC has Never Enforced it.

However, in the last 18 months the FTC has issued Three Statements, indicating that it is broadening its Interpretation of the Rule’s scope beyond companies’ Cybersecurity Practices to their Marketing and Advertising Strategies.

In September 2021, the FTC published a Policy Statement clarifying that Mobile Apps and other Connected Devices, like wearables, could be considered Health Care Providers, under the Rule, since they offer Health Care Services. Subsequently, the Commission released further Guidance, saying the Rule applies to Fitness Trackers, Mobile Apps, connected Health Devices, and any other Collector of Health Data, and explained what they should do to Comply.

That not only implicates companies selling Health Services and Tools like Telehealth Providers, Diet Apps, Pharmacies, or Purveyors of Bluetooth-connected Blood Pressure cuffs, but also Third Parties like Google and Facebook.

In a Statement, Google said it already “prohibits personalized advertising based on sensitive data like health conditions or prescription medications. We also have strict policies that advertisers and developers must comply with regarding personally identifiable information being shared with us.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

FTC Cracking Down On Companies Sharing Customers’ Health Data

In a first-of-its-kind Enforcement action, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Wednesday, said it had reached Agreement with GoodRx, on a Fine and Remedies, after the Prescription Discount site and Telehealth Provider, shared Customers’ Health Data with Facebook, Google,and other Third Parties.

The FTC filed a proposed Order to levy a $1.5 million Fine, and Enforce the Remedies with the Federal Court in the Northern District of California, which still has to Approve the Agreement.

It is the First Enforcement, the FTC has taken against a company for allegedly Violating the FTC’s 2009 Health Breach Notification Rule. If the Court agrees, the Decision could upend the Business Models of Online Businesses that routinely Use or Sell Data to better Target Users with Services and Advertising.

“What they’re doing is sending a warning shot across the digital bow of the online advertising industry saying, ‘Hey, these things are unfair, we’re watching, and you should not be using this health information in the way it’s being used,’” said Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based Nonprofit that Advocates for Digital Privacy and Consumer Protections online.

The Commission said GoodRx engaged in Unfair and Deceptive Practices by telling its Customers that it complied with a Federal Health Privacy Law, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), that doesn’t apply to it, and by Pledging Not to Share User Data with Third Parties for Advertising Purposes, when it did.

The Commission also said the company Failed to Erect Internal Processes to Protect Consumer Health Data, or to Limit how much Access Third Parties had to that Data.

GoodRx, based in Santa Monica, Calif., has Agreed to Settle, but the company said it does Not admit Wrongdoing, and does Not believe the Requirements detailed in the Order will materially impact its business. “We believe this is a novel application of the Health Breath Notification Rule by the FTC. We used Facebook tracking pixels to advertise in a way that we feel was compliant with regulations and that remains common practice for many websites,” the company said in a Statement.

If the Court Affirms the Settlement, GoodRx will be Prohibited from Disclosing User Health Data to Third Parties for Advertising purposes and will have to get Explicit Consent from its Customers, to Share their Data for any other purposes. The Order also Bans the use of Technology that Manipulates Users.

The FTC also wants to task GoodRx with ensuring that the Third Parties with which it shared Health Data Delete it, and with implementing New Privacy Protections for Users. The Agreement assesses the $1.5 million Civil Penalty for Violating the FTC Act, the Law that gives the Agency the Power to Police “Unfair” and “Deceptive” Trade Practices.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

FBI Probing Santos’ Role In Service Dog Charity Scheme

FBI Agents are Investigating Rep. George Santos’ (R-NY, 3rd district), role in an alleged GoFundMe Scheme involving a Disabled U.S. Navy Veteran’s dying Service Dog. Two Agents contacted former Service Member Richard Osthoff Wednesday, on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.

Osthoff gave the Agents 2016 Text Messages with Santos, who he says used his Plight to raise $3,000 for Life-Saving Surgery for his Pit Bull mix, Sapphire, then took the Funds. “I’m glad to get the ball rolling with the big-wigs,” Osthoff said in an interview Wednesday. “I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted.”

Joshua Schiller, a Senior Trial Lawyer who has practiced in the Eastern District, said the Veteran’s encounter with Santos, could offer Prosecutors a quick way to hit the Republican Congressman with Criminal Charges, even though they’re also Investigating heftier possible Financial Crimes.

“I think there is an urgency here because Santos is currently in a position to make laws,” Schiller said. “I can think of examples where the government used a lesser indictment to seize assets and try to cause the defendant to plea to a deal before bringing a second or third indictment on more serious charges, and I bet that is the case here.”

Devolder, is a version of Santos’ full name, he used before entering Politics, set up the GoFundMe Account and Promoted it on Social Media saying, “When a veteran reaches out to ask for help, how can you say no?” according to Screenshots of the Postings. When the Account had reached its $3,000 Goal, Devolder gave a series of Excuses about why he couldn’t help Sapphire get Treatment, then became difficult to Reach, that Text Messages between the Two show.

Schiller said the GoFundMe Allegations could Result in several types of Charges including: Wire and Mail Fraud, as well as Bank Fraud. Santos could have also Committed Tax Crimes, if he claimed Exemptions for an Unregistered Charity, Schiller said.

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC), to Pause any Enforcement action against Santos, as the DOJ worked on its own Case. Over $700,000 Santos initially listed as a Personal Loan to his Campaign, may have been an Illegal Straw Donor Scheme, according to FEC Complaints.

The New York Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Queens and Nassau County District Attorneys, are also probing Santos.

Osthoff said the New York Attorney General’s Office Public Integrity Bureau, which handles Fraud and Criminal Inquiries into Elected Officials, began Investigating the GoFundMe drive last month.

A Spokesperson for the New York Attorney General, Tish James (D) said on Dec. 22, 2022, that her Office was “looking into” several Issues surrounding Santos.

A Spokesperson for GoFundMe indicated the company has been Cooperating with Ongoing Investigations.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

NY AG Says Trump And Kids Falsely Deny Facts They Admitted

The Office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) says Trump and Three of his adult Children, Lied in the Answers they submitted to the Court, in response to James’ $250 Million Lawsuit, accusing them and the Trump Organization of Large-Scale Financial Fraud.

Both Trump and his Children: “Falsely deny facts they have admitted in other Proceedings, 'deny knowing things, that are plainly within their knowledge', and use defenses repeatedly rejected by this Court as frivolous and without merit,” Kevin Wallace, Senior Enforcement Counsel in the Attorney General’s Office, said in a Letter to New York Supreme Court Justice, Arthur Engoron.

James’ Office is seeking a Pre-Trial Conference, to work out Fact from Fiction and to “Sanction Defendants and their Counsel,” for the False Claims, according to the Letter.

Some of those Claims include:

- Trump’s Denial that he served as the Inactive President of the Trump Organization while in the White House, but he always owned 51% of the company and its Profits, despite Trump’s own Sworn Testimony that he did so.

- An Argument from Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, that “they are being improperly targeted for investigation,” despite the Court previously Rejecting the “Witch-Hunt” Argument.

- Ivanka Trump’s Inability to Confirm the Contents of her own emails.

The New Accusations against Trump and his Children, are the latest in what has been a series of Legal Tiffs between the prominent New York Attorney and Trump.

Earlier this month, Trump’s Attorneys withdrew a Lawsuit filed against James in Florida, that sought to Block her Access to a Trust that holds a Number of the Business Assets.

As part of this Lawsuit, a Special Master is now Overseeing All Financal Tranactions, Money coming in or Going out, from the Trump Organization.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Russia In Violation Of New START Nuclear Treaty

Russia has Violated the Landmark New START Treaty, that cut Long-Range Nuclear arms by Refusing to allow On-Site Inspections, the State Department said Jan. 31, 2023..

Despite tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s War in Ukraine, the U.S. had previously said New START was holding up. But without On-Site Inspections, the U.S. cannot precisely Verify the number of Warheads Russia has deployed, which has made assessing Moscow’s Compliance with the Accord more difficult.

The State Department noted, however, that the Number of deployed Warheads was likely under the Treaty ceiling of 1,550 at the end of 2022, and that if Russia had exceeded the Limit in earlier months, the Number was Not militarily significant.

The State Department Report to Congress, marks the First Time that the U.S. has alleged that Russia has Violated the Accord since it took effect in 2011.

The Treaty has been Extended to 2026, and Russia’s Refusal to allow Inspections, and to meet with American Officials to discuss Compliance Issues, has fueled doubts about the possibility of Negotiating a Follow-On Agreement, that would put Guardrails on the Nuclear Competition between Washington and Moscow.

“We have long supported strategic arms control with Russia, voting for New START in 2010 and advocating for the Treaty’s extension during both the Trump and Biden administrations,” said a Statement by U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “But to be very clear, compliance with New START treaty obligations will be critical to Senate consideration of any future strategic arms control treaty with Moscow.”

Republican Lawmakers expressed Concern that Russia’s Refusal to allow Inspections under New START, might be followed by more Significant Violations of the Accord, and said the U.S. should be ready to make Upward Adjustments in its own Arsenal.

“We urge President Biden to direct the Department of Defense to prepare for a future where Russia may deploy large numbers of warheads, well in excess of New START Treaty limits,” read a Statement from: Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL, 3rd DistrictL), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee: Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO, 5th District), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces; and U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Deb Fischer (R-NE) of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Until 2020, Inspections had been carried out routinely. But in March 2020, Inspections were paused by Mutual consent due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. When the U.S. told Russia in the summer of 2022, that it wanted to Resume Inspections, Moscow resisted. Russia continued to argue that the COVID-19 Protocols were still an Obstacle.

Russia’s real reason for denying Inspections, the State Department Report said, “centered on Russian grievances regarding U.S. and other countries’ measures imposed on Russia in response to its unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

The Absence of Inspections isn’t the only Compliance Issue. The U.S. sought to discuss Compliance Issues in the Treaty’s Bilateral Consultative Commission, which is a Forum for the Countries to Discuss the Treaty’s implementation. Russia initially agreed to a Meeting of the Commission in November, but then balked. The State Department said that is another Issue of Russian “noncompliance.”

Russian Officials have told the U.S. they still Support the Treaty, and U.S. Officials are urging Russia to Correct its Violations so the Treaty can be preserved.

“The United States remains ready to work constructively with Russia to fully implement the New START Treaty,” a State Department Spokesperson said.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker