Organizers of a Republican-backed Michigan petition to enact voter restrictions to combat would-be voter fraud missed the state’s filing deadline on Wednesday after discovering tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures.
Michigan Republicans are backing the citizen initiative petition known as Secure MI Vote, which would impose strict voter ID requirements, restrict absentee voting and ban private donations that help keep polling places open. The petition drive was launched after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, vetoed a slew of voting restrictions passed by the Republican-led legislature. Though the petition is ostensibly a citizen initiative, voters are not expected to see the measure appear on the ballot. Republicans have openly plotted all along to exploit a bizarre provision in the state constitution that allows the legislature to adopt a citizen initiative and pass it with a simple majority that the governor cannot veto.
This latest fake-signature scandal comes only days after the two leading Republican candidates for governor were booted off the ballot.
Organizers had planned to submit the petition to the state by Wednesday’s deadline but abruptly backed down after discovering that around 20,000 signatures were fraudulent. Organizer Jamie Roe insisted that the effort had gathered 435,000 signatures, more than the 340,047 required, but said the group did not submit the petition out of an “abundance of caution.”
“The fact of the matter is our volunteers, our supporters had put in too much hard work for us to end up getting bounced off the ballot due to some technicality,” he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
The announcement came just days after the state’s Bureau of Elections and Board of Canvassers disqualified five of the 10 Republicans running for governor, including frontrunners James Craig and Perry Johnson, after discovering that thousands of the signatures on the petitions they circulated to qualify for the ballot were fraudulent. The Bureau of Elections identified 36 petition circulators who submitted at least 68,000 fraudulent signatures in the gubernatorial primary, as well as in nine other nominating contests. Craig and Johnson argued they were victims of the fraud, not its perpetrators, but a court upheld both of their disqualifications this week.
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Roe similarly argued that petition circulators victimized the Secure MI Vote effort.
“We would also be filing today if it weren’t for some people who tried to defraud the process,” Roe said while standing beside boxes of petitions. “This is all fraud – what we believe is fraudulent petitions. Petitions that were circulated by fraudsters similar to those who have victimized some of the gubernatorial campaigns in the state.”
Roe said he was not sure whether fraudulent circulators caught by the campaign are the same ones that were caught in the gubernatorial primary but said “I would bet that they are.”
Roe said the committee would turn over the petitions to law enforcement.
“There’s just a huge financial incentive to participate in fraud,” Roe said, “which is why it has to be punished.”
Other organizers who have led petition drives in the state took issue with Roe’s explanation.
“At the end of the day, you have to take responsibility for who you hired to collect your signatures,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a nonpartisan advocacy group that successfully backed a citizen initiative to reform redistricting.
Wang accused the campaign of trying to “abuse” the citizen initiative process.
“They’re trying to use it as a way to do an end-run around the voters,” she said. “In fact, they’re supposed to be using it to demonstrate that they have a level of support, that they have the right to be on the ballot. They haven’t been able to do that.”
RELATED: Michigan GOP launches not-so-secret plan to undo Whitmer’s veto on voting bill
Roe suggested that the petition circulators had faked the signatures. But long before Wednesday’s announcement, the Secure MI Vote drive was plagued by allegations that petition circulators were misleading voters. Numerous reports on social media and in local news outlets alleged that petition circulators made blatantly false statements to Black voters while trying to convince them to sign a petition that could “risk their own disenfranchisement.”
State Rep. Amos O’Neal recalled his own run-in with a Secure MI Vote petition circulator at a Saginaw County barbershop.
“All he said was, ‘Hey, can you guys sign my petition? It’s going to help improve voting.’ When I asked him exactly what it was he was petitioning for, he couldn’t articulate,” O’Neal told MLive.
When O’Neal urged others in the barbershop not to sign, the petition circulator “became irate,” he said.
“He said — and these are his exact words — ‘You’re messing with my money.’ I took that as meaning, he’s being paid to go around — particularly in Black communities — to get signatures,” he told the outlet.
Voters Not Politicians launched a tool allowing voters to report deception or misinformation by Secure MI Vote circulators, and heard many similar complaints.
“We’ve been collecting stories from people who really have signer’s remorse,” Wang told Salon. “The accounts we’ve been getting are sort of consistent: Petition circulators have been saying, for example, ‘However you think about voting rights, this is just to put the question to the voters.’”
When one voter pressed circulators on what was in the actual petition, “they refused to say anything else about the petition, about what’s in it,” one account said, according to Wang.
“It just illustrates the fact that they don’t have any policies in there that they can publicly and openly and proudly discuss, even with the people they’re trying to get to sign. They’re playing this game where they’re trying to mislead voters into signing the petition.”
This trend has played out in several other petition drives as well in the Mitten State. The 2020 Unlock Michigan petition, which aimed at repealing Whitmer’s powers to lock down businesses, was plagued by allegations of forged signatures and misleading language. Petition circulators for the Let MI Kids Learn petition, a Betsy DeVos-linked initiative aimed at boosting funding for private schools, were also accused of misleading voters. Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for the Let MI Kids Learn campaign, told Axios that the group also did not plan to submit its petition to the secretary of state and would instead rely on the legislature to pass the proposal, “which was going to happen anyway.”
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Wang said Wednesday’s announcement drops the pretense that Secure MI Vote is actually a citizen initiative.
“It’s never been their plan to qualify for the ballot. The reason they were collecting signatures was to give these voter-suppression measures to the legislature, which would pass them and do an end-run around both the voters and the governor,” she said. “This legislature has already passed a number of measures that are on the Secure MI Vote petition, and they’ve been very clear that they’re willing to use their power in an anti-democratic way to keep themselves in power at the expense of our democracy.”
Roe on Wednesday insisted that the group plans to submit the signatures to the Bureau of Elections “within a couple of weeks,” although since the filing deadline was missed, the bureau may delay the review of the petition until 2024.
“We hope that we can count on the professionalism of the Bureau of Elections to — when we do submit it — promptly go through and certify the results,” Roe said, adding that the extra time will help ensure “they are going to have no choice but to approve us and move on to the next step of the process,” which would be submission to the state legislature.
Despite mounting allegations of misleading or fraudulent practices by petition circulators, lying to get petition signatures is not illegal in Michigan. State officials have increasingly warned voters to be careful about what they’re signing.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel urged “anyone who is approached by a petitioner to carefully read and make every best effort to understand what you are agreeing to sign.”
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called on the legislature to ban petition circulators from lying.
“For decades we’ve seen Michigan citizens intentionally deceived about ballot petitions, particularly our most vulnerable populations.”
“For decades we’ve seen Michigan citizens intentionally deceived about ballot petitions, and particularly our most vulnerable populations,” Benson said in a statement. “The recent increase in complaints demonstrates it’s high time for the Legislature to act to make it a crime to intentionally mislead a voter into signing a petition.”
Democrats in the state Senate have pushed to enact new restrictions on petitions, but have been blocked in the GOP-led legislature. Democrats previously introduced a package of bills that would hold ballot organizations liable if their circulators intentionally mislead voters, ban groups from paying per signature and allow voters to remove their name from a petition.
“Ballot proposals are critical for citizens to have a say in how our democracy operates, but the process is sullied when bad actors use deception as a tool to obtain signatures,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Democrat who led the legislative package, said in a statement. “Petition gatherers should not be lying to the public to promote their cause.”
Those kinds of measures have drawn pushback from groups like the ACLU over free speech concerns, however, and Wang also expressed worries about the “ramifications” of legislation cracking down on petition gatherers.
“I think the solution is that campaigns shouldn’t be putting petitions out there trying to get signatures based on misleading statements,” she said.
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EU’s Michel: Oil services price cap must hit Russia, not G7 and partners
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SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven nations will discuss a proposal to impose a price cap on services related to oil trading, European Council President Charles Michel said on Sunday, adding that any measures must minimise the impact on the G7 and its partners.
“If we go in that direction we will need the support of European Union members and we want to make sure the goal is to target Russia and not make our own lives more difficult,” he told a news conference at the G7 summit.
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Reporting by Phil Blenkinsop, writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Matthias Williams
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In Texas, Mayra Flores is latest Latina to win big in politics. Can others do the same?
Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas became the first Mexican-born woman to be sworn into Congress last week, the latest major victory for Latinas, who are increasingly running for political office – and winning.
Latinas represent 9.1% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. But Latinas make up only 2.8% of all lawmakers in Congress, according to the Center For American Women and Politics. They are also underrepresented in local and state political offices.
Recent election cycles, however, have shown Latinas clamoring to take up more space in U.S. politics. Twenty-seven Latinas have won primary battles for the U.S. House of Representatives so far this election cycle. That’s up from 2018 when 20 Latinas won their primary contests.
Democratic Convention speaker: Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto
U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada delivers remarks on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
“We have seen places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, more Latinas are running and winning,” said Anna Sampaio, a politics, race and gender professor at California’s Santa Clara University. “There are several factors at work in both of those equations, but we see underrepresentation as well.”
Political experts said Latinas are deeply underrepresented in political office for a variety of factors, including discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or race that can limit economic, education and other opportunities. Latinas are the most likely group of people actively discouraged from running by their political party, according to the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who was running for governor of Massachusetts before she dropped out Thursday, said the underrepresentation of Latinas holding political office correlates with multiple barriers, including psychological, financial, childcare and being a marginalized community member.
“We know that you don’t have to raise the most money in order to win office, I’m living proof of that. But you need to raise enough to run a vetted campaign,” said Chang-Díaz, who became the state’s first Latina state senator in 2009.
Stephanie Lopez, program director for LatinasRepresent, a national, nonpartisan organization focused on increasing the number and diversity of Latinas in public office, said many Latina candidates are still fighting off outdated assumptions about their electability.
“It is incredibly difficult for Latinas to run for office, I think that needs to be said. A ton of barriers exist even before they decide to run,” Lopez said. “A lot of the time, they’re not receiving the support from major parties. So, what are the options, wait for them or run as independents?”
Despite the barriers to a victorious Election Day, more Latinas have steadily won high-profile electoral contests in recent years, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming the youngest woman at the time to serve in Congress in 2019 and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham becoming the nation’s first Latina governor in 2019. There’s also Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala, who in 2017 became the first Hispanic women elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. That same year, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) became the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate.
“Communities realize that they need to be politically engaged,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. “And right now, Latinas realize that they need the political power to change the dynamics in their community.”
Christina Bejarano, a professor of political science at Texas Woman’s University whose research focuses on Latinas in politics, said much of the growth of women of color running for political office stems from the growing networks of political and civic organizations aimed at helping such candidates.
Bejarano said Latinas sometimes can benefit at the polls by leaning on their identity to draw support and interest from multiple demographic groups, such as other women and people of color.
“They often run as highly qualified candidates, likely due to the expected obstacles they will encounter running as women of color,” Bejarano said.
Flores’ campaign focused on her culture, pointing to her parents’ history of being migrant workers. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, has celebrated her family’s links to Puerto Rico and aligned with other women of color in Congress.
Sonja Diaz, founding director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Latino Policy & Politics Institute, also said Latinas do not need to run in a Latino-majority district to win.
“One thing that is true from our political science research and history is that Latinas are ideal candidates who can win districts that are a variety of voters from a different race or ethnic backgrounds,” Diaz said.
Latinas candidates need more support
Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, said the key for Latinas is to maintain political momentum. She said profound structural change must happen within the major political parties to bolster the success of Latina candidates.
“You need to create networks, what we call a support infrastructure, for women in ways that speak to their own distinctive experience,” said Dittmar. “There is also the potential to create a funding stream, reducing some of the financial barriers.”
In November, the final midterm elections will show how well Latinas candidates perform this election cycle. Flores is likely to face a tougher road to victory when she faces off against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in a redrawn district that leans overwhelmingly Democratic.
Whether Flores wins or loses, Chang-Díaz and others are hoping to see more Latinas in office in the near future.
“I want to be clear; we should be encouraging more Latinas to run,” said Chang-Díaz. “Our country needs more Latinas in offices. We need to have people at the table who represent our country’s full breadth and diversity.”
As an adoptive mother, I know adoption doesn’t fix a lack of abortion access
“Your son is so lucky.”
As mother to an 11-year-old who came to our family via adoption four years ago, I hear this comment a lot. Friends and strangers alike tell me that my child is fortunate, that he “seems like such a happy kid” and “You would never know he’s adopted, he’s so well-adjusted!” Some say these things within earshot of my son or my biological daughter.
I know that their comments are mostly well-meaning, so I usually just change the subject, not wanting to start a weighty conversation at the grocery check-out line or at school pickup. But what I want to say is, “He is not ‘lucky.’ He will never ‘adjust.’ Adoption is trauma, and no child — or birth parent — should ever have to go through it.”
It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver.
Yet ahead of the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade, many opponents of abortion rights held up adoption as an antidote for unwanted pregnancies. After the draft opinion leaked in May, Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a typical comment, told ABC News’ “This Week” that his solution if abortion were outlawed would be “increase the services for maternal health, to increase the services for adoption services … We want to invest in those areas that will help those women with very difficult circumstances of the pregnancy.” He did not elaborate on what specific “adoption services” he would invest in, or how much, or where the money would come from. It’s almost like he hadn’t thought about that part.
He certainly didn’t acknowledge what those services entail, and how they can never compensate for the difficulties adopted children or their parents face. As life without Roe becomes a reality in the United States, lawmakers must understand the toll they are foisting on families if they don’t allow women to pursue abortions.
My son is funny, gregarious and wise, with arresting almond eyes that take up a third of his face and a killer jump shot. If anyone is lucky, it’s us; being his mom is one of the great joys of my life. But that joy comes with trauma — his, ours, his biological family’s — that has forever changed us. We chose to adopt and therefore accept the humbling, messy, demanding work of navigating the road toward healing and connection. Our son did not get to choose, and soon thousands of infants and birth mothers may not have a choice, either.
In my work as the director of a nonprofit supporting child welfare-involved youth and families, I’m well aware of how there is already a serious lack of accessible, effective trauma-healing resources for children, birth mothers and adoptive families in this country. But then I experienced this first hand after bringing our son home.
Though my husband and I had ready access to experts in adoption and trauma via my work, a supportive network of family and friends, and the time, money and desire to provide every available resource to support our son’s healing, we struggled. It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver who we trusted to watch our son for even a couple of hours.
We needed help addressing his intense rages, in which he punched himself and the walls while wailing from a place so deep inside that it sounded primal — which it was. He would fight in school and run away; he scrawled “I hat u mom and dade” in Sharpie on his bedroom wall. Despite being loved, wanted and safe, he was operating in fight-or-flight mode 24 hours a day, his pulse racing under my tentative fingers even as his eyelids drooped during book time.
No amount of training or education could have prepared my husband and me for the force of his pain, but slowly, day by day, we inched forward. We threw “normal parenting” out the window, battling our own triggers so we could model calmness and safety even as he tantrumed. We patched the holes in the drywall without a word and stopped chasing him when he ran away.
Over time our son’s nervous system came out of overdrive, and he stopped perceiving everything and everyone as a threat. We started to see glimpses of the compassionate, silly, creative boy trapped inside that shell of fear. Exhausted but hopeful, we stayed the course.
Not every adopted child will rage, but every one will carry trauma that manifests in diverse ways until it is faced and processed. The son of a friend, adopted at birth from a mother who experienced food insecurity, suddenly began hoarding food as a teen; an adult I know, adopted at two months old, was a self-described “happy, perfect child” until she left for college, when seemingly out of nowhere she began cutting herself, failing classes and fantasizing about suicide. The transition of leaving her safe hometown, where everyone knew her as so-and-so’s daughter, and going to college, where her dorm room photos raised questions about why her entire family was white though she was Asian, opened up the wound of her early trauma.
As for birth mothers, the young women who never wanted to be mothers in the first place, they also suffer complicated losses — the loss of their freedom to choose when and under what circumstances they give birth, the loss of the children they never intended to have.
Four years later after his adoption our son is thriving, though the impact of his past has changed him — and us — forever. He steps out of that shell of fear almost every day now, but it is always there, just as the ache for his first parents will always be there, too. He trusts and loves me but remains hypervigilant, anxiously asking “What’s wrong, Mom?” when he observes even the tiniest micro-expression of frustration or annoyance crease my brow. He wakes often at night and paces; at 11, he worries about the future.
Republican lawmakers are prepared to take away a woman’s right to choose without any sign that they’ve given earnest consideration to, let alone resources for, the long-term effects of such a decision. Adoption, a fraught reality for many that is made more complicated because it contains both beauty and pain, should never be propped up by lawmakers as the easy solution to a problem they created by wielding their outsized power over millions of Americans.
Adoption requires a lifelong commitment, and serious patience, time and therapeutic interventions. It should never be forced on anyone. Lawmakers should strive to understand, plan for and fund trauma-healing support services for the thousands of youths and families in the United States already touched by adoption, instead of committing thousands of more Americans to it without their consent.
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