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On Monday, three West Virginia Democratic leaders—Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin, and Rep. Nick Rahall—announced that they would be skipping the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September. Today, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Mark Critz joined the group.

All four politicians come from districts where Barack Obama is deeply unpopular, and they seem to be making a concerted effort to distance themselves from the president. Both Manchin and Tomblin have refused to indicate whether they will support Obama, stating that they don’t know if they’ll vote for him in the fall. There are obvious political reasons for their hesitance; after all, in the presidential primary, 40 percent of Democratic voters supported a federal prison inmate over the Commander in Chief.

In Critz’s case, he represents a socially conservative district where an internal poll showed that Obama was down double digits to Romney.

While all four have made excuses along the lines of “focusing on the local voters,” their decisions to dodge the convention have raised criticism from both parties.

When asked if the decision to skip the convention would earn a toned-down treatment from the GOP, West Virginia GOP Executive Director Chad Holland responded:

The fact that they’re running and hiding from the Democrat convention when everybody knows that the only reason they’re doing it is so they don’t have to answer the question yet of who they support for president shows a profound lack of leadership. West Virginia has serious problems and it needs serious men and women to resolve these problems. And if you can’t step up and say you support for president, I don’t know how we can trust you to solve the problems facing fellow West Virginians.

Furthermore, during the Democratic convention in Charleston, West Virginia, one delegate called Manchin and Tomblin’s behavior “reprehensible,” while another said that she wouldn’t support the two men if they wouldn’t support Obama.

While it’s already presumed that Obama will not win West Virginia, Critz’s decision to stay away from the convention could be a sign of trouble in the battleground state of Pennsylvania—a state that supported the president in 2008, but where Obama seriously underperformed in this year’s primary.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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