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Former president Donald Trump

Screenshot from former President Trump's Instagram (@realdonaldtrump)

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

After the 2020 presidential election, North Carolina-based financier and Donald Trump supporter Fred Eshelman donated $2.5 million to True The Vote — a far-right group that claims it is promoting "election integrity" but has been attacked by critics as a tool of voter suppression. Now Eshelman, according to Washington Post reporters Shawn Boburg and Jon Swaine, is disappointed and is demanding a refund.

"The story behind the Eshelman donation — detailed in previously unreported court filings and exclusive interviews with those involved — provides new insights into the frenetic days after the election, when baseless claims led donors to give hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse President Biden's victory," Boburg and Swain explain. "Trump's campaign and the Republican Party collected $255 million in two months, saying the money would support legal challenges to an election marred by fraud. Trump's staunchest allies in Congress also raised money off those false allegations, as did pro-Trump lawyers seeking to overturn the election results — and even some of their witnesses."

The Post reporters add that although True the Vote's election-related lawsuits "drew less attention than those brought by the Trump campaign," the group "nonetheless sought to raise more than $7 million for its investigation of the 2020 election."

According to Boburg and Swain, "Documents that have surfaced in Eshelman's litigation, along with interviews, show how True the Vote's private assurances that it was on the cusp of revealing illegal election schemes repeatedly fizzled as the group's focus shifted from one allegation to the next. The nonprofit sought to coordinate its efforts with a coalition of Trump's allies, including Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), the documents show."

Eshelman has filed two lawsuits: one in federal court, the other in state court. The federal lawsuit has been withdrawn, while the one in Texas continues. And in both of them, Eshelman has alleged that his donations to True to Vote were not used as he meant for them to be. True the Vote, in response, has maintained that Eshelman's donations were used properly.'

Of course, no serious evidence of widespread voter fraud — the kind Trump supporters hoped would overturn Joe Biden's win — ever materialized.

True the Vote was founded by Catherine Engelbrecht, a Texas-based Tea Party activist. And the 2020 presidential election was not the first time it made bogus claims of voter fraud. After the 2016 presidential election, for example, True the Vote claimed that "more than 3 million non-citizens" voted in that election and announced that it was launching a thorough investigation. But True the Vote ended up dropping that investigation, saying that it didn't have the funds needed to continue.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and the late Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings are among the well-known Democrats who have accused True the Vote of voter suppression tactics. In a letter to True the Vote in 2012, Cummings wrote, "Some have suggested that your true goal is not voter integrity, but voter suppression against thousands of legitimate voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates. If these efforts are intentional, politically motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights."

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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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