Mar 11, 2022 - Podcasts

Democrats’ plan B for election reform

Earlier this year, Senate Democrats failed to pass a federal voting rights bill – a huge blow to progressive election reform efforts. Now, the party is turning to plan B: and some of its high-dollar donors are working to put new initiatives in place ahead of the November midterms.

  • Plus, long covid patients struggle for financial help.
  • And, an update on two big bills – one state, and one federal.

Guests: Axios' Lachlan Markey, and NBC News reporter Kit Ramgopal.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, March 11th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: long covid patients struggle for financial help.

But first, Democrats’ plan B for election reform is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: Earlier this year, Senate Democrats failed to pass a federal voting rights bill, a huge blow to progressive election reform efforts. Now the party's turning to plan B and some of its high-dollar donors are working to put new initiatives in place ahead of the November midterms.

Lachlan Markey covers money and influence in politics for Axios, and is here with more on what these efforts look like and who's funding them. Hey Lachlan.

LACHLAN MARKEY: Hey.

NIALA: This week, a few progressive groups announced a new plan to elect election administrators. What's their goal here?

LACHLAN: Yeah, you know, there's been a lot of movement, particularly in states that were really close in 2020 to alter the way that either, votes are counted or that votes are cast, or the process for certifying the election. So they want to place, about 5,000, at least 5,000, pro-democracy election administrators, as they put it, to local posts, around the country. So these are the folks who are really on the ground processing and counting ballots, doing the hands-on work that was sort of at the center of a lot of the conspiracy theories in the 2020 election. This is a pretty big step in terms of trying to, to ensure that you have knowledgeable and really responsible people who are doing the nuts and bolts of election administration.

NIALA: So when we say progressives are turning to plan B, that looks like ensuring that there are new election administrators and what else?

LACHLAN: Well, it's going to be really wide ranging. You know, you're seeing stuff on the redistricting front, challenges to maps that are being put forward, that a lot of progressives feel are unfair or, or exclude, uh, voters of color. Conservatives are looking really across the board too. Posts like Secretaries of State, which are generally a state level officers that oversee these elections are all of a sudden getting a ton of more attention and there's a lot more money going into those races.

NIALA: This week you reported on another initiative called the 65 project. Can you tell us that?

LACHLAN: Basically what they're trying to do is both punish and deter legal folks, lawyers on the Republican side who were involved with efforts to overturn 2020 election results. So they plan on filing, uh, over a hundred complaints with state bar associations, essentially asking for any lawyer who was involved at any level in efforts to undermine election results in 2020 to be disbarred to have their law licenses stripped from them. So the idea is it's in a sense very much looking towards future elections and trying to ensure that maybe attorneys think twice about getting involved in, in efforts like that. And folks who are determined to be pushing these conspiracy theories may not be in a position to be practicing law at all.

NIALA: Lachlan Markey is part of the Axios politics team covering money in influence in politics. And he's got a story on this coming out tomorrow is actually part of this month's hard truth, deep dives, where we look at how different groups are tackling systemic racism. Tomorrow's reporting is all going to be focused on voting rights. So look out for Lachlan’s story, and we've also got a special podcast episode about this coming out tomorrow. Thanks Lachlan.

LACHLAN: Thank you!

We’ll be back in 15 seconds with an update on two big bills – one state, and one federal.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

A quick update on two stories we’ve been following:

The Florida state senate passed a bill this week – what activists call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – that would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity, despite massive protests from students:

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed support for the measure. And in Georgia, a bill modeled after the Florida legislation was introduced in the state senate this week.

Also this week, Congress passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act with unanimous support. The bill is headed to President Biden’s desk and will outlaw lynching, and make it a federal hate crime, a century after the first antilynching legislation was introduced. The bill was named after 14-year old Emmett Till who was brutally murdered in a racist attack in 1955.

NIALA: The pandemic may feel like it's ending but people with long COVID are still suffering. And our social safety net isn't set up for long COVID patients who aren't able to work, according to an investigation from Kit Ramgopal, a reporter with the NBC News’ investigative unit. Hi Kit.

KIT RAMGOPAL: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

NIALA: I think the first thing people might be wondering is how many Americans are suffering from long COVID and what does that look like?

KIT: So experts have estimated that between seven and 23 million people have experienced these lingering symptoms, several months out from their initial infection. There's over 200 symptoms that have been classified under the umbrella of long COVID. And so, for some people long COVID is just a few weeks and mild symptoms that go away. But many of the people that we spoke to, have experienced a version of long COVID that has really, you know, dismantled their lives and it takes the form of a condition that lasts for months or even years in some cases.

NIALA: What kind of symptoms do people experience with this chronic condition?

KIT: There's a lot of people that experience really debilitating fatigue, others that experienced neurological effects, you know, brain fog, memory issues. Some of these conditions appear to link back to immune dysfunction or autonomic nervous system dysfunction. It's hard to really say what the most common symptoms are because there is no national population-wide tracking effort.

NIALA: So can people with long COVID maintain their previous work, like their full-time employment that they had before?

KIT: Some people can, some people can't. We've been talking to people who have been sick for two years and these people that got sick in the spring of 2020 in a way, they're the guinea pigs that we're all watching to see, how long is this really going to last? And a lot of them are coming forward and saying, you know, this isn't going away for me. And I need something that's going to help me and my family stay afloat while I'm not able to work in the same way that I was before.

NIALA: And so how does that work? What kind of disability or unemployment assistance is available for people? Do they qualify, for example, for disability coverage from social security?

KIT: People with long COVID, really fall through the holes in the social safety net. There are two major taxpayer funded programs to protect workers against lost income and that's unemployment insurance and disability insurance. In order to claim unemployment insurance, you need to be well enough to work. So a lot of these people are too sick to be searching for work and reporting that to the state. But at the same time, they're not disabled enough in the eyes of private insurers or the federal government to claim disability insurance. Patients have been creating advocacy groups and sending out letters, mailing letters, emailing over 3000 officials across the federal government, trying to articulate what their lived reality of this condition is, which is much more than a medical mystery. It's a condition that inhibits them from returning to life as they knew it before the pandemic. And that comes with financial consequences.

NIALA: Kit Ramgopal is a reporter with NBC news’ investigative unit, and you can find her reporting at nbcnews.com. It’s part of NBC’s new cross-platform series “The New Normal.” We'll include a link to that in our show notes. Thanks Kit.

KIT: Thank you.

One fun thing to leave you with today: South Korea just elected a new president – conservative Yoon Suk Yeol won in a very tight race. And no offense to Steve Kornacki - but the Korean TV coverage of the election was honestly way more entertaining than on US election nights. A giant animated bear was tabulating results on one network. And as the polls came in instead of just boring charts— TV showed video game avatars of the two candidates competing in winter Olympic sports, having dance battles and racing cars in the desert to show who was in the lead. It was hands down the most pleasant thing I watched online all week. I will tweet out a link in case you missed it.

And a last reminder for your weekend: Axios’ new season of the hit podcast How It Happened is a deep dive into the war on Ukraine, with great Axios experts you know from Axios Today…check it out wherever you get your podcasts.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineers are Ben O’ Brien and Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

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