The Democratic Association of Secretaries of States (DASS) is trying to flip the seats of chief elections officers in five states and kickstarting the effort with the release of a digital ad Monday that highlights the office charged with protecting voter rights. The occurrence of the coronavirus pandemic in an election year has thrown a spotlight on the voting process because of changes states have been making to limit voters’ exposure to the disease. 

The ad, which will be featured on social media sites, ties black voter suppression to white supremacy in the U.S. 

“White supremacy does not endure on its own. It is propped up by suppressing black voices and votes,” a narrator says in the nearly two-minute long video

Alex Padilla, Chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and California’s secretary of state, said the ad is “inspired by the movements that we’ve seen following the killing of George Floyd.”

In an interview with CBS News, Padilla said it is important to remember the role of elections when responding to the nationwide calls for addressing systemic racism. 

“All the voter suppression efforts that we call out, we know are rooted in white supremacy,” Padilla said. He added that restrictive vote-by-mail policies, purging of voter rolls, and long lines at polling places like Georgia and Wisconsin earlier this month disproportionately impact communities of color.

The ad shows clips of white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting, “White lives matter,” followed by President Trump’s reaction suggesting there are “very fine people on both sides.” The ad claims that white supremacy is a “strategy to hold power” and it’s no “surprise that Donald Trump clings to that strategy so desperately in 2020.”

Asked whether the ad is insinuating that President Trump is a white supremacist, Padilla replied, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck,” adding the president’s “dog whistle has become a bullhorn.”

Padilla said the DASS is aiming to flip secretary-of-state seats in Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia this November.

Overall, Democrats control 20 of the secretary-of-state offices across the country while Republicans hold 25. North Dakota and Texas have independent and non-partisan officials, respectively. 

Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah don’t have a secretary of state — the office’s traditional responsibility of officiating elections falls on the lieutenant governor in those states. Twelve of the 47 states that have a secretary of state are determined by political appointment. The governor appoints the position in nine, and the state legislature appoints the position in three. 

The ad also makes a push for expanding vote-by-mail opportunities “so that no one has to choose between their vote and health.” 

In a recent interview with Politico, the president expressed concern that mail-in voting could jeopardize his chances of re-election. As Republicans across the country file lawsuits to block Democratic attempts at expanding vote-by-mail opportunities, President Trump argued that losing those lawsuits “puts the election at risk,” though he has not provided any evidence to support this claim.

“It is not a concern about policy, it’s his personal political agenda,” Padilla said in response to Mr. Trump’s attacks on vote-by-mail. Padilla was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by Republicans after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in May to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters in the state. 

But the lawsuit, which accused Newsom of a power grab and hinged on the fact that state executives cannot write election laws, was essentially quashed this week as California’s legislature passed a bill codifying automatic vote-by-mail opportunities for active voters. 

Some Republican officials like Washington Secretary of State Kim Wymann and Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, both of whom are up for reelection this year, support vote-by-mail and have advocated for its expansion. But, Padilla says that’s not enough and he’ll still work to elect Democrats in their place.

“If Republican secretaries of state really wanted to stand up for the right to vote, they begin by holding Trump accountable for his systematic attempts to undermine confidence in our elections,” Padilla said. 

Nationwide demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer have “shed a spotlight on institutional racism” in American society, Padilla said. He argued that access to the ballot is an element of that institutional racism.

“People have a special attention and appreciation for who’s in charge of our elections and why electing better secretaries of state this November are important,” Padilla said.

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