Controversial voting laws add to Democrats’ midterm obstacles
The proliferation of controversial voting measures in state legislatures is adding another layer of uncertainty for Democrats as they brace for an already challenging political landscape in the 2022 midterm elections.
Nearly a dozen states, including battlegrounds like Florida and Georgia, have already enacted new voting laws this year, and there are more on the way. The Texas state House of Representatives approved an omnibus bill on Friday that calls for a host of new voting restrictions.
The new measures, which Democrats say are intended to make voting more difficult, present just one more obstacle for Democrats heading into 2022, when they will have to defend their slim majorities in the House and Senate.
“I think we need to state the purpose: Republican politicians are using lies about the 2020 election to pass voter suppression laws that they think will hand their party power,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state in Colorado and the chair of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.
“This is all hands on deck,” she added. “These laws are modern-day Jim Crow and we cannot allow these voter suppression laws to stand.”
Democrats are already grappling with other challenges. The decennial redistricting process appears likely to favor Republicans, who control the legislatures in states like Texas, Florida and North Carolina, all of which are slated to gain seats in the U.S. House next year. At the same time, the retirement plans of several House Democrats have opened up new pick-up opportunities for Republicans.
Looming over all of it is the fact that the party of a new president tends to lose ground in midterm elections.
Republicans will likely have to gain only about a half-dozen seats in the House and just one in the Senate to recapture their congressional majorities. Democrats fear that by shaking up election laws and enacting new voting restrictions, the GOP may be setting itself up for a power grab next year.
“I am concerned about whether my party, which tends to be over-representative of communities of color, of communities that are disadvantaged and marginalized, that the party to which I pledge allegiance, or at least I have given my fealty, that the party could lose,” Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist, said in an interview with “PBS NewsHour” last week.
The slew of new voting legislation underscores how Republicans at virtually every level of government have rushed to embrace former President Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities.
Republican defenders of the new voting measures say that they are necessary to help restore voters’ confidence in elections after the turmoil of 2020.
There’s some debate among Democrats over the extent to which the new voting laws will help Republicans in 2022.
Griswold noted that while some of the measures are likely to disproportionately impact Black and brown people, who tend to vote more for Democrats, legislation targeting practices like absentee voting has the potential to negatively affect Republicans, who have long relied on the practice, especially in battlegrounds like Florida.
“These reforms in themselves do not help the Republican Party,” she said. “We also saw last year record turnout by Democrats and Republicans. At the end of the day, these voter suppression laws are hurting Americans and hurting our democracy.”
The new voting laws have already prompted a spate of lawsuits from voting and civil rights groups and Democratic-aligned attorneys seeking to block the measures from going into effect.
Minutes after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a raft of new voting restrictions last week, a coalition of voting rights organizations represented by the prominent Democratic attorney Marc Elias filed a lawsuit challenging the law. That was followed by other lawsuits from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“It’s a despicable attempt by a one-party-ruled legislature to choose who can vote in our state and who cannot,” said Patricia Brigham, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of the groups represented by Elias. “It’s undemocratic, unconstitutional and un-American.”
Similar legal battles are being fought in Georgia, which in March became the first battleground to overhaul its elections system in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
But Democrats acknowledge that the lawsuits are far from a perfect solution to their problems. For one, such legal battles are often time-consuming and there’s a chance that they won’t be resolved before the 2022 midterms. The Supreme Court has also dismantled key voting rights statutes over the past decade, paving the way for state governments to enact tougher restrictions.
Democrats say the better solution lies in a far-reaching elections bill, dubbed the For the People Act. That measure would create new national voting standards, mandate that states use nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw congressional lines and set new financial disclosure requirements for super PACs and political nonprofits often called “dark money groups.”
The House has already passed its version of the bill, H.R. 1, in March. But it has virtually no support among Republicans, who have cast the measure as a Democratic power grab and federal takeover of voting rules and procedures typically decided at the state level.
One Nation, a political nonprofit aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced on Tuesday that it would spend $1.85 million over the next 10 days on an ad buy in five states — Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada and West Virginia — opposing the passage of H.R. 1.
Still, the bill is unlikely to win the 60-plus votes in the Senate that it needs to break a filibuster. And while some Democrats have urged their party to change Senate rules to allow it to pass with a simple majority, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has ruled out such a move, meaning the filibuster will likely remain in place for now.
While Democrats have publicly expressed optimism about their chances of blocking new state voting laws, some privately acknowledged that they may be stuck dealing with the restrictions in 2022. The Democratic National Committee has already vowed to bulk up its voter protection program ahead of the midterms in a sign that it anticipates new obstacles next year.
“I think, without H.R. 1, it might just be that we’re going to have to learn to live with some of this stuff,” one Democratic strategist who is involved in House races said. “Try to organize around it, make sure people know what’s going on and just be prepared.”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.