State Watch

Republicans plan voting overhauls after Biden’s win

Republican state legislators are advancing a rush of new bills aimed at limiting voting access, and especially access to voting by mail, in the wake of President Biden’s victory last year in the highest-turnout election in American history.

The proposals come after months of pressure from former President Trump, who with the help of Republican allies spread false claims and conspiracy theories related to the election, including that widespread voter fraud cost him a victory.

In many states, Republicans have used those claims to cite unspecified concerns about the integrity of their own elections, despite elections officials who show proof that counts were fair and accurate.

Democrats and voting rights advocates counter that the proposals are thinly veiled attempts to restrict access to the polls. 

“In the last 10 years, we have seen some politicians try to enact changes to the rules of the game so that some people can participate and some people can’t,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Voting Rights and Elections Program. “Rather than competing for voters, there are some politicians that instead would prefer to lock people out of the process.”

In some states, the new bills would roll back emergency voting provisions put in place during the pandemic. In others, the proposals go so far as to repeal long-standing practices implemented more than a decade ago with bipartisan support.

Arizona state Rep. Kevin Payne (R) has filed legislation to eliminate a permanent early voting list, one that automatically sends absentee ballots to 3.2 million voters — three-quarters of the state’s registered voters. The permanent early voting list was created in 2007 at the behest of both Republican and Democratic county elections officials.

Payne has also introduced a bill to require a notary’s signature on any mail-in ballot, in a state in which the vast majority of voters cast their ballots by mail.

Payne did not respond to a request for comment. But state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R), who heads the Government and Elections Committee, told The Hill last month she intended to address some voting reforms too, including the permanent early voting list.

“That list I think is outdated. There always seem to be ballots sent to homes where the residents don’t live anymore, and we don’t want to send live ballots without knowing [where] it’s going to,” Ugenti-Rita said.

Top Republicans in Georgia are planning legislation to further restrict absentee voting, after Biden won the state’s electoral votes and Sens. Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossoff (D) defeated two Republican incumbents. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) told a legislative panel last week he supported adding a photo identification requirement to absentee ballots.

“Many Georgians are concerned about the integrity of our election system. Some of those concerns may or may not be well-founded, but there may be others that are,” state House Speaker David Ralston (R) told the Georgia Chamber of Commerce earlier this month.

Pennsylvania Republicans have plans to hold more than a dozen hearings on election integrity over the next several months after Biden won the state by more than 80,000 votes. State Rep. Jim Gregory (R) has introduced legislation to repeal an expansion of mail-in voting.

In Michigan, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) has said he will work on a new requirement that voters show a photo identification at the polls. Biden won Michigan, a state Trump narrowly carried in 2016, by more than 150,000 votes, almost 3 percentage points.

Wisconsin state Rep. Gary Tauchen (R) earlier this year introduced legislation that would allocate presidential electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district, rather than all 10 to the statewide winner. 

Biden won Wisconsin by 20,000 votes, though Trump won a majority in six of eight congressional districts. Only Maine and Nebraska currently award electoral votes by congressional district.

Even in states Trump carried, Republican legislators are working on new measures that critics say would impede access to the polls. Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobson (R) said last week she would support a measure that would end same-day voter registration. A Texas state representative has filed a bill to require faster processing of death certificates to remove deceased voters from the rolls, in spite of a lack of evidence of fraudulent votes cast in the name of the dead.

Voting rights advocates said they struggled to understand the logic behind proposing changes after an election in which many Republicans not named Trump did well.

While the GOP lost the Senate majority after the Georgia results, Republicans gained seats in the House, for example.

“It’s sort of baffling considering that besides the president, Republicans won up and down the ticket and had record turnout as well,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections at Common Cause. “These are states with Republican election officials and Republican legislatures because these policies have been used by Republican voters that elected those individuals.”

In an op-ed, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, an appointee of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), called the GOP proposals “a clear ploy to continue to propagate false allegations that have already been debunked by independent fact-checkers and trusted election officials.”

The Brennan Center’s Pérez predicted Republicans who push changes to voting rules would face electoral consequences.

“Over time, politicians will learn that voters don’t take very kindly to being shut out of the process,” Pérez said. “Voters aren’t going to forget who these people are that have been trying to put barriers in front of them.”

Tags 2020 election Arizona Donald Trump Georgia Jon Ossoff Michigan Raphael Warnock Tom Wolf voter rights Wisconsin

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