Two Republicans can stop voter suppression
Citing the need to assure Americans that elections will no longer be “rigged” — despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 — Republican lawmakers in 43 states have introduced 253 bills to restrict ballot access. The greatest activity has been in battleground states, especially Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Measures involve early voting, mail-in ballots, drop boxes, mobile voting facilities, and rules to disqualify ballots received after Election Day that cannot be overruled by the executive branch or the courts. They have the greatest potential impact on poor people, African Americans, and Latinos.
These measures face an uncertain future in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, where Republicans have majorities in both houses of the legislature, but the governors are Democrats with the power to veto bills designed to suppress voting.
Some restrictions, however, are likely to be adopted in states in which the GOP controls both the legislature and the governor’s mansion. The Iowa state senate recently passed a bill shortening the early voting period. Although Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that his state “did it right” in November 2020, Florida is poised to reduce the number of drop boxes. Texas lawmakers have submitted a slew of bills limiting voter access.
Already on Donald Trump’s enemies list because they certified their states’ presidential results, two Republican governors — Doug Ducey of Arizona and Brian Kemp of Georgia — could break this momentum. They could — and should — reaffirm that elections have been free and fair and challenge their fellow Republicans to commit to policies and procedures that make it easier, not more difficult, for Americans to cast ballots.
In addition to limiting mail-in voting to individuals who cannot physically vote at a polling place, proposals in Arizona require that ballots be notarized and returned in person and curtail voter registration drives. One bill gives the state legislature the power to revoke the voters’ choice of presidential electors by a simple majority vote, override certification of electors by the Secretary of State, and substitute another slate! Another allows the legislature to choose electors for 2 of the state’s 11 electoral votes.
On Nov. 30, 2020, Gov. Ducey declared, “I’ve been pretty outspoken about Arizona’s election system and bragged about it, quite a bit, including in the Oval Office. And for good reason… We’ve been doing early voting since 1992. Arizona didn’t explore or experiment this year… In Arizona we have some of the strongest election laws in the country, laws that prioritize accountability and clearly lay out procedures for conducting, canvassing, and even contesting the results of an election… The problems that exist in other states simply don’t apply here.”
An opinion writer at the Arizona Republic predicted Gov. Ducey will veto any new election bill — “Unless… he was lying.”
This week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill whose motive Gwinnett County Republican election official Alice O’Lenick acknowledged was partisan: If House Bill 531 is enacted “at least we have a shot at winning,” she said. The legislation mandates that all counties have the same early voting dates and times: Monday-Friday, during business hours, one mandatory Saturday, one additional Saturday or Sunday. The elimination of early voting in the evening and all but one Sunday is aimed directly at working class Georgians and “souls to polls” initiatives, which usher African Americans to polling places after Sunday morning church services.
The House bill also restricts the number of drop boxes, requires them to be inside official voting stations, and available only during in person voting; 531 also prohibits counties from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications, shortens the window to request them from 180 to 78 days, and changes the deadline to return them to 11 days before the election.
Geoff Duncan, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor, has called curbs on mail-in balloting “a bad idea for Georgia. No matter your party. I don’t think it puts us in the best possible position to have an inviting environment for the voting process… This is a temporary mirage that some Republicans are looking at. And I think every day more and more Republicans are starting to wake up to reality, and the reality is, we got beat.”
Although Gov. Kemp has said election reform should be “front and center” for Georgia, he is “reserving judgment” on ending at-will absentee voting and drop boxes.
So, let’s for once, imagine behavior that is unlikely but not impossible: Right now, before their legislatures act, governors Kemp and Ducey could promise a veto, tell Republicans “to wake up to reality,” choose principle over party, and agree that when it’s not necessary to change, it’s necessary not to change.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”
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