Wednesday, 4 Aug 2021

What’s at Stake in the Fight Over Voting Rights

With President Biden set to give a speech on voting rights in Philadelphia today and the Texas Legislature engulfed in chaos over a Republican effort to change election rules, we want to update you on the latest developments on the issue.

We’ll break down the major themes in the new state laws that Republicans are passing, as well as the responses from Democrats. The short version: Democratic leaders have no evident way to stop the Republican-backed laws — but the effect of those laws remains somewhat uncertain.

First, the news

In his Philadelphia speech, Biden will call efforts to limit ballot access “authoritarian and anti-American,” the White House said.

Some Democrats hope that presidential attention will persuade Congress to pass a voting-rights bill that outlaws the new Republican voting rules. But that’s unlikely. Congressional Republicans are almost uniformly opposed to ambitious voting-rights bills. And some Senate Democrats, including Joe Manchin, seem unwilling to change the filibuster, which would almost certainly be necessary to pass a bill.

So why is Biden giving a speech? In part, it helps him avoid criticism from progressive Democrats that he is ignoring the subject, as Michael Shear, a White House correspondent for The Times, told us.

But Biden also appears to be genuinely concerned about the issue, and the use of the presidential bully pulpit is one of the few options available to him. Over the long term, high-profile attention may increase the chances of federal legislation, Michael said.

In Texas, Democratic legislators fled the state yesterday to deny the Republican-controlled Legislature the quorum it needs to pass a restrictive voting bill. The move is likely only to delay the bill, not stop it from becoming law.

The G.O.P. laws

In 17 states, Republican lawmakers have recently enacted laws limiting ballot access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Texas could become the 18th.

Republican officials have justified these new laws by saying that they want to crack down on voter fraud. They passed the laws after Donald Trump spent months falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

Studies have repeatedly found that voter fraud is not a widespread problem. Some of the very few cases have involved Republicans trying to vote more than once.

The substance of the laws makes their true intent clear: They are generally meant to help Republicans win more elections.

Increase partisan control

So far, at least 14 states have enacted laws that give partisan officials more control over election oversight — potentially allowing those politicians to overturn an election result, as Donald Trump urged state-level Republicans to do last year.

In Georgia, a Republican-controlled commission now has the power to remove local election officials, and has already removed some. In Florida, elections officials who fail to supervise drop boxes continuously can be fined $25,000. Arkansas has empowered a state board to “take over and conduct elections” in a county if the G.O.P.-dominated legislature deems it is necessary. Arizona Republicans took away the Democratic secretary of state’s authority over election lawsuits and gave it to the Republican attorney general.

It’s not hard to imagine how Republican legislators could use some of these new rules to disqualify enough ballots to flip the result of a very close election — like, say, last year’s presidential election in Arizona or Georgia. The election-administration provisions, The Times’s Nate Cohn has written, are “the most insidious and serious threat to democracy” in the new bills.

Making voting harder

Many Republican politicians believe that they are less likely to win elections when voter turnout is high and have passed laws that generally make voting more difficult.

The Battle Over Voting Rights

After former President Donald J. Trump returned in recent months to making false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, Republican lawmakers in many states have marched ahead to pass laws making it harder to vote and change how elections are run, frustrating Democrats and even some election officials in their own party.

    • A Key Topic: The rules and procedures of elections have become central issues in American politics. As of May 14, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute.
    • The Basic Measures: The restrictions vary by state but can include limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots, and doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.
    • More Extreme Measures: Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules, clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives, and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections.
    • Pushback: This Republican effort has led Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws. A sweeping voting rights bill passed the House in March, but faces difficult obstacles in the Senate, including from Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia. Republicans have remained united against the proposal and even if the bill became law, it would most likely face steep legal challenges.
    • Florida: Measures here include limiting the use of drop boxes, adding more identification requirements for absentee ballots, requiring voters to request an absentee ballot for each election, limiting who could collect and drop off ballots, and further empowering partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
    • Texas: Texas Democrats successfully blocked the state’s expansive voting bill, known as S.B. 7, in a late-night walkout and are starting a major statewide registration program focused on racially diverse communities. But Republicans in the state have pledged to return in a special session and pass a similar voting bill. S.B. 7 included new restrictions on absentee voting; granted broad new autonomy and authority to partisan poll watchers; escalated punishments for mistakes or offenses by election officials; and banned both drive-through voting and 24-hour voting.
    • Other States: Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that would limit the distribution of mail ballots. The bill, which includes removing voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years, may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted there. Georgia Republicans in March enacted far-reaching new voting laws that limit ballot drop-boxes and make the distribution of water within certain boundaries of a polling station a misdemeanor. And Iowa has imposed new limits, including reducing the period for early voting and in-person voting hours on Election Day.

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