WASHINGTON – Donald Trump-style Republicans in more than 30 states are pushing new laws that basically would make it easier for them to steal future elections, according to a new report provided to USA TODAY by a group of voting rights organizations.
“This trend increases the risk of a crisis in which the outcome of an election could be decided contrary to the will of the people,” said the report compiled by three organizations: States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward.
Victoria Bassetti, a senior adviser with the States United Democracy Center and one of the authors of the report, described the efforts as “election subversion,” and called the idea a “new and dangerous attack on democracy.”
With 50 proposals passed since the organizations started tracking them at the start of 2021, Bassetti said that “systematic election subversion like we have found is really new.”
The 2022 edition of an annual report – titled “A Democracy Crisis In The Making” – said proponents are pursuing election subversion through five methods:
Awarding state legislatures the power to award electoral votes; authorizing post-election “audits” that could be partisan in nature; giving partisan lawmakers and appointed officials more powers over election operations; placing “unworkable burdens” on election administrators; and intimidating election officials with the threat of criminal penalties for certain actions.
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Since 2021, a total of 33 states are considering at least 229 bills that involve some form of election subversion, the report said. That includes the 50 bills that have been enacted in at least 14 states.
Trump and his allies began pushing election changes after his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden, and his many false claims about voter fraud.
These proposals also come at a time when Trump is endorsing Republican candidates at all levels of government, including state legislatures, secretaries of state offices, governor’s offices, and Congress – people who would be in a position to pursue election subversion if given the chance.
After Election Day in 2020, Trump and allies pressured officials to change the results in six closely contested states that went for Biden: Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
All six are now involved in the election subversion movement, the report said, along with other potential battlegrounds like Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Minnesota.
“The goal is to change the rules and change the players so as to change the outcomes,” said Rachel Homer, counsel at the voting rights organization Protect Democracy.
Where is the subversion happening?
The report detailed the states where lawmakers are considering or enacting the five methods of subversion:
– Giving legislatures the power to overturn elections and award electoral votes to candidates who did not win the state’s popular vote.
Bills that would do this are pending in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to the report, though it acknowledged that none of these proposals are expected to pass.
“The fact that they are even being introduced indicates that legislatures are considering the option to overturn future elections,” the report said. “This raises obvious alarms for democracy.”
– Partisan “audits”
While professional audit procedures are in place in many states, at least 49 proposals in at least 20 states would allow “unprofessional or biased reviews of election results,” the report said.
After the 2020 election, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Texas authorized election audits by companies that lacked experience in this area and appeared to have partisan motives. Trump had demanded audits and trumpeted specious findings as evidence of voter fraud.
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“The false belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump due to voter fraud, election machine manipulation, or other irregularities has been repeatedly debunked, yet it motivates the trend of unprofessional reviews often conducted by explicitly biased personnel,” the report said.
– Giving partisans more control over the election process.
There are 38 proposals in at least a dozen states that would give more authority over election procedures to more biased lawmakers or their appointees. These proposals “increase the danger of partisan election manipulation,” the report said.
One example is Georgia, which passed new laws in direct response to Trump’s protest of his loss to Biden in the Peach State. Trump still criticizes Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and is backing challengers to both Republican incumbents in Tuesday’s primaries.
As if to punish Raffensperger, the Georgia law stripped the secretary of State of his role as chair of the State Election Board. It gives the more partisan legislature the authority to appoint the election board chair, and gave the board as a whole the power to remove local election officials for cause, after a hearing and appeals process.
Pending proposals in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would allow legislators to revoke any election rule or regulation they dispute.
– “Unworkable burdens” on election administration.
Some subversion proposals are designed to sow doubt about the results by placing unreasonable demands on election administrators said.
For example, Trump backers in at least six states are calling for required hand counts of ballots, a reaction to false claims that voting machines were tampered with in 2020. While fine in theory, hand-counting creates problems in the real world where states deal with hundreds of thousands or even millions of ballots, the reports’ authors say.
Demanding hand counting practically guarantees “delays, higher rates of counting error, and increased risk of tampering by bad actors.”
The six states considering hand counting requirements are Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia.
Another set of proposals would prevent election officials from responding to “partisan poll watchers who interfere with or intimidate voters or officials.” That might lead to suppression of votes or interference with counting ballots, the report said.
– Legal threats against election officials
Some proposals seem designed to intimidate election officials into undermining balloting, the report said, threatening them with legal penalties “for poorly defined offenses.”
In Texas, for example, the state’s new voting law makes it illegal to help people fill out ballot applications. Florida has created a new office to investigate complaints against election officials.
The goal: Pressure.
“They create this air of intimidation,” said Elizabeth Pierson, an attorney with the organization Law Forward who helped put together the report.
After the 2020 election, Trump and his allies tried some of these same tactics in states like Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
They were unsuccessful in getting states to change their electoral votes
Many of these pending proposals, Homer said, would “make it more plausible that their efforts could succeed next time.”