June 28, 2021
June 24, 2021
Editorial credit: Christine Glade/Shutterstock
The more visible restrictions designed to make voting more difficult, such as those on mail-in voting, absentee ballots, voter verification requirements, and voting hours, are bad enough. Like the tip of an iceberg, however, they obscure the ultimate danger: the power of State legislatures, rather than election officials who are duty-bound to administer election laws impartially, to determine who wins elections. The effort is motivated by the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
The best example is the Georgia legislature’s response this year to the refusal of its Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, to capitulate to Trump’s demand that he “find” enough votes to overturn Trump’s loss in Georgia. As part of new legislation making it more difficult to vote, Georgia terminated the Secretary of State’s position as chairman of Georgia’s State Election Board and gave the General Assembly the right to appoint the Board’s head instead. It did not matter that at least two voter recounts found no evidence of material voting irregularities. The legislature simply did not like the result.
It would be bad enough if Georgia were the sole State attacking the impartiality of the voting process. But data from key non-partisan organizations – The Brennan Center for Justice, Protect Democracy, States United Democracy Center, and Law Forward – demonstrate that Georgia is far from alone. Bills pending or enacted in forty-one States reflect similar attempts to inject political and partisan considerations into the administration of presidential elections.
Many of these bills allocate or propose to allocate to the legislature, rather than the executive branch, the power to appoint election officials, thereby reducing the ability of those officials to administer elections and certify outcomes without legislative interference. Included in many are provisions requiring legislative approval of procedural changes traditionally left to professional election administrators to deal with unique local circumstances or emergencies, like the pandemic or even a burst pipe in a polling station. Included also are provisions that allow the legislatures to not only micromanage the ways election officials perform their responsibilities, but also fine and penalize them.
The substantial amount of expertise and sophisticated analysis required to understand these provisions impede efforts to scrutinize the bills. But no complex analysis is needed to understand the motivations and implications of the legislators. Nor is a sophisticated analysis needed to combat the anti-democratic efforts underway.
Those in power in State legislatures who are now trying to undermine election impartiality and make themselves the arbiters of election outcomes – whether directly or indirectly – must be unmasked for what they are: enemies of democracy.
The Republican-controlled legislatures serve only their personal and political self-interest when, with cold deliberation, they enact laws to make it harder for citizens to exercise their fundamental, constitutional right to vote and to create partisan control over how the votes are counted. Self-interested power-seeking must not be allowed to undermine our democracy.
We at Lawyers Defending American Democracy urge all Americans to pay close attention to what State legislatures are doing to suppress voting, even though the details and full implications may seem obscure.
We also call upon all Americans to contact their representatives – state and federal – to insist that they renounce efforts to change election laws and procedures in ways that impair the impartiality of the electoral process. Contacting the media to express concern through letters to the editor or otherwise can help sound the alarm and mobilize others to get involved. Lawyers can urge their bar associations to act as well.
All other rights in our Constitution are meaningless if we cannot freely and fairly vote. Your efforts will tell your representatives you are watching. You will know who is trying to steal elections by the way they respond.
THIS IS A STATEMENT FROM THE BOARD OF LAWYERS DEFENDING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY