Republican lawmakers who have spread election conspiracy theories and falsely claimed the 2020 presidential outcome was rigged oversee legislative committees charged with setting election policy in two major political battleground states.
Divided governments in Pennsylvania and Arizona mean any voting restrictions proposed by GOP lawmakers are likely to fail. Still, the high-profile appointments give lawmakers a platform to cast further doubt on the integrity of elections in states that will be crucial to choosing the next president in 2024.
Awarding such plum positions to lawmakers who have repeatedly conspired and spread misinformation cuts against more than two years of evidence showing that there were no widespread problems or fraud in the last presidential election. It also appears to be at odds with the message delivered in November’s midterm elections, when voters rejected renegade candidates running for top offices in the president’s battleground states.
At the same time, many mainstream Republicans are trying to move past the lies told by former President Donald Trump and his allies about his loss to President Joe Biden.
“It’s an issue that many Americans and many Pennsylvanians are tired of seeing litigated and litigated over and over again,” said Sen. Amanda Cappalletti of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that handles election law. “I think we’re all ready to move forward, and we’re seeing audit after audit that our elections are safe, they’re fair, and people’s votes are being counted.”
Multiple reviews and audits in the six battleground states where Trump contested his loss, as well as dozens of judicial dismissals and repeated admonitions by officials in his own administration, have emphasized that the 2020 presidential results were accurate. There was no widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines that would have changed the result.
The legislative appointments in Pennsylvania and Arizona highlight the divide between the two major parties in election law. Already this year, Democratic-controlled lawmakers are moving to expand access to voting and increase penalties to intimidate voters and poll workers, while many Republican-led states aim to enact further restrictions, a trend that accelerated after Trump’s false claims about the election in 2020.
Democratic governors and legislative victories last fall will blunt the influence of Republicans who took steps or pushed rhetoric that sought to overturn the 2020 election.
But in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two lawmakers who reject the validity of that election — not to mention other elections since then — will hold key positions of influence as majority leaders of legislative committees that oversee election legislation.
In Arizona, Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers takes over the Senate Nominations Committee after being appointed by an ally, Senate President Warren Petersen. He was one of two lawmakers who signed petitions that led to Senate Republicans’ widely derided 2020 election audit.
Rogers, who has gained a national following for spreading conspiracy theories and questioning elections, has faced repeated ethics charges for his inflammatory rhetoric, support for white supremacy and conspiracy-laden social media posts.
She will now be a key gatekeeper for election and voting bills in Arizona, where electoral reform is a top priority for some Republican lawmakers. Some want to eliminate mail-in voting and early voting options used by more than 80% of the state’s voters.
She has scheduled a committee meeting on Monday to consider bills that would ban unattended drop boxes, ban drive-thru or pick-up ballots and impose what voting rights advocates say are additional burdens on early voting.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Cris Dush takes over as chairman of the Senate State Government Committee after pushing to block the state’s electoral votes from going to Biden in 2020. Dush also launched an election probe that he hoped would use the Arizona-style audit as a model.
He was appointed by the Senate’s ranking Republican, President Pro Tem Kim Ward, whose office explained Dush’s appointment only by saying that seniority plays a role and that members have priority requests.
In the first weeks of this year’s session, Dush has moved forward with measures to expand voter identification requirements and add a layer of post-election audits. Both are proposed constitutional amendments designed to bypass a governor’s veto by going to voters for approval.
Dush said he also plans to develop legislation to require more security measures for drop boxes and ballots.
“I’m going to make a promise to the people of Pennsylvania: The things I do here as head of state government, they’re going to be things that are going to be done in a fair, impartial way,” Dush said in an interview. “You know, we just have to make sure that we can ensure the integrity of the vote and that people are not disenfranchised.”
Arizona and Pennsylvania have newly elected Democratic governors who would presumably veto tough GOP laws opposed by Democrats.
Still, Democrats, county election officials and voting rights advocates in both states want changes to election laws that, with Dush and Rogers in place, may never see the light of day.
Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director of the voting rights group All Voting is Local, said he expects the legislature there to pass a lot of “bad election laws.” He said moderate Republican lawmakers who might have voted down problematic measures under a Republican governor may now let them pass because they know Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is likely to veto them.
“This is performative,” Gulotta said. “This is not significant.”
The question, he said, is whether Rogers and other Arizona lawmakers can work together on “small fixes” where there is consensus. That, he said, will require “real statesmanship”.
Liz Avore, senior counsel for the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, said the organization expects another busy period of legislative work related to voting and elections ahead of the 2024 presidential election, even though candidates who repeated Trump’s lies about a stolen election in 2020 lost bids for governor. , secretary of state and attorney general in important states on the battlefield.
Democratic- and Republican-led states often move in opposite directions, but some bipartisan consensus has emerged on certain aspects of the election law, such as restoring voting rights to felons and expanding early in-person voting, Avore said.
Republican proposals, such as expanding voter identification requirements, are popular and have majority support, as do some Democratic proposals to expand access, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
But to succeed with voters, Republicans need to think about the lessons of 2022. Denying the outcome of fair elections, he said, “is a loser for the Republican Party. Straight up.”
Cooper reported from Phoenix.
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