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What Happens When Local Officials Cannot Hold Elections Due To New GOP Laws

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What Happens When Local Officials Cannot Hold Elections Due To New GOP Laws

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National and local authorities took swift action in 2020 to ensure voters can access polling stations with postal ballots and alternative voting options in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was a safe, secure and fraud-free election with the highest voter turnout in 100 years.

But instead of praising election officials for their work under difficult circumstances, Republican politicians in states across the country have chosen to scapegoat them and pass laws limiting their ability to respond to changing circumstances while threatening them with significant criminal penalties to keep them online. In some cases, Republicans have stripped their state election officials entirely of their powers.

These new laws were all inspired by former President Donald Trump’s lie that successful changes implemented by state and local election officials led to widespread electoral fraud in 2020. Republicans at all levels of government government refused to challenge the former president after his lies led to an insurgency on the United States Capitol. Instead, they resumed his fight.

“There is absolutely no question that this is a reaction to the 2020 election and the Big Lie that the election was not legitimate,” said Lawrence Norden, election lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit organization that supports voting rights. “There is no doubt about it.”

Limitations on election officials, new rules making it more difficult to vote, and the introduction of vague criminal penalties to deter people from working at polling stations or running at a local election administration office are all part of the story. Trump’s ongoing campaign to delegitimize elections across the country.

“It is pushing thousands of people to retire,” said Adrian Fontes, the former top election official for Maricopa County, Arizona, and a Democrat currently running for Arizona secretary of state. “It’s a less secure environment because of the growing threats. It had a very negative effect. And that’s because Donald Trump doesn’t believe in democracy and neither does his supporters. “

Make it harder to vote easier

Republicans have targeted election officials’ discretion to allow postal voting, including the use of ballot boxes, after the 2020 election.

John Locher / Associated press

The restrictions on election officials fall into a handful of categories, according to Norden. First, there are the “restrictions on things that were done in 2020 to make things easier,” he says.

Republicans in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas and Texas have banned or restricted local officials from sending mail-in ballot requests to voters who do not request them. Officials in Florida can no longer send mail-in ballots to voters who have not specifically requested them. In Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Indiana, local election officials are now limited in their ability to place and manage mailing boxes. Iowa, Montana, and Texas all have limits on the times and locations of polling stations. And Georgia has banned mobile voting sites, while Texas has banned drive-thru voting sites.

“In each case, it’s in reaction to the impact of the particular thing on the 2020 election,” Norden said.

Texas bans on mailing postal ballot requests, drive-thru voting, and 24-hour voting sites came after Harris County, a large metropolitan area home to Houston and strongly trending Democrats in the last election, rolled out all three policies during the 2020 elections in an attempt to protect voters from the pandemic while maintaining their access to the polls.

In 2020, the Georgia State Council of Elections voted to allow counties to deploy drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent out requests for a vote by correspondence to all voters for the primary of June 9 (but not the general election). The four major counties of Metro Atlanta – Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett have set up 111 drop boxes to collect ballots for the general election. But now the GOP-led state legislature has limited them to just 23 drop boxes.

“Many of these restrictions can be challenged with common sense,” Fontes said. “What if a legislature prevents a local election official from moving an early polling place? What happens if a church serving as a polling station burns down? Local election officials must be able to conduct elections. “

“I don’t think there is any doubt that this is intended to hamper the ability of election officials to educate their constituents and ensure that their constituents can vote.”

– Lawrence Norden, electoral lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice

These new limits on local election officials could be overturned if Congress passes the Freedom to Vote Act, a package of voting rights, constituency and campaign finance reforms. By setting a national standard for voter access, the bill would not only prevent states from blocking local election officials who seek to facilitate voter access, but would in effect require agents to increase access.

However, the law is currently blocked because all 50 Republican senators voted for obstruction. Lawsuits have also been taken in state and federal courts to challenge all of these laws.

Stripping officials of power

The second way GOP-led states have restricted election officials is by stripping them of their power to hold elections or threatening them with criminal sanctions.

In Arizona, Republicans removed the power to oversee elections from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, and turned it over to Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, for the 2022 election. In Georgia, the legislature kicked Raffensperger from a seat on the state board of elections for the 2022 election after refusing Trump’s pleas to “find” enough votes to overrule the state’s 2020 election results.

Notably, the Republican legislatures of Arizona and Georgia only stripped their secretaries of state of their election oversight roles until 2022, when both offices are running for office. In each case, there are Republicans running for office who openly embrace Trump’s electoral fraud lies and could regain election monitoring authority in time for a third Trump presidential race, if they win. .

The Kansas and Kentucky Republicans have also placed new limits on the ability of their Democratic governors to issue election-related emergency orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Georgia, Republicans have facilitated the purge of local officials and their replacement on a partisan basis. There is already a preliminary effort to purge election officials in Fulton County, the state’s most populous county and seat of Atlanta, and replace them with people more supportive of the Republican-led legislature.

What Happens When Local Officials Cannot Hold Elections Due To New GOP Laws

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Texas Republicans banned drive-thru voting in 2021 after Harris County officials used it to help people vote safely in 2020.

David J. Phillip / Associated press

In Iowa, Republicans did not directly deprive local election officials of their ability to run an election, but instead chose to suspend the threat of criminal sanctions and fines of up to $ 10,000 above of their head. County auditors, who hold local elections and have had some discretion in implementing electoral rules in the past, are now only required to follow directions from the Iowa Secretary of State or face sanctions potential criminal offenses.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that this is intended to hamper the ability of election officials to educate their constituents and ensure that their constituents can vote,” Norden said. “And to just make them scapegoats for election results that some voters might not like and make bad guys out of them.”

For Roxanna Moritz, a former Scott County auditor and Iowa Democrat, the new law threatening fines and criminal charges for technical offenses was the last straw. Already exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral fraud lies that began long before Trump lost the 2020 election, and the constant threats from Trump supporters targeting her and her office, Moritz has decided to take her retired despite being re-elected for the fourth time in November.

Moritz is currently under investigation for approving an additional $ 3 hourly wage for election workers without obtaining approval from the Scott County Oversight Board during the pandemic crash in 2020. While ‘she was working 75 to 80 hours a week, she said, she forgot to inform the board of a pay rise for the smaller pool of workers who still signed up to work during the pandemic. Under the new law, Moriz may face significant penalties for raising workers’ wages without notice to the board, although the law says the misconduct must be “willful.”

“It was really hard to get out of the way that I started,” Moritz said. “I had just been re-elected and I feel like I let my riding down by doing what I did. But I was not prepared, if I made an honest mistake, to be taken to the stake and eventually be fined $ 10,000 and charged with a felony. “

More and more election officials may be looking for the door, Moritz believes, as Republicans continue to be scapegoats and the harassment they face continues to escalate.

“As soon as someone is charged, it will be the end of anyone who wants to come forward just in case they make a mistake,” Mortiz said.

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