GOP Lawmakers Seek Tougher Voting Rules After Record Turnout

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -
Workers transport mail-in and absentee ballots to be processed at West Chester University in West Chester. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Republican lawmakers in statehouses across the country are moving swiftly to attack some of the voting methods that fueled the highest turnout for a presidential election in 50 years.

Although most legislative sessions are just getting underway, the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute, has already tallied more than 100 bills in 28 states meant to restrict voting access. More than a third of those proposals are aimed at limiting mail voting, while other bills seek to strengthen voter ID requirements and registration processes, as well as allow for more aggressive means to remove people from voter rolls.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing some politicians who want to manipulate the rules of the game so that some people can participate and some can’t,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center.

The proposals are advancing not only in Texas and other traditional red states but also in such places as Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania that supported Donald Trump four years ago, only to flip for Joe Biden in November.

In last year’s presidential election, nearly 70% of all ballots cast nationwide came before Election Day, with an estimated 108 million people voting through the mail, early in-person or by dropping off absentee ballots. The surge came after states expanded access to mail voting and early voting, with a few states sending absentee ballots to all registered voters in response to the coronavirus pandemic that raised safety questions about large crowds at the polls.

In Texas, the nation’s largest Republican-controlled state, the 2020 presidential election was considered a resounding success by almost any measure. Millions took advantage of early in-person voting to shatter the state’s turnout record. There were no reports of widespread system meltdowns, voter disenfranchisement or fraud.

But some GOP lawmakers there are seeking new criminal offenses to deter voter fraud, even though actual fraud is exceedingly rare. Other bills would prohibit independent groups from distributing application forms for mail-in ballots and clarify who can request an application. In September, the state sued Harris County, home to Democratic-leaning Houston, to stop officials from sending mail ballot applications to the more than 2 million registered voters there.

A bill to eliminate no-excuse mail voting has been introduced in Pennsylvania, though the proposal would need approval from the state’s Democratic governor. In Arizona, Republicans have introduced bills that would eliminate the state’s permanent early voting list, require mail ballots to be notarized, require mail-in ballots to be hand-delivered to a voting location and allow lawmakers to overturn presidential election results.

In Georgia, where Biden’s win was verified in three separate tallies, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature are gearing up to impose new barriers on mail voting, which was used heavily by Democrats in the presidential and Senate run-off elections.

A Republican senator has introduced a bill that would require voters to make copies of their photo ID and mail it to election officials twice in order to cast an absentee ballot. The state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state have backed the idea of requiring a photo ID for mail voting, though it’s unclear if they support that specific bill.