GOP Uses Voters to Push Election Reforms in Unlikely States

A voter marks his recall ballot at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Office in Sacramento, Calif.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Republicans have succeeded this year in passing a range of voting restrictions in states they control politically, from Georgia to Iowa to Texas. They’re not stopping there.

Republicans in at least four states where Democrats control the governor’s office, the legislature or both — California, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania — are pursuing statewide ballot initiatives or veto-proof proposals to enact voter ID restrictions and other changes to election law.

In another state, Nebraska, Republicans control the governor’s office and have a majority in the single-house legislature, but are pushing a voter ID ballot measure because they have been unable to get enough lawmakers on board.

A common thread among the Republican proposals is toughening voter identification requirements, both for in-person and mail voting.

In Michigan and Pennsylvania, Republicans are trying to get around Democratic governors who wield the veto pen. Wisconsin Republicans say they also are considering such a strategy.

In California and Massachusetts, Republicans are a minority in both houses of the legislature. In Republican-controlled Nebraska, the hang-up is an officially nonpartisan legislature where more liberal lawmakers can derail legislation that enjoys broad conservative support.

The road to gain voter approval is uphill in California and Massachusetts, but there’s a clearer path to success in the other states.

Voter fraud is exceedingly rare, and when it’s attempted is typically caught by local election offices. The government’s own cybersecurity agency declared the 2020 presidential election the most secure in U.S. history.

In any case, Democrats say voter ID laws will do nothing to prevent the little fraud that exists. Rather, it will serve only to force the elderly, poor and disabled to go to unnecessary lengths to get proper government-issued identification cards they may not have, they say.

No state legislature has produced evidence of widespread election fraud. Even so, at least 10 Republican-controlled states have enacted laws so far this year that toughen voter ID or signature requirements or pare back opportunities to register to vote or cast a ballot.

Putting voter-related matters to a statewide vote is nothing new.

In recent years, for example, voters in California and Florida restored felons’ right to vote. In 2018, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing people to register on Election Day and request absentee ballots without having to give a reason.

The difference this year is Republicans using the process in an attempt to enact restrictions they couldn’t pass otherwise.

In California, Massachusetts and Nebraska, Republicans are trying to gather enough signatures to get their proposals on ballots in next year’s general election.

In Michigan, Republicans are using an unusual provision in the state constitution to gather enough petition signatures so the GOP-controlled Legislature can pass a veto-proof voter ID bill.

Among other things, the Michigan initiative would prohibit sending mail-in ballot applications to people who did not request them, with backers saying it sowed confusion and mistrust in 2020.

“Democratic leadership is out of step with their voters,” said Jamie Roe, a Republican campaign consultant and strategist with the Secure MI Vote initiative.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is preparing to veto similar legislation on her desk, telling reporters this month that there was not one “scintilla” of evidence of widespread voting fraud in last year’s election.

“Our elections work. You don’t like the outcome? Well, then you run in the next election and try to win and earn people’s votes — not cut out a segment of people that cast their ballot as Americans and have a right to do that,” Whitmer said.