Election-denying legislators perform important election oversight roles

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican lawmakers who have spread electoral conspiracy theories and falsely claimed the 2020 presidential outcome was rigged are overseeing legislative committees charged with determining election policy in two key states on the political battleground.

Divided governments in Pennsylvania and Arizona mean that 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 critical in electing the next president in 2024.

Awarding such plum positions to lawmakers who repeated conspiracies and spread misinformation cuts more than two years of evidence showing there were no widespread problems or fraud in the last presidential election. It also seems to run counter to the message of the November midterm elections, when voters turned down election-denying candidates running for top presidential positions in battlefield states.

At the same time, many mainstream Republicans are trying to get past the lies former President Donald Trump and his allies told about his loss to President Joe Biden.

“It’s an issue that many Americans and many Pennsylvanians are tired of seeing litigated and re-litigated over and over again,” said Pennsylvania State Senator Amanda Cappalletti, the leading Democrat on the Senate Elections Committee. “I think we are all ready to move forward, and we are seeing from audit after audit that our elections are safe and fair and that the people’s votes are being counted.”

Multiple assessments and audits in the six battleground states where Trump contested his loss, as well as dozens of court dismissals and repeated admonitions from officials in his own administration, have underlined 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 nominations in Pennsylvania and Arizona highlight the split between the two major parties on electoral law. Already this year, Democratic-controlled lawmakers are expanding voting access and increasing penalties for intimidating voters and election officials, as many Republican-led states look to implement further restrictions, a trend that accelerated after the false claims by Trump about the 2020 election.

Democratic governors and legislative victories last fall will dampen the influence of Republicans who have taken steps or pushed rhetoric to overturn the 2020 election.

But in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two legislators who reject the validity of those elections — not to mention other elections since then — will hold key positions as majority chairmen of legislative committees that oversee election legislation.

In Arizona, Republican Senator Wendy Rogers takes over the Senate Elections Committee after being nominated by an ally, Senate President Warren Petersen. He was one of two lawmakers to sign subpoenas leading to the widely derided audit of the 2020 election by Senate Republicans.

Rogers, who has gained a national following for spreading conspiracy theories and questioning elections, has repeatedly faced ethical charges for her inflammatory rhetoric, support for white supremacists and conspiracy-filled social media posts.

She will now be the main gatekeeper to election and voting laws in Arizona, where election changes are a top priority for some Republican lawmakers. Some want to do away with mail-in voting and early voting options, used by more than 80% of the state’s voters.

She has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday to consider bills that ban unchecked drop boxes, ban drive-through voting or ballot pick-up, and impose what proponents say are additional burdens on early voting.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Cris Dush is taking over as chairman of the Senate Government Committee after pushing for the state’s electoral votes to be blocked from going to Biden in 2020. Dush also mounted an election inquiry that he hoped would help would use the Arizona-style audit as a model.

He was nominated by senior Senate Republican President Pro Tem Kim Ward, whose office explained Dush’s nomination only by saying seniority matters and members have priority requests.

In the first weeks of this year’s session, Dush took steps to expand voter ID requirements and add a layer of post-election checks. 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 demand 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 the chairman of the state government will be things that will be done in a fair, impartial manner,” Dush said in an interview. “You know, we have to make sure that we can ensure the integrity of the vote and that people aren’t disenfranchised.”

Arizona and Pennsylvania have newly elected Democratic governors who would presumably veto hard GOP bills that Democrats oppose.

Still, Democrats, county election officials and voting rights advocates in both states want changes to election laws that, with Dush and Rogers in effect, may never see the light of day.

Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director for the voting rights group All Voting is Local, said he expects the legislature there to pass many “bad election laws.” He said moderate Republican lawmakers who might have voted down problematic measures under a Republican governor could now pass them because they know Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs will likely veto them.

“This is performative,” Gulotta said. “This is not substantive.”

The question, he said, is whether Rogers and other Arizona legislators can work together on “small solutions” if there is consensus. That, he said, will take “real statesmanship.”

Liz Avore, a senior adviser to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, said the organization expects another busy period of legislation related to voting and elections ahead of the 2024 presidential election, even as candidates who repeated Trump’s lies about a stolen election in 2020, lost their bids for governor. , Secretary of State and Attorney General in key battlefield states.

Democratic and Republican-led states often move in opposing directions, but some bipartisan consensus has emerged on certain aspects of the electoral law, such as reinstating felony voting rights and expanding early in-person voting, Avore said.

Republican proposals, such as expanding voter identification requirements, are popular and have majority support, as are some Democratic proposals to widen access, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

But to be successful with voters, Republicans must remember the lessons of 2022. Denying the results of fair elections, he said, “is a loser for the Republican Party. Upright.”


Cooper reported from Phoenix.


Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/timelywriter

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