The Conservative campaign to restrict voting rights has helped spur the passage of bills in at least 18 states and, backed by a lot of money, is now expanding its reach across the United States in a concerted effort to suppress the vote and favor Republicans, say electoral law experts and watchdogs.
The lobbying and media campaign is aimed at spending tens of millions of dollars and is led by well-funded conservative and dark money groups, some of whom are also lobbying Congress to block government-backed bills. Democrats to protect voting rights nationwide, according to watchdogs and election law. experts.
Right-wing state and congressional blitzes to restrict voting rights, which were fueled by Donald Trump’s repeated false claims about widespread fraud in last year’s election, are misrepresented as improving “electoral integrity”. They have led to stricter election laws in Georgia, Florida, Iowa and elsewhere. Similar measures are now imposed in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states.
The state’s lobbying efforts feature conservative strongholds with deep pockets such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, and the State Policy Network, a loose group of right-wing think tanks, including some many have received grants from the donor network. run by oil billionaire Charles Koch and the Bradley Foundation.
Other influential players pushing for stricter voting laws include the Fair Elections Project and the Opportunity Solutions Project.
Right-wing lobbying tactics range from providing state lawmakers with template bills to paying for Facebook ads in many states that contain questionable information about some of the bills.
The evidence is palpable that the right crusade to restrict voting rights – which its supporters say aims to limit voter fraud, even if there is little evidence in the United States – is now spreading via a more great coordination between many groups.
For example, Heritage Action, which announced plans to spend $ 24 million on efforts to tighten state election laws and block congressional countermeasures, on August 10 organized one of many joint appeals this year for dozens of allies with whom he worked, in a self-proclaimed “Save Our Elections” blitz.
In addition, Heritage Action paid for Facebook and other media ads in several states – including Florida, Georgia and Arizona – some of which carried the misleading slogan “easier to vote, harder to cheat”.
In late July, Alec hosted an “exclusive” two-and-a-half-day meeting in Salt Lake City ahead of Alec’s annual conference for an elite group of state lawmakers who are members of Alec. They discussed ways to revise voting laws and compared notes on what has already been achieved, according to an email from Alec leaked by the Center for Media and Democracy.
Alec’s confab was co-sponsored by the black money group, the Honest Elections Project, which launched in early 2020 and was designed by conservative fundraiser and former Federal Society executive Leonard Leo and is led by Jason Snead, a former Heritage Election. policy guru. Snead has been criticized for designing Heritage’s Election Fraud Database, which the Brennan Center for Justice said “grossly exaggerated” the extent of electoral fraud.
The Brennan Center calculated that right-wing efforts to change election laws led by mid-July to the passage of 30 laws that “restrict access to the vote” in at least 18 states. The center also noted that some 400 bills have been introduced in 49 states to restrict access to voting.
An analysis from the Brennan Center indicates that in general, these laws make it more difficult to vote by mail and advance polls, impose stricter voter identification rules and make faulty purges of voting lists more likely, among other changes. Most of the changes, experts say, disproportionately affect likely Democratic voters, especially among communities of color and less well-off.
Campaign finance and election watchdogs express dismay at these sweeping right-wing campaigns to cut voting rights and urge national legislation to counter them.
“These efforts are part of a well-funded and calculated national strategy to make voting more difficult for people of color, especially in swing states,” said Adav Noti, former deputy general counsel at the Federal Election Commission and now chief of staff at the non-partisan campaign legal center. “Fundamentally, every step the anti-voting cabal has taken is designed to disproportionately affect voters of color. And their work has had some success in states like Georgia. “
Noti added that “the good news is that Congress could end all of this anti-election activity in an instant by passing laws to protect voting rights at the federal level.”
Other defenders express similar concerns.
American Oversight, a watchdog group, “unearthed evidence that shows the fingerprints of these groups on policymaking,” said Austin Evers, executive director of the group. “They are orchestrating a state-by-state campaign to restrict the freedom to vote and they are doing it successfully. “
Evers pointed out that “Trump’s grand campaign of disinformation is breathing new life into long-standing efforts to organize the electorate for partisan purposes, and black money forces are making the most of the moment.”
The right-wing’s multi-front campaign now appears to be focused on several states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, where bills are advancing that could restrict the voting rights of minorities and other voters – bills that are expected to benefit citizens. Republicans if they pass, according to voting rights experts.
In Texas, Heritage Action paid for Facebook ads supporting new voting restrictions and helped fund an effort to build public support for more voting restrictions, according to a Documented analysis.
On August 12, the Texas Senate passed a measure, after 15 hours of systematic obstruction by a Democratic opponent, that his GOP sponsor Senator Bryan Hughes called “simple and sensible reforms.” But Democrats and voting rights advocates said the measure would hamper postal voting and hamper voting for older people and communities of color.
The Texas house has yet to pass the measure, but dozens of Democrats have so far blocked action by leaving the state.
On the National Congress front, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks appear to be pushing to prevent Democrats from passing bills to offset state measures, which Republicans appear to be banking on to help regain control of both houses.
FreedomWorks in the spring touted its plans to mount a $ 10 million state and federal effort, with a focus on seven states, including Georgia and Arizona, to adopt tough voting measures. To run its campaign, FreedomWorks enlisted veteran election lawyer Cleta Mitchell, a board member of the Bradley Foundation, which has provided funds to right-wing groups working to restrict voting rights.
A spokesperson for FreedomWorks said Mitchell was leading his “national election protection initiative”, to rally Senate opposition to a broad House reform bill and block another pending House measure. named for the late Representative John Lewis, who would both help. protect voting rights nationwide. Most Democrats backed both bills to resist Republican attacks on the franchise.
The stakes for voting rights advocates and watchdogs are high. “Democracy is at stake and now is the time to fight back,” said Austin Evers.