ATLANTA, June 25 (AP) Lawmakers in several Republican-led states have been seeking to wield more power over state and local election offices, claiming the new powers, which Democrats have warned could be used in future elections For left-leaning counties.
The moves include requiring the legislature to approve court settlements in election-related litigation and creating avenues for taking over local election offices.
In North Carolina, a Republican proposal at the convention would change the composition of state and county election boards and give lawmakers sole power to appoint committee members.
Republican lawmakers in Texas recently approved legislation that not only removed the top election official in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Houston, but also allowed the state’s chief election official — the secretary of state — to take over the county’s elections. electoral office. Ministers are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, and are currently controlled by Republicans.
To gain public trust, elections must be free from partisan manipulation, election observers said, expressing concern about lawmakers deciding to assert their new powers for political gain.
“There are a number of ways states can intervene and help local election officials,” said David Levine, a former local election official in Idaho who is now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund Alliance for Safeguarding Democracy. “Instead, we’re seeing laws being enacted in some states that could present new challenges to the conduct of elections in the United States.”
Since the 2020 presidential election, attempts by the Republican legislature to expand election-running powers have proliferated, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s bogus allegations of widespread fraud. Republican lawmakers have described the moves as necessary to improve election oversight, while Democrats have criticized them as power grabs that could be used to interfere with voting or vote counting.
Offices that oversee state or local elections are primarily filled by people who win party elections or are appointed in processes involving party officials. But those in office typically struggle to maintain a nonpartisan electoral approach. Since the 2020 presidential election, some of those positions have been filled by people who rejected the results, raising doubts about how they will run their offices.
Some of the legislation passed by Republican lawmakers during that time has raised more concerns about partisan meddling. Lawmakers in 13 mostly Republican-controlled states have passed about 15 bills that either expand lawmakers’ power over elections or take some action to interfere with local election administrators, according to data collected by Voting Rights Lab. . States and advocates broaden voter participation.
In Texas, the law just passed by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would abolish the election administrator’s office in Democratic-majority Harris County, which includes Houston and has more than 2 million voters. The laws also provide a way for the state to oversee county election offices in the future.
Texas Republicans are eager to shake things up in the nation’s third-largest county with a large Hispanic and black electorate following limited problems in the November election, including a shortage of paper ballots and late opening hours for some polling places. Prior missteps have also put the Harris County election under intense scrutiny from Republicans, including 10,000 mail-in ballots that were not counted on the day of the 2022 primary.
“This is about performance, not politics,” said State Senator Paul Bettencourt, Republican of Houston.
Harris County leaders have accused Republicans of using the issues as an excuse to tighten their grip on the election in a place that increasingly leans toward Democrats. A lawsuit is expected to be filed.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, the county was effectively divided. In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden easily won Harris County by double digits.
“It’s a big saga in the state that they decided they didn’t like the way Harris County residents voted, so they’re going to take control of the Harris County electoral agency,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a Democrat. ’ and the county’s top elected official.
In North Carolina, where Republicans control the legislature, lawmakers are making another attempt to wrest power from the Democratic governor to decide who will be on the electoral committee. The Republicans have been stymied in previous years by courts and voters who opposed a 2018 constitutional amendment.
Republicans, who currently hold an unvetoable majority, envision an eight-member state elections commission, likely composed of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, appointed by legislative leaders from both parties. It would replace the current five-person model, appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper based on a bipartisan slate of candidates. Under current state law, the same political party can have no more than three board members.
Republicans point to a legal settlement between Democratic-controlled committees and union-affiliated groups over mail-in ballot deadlines amid the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of partisan mischief.
“These actions were facilitated by a committee that circumvented the legislative process, causing North Carolinians to lose trust in the election process,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican. “Now we will take the necessary steps to start rebuilding that trust.”
The election bill passed by the Senate last week also reduced the size of county election boards from five members to four. Legislative leaders of both parties would appoint members, rather than the current model in which the governor appoints one and the state board of elections fills the rest. Democrats argued the change would lead to gridlock.
“This will lead to uncertified election results, uncertainty and endless litigation,” Democratic Minority Leader Dan Blue said.
Fears of a takeover in Georgia did not materialize after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill in 2021 giving the state elections board the power to interfere with county elections offices and remove local election officials. The committee launched a review of Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta and has a history of election troubles, after Republican lawmakers triggered the terms of its review.
The commission recently decided not to take over the election office in the Democratic-majority county after a review found it had shown considerable progress. Matt Mashburn, a Republican appointee to the committee, said “those who speak out are wrong” when they suggest the law will be used to interfere in local elections.
“I think the process was very smooth, thorough and took everyone’s time,” he said.
In Wisconsin, the state board of elections is scheduled to meet next week to consider whether Megan Wolf, the state’s nonpartisan election administrator, should be re-elected. It’s one of relatively few examples of nonpartisan election administration in the United States.
Commissioners are weighing Wolf’s chances of confirmation in the Republican-led Senate, despite extensive scrutiny confirming there is no evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the state’s 2020 election, some lawmakers have pledged not to. will support her. The state has taken various steps in recent years to weaken a bipartisan electoral commission with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.
Kathy Bernier, a former Republican state senator and county elections official who has spoken out against false claims of widespread fraud, said commissioners face a tough vote.
“The difficulty for Republicans and Democrats right now is that they don’t trust any independents. So no matter who they pick, there’s probably going to be a complaint or two from one side or the other,” she said. (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a syndicated news feed, the latest staff may not have modified or edited the body of content)