Republican lawmakers in states across the country are advancing bills that would prevent election officials from submitting absentee ballots before the November election, even in states where those top officials are fellow Republicans.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, secretaries of state in places like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wyoming encouraged residents to cast ballots from home by sending absentee ballot request forms.
Those forms led to increased turnout during the primaries, with many states seeing record turnout.
But now, Republican state legislatures are rejecting the efforts of state secretaries by drafting bills to thwart their ability to submit ballot requests for the general election.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) last week signed a bill requiring the secretary of state to receive approval from a bipartisan legislative council before authorizing the submission of absentee ballot request forms, after that Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) submit voter applications.
Eighty percent of the 524,000 votes cast in the Iowa June primaries were absentee ballots.
In Ohio, lawmakers have proposed a measure to ban Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) from submitting application forms en masse, despite the Secretary of State’s office having done so for years. The bill was later amended to prevent the state from paying shipping costs in the return envelope after LaRose pressured lawmakers.
In Georgia, where both sides set record levels of participation earlier this year, a House committee passed a bill last week that would ban Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) or any other elected official from mailing the absentee ballot request forms.
The bill died on the ground, although Raffensperger has already said he will not send out voting requests for November.
Democrats and voting rights activists condemn the bills as attempts to suppress votes, while Republicans insist they are working to ensure the integrity of the elections. Secretaries of state have endorsed their decisions, even when they have been questioned by members of their own party.
“Voters on both sides of the political spectrum agree that sending absentee applications to all active voters was the safest and best thing our office could do to protect voters at the top of COVID-19,” said Raffensperger in a statement last week. “Some seem to be saying that our office should have ignored the wave of absent voters that was clearly coming.”
Barry Burden, director of the University of Wisconsin Election Research Center, said there is bipartisan support to encourage voting by mail as a practical public health solution among officials in electoral administration systems, including secretaries of state.
State lawmakers, on the other hand, respond to different pressures, including signs of President TrumpDonald John Trump Utah Lieutenant Governor Cox leads Huntsman in a close race for Governor Trump tweets ‘we all miss’ Ailes after hitting Fox Former NFL player Burgess Owens wins Utah Republican primaries MORE, who has incorrectly ridiculed voting by mail as a possibility of fraud.
“It really is the legislators who don’t have a direct understanding of the electoral process who are making these moves,” Burden said. “It smells more like blatant partisanship than pragmatic policymaking.”
Even with Trump’s unwarranted warnings, Republican voters and strategists are much more comfortable with absentee voting. Utah, a deeply conservative state, conducts its elections primarily by mail. More than three-quarters of Arizona voters mail their ballots. In Florida, voting by mail campaigns are a cornerstone of Republican participation strategies.
Austin Chambers, who heads the Republican State Leadership Committee, said he is not surprised that there are divisions within the Republican Party on how to handle mail voting because each state has different levels of experience and success.
Campaigning in a state with a long history of voting by mail requires a different strategy than that of a state that primarily votes in person, and Republican state lawmakers are trying to create “safe, fair and appropriate” elections in every state. They run based on that state’s system context, he said, which may or may not include voting by mail.
Amid a pandemic, other states have continued to make voting by mail difficult. Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) signed a bill that expands voter options by allowing anyone to vote absentee, but voters who do not consider themselves “at risk” will need to obtain their notarized ballots, a provision that is currently being challenged by civil rights groups in Missouri courts
Despite the popularity of postal voting among voters and uncertainty about the security of in-person voting in November, Burden said where the president is heading, which is followed by Republican state lawmakers.
“Republicans in state legislatures bend down and embrace the president’s party line, rather than consulting in good faith with their election officials who really understand how the system works and what the needs are,” Burden said.
Experts said there is little evidence that voting by mail benefits one party over the other; Republicans have led numerous successful mail voting campaigns in Arizona and Florida. In Georgia, of the record 1.1 million absentee ballots cast in the June primaries, about 600,000 were Democrats, while 524,000 were Republicans.
Martha Kropf, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said the laws that limit mail-in ballot requests conform to a set of contemporary Republican policies, including voter ID laws, that make it difficult to vote of the people.
“That could be trying to make a partisan profit,” said Kropf. “The parties want to win elections.”
Chambers said the allegations that Republicans are trying to suppress turnout are “a lot of nonsense.” He said Republicans saw problems during the primaries, including reports of long lines despite record levels of absentee voting, and the laws are responding to concerns about maintaining the integrity of the electoral system.
“We want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Chambers said.
The extra work of distributing, collecting and processing as many new absentee ballots is a major concern for state election administrators, said Wendy Underhill, who heads the elections and the district redistricting team at the National Conference on State Legislatures.
While secretaries of state had impending election deadlines and had to implement emergency measures, state lawmakers are wary of making changes during the election years, and the problems persisted, suggesting that voting requests were not a quick fix. .
“It is not that the experience in the primaries indicates that it was an easy change,” he said. “We still have long lines in many places.”