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Brief # 168 – Civil Rights

Georgia’s U.S. Senators Introduce Voting Bill To Limit Politicization of Elections

By Rodney A. Maggay

June 30, 2021

Policy Summary

On June 21, 2021, Georgia Democratic Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff along with three other Senators introduced the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021. The bill contains five parts:

[1] requires a “for cause” standard in order to limit arbitrary and unlimited removals of local election officials and provides a federal cause of action to enforce this standard,

[2] allows local election officials who have been subject to removal proceedings by a state elections board to remove that proceeding to federal district court,

[3] makes it a federal crime to attempt to or actually intimidate or harass an election worker,

[4] establishes a minimum buffer zone to limit how close a poll observer may come within a voter or ballot at a polling station, and

[5] requires challenges by a person to a voter’s eligibility to register to vote or to cast a ballot, other than from an election official, to be supported by personal knowledge with respect to each individual challenged.

Senator Ossoff stated, “This legislation will ensure nonpartisan election officials can carry out free and fair elections without partisan interference and help safeguard the sacred right to vote.” Additionally, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is chair of the Senate rules Committee, said, “We need to respond to these threats to our democracy head on which is why this legislation to protect election workers and prohibit voter intimidation tactics is so vital.” And finally, Senator Warnock stated “we can’t allow power-hungry state actors to squeeze the people out of their own democracy by overruling the decisions of local election officials.” LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis

Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations[.]” This provision is key because it is the basis for a talking point Republicans have been making in their opposition to voting related bills. They believe that the conduct of elections resides with each individual state and that voting bills supported by Democrats is “federalizing elections” or, taking this power away from the states. However, the bill introduced by Sens. Ossoff and Warnock is not usurping power but instead addressing a problem that arose after the 2020 election. The bill does not propose an outright ban of state legislators trying to overturn an election but instead focuses on the tactics used to pressure or intimidate local election officials to “find a different result.”

The Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 addresses when state election officials are pressured to ensure a specific result that does not match the final election numbers and the threats, intimidation and harassment that come with those situations. The dominant theme of this bill is that it seeks to minimize the politicization of election challenges, such as trying to overturn election results, that have become all too common in the weeks after the 2020 election.

After Donald Trump lost the election to Joe Biden, Mr. Trump went on a campaign to try and have the election results in a number of states overturned even though the results showed that he lost. In one notorious incident, then President Trump tried to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to overturn the results of the election in Georgia. Mr. Raffensberger rebuffed the President and stated that Biden’s win in Georgia was accurate. But that was not the end of it as local elections officials received threats in a number of states as state legislators made efforts to wrest control of elections and final certification of results from state elections officials.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, they interviewed a number of local election officials and officials recounted stories of being pressured by partisan actors to interfere with the administration of elections or to favor candidates of a political party. By having state bills enacted that strips authority for elections from state election officials and giving final approval to state legislators the danger is that highly partisan state legislators will not approve or certify an election result if the result is not what the state representative or legislative chamber had hoped. A Republican controlled chamber would have the power to withhold approval of an election that a Democratic candidate wins and vice versa.

This act being introduced is intended to provide the legal resources to limit the role politics and partisanship have in the overall conduct and ultimate administration of local and statewide elections. State and local elections officials would be provided an avenue for redress in federal court if they feel the performance of their duties has come under undue partisan influence. It would make it a federal crime if an election worker were harassed or intimidated for performing their election related duties.

And it requires more physical distance between poll observers and voters as some poll observers were not shy about displaying their partisan loyalties during the 2020 election, which could be seen as intimidating to a voter as they observed him or her voting. While the other voting bills have gotten more attention the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 is just as important due to its efforts to address the politicization of the administration and certification of elections. If Republicans are serious about securing the integrity of elections, as they like to proclaim, this is a bill they should scrutinize with an open mind and eventually support. A full debate in Congress and a closer look as to the merits of the bill is what this important voting rights bill deserves. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources

Brennan Center for Justice – recently issued report compiled by group on how to protect election administrators and officials.

Democracy Docket – group with comprehensive database on current voting cases and voting bills/laws.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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