People For the American Way

On the Heels of the Capitol Insurrection, Democracy Is Under Attack in the States

State and Local Update
On the Heels of the Capitol Insurrection, Democracy Is Under Attack in the States

There’s no question that Jim Crow is alive and well. So far this legislative session, according to the latest Brennan Center research, 361 voter suppression bills have been introduced across 47 states, including 55 bills in 24 states that have seen at least some action. Among them is a movement toward criminalizing the franchise—creating crimes where criminal intent is likely as rare as so-called “voter fraud,” intimidating voters, pollworkers, and election officials alike.

That on its own is galling, but that it comes amid a national debate over accountability for the January 6 insurrection makes it even more so. At the same time Trump’s big lie is being used to explain away what happened at the Capitol, it’s also being used to chip away at the fundamental freedom to vote. On the heels of that violent day, the Right’s attack on democracy continues in the states.

Georgians have been backed into a corner by a voter suppression law that contains several criminalization provisions. Line warming, the practice of providing food and water to voters in line, is now a crime. Allowing someone to witness you marking your ballot at home? Crime. You’re the unauthorized witness? Crime. Handling someone else’s ballot application? Crime. Take a picture of your mail-in ballot? Crime. If they’re not already suppressing your vote, then fear of prosecution might keep you from the ballot box.

People For the American Way President Ben Jealous describes this as:

[A] throwback to the Jim Crow era—a room full of white men signing laws to take away the rights of African Americans and using law enforcement to squash peaceful dissent.

While the Texas legislature puts the finishing touches on its major voter suppression bill, Governor Greg Abbott already has on his desk a bill that makes it a second degree felony to knowingly count invalid votes or fail to count votes known to be valid. In Texas, second degree felonies are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Election officials should be held accountable to the public good just like any public servant, but fueled by the oft-cited “voter fraud” myth, this bill is a solution in search of a problem. It creates new crimes where none currently exist and attaches serious penalties.

Anita Phillips, a veteran election judge from Waco:

[I]magine every election worker and election judge that is 65 and over with severe health issues. This is supposed to be a way for them to give back. And it’s supposed to be something that makes them feel good about what they’re doing, but now they’re starting to feel like, ‘Are we going to be safe?’

Chris Davis, the nonpartisan election administrator in Williamson County, Texas:

These poll workers don’t ever, in our experience, intend to count invalid votes, or let somebody who’s not eligible vote, or prevent somebody who’s eligible from voting. Yet we’re seeing that as a baseline, kind of a fundamental principle in some of the bills that are being drafted. And I don’t know where it’s coming from, because it’s not based on reality.

In the waning days of an already extended session, the Arizona legislature is still pushing voter suppression and criminalization. They want signature mismatches, which happen when the signature on a voter’s ballot envelope doesn’t match their signature on file, to be referred to county attorneys or the state attorney general for potential investigation if they go uncured. In other words, voters who fail to or choose not to fix their ballots could be vulnerable to prosecution absent any criminal culpability. In addition, they’re trying to impose a costly and unnecessary burden on election officials by requiring that voters who request them be provided with a printed or handwritten receipt where no voting machine currently on the market provides voters with a printout that they can take with them when they leave the polling place. Also for election officials, they’re proposing new criminal penalties for those who make a mistake or deviate from certain election procedures.

Arizona community groups:

SB1241 poses a real threat to Arizona’s ability to conduct free and fair elections going forward. Arizonans should be able to vote and make our voices heard without being subject to harassment, intimidation and criminal scrutiny. And county elections officials should be able to do their jobs without facing absurd, unnecessary mandates from the state legislature. Like the sham audit, this bill is an embarrassment and a serious blow to democracy.

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