New analysis by Democracy Docket reveals a steep jump in voting and election lawsuits filed by Republican-affiliated groups so far this year when compared to 2021. Democracy Docket is the leading platform dedicated to covering and tracking democracy-related activity in the courts and has a comprehensive database of nearly 400 democracy-related lawsuits filed since 2020.
Our database reveals a compelling trend — a marked increase in GOP lawsuits in the voting and elections sphere since January of this year.
- In 2021, GOP-affiliated groups and individuals filed seven lawsuits, accounting for 13% of the total voting cases we tracked in 2021.
- In contrast, as of Sept. 16, 2022, GOP-affiliated groups have filed 41 lawsuits, accounting for nearly 54% of all voting cases we tracked in 2022.
The number of lawsuits filed by Democratic-aligned organizations and other groups remained relatively constant when comparing this year and last (35 so far in 2022 and 45 in 2021), although there has been a jump in the total voting cases between years (76 so far in 2022 and 52 in 2021). This difference is explained by an increase in GOP activity in the courts (41 lawsuits so far in 2022 and seven in 2021).
To account for the potential differences between election and non-election years, we compared the number of lawsuits filed during the same time period in 2020 versus 2022. As of Sept. 16, 2020, Republican groups had only filed 13 lawsuits, as compared to 41 cases filed so far in 2022 — a volume that surpasses the preceding election cycle three times over.
For the purpose of our review, lawsuits were included if they were filed by national and state Republican parties and affiliates, GOP lawmakers and officials, Republican voters or known conservative legal groups. The numerous redistricting lawsuits filed this year and last were excluded from our analysis to isolate cases focused on voting laws and election administration.
In 2021, GOP groups filed seven election and voting lawsuits.
Democracy Docket tracked 52 voting rights and election administration lawsuits that were filed in 2021, excluding redistricting lawsuits. Of those 52, only seven, 13% of the year’s total, were proactively filed by the Republican Party and its allies.
In one lawsuit, an individual voter attempted to challenge the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoff elections that took place in early 2021 and in another, former U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) raised concerns about absentee voting that took place in the 2020 election, claims which the court dismissed as “speculation, conjecture, and paranoia.” Three 2021 lawsuits were filed by the Public Interest Legal Foundation — a conservative group — and pushed for voter purges in Colorado, Michigan and Washington, D.C. The two remaining lawsuits called for a ban of drop boxes in Wisconsin and tried to overturn Pennsylvania’s Act 77, a 2019 law that expanded no-excuse mail-in voting.
In 2021, the GOP focused its effort on passing a wave of new legislation restricting voting access. Eighteen states enacted restrictive laws in 2021 and then faced subsequent lawsuits challenging these laws, most of which were filed by civil and voting rights organizations, Democratic Party-affiliated groups and even the U.S. Department of Justice.
In turn, national and state Republican organizations intervened in nearly every case in 2021 that challenged significant voting legislation passed by GOP-controlled legislatures. (An intervention occurs when an outside group or individual asks to join an already existing lawsuit. Intervenors usually have a stake in the outcome of the case and want to help their side win.) Interventions, along with cases where a Republican official was named as a defendant, were not included in our count of proactive lawsuits.
It’s only mid-September, but GOP groups have already filed 41 election and voting lawsuits in 2022.
As of Sept. 16, Democracy Docket has tracked 76 lawsuits filed so far in 2022 that relate to voting and elections. Of these 76 cases, over half of them (41) were filed by the Republican Party and its allies — a 486% increase in new lawsuits by GOP-affiliated groups from 2021 to 2022.
Mail-in voting was popular in the 2020 election. Over half of 2022 GOP lawsuits seek to curb that practice.
Notably, 22 of these 41 lawsuits seek to limit mail-in voting access. This category includes cases that challenge absentee ballot deadlines, the use of drop boxes, signature matching rules, cure procedures and more. An AP survey recently confirmed that even in 2020, an election year with a significant increase in drop box use due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no widespread problems with drop boxes.
In 2022, Delaware and Massachusetts both passed legislation that permitted any voter to vote by mail if they chose to do so, without needing a qualifying excuse. These Democratic-controlled legislatures were simply catching up with their contemporaries, becoming the 35th and 36th states, respectively, to permit no excuse vote by mail or conduct all-mail elections. Both states were immediately sued by Republican voters or state officials for the expansion. In contrast, Arizona has had no-excuse mail-in voting since 1991. Nearly 90% of Arizonans voted early in 2020, the majority by mail. Nonetheless, the Arizona Republican Party filed two lawsuits this year to get rid of the popular, longstanding policy in the Grand Canyon State.
Litigation from Republican groups takes aim at the minutiae of election administration.
Among the other lawsuits filed this year, one successfully blocked a pro-voting ballot initiative from appearing on Arizona’s ballot this fall, two dealt with post-election results and four seek to limit voter registration opportunities.
As we near the 2022 midterm elections, national Republican groups have shifted focus from “who can vote” to “which votes count.”
The most recent lawsuits involving the Republican National Committee (RNC) reveal the party’s priorities as we approach the midterm elections — legal challenges over how to count election results and which ballots to include in those counts. On Sept. 1, the RNC challenged the authority of Pennsylvania county officials to notify voters of technical mistakes with their mail-in ballots and allow voters to fix simple errors to ensure their ballots are counted, a routine process known as ballot curing. On Sept. 8, the RNC challenged North Carolina’s absentee ballot return deadline, which the state board of elections extended by three days to account for Veterans Day. These recent lawsuits are included in the count of 22 cases dealing with aspects of mail-in voting.
The volume of lawsuits filed in 2022 by the GOP and its allies is already outpacing what we saw in 2020.
Is the difference between 2021 and 2022 simply an election-year phenomenon? The data says no. Of the GOP lawsuits Democracy Docket tracked in 2020, only 13 were filed between Jan. 1, 2020 and Sept. 16, 2020, the relevant comparison point. Again, this number more than tripled to 41 proactive GOP lawsuits by the same date in 2022. Even though the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic created a unique legal environment where a number of voting laws were litigated prior to the general election, 2022 GOP-filed litigation is significantly outpacing 2020 already.
In 2020, there were 14 additional GOP lawsuits filed between Sept. 16 and before Election Day (Nov. 3). Assuming the GOP surge trend continues, we can expect to see an even greater number of election and voting lawsuits in the next month and a half before the 2022 midterm elections.