This past year, all 99 state legislative chambers and over 7,000 state legislators met to enact their legislative agendas. While lawmakers are free to introduce bills on any topic they like, their passage is not guaranteed. In fact, the vast majority of proposals don’t make any progress in the legislative process. Bills can stall in committee, fail in a vote on a chamber’s floor or get vetoed by the governor. Surveying the full range of bills, even the ones that aren’t enacted, can often reveal where the legislative energy and interest among lawmakers lie.
As the GOP becomes even more extreme in its attacks against free and fair elections, Republican state lawmakers have channeled this approach when crafting legislation. From banning polling locations at K-12 public schools to eliminating one-person, one-vote, GOP legislators across the country introduced some of the most egregious bills this past legislative session. Thankfully, none of these bills passed the first stage of the legislative process, but the fact they were introduced in the first place is a telltale sign of where the Republican Party — which has become increasingly riddled with election conspiracies — is headed.
Republicans want to change how ballots are counted, taking aim at electronic voting machines.
Last year, Cochise County, Arizona made the news when officials attempted to hand count ballots in the midterm elections in response to unfounded conspiracy theories about voting machines. Shasta County, California is attempting something similar for next year’s general election. But efforts to ban voting machines and hand count ballots aren’t confined to isolated rural counties.
Republican legislators in many states tried mandating the hand counting of all ballots in all elections, including in Kansas, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina and Texas. These bills are based on the faulty premise that voting machines are susceptible to manipulation and less accurate than manually counting ballots. What none of these legislators understand is that the opposite is actually true — hand counting ballots can lead to more errors.
The hand counting process also takes tremendous resources, both in terms of time and money. It took a tiny county in Nevada seven hours to count just 317 votes last year, and Shasta County’s election director estimated that hand counting its ballots would take “at a minimum…$1,651,209.68 and 1300 staff members” to implement. If that’s what it takes for sparsely populated areas to count ballots, it is difficult to imagine how long it would take a state like Texas, where over 10 million votes were cast in 2020.
Other Republicans introduced modifications to the counting process that could have seriously jeopardized voters’ ability to have their ballots counted. In Connecticut, a bill would have limited the counting of mail-in ballots to just Election Day, potentially leaving some votes uncounted. Similarly, a bill in Montana would have required all ballot counting to be completed within three hours, a requirement many counties worried they wouldn’t be able to meet.
In perhaps the most egregious intrusion into the ballot counting process, a bill in Iowa was aimed at requiring monitors from both political parties to sign off on every ballot before they’re counted. Objections from these monitors would have likely left numerous ballots uncounted, creating chaos in their wake, and even without objections, it would be difficult to find monitors for every polling place in the state.
Most radically, in North Carolina one bill would have changed how much votes count, altering a long-standing precedent in how we conduct elections. The proposal would have eliminated one-person, one-vote for the state Senate, giving rural voters far more influence in state affairs than urban ones. Mecklenburg and Wake Counties, both home to over one million people, would have the same number of state senators as Tyrell County, home to just 2,000.
Other legislators attempted to usurp power over elections.
In some states, Republicans introduced measures that would have increased their power over elections. Missouri and Texas both saw bills aimed at bifurcating elections, with entirely separate registration lists and ballots between federal and state elections.
Proposals in both states were intended to circumvent Congress’ ability to regulate federal elections; rather than allow state elections to conform with federal rules, these lawmakers prefer to keep state elections entirely separate to maintain their control. Bifurcating elections in this way would create enormous logistical difficulties for election officials and confuse voters, making both voting and election administration extraordinarily more complicated.
Meanwhile, a proposal in Montana purported to give the state Legislature the final authority on what laws are constitutional, not the state Supreme Court as is typical in our legal system. The resolution echoed the arguments of the fringe independent state legislature theory, which posits that state legislatures have special authority to set election law for federal elections. But this resolution goes further than that to assert the legislature’s power in all areas, not just for elections.
While the practical effects of such a resolution are unclear, the resolution was an explicit assertion from legislative Republicans in Montana that they should be able to wield legislative power unchecked by the state courts.
Schools and voting don’t mix, according to Republicans.
Public schools are commonly used for polling locations across the country; they’re large, easily accessible and generally well-known to local communities. Yet some Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t allow voting there.
Bills in New Jersey, New York and Texas would have banned placing polling locations at public schools, removing a convenient and common location for voting. Travis County, Texas (home to the state capital of Austin), for example, had 38 polling locations at schools last year. All of those would have to be relocated if such a ban were enacted.
Other Republicans introduced bills that go even further, making it harder for college students to vote. The same lawmaker in Texas who tried to ban polling places at K-12 public schools also tried to bar them on college campuses, which would force students to travel further to vote even though they might lack adequate transportation and access to off-campus polling locations. (Banning college polling locations is also a priority of election-denying Republican lawyer Cleta Mitchell).
Elsewhere, a bill in New Hampshire would have only allowed college students who pay in-state tuition to vote, meaning that students who move to New Hampshire for college would likely be unable to vote in the state. Once again, Republicans have showed that they’d rather keep people from voting, particularly younger generations, than earn their support.
These bills are just the tip of the iceberg for Republican legislators.
This past legislative session won’t be the last time that Republican state lawmakers try to push through bills targeting the vote counting process, executing power grabs or suppressing student voting. As long as election conspiracy theories continue swirling through the GOP unabated, and especially as the 2024 presidential election heats up, we can expect to see similar proposals in various states next year. Although these fringe bills didn’t make it across the finish line this time, their fate is not necessarily sealed. Today’s fringe bill is tomorrow’s Republican consensus.