Republicans are hard at work restricting voting access across the country. It seems there is no tactic too reprehensible for them to pursue. That’s why legislatures in Georgia and Florida wanted to make it a crime to give voters water while they wait in line to vote. According to one of our Founding Fathers, James Madison, “the people are the only legitimate fountain of power.” Perhaps that power scares conservative politicians, and they decided to make all fountains illegitimate — throwing in a ban on water too.
Most of us know that we choose our leaders, not the other way around. These “bottled water wars” are part of a troubling national trend. Uneasy about the direction that power flows in our democracy, groups like the Heritage Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council (known as ALEC) have helped legislators introduce at least 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. Restrictive bills, including Georgia’s bill, have already been signed into law.
This is an attempted power grab, pure and simple. All of this scheming ignores the will of the voters and the very real problems in our elections like lack of funding, resources, and voter access.
Heritage, according to internal documents obtained by the New York Times, is spending $24 million and working with ALEC to “produce model legislation for state legislatures to adopt” and hire lobbyists in “crucial states.” The typical model legislation stemming from this effort attacks voters and local election officials by swooping in to limit absentee voting and ballot drop boxes, make voter registration harder, purge voters and cut back on early voting.
These cookie-cutter bills ignore voters on the ground who want more voting access and options. But strikingly, these bills are also uniform in undermining the power of local officials to attack real problems, stripping them of the budgets and resources they need to run accessible elections.
According to Michael Siegrist, the Canton Township Clerk in Michigan: “Running elections in today’s environment requires innovation and accessibility to make sure we deliver relevant service to voters that entails confidence in the system. The struggle is to find those changes while holding the fabric of our democracy together from misinformation and partisan attempts to game the system or as additional undue regulations that fail to ensure actual security.”
That struggle is being made tougher. Clerks are frustrated with state legislators crying wolf about the security of our elections, but refusing to adequately fund them. Officials attempting to curb long lines by using ballot drop boxes, curbside voting or extending polling place hours are now being prohibited from doing so and at risk of being removed from their posts.
Not to mention, non-partisan local election officials just managed to conduct elections throughout a pandemic while facing funding shortages, death threats and pressure to manipulate the results. Now, a national effort is using state lawmakers to strip their power and in some cases introducing criminal penalties to target these officials.
The chief sponsor of the Georgia effort characterized his legislation as an entitlement: “We as legislators decide how we will actually be elected, because we decide our own boards of elections and those of the counties we are elected from.”
But legislators who seek to trample on the ability of voters to cast a ballot by allying with national groups at the expense of their neighbors and communities still have time to learn a civics lesson.
All Voting is Local is fighting legislation that seeks to take away power from local officials and voters, and helping states make better election administration decisions that give voters what they want. You can find your state and join us here. No matter what we look like or where we come from, America must be a place where freedom is for everyone.
Miguel L’Heureux is All Voting is Local’s National Campaign Manager and Alex Ault is All Voting is Local’s Policy Consultant.