By Steven Kovac
“The 2022 election failed black voters,” said National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attorney Deuel Ross in a May 24 Congressional subcommittee hearing on elections.
Ross testified that since the 2020 election 400 bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country to “restrict the franchise.”
He said 24 states had actually enacted 45 laws that “roll back voting rights” and “interfere” with election administration by shifting authority over elections from executive agencies or non-profit bodies to the legislature.
Ross bemoaned new laws that he said “criminalize” good faith mistakes or decisions by election workers.
A marked increase in voter eligibility challenges is something he also decried.
Florida’s elimination of most unstaffed ballot-return drop boxes and ballot harvesting; the banning of “drive-thru” voting in Texas; and states requiring state-issued ID card numbers or partial social security numbers on absentee ballot application and return envelopes, were cited by Ross as examples of voter suppression.
The creation of the new Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security, and the resultant arrest of 20 ex-convicts for allegedly voting in the 2020 election also drew his ire.
Ross said Republicans used “false concerns” about voter fraud to justify the barriers to the ballot and even as a pretext for violence.
“False rhetoric regarding stolen elections … encouraged the Jan. 6 insurrection,” which, according to Ross was “a violent attack on the Capitol that sought to bring an end to democracy in our nation.”
He said the next stage of the backlash over losing the 2020 election came in the form of a wave of restrictive voting laws.
Ranking member Joe Morelle (D-New York) faulted Republicans for buying into former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” about a stolen election.
“They only accept the results when they win.
“There is no evidence of widespread fraud. The 2020 election was the most secure election in U.S. history,” he said.
Committee member Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) said false claims that the election was rigged “did harm.”
She accused Republicans of using allegations of fraud to “roll back progress.”
Democrat ‘Election Deniers’ Highlighted
Witness Scot Turner, of Eternal Vigilance, a public interest non-profit, and a former Georgia state representative, told the committee: “The greatest threat to our constitutional republic is misinformation and disinformation.”
Turner reminded the committee that Democrat Hillary Clinton was not above falsely claiming that the 2016 election was stolen from her by the Russians.
Nonetheless, he said an evident turn in the attitude of politicians and the public about the fairness of our elections began in Georgia in 2018 when the Democrat candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, refused to concede she lost the election to Republican Brian Kemp.
“Abrams refusal to concede changed the environment,” Turner said.
Recent election reform in Georgia has “vastly improved” the voting experience, according to Turner.
Executive director of the Lawyers Democracy Fund Lisa Dixon testified that the nation is facing a crisis of voter confidence. She said that is significant because the peaceful transfer of power rests on that confidence.
“The careless handling of ballots decreases voter confidence,” stated Dixon.
She said people trust their local election officials more than those higher up the chain.
The establishing of clear rules well ahead of the election, accurate registration rolls, transparency, and consistency in following the laws are very important to maintaining trust in the system, according to Dixon.
What is Truth?
Morelle blamed Republicans for creating the “alleged lack of confidence.” He said some are sowing doubt in elections “for their own profit.”
He stated he was “troubled by the lack of truth” in the series of hearings conducted thus far and was having trouble understanding their purpose.
Committee member Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) said Washington is the “capital of misinformation and disinformation.” He referred to the city as the fantasy kingdom of “Oz.”
Loudermilk recalled how Barack Obama had mischaracterized a very positive Georgia election reform bill as “Jim Crow 2.0.”
The Partisan Divide
Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) commented, “Conspiracy theories make it hard for local election officials to get the truth to the public.”
Referring to the House Republicans’ proposed budget plan and its impact on the conduct of elections, she wondered aloud about “what damage they have in store for the American people?”
Subcommittee chair Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) asserted that the states have primary authority in determining their election laws and administering elections.
“The role of Congress is secondary. It involves support and oversight.
“We need to examine areas of improvement and empower states,” she said.
“When states go amuck, what should happen?” asked Sewell.
Recent Record Turnouts
Why voter turnout has set records despite all of the alleged “voter suppression” laws is a question no one at the hearing could answer.
Instead, Democrats sought to deflect attention to the alleged disparate impact the reform laws have on people of color.
Sewell said that historically, large segments of the American people were intentionally excluded from voting.
“Turnout numbers do not tell the whole story. Barriers still exist,” she said.
Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) dropped in on the subcommittee hearing to put in a plug for the proposed Protection of American Voters Act.
The bill is designed to assure that only citizens of the United States are voting in our elections, according to Roy.
Witness Thor Hearne, a member of the 2005 Carter-Baker Commission, a bipartisan election reform panel, testified: “The test of a fair and honest election is when the losing candidate and his or her supporters accept the outcome as the will of the people.”
Hearne said the commission found absentee ballots and mail-in ballots, including ballots deposited in drop boxes, to be the most significant source of vote fraud.
“Every illegally cast ballot disenfranchises a citizen who casts a lawful vote.
“Our confidence in the integrity of elections is threatened if special interests and billionaires are able to pay state and local election officials and direct how state and local election officials conduct elections,” he said.
Hearne said the chain of custody for absentee ballots must be kept to the voter, immediate family members, election officials, and official postal and other recognized delivery services.
Party workers and candidates must be prohibited from picking up and delivering ballots and “payment by the piece” plans must be outlawed, according to Hearne.
Voter ID laws that make it easy for poll workers to determine if a person is a U.S. citizen, the prohibition of ballot harvesting, and the maintenance of up-to-date, accurate and uniform voter registration rolls, are necessary to restore public confidence in the fairness of elections, Hearne said.