National Republican organizations are working to steer state-by-state GOP attempts to curb voting rights, providing advice to state legislators drafting legislation to restrict ballot access, deploying grassroots activists to key battlegrounds, and raising millions of dollars to counter Democratic efforts in Congress to create a national baseline for voting rights.
The conservative Heritage Foundation think tank’s political arm, Heritage Action for America, has publicly committed to investing at least $10 million to “protect and improve state election systems.” The Heritage Foundation’s recommendations, which include applying identity standards to absentee voting and prohibiting third-party groups from collecting voters’ absentee ballots, have appeared in bills currently circulating in Georgia and other statehouses.
This year, groups as diverse as the libertarian-leaning advocacy organization FreedomWorks and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List have joined the voting rights fight.
The participation of national organizations demonstrates that attempts to limit voting in dozens of states “are not a coincidence,” according to Hillary Holley, coordinating director of Fair Fight Action, a Georgia-based voting rights organization. “This is a well-funded strategic imperative.”
The Georgia House of Representatives is set to vote on a package of voting reforms on Thursday, including banning ballot drop boxes, requiring identification for absentee ballots, and making it illegal to offer food or soft drinks to voters waiting in line to vote.
Heritage Action officials say that 20,000 of their supporters are working on the ground in the state to help it pass.
Until adjourning, Georgia lawmakers are scheduled to take final action on the measures next week. Georgia is on track to become the second Republican-controlled state to pass new legislation restricting access to the ballot box this year. Iowa enacted its own limits earlier this month, including limiting the number of days available for early voting.
According to the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, more than 40 states were debating legislation that included voting limits as of mid-February. More people have entered since then.
Republicans in Michigan, another presidential battleground, proposed a package of 39 election bills on Wednesday. New voter ID requirements and a ban on prepaid postage for absentee ballots are among them.
Concerns over voter fraud have become an animating factor for conservative activists in the aftermath of the 2020 vote, according to the leaders of Republican parties. Last year, the use of mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes, and other methods to prevent the spread of the coronavirus skyrocketed. Turnout reached all-time highs, assisting Democrats in winning the White House and a majority in the US Senate.
Former President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that widespread voter fraud played a role in his defeat in November, and Republican lawmakers have cited a loss of public confidence as a major justification for rushing to tighten voting rules.
“If voters don’t have trust in our elections, then voting turnout will be suppressed,” Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action, said in an email to CNN. She said her group will “spend whatever it takes to reach our goals.”
Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump administration official who oversaw the Department of Homeland Security, currently leads the Election Transparency Initiative, a collaboration between The Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project, a social-issues advocacy organization. His campaign has a $5 million budget and aims to block a sweeping election and campaign finance bill that Democrats are hoping to pass in the US Senate.
“Why is a pro-life and social conservative group engaging in this space?” Cuccinelli said in an interview this week. “The sort of simple answer is: Our members are effectively demanding it.”
“Other groups are seeing the same thing,” he said. “They are having members who are asking the question: ‘Why should I give you any money? Why should I knock on doors? Why should I write my congressman when these elections are moving in the direction of being a sham?’ “
Cuccinelli claims that congressional Democrats are attempting to extend voting in unpopular ways, such as encouraging voters to vote by signing an affidavit rather than showing identification.
The Republican National Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee are two other Republican groups that have initiated new voting initiatives.