Appeals from Florida election officials were blunt and disastrous: Passing the state’s new ballot bill would be a “serious security risk,” “unnecessary” and a “travesty.”
The restrictions imposed by the new law, they warned, would make voting more difficult and undermine confidence in the voting process.
But their objections were dismissed Thursday evening as the Legislature passed a bill that would limit mail voting, reduce the use of drop boxes and ban actions designed to help people line up to vote. , among other restrictions, while imposing penalties. on those who don’t follow the rules. It was perhaps the clearest sign to date that Republicans are determined to march through state capitals to establish new restrictions on voting.
The Republican effort puts additional pressure on Democrats in Congress to find a way to pass federal voting laws, including a sweeping overhaul known as the People’s Law. But in Washington, as in state capitals across the country, Republicans have remained united and steadfast against Democratic efforts.
Republicans in Georgia passed sweeping new election laws in March that restrict the ballot box and ban the distribution of food and water to voters in line. Iowa has also imposed new limits, including reducing the early voting period and in-person voting hours on election day.
Next up is Texas, where Republicans in the legislature are trampling on protests from corporate titans like Dell Technologies and American Airlines and moving on a sweeping election bill that is said to be among the toughest in the country. It would impose new restrictions on early voting, ban drive-thru voting, threaten election officials with tougher penalties, and give much more power to supporters of the poll. The main bill was passed by a key committee in a late-night session on Thursday, and could be voted on in plenary in the House as early as next week.
Bills to restrict voting have also been passed by Republican-led legislatures in Arizona and Michigan.
Throughout the process, Republican lawmakers have been largely oblivious to opposition to new election laws from Fortune 500 corporations, major U.S. sports leagues, black religious leaders, and election administrators. The lack of popular support for many of the bills also did not deter them. Even though some of the more strident initial proposals have been watered down, there has rarely been a pause, even for a moment, in the drive to pass new voting legislation.
“I don’t think anyone cared about this,” Joe Gruters, Florida state senator and president of the Florida Republican Party, said of outside criticism.
Tightening his state’s election laws, Mr. Gruters said, is a top priority not only for Republican lawmakers but also for the party base. Although he characterized Florida’s electoral system as a national “gold standard” and said he was not aware of any fraud in the 2020 election, Mr. Gruters said in a statement. telephone interview Friday that his state’s vote could always be improved.
“It’s like when the Tampa Bay Bucs won the Super Bowl – they keep making improvements and bringing in new players,” he said.
A representative for Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Friday that he “supports” the Florida bill, and he is expected to largely sign it. But state election officials were still protesting the measure on Friday morning, barely 12 hours after it was passed.
The group representing Florida election supervisors issued a statement lamenting the new postal voting limits, saying the changes would make it “more difficult” to vote by mail. “After days of debate, we hope that the initial and unnecessary call for electoral reform will not undermine well-deserved confidence in 2020,” Craig Latimer, the group’s leader, said in the statement.
Relentless pressure from Republicans to roll back access to the vote has infuriated Democrats. In a moving speech ahead of the final vote in Florida on Thursday night, State Representative Angela Nixon of Tampa both pleaded with her colleagues to vote against the bill and berated those who supported it.
“It is very frustrating, and it is very difficult to be in this place, to be cool with people and cordial with people who are making policies that harm our communities,” said Ms. Nixon, her voice sometimes shaking.
Fixation on election laws reflects how central the issue has become to the Republican Party, driven by a base that still adheres to former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from it . Promises to ensure the integrity of the vote have become commonplace in political ads and blunt speeches, and opposition to federal congressional voting rights bills is universal among Republican members.
A number of Republicans running for office in 2022 have launched campaigns with messages that push the false rhetoric that the country’s voting systems are flawed. Among them was Representative Ted Budd of North Carolina, who announced a Senate bid on Wednesday with a three-minute video in which he called for a fair and secure election, embracing the Republicans’ rationale for overhauling election laws.
In a political age when partisan primaries are often the only challenge a candidate faces, the party base has become a primary driver of legislative action. A CNN poll released Friday found that while 97% of Democrats believed President Biden “rightfully won enough votes to win the presidency,” 70% of Republicans polled said no.
And a University of Quinnipiac poll in April found that a large majority of Republicans – 78 percent – were against expanding mail-in voting, and 84 percent believed voter fraud was a greater threat than voting. suppression of voters. (Numerous audits, court cases, and reports revealed no significant fraud in the 2020 election.)
Republicans have largely dismissed the business community’s objections to further voting restrictions, part of a longer-lasting split between parties and local chambers of commerce that began when companies strongly opposed the Laws passed by Republican-led states in the 2010s that sought to protect businesses must recognize same-sex marriage.
A range of companies also denounced the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol and said they would not donate to Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the election results. This threat did not distract most lawmakers from their loyalty to Mr. Trump, and in the weeks following the attack, some companies withdrew from that commitment.
Indeed, some Republicans have turned public opposition from big business and outside entities into a political weapon; rather than seeking to appease businesses, lawmakers have instead taunted them, lambasting corporate activism and daring businesses to take action.
“Major League Baseball has given in to the fear and lies of liberal activists,” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced the day after Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Atlanta. Free and fair elections, he said, “are worth the threats.” He added: “They are worth the boycotts, as well as the lawsuits. I want to be clear: I will not back down from this fight. ”
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas was equally firm. “Texans are fed up with companies that don’t share our values that try to dictate public policy,” he said after American Airlines issued a statement denouncing one of the bills to vote in the ‘State. “The majority of Texans support maintaining the integrity of our election, which is why I have made it a priority for this legislative session.”
Republicans outside of Mr. Trump’s grip see the showdown with business as a worrying sign. “We are saying the party has become full Trump, but what we mean is the party has become completely populist and nationalist,” said Michael Wood, an anti-Trump Republican who was running for office on Saturday. special election of 23 congressional candidates in the Dallas suburbs. “We have turned away from our roots as a pro-business party, a pro-small business party, and that, if we don’t correct our course, it will be really bad for America.”
Yet Republicans are also seizing a potential political opportunity. The aftermath of the 2020 election and Mr. Trump’s insistence that the vote be rigged provided the party with the first major public support from its supporters to pass a new voting law, after the Supreme Court hollowed out the law on voting rights in 2013.
Indeed, many of the laws proposed and passed by the Republicans would most likely have been challenged by the Justice Department under what was called the preclearance provision in section 5 of the act.
“We saw something like this in 2010 after Obama was elected,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “But we had more perspective and were able to block or blunt many of these laws. Now there is no longer the kind of guardrail we had in the past, and voters are hurting.
Mr. Wood, the Texas Republican running in Saturday’s special election, fears it will scare his supporters away.
“It keeps Republicans from talking honestly to each other about why we are getting a shrinking share of the vote in Texas,” he said. “We can either have this conversation or continue to shout about ‘electoral integrity’ without a quote and see the state gradually become more democratic.”
This debate may well be decided soon when the Texas legislature passes its own ballot bill.
Patricia Mazzei contributed reporting.