Democrats plan to introduce legislation in the House and Senate on Tuesday to combat new laws in Republican-run states that could lead to the subversion of fair elections by partisan officials.
The new bills come in response to measures passed by Republican-majority state legislatures and signed into law by Republican governors that make it easier for partisan legislatures to purge state election boards and local election supervisors and replace them without cause with partisan officials. These state laws follow former President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign against state and local election officials to overturn his 2020 reelection loss based on false claims of widespread voter fraud.
The anti-election bills will institute a new federal safeguard for local election supervisors or superintendents by forbidding their removal by partisan state election boards or legislatures for any reason other than “for cause.” Recent election subversion laws enacted at the state level by Republicans have allowed removal for no reason at all. The new measures introduced by Democrats will also provide a “for cause” standard.
Local and county election officials subject to removal by a state election board or other entity will also be allowed under the Democratic bill to move that process to a federal court.
The bills will also make it a federal crime to intimidate, threaten, coerce or harass election workers, or to attempt to do so. They will also require poll observers to maintain a minimum distance from any voter or ballot during early voting and on an election day.
This push to counter election subversion comes alongside the efforts by congressional Democrats to pass the For the People Act, a sweeping package of voting rights, campaign finance, redistricting and ethics reforms, also known as H.R. 1. The For the People Act, which passed the House in May, faces its first test in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon when it is expected to face a Republican filibuster.
The election subversion bills are being introduced as standalone legislation by Reps. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Colin Allred (D-Texas) in the House and Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate. The intention is to make these bills part of the For the People Act in an amendment when the bill is brought to the Senate floor again.
“Republicans across the country continue to invent new tricks to give themselves control over our elections,” Williams said in a statement. “Their latest efforts seek to remove protections for the non-partisan election officials who ensure the integrity of our democracy. Protecting election officials from partisan interference is one way Congress can secure free and fair elections for everyone, no matter their zip code. I am proud to co-lead this bill with House and Senate leaders because it shows that Congress is ready to respond in real time to any threat to our democracy. As we continue to strengthen H.R. 1, this will not be the last discussion we have about how to prevent further attempts to subvert our elections.”
The anti-election subversion bills come as state-level Republicans are using their newfound powers to remove local election officials for no stated cause. Of the 10 local officials removed so far in Georgia, five are Black and most are Democrats, according to The New York Times. They are all likely to be replaced by Republicans. States including Arizona and Texas are considering similar election subversion legislation.
The officials being removed are in charge of selecting precinct locations; notifying voters of these locations, election times and rules; setting early voting hours; and, most important, certifying elections. Partisans installed into these positions could limit polling locations, place them in inconvenient locations, limit early voting hours and days, fail to notify voters of their precinct locations and, as Trump wanted in 2020, refuse to certify an election result.
This risk of election subversion by partisan officials emerged as a new threat after the 2020 elections when Trump and the Republican Party tried to overturn the result. Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Georgia’s election result. Raffensperger refused. The Republican state legislature responded by stripping him of his election oversight authority, and Trump endorsed a primary challenger who had supported overturning the 2020 election for him.
In Michigan, two local Republican election officials nearly refused to certify the election results in Wayne County, the home of Detroit. These officials were white and the county is predominantly Black. They certified the election after pressure from local voters.
These efforts to overturn the election eventually snowballed into the Jan. 6 insurrection Trump led against Congress to try to stop it from certifying President Joe Biden’s 306-232 win in the Electoral College.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article said Biden won the electoral vote by 303 to 232. He won 306 Electoral College votes.