House Republicans pointed to the success of state election reforms during a hearing Friday, citing high turnout and smooth operations in the 2022 midterm elections as evidence.
Despite such results, House Democrats insisted Americans are having difficulty voting. In part, they blamed laws passed in almost half the states in 2021 and early 2022, among other things, to expand voter ID requirements, ban private money from funding election administration, and restrict the controversial practice of ballot harvesting.
The House Administration subcommittee on elections heard from a panel made up of two top state election officials and a chief county election administrator, as well as a liberal advocate who argues that voter suppression is still a problem.
At one point, Ohio’s top election official spoke of “a crisis of confidence in our elections.”
“When we identify areas for improvement, our states and localities and voters are leading the charge to make elections work better,” subcommittee Chairwoman Laurel Lee, R-Fla., said. “The states that have implemented safeguards have been successful both in building trust in our elections process and in building increased voter turnout.”
Here are six takeaways from the election subcommittee’s hearing.
1. Investigating Election Crimes
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told the subcommittee that his office had established a public integrity division.
“A review of our office’s capabilities demonstrated there was room to strengthen the investigative function far beyond what they were,” LaRose, a Republican, said. “For too long, questions of election law violations or campaign finance violations were left up to election clerks—dedicated and purposeful individuals, but people who were not trained as law enforcement professionals and didn’t know how to conduct a professional investigation.”
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, told the lawmakers that recent arrests for corruption in his state resulted from his office’s investigations. Compliance officers investigate allegations of election fraud and enforce access to polls, Ardoin said. Such matters are referred to local district attorneys.
“We investigate anything, [including] a candidate coercing voters to register in the wrong districts,” Ardoin said. “We had a recent case of that where an individual pleaded out because he was moving people from outside of his district into his district, simply by voter registrations.”
“We also conduct investigations and cooperate with our federal partners. The FBI just made arrests of a current officeholder and former officeholder for vote buying,” Ardoin added. “So, we’ll work with any law enforcement agency.”
2. ‘Noncitizen Voting Particularly Egregious’
Louisiana enacted an amendment to the state Constitution to prevent localities from allowing noncitizens to vote. Laws to allow voting by noncitizens in local elections have been enacted in other jurisdictions across the United States.
“As citizens, we rely on the assumption that those who have a say over how we govern ourselves are our fellow citizens. That is why the practice of noncitizen voting is particularly egregious. It is wrong in principle and wrong in practice,” Ardoin said.
“It could open the door for foreign nationals with no loyalty to our communities and our country to exercise political power over our fellow citizens,” he said. “These types of laws have the potential to irrevocably weaken one of the strongest ties that binds us together as a nation.”
However, Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Administration Committee, seemed troubled.
“Are you required to show proof of citizenship now to register to vote in Louisiana?” Morelle asked.
Ardoin replied: “Yes, sir.”
Morelle, referring to voter registration rolls, asked: “Are you purging noncitizens?”
Ardoin: “Only when we get notice from the federal judiciary in our state or the local judiciary that someone filled out a card saying they couldn’t serve because they were a noncitizen.”
Morelle: “Do you have an estimate of how many noncitizens vote in Louisiana?”
Ardoin: “I do not.”
3. ‘No Time to Claim Mission Accomplished’
Success in the 2022 midterm elections shouldn’t be measured by turnout alone, Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told the House panel. Hewitt was invited by the panel’s Democrats.
“The 2022 midterms made one thing crystal clear. The measure of success must not only be how many people were able to vote,” Hewitt said. “Certainly there were impressive numbers in many jurisdictions. We must also do an analysis of which people were able to vote and the types of barriers they overcame in order to do so.”
Some states still had a double-digit gap in voter turnout between white and black voters, Hewitt said.
“This is not success. Democracy demands more,” he said. “This is no time to claim, ‘Mission accomplished.’ We have work to do.”
Hewitt characterized state laws as efforts to restrict early voting hours and shorten the number of days that voters may request absentee ballots.
“These were all efforts, we believe, to erect barriers to voting, not to make voting easier,” he said. “In many ways, these laws were made possible, even popular, by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which essentially gutted the strongest provision of the Voting Rights Act.”
Hewitt pointed to both a civil and a criminal case against private actors who set up a robocall scam meant to prevent people from voting:
Just this week, the Lawyers Committee won summary judgment in a lawsuit in federal court involving robocalls sent to black voters, targeting them, telling them that if they vote by mail that the information would be used to execute outstanding warrants, track them down to collect outstanding debts, and also to force mandatory vaccinations. The same individuals who perpetrated this horror were also prosecuted in a couple of different states.
4. ‘Do You Believe Joe Biden Won?’
Democrats on the panel opted to put Republicans on the spot about the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump maintains was stolen from him to ensure Joe Biden’s victory.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., ranking member of the subcommittee, was somewhat more subtle. She referred to both the 2020 and 2022 elections.
“Were the 2020 and 2022 midterm elections in Louisiana fair and secure? Yes or no?” Sewell asked Ardoin.
Ardoin responded: “Yes.”
Sewell: “Mr. LaRose, were the 2020 and 2022 elections in Ohio fair and secure?”
LaRose: “Yes, ma’am.”
Sewell then asked Chris Anderson, supervisor of elections for Seminole County, Florida: “Would you say in Florida, the 2020 and 2022 elections were fair and secure?”
Anderson replied, “Absolutely.”
Sewell later asked: “Secretary Ardoin, is there rampant voter fraud in Louisiana?”
Sewell: “Is it more the exception than the rule?”
Ardoin: “I believe so.”
Sewell then asked, “What about you, Mr. LaRose? Is there rampant voter fraud in your state of Ohio?”
LaRose answered, “Thankfully no, and we work to keep it rare.”
“Likewise you, Mr. Anderson?” Sewell asked.
“No, ma’am,” Anderson responded.
Morelle, ranking member of the full Administration Committee, was more blunt.
He asked: “Secretary Ardoin, do you believe Joe Biden won the 2020 election?”
Ardoin answered, “I do believe he won.”
Morelle: “Mr. Anderson, do you believe Joe Biden won the 2020 election?”
Morelle turned to Hewitt with the same question.
Hewitt replied, jokingly: “Wearing my nonpartisan hat, yes, I do.”
After the subcommittee went into recess to take votes, LaRose had to leave, and was not present to answer the question.
5. Georgia ‘Chief Among Successes’
Georgia’s election reform law, which extended voter ID requirements to absentee ballots, was a key part of success in the 2022 midterms, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said.
Loudermilk said the success came despite the efforts to malign the law as “voter suppression.”
“I think it’s important we set the record straight, especially being from Georgia, as to the 2022 election,” Loudermilk said. “Georgia’s new election law was chief among some of the successes we saw post-2020 and going into the 2022 elections.”
After it passed, some national Democrats falsely called the legislation “Jim Crow 2.0.”
“There is always going to be some level of fraud,” Loudermilk said, adding:
We are never going to eliminate all of it. But we do have to make sure that our elections have some integrity and the people feel that their vote legally matters. The feedback I hear from people in Georgia from both parties is, ‘It’s OK if my neighbor votes differently than me and cancels my vote, but it’s not OK if someone who is not supposed to vote cancels my vote.’
Although Georgia may have been the most maligned for implementing election reforms, the bulk of states that passed such measures had success, said Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, parent organization of The Daily Signal.
“The positive results in states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas that were unfairly criticized by Joe Biden and many other liberals for supposedly implementing ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ show just how wrong those critics were,” von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal. “And their attitude that voters are too stupid to cope with commonsense requirements like voter ID, which voters overwhelmingly support, show a patronizingly dismissive view of American voters.”
6. ‘Crisis of Confidence in Our Elections’
A growing lack of confidence in election outcomes from both sides is harmful, both lawmakers and state election officials said.
“One of the things we’ve really seen is the data shows [that] when we have strong integrity in our elections, we actually see an increase in voter turnout,” Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said early in the hearing.
“I think that’s something we are going to hear time and time again throughout this Congress,” Steil said. “If people know they can trust that their ballot is going to be counted, they are going to be more likely to go and vote.”
Fair elections are the “foundation of our democratic republic,” Ohio’s LaRose told the panel.
“They serve to document and to certify what Thomas Jefferson called the consent of the governed—that precious permission that the citizens give each and every one of us to serve them as public officeholders,” LaRose said, adding:
Of course access to [voting] and the integrity of our elections is vital to that representative government on which our states and nation have thrived. With integrity comes confidence in the system, and belief by the electorate that each election had a sure winner and a sure loser. Integrity and confidence, they go hand in hand. And yet, our nation faces a crisis of confidence in our elections.
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