And in the key battleground state of Arizona, Republican legislators this week moved to weaken the authority of Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, by limiting her ability to defend election lawsuits.
Democrats and progressive activists argue that the measures could allow the conduct of future elections — including counting ballots and certifying results — to fall prey to partisan meddling, not unlike the controversial review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, authorized by Republicans in the state Senate.
“If the worst of these laws had been in place in 2020, they might well have interfered with the clearly expressed will of voters in state after state,” said Norm Eisen, a CNN legal analyst and the executive chairman of the bipartisan States United Democracy Center.
“This should be terrifying to anyone who cares about democracy,” Eisen added.
Biden on Thursday said Republicans are trying to throw out votes if they don’t like the results.
“Who is God’s name, as my mother would say, died and left them boss?” he said. “Your vote has to count when you cast it.”
Republicans at the forefront of the new laws say their actions will help ensure election integrity and guard against local election officials overstepping their authority.
“They are not takeovers as much as strengthening the already statutorily mandated duty” of the state’s election commission, Arkansas state Rep. Mark Lowery said of provisions he helped enact that give the state panel broader investigative powers.
The action follows a dispute over ballot counting last year in Arkansas’ most populous county.
More measures are on the horizon.
The laws that threaten election workers with criminal penalties or expand legislative influence over election administration span the country.
Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is likely to veto the measure.
And in Arizona, the Republican legislature has made it a felony for a public official to modify any deadline or election filing date unless ordered to do so by a court. Another measure, tucked into a budget provision approved Wednesday by the state Senate, establishes the Arizona’s attorney general as the “sole authority” to defend state election laws and bars the secretary of state from using any public funds for hire outside lawyers. It also limits Hobbs to hiring the equivalent of one full-time lawyer to represent her office.
That bill also creates a special committee to recommend legislative changes based on the results of the problem-plagued “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots. The Republican-led Senate authorized the partisan Maricopa audit, which has drawn rebukes from Hobbs and Republican officials in the county.
The moves in Arizona follow other Republican-led efforts to exert influence on elections.
Additionally, lawmakers removed the secretary of state as a voting member of the state elections board. The current Secretary of State, Republican Brad Raffensperger, resisted Trump’s false claims of election fraud in 2020 and now faces a primary challenge from a strong ally of the former president, GOP Rep. Jody Hice.
The Democrat won by some two dozen votes.
Lowery said the local prosecutors’ office, led by a Democrat, should have investigated. “When you have partisan, elected prosecutors, you may not get cooperation in terms of investigating and prosecuting election impropriety,” he said.
Federal legislation falters
But that proposal — along with other voting measures — faces long odds on Capitol Hill after Republicans in the Senate this week blocked debate on another election bill — a sweeping voting and ethics bill, known as the For the People Act.
Democrats cast the bill as a counterweight to state-level efforts to restrict voting. Republicans argue it amounts to federal overreach in state matters.
No voting bill can gain traction in a 50-50 Senate, unless moderate Democrats such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema agree to reduce the 60-vote supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster and advance most legislation in the chamber.
But voting rights activists worry the raft of laws giving state legislators more sway over elections could undermine all their organizing efforts.
“Even if we do everything right,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, “even if we outwork them and we get turnout up, it’s the fail-safe that allows them to say no matter what the count is, ‘We don’t think this was legal. We think this was fraudulent. We think this county’s ballots should be thrown out.’ ”