‘Voter Suppression’ Mantra Derailing Sober Analysis of Election Laws, State Lawmakers Say

By John Haughey
John Haughey
John Haughey
John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at john.haughey@epochtimes.us
February 4, 2022Updated: February 15, 2022

News Analysis

Despite the establishment media’s handwringing over Republicans menacing democracy with an onslaught of “voter suppression” laws, more measures that expanded access to the ballot box were adopted in the nation’s statehouses in 2021 than those that restricted it.

That pattern continues in 2022, as the 46 legislatures that convene this year—41 are in session right now—have more proposals that are identified as expansive than those that are defined as restrictive.

Lawmakers in 17 states are now considering legislation to broaden ballot access, while counterparts in nine states are pondering restrictive measures, according to Voting Rights Lab, a left-leaning nonprofit that lobbies for voter rights at the state level. If adopted, most of the new laws would be in place for November’s midterm elections.

These determinations reflect definitions established by the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In a December 2021 analysis, the institute stated that in 2021, 440 measures “with provisions that restrict voting” were introduced in 49 states; 34 of the proposals were adopted in 19 states.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 proposals with “expansive provisions” were introduced in 49 states in 2021, according to the Brennan Center, with at least 62 pieces of legislation being adopted in 25 states.

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Los Angeles Registrar’s Office personnel process mail-in voting ballots in Pomona, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Republican lawmakers sponsoring election-related legislation in 2022 say they’re frustrated over the proposals being labeled as restrictive by the Brennan Center and that the label is echoed by the mainstream media. The partisan fear-mongering is obscuring goodwill reviews of data gleaned from post-2020 analyses that identified flaws in state election laws, they say.

“’Voter suppression’ is a really dangerous catch-all claim that is code for ‘a bill I don’t like,’” Nebraska state Sen. Julie Slama, a Republican, told The Epoch Times. “I do believe that it is an awful narrative that will drive down turnout and confidence in elections.”

She also said that narrative is distracting lawmakers in many states from a sober review of state election laws.

Slama has filed at least two 2022 measures that are defined as restrictive. One would end Nebraska’s split Electoral College vote and make it “winner-take-all” like 48 other states, while the other is a proposed constitutional amendment, which lawmakers must approve, to ask voters in November if they want to end the state’s status as having the nation’s only unicameral nonpartisan legislature.

“Ensuring all Nebraska voters have an equal say in who is going to represent their state” and asking voters to determine if they want to know the party affiliations of legislative candidates isn’t voter suppression, she said.

Wisconsin state Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican, is among the sponsors of a package of legislation proposing election law changes recommended to lawmakers by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB).

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A voter makes his way into a polling place to cast his ballot at the Valle Crucis School on Nov. 3, 2020, in Sugar Grove, N.C. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Wisconsin’s LAB is “a nonpartisan entity, the gold standard in fair and non-partial analysis. They did their work” and identified “flaws in the system, ways election integrity was compromised in 2020 and needs some improvements. That is what this new slate of bills is about,” he said, noting that every proposal can be “traced back” to that analysis.

There’s legitimate debate about the proposals, but noise over voter suppression and election sabotage won’t allow nonpartisan recognition of LAB’s findings, according to Stroebel.

“I can’t comment about the national level. I can tell you, in Wisconsin, when you raise elections integrity issues, the first thing that comes out of (Democrats’) mouths is ‘voter suppression,’ and that becomes the narrative,” he said. “This is not some right-wing conspiracy.”

Among proposals filed by Arizona state Sen. Kelly Townsend, a Republican, is a proposal to make Election Day a state holiday.

“Here you have them saying we are trying to suppress the vote. How is making Election Day a holiday suppression?” Townsend asked.

New Hampshire state Rep. Mark Alliegro, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would require ballots to be counted by hand rather than by machine. The measure is opposed by municipalities that argue that it would be costly and make election counts longer.

Alliegro has data-based rebuttals to those arguments.

Election workers Bernadette Witt, left, and JoAnn Bartlett, right, process and double-check mail-in ballots for Bergen County in Hackensack, N.J., on Nov. 3, 2021. (Seth Wenig/AP Photo)

“Here’s the thing: Whether you hand-count or machine-count originally, there is usually an undercount of a couple of tenths of a percent,” he said. “In machine counts, the undercount is twice that amount. By definition, that means we are losing votes in machine-counted towns.

“Where are all the people who are always screaming that every legal vote should count? This bill can be considered an anti-voter suppression bill.”

In the wake of the November 2020 election, there was a massive 2021 slate of election-related legislation filed in state legislatures.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), more than 3,670 measures related to elections were filed during 2021 sessions in state legislatures, in the District of Columbia, and in three U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.

However, only a fraction—285 measures in 42 states and two territories—became law, with most regarded as procedural, according to NCSL.

“On the heels of an election year unlike any other, it’s no surprise interest in elections peaked during the 2021 legislative session,” NCSL stated in its analysis, noting that while the number of introduced measures was “the highest number recorded since NCSL began tracking in 2001,” the number ultimately adopted isn’t unusual.

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People cast their ballots at a polling location in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 13, 2020. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

“Despite this groundswell of activity, the number of election enactments was consistent with other odd-numbered years.”

Voting Rights Lab tracked 2,776 election-related 2021 measures through early December 2021, noting that 275 of them are now law in 45 states. Of those that were enacted, “109 are pro-voter, 47 are anti-voter, 27 are neutral, and 92 are mixed or unclear.”

Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan organization that maintains a voting rights tracker, stated that 27 states enacted 2021 legislation expanding vote-by-mail access while 13 states adopted legislation restricting it. More than 96 million voters—40 percent of the nation’s electorate—live in states that expanded voting access in 2021, while about 55 million, or 23 percent of the electorate, live in states that enacted restrictive legislation, it calculated.

The Brennan Center identified 152 “restriction bills” filed in 2021 that will roll over to 2022 sessions in 18 of the 25 states that allow legislation to span both years of a biennium session. By early December 2021, it had charted 13 restrictive measures among the 74 pre-filed bills addressing voting access and elections, with the remainder either expanding access or being neutral.

“Most of the states where restrictive laws are likely this year also passed or attempted to pass similarly restrictive laws last year,” the Brennan Center forecast, noting that 11 states enacted only restrictive laws, while 17 states enacted only expansive laws.

Election 2021 Minneapolis Mayor
Mayor Jacob Frey casts his vote on Election Day alongside his family at the Marcy Arts Magnet Elementary School in Minneapolis on Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

That forecast appears accurate. In 2022, according to Voting Rights Lab, lawmakers in nine states are only deliberating restrictive legislation, while those in 17 states only have expansive measures on their dockets.

“As a result, there is a stark and growing divide in the nation, where access to the right to vote increasingly depends on the state in which a voter happens to reside,” the Brennan Center stated.

Contrary to the Democrats’ “voter suppression” mantra, election laws in blue states actually make it harder to vote than in deep-red states, according to Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project.

“Red states offer more early voting, more ‘no excuse’ absentee voting. When you look at the laws (blue states) have on the books, it is immediately apparent that deep-red states make it easier to vote than deep-blue bastions like New York and Joe Biden’s home state, Delaware,” said Snead, whose group works with the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council in crafting model election-integrity legislation proposed by state lawmakers nationwide.

“The narrative that these [red] states are trying to suppress the vote is off the mark; the facts say otherwise. I think the narrative has become deliberately misleading and could backfire when voters see Democrats resisting efforts to shore up issues in elections laws that polls show a vast majority nationwide support.”

Townsend said: “Maybe we need to change the narrative. The left calls it ‘voter suppression.’ We call it ‘cheater suppression.’”