Preparations for the 2024 presidential election could be thrown off by moves by Republican leaders in crucial battleground states to exercise more control over elections.
While previous efforts concentrated on expanding voting rights and reducing barriers to the ballot box, the current assault is instead directed at the often-undisclosed offices and agencies responsible for overseeing elections.
After years of encouraging wild speculation about the 2020 election, some in Wisconsin attempted to remove the state's elections chief.
Changes to North Carolina's election boards might lead to more deadlock and threaten voters' ability to cast early ballots.
After years of mishaps, the largest county in Texas had its election office shut down.
Watchdog groups concerned with the integrity of our electoral process say these actions might further erode public faith in a system that has been under constant attack since 2020.
As a result of his actions, former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential contender, faces many legal accusations related to his attempt to reverse his 2020 loss. After the 2020 elections, election officials across the country were swamped with issues like targeted harassment campaigns and fake so-called “audits” of the vote based on conspiracy theories. Some election officials consider the recent actions as further steps in that direction.
Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission whom Republican lawmakers are attempting to dismiss, stated, “I do think there is a trend.”
There are “political people,” she noted in an interview, who “want to try to get rid of those that are going to stand strong against partisan pressures. Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like to me.
Local election offices in North Carolina and Texas have undergone a Republican makeover.
The local elections offices in North Carolina and Texas are where Republicans have made the most obvious structural changes.
Voter registration, polling location management, and vote tallying are all responsibilities of county election officials, who have been the focus of these reforms.
To enhance legislative control and the potential for stalemates on contentious topics like whether a county should expand early voting, Republicans in North Carolina altered the structure of state and local election boards.
The party of the governor has typically held a 3-2 majority on both the state board of elections and county boards. Last month, over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, the Republican supermajorities in the legislature approved a measure to evenly split the boards.
Republicans argue that the bill will encourage both parties to work together to make election decisions. But evenly divided boards raise the possibility of stalemates, which could mean resorting to statutory minimums on critical matters. If a city council cannot agree on when and where early voting will take place, for example, the county may choose to hold all early voting at a single location.
“The deadlocks that will be created on these new boards of elections at the state and local levels likely will reduce early voting and create longer lines at the polls,” Cooper said in a statement announcing a lawsuit arguing the bill unjustly usurped executive authority. (Neither the office of Speaker Tim Moore nor that of Senate President Phil Berger were receptive to requests for interviews.)
An initiative to make similar reforms was soundly defeated by North Carolina voters in 2018, and in the same year, the state Supreme Court declared that an earlier attempt to restructure the state board was unconstitutional. However, the court has swung from a Democratic majority to a Republican one since then.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Texas have passed a couple of legislation that only apply to Harris County, the state’s largest and most blue-leaning county, which is home to Houston.
The county clerk and tax assessor-collector were given responsibility for elections instead of the newly created post of election administrator under one statute. The other statute authorised the secretary of state to take over election administration in emergency situations.
Republicans in the state said that the rules were required because citizens had lost faith in the election processes in Harris County. The state Supreme Court permitted the statute removing the election office to take effect before hearing an appeal from Harris County, which had previously successfully challenged the law in a lower court.
That left the two other offices, both of which are currently held by elected Democrats, to organise the municipal elections this year, in which the new mayor of Houston will be chosen, with little time to prepare.
Republican Party of Wisconsin Aims at State Elections Chief
Republican legislators in Wisconsin have been working less on systemic reforms and more on the removal of one specific person.
Specifically, they have targeted Wolfe by propagating bogus conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen. Although the commission’s voting procedures during the epidemic were approved by the bipartisan elections board, Wolfe faced criticism from some lawmakers for his handling of absentee ballots and the distribution of ballots to nursing facilities.
Wolfe remarked, “I’m not sure why we still find ourselves in this moment three years after an election, after multiple audits, examinations, recounts, litigation.”
There have been multiple layers of convoluted procedural fights in the attempts to remove Wolfe.
After Democrats on the state election commission declined to formally put Wolfe up for another term out of concern that the state Senate would reject her, she is currently serving in a “holdover” capacity.
Nonetheless, Senate Republicans held a vote on Wolfe and, with a party-line result, announced that she had been removed from her position, although they confessed in court that this had been a “symbolic” vote. The Republican leader of the state senate wrote to his Republican counterpart in the assembly, asking him to impeach Wolfe.
Last Monday, a court issued a temporary injunction upholding that Wolfe is properly serving as a holdover and stated Republicans cannot, for now, remove her. (Neither the office of Republican State House Speaker Robin Vos nor that of Republican Senate President Chris Kapenga were able to be reached for comment.)
The disruption to 2024 preparations has election authorities concerned about the impact of the alterations.
Officials in the area are concerned that the ongoing changes may interfere with their efforts to get ready for the 2024 elections.
Brunswick County’s elections director and president of the North Carolina Association of Directors of Elections, Sara Lavere, wondered, “What is that going to look like when we go into next year, and we’re bringing things before the boards?” When asked, “And what if we can’t get a majority vote on something because it’s split by party lines?”
The planning that goes into even the most regular election takes months, and yet it often goes unnoticed by voters and officials. The election for president is considerably more convoluted. Officials and voting rights groups have called for clarity on election regulations to help them prepare for the upcoming primaries.
Hilary Harris Klein, senior counsel for voting rights at the liberal-leaning Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said, “Gridlock is something that creates uncertainty and delay within a board of elections that often has to move quite quickly to make sure that elections are administered safely and securely.”
Votebeat, a journalism organisation focused on elections, was alerted by Texas election officials that the upcoming changes could derail preparations for the next 2024 election.
As Wolfe put it, “planning for 2024” in Wisconsin is “very difficult.” She noted that it has had a “destabilising effect on us, my staff, and election administrators at the local level, because they don’t know what next year’s going to look like.”
Furthermore, several regional leaders are concerned that the conflict over Wolfe’s function would eventually spread to their own institutions. Some election authorities are concerned that the atmosphere around next year’s campaign will only get worse in light of this and the continuing harassment and threats officials across the country have encountered since the 2020 election.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, a Democrat, called it a “attempt to bully and intimidate the election commission heading into 2024.” As the president of the United States put it, “It’s part of an effort to kind of call our elections into question.”