Lawmakers who refuse to vote have a key role in election oversight

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican lawmakers, who have propagated electoral conspiracy theories and falsely claimed the outcome of the 2020 presidential election was rigged, are overseeing legislative committees tasked with setting electoral policy in two major political battleground states.

Divided government in Pennsylvania and Arizona means any voting restrictions these GOP lawmakers propose are likely to fail. Still, the high-profile appointments give lawmakers a platform to cast further doubts about the integrity of elections in states that will be crucial to the election of the next president in 2024.

Granting such plum positions to lawmakers who have repeatedly spread conspiracies and misinformation cuts across more than two years of evidence showing there were no widespread problems or fraud in the last presidential election. It also appears to contradict the message conveyed in November’s midterm elections, when voters rejected non-election candidates running for top offices in the president’s battleground states.

At the same time, many mainstream Republicans are trying to overcome the lies former President Donald Trump and his allies have told about his loss to President Joe Biden.

“It’s an issue that a lot of Americans and a lot of Pennsylvanians are tired of being litigated and litigated again and again,” said Sen. Amanda Cappalletti of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the Senate committee that deals with electoral legislation. “I think we’re all ready to move on and we’re seeing from audit to audit that our elections are safe and fair and that people’s votes are being counted.”

Multiple reviews and audits in the six battleground states where Trump denied his loss, along with dozens of court denials and repeated admonitions from officials in his own administration, have underscored that the results of the 2020 presidential election were accurate. There was no widespread fraud or tampering with voting machines that would have altered the outcome.

Legislative appointments in Pennsylvania and Arizona highlight the electoral divide between the two major parties. Already this year, Democratic-controlled lawmakers are scrambling to expand voting access and tighten penalties for intimidating voters and poll workers, while many Republican-led states aim to pass more restrictions, a trend that has followed Trump’s wrongdoing Accelerated claims about the 2020 election.

Democratic governors and House victories last fall will weaken the hold of Republicans who have taken steps or pushed rhetoric to topple the 2020 election.

But in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two lawmakers who deny the validity of that election — let alone other elections since — will hold key positions of influence as majority chairs of the Legislative Committees overseeing electoral legislation.

In Arizona, Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers is taking over the Senate Election Committee after being nominated by an ally, Senate President Warren Petersen. He was one of two lawmakers to sign subpoenas that led to a widely derided scrutiny of the 2020 election by Senate Republicans.

Rogers, who has garnered a national following for spreading conspiracy theories and questioning elections, has repeatedly faced ethical charges for her inflammatory rhetoric, support for white supremacists and conspiratorial social media posts.

She will now be a chief gatekeeper for election and voting laws in Arizona, where election changes are a top priority for some Republican lawmakers. Some want to eliminate absentee voting and early voting, which is used by more than 80% of the state’s voters.

She has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday to review bills that would ban unattended dropboxes, ban drive-through voting or ballot pickup, and impose what pro-voting rights advocates call additional burdens on early voting.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Cris Dush is taking over as chair of the Senate state government committee after pushing to stop the state’s electoral votes going to Biden in 2020. Dush also launched an election investigation that he hoped would use the Arizona-style exam as a model.

He was appointed by senior Senate Republican President Pro Tem Kim Ward, whose office justified Dush’s appointment only because seniority matters and members have priority requests.

In the early weeks of this year’s session, Dush took action to expand voter identification requirements and add a layer of post-election checks. Both are proposed constitutional amendments designed to circumvent a governor’s veto by putting them to voters for approval.

Dush said he also plans to develop legislation to require more security measures for dropboxes and ballots.

“I will make a promise to the people of Pennsylvania: the things that I do here as Chairman of the State Government will be done fairly and impartially,” Dush said in an interview. “You know, we just have to make sure we can ensure the integrity of the vote and people aren’t disenfranchised.”

Arizona and Pennsylvania have newly elected Democratic governors who would likely veto GOP bills voted against by Democrats.

Still, Democrats, county election officials and pro-suffrage advocates in both states want electoral law changes that Dush and Rogers may never see the light of day.

Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director of voting rights group All Voting is Local, said he expects the legislature there to pass many “bad election laws.” He said moderate Republican lawmakers who may have opposed troublesome measures under a Republican governor may let them through now because they know Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is likely to veto it.

“It’s performative,” said Gulotta. “That’s not substantial.”

The question, he said, is whether Rogers and other Arizona lawmakers could work together on “small fixes” where there is consensus. That, he said, will require “real statesmanship.”

Liz Avore, a senior adviser for the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, said the organization expects another busy period of voting-related legislation ahead of the 2024 presidential election, even if candidates who repeated Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election lost bids for the governor, secretary of state and attorney general in key battleground states.

Democrat- and Republican-led states often move in opposite directions, but some bipartisan consensus has emerged on certain aspects of voting rights, such as restoring voting rights to offenders and expanding early in-person voting, Avore said.

Republican proposals like expanding voter identification requirements are popular and have majority support, as are some Democratic proposals to expand access, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

But to be successful with voters, Republicans must learn the lessons of 2022. Denying fair election results, he said, “is a loser for the Republican Party. Clearly.”