(AP) – In 2020, election officials sought to make voting easier and safer in a global pandemic. The next time they could be fined or prosecuted.
Republicans are creating a new list of penalties for the district officials who run elections, arguing they exceeded their authority in expanding voter access during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new penalties, which are part of a nationwide Republican campaign to reduce access to ballot papers, are already enshrined in law in Iowa, Georgia and Florida and are making their way through state houses in Texas and elsewhere. The GOP push came after a presidential contest that saw record turnouts and no widespread problems.
Election officials have warned those responsible for voting administration and ballot counting of a deterrent effect, fearful that they will be punished for minor mistakes, embroiled in partisan fighting or even given up their jobs.
In Iowa, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds has been heavily criticized for signing a comprehensive draft vote in March that cuts working hours at polling stations, shortens the early voting period, and imposes new restrictions on postal and postal ballot papers. The law also prohibits sending unsolicited postal ballot applications to voters, as some officials did before the 2020 elections.
One provision is of particular concern to Linn County’s auditor, Joel Miller: a fine of up to $ 10,000 for a “technical violation” of electoral rules. Miller says the penalty for unintentional mistakes such as opening a polling station could be imposed a few minutes late and raises concerns about the partisans’ enforcement.
“There are lots of moving parts and lots of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all of those mistakes,” he told The Associated Press. “The process could also be corrupted by the Secretary of State, who arbitrarily administers the law in very unequal ways depending on whether you are a Democratic or Republican county.”
Impending fines could also deter people from taking jobs as electoral workers or make staff reluctant to help voters, especially in smaller counties that cannot afford to risk the costly fines, said Travis Weipert, Democratic accountant for at Johnson County, Iowa.
“It becomes literal when you look at the laws, the belongings,” he said. “The counties that can pay to keep doing what they do will do it, and the counties that cannot pay will limit voting.”
A similar bill signed Thursday by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, could result in fines of $ 25,000 for election officers if a ballot box is accessible outside of early polling hours or left unattended.
More than 350 restrictive voting laws were tabled in 47 states this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public order group that campaigns for access to voters. Many are trying to establish new rules for mail and early voting, methods that have been used without a hitch in 2020, and some are grappling with new penalties for election administrators.
Experts agree that there was no widespread fraud or issues affecting the 2020 election results. Still, it is not uncommon for lawmakers to reassess electoral rules after an election. This year’s GOP push, based on President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about stolen elections, has been scrutinized, including by big names in business who argue that the legislation is discriminatory.
In 2020, electoral officials in Harris County, Texas, which includes the Democratic stronghold of Houston and is one of the most racially diverse in the country, went further than anywhere else in the state to create new choices. They opened 24-hour polling stations and conducted drive-through voting. They also attempted to send unsolicited postal voting requests to all voters, but were blocked by the Texas Supreme Court.
The county, which has nearly half of the 5 million population being Latinos and 20% black, won a record 1.7 million votes last year. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people vote in 24-hour centers when polling stations are normally closed. More than half of the 127,000 or so people who voted in transit centers were blacks, Latinos, or Asians.
In response, Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature have made proposals to ban 24-hour, drive-through voting centers and have made it a crime to unsolicited postal ballot papers.
“When you’ve got rid of every polling officer you don’t like in your state, the desire for drive-through voting, postal voting, and extended hours is still there. We already did it, ”said Isabel Longoria, Harris County’s election administrator. “So you can either move with the times and proudly support these modern initiatives, or you can be the person who got in the way.”
Georgia was also in the spotlight of the election restrictions passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in March.
The law imposes restrictions on where ballot boxes can be placed and accessed. It also allows lawmakers to select the chairman of the state electoral committee who has the power to intervene in county electoral offices and appoint a temporary superintendent, as well as hire and fire staff, including election officers and electoral officers.
Fulton County, which includes most of the Democratic stronghold of Atlanta, is a potential target given the frequent criticism from Republicans of long series of votes, problems with processing postal ballots, and other issues. Georgian Foreign Secretary Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said the county has “let its voters down for at least 25 years”.
In response, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts issued a statement saying the county was “unjustly targeted by those who hold grudges against us.”
“While Fulton County is the clear target, all 159 counties in Georgia will be affected, and I urge the leaders of those counties to look at the bill, stand up and speak up – because they could be tomorrow,” he said.
With the new penalties, at least some electoral officials are talking about entering different areas of work. Miller, the Linn County’s chartered accountant, said some were joking about the career path.
“Well, there have been a few county treasurer jobs that have recently opened,” Miller said with a laugh, “and my colleagues openly discussed whether or not to apply for treasurer because treasurers never come in.” Trouble.”
Izaguirre reported from Lindenhurst, New York.