Guest Editorials, Opinion

GOP lawmakers looking to punish election officials

It’s no secret that Republican state legislatures are working overtime to alter election laws in ways to twist American democracy to their favor. Having imposed rules that make it harder to vote and to discourage those who can’t vote in person, the newest point of attack is to threaten election officials with fines and jail time.

Republican-dominated state legislatures are looking at ways to punish election administrators if they stray — even by accident — from increasingly cumbersome new voting restrictions. At least 10 states have passed or are considering laws that could send election officials to prison or heavily fine them for technical violations of voting laws. Suddenly, that job opening at McDonald’s is looking awfully tempting.

All of these measures are Republican responses to alleged voting fraud during the 2016 and 2020 election that never actually happened. An Associated Press review found only 475 disputed ballots out of 25.5 million cast in the 2020 presidential election. After the 2016 election, then-President Donald Trump even formed a commission to investigate what he alleged was massive fraud (to explain his loss to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes), but the commission disbanded after coming up empty.

Among the few examples investigations have turned up were of Republicans attempting to vote twice or in other people’s names. Trump’s final chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was caught listing on his voter registration form a residence in North Carolina that he never lived in. He also reportedly was registered to vote in three states at the same time.

Strangely, Republicans seem unconcerned when confronted with real examples of vote fraud like that. Yet they’re doing everything possible to concoct fake scenarios of vote fraud that consistently target groups known to vote Democratic. And to escalate the sense of hysteria, they are concocting potential situations that would allow them to frighten away election officials.

Texas, Florida, Iowa, Arizona and Kentucky have established felony offenses for technical infractions. Arizona threatens election officials with up to 2 1/2 years in prison and loss of voting rights for sending a mail-in ballot if a voter hasn’t requested one. Florida established fines of up to $25,000 if ballot drop boxes are left unsupervised. Kentucky threatens a five-year sentence for any election official who accepts “anything of value” to help with an election. That could be construed as a free cup of coffee or a doughnut.

Then there are laws preventing volunteers from handing out so much as a bottle of water to people waiting in line to vote.

The net effect isn’t just to make democratic participation harder but to actively discourage the officials who make elections possible. There once was a time when both parties embraced let the best candidate win democratic competition. But that formula apparently no longer works for Republicans, so their next best option is to destroy democracy itself.

This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.