The United States of Election Reform

February 3, 2021

If the mess of 2020 accomplished anything, it was lighting a fire under conservative states. After weeks of election counting, recounting, and questions, more legislatures than ever are determined to stop Democrats from taking advantage of COVID again. Cheat-by-mail is going to end, they warn. And a record number of states are lining up to prove it.

Most Republicans didn't need motivation after November -- but what's happened in the first 15 days under Joe Biden is only giving them more. Watching this new administration try to rule with an iron E.O., overturning wave after wave of American progress, has made election reformers out of everyone. Leaders like Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), who sued to challenge Pennsylvania's process, are sticking with their court challenges -- this time, with a bigger goal: restoring Americans' faith in the process. Greg Teufel, the attorney representing Kelly, said that regardless of what happened to the Trump portion of the lawsuit, the "questions pertaining to future elections in Pennsylvania are still pertinent -- and the congressman has no intention of dropping it."

Even now, there's a basket of election-related lawsuits before the Supreme Court, and if the justices accept any of them, it could have massive implications for how ballots work moving forward. Others don't want to rely on the courts, no matter how favorable the Trump appointees might have made them. "I don't think litigation generally will be the path to rolling back early and mail-in voting," Teufel said. "It's much more likely to happen through [the legislative process]."

The states have more than heeded that advice, exploding with legislation right out of the gate in their legislative sessions. Republicans are demanding stronger voter ID laws, an end to mail-in balloting, changes in how absentee votes are handled, and more. According to the new Brennan Center report, the GOP has already unleashed more than 106 election reform bills in 28 states this year, all specifically designed to crack down on the abuse Americans witnessed during the pandemic. To put that number into perspective, the states only introduced 35 election-related bills in all of 2020. Obviously, there's an intensity behind this effort that we haven't seen in quite some time -- if ever. And hopefully, conservatives across this nation will stand up and partner with their elected leaders to get these bills over the finish line.

In the meantime, Cook Political Report's David Wasserman has even more encouraging news. Thanks to the incredible gains by Republicans in the state legislatures, election reform isn't the only thing within reach. The tool of redistricting is also firmly in GOP hands. Until Barack Obama, most conservatives probably didn't pay a lot of attention to the Census and congressional boundaries. But in the last 10 years, David explained, it's really become a major issue of the public consciousness -- especially after 2011 when Democrats were put on their heels by how well the GOP managed the process.

"[They] were largely blindsided by how well Republicans did in redrawing the boundaries in their favor, because Republicans, if you recall, took back the House in 2010. They also had a banner year in state legislatures as a reaction to Obama's first two years. And so they gained control over the process in a lot of states," David pointed out. "Keep in mind that about two-thirds of states, the state legislature has primary authority to redraw district boundaries for the next 10 years. And although Republicans did lose control of the House in 2018, part of that was [because] Democrats had been successful in suing to overturn Republican-drawn maps in a couple of states. Had it not been for those lawsuits that Democrats launched," he said, "then Republicans would probably have won the majority in 2020. So with a very thin majority in the House, this redistricting process could tip control either way."

Based on what happened in November with the enlarged conservative majorities in the states, Republicans have a major advantage heading in to 2021. Out of 435 districts, the GOP will be the final authority on 188. "That includes some pretty big states," David points out -- like Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia. Those four states alone, he said, "are poised to gain four seats from the reapportionment process, which is essentially when the Census reallocates congressional seats and electoral votes, according to the latest population tallies." Democrats, by contrast, will only have the final say in 73 districts -- a huge disparity. And if you're wondering what happens to the rest of those districts, some states have bipartisan or independent commissions that govern the process -- including places like California, Washington State, Virginia, Michigan, and Colorado."

And while the Left has been somewhat successful in convincing the courts to toss some of the conservatives' redrawn maps, the reality is, "Republicans only need to gain five seats for control of the House. So there you have it," David said. "Redistricting alone makes the House a tossup." Add that to the flood of bills to clean up last year's election abuse, and conservatives have plenty of reasons for optimism!