Editorial: The Assault on Voting is an Assault on Local Democracy | Zachary Roth/Brennan Center for Justice
Last spring, in the weeks and months after life was first reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic, local governments stepped up to help save the 2020 election. Knowing that many voters might not want to risk their health by casting a ballot in person, cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Houston, and Miami expanded access to mail voting by sending absentee ballots or ballot applications to all registered voters, sometimes with pre-paid postage, and by providing ballot drop boxes, among other moves. I suggested at the time that Republican-leaning rural counties in the same states might follow suit, in order to ensure that rural voters would enjoy the same expanded access as urban ones. A race to the top, in other words. I should have known that was too optimistic. After an election in which both mail voting and overall turnout soared, several GOP-led states, as we know, are desperate to restrict voting. And as part of that effort, they’re looking to clamp down on local governments’ authority to make voting easier — or in some cases, to run elections at all. Two states have already done so. Among the most dangerous parts of the sweeping voter suppression law Georgia passed last month is a provision that allows the state election board to suspend and temporarily replace local election officials. In practice, that means the state board — which, thanks to a different part of the law, will have a majority of members appointed by the GOP-controlled legislature — will be able to oust any local election official who seeks to expand access to the polls in ways the state doesn’t like. That could prevent county officials from taking individual on-the-ground conditions into account in order to devise election plans that best serve their voters. One part of the restrictive voting law Iowa passed last month could have a similar effect, making it a felony for local election officials not to follow guidance from the secretary of state. And a bill in Arkansas would likewise allow the state election commission to take over local election boards under certain circumstances — it failed once in committee but can be brought up again.