Election officials raise their voices as battleground states debate election laws
When Georgian lawmakers imposed a restrictive voting bill in the 2021 session, Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said he felt frustrated and sidelined.
Lawmakers largely ignored the views of election officials, he said, and the result was a law that included a number of provisions he said are “to the detriment of voters “.
So when Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature tried to pass another ballot bill at this year’s session which included provisions he disagreed with, Kirk made sure to speak out.
“Anything I could do, I did,” said Kirk, who is the treasurer of the Georgian Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials.
Get morning headlines delivered to your inbox
Across the country, election officials this legislative season made their voices heard in hearings and through appeals to legislators, urging them not to enact election laws that they considered impractical or unnecessary, or that would ultimately make their job more difficult.
In crucial battleground states, including Arizona, Georgia and Florida, they have succeeded in defeating legislation that would have harmed access to the vote or the integrity of elections.
In Georgia, Kirk disagreed with part of the 2022 bill that would have changed ballot chain-of-custody requirements and required what he considered unnecessary security precautions, he therefore spoke to its legislators and before committees and sent written statements.
Ultimately, the bill passed the State House, but was later gutted in a senate committee. The only voting legislation passed in the state this session involved the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s authority to investigate fraud.
Kirk says he and other election officials consider it a success.
“What we’ve seen is that when we’re all talking they tend to listen,” he said. “Especially when we’re all basically saying the same thing.”
Other Georgian officials also spoke. “Personally, I felt empowered this year in a way that I didn’t last year,” said Dele Lowman Smith, chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Elections. “This year, I didn’t take it lying down.”
Smith said election officials representing Democratic and Republican counties have come together to push back against the legislation, and lawmakers have taken notice.
“It wasn’t a partisan issue,” she said. “It was just mismanagement and ignorance of the election administration process.”
Kirk, who represents a Republican-majority county, agreed that politics did not play into his views on election bills.
“As election officials, we try to focus on administration, not politics,” he said. “All we want is to do a good job and put in place the laws we need to do a good job.”
Cautious optimism in Arizona
In Arizona, the legislative session is still underway, but election officials are cautiously optimistic that they have succeeded in defeating the vast majority of about 100 tickets it would have been detrimental to their work process and voter access.
Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, which works with all county recorders and election managers across the state, said election officials oppose nearly all plans to voting bill presented this session.
Marson said she testifies before the legislature every week — sometimes dozens of times a week — to divide the opposition among election officials.
“For most ballot bills, the language was unenforceable,” she said. “Either it didn’t work with the technology that the counties have invested millions of dollars in, required staff that we don’t have, or forced us to go backwards in terms of efficiency, whether in terms of profitability or time.”
Most troublesome bills passed in committee but then died on the floor.
The bills that appear to have failed this session would have allowed the legislature to reject the results of an election and would have ended early and mail-in voting.
“We haven’t finished the session and it could all come back,” Marson said, adding that there were still problematic election bills pending. But, she said, “given the breadth and volume of election bills that have been introduced this year, the fact that we are now dealing with only about ten is a victory, absolutely .”
New laws in Florida
In Florida, Republican lawmakers passed restrictive ballot bills both this session and last that are opposed by election supervisors on both sides of the aisle. Although the bills are restrictive, this year’s new election laws aren’t as bad as they could have been for voter access.
Republicans wanted voting legislation to include a new requirement that voters voting by mail include an identification number, such as the last four digits of their driver’s license, near their signature. The requirement would have been similar to the one in texas which led to widespread confusion and thousands of rejected ballots in the March primary.
But, according to the Tampa Bay Timeselection supervisors spoke out strongly against the provision and lawmakers eventually Drop it.
In Missouri, the Association of Missouri County Clerks and Election Officials, which represents county election officials, supports changing state law to allow postal voting without excuse. A recent version of the state voting bill that advanced in the Senate, though mostly restrictive for voters, called for two weeks of no-apology mail-in voting before the election.
Not all states allowed participation in the legislative process. In Kansas, a Senate committee held an election security briefing hearing in March, but committee staff declined to tell suffrage advocates who would present.
According to the Kansas Reflectorthe speaker turned out to be Maria Zach, founder of Nations In Action, who “delivered widely discredited conspiracy theories on the legitimacy of the 2020 election results.”
Despite no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, Kansas lawmakers held hearings where none of the people who testify believed the election was secure.
Moving forward in Georgia
Election officials in Georgia said that in the future they hope to be actively involved in the legislative process from the start so that their views and the practical aspects of election administration are taken into account.
Because most laws are dead, Kirk said election officials also missed laws that would have helped them do their jobs.
“I would much rather see a discussion and a compromise,” he said.
He said he was optimistic about plans to meet lawmakers when they are not in session so that election officials have more time to share their views before deadlines are tight.
“We can have a discussion about needed reforms that make sense, that would help the process, help voters, help election officials, help everyone rather than just political talking points that push everyone to their corners” , did he declare.
“Election officials are ready to help,” he added. “We want to help. But we can’t do it in three minutes or less in an assembly committee.