GOP state officials at U.S. House hearing push back against federal election oversight
Election officials from three states told a U.S. House committee on March 10, 2023, they don't need more federal oversight of their elections. (File photo by Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)
WASHINGTON — Republican election officials from Florida, Ohio and Louisiana on Friday detailed to lawmakers on a U.S. House Administration panel the success of their states’ handling of the 2022 midterm elections and said they can run their own elections without federal intervention.
The chair of the Elections Subcommittee, Florida GOP freshman Rep. Laurel Lee, said the purpose of the hearing was to learn the best practices states are using and to make those practices available for other states to follow.
She argued against federal involvement in state elections and touted requirements instituted by some states such as voter ID cards and contingency plans for natural disasters such as hurricanes that might disrupt a polling location.
Lee said the witnesses from the three states “are getting elections right and can share some of the policies and practices that have led to their success.”
Democrats on the panel, however, urged the need for federal oversight, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of voter suppression to get approval from the Justice Department before enacting any voting-related legislation.
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, said there is still more work that needs to be done to protect voting rights, particularly of those of Black voters and voters of color.
Sewell said if Congress wants to protect voting rights and encourage people to vote, it should pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which restores the section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court struck down in 2013. The legislation has repeatedly failed to advance in the U.S. Senate.
Lee served as Florida’s secretary of state from 2019 to 2022. She said her prior work as an election official makes her passionate about secure elections, and she believes Republicans and Democrats have a “common goal of ensuring that every eligible American citizen has an opportunity to vote and for their ballot to be counted and to be secure.”
Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., made similar remarks.
“There’s always going to be some level of fraud; we’re never going to eliminate all of it,” he said. “But we do have to make sure that our elections have the integrity and the people feel that their vote really matters.”
The supervisor of elections for Seminole County, Florida, Chris Anderson, told the panel that the 2022 election there was secure and that there were no instances of massive voter fraud.
Anderson added that all of Florida’s 67 counties worked with the Florida Department of State to strengthen cybersecurity infrastructure in elections.
“We had cyber navigators from the Department of State come and meet with our IT professionals, they scanned our networks, they gave us best practices, and I’m very happy to report that in Seminole County, we pass with flying colors,” Anderson said.
Voting Rights Act
In the Shelby County v. Holder, decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had put in place a pre-clearance formula for nine states and a handful of counties and cities with a history of discriminating against voters of color.
Those states included Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The handful of counties included those in New York, Florida, North Carolina, California and South Dakota.
One of the hearing witnesses, Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was the most powerful provision in the act.
“It stopped fires before it happened,” he said.
Sewell said her hometown of Selma just commemorated the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, “a reminder that the violent struggle for voting rights and equal access to the ballot box is not one of a (distant) past.”
She added that following the 2020 presidential election, in which there was high voter turnout, many states moved to pass restrictive voting legislation. Former President Donald Trump made false claims of fraud in that election.
“We should applaud increases in voter turnout, not respond to them with new restrictions to voting,” she said.
State voter ID laws
Lee pushed back on criticism that changes in voting laws made voting difficult.
She pointed out that those same criticisms were made in Georgia, and in the 2022 elections, the Peach State saw a record voter turnout. The state legislature passed a massive voting overhaul following the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate elections won by Democrats, drawing lawsuits from civil rights groups and the Justice Department.
The secretary of state from Louisiana, Kyle Ardoin, and the secretary of state from Ohio, Frank LaRose, said their states have offered free voter IDs to eliminate any type of financial burden those laws could create.
LaRose said Ohio even put in place a religious exemption for a photo to not be required for the voter ID. He touted the state’s new voting requirement legislation.
“We believe this will increase (voter) participation,” he said.
That law is already facing legal challenges.
But Sewell said with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act struck down, “there is no federal oversight of states.”
Rep. Joe Morelle of New York, the top Democrat on the House Administration Committee, asked Ardoin why he believed the federal government should not have any oversight in state elections, and that states should be able to make their own voting requirements.
“I think states should be sovereign, with regards to elections,” Ardoin said.
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