U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) last month said he has spoken with state legislators through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) about passing state bills that restrict voting rights and impose greater legislative control over how elections are run.
In a live-streamed video on April 19, Paul told Kevin Roberts, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an affiliate of the right-wing State Policy Network, that he has “been speaking to legislators through ALEC” about conservative electoral reform priorities since the November 2020 election.
Paul’s statement comes on the heels of the revelation that ALEC and the State Policy Network are working with Heritage Action for America on its $24 million plan to push new voting restrictions in eight states.
While admitting that challenges to the 2020 election results — many filed by former President Donald Trump and his allies — failed to convince courts of voter fraud or unlawful conduct by local or state elections officials, Paul insisted state legislatures must forge ahead with his proposals to curtail mail-in voting and politicize the administration of elections.
ALEC, registered as a nonpartisan, tax-exempt organization, claimed to have suspended its work on voting and elections in 2012 when it disbanded its Public Safety and Elections Task Force in the wake of public outcry and the departure of corporate members seeking to distance themselves from ALEC’s role in pushing controversial voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” legislation.
However, ALEC revived a secret Political Process Working Group in 2019, which has actively pushed voter fraud myths and partisan gerrymandering strategies to a receptive audience of GOP lawmakers.
A Center for Media and Democracy examination of voter suppression bills in six battleground states found more than 100 Republican politicians listed as lead sponsors or co-sponsors of 2021 legislation are connected to ALEC. In the first three months of 2021, lawmakers in 47 states introduced more than 360 bills that would restrict voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Rand Paul’s Voter Suppression Checklist
In addition to repeating lies about “election fraud” in Wisconsin and elsewhere during the 2020 general election, Paul outlined three policy reforms, which have already been introduced in various iterations in state legislatures across the country:
- Suppressing the vote. “Absentee voting needs to be individualized,” Paul said, repeating Trump’s unfounded claims linking absentee voting to voter fraud to third-party ballot collection of absentee ballots. “Vote harvesting,” or “ballot harvesting,” is a pejorative term for the practice of third parties collecting completed ballots from voters’ homes and delivering them in bulk to polling places or election offices. Paul and other right-wing individuals and groups including the Heritage Foundation claim it is “a recipe for coercion and election fraud,” but election experts say it is good for democracy.
- Enacting state control over local electoral policy. Local election officials developed a variety of approaches last year for managing a national election in the midst of a sweeping pandemic. Paul and ALEC take the hard line that only legislatures have that authority and are pushing legislation to prevent local and county elections officials from altering election protocols in the future.
- Giving state legislatures authority over governors and secretaries of state. Paul argued that secretaries of state were “basically soliciting voters” when some chose to send mail-in ballots to all voters for the 2020 general election due to public health and safety concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. “You may even have to put into law what they can’t do, instead of putting into law what they can do,” Paul said, having seen fellow Republicans repeatedly fail in legal challenges to states’ voting practices.
Paul recycled falsehoods about voter fraud that Trump and many GOP politicians perpetuated after the 2020 election, alleging that in states where many voters vote by mail, “drip by drip, [Democrats] keep finding votes. They keep harvesting the votes until they get it.”
The reality is that mail-in ballots take longer to count, and in some GOP-led states, lawmakers prevented election officials from beginning the mail-in vote count until Election Day. Thus, there were huge backlogs of ballots for officials to carefully count, and results trickled in after much of the Election Day votes were already tabulated. Republicans cynically used the vote counting delays to falsely allege the election was rigged against Trump.
Paul called Travis County, Texas, which is home to the state capital of Austin, “a communist oasis in the middle of conservative Texas.” He said that “rebellious” election officials in Travis County and Harris County, which set records for voter participation by instituting 24-hour voting, should not have the ability to set their own voting practices, claiming they overruled state law. Republican state lawmakers are currently attempting to outlaw some of the voter access methods that Harris County used in its hugely successful elections last year.
Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Election Protection Project
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a member of the State Policy Network, a web of right-wing think tanks and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom that works to “defund and defang” unions, oppose climate change regulations, lower wages, cut taxes and business regulations, tighten voter restrictions, privatize education, and hide the identities of political donors.
During its 2021 Policy Orientation in January, which was scheduled to coincide with the start of the legislative session, Texas Public Policy Foundation announced a national Election Protection Project led by Congressman Michael McCaul (TX-10). In a press release, TPPF said the project would seek to restore “election integrity” by “working with state officials and organizations to propose legislative measures to enhance and bolster the security and integrity of our nation’s election system.” These measures include pursuing voter ID requirements for in-person and mail-in voting and monitoring voter rolls.
The 2021 Policy Orientation also featured two panels dedicated to voter suppression. ALEC-tied Texas state Reps. Stephanie Klick (R) and Valoree Swanson (R) and voter suppression expert J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation participated in the Election Protection: Securing the People’s Voice and Choice at the Ballot Box panel. The panel discussion centered around unfounded fears of voter fraud with mail-in balloting.
The second panel, Election 2020: What Happened and What Does it Mean for the Future?, included Rachel Bovard, senior policy director with the Trump administration-tied Conservative Partnership Institute; The Federalist’s political editor, John Davidson; and Matt Braynard, executive director of the Trump-tied voter suppression group Look Ahead America.