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GOP rallies behind voting controls, called “an all-hands moment.”

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GOP rallies behind voting controls, called "an all-hands moment."
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GOP rallies behind voting controls, called "an all-hands moment."

GOP rallies behind voting controls, called “an all-hands moment.”

 

Sen. Ted Cruz huddled with Republican state lawmakers on an invitation-only call last week to call them to fight on the topic of voting rights.

He said that Democrats are attempting to extend voting rights to “illegal aliens” and “child molesters,” and that Republicans would do everything possible to prevent this. He claims that if far-reaching election reform is passed now in the Senate, the GOP will not win elections for decades.

Cruz was blunt when asked if there was room for compromise: “No.”

“The only goal of H.R. 1 is to ensure that Democrats never lose another election, that they win and maintain control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and state legislatures for the next century,” Cruz said at a meeting hosted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative think tank that provides model legislation to state legislatures.

Cruz’s comments, which were captured by a caller and obtained by The Associated Press, reflect the growing fervor behind Republicans’ national effort to curb voting rights. The battle over who should vote and how — sometimes referred to as “voting honesty” — has galvanized a Republican Party in search of a unifying mission in the post-Trump period, from statehouses to Washington. Voting restrictions are now seen as a political life-or-death debate within a strong network of conservatives, and the struggle has nearly eclipsed conventional Republican topics like abortion, gun rights, and tax cuts as a rallying cry.

This clout is attracting powerful figures and funds from across the political spectrum, meaning that the fight over legislation in Washington will be partisan and costly.

“It feels like an all-hands-on-deck moment for the conservative movement,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, a powerful conservative advocacy organization in Washington. “We’ve gotten a bit of a rallying cry from the grassroots, urging us to take up this fight.”

Several well-known organizations have recently joined the fray: The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights organization, has teamed up with another conservative Christian organization to finance the Election Transparency Initiative. FreedomWorks, an organization committed to smaller government, has launched a $10 million initiative calling for state voting rules to be tightened. Cleta Mitchell, a prominent Republican attorney who represented former President Donald Trump, will head the group.

In the meantime, Heritage Action has launched a new initiative aimed at reforming state voting rules. It involved a $700,000 ad campaign in Georgia to support GOP-written legislation, the group’s first foray into state policy advocacy.

The states have been at the forefront of the discussion so far. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which supports increased voting rights, more than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that will change how Americans vote. This includes proposals to limit postal voting, reduce polling place hours, and enforce restrictions that Democrats claim are the most serious attack on voting rights since Jim Crow.

Trump’s lies that he lost the presidential election due to fraud — claims refuted by the courts and influential Republicans — triggered the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

However, the fight over voting laws has shifted away from Trump and toward Washington, where the Democratic-led Senate will soon consider a slew of voting reforms. The bill, known as H.R. 1, will require states to register registered voters automatically and to have same-day registration. It will restrict states’ ability to exclude registered voters from voter rolls and grant voting rights to convicted felons. It would also require states to have 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee voting, among a slew of other provisions. Democrats, who are putting their own money behind the bill, say that it is important to avoid what they call state-level voter intimidation attempts.

Republicans argue that it’s a jumble of long-sought Democratic objectives aimed at swaying elections in their favor. Cruz believed that millions of “criminals and illegal aliens” will vote as a result.

“America would be better off if more killers were voting,” Cruz said. “America would be better off if more rapists and child molesters were voting.”

He also stated that he was recently on an all-day planning call with national conservative leaders to organize opposition. According to him, the leaders decided that Republicans would try to rename the Democratic-backed bill the “Corrupt Politicians Act.”

Even among conservative groups who have no specific involvement in the voting issue, there is a strong emphasis on voting. Tony Perkins, a leading Christian conservative, answered multiple questions about voting during a televised town hall in February before moving on to the social issues that his Family Research Council is known for.

Perkins responded to the query by remembering how voting rules were tightened in his home state of Louisiana after a close Senate race won by Democrats in 1996. He pointed out that the state is now overwhelmingly Republican.

Perkins urged viewers to pressure state legislators to “restore election integrity” by saying, “When you have open, equal elections, you’re going to have positive outcomes.”

Stronger voting rules have long been a conservative target, motivated by the old — and some argue obsolete — common wisdom that Republicans do well in low-turnout elections and Democrats do well in high-turnout elections. As a result, Republicans are attempting to tighten voter identification laws and mandate more regular voter roll purges. Both measures overwhelmingly exclude Democratic-leaning Black and Latino voters.

Last year, Leonard Leo, a Trump adviser and one of the strategists behind the conservative focus on the federal judiciary, founded The Honest Elections Project to advocate for voting restrictions and organize GOP efforts to track the 2020 election, as a sign of the growing attention to the issue.

However, the problem grew beyond the expectations of many conservatives. Trump’s conservative base became convinced of ambiguous “irregularities” and holes in the electoral system as he baselessly blamed fraud for his defeat and as he and his supporters lost more than 50 court cases attempting to reverse the results.

While Leo’s party, like other sections of the establishment GOP, stayed away from such arguments, state legislators quickly stepped in with bills aimed at addressing phantom issues and restoring trust in the system.

“We are assured that our vote will be counted, that our vote will be safe, that our system is equal, and that there will be no nefarious activities,” said Iowa Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, who authored a large election bill that shortened the state’s early voting era.

Leo’s party has since published a list of suggested changes to the voting rules.

Other outside organizations immediately jumped into the controversy that is roiling their activists, who write the letters, make the phone calls, and send the small contributions that keep the organizations relevant.

“It has moved up the priority chain,” said Noah Wall, executive vice president of FreedomWorks, which educated 60 top activists on voting issues in Orlando last weekend. “Right now, if you polled our activists, election fairness will be at the top of the list. That wasn’t the case twelve months ago.”

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