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A Democracy Crisis in the Making: Year-End Update

December 7, 2023

As the 2024 election approaches, state legislatures continue to propose and enact laws that expose our election system to partisan disruption and manipulation. These laws ultimately increase the risk of subversion — that is, a declared outcome that does not reflect the true choice of the voters. They also abandon long-standing principles of nonpartisan election administration and instead allow for — or even encourage — dysfunction, misinformation, confusion, or manipulation by partisan actors.Our organizations have been tracking this trend for three years, since the 2020 election. In that time, state legislatures have introduced more than 600 of these bills, and 62 have become law in 28 states. As we noted in our Report earlier this year, the 2022 elections were largely successful and free of serious subversion efforts. But we remain concerned that recently enacted laws could help precipitate a crisis — particularly in an election involving a candidate at the top of the ticket who has already attempted to subvert an election. At the very least, these laws will make it harder for professional election administrators, who already face a rise in unjustified suspicion and unprecedented levels of harassment, to do their jobs on behalf of our democracy.This year-end update to our June 2023 Report reviews some of the major developments that we have seen this year. Some states warrant particular attention. In North Carolina, a legislative supermajority has engineered a host of changes in election oversight that could open the door to partisan interference, confusion at the polls, gridlock during the certification process, or doubt about the results, in addition to disinformation at each of those steps. In Texas, two laws enacted this year targeted the state's most populous and diverse county, abolishing the county election office and empowering the state to take control over election procedures under flimsy pretexts and with partisan motives. In Wisconsin, some legislators, relying in part on baseless conspiracy theories, have repeatedly sought to remove the state's top nonpartisan election official, so far without success.

A Democracy Crisis in the Making: 2024 Election Threats Emerging (June 2023)

June 8, 2023

In April 2021, we published the first edition of A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures Are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration. That Report identified a burgeoning trend in state legislatures: bills that would increase the risk of election subversion—that is, that the declared outcome of an election does not reflect the true choice of the voters. Through the 2021 and 2022 state legislative sessions, we tracked nearly 400 legislative proposals that would make election subversion more likely. Fifty-six of them ultimately became law in 26 states.In the two years since our first Report, the danger of election subversion has drawn wider attention. During the 2022 midterm elections, the future of nonpartisan election administration was a campaign issue. Exit polling showed that "democracy" was a top concern for voters. That election came and went without major crises, and the accurate results were ultimately certified on time and in accordance with the law. Moreover, voters in certain states decisively rejected election deniers, whose beliefs were rooted in the baseless conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. Some states are moving towards proactively safeguarding against election subversion by advancing legislation to enhance security and privacy protections for election workers or refocusing investigative efforts on improving voter access.

A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration (August 2022)

August 24, 2022

In the 21 months since the 2020 election, we have seen a breakdown in the longstanding consensus that election administration belongs in the hands of professional, dispassionate experts, and that naked political interference in vote counting is anathema to a functioning democracy. Over the course of 2021 and into 2022, state legislatures have embarked on a sweeping campaign to propose, consider, and, in some cases, enact measures that increase the risk of election subversion—that is, the risk that an election's declared outcome does not reflect the choice of the voters.In May, we published the 2022 edition of our ongoing analysis of these efforts that identified a pattern across more than 30 states of lawmakers menacing independent and accurate election administration through proposals that, if enacted, would impact practically every step of the electoral process.Since the release of our May report, the landscape has only darkened. In this update, we describe three evolving trends—each of them a distinct threat, but connected in the danger they pose to the future of free and fair elections. As we explain in Part I, the number of bills that heighten the risk of election subversion has increased. In Part II, we detail a gathering storm cloud as the Supreme Court prepares to consider a case that could rewrite constitutional elections doctrine with an extreme legal theory, upend decades of election law, and accelerate election subversion efforts. Finally, in Part III, we discuss how the insider threat trend—misconduct by officials in trusted election administration roles—has sharpened. With an election less than three months away, it is imperative that these threats be acknowledged and mitigated.

A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration (May 2022)

May 19, 2022

One year ago, we published A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration. We warned that state legislatures were considering a range of bills that would increase the risk of election subversion--that is, the risk that the purported outcome of the election does not reflect the choice of the voters. State by state, legislatures had moved to seize power from professional, non-partisan election administrators and to needlessly expose the running of elections to partisan influence and disruption. As we explained in our initial Report, this trend increases the risk of a crisis in which the outcome of an election could be decided contrary to the will of the people.Since our first Report, this effort by state legislatures has not receded. In fact, it has accelerated. This year alone, lawmakers have introduced scores of new bills that increase the likelihood of election subversion, whether directly or indirectly. In some cases, the potential subversion is quite direct--for example, bills that give the legislature the power to choose a victor contrary to the voters' will. In others, the impact is less direct but still dangerous. Some bills would introduce dysfunction and chaos into the election system and could lead to delay, uncertainty, and confusion, all of which could provide cover for subversion.

A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing, and Interfering with Election Administration (April 2021)

April 22, 2021

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, a wave of legislative proposals to remake election law has swept across the country, state by state. One organization, the Voting Rights Lab, has identified more than 2,000 bills that deal in one way or another with the way elections are administered.Among this group, one set of consequential proposals has flown under the radar. They involve efforts to alter basic principles about how elections should be administered and aspire to put highly partisan elected officeholders in charge of basic decisions about our elections. In 2021, state legislatures across the country--through at least 148 bills filed in 36 states --are moving to muscle their way into election administration, as they attempt to dislodge or unsettle the executive branch and/or local election officials who, traditionally, have run our voting systems. This attempted consolidation would give state legislatures the power to disrupt election administration and the reporting of results beyond any such power they had in 2020 or indeed throughout much of the last century. Had these bills been in place in 2020, they would have significantly added to the turmoil that surrounded the election, and they would have raised the alarming prospect that the outcome of the presidential election could have been decided contrary to how the people voted. These are substantial changes that, if enacted, could make elections unworkable, render results far more difficult to finalize, and in the worstcase scenario, allow state legislatures to substitute their preferred candidates for those chosen by the voters. American democracy relies on the losers of elections respecting the results and participating in a peaceful transition of power. If, instead, the losing party tries to override the will of the voters, that would be the death knell for our system of government.