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

Apr 22, 2021
  • Description

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.