What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Wave of new voting laws raises questions about voter access and integrity

Since the 2020 election, laws restricting voter access passed in 14 states across the U.S., all with Republican-controlled state legislatures. They've sparked outrage from voting rights groups and from two former co-chairs of the Presidential Election Commission. Democrat Bob Bauer, who served under the Obama campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, a Republican election lawyer, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Since the presidential election, a wave of new state measures to tighten voting laws has raised questions about access and integrity.

    Across the country, laws that expand access to the ballot box have passed in at least 14 states, shown on this map in green. At the same time, the 14 states in yellow have passed laws restricting access. All have Republican-controlled state legislatures.

    The restrictive laws have sparked outrage from voting rights groups and from two men who served as general counsels for competing presidential campaigns.

    Democrat Bob Bauer worked for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and advised the Biden campaign in 2020. And Ben Ginsberg, his years as a Republican election lawyer include work on the landmark Bush v. Gore dispute in 2000.

    And they both join me now.

    And welcome back to you, to the "NewsHour," to both of you.

    Let me start with you, Bob Bauer.

    It isn't often these days that we see a Republican and a Democrat, prominent Republicans and Democrats, coming together on issues as contention as voting rights. What provoked the two of you to come together on this?

  • Bob Bauer:

    Ben and I co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by President Obama in 2013 and reporting in 2014.

    And we worked on a bipartisan basis on a bipartisan commission toward the goal of professionalized administration of elections and, in particular, nonpartisan professional administration of elections. And over that period of time, we got to know election officials across the country, Democrat and Republican.

    We came to know how hard they worked, how they received little credit for what they did well and much blame for what occasionally goes wrong. And our view was that it was really important to continue to press in this direction of nonpartisan support for what election officials do.

    And now we see a significant problem developing of attempts on the part of state legislatures to assert partisan control over election officials, to subject them to threats of liability and suspension if they don't perform the way that the politicians in these legislatures want them to perform.

    And that, we view, as a serious and direct threat on our democratic institutions that warrants a fully bipartisan response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Ben Ginsberg, I would just point out that you are a Republican. And a majority, what is it, two-thirds of Republicans tell pollsters that they don't think the election was fairly carried out, that there was a lot of fraud involved, and they favor these kinds of tightening rules.

    So how do you square that with your support for trying to do something about these state legislatures and state laws?

  • Ben Ginsberg:

    There will be battles amongst the parties on the specifics of the way ballots are cast and counted.

    But, as Bob said, we got to know a large number of state and especially local election officials. And one thing that should not be done is to politicize the actual casting and counting of ballots. It is extremely important in a democracy for everyone to realize that the way elections are tabulated is nonpartisan.

    And we thought it was important, as these laws sort of crept into — crept into the legislative process, to tell the state and local election officials that we're going to have their backs if they are prosecuted at all for doing their job.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bob Bauer, how do you see partisanship playing role in these laws that are being passed around the country by Republican-controlled legislatures.

  • Bob Bauer:

    This battle, I think, can be put into two categories.

    I mean, there have always been disagreements between the politics — between the two political parties around this fundamental conflict between one party looking to expand access and the other party troubled, it claims, by the threat of fraud, restricting access, in the interests of so-called election integrity.And I fall fairly squarely in the Democratic pro-access camp.

    However, that's one set of arguments. They have gone on for some considerable period of time. They helped shape the last enactment on this topic by the Congress, the Help America Vote Act, immediately after the Florida recount.

    But there's another battle line. And that's over whether or not we're going to respect the fundamental institutions, as Ben just said, by which we administer the electoral process, whether we're going to depoliticize or protect those institutions from being depoliticized — from being politicized.

    And that is something that a new battle has broken out about, the attempt of politicians to intimidate and harass election officials, to call into question the work that they do both in the original counterbalance and then subsequently in recounts. That is a profound attack on democratic institutions.

    And that's something around which the two political parties should agree action needs to be taken to prevent it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Ben Ginsberg, how do you propose to, do you think you could have success persuading these Republican state legislators who think it's time now to rein in state election officials, as those in Georgia, who said they were — what they were fighting for was a free and fair election?

  • Ben Ginsberg:

    Well, I think I think there will be more success in some places than others.

    But one of the things that I think is true and which my fellow Republicans are not taking into account, is that, when you pass laws like this, what goes around comes around, and that, in point of fact, if you try and nullify election results in one state by pressuring state and local election officials, that that's going to have an influence on all candidates in that state.

    And that can hurt Republicans as much as Democrats. I think it is naive to think that if, for example, the provisions that the weaponize poll watchers in polling places are just going to be implemented by Republican poll watchers in Democratic precincts. They're sadly wrong, that, in fact, Democrats will do the same thing to preserve their votes.

    And the end result will be a very muddled election in which people don't have faith in the results. And that has real consequences for the democracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Bob Bauer, what about that? And I do want to bring into this the big voting rights bill that is right now apparently stalled in the United States Senate, with the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying he's not going to support it. He thinks it's not bipartisan enough.

    Do you see remedies in that piece of legislation to address your concerns, your and Ben Ginsberg's concerns at the state level?

  • Bob Bauer:

    Well, I will begin by saying, I mean, there are some important provisions of H.R.1 and S.1. It's a broad — as you know, it's an omnibus reform bill, and it deals with a lot of topics.

    But it does set some voting standards that I think are very healthy and important. But what — it was developed over a period of time when I don't think we all recognized the extent of the threat, the institutional threat that Ben and I are concerned with. And so, as this reform debate continues, it seems to me that those sorts of protections need to be added to any congressional debate, to any reform agenda.

    But, in the meantime, at the state and local level, there are steps that can be made to do what Ben suggested, which is to have election officials know that Democrats and Republicans alike have their back. And the network of lawyers that we're recruiting around the country, Democrats and Republicans, to defend them, I think, is a really important step.

    And it doesn't rely on breaking any through — breaking through any stalemate in the Congress at the president time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And please pick up on that, Ben Ginsberg. What do you see as an appropriate remedy at the federal level for what concerns you?

  • Ben Ginsberg:

    Well, there will always be concerns about federally legislative elections on the state and local level.

    But there are parts of the bill, of H.R.1., that could be done, but the Democrats are making a huge tactical error, if they really care about these election situations and even about the voting rights situations, in having so many other provisions in this bill.

    And you talked before about how Republicans are trying to tilt election results by the state legislation. That's true. But the Democrats are trying to do the same thing in S.1 through a number of provisions that are just designed to give them a political advantage.

    So, if they actually want to deal with the voting issues, it's time to kind of do the obvious and concentrate on those issues and strip away the other provisions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're just about out of time.

    But, Bob Bauer, do you agree with that, that that's what Democrats are doing?

  • Bob Bauer:

    No, I don't.

    I mean, Ben and I have — over the years have disagreed on many things. And we don't agree about that. We do agree, however, that we have to defend our democratic institutions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we thank the two of you for coming on to talk about that.

    Bob Bauer, Ben Ginsberg, we appreciate it.

  • Bob Bauer:

    Thank you very much.

Listen to this Segment