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Senate Republicans look for new ways to justify anti-voting efforts

To hear Roy Blunt tell it, voter-suppression bills are meaningless because they won't pass. Reality tells a very different story.
Image: Flanked by fellow Republicans, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) speaks to Capitol Hill reporters following the Republicans' weekly policy luncheon in Washington
Flanked by fellow Republicans, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) speaks to Capitol Hill reporters following the Republicans' weekly policy luncheon in Washington on July 31, 2018.Allison Shelley / Reuters file

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised a few eyebrows yesterday with a bizarre justification of the Republican Party's entire voter-suppression initiative: he said it doesn't exist.

"States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever," McConnell claimed, adding that legislation designed to protect voting rights is "a solution in search of a problem."

Even by the GOP leader's standards, it was a brazen lie. Literally hundreds of voter-suppression proposals are currently pending in state legislatures nationwide, and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

But as it turns out, McConnell wasn't the only member of the Senate Republican leadership making the case that voting-rights legislation is unnecessary. TPM noted yesterday:

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the top Republican on the Senate Rules Committee which was hosting the hearing, repeatedly made the claim that legislatures weren't actually moving forward with the bills deemed to be restrictive. Blunt said it was a "false narrative" that "states are passing massive legislation that changes the voting structure to people's disadvantage."

The Missouri Republican added, "There's always bills filed, almost none of which passed."

What I like about Blunt's argument is that it's not quite as absurd as his party's other talking points. In recent weeks, GOP officials have tried to defend systemic voter-suppression tactics with outlandish nonsense, such as pointing to imagined "fraud" in the 2020 presidential race, or in McConnell's case, denying the tactics' existence.

But Blunt's pushback has a kernel of truth: every year, all kinds of bills are introduced in state legislatures nationwide. Many of them are ludicrous, which in turn generates attention, but they're also ultimately ignored. When the Missourian suggested yesterday that some of the pending voter-suppression proposals will simply disappear without serious consideration, he was right.

The trouble, however, is with the word "some."

As of last week, the Brennan Center found that more than 253 bills restricting voting access had been carried over, pre-filed, or introduced in 43 states. Blunt wants people to remember that many of those bills will wither on the vine and will have no actual impact on Americans' ability to cast a ballot. I will gladly concede the point.

But as TPM's report added, the picture painted by the Republican senator was, at best, incomplete.

Blunt recognized that Arkansas has toughened up its voter ID requirements. But he did not acknowledge a recent Iowa law that shortened the number of days and hours for in-person voting, made earlier the deadline for mail ballots and restricted local officials' ability to encourage mail voting use or set up new polling locations. He also ignored the fact that other states are on the cusp of passing laws that will erect new barriers to the ballot box. Montana's legislature is one step away from ending same day registration. Georgia's legislature is preparing to ram through a sprawling overhaul of its election rules, with new limits on dropbox use and heightened ID requirements for mail voting among the provisions expected to make it into the final legislation. Florida Gov. Ron DeSentis (R) is also egging on a legislative push to scale back mail voting in the Sunshine State.

Some of these voting restrictions have already passed, others will soon pass. The problem is a genuine national scourge unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era.

What's more, there are plenty of reasons to believe the anti-voting campaign will intensify in the coming months. The New York Times reported today, for example, on efforts to give state legislatures control over local elections boards. Meanwhile, in Michigan, GOP legislatures yesterday unveiled 39 new election "reforms" designed to tilt the electoral playing field in Republicans' direction.

To hear Roy Blunt tell it, there's nothing to fear -- and no reason to pass federal protections -- because voting rights will ultimately remain unaffected. Reality tells a very different story.