Inside One Conservative Organization's Nationwide Efforts To Restrict Voting Rights

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Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Voters deliver their ballot to a polling station, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Critics say a nationwide effort to restrict voting rights is underway. At issue: A push by one conservative organization to tighten election laws across the nation.

They plan to spend 24 million over the next two years in Michigan, Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and beyond.  


Ari Berman, senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering voting rights. Author of "Give Us the Ballot." (@AriBerman)

Interview Highlights On Efforts To Restrict Voting

Who is Heritage Action?

Ari Berman: “Heritage Action is the sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, which is a leading conservative think tank that's been around a very long time, dating back to the 1970s, rose in prominence under Ronald Reagan, wrote a lot of the policies for the Trump administration. Heritage Action for America was formed as basically their political arm. That Heritage is more of a think tank. Heritage Action is more of a political group that tries to get that policy implemented.

"And so a former Heritage Foundation president, Jim DeMint, described it as a one-two punch. Basically, Heritage Foundation writes the policies and then Heritage Action makes it happen. And really works with the states and conservative activists in the states to implement these conservative policies. And they've made restricting voting rights one of their top causes this year.”

What Heritage Action is doing is not uncommon, is it?

Ari Berman: “It's not uncommon, but what I would say is it's an intensification of an existing strategy. And it's unique in the sense that we just had a situation where Donald Trump tried to overturn the election. And now there are a record number of bills that are following that attempt to try to overturn the election. And Heritage Action is at the forefront of trying to weaponize that big lie. And the way that these, quote-unquote, election integrity measures have been portrayed by their supporters in places like Georgia, places like Texas, is that they're just responding to their constituents concerns about the election.

“When, in fact, what you have here is a top conservative group essentially writing the model legislation, or working with state legislators to write them. [When] you have a group in Washington that is exporting this agenda to the states, as opposed to this is something happening organically in the states. And you have so many states in such a short period of time drafting such similar pieces of legislation that follows an attempt to try to overturn an election. And that makes it more difficult to vote. So, of course, this isn't unprecedented. But given the context in which it is occurring, the context of trying to subvert and overthrow American democracy, I think it really takes on a lot of added significance. If you understand both what came before Heritage Action's effort, and how they are trying to intensify what Donald Trump was trying to do in 2020.”

What are the provisions in these bills that are reducing or restricting voting access?

Ari Berman: “There's so many different provisions in these bills that restrict voting access. And that's one of the things that makes them unique from bills in earlier years, is that they don't just have one or two provisions that restrict voting access. They have 16, 17, 18 provisions that restrict voting access. It starts with making it harder to vote by mail. Making it harder to get mail ballots, for example, by prohibiting election officials from sending out mail ballot request forms. Making it harder to return mail ballots by curtailing or getting rid of things like mail ballot drop boxes that were very popular in 2020.

"Making it harder to have your mail ballot count because of new ID requirements or tougher laws for signature matches, or giving election officials more authority to throw out ballots. So things like that. For mail voting, in places like Iowa and Texas, they have cut early voting, or proposed cuts on early voting. In a bunch of states, they have made it easier for partisan poll watchers to monitor the polls, which could lead to a voter intimidation. They have restricted the ability of counties to accept donations from nonprofit groups that allowed them to open more polling sites, and recruit more poll workers and have more drop boxes in 2020.

"In some states, like in Georgia and in the proposed legislation in Texas, they would actually make it easier, potentially, to overturn elections. Or not to certify election results. By giving gerrymandered legislatures more power over how elections are conducted. Or, making it easier for candidates to petition judges to throw out election results. So there's a lot of different ways in these bills that make it harder to vote. And the proponents claim that they're about election integrity. But I think when you look at the details, you see all of these different ways in which voting access is being rolled back.”

From The Reading List

Mother Jones: "Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History." — "On September 3, 1868, Henry McNeal Turner rose to speak in the Georgia House of Representatives to fight for his political survival. He was one of 33 new Black state legislators elected that year in Georgia, a revolutionary change in the South after 250 years of slavery."

Mother Jones: "Leaked Video: Dark Money Group Brags About Writing GOP Voter Suppression Bills Across the Country" — "In a private meeting last month with big-money donors, the head of a top conservative group boasted that her outfit had crafted the new voter suppression law in Georgia and was doing the same with similar bills for Republican state legislators across the country."

Mother Jones: "A Dark Money Group Faces an Ethics Probe After Boasting of Drafting Voter Suppression Laws" — "The conservative dark money group Heritage Action for America is facing a possible ethics investigation in Iowa after Mother Jones reported last week that it had boasted to donors of writing 'model legislation' restricting voting access in battleground states across the country, including Iowa."

This program aired on June 4, 2021.


Hilary McQuilkin Producer, On Point
Hilary McQuilkin is a producer for On Point.


Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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