AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Republican lawmakers across the country are continuing efforts to tighten election laws, despite growing warnings from business leaders that these measures could harm democracy and the economic climate.
More than 50 businesses and professional organizations, including some in Texas, issued an open letter on Tuesday expressing their opposition to “any changes” that would make voting more difficult in that state. The letter – signed by American Airlines, Microsoft Corp., HP Inc., Patagonia, Levi Strauss & Co. and others – comes amid votes on legislation that critics say would impose a disproportionate burden on minority voters and disabled.
“We believe that the right to vote is sacred. When more people participate in our democratic process, we will all prosper, ”the letter said. “The growth of free enterprise is directly linked to the freedom of its citizens.”
The statement stopped before opposing the specific legislation proposed in Texas. Nonetheless, this amounts to a cautious rebuke from lawmakers using former President Donald Trump’s false statements about a stolen election to make voting more difficult.
Texas is emerging as the next major battleground in the fight for election laws. Texas House could vote, as early as this week, on a bill that effectively targets Harris County, home of Houston and a center Democrat, after officials significantly expanded voting options in 2020 amid the pandemic of coronavirus. The Texas Senate put forward its own package, with both houses likely headed for a compromise committee that would work out a final version.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has expressed broad support for the effort.
Texas would follow other GOP-led states including Georgia, Iowa and Florida, where GOP Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign election legislation passed last week. On Monday, the Republican-led Kansas legislature overturned the Democratic governor’s veto to approve an election law. Arizona is also considering legislation, and Ohio Republicans are expected to come up with a package of proposals this week.
The details of the bills vary from state to state, but follow a similar pattern that makes it more difficult for people to vote by mail or absent. While voters from both parties have long used these methods to vote, Democrats were more likely to vote remotely in 2020 – a fact that has spurred the GOP’s crackdown.
In Texas, a measure would eliminate drive-thru voting, which more than 127,000 people around Houston used during early voting last year. Some Democrats estimate that more than half of those voters were blacks, Latin Americans, or Asian Americans. Republicans also want to give more leeway to supporter poll observers and make it a crime for an election official to send mail-in ballot requests to households that have not requested them, as Harris County has attempted to do so during the pandemic.
Democrats pushed companies to use their influence to sway the debate – though companies were divided over plunging into the partisan battle. The statements made by the companies have so far done little to derail the voting-related proposals and have opened up divisions between Republicans and their erstwhile allies.
The Texas companies, calling themselves Fair Elections Texas, used particularly cautious language in their statement, declaring that elections should be “convenient, transparent and secure,” a nod to Republicans’ insistence on the fact. that their agenda is to prevent fraud and build voter confidence in Election Results.
At the same time, the group called on “all elected leaders” to “make democracy more accessible” and said they “oppose any changes that restrict the access of eligible voters to the ballot”.
Todd Coerver, CEO of Texas-based fast food chain P-Terry’s Burger Stand, said the “groundswell” of legislation to change voting laws across the United States has made it easier to sign the letter by the company.
Making voting easier is part of P-Terry’s culture, Coerver said, adding that during the November election, restaurants organized carpools so that more than 900 employees, mostly from minorities, could go to the polls. . And they could use the company’s time to vote.
“For us, it wasn’t necessarily a political statement,” Coerver said. “We see it less as a political issue than as a human rights initiative.”
Georgia became a national hotspot on electoral procedures when it became the first state to adopt an overhaul. Among the key provisions, the state will now require voter identification to apply for and then vote by mail, replacing a signature matching program. Georgian officials have also limited ballot boxes in metropolitan area counties compared to 2020 figures.
After the bill was signed, Georgia-based Delta Air Lines and The Coca-Cola Co. criticized the bill, angering Republicans. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican slated for re-election in 2022, has sharply criticized corporate America for giving in to “cancel culture”.
Business lobbying has been more low-key in Arizona, where Republicans are pushing a slew of election bills. It remains to be seen whether their slim state majority will be enough to enact meaningful change.
Trump has prevailed over Democrat Joe Biden in Texas and Florida, but Democrats have continued to narrow the partisan gap in Texas in recent cycles and Florida remains a battleground, prompting Republicans in both states to apply pressure. new restrictions.
DeSantis, a Trump ally, is expected to sign a measure that would tighten voter identification requirements for mail-in votes. The Florida business lobby, heavily influenced by the tourism industry, has remained largely silent, and some Republicans in the state have noted that making postal voting more difficult could backfire, because the practice is so good. established among older Floridians across the political spectrum.
The GOP effort extends even to states where Trump has won by unchallenged margins. In Kansas, Republicans this week overturned Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, veto on a bill that would make it more difficult for individuals and groups to collect absentee ballots and deliver them to voters. It will now be an offense for anyone to collect and return more than 10 ballots to Kansas, which Trump won by 15 percentage points.
In Ohio, where Trump has won twice to near double digits, Republicans are set to unveil a package that will eliminate an early voting day, increase voter identification requirements, and ban ballot box placement polling places other than at a local election office. But Ohio Republicans say they are also including other provisions that bipartisan election councils and voting rights groups have advocated.
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press editor Julie Carr Smyth of Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.
Acacia Coronado is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on secret issues.