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House GOP signals plan at hearing to tighten DC voting laws

Democrats call claims speculative and unproven

Ken Cuccinelli, chairman of the Election Transparency Initiative, testifies during a joint hearing of the House Administration Committee and House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday.
Ken Cuccinelli, chairman of the Election Transparency Initiative, testifies during a joint hearing of the House Administration Committee and House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Washington, D.C., election laws are ripe for voter fraud and foreign influence, undermining Americans’ confidence in elections if Congress fails to act, according to House Republicans.

The problem with that argument is that there are zero instances of voter fraud in the nation’s capital since 1979, according to Democrats who cited data from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“I would say this is becoming tedious, but I think we passed that point months ago,” House Administration Committee ranking member Joseph D. Morelle said in his opening testimony during a joint hearing with the House Oversight Committee on Washington’s election laws Wednesday. 

“For at least the seventh time this Congress, and what is not even six months old, the Committee on House Administration has held an elections-related hearing to discuss this speculative — by all measures entirely unproven — lack of integrity Republicans claim exists in our elections,” Morelle, D-N.Y., continued.

Alongside the House Oversight Committee — which has pursued its own rigorous oversight agenda for Washington — House Administration Republicans again reiterated their concerns about the integrity of the country’s elections, as Democrats parried their claims and warned their proposals would disenfranchise voters.

Elections have taken up the lion’s share of the House Administration Committee’s time this Congress: An eighth hearing is scheduled for June 14. 

Majority members of the panel have repeated their goal to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat,” while promoting voting laws like those recently implemented in states including Florida and Georgia that Republicans claim boost confidence in elections.

Their priorities — which will ultimately be rolled into a sweeping election reform bill, dubbed the American Confidence in Election Act — include stricter voter ID laws, restrictions on mail-in ballots, and loosening disclosure requirements for donors.

In D.C. specifically, it would repeal local laws that allow voters to cast ballots without a photo ID and allow non-citizens to vote. It would also take aim at voter rolls that, according to Republicans, contain hordes of deceased residents and would stop the unsolicited mailing of ballots to all voters, whether they’ve requested them or not, according to House Administration Chair Bryan Steil, R-Wis.

Particularly objectionable to Republicans on both committees is the law passed in 2022 by the D.C. City Council that allows noncitizens, including undocumented residents, to vote in local elections. House Republicans voted to overturn the city law earlier this year — as they did a piece of local legislation that would’ve reformed the city’s criminal code — but the disapproval resolution has not received a vote in the Senate.

“Allowing noncitizens to vote in American elections is a slap in the face to every American who fought and sacrificed for this right,” said Rep. Nick Langworthy, R-N.Y. Steil noted that staff from embassies of countries hostile to the U.S. could exploit these election laws to participate in local elections.

“That’s ridiculous. This is the nation’s capital. We shouldn’t have Russian embassy or Chinese embassy staff voting in our elections. In fact, only U.S. citizens should be voting in American elections,” Steil said.

The availability of mail-in ballots, too, presents security problems, according to Oversight Committee member Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., who argued that only in-person voting could result in a truly honest election. 

“It seems to me there’s no way to do follow-up or make sure the person who… is on the ballot really filled out the ballot,” Grothman said, adding that there’s also no guarantee that the person who filled out a mail-in ballot wasn’t coached.

And, according to an audit of the city’s 2020 election commissioned by the D.C. Auditor, Washington’s voter rolls are outdated. The review of the 2020 election — the first in which the city’s election board sent a mail-in ballot to every registered voter — found that 48,108, or 11 percent, of the 421,791 ballots mailed out were returned as undeliverable. 

“That’s 50,000 ballots that are floating around out there that were never requested by a voter and can be snatched up and voted by others, particularly when you have an unsecured Dropbox system to receive them,” testified Ken Cuccinelli, who was deputy secretary of Homeland Security under former President Donald Trump and is a former attorney general of Virginia.

Steil and other Republicans on both committees also repeated their assertion that states that have implemented “common-sense” election integrity laws have had increased voter turnout, despite claims to the contrary from Democrats.

In one example, total voter turnout was up in Georgia in 2022 as compared with the previous midterm election, in 2018. But an analysis conducted by the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice found that the gap between white and nonwhite turnout in Georgia last year was the largest it had been in a decade and roughly double what it was in the past two midterms. 

Across the country, the turnout gap between Black and white voters was larger in 2022 than in any federal general election since at least 2000, testified Wendy R. Weiser, vice president for democracy at the Brennan Center.

According to Weiser, the Republican provisions in the ACE Act do nothing to address the most concerning trends in the administration of elections. 

There are increased threats against election officials and election systems and burgeoning attempts to prevent the certification of results, despite little evidence of voter fraud, Weiser testified. And, in 2022, 20 states passed 33 separate laws that made it more difficult for Americans — and especially Americans of color — to vote, according to Brennan Center data.

“The problem is a sustained anti-democratic push to reduce access to voting, meddle in election administration and equipment and create a climate of fear around elections while under investing in real access and security needs,” Weiser said.

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