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Election-Deniers Hold Oversight Roles  01/28 09:56

   Republican lawmakers who have spread election conspiracy theories and 
falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential outcome was rigged are overseeing 
legislative committees charged with setting election policy in two major 
political battleground states.

   HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Republican lawmakers who have spread election 
conspiracy theories and falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential outcome was 
rigged are overseeing legislative committees charged with setting election 
policy in two major political battleground states.

   Divided government in Pennsylvania and Arizona means that any voting 
restrictions those GOP legislators propose is likely to fail. Even so, the 
high-profile appointments give the lawmakers a platform to cast further doubt 
on the integrity of elections in states that will be pivotal in selecting the 
next president in 2024.

   Awarding such plum positions to lawmakers who have repeated conspiracies and 
spread misinformation cuts against more than two years of evidence showing 
there were no widespread problems or fraud in the last presidential election. 
It also would appear to run counter to the message delivered in the November 
midterm elections, when voters rejected election-denying candidates running for 
top offices in presidential battleground states.

   At the same time, many mainstream Republicans are trying to move past the 
lies told by former President Donald Trump and his allies about his loss to 
President Joe Biden.

   "It is an issue that many Americans and many Pennsylvanians are tired of 
seeing litigated and relitigated over and over," said Pennsylvania state Sen. 
Amanda Cappalletti, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that handles 
election legislation. "I think we're all ready to move on, and we see from 
audit after audit that our elections are secure, they are fair and that 
people's votes are being counted."

   Multiple reviews and audits in the six battleground states where Trump 
disputed his loss, as well as dozens of court rejections and repeated 
admonishments from officials in his own administration, have underscored that 
the 2020 presidential results were accurate. There was no widespread fraud or 
manipulation of voting machines that would have altered the result.

   The legislative appointments in Pennsylvania and Arizona highlight the 
divide between the two major parties over election law. Already this year, 
Democratic-controlled legislatures are moving to expand access to voting and 
heighten penalties for intimidating voters and election workers, while many 
Republican-led states are aiming to pass further restrictions, a trend that 
accelerated after Trump's false claims about the 2020 election.

   Democratic governors and legislative victories last fall will blunt the 
influence of Republicans who took steps or pushed rhetoric seeking to overturn 
the 2020 election.

   But in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two lawmakers who dismiss the validity of 
that election -- not to mention other elections since then -- will have key 
positions of influence as the majority chairs of legislative committees that 
oversee election legislation.

   In Arizona, Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers takes over the Senate Elections 
Committee after being appointed by an ally, Senate President Warren Petersen. 
He was one of two lawmakers who signed subpoenas that led to Senate 
Republicans' widely derided audit of the 2020 election.

   Rogers, who has gained a national following for spreading conspiracy 
theories and questioning elections, has faced repeated ethics charges for her 
inflammatory rhetoric, support for white supremacists and conspiracy-filled 
social media posts.

   She now will be a main gatekeeper for election and voting bills in Arizona, 
where election changes are a top priority for some Republican lawmakers. Some 
want to eliminate voting by mail and early voting options that are used by more 
than 80% of the state's voters.

   She has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday to consider bills that 
would ban unmonitored drop boxes, prohibit drive-through voting or ballot 
pickup and impose what voting-rights advocates say are additional burdens on 
early voting.

   In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Cris Dush takes over as chair of the Senate 
State Government Committee after pushing to block the state's electoral votes 
from going to Biden in 2020. Dush also mounted an election investigation that 
he hoped would use the Arizona-style audit as a model.

   He was appointed by the Senate's ranking Republican, President Pro Tem Kim 
Ward, whose office explained Dush's appointment only by saying that seniority 
plays a role and that members have priority requests.

   In the first weeks of this year's session, Dush has moved along measures to 
expand voter identification requirements and add a layer of post-election 
audits. Both are proposed constitutional amendments designed to bypass a 
governor's veto by going to voters for approval.

   Dush said he also plans to develop legislation to require more security 
measures for drop boxes and ballots.

   "I'm going to make a promise to the people of Pennsylvania: The things that 
I'm doing here as chair of State Government, it's going to be things that will 
be conducted in a fair, impartial manner," Dush said in an interview. "You 
know, we've just got to make sure that we can ensure the integrity of the vote 
and people aren't disenfranchised."

   Arizona and Pennsylvania have newly elected Democratic governors who 
presumably would veto hard-line GOP bills opposed by Democrats.

   Still, Democrats, county election officials and voting-rights advocates in 
both states want changes to election laws that, with Dush and Rogers in place, 
may never see the light of day.

   Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director for the voting rights group All Voting is 
Local, said he anticipates the Legislature there will pass a lot of "bad 
elections bills." He said moderate Republican lawmakers who might have voted 
down problematic measures under a Republican governor now might let them pass 
because they know Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs will likely veto them.

   "This is performative," Gulotta said. "This isn't substantive."

   The question, he said, is whether Rogers and other Arizona lawmakers can 
cooperate on "small fixes" where there is consensus. That, he said, will take 
"real statesmanship."

   Liz Avore, a senior adviser to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, said the 
organization expects another busy period of lawmaking related to voting and 
elections ahead of the 2024 presidential vote, even as candidates who repeated 
Trump's lies about a stolen 2020 election lost bids for governor, secretary of 
state and attorney general in key battleground states.

   Democratic and Republican-led states are often moving in opposite 
directions, but some bipartisan consensus has emerged around certain aspects of 
election law, such as restoring voting rights to felons and expanding early 
in-person voting, Avore said.

   Republican proposals, such as expanding voter identification requirements, 
are popular and have majority support, as do some Democratic proposals to 
broaden access, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and 
pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

   But to be successful with voters, Republicans need to mind the lessons from 
2022. Denying the outcomes of fair elections, he said, "is a loser for the 
Republican Party. Straight up."

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