Leaked video shows right-wing group bragging about coordinated voting restrictions campaign

Heritage Action drafted identical legislation across US to ‘right the wrongs of November’

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 14 May 2021 22:38 BST
Stacey Abrams slams Republican 'big lie' of voter fraud

The executive director of a right-wing group revealed to a room of Republican donors how it drafted “model” legislation to curb voting rights across the US by directing GOP lawmakers to draft copycat laws that restrict ballot access.

In footage obtained by watchdog group Documented and shared by Mother Jones, Jessica Anderson – a former Trump administration official now leading Heritage Action for America, affiliated with the Heritage Foundation think tank – told a crowd in Arizona that their proposals aim to “right the wrongs of November,” when Joe Biden was elected president and two Democratic senators defeated Republican incumbents in Georgia, shifting the balance of power in Congress.

Her remarks from 22 April follow a wave of restrictive voting measures filed in nearly every state legislatures, where GOP lawmakers have said their bills are meant to protect “election integrity” and “voter confidence” as the former president’s allies promote a baseless election fraud narrative after several failed, spurious legal battles to reject results.

Ms Anderson said Heritage Action successfully engineered an “echo chamber” among political groups and Republican lawmakers, including hiring local lobbyists and using a “sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”

“We literally give marching orders for the week ahead,” she said, pointing to regular calls with other right-wing groups. “All so we’re singing from the same song sheet of the goals for that week and where the state bills are across the country.”

The group is spending $24m over two years in eight battleground states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas and Wisconsin – to pass restrictive voting laws.

“Iowa is the first state that we got to work in, and we did it quickly and we did it quietly,” Ms Anderson said. “Honestly, nobody even noticed. My team looked at each other and we’re like, ‘It can’t be that easy.’ “

A sweeping elections bill in Georgia contains “eight key provisions that Heritage recommended,” she said, adding that the recently signed law became “the example for the rest of the country.”

That 98-page law places restrictions on mail-in ballot drop boxes, blocks elections officials from sending out mail-in ballot request forms, empowers partisan workers to monitor polling sites, prohibits mail-in ballot collection, and criminalises handing out food and water to people standing in line to vote, among other measures.

Another bill in Texas partially drafted by Heritage Action contains “19 provisions” promoted by the group.

In a statement to The Independent, Ms Anderson said: “Heritage Action is proud of our work to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. That work begins at the state level through our grassroots and continues through state legislatures across the country. Left-wing media who want to spin up panic and paranoia instead of focusing on real efforts to save our elections should be ignored.”

Bills across the US contain similar language or are supported by the guiding principles outlined in a February report from Heritage that singles out “voter fraud” as a risk to elections. Elections officials, the Justice Department and the former president’s campaign and administration have not pointed to any evidence of widespread voter fraud that has changed election outcomes.

Heritage Action – characterised as a “dark money” group that is not required to disclose its donors – received at least $500,000 from the Koch brothers, whose network of conservative causes has long supported restrictive voting legislation.

At least 361 bills to restrict ballot access have been filed by Republican lawmakers in nearly every state, according to a new analysis from the Brennan Centre for Justice, which has tracked suppressive voting legislation across the US.

Of those bills, 25 have been signed into law, and more than 60 others are working their way through state legislatures.

Dozens of others bills aim to strip election oversight from election officials and put it into the hands of lawmakers, who would then have authority to disrupt elections and the reporting of the results “beyond any such power they had in 2020 or indeed throughout much of the last century,” according to an extensive analysis from voting rights advocacy groups.

The US Senate is poised to debate a sweeping voting rights and campaign finance reform bill – the White House-endorsed For The People Act – which lawmakers see as an antidote to GOP-backed elections laws.

The measure received its first Senate hearing on Monday, as senators cast a series of party-line votes on Republican-backed amendments – from attempts to disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people to criminalising so-called “ballot harvesting” – that signalled the bill’s fate in the evenly divided upper chamber.

“The stakes could not be higher,” said Rules Committee chair Amy Klobuchar. “We need to take these threats to our democracy head-on with immediate action to restore Americans’ confidence in our political system.”

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