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How Trump’s 2020 Election Lies Have Gripped State Legislatures

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LANSING, Mich. — Not less than 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the facility of their office to discredit or attempt to overturn the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election, in accordance with a review of legislative votes, records and official statements by The Latest York Times.

The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators within the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted with none evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from each parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr.

The Times’s evaluation exposes how deeply rooted lies and misinformation about former President Donald J. Trump’s defeat have grow to be in state legislatures, which play an integral role in U.S. democracy. In some, the false view that the election was stolen — either by fraud or in consequence of pandemic-related changes to the method — is now widely accepted as fact amongst Republican lawmakers, turning statehouses into hotbeds of conspiratorial considering and specious legal theories.

Note: The actions examined don’t include statements made on social media or elsewhere in support of overturning the 2020 election. Figures don’t include vacancies and independent legislators, and will not add as much as one hundred pc.

These fictions about rigged elections and widespread fraud have provided the muse for brand new laws that make it harder to vote and easier to insert partisanship within the vote count. In three states, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, state lawmakers successfully pushed for investigations that sowed doubt concerning the results and tested the boundaries of their oversight.

And yet The Times’s evaluation also shows that these efforts have encountered significant resistance from key Republican figures, in addition to Democrats. In most states, the lawmakers who challenged the 2020 results don’t yet have the numbers, or the support of governors, secretaries of state or legislative leaders, to realize their most audacious goals.

They’ve advanced, but not enacted, laws that may make it easier for politicians to overturn elections. And it is simply a minority of Republican lawmakers who promote the legally dubious view that they — and never the votes of the people — can select the electors who formally forged a ballot for the president within the Electoral College.

Election and democracy experts say they see the rise of anti-democratic impulses in statehouses as a transparent, recent threat to the health of American democracy. State legislatures hold a novel position within the country’s democratic apparatus, wielding a constitutionally mandated power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Cheered on by Mr. Trump as he eyes one other run for the White House in 2024, many state legislators have shown they see that power as license to exert greater control over the end result of elections.

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Trump acknowledged that in deciding whom to endorse in state legislative races, he’s searching for candidates who want state legislatures to have a say in naming presidential electors — a position that might let politicians short-circuit the democratic process and override the favored vote.

“In 2020, the plan of Trump and his allies hinged ultimately on getting state legislatures to overturn the desire of the voters,” said Ben Berwick, a counsel at Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group. “If past is prologue, that very same strategy is more likely to be central to efforts to subvert an election in the longer term.”

Clear legal authority

Legally disputed

Legally implausible

What state legislatures can attempt before an election

  • Pass laws that make voting harder
  • Pass laws that give them more power over elections
  • Pass laws that make overturning elections easier

What they will attempt after an election

  • Launch audits and investigations
  • Try and delay certification
  • Vote to send alternate electors

What they will attempt after an election has been certified

  • Launch audits and investigations
  • Try and decertify the election

The Times’s review provides only a glimpse of the ways in which state legislatures fueled the movement to disclaim and challenge the 2020 results. The evaluation focused on concrete actions and didn’t include lawmakers’ posts on social media or statements they made in campaign speeches.

Some legislators who were amongst probably the most vociferous of their support of subverting the election have tried to make use of their 2020 efforts as a springboard to higher office, all while still pledging to further remove democratic guardrails.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican state senator from Pennsylvania who won his party’s nomination for governor on Tuesday, has pushed the Justice Department to analyze debunked election conspiracies, held a legislative hearing with members of Mr. Trump’s legal team and promised to enact recent voting restrictions if elected. Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative in Arizona who has pursued the dubious theory of election decertification, is a candidate for secretary of state in Arizona.

Mr. Trump’s defeat was undisputed amongst election officials and licensed by Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, with slates of electors signed by Democratic and Republican governors. None of the various recounts or audits altered the end result. Mr. Trump’s Department of Justice found no evidence of widespread fraud. Mr. Trump lost greater than 50 of his post-election challenges in court.

His campaign to overturn the defeat played out in another way across the states. Mr. Trump won Florida and had no reason to pressure lawmakers to agitate over the result, though they used distrust within the election as justification for brand new voting restrictions. But in Texas, one other state Mr. Trump won, the deeply conservative Legislature was desirous to show voters it was taking motion and lawmakers introduced a bill that included provisions to overturn ends in future elections.

In Nevada, Mr. Trump lost by greater than 33,000 votes. But with Democrats answerable for the House, Senate and governor’s office, Republicans within the State Legislature showed little interest in joining efforts by the Nevada Republican Party to send an alternate slate of electors after the 2020 election. Nevada is the one one in all the nine battleground states where Democrats control the Legislature.

A call for motion

4 days before the House of Representatives was set to formally tally the Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden, an act long considered purely ceremonial, Mr. Trump’s advisers gathered greater than 300 state legislators on a Zoom call, in accordance with a report by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The previous president and his allies pushed for lawmakers to alter the certified results sent to Congress. Many experts said such a move would have been unconstitutional.

Peter Navarro, a former top White House adviser, told those within the group that it was their responsibility to act, describing the situation as dire. Mr. Trump told them that legislatures were the linchpin in his strategy, more necessary than the courts or Congress, in accordance with the report.

The argument was based on the independent state legislature theory which asserts that state legislatures hold absolute and exclusive power over presidential elections, including the appointment of electors to the Electoral College. The concept is solely theoretical; it has never been affirmed by a court decision and most scholars say it has no merit.

Days after Mr. Trump spoke to lawmakers, members of the Pennsylvania state legislature wrote a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader within the House, asking them to delay certification. On Jan. 5, greater than 90 legislators from Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to delay the certification of the election.

Mr. Trump has continued to attempt to persuade state legislatures that they will “decertify” the 2020 election, a process that has no basis in either the USA Structure nor state constitutions.

State lawmakers have responded to Mr. Trump’s calls for motion largely by overhauling voting procedures. A complete of 34 laws that include restrictions on voting were passed in 2021, in accordance with a review by The Times, and 18 laws were passed this 12 months, in accordance with a report from the States United Democracy Center, a nonprofit group. Some limited drop boxes or mail-in voting. Others put more power over elections within the hands of state legislatures, relatively than local election officials or secretaries of state.

Some bills also sought to make it easier for lawmakers to intervene in elections. An early draft of a sweeping Texas election law included a subsection titled “Overturning Elections,” though that provision was dropped before the bill’s final passage. In Arkansas, Republicans granted the State Board of Election Commissioners recent powers to take “corrective motion” or open investigations at every stage of the voting process. (Arkansas state legislators weren’t included within the Times evaluation because Mr. Trump won the state handily.)

In lots of states, lawmakers’ first step has been to call for outdoor partisan investigations, sometimes called “audits,” although they don’t follow typical auditing procedures or standards.

‘Audits’ as a gateway

The hunt for fraud in Arizona accelerated in the times after electors had been certified, and showed how a vocal and determined faction of Republican legislators could force through a deeply destabilizing outside election review.

The initial pursuit of fraud would devolve right into a yearlong fracas between Republicans and native election officials in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix. The Republican Senate hired a shadowy outside firm with ties to election conspiracy theories to conduct an “audit,” dismissing objections from Republican county officials.

What the “audit” eventually found — that Mr. Biden had indeed won Arizona — proved irrelevant to those that had called for it. Mr. Trump and his allies focused as an alternative on perceived irregularities within the voting process, resembling 23,344 mail-in ballots sent from voters’ prior addresses and election management databases that were purged. Each practices are legal and customary.

Local election officials found 76 misleading, inaccurate or false claims within the audit report.

Yet a lot of those claims appeared verbatim in a resolution introduced in February by Mr. Finchem, the Arizona state representative, and sponsored by 13 fellow Republicans within the Legislature. The resolution calls for “decertifying” the election. In announcing the resolution, Mr. Finchem made reference to the independent state legislature theory as a justification.

“While some may say there isn’t any valid constitutional, nor statutory grounds for such an motion, they clearly are disregarding longstanding jurisprudence,” Mr. Finchem wrote in an announcement accompanying the resolution.

The trail from the reviewto the resolution shows how outside investigations can create pressure for further motion.

Republican leaders within the Arizona Legislature haven’t taken up Mr. Finchem’s measure. Russell Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House and a Republican, said that the State Legislature could only appoint its own electors if “there was proven demonstrable fraud sufficient to cover whatever balance or a spot in voters that existed.” He added, “We didn’t even come near that,” and he dismissed the Senate review as a “seat-of-the-pants circus.”

Republican leaders in other battleground states are facing similar upheavals surrounding so-called audit efforts. In Wisconsin, Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the House, at first resisted launching an out of doors “forensic audit.” But after public pressure from Mr. Trump, Mr. Vos relented and created a review helmed by Michael Gableman, a former State Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Gableman quickly took the investigation in a distinct direction. When he released an initial report of his findings in March, Mr. Gableman argued for “decertification.” One state representative, Timothy Ramthun, has put the decision to decertify at the middle of his campaign for governor.

Remaking legislatures in the following election

Legislative leaders have repeatedly acted as firewalls blocking anti-democratic efforts from moving forward. In the times after the election, the Republican speaker of the House and the Senate president from Michigan rebuffed Mr. Trump’s personal pleas to support an alternate slate of electors, even after being summoned to the White House.

Mr. Trump has not forgotten. Since then, he has made transforming the Michigan Legislature a pet project. He has endorsed 10 candidates for state legislative seats — including some who’re difficult Republican incumbents — and is in search of to play kingmaker within the already brewing fight over who can be speaker of the House.

Within the interview, Mr. Trump, who won seven million fewer votes than Mr. Biden, spread blame for his loss across several targets, including Vice President Pence, Mr. McConnell and state lawmakers.

“The legislatures, the local Republicans, lost the election,” he said.

Trump-endorsed candidates for state legislative seats have taken note.

Jonathan Lindsey, a Trump-endorsed candidate for the Michigan State Senate, said that at a minimum he thinks the State Legislature should vote on electors if an election is disputed. Regarding the 2020 election, he added: “If I were in that seat, I’d have voted to send Trump electors.”

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