- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2022

A center-right political group announced Monday a $2 million endeavor to elect state election officials committed to strengthening the integrity of the ballot. 

The Election Transparency Initiative (ETI) plans to be active in several states this election cycle targeting at least 10 swing states, including Arizona, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania considered pivotal ahead of the 2024 presidential election. 

“It’s easy for candidates running for office to embrace the concept of election integrity, but it takes a greater examination to determine if they actually support free and fair elections in practice,” said Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia attorney general and ETI’s national chairman. 

A coalition of several influential national conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, are working in support of ETI’s effort, but not financing its work.

ETI will specifically work to elect candidates to state legislatures, as well as secretary of state offices — two public positions that have significant sway over elections.

State legislatures are responsible for determining policy, including how individuals vote or if they need to prove identity to do so. Secretaries of state, meanwhile, administer elections, overseeing everything from voter rolls to the date and times that polls are open. 

To receive the coalition’s endorsement, which includes campaign financing help and get-out-the-vote efforts, candidates will have to back voter ID laws. They will also have to pledge to oppose early voting, ballot harvesting, same-day voter registration and the private funding of elections, among others. 

“If candidates truly support making it easy to vote and hard to cheat in our elections, they should have no hesitation backing up their public pronouncements and campaign promises by signing their name to the coalition’s comprehensive election integrity pledge,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “Election integrity is a decisive issue for successful campaigns in 2022.”

The effort is meant to push back on the stark politicization of elections that has taken place since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. This year alone, Republicans and Democrats are targeting state Supreme Court and secretary of state races across the country. 

Both parties say that holding such offices will be critical in 2024, especially if there is another close election. President Biden, himself, summed up the sentiment earlier this year when pushing an unsuccessful rewrite of the nation’s voting laws. 

“Not just whether or not people get to vote, [but] who counts the vote,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s what this is about.” 

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, state legislatures overhauled voting laws to hold elections as safely as possible. 

In some instances, states significantly expanded early voting and implemented new guidelines allowing for temporary vote-by-mail. The changes were not uniform among individual counties, let alone all 50 states. 

Since the 2020 contest, numerous state elected officials have admitted that many of the pandemic voting laws were flawed. 

“I was as frustrated as anybody else,” Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said at a recent gubernatorial debate. “That’s why we passed the strongest election integrity act in the country, because a lot of things were done by other people.”

Last year, under Mr. Kemp, Georgia streamlined its voting laws. The overhaul greatly changed the requirements for regular and absentee voting and added ballot security measures. 

Voters seeking absentee ballots are now required to provide proof of identification, a common practice in most countries and already required for day-of voting in the state. 

Previously, voters had to ensure only that the signature on their absentee ballot matched the signature on file with local elections officials.

The law also prohibited political organizations from handing out food and water within 150 feet of a polling location or 25 feet of a voter. During the 2020 election, some groups had solicited voters outside polling locations with items inscribed with a candidate’s message, symbol or likeness. 

The new law makes such political advertising at the polls a misdemeanor offense. Democrats, who are working just as feverishly to elect state election officials, say such legislation is a throwback to the era of racial segregation.

“The laws passed in legislatures throughout the country do nothing less than to discourage and prevent certain kinds of Americans, black and brown Americans … from participating in the democratic process,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately described the group behind the voter integrity effort.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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