‘An all-hands moment’: GOP rallies opposition to Democrats’ voting bill

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

On an invitation-only call last week, Sen. Ted Cruz huddled with Republican state lawmakers to call them to battle on the issue of voting rights.

Democrats are trying to expand voting rights to “illegal aliens” and “child molesters,” he claimed, and Republicans must do all they can to stop them. If they push through far-reaching election legislation now before the Senate, the GOP won’t win elections again for generations, he said.

Asked if there was room to compromise, Cruz was blunt: “No.”

“H.R. 1’s only objective is to ensure that Democrats can never again lose another election, that they will win and maintain control of the House of Representatives and the Senate and of the state legislatures for the next century,” Cruz told the group organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that provides support to state legislators.

Cruz’s statements, recorded by a person on the call and obtained by The Associated Press, capture the building intensity behind Republicans’ nationwide campaign for election integrity. From statehouses to Washington, the fight has galvanized a Republican Party in search of unifying mission in the post-Trump era. For a powerful network of conservatives, election concerns are now viewed as a political life-or-death debate.

“It kind of feels like an all-hands-on-deck moment for the conservative movement, when the movement writ large realizes the sanctity of our elections is paramount and voter distrust is at an all-time high,” said Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, an influential conservative advocacy group in Washington. “We’ve had a bit of a battle cry from the grassroots, urging us to pick this fight.”

Several prominent groups have recently entered the fray: pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony List, has partnered with another conservative Christian group to fund a new organization, the Election Transparency Initiative. FreedomWorks, a group formed to push for smaller government, has initiated a $10 million calling for tighter voting laws in the states. It will be run by Cleta Mitchell, a prominent Republican attorney who advised former President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, Heritage Action has announced a new effort also focused on changes in state voting laws. It included a $700,000 ad campaign to back GOP-written bills in Georgia, the group’s first foray into advocating for state policy.

So far, the states have been the center of the debate. More than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would change how Americans vote, according to a tally by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice.

The fight over voting laws extends to Washington, where the Democratic-led Senate will soon consider an array of voting changes. The package, known as H.R. 1, would require states to automatically register eligible voters, as well as offer same-day registration. It would limit states’ ability to purge outdated voter registrations from their rolls and restore former felons’ voting rights. Among dozens of other provisions, it would also require states to offer 15 days of early voting and allow no-excuse absentee balloting. Democrats, who are marshaling their own resources behind the bill, argue it is necessary to block what they describe as voter suppression efforts in the states.

Republicans contend it’s a grab bag of long-sought Democratic goals aimed at tilting elections in their favor. Cruz claimed it would lead to voting by millions of “criminals and illegal aliens.”

The bill “says America would be better off if more murderers were voting, America would be better off if more rapists and child molesters were voting,” Cruz said.

He added that he had recently participated in an all-day strategy call with national conservative leaders to coordinate opposition. The leaders agreed that Republicans would seek to rebrand the Democratic-backed bill as the “Corrupt Politicians Act,” he said.

The focus on voting is visible across the conservative movement. At a televised town hall in February, leading Christian conservative Tony Perkins fielded several questions about voting before tackling topics on the social issues the Family Research Council typically focuses on.

“When you have free, fair elections, you’re going to have outcomes that are positive,” Perkins said before urging viewers to push state lawmakers to “restore election integrity.”

“It’s gone up the chain of priority,” said Noah Wall, executive vice president of FreedomWorks, which trained 60 top activists in Orlando last weekend on voting issues. “If you were to poll our activists right now, election integrity is going to be near the top of the list. Twelve months ago, that wasn’t the case.”