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GOP senator suggests ballot-counting idea Democrats already came up with

Sen. Josh Hawley’s new bill demands that absentee ballots be tallied immediately after arrival — a request his own party repeatedly blocked leading up to the election.

By Donna Provencher - November 10, 2020
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced a new bill Tuesday aiming to “protect the integrity” of American elections by requiring, in part, that mail-in ballots be counted as soon as they’re received.

“The debacle of the 2020 election has made clear that serious reforms are needed to protect the integrity of our elections,” Hawley said in a statement.

“The American people deserve transparency — that means banning ballot harvesting, empowering poll watchers, and taking steps to ensure that all legally cast ballots are accounted for. The confusion and controversy of this past week is not acceptable. Congress must take action,” he added, paying lip service to Donald Trump’s widely debunked lies about vote counting.

In addition to mandating that mail-in ballots be immediately tallied upon delivery, Hawley’s proposed bill includes a few other requirements.

It seeks to ban third-party delivery of votes, a practice that helps ensure that older people, disabled people, and those living in rural communities will have their ballots counted, among other groups. It also mandates that at least two campaign representatives from each major party be allowed to watch vote counting, even though poll watchers of both major parties are already present nationwide wherever votes are being counted.

Hawley’s bill would also require 24/7 surveillance of mail-in ballot drop boxes. The footage would be released, if requested, to the public for free. And it also would entail that that all vote counting, once begun, could not be halted or paused except in an emergency.

But with his announcement, Hawley failed to publicly acknowledge that it was his own party that caused the “confusion and controversy” in the days following the election by preventing early ballot processing.

Democrats, recognizing that there would be an influx of absentee votes in 2020 due to the pandemic, tried for months to make changes to allow for pre-processing mail-in ballots in several key swing states — only to be blocked by Republicans at every turn.

For instance, Pennsylvania’s vote tally was slowed down because the Republican majority in the Pennsylvania state legislature blocked efforts by Democrats to pre-process mail-in votes.

In June, Pennsylvania Republicans rejected an iteration of a bill that would have allowed for pre-processing three weeks before the election. They again refused to consider a Democrat-sponsored House bill that would have allowed for pre-processing 10 days before the election.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, poll workers couldn’t legally begin processing any of the 2 million absentee and mail-in votes until 7 a.m. on Election Day, holding up the process considerably.

The Wisconsin Legislature ignored warnings as early as September by the state’s own Republican senator, Ron Johnson, that they ought to pass a bill allowing for early counting of what was sure to be a record number of mail-in votes.

“What I would suggest in Wisconsin, for example, is I hope the state legislature returns and says, ‘This is what our law is. You have to mail in your ballots by x date,'” Johnson said in late September. “I would also suggest we change the law so election officials can start opening and counting those ballots well before Election Day so Wisconsin results are known by 9, 10, 11, 12 o’clock on Election Day, so we’re not part of the problem.”

No such change was enacted, however.

Michigan’s lengthy counting process, too, can be chalked up to resistance by a Republican-controlled state legislature.

Michigan state law indicates that mail-in and absentee ballots cannot be tallied before Election Day.

However, in early October, Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill that permitted a very limited amount of early vote processing, but only in jurisdictions with populations over 25,000 — and only a 10-hour head start on processing.

That was as much as the Republican-led state legislature would agree to.

Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, had warned that even under the new law, the state might not be able to finish counting the ballots until days after the election.

According to Politico, Benson had argued that the pre-processing period of time be longer than 10 hours, but the Republican-run Legislature disagreed.

“It is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough,” Benson said.

An Oct. 24 report by the Hill revealed that in another key battleground state, the Trump campaign — alongside the Nevada GOP — brought a lawsuit against the Clark County, Nevada, registrar and the Nevada Secretary of State to stop any early processing of votes in or around Las Vegas.

The lawsuit, filed not even two weeks prior to Election Day, claimed that GOP observers were not allowed to stand close enough to machines and workers to observe properly, and that Clark County should consequently halt all early tabulation of mail-in votes.

The Trump campaign ultimately dropped the lawsuit two days after the election.

Sen. Hawley’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment by the American Independent Foundation about his party’s prior efforts to block early counting of mail-in ballots.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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