Sen. Josh Hawley introduces bill to ensure integrity in future elections

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. | Flickr/ Senator Josh Hawley

As Georgia begins recounting ballots and other states investigate reports of voting irregularities during the 2020 presidential election, one senator has introduced legislation aimed at preventing election fraud. 

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the Protect Election Integrity Act of 2020 Tuesday. The bill would “amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to provide for the establishment of election security measures by States and to prohibit ballot harvesting in Federal elections.”

“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.”

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Hawley's bill comes after reports that ballots were illegally cast for dead people and by out-of-state voters, and Election Day software "glitches" that caused Trump votes to be counted as Biden votes in one Michigan country and a Republican county commissioner being told he actually won his race after being told he'd lost to his Democratic challenger. 

The legislation lays out election integrity measures that states must abide by if they want to receive funding under the Help America Vote Act, which was designed to address the voting issues, following the 2000 election that was contested by then-Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Al Gore.

According to Hawley’s bill, “A State is not eligible to receive funds under this Act unless the State meets the following requirements with respect to each election held on or after January 1, 2021.”

States seeking funding under the Help America Vote Act would be required to allow “the observation of polling places or counting of ballots, at any site where voting or ballot counting is occurring, by at least 2 appointed campaign representatives per campaign.” Hawley had previously expressed concern about the “secrecy” surrounding the counting of absentee ballots in Detroit, Michigan, where windows were covered up to prevent observers from watching the counting process.

In addition, states would be required to mandate that “mail-in or absentee ballots be counted and recorded immediately upon receipt, with no results to be disclosed until after the closure of polling places on the date of the election.” Currently, laws about when the counting of absentee ballots can begin vary from state to state. The use of mail-in and absentee ballots was significantly more widespread this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Under Hawley’s bill, states would be required to continuously count ballots until all of the ballots have been accounted for. This year, officials in Fulton County, Georgia, the state’s most populous county, stopped counting ballots at 10:30 p.m. on Election Day, saying they planned to resume counting in the morning. The Protect Election Integrity Act of 2020 would only allow the counting of ballots to stop in cases of “imminent emergency.”

Funding under the Help America Vote Act would only be provided to a state if “the State has in effect a law that provides for round-the-clock video surveillance monitoring of absentee ballot drop boxes, with unedited footage to be made available upon request to members of the public at no charge.”

Federal funding would also be dependent upon the presence of a state law requiring the supervisor of elections to post a report online illustrating preparations for the general election three months ahead of Election Day. The report would include information about anticipated staffing levels during the early voting period and before and after Election Day, as well as the predicted amount of tabulation equipment at each polling place.

The bill would only award federal funds to a state if it “has in effect a law providing that following the certification of the election, the municipal entity responsible for certifying the election shall conduct a manual audit or an automated, independent audit of the voting systems used in randomly selected precincts.”

In addition to amending the Help America Vote Act, Hawley’s bill would amend the U.S. Code to ban the practice of ballot harvesting nationwide. Currently legal in California, ballot harvesting enables political operatives to collect completed ballots and submit them on behalf of the voters that filled them out. The House Democrats attempted to implement ballot harvesting nationwide as part of the coronavirus aid package known as the HEROES Act, which failed to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Protecting Election Integrity Act of 2020 does allow “an employee of the United States Postal Service while engaged in official duties as authorized by law” and “a family member, household member, or caregiver of the person to whom the ballot was mailed” to submit ballots on another person’s behalf. Anyone who illegally engages in ballot harvesting could face a fine of no more than $10,000 for each ballot collected and up to five years in prison.

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