The Republican Party is building a program to recruit tens of thousands of volunteers in over a dozen states to conduct anti-”voter fraud” efforts, which means monitoring polls and challenging votes and voter registrations, according to the New York Times.
The party, backed by President Donald Trump, is spending $20 million on its efforts, which intends to recruit up to 50,000 volunteers in 15 states to “monitor polling places and challenge ballots and voters deemed suspicious,” the Times reports. The money is also intended to fight Democratic-backed lawsuits against alleged voter suppression efforts on the part of Republicans.
The GOP appears to be capitalizing on a 2018 federal court decision allowing a decades-long consent decree to expire, which had barred the Republican National Committee from pursuing certain “ballot security” measures. In that effort in New Jersey in 1981, the RNC started a “ballot security task force” of armed, off-duty police officers to patrol minority-majority precincts in Newark and Trenton.
The court decree had been violated by the GOP and then updated several times over the past four decades until its expiration two and a half years ago.
The new effort tracks with a longstanding trend among Republicans and conservative activists to tighten up voting laws. Currently, 18 states have laws on the books requiring voter ID, with many of those passed in the aftermath of the 2010 Republican wave election.
GOP-run legislatures such as those in North Carolina and Wisconsin have also faced numerous lawsuits over gerrymandering, although a 2019 Supreme Court decision took the power out of the hands of the federal courts to fix partisan gerrymandering.
In Georgia, for example, an election for the state Supreme Court which had been scheduled for Tuesday was canceled by the state’s GOP leadership in February, so Republican Gov. Brian Kemp could instead appoint a replacement for the retiring justice who could fill the seat until after the 2022 elections. Georgia has noticeably shifted to the left in recent elections, and is considered a battleground state in 2020.
In recent years, however, there’s been a major push from Democrats and progressive activists to expand voting rights and voter access. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have implemented automatic voter registration (AVR) since 2016, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And when the Democrats took control of the House in 2019, the first bill they passed was the “For the People” Act, which would expand voter access and overhaul redistricting, among other things. (The bill has gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.)
And there’s a fight brewing in Congress over progressive proposals to expand voting by mail, due to the uncertainty presented by the coronavirus. A study on Wisconsin’s April 7 election this week found that there was a “statistically and economically significant association between in-person voting and the spread of COVID-19 two to three weeks after the election,” according to the National Bureau for Economic Research.
“The federal government is not going to take over the way we do elections,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month. “They’re done at the state and local level and every state is different. They’re fully capable of doing that, as they have for many years.”
This article originally appeared on VICE US.