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Opinion The media fails to challenge Joni Ernst’s paltry excuses for voting subversion

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks during a news conference after a Senate Republican policy luncheon on Jan. 19 on Capitol Hill. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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Republicans have no legitimate explanation for their efforts to limit access to the ballot and to seize election administration duties from neutral professionals. And when Republicans appear on mainstream news programs, hosts routinely do a poor job of pressing them on their party’s rationale for subverting our democracy.

On ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was at least asked about new voting rules in her state that shorten early voting and close Election Day polls an hour earlier. Does this make voting less secure? She honestly answered that “it’s the same level of security.”

Right there was the opportunity to reveal the dishonesty inherent in Republicans’ voting suppression tactics. She should have been asked: Then why was it billed as an election integrity measure? Was that a lie? Was it an attempt to cement the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen? But these questions were not asked. Ernst never was pressed to say whether she subscribes to the “big lie,” and if not, how she could belong to a party that has conducted an insidious campaign to delegitimize President Biden’s election.

Ernst came up with the excuse that it had cost too much to man rural election sites and keep polls open one more hour. Really? How much does it cost? Why was this not a problem before? Do you value rural voters enough to give them just a little more time to vote? What if someone needs the extra hour to get to the polls after work? Alas, none of those questions were asked either.

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When asked about the shortened period, Ernst gave a classic whataboutism answer, claiming that “we have Democrats that are targeting red states like Iowa again.” This is absurd. They are “targeting” red states because red states are targeting access to the ballot.

“Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Texas have enacted omnibus laws that each contain several new restrictive provisions,” the Brennan Center for Justice found. “Four states have passed multiple restrictive voting laws. Arkansas and Montana passed four such laws each, while Arizona and Texas passed three each.” Texas’s S.B. 1, for instance, impedes "election workers’ ability to stop harassment by poll watchers and bans 24-hour and drive-thru voting.”

By contrast, blue states are making it even easier to vote. For example, Connecticut, New York and Washington “expanded voting rights to people with past convictions, building on national momentum to undo felony disenfranchisement laws,” the Brennan Center said. “And six states enacted automatic voter registration (AVR) laws.”

After Senate Republicans blocked federal voting rights legislation for a fifth time on Jan. 19, voting rights activists are still hopeful something can be done. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

Ernst misleads viewers when she says New York is worse than Iowa when it comes to ease of voting. After the 2018 midterms, New York began an effort to expand voting access, NPR reported, “when Democrats took control in both houses of the state legislature.” (Emphasis added.) PolitiFact found the state since then enacted early voting and future automatic registration. In short, once Democrats booted Republicans from the state legislature, they began expanding voting access.

Ernst and many other Republicans make the specious claim Democrats want to “federalize” elections. Voting law both constitutionally and statutorily has long been a federal and state responsibility. Everything from the 15th Amendment to the Electoral Count Act to the Voting Rights Act (which Ernst’s party used to support) reaffirmed the federal government’s role to protect the fundamental right to vote. When states seek to impair the right to vote, the federal government has an obligation to step in.

There is no justification whatsoever for Republicans’ raft of voter subversion laws that subject election workers to criminal penalties for helping voters, allow politicians to micromanage elections and permit partisan state legislatures to displace trained election officials. Of the 17 states that have passed such laws, only one, Nevada, is controlled by Democrats.

What could possibly be the justification for such bills? Republicans such as Ernst need to be asked whether such legislation undermines faith in elections, increases the opportunity for partisan meddling and discourages qualified election workers from serving.

When it comes to questioning Republicans about the “big lie” and informing the public about the party’s nefarious and systematic effort to degrade our democracy, the mainstream media with a few exceptions seem to have learned little and improved not at all over the past 12 months. The media is failing voters and, worse, failing to live up to its obligation to defend democracy.