Jan 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrats take voting rights fight to state-level races

Pennsylvania Attorney General Joel Shapiro and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham are seen side by side.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Photos: Natalie Kolb/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images (left); Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Democratic gubernatorial candidates are unveiling their own voting rights plans ahead of this fall's midterms.

Why it matters: Congressional Democrats have, so far, failed to deliver federal legislation. Because Republicans have succeeded in introducing restrictions at the state and local levels, the ability to vote in 2022 will largely depend on where a person lives. That makes state executive races a high priority for both parties.

  • President Biden waved a flag of surrender on Thursday, saying after a meeting with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill: "If we missed the first time, we come back and try it a second time. We missed this time."
  • Democrats also are shifting their sights because they expect to lose the House and Senate.
  • Governors, in their view, are the last line of defense for democracy.

Driving the news: Last week, Democratic candidates for governor in Pennsylvania and New Mexico outlined their plans.

  • In Wisconsin and Nevada, the sitting Democratic governors — who are both running for re-election — also addressed voting rights last year by either striking down restrictive measures or codifying absentee balloting.
  • Gov. Tony Evers has vetoed at least six Republican bills so far in Wisconsin, and Gov. Steve Sisolak made mail-in voting permanent in Nevada and expanded access to the polls.

In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro introduced a plan to protect and expand voting rights by upholding a 2019 law allowing for no-excuse absentee voting.

Shapiro also wants to implement same-day and automatic voter registration for the state.

  • As Pennsylvania's chief law enforcement officer, he's been heavily involved in voting rights issues.
  • He's also gone to court to fight against lawsuits from Republicans and former President Trump that contested the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election results.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed expanding access to absentee voting and online voter registration.

  • Grisham also wants to provide protective measures for Native American voters in the state.
  • The "partisan refusal to fortify voting rights at the federal level" is one of the reasons for doing this, according to the governor's website.

What they're saying: "Pennsylvanians are worried about a lot right now — the impact of COVID-19, tackling rising costs and growing our economy, improving our schools, and making our communities safer — they shouldn’t have to worry about the stability of our country’s democracy, too," Shapiro said in a statement.

Editor’s note: Updates photo cutline in second item to correct name to Josh Shapiro.

Go deeper