Republican state legislators, including dozens tied to the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are pushing to loosen restrictions on poll watching, which has historically been aimed at preventing Black Americans from voting.
These poll watching initiatives are part of a broader movement to suppress voting in the wake of a presidential election and violent insurrection that didn’t achieve what these lawmakers wanted.
The Republican Party’s use of poll watching as an intimidation tactic has a particularly notorious history, and was essentially prohibited in 1982 when a federal judge brokered a consent decree between the Republican and Democratic national committees barring the GOP from engaging in “ballot security” and voter intimidation efforts without prior judicial approval. Before then, the RNC had hired armed, off-duty police officers to patrol majority-minority precincts wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands.
Although the RNC was alleged to have violated the decree several times over the years, it remained in place until early 2018, when the courts allowed it to expire. Donald Trump threatened to send out masses of poll watchers to minority precincts in 2020, although relatively few actually appeared.
As of April 15, state lawmakers have introduced at least 40 bills in 20 states to expand the powers of poll watchers, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 80 ALEC-tied lawmakers are co-sponsors of 21 of those bills in nine states, the Center for Media and Democracy has found.
While hundreds of top companies have earned praise for publicly opposing voter suppression, corporations have long bankrolled state lawmakers who back those measures—and now the extensive involvement of politicians affiliated with ALEC shows that corporate America is still actively aiding suppression efforts.
ALEC’s involvement is notable because its pay-to-play system offers corporate lobbyists the chance to work directly with state legislators to craft model bills that advance conservative priorities.