On Tuesday, President Joe Biden is expected to deliver a major speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, likely denouncing a sweeping election reform bill being discussed in the Texas Legislature and the Senate’s inability to pass voting rights legislation. Last month, all 50 Senate Republicans blocked HR1, the For the People Act, and other state legislatures — like Arizona, Georgia and Florida — have passed voting laws that many Democrats say are restrictive and anti-democratic.
And yet, the president may find a small — and admittedly unlikely — cohort of Republican allies on Tuesday.
A group of Republicans, former Republicans and conservatives recently launched a new campaign named “Republicans for Voting Rights.” Their goal is to retire the idea that voting access and election integrity are mutually exclusive, and to encourage Republicans in both local and federal office to protect the right to vote, not oppose it.
“In the past, talking about voting rights — especially voting suppression — has been viewed as a ‘liberal’ thing,” Amanda Carpenter, a prominent political commentator and director of Republicans for Voting Rights, told the Deseret News. “But Trump’s lie about a stolen election, and the legislation being passed as a result, show how essential it is that Republicans are involved in these conversations, too.”
The conservatives involved include Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of The Bulwark; Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman; and Mickey Edwards and Charles Djou, both former members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Among their efforts is cracking down on claims of widespread voting fraud sufficient to overturn the 2020 election. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, former president Donald Trump sustains the notion that he won the 2020 election and supports efforts to pass restrictive voting laws. Any Republican dissidents who wish to champion voting rights directly oppose Trump — whose influence on the GOP has not diminished.
Last month, more than 100 political scientists signed an open letter warning that “our democracy is fundamentally at stake” due to the restrictive voting reforms being proposed by predominantly Republican state legislatures, born of false fraud claims. “The risk I see in these laws is that in order to win, anything goes,” Dr. Laura Gamboa, one of the letter’s signers, told the Deseret News. “Once you have that mindset, democracy is gone.”
“If we leave (the Republican Party), we’re leaving it up to the worst actors.” — Amanda Carpenter
Carpenter and her pro-voting-rights Republican allies find themselves at the base of a steep hill — with their party’s majority weighing down from the top. They don’t agree with every part of HR1 or every Democratic voting rights proposal. But as conservative supporters of limited government, Carpenter said there’s no other place for them to go — the GOP is home, she says, warts and all.
“I don’t think I will ever give up challenging the GOP, where I am the most at home, to be better,” she said. “If we leave (the Republican Party), we’re leaving it up to the worst actors.”
But will the GOP budge at the criticisms of a few members? In a March column for The Bulwark, Carpenter admitted that negotiating with today’s Republican Party on voting rights is near impossible. One party wants to make it easier to vote, she wrote, and the other wants to prevent everyone but its members from voting, period. “When those are the parameters of the voting rights debate, there’s no room for compromise,” she explained. “There’s nothing to discuss.”
Four months after writing that column, Carpenter seems more hopeful about the prospects of collaboration — or, at least, more devoted to trying at all costs. “The argument I hear from elected Republicans all the time is, ‘Listen, my voters believe these lies, and I have to sympathize with them,’” she told me on the phone last week. “What I say to them is that true leadership is a better way, that doesn’t pander to the lies.”
How GOP officeholders react is out of Carpenter’s control. The goal, though, is to unite behind a common cause — to denounce the “big lie” and protect elections. “The potential is finding a coalition of like-minded conservatives who want a better way to move on from the Trump days,” she said. Even if putting democracy first means spurning the majority of their own party.