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CNN Special Report, "Stop The Vote: The Big Lie's Assault on Democracy". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 27, 2021 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In the hour ahead, more evidence to that effect. So, stay with CNN. Dana Bash's new Special Report, "Stop The Vote: The Big Lie's Assault on Democracy" starts now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN Special Report.






DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION (voice-over): A deadly insurrection, trying to overturn a fair election.





BASH (voice-over): Yet Donald Trump continues to lie.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is all about a rigged election.


BASH (voice-over): Why are Republicans changing the rules after record turnout?

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: My fellow Republicans in the Legislatures are trying to stop that great participation.

BASH (voice-over): What might it mean for future elections?

BASH (on camera): Do you believe that the 2020 election here in Georgia was free and fair?

DAVID RALSTON, (R) GEORGIA STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe that a lot of Georgians have concerns that there were issues with it.

BASH (voice-over): Trump is now even warning, Republicans won't vote until laws that protected against his election conspiracies are changed.


RICHARD HASEN, PROFESSOR OF LAW AND POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE: My fear is that 2020 was not the low point of American democracy, but a dress rehearsal, for things to come.

BASH (voice-over): Now, a CNN Special Report, "Stop The Vote: The Big Lie's Assault On Democracy."

BASH (on camera): Conspiracies about voting in 2020 are not just a hangover from the last presidential election. The lies are being used, by GOP legislators, and governors, to justify voting changes, for the next election.

Across the country, Republicans are passing election laws that make it harder to vote, change who oversees the election process, threaten election workers, with criminal penalties, and tear down guardrails, in key states that kept Donald Trump's Big Lie from succeeding.

Over the next hour, we will tell you what, these voting changes are, broadly and specifically, in three key states, the direct impact on the 2022 midterm elections, and ultimately how America is governed, and by whom?


COOPER: Record voter turnout, this year, with more than 100 million ballots cast, before voting even started, this morning.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: Look at the turnout, everywhere in America. And this is a good thing, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent.


BASH (voice-over): The 2020 election had the highest turnout in American history, despite coming at the height of the pandemic.

Local governments came up, with creative ways, to make it easier to vote, like expanding vote by mail and adding drop boxes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The ballot drop boxes are filling up so quick, elections officials say they can't empty them out fast enough.


BASH (voice-over): And drive-through voting.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best part? She doesn't even have to get out of her car to cast her ballot.


BASH (voice-over): More access to voting meant more participation. In big cities, that tended to help Democrats.


GINSBERG: In some ways.


BASH (voice-over): Republican election expert, Ben Ginsberg, says that's a big factor fueling new restrictive laws passing now, especially in GOP-led states, with increasing minority populations.

GINSBERG: A number of states, where Republicans fear, being able to hold on to their majority, are passing laws that are designed to stop groups that they think potentially vote against them, from casting their ballots, with quite the same ease that they did, during the 2020 pandemic.

BASH (voice-over): GOP legislators passing new restrictive voting laws in key states use the same language.

MICHELLE UGENTI-RITA, (R) ARIZONA STATE SENATE: These are all bills that I've introduced to make sure that we reinforce election integrity.

TRAVIS CLARDY, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: We need to protect the integrity of our elections, so the rest of the world can look to us.

RALSTON: This strengthens the integrity of our election system, here in Georgia.

BASH (voice-over): While clearly designed to appeal to the GOP base, that message could also resonate with the broader public. A recent CNN poll showed nearly half of Americans say the rules around voting are not strict enough, to prevent illegal ballots, from being cast.

BASH (on camera): The Republicans I talk to, in all these states, say, "This is what you do, after elections. You look at what went wrong. You look at what went right. And you pass laws, to try to fix it, for the next time."

MARC ELIAS, DEMOCRATIC ELECTION LAW ATTORNEY, FOUNDER, ELIAS LAW GROUP: But here, they're not fixing it. Here, they did the opposite. They looked at what went right. And they decided to ban what went right.

BASH (voice-over): The issue is that countless Republican voters don't believe things went right, in 2020, thanks to the Big Lie.


TRUMP: Frankly, we did win this election.


TRUMP: We did win this election.



HASEN: You really can't blame these voters. They've been bamboozled into thinking that fraud is a major problem. So, of course, these legislators act.


BASH (voice-over): Georgia's Republican House Speaker told me as much.

BASH (on camera): You said a lot of people in Georgia don't think that the election was free and fair. You didn't say you don't think the election was free and fair.

RALSTON: Well, what I think sometimes is not altogether important.

BASH (on camera): Why not?

RALSTON: Well, we're a representative body, here, in the House. And I listen to my constituents.


CLARDY: Members, I'm thankful to report that--


BASH (voice-over): In Texas, Republican State Representative Travis Clardy helped write a new restrictive voting law, even though he admits there was no widespread fraud, in his state.

CLARDY: We want to restore that confidence that we should all have in our elections. And I don't think it was lost in Texas. I don't think it was in jeopardy of being lost in Texas.

BASH (on camera): Why do you have to restore confidence in an election that you're saying went well, that you're saying was free and fair? The only reason you would do that is because people have been gaslit.

CLARDY: I do have to - well I think we do need to acknowledge, in the political Zeitgeist that exist right now, that is hanging over like a cloud.


TRUMP: It's a pure theft.


BASH (voice-over): A Zeitgeist perpetuated by the former president, and his allies.


TRUMP: We had a rigged election. We had a stolen election.


GINSBERG: But the bigger picture is beyond Donald Trump. It is the changing demographics of the country.

ELIAS: And the only tactic that they have left, is to try to shrink the electorate, and make it harder for Black, Brown and young voters to participate.

BASH (on camera): And there's no question in your mind that's what they're doing right now?

ELIAS: I don't think there's any question in their mind. They're not hiding the fact that this is what they're doing. They are pretty out in the open, shouting the quiet part out loud.

BASH (voice-over): An attorney representing the Arizona Republican Party, told the United States Supreme Court, "It was all about politics."


AMY CONEY BARRETT, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's the interest of the Arizona RNC here in keeping, say, the out-of-precinct voter ballot disqualification rules on the books?

ATTORNEY MICHAEL CARVIN: Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game.


BASH (voice-over): To be sure, the Democratic Party of the Jim Crow South had its own legacy of voter suppression, doing whatever they could, to stop Black citizens, from voting, like implementing poll taxes that required everyone to pay a fee, for the right to vote.

ANDERSON: Coming out of Reconstruction, you've got massive sharecropping, you've got endemic poverty, in the Black community. And so, a lot of Jim Crow legislation was written that way, not racially defined, but racially targeted.

JONATHAN DIAZ, SENIOR LEGAL COUNSEL, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: It's exactly the same strategy that we're seeing today, with targeting methods of voting, and the election administration, of counties, where large populations and minority voters reside.

ANDERSON: It's designed not to catch fraud. But it is designed to deter and dissuade, particularly minorities, and poor people, and young people, from voting.

BASH (on camera): So, a system that the former president called "Rigged" is being changed in a way that you say actually is rigged?

ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely.

BASH (voice-over): Now, new laws in key states are not only impacting access to the ballot, but also what happens after the voting? Power is being taken away from career election officials, and given to more partisan actors.

HASEN: The real danger is the danger of election subversion. This is something we really haven't seen in modern American history, this idea that "We're going to mess with who counts the votes, how votes are counted." And this itself is a threat to the very basis of democracy, which is that we all have to accept election results, as legitimate.

BASH (voice-over): More on who will be in charge of the next elections, later in the program.

Up next.

BASH (on camera): Had you not been able to drive up here, and vote, would you have voted in 2020?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would not have voted in 2020.

BASH (voice-over): Safe, successful, but no longer an option, a deep dive in Texas.



BASH (on camera): So this is the stadium?


BASH (on camera): And this is what you did, in order to cast your vote, in the last election?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I just came right over.

BASH (on camera): You never got out of your car?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not once. I did not have to get closer and in six feet to anyone.

BASH (voice-over): In November 2020, Brittany Hyman (ph) was seven months pregnant. She used one of 10 drive-through voting sites, set up in Houston, part of Harris County, Texas.

BASH (on camera): Had you not been able to drive up here, and vote, would you have voted in 2020?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would not have voted in 2020. We were very careful during the pandemic, because Jackson (ph), who was 4 at the time, and the unborn baby, we didn't want to put them at risk. And so, this was the safest option.

BASH (voice-over): A safe option that she and nearly 127,000 Lone Star voters, took advantage of, and it spurred record turnout, in Texas' largest county, where Joe Biden won big, despite losing the state to Donald Trump.

Houston's Democratic mayor says the big turnout scared Republicans.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, (D) HOUSTON, TEXAS: Legislators are recognizing that the State of Texas is changing. People saw people voting, but they didn't like who they were voting for. So, if you voted, for my person, everything is fine. But if you didn't vote for my person, then there must be some voter fraud.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Election fraud takes place. I have no doubt that it took place, here in the State of Texas.


RAFAEL ANCHIA, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Our Secretary of State has said that the election was safe, secure and successful. In fact, you have twice as much of a chance, to be hit by lightning, in the State of Texas, than you have to find a case of voter fraud.

CLARDY: So you're more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to have a case of voter fraud?


Well, the difference is I can't do anything to stop somebody from getting hit by a lightning. But I think you're obligated to do something to say to avoid and keep fraud, from occurring.

BASH (voice-over): Despite what even many Texas Republicans admit, was a safe and secure election, the GOP-controlled Legislature proposed a new voting bill, under the banner of election integrity.


ABBOTT: We're making it easier to vote, but also making it harder to cheat.


BASH (voice-over): The new law bans drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, another 2020 change, in Houston's Harris County, which gave shift-workers more flexibility in voting.

BASH (on camera): If you want to make it easier for people, to vote, why not take that experiment, in Harris County, 24-hour voting, drive- in voting, and do it across the state?

CLARDY: Great question, and probably for the same reason that there's no other state in the union that has 24-hour voting.

BASH (voice-over): GOP Texas Representative Travis Clardy argues his party wanted uniform voting, across Texas.

CLARDY: So, I've spent a lot of time, talking to election administrators, and county clerks, who run elections. And the feedback on that was it is not feasible. You have to have trained election workers. You have to have people manning those polls.

BASH (on camera): But they had the people there.

CLARDY: This - this is this - they--

BASH (on camera): During a pandemic.

CLARDY: But in - but in Harris--

BASH (on camera): People were willing to do it.

CLARDY: But in Harris County, with those people, but you, you also can create opportunities for mischief.

BASH (voice-over): But again, there is no evidence that happened with 24-hour voting, or drive-through voting, or anywhere in the State of Texas.

BASH (on camera): Republicans, who are backing, these new laws, in Texas, say, "It's not about targeting Harris County. It's about enacting uniform laws."

DIAZ: I think that's a convenient response. Harris County has a population greater than 25 states. A small rural county with only a couple of hundred people is not going to need to employ all the same strategies that a Harris County, or Dallas, or Austin, are going to have to use, to make sure that all of their residents have access to the ballot.

BASH (voice-over): The new law also makes it a felony, punishable by jail, for a public official, to send someone an application, just an application, for a mail-in ballot, they did not request.

CHRIS TURNER, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: These efforts are a direct outgrowth of the Big Lie that Donald Trump somehow really won the last election that we all know he lost. BASH (voice-over): In May, at the end of the Texas Legislative session, House Democrats walked, out of the State Capitol, to break quorum, and prevent the Legislature, from voting on this bill.

And when Governor Greg Abbott called a special session, more than 50, Texas Democrats, fled again, many to Washington.




C. TURNER: That you have a concerted effort, by a major political party, to make it more difficult, for American citizens, to cast a ballot, is insidious, and it's reprehensible, and it is a direct assault, on our very foundations of democracy.

BASH (voice-over): They were outnumbered, and delaying the inevitable, but made a show of it, to draw attention, to the soon-to-be new Texas law.


BASH (on camera): Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be careful. Watch the step.


BASH (voice-over): We boarded a bus with Texas Democrats, as they headed to a press conference.

BASH (on camera): The Republicans, who say what you're doing, here in Washington D.C., walking out of the session, in Texas, is a stunt.

SENFRONIA THOMPSON, (D) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: I call it as civil rights, protecting the rights of my citizens' vote.

BASH (voice-over): State Representative Senfronia Thompson is the longest-serving woman, and African American, in Texas history.

BASH (on camera): What would be the thing that would make you comfortable with the way that the Texas voting law is?

THOMPSON: You think what - you think to (ph) give an unfettered control of poll watchers, from - I've been in a polling place, where they have walked behind me, and tried to make me fearful and afraid. But they didn't know who I was. And I demanded that they get away from me. And they did.

BASH (voice-over): The new law empowers partisan poll watchers to have quote, "Free movement," around voting facilities, except to watch the ballot cast. Election officials, who reject poll watchers, can be charged with a misdemeanor crime.

JAMES WHITE, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Poll watchers have been in statute and been in this - in these precincts, for decades.

BASH (voice-over): James White is the only Black Republican, in the Texas Legislature, and supported the new voting law.

WHITE: Poll watchers are already there, OK?

BASH (on camera): But they have a lot more leeway now.

WHITE: Poll watchers are already there, OK? And reading--

BASH (on camera): Fair that they have more leeway?

WHITE: I'm--

BASH (on camera): Do you agree with that?

WHITE: No, I don't.

BASH (on camera): You can look voters, in Texas, particularly voters of color, in the eye, and promise them that this new law that you voted for?


BASH (on camera): Will not suppress their vote? Will not make it harder for them to vote?

WHITE: Absolutely. I can. I can look them in the eye, and I can make that case.

BASH (on camera): Houston's Mayor told us, with Texas flair, he doesn't buy it.


S. TURNER: Don't tee-tee on my leg, and tell me that it's raining. Don't tell me it's not being so - you're not engaging in voter suppression. I'm concerned that people have not fully - they don't fully understand the dynamics that they are putting in place.

BASH (voice-over): Repeated but unsubstantiated claims of fraud have dominated the GOP discourse, since Trump lost, in 2020.

Republicans, in Texas, where Trump won, insists the new law isn't about that.

CLARDY: I really regret some of the stories and the conspiracy theories.

BASH (voice-over): Texas Republican Travis Clardy admits Joe Biden was freely and fairly elected president. But as he defended changing election laws, he kept coming back to the perception among GOP voters that Biden wasn't.

CLARDY: It was, again, put out in the political arena for consumption in a not-- BASH (on camera): That's by definition a straw man.

CLARDY: --never - a never - a never-ending news cycle.

BASH (on camera): I know. But that's by definition a straw man.


BASH (on camera): As leaders, you're supposed to say that's not real. We're going to do what needs to be done, not what you think needs to be done--


BASH (on camera): --because you believe in conspiracy theories.

CLARDY: But again we - so, was it a surprise when we had the big, the Snowmageddon, in Texas, and our electric grid nearly collapsed? And we got that back up.

But was it a surprise we came back in, and the issue we took up was fixing the power grid, and restructuring ERCOT, or the PUC, in Texas.

BASH (voice-over): But the 2020 election was not stolen. And the electrical grid really did go down.

CLARDY: Why do we do that?

BASH (on camera): Because people really didn't have energy.

CLARDY: Because - because we had - we didn't have energy. But that was what was on our minds.

Coming into session, in January, was right at the conclusion of that election cycle, and then the attack on our Capitol. So, elections were on our mind. And so, it's not unusual for us to take those things that are topical, that are hot, at the moment that people are focused on. And "OK."

BASH (on camera): Right.

CLARDY: "These are policy we need to review."

BASH (voice-over): The Texas election bill became law, in September, when the governor called a second special session.


ABBOTT: Election integrity is now law in the State of Texas.



ANCHIA: And there's no question that this bill will make it harder to vote, in a state that is already among the hardest to vote, in the country. And that's why we're always in the lowest quintile in voter participation.

And the Texas Legislature has repeatedly shown that they care more about partisan advantage than they do about voting rights, and they're willing to do whatever they can, to stay in power.

BASH (voice-over): Coming up!

BASH (on camera): Well, you understand how it looks from the outside- in that the Secretary of State, who prevented President Trump, from meddling here, is now losing the power that he used, to do just that.



BASH (voice-over): As votes came in, on Election Night, 2020, and Joe Biden was doing well, in DeKalb, Georgia's fourth largest county, Republican election board member, Baoky Vu found himself fending off Trump supporters' false claims of voter fraud.

BASH (on camera): As Joe Biden's vote numbers were going up?


BASH (on camera): What kind of pressure were you feeling?

VU: Yes, that's right. That's right. That's right.

BASH (on camera): From Republican leaders?

VU: Well, a number of folks wanted my counterpart, and me, to, as members of the board, to bring forth certain challenges, from obviously, very frustrated Republicans, within DeKalb County.

BASH (voice-over): There was no widespread fraud, in DeKalb County, or in the State of Georgia. But refusing to back his fellow Republicans cost Vu his seat, after 12 years on the board.

VU: After I refused to entertain their desire, for these challenges, to go through, then they were looking for someone to replace me.

BASH (voice-over): Georgia, one of the critical battleground states that President Trump needed to win, to stay in office, turned Blue.

And Trump, desperate for a different result, got personally involved, including this infamous call, to Georgia's Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger.


TRUMP: So look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


BASH (voice-over): It didn't work. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: The facts are the facts. We followed the law. We followed the Constitution. And those are the accurate results of that election in November.


BASH (voice-over): In March, the Republican-controlled Georgia Legislature passed a new law for future elections, a big component, removing the Secretary of State, from his role, as Chair of the State Election Board, stripping much of his power.

HASEN: He was removed, no question, because he stood up to Trump, and refused to find 11,780 votes, in Trump's attempt to flip the results in Georgia.

ELIAS: I think the Republican Party of Georgia believes he is insufficiently committed to their cause.

BASH (voice-over): The Republican majority and the Legislature transferred the power to decide who chairs the State Election Board, to themselves.

ELIAS: They want to make sure that the people, who are administering the elections, in Georgia, in 2022 and 2024, are going to be of their political liking.

BASH (on camera): You understand how it looks from the outside-in that the Secretary of State, who prevented President Trump, from meddling here, is now losing the power that he used to do just that?

RALSTON: His relationship with the President did not factor into my approach to this bill.

BASH (on camera): Do you believe that the 2020 election, here in Georgia, was free and fair?

RALSTON: I believe that a lot of Georgians have concerns that there were issues with it. And I believe that we, as a Legislature, have a duty, to respond, to those people that had concerns.


BASH (voice-over): The new law also allows, the State Board, to take over county election offices, and remove local officials, if it believes they are running their elections poorly, over two consecutive elections.

ANDERSON: We have seen this before in the era of Jim Crow, when there were counties that had sizeable Black populations, you saw the State Legislature, then come in, and say "We will control that county election board, and install our own people in there."

RALSTON: I find it incredibly offensive when I hear it labeled as "Jim Crow 2.0." BASH (on camera): So why is it not?

RALSTON: Because it expands voting, it makes voting more accessible here.

BASH (voice-over): There are some ways Georgia's law expands access to voting, like requiring each county, to have at least one drop box, for absentee ballots, which may help rural counties that lean Republican.

But the law also adds several new restrictions, for those drop boxes, and says, each county cannot have more than one drop box, per early voting site, or per 100,000 active registered voters, whichever number is smaller.

BASH (on camera): I understand adding those two small counties. But what's the benefit of taking them away, in more populous areas?

RALSTON: I'm concerned that if you got them in, 30, 40, 50, 60 locations, then you're - the security, in those, declines, diminishes, as you spread them out.

BASH (on camera): Fulton County will go from 38 drop boxes in 2020 to eight in future elections. What's the intent of that change?

DIAZ: Well it's to make it harder for people to vote. To put it simply, with less drop boxes that, gives, people less options to return their mail ballots.

BASH (voice-over): And in August, the State Election Board announced a review of election management, in Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta, an area where Biden won big.

While, Fulton has a history of issues with long lines, and slow reporting, a State Monitor found no evidence of dishonesty or fraud in 2020.

BASH (on camera): I spoke to Speaker Ralston, who says that the reason they're looking into Fulton County is because Fulton County is always full of problems, long lines, big issues.

REP. NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA): Fulton County was not alone in having issues on Election Day. But Fulton County is being targeted as the only county that is being investigated for election issues.

BASH (on camera): So, why do you think that is?

WILLIAMS: Fulton County has a number of Black and Brown voters, who show up, in large numbers, to vote for Democrats. This is all a partisan attempt, to come in, and try and take over the local Board of Elections, so that they can overturn election results, when they want.

BASH (on camera): The new State Election Board will get to choose election officials?

RALSTON: Yes. BASH (on camera): So, how is that not written to give Republicans influence, over the administration, the outcome, of elections, here in Georgia?

RALSTON: I think the Legislature having some appointing authority is perfectly legitimate. And because we represent the people of Georgia, and we're closer to the people of Georgia, in theory, at least, and we should be in practice, then the Secretary of State, then the Governor.

BASH (on camera): What will this new law mean for the protection of what people call election integrity?

VU: It basically takes it apart. It destroys it. It blows it up. American democracy is under enormous duress. And every time that we lose an election, we go out, and we change the laws, based on the whims of our constituents. That was unhealthy.

BASH (on camera): Is there any question in your mind that the changes to election law in Georgia happened because the Democrats won?

WILLIAMS: No doubt in my mind, Dana.

RALSTON: If we're suppressing the vote, in Georgia, we're not very good at it. In 2020, we had the highest turnout, in the history of this state, for a presidential election.

BASH (on camera): The criticism is it's because of that high turnout, that Republicans, here in the state, are changing the law, to make sure that the people who voted, especially for Democrats, can't vote as easily.

RALSTON: I have been in the General Assembly, here now, for 20-plus years. I cannot remember a session that followed a governor's election, or a presidential election, where we didn't come back, in the next session, and tweak our election law.

BASH (on camera): If this law had been in place, in Georgia, before the 2020 election, would President Biden have won Georgia?


WILLIAMS: I think there would have been people, who would have caved, and found the 11,000, whatever exact number Donald Trump was looking for. They would have found him those votes, and overturned the will of the people.

BASH (voice-over): Coming up!

BASH (on camera): And with the changes in the law, here in Arizona, is sowing confusion?

PERCY DEAL, ARIZONA VOTER: We have four pages, full pages, of new election laws, and we don't know what it is.





BASH (voice-over): Election Night 2020 in Maricopa County, Arizona.




BASH (voice-over): Trump supporters outside. Votes being counted inside.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we are just being told that this building is now going to close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who thinks we're going to win Arizona tomorrow?


LAH: The work here isn't stopping. There are no problems inside. The problems are happening outside.



BASH (voice-over): The votes were counted and certified.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST, DON LEMON TONIGHT: Joe Biden will win Arizona.


BASH (voice-over): For just the second time, in more than 70 years, a Democrat would win the state. Arizona was no longer reliably Red.


And Republicans, still in charge of the Legislature, went to work, proposing new ways, to change the state's election laws, like one that said, any time before the presidential inauguration, the Legislature, quote, "May revoke the Secretary of State's issuance or certification of a presidential elector's certificate of election." In English, allow the Legislature to overturn the election.

That bill, which did not become law, was proposed by a Republican, now running to be Arizona's next Secretary of State. One of her opponents in that race, Republican State Senator, Michelle Ugenti-Rita, also sponsored election legislation, which did become law.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R-AZ): And I'm proud to sign this bill into law.


BASH (voice-over): That has to do with mail-in voting.

Before we explain the changes, a little context. Mail-in voting was big in 2020. But it's been huge in Arizona, for years.

DIAZ: Even before the pandemic, more than 70 percent of Arizona voters were voting by mail.

BASH (voice-over): Going forward, under the new Arizona law, if you do not use your early ballot, returning it by mail, or drop box, at least once in two consecutive election cycles, even if you did vote, in- person, during that time, county officials will send a notice, stating that within 90 days, you must confirm in writing, your desire, to remain on the early voting list. Otherwise, you will no longer automatically receive early ballots, unless you re-register.

BASH (on camera): Some experts, who we've talked to, say, removing occasional mail-in voters, from the list, could affect as many as 150,000 Arizonans.

UGENTI-RITA: They're not voting. These are non-voters. These are non- mail-in voters. These people have not shown an interest in voting by mail.

BASH (on camera): Has there been evidence of fraud with the permanent mail-in voting list?

UGENTI-RITA: Yes, there's been evidence of fraud. But there's also just common sense. Look, you want to make sure that you have important safeguards. It's why we have ID laws. And that's why the vast majority of the public supports ID laws.

BASH (on camera): How much fraud has there been? You said there was evidence.

UGENTI-RITA: Yes. Well talk to the A.G.'s office. I mean, when you're doing election law, it's important to have safeguards, so people have confidence in the outcome.

BASH (voice-over): I asked Arizona's current top election officer, now a Democratic candidate for governor.

BASH (on camera): The evidence of fraud here in Arizona is?

KATIE HOBBS, (D) ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: There's a few cases here and there, but not the kind of widespread fraud that folks are alleging that would change the outcome of the election.

The permanent early voter list was put in place by a Republican- majority Legislature, and has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, for years, in our state.

BASH (on camera): How worried are you about voter confusion, with the changes, in election laws?

HOBBS: I certainly think that's a huge problem that we're going to see, and that will impact voter turnout.

BASH (on camera): Do you vote in every election?

DEAL: Yes. Ever since I turned 18, I've been going to the election poll.

BASH (voice-over): Percy Deal has lived his entire life, on the Navajo Reservation. He's gotten used to voting by mail.

DEAL: I got to go, drive down to the post office, which is about 30 miles away, to pick up my ballot.

Last year, I participated in making sure that people were registered to vote.

BASH (on camera): And with the changes in the law, here in Arizona, is that sowing confusion?

DEAL: You know? I got this thing. And I assume this is coming from the governor's office. It says "Protecting Arizona voters." And it talks about Arizona election law. And there's this page. There's more. And there's more. And finally, we have four pages, full pages of new election laws. And we don't know what it is.

BASH (voice-over): He believes recent changes in the state's election laws target Arizona's Native American population, because they helped Joe Biden win the State and the White House.

DEAL: They're trying to make it extremely difficult for, and particularly the Navajo, to go to election, and cast their ballot.

ELIAS: How many people really pay attention, in their state, to every nit and jot (ph) of change of election laws? How many drop boxes you can have? What the hours are of operation? Whether or not a county that last year sent you an application, this year, can't send you an application, for a mail ballot?

So, the effect is going to be that fewer people are going to be able to vote. Fewer people will vote. More ballots won't count. And when you look at the totality of that, here's a prediction for you that I am certain is true. It's going to disproportionately affect voters of color and young voters.


BASH (voice-over): Coming up, a carnival, a Cyber Ninja, and a sham audit.


BASH (voice-over): The Arizona State Fairgrounds, buzzing with the sights and sounds of the "Crazy Times Carnival." That's outside.

But inside the Fairgrounds Coliseum, more than 2 million, 2020 ballots, cast in Maricopa County, one of the largest in the country.

It was for a sham audit. The county already completed their standard post-election real audit successfully. Yet the GOP-led State Senate demanded another.

LAH: Everything that we saw had the appearance of something legitimate. But then, if you look just a little bit harder, everything was a show. None of it was real.


There were these circle tables that were set up, with Lazy Susans that were divided by primary colors, it looked like my mom's favorite Chinese restaurant meets my kid's elementary classroom. That's exactly what it looked like.

BASH (voice-over): A process run by Cyber Ninjas, the CEO, Doug Logan, a tech executive, with a penchant, for pushing conspiracy theories online.

LAH: Almost none of them had any experience. But what they did have is a partisan beef, with the person, who won Maricopa County, in the 2020 election, Joe Biden.

They wanted Donald Trump to be president.

HELEN PURCELL, FORMER MARICOPA COUNTY RECORDER: It's not really an audit. It's people trying to say "We didn't get the result that we've learned from this election."

BASH (voice-over): For nearly 30 years, Helen Purcell, a lifelong Republican, helped oversee elections, in Maricopa County.

BASH (on camera): As somebody, who spent so long, working to make sure that voters in Maricopa County had confidence, in the election process, how does it make you feel to watch what's going on?

PURCELL: It really made me sick. Really did.

BASH (voice-over): GOP legislators in Arizona are not the only ones pressured to stir up doubt, about the 2020 election.

Former President Trump even demanded a partisan review in Texas. He won the state, but lost its big cities.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Greg Abbott, caving to Trump's demands, the state now auditing four counties, covering cities like Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Plano.

STATE REP. DAWN KEEFER (R-PA): We must take these steps and ensure public trust in our electoral system.


BASH (voice-over): Trump Republicans also pushed for sham audits, in other critical swing states, Trump lost, like Pennsylvania and Georgia.

JENNIFER MORRELL, ELECTION AUDIT EXPERT: My fear is, it's going to be used to just further create this division, keeping some people uncertain about whether they can trust the process or not.

BASH (voice-over): Election experts are screaming, from the rooftops, about fear for the bedrock of American democracy.

PURCELL: What's the voter out there going to say, when he looks back at this, when he thinks that of the next election? "Should I even vote? How can I trust the system that I'm going to use?"

BASH (voice-over): So, what's the answer?

DIAZ: There is one, I think, very clear and simple solution, to all of these problems. And that is federal intervention.

BASH (voice-over): The federal government stepped in, during the Civil Rights era, with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Among other things, it prohibited states, from denying a person, the right to vote, based on race or color. Yet, in 2013, the Supreme Court upended a major part of that law.

ANDERSON: It eviscerated one of its key components, which was preclearance. The thing about preclearance was that it said that before they could implement a new law, dealing with voting, or a new policy, dealing with voting, it had to be OKed first, by the U.S. Department of Justice, or by the federal court in D.C.

BASH (voice-over): That part of the law was meant to prevent states with a history of racial discrimination, from passing restrictive voting laws. And though Democrats are proposing voting bills that are broad in scope, many in Washington see reinstating preclearance, as the bare minimum, to addressing voting rights.

One bill is called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.


REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): I gave a little blood on this bridge.

BASH (on camera): You gave a lot of blood on this bridge.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH (voice-over): In 2018, I walked with him across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where he was beaten, almost to death, in a march, demanding voting rights.


BASH (on camera): Why is it so important to come back and to keep coming back every year?

LEWIS: It is a must to come back. This is the place that gave us the Voting Rights Act, made it possible for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to be able to participate in the democratic process.

WILLIAMS: We've taken action on climate change. We've taken action on police reform.


BASH (voice-over): Congresswoman Nikema Williams now represents John Lewis' Atlanta district, in the House of Representatives.

WILLIAMS: We have to have a standard way to access our democracy. And right now, we have seen state by state chip away at access to the ballot.


BASH (voice-over): Voting rights legislation used to pass Congress with big bipartisan majorities. Now, most Republicans oppose federal standards.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): This bill is yet another attempt at federal takeover of state and local elections.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This is a power grab. It's cynical. And it's wrong.


WILLIAMS: If it wasn't for the federal government, I wouldn't have the right, to vote in this country, as a Black woman. I wouldn't be serving, in the United States Congress. And so, we absolutely have an obligation, on the federal level, to step in, and make sure that there are standards, to our democracy, in this country.

BASH (on camera): There's a lot on the President's plate. There's a lot on Congress' plate.

Rank voting rights, with the other agenda items.

WILLIAMS: Voting rights is number one. It impacts every other issue that we could possibly care about, in this country. BASH (voice-over): Democracy's next big test is the 2022 midterm election. And watching, how these restrictive new laws play out, across the country, is more critical than ever.


LEMON: This is "DON LEMON TONIGHT." We have got breaking news, on the chaos, in Washington, right now.