A veritable who's who of the right-wing community working to promote voter suppression and disinformation gathered in San Diego, CA on December 1st to discuss the 2022 election, according to a recording of the event obtained by Documented.

This marks the first time, to our knowledge, that a recording has been published from inside one of these sessions. The private, invite-only meeting organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), marked the latest work of ALEC's somewhat mysteriously sounding "Process Working Group" which focuses on election and democracy issues.

A Cross Section of Trump-World Voter Suppressors

According to details of the meeting first revealed by the Center for Media and Democracy, speakers included former Trump campaign lawyer Cleta Mitchell, Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, and J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation.

Hogan Gidley, the former Trump White House Deputy Press Secretary, was also in attendance. Gidley is now the director of the Center for Election Integrity at America First Policy Institute, a Trump-world group, which Axios reported includes Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump as informal advisors. According to CNBC, Donald Trump spoke at a November 2021 gala held by the group at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Seth Grove, the Pennsylvania legislator who coordinated efforts to encourage Congress to reject Biden's victory in his state, also rubbed shoulders with like-minded individuals like Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, who led the charge for the election audit in Arizona, which she recounted in some detail at the meeting.

Fann was also joined by her colleague Rep. Mark Finchem who Donald Trump recently endorsed for Arizona Secretary of State. According to the Arizona Republic, Finchem espouses QAnon conspiracy theories, was in D.C. on January 6th for the "Stop the Steal" rally, and maintains that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Finchem was not the only state legislator with eyes on overseeing their state’s elections. Idaho State Senator Mary Souza, who is also running for Secretary of State, praised the work of ALEC Action and the Heritage Foundation on election issues at the meeting whose speakers also included Kurt Couchman from the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity.

Corporations Quit ALEC in 2012 Over Its Voter Suppression Work

Documented first revealed the existence of the Process Working Group, which isn't listed anywhere on the ALEC website, in June 2020. The group marks the rebirth of earlier voter suppression efforts by ALEC, which dropped its Public Safety and Election Task Force in 2012 following a backlash from corporate donors triggered by activist pressure in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

The 2012 announcement from ALEC came following pressure over its promotion of Stand Your Ground and Voter ID legislation, both of which disproportionally impact minority communities. Both these bills were the product of the Public Safety and Election Task Force, and ALEC promised to refocus its work on economic issues. By then, corporations like McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Pepsi had all ended their funding.

This isn't the first time since then that ALEC has re-engaged with democracy issues. In 2017, it adopted model legislation: Draft Resolution Recommending Constitutional Amendment Restoring Election of U.S. Senators to The Legislatures of the Sovereign States. That model bill calls for the repeal of the 17th amendment, which provides for U.S. Senators to be elected by the people, which ALEC argues "disenfranchised the sovereign States."

Under that ALEC model, Senate elections would no longer be on the ballot, and instead it would be state legislators (ALEC members) who would pick a state's Senators. Under the language of the bill, legislators would be able to "issue instructions to" those Senators, or recall them if they were displeased at any time. It's hard to overstate how regressive this would be for our democracy, and the obvious impact it would have on our politics. It's a remarkably radical idea, and it's the formal policy of ALEC, a group funded by many major U.S. corporations.

While elections to the U.S. Senate are a state-wide vote, legislative maps can be gerrymandered to provide a party with disproportionate power compared to the votes they receive. This has happened frequently in recent years. In Wisconsin in 2018, the Democrats won every single state wide office that November, and received 53% of the votes in the Assembly elections. Despite this, because of how the maps were drawn, the Republicans came out with 63 of the 99 seats. Redistricting was discussed at the meeting, and there is more on that below.

Trump World offers to provide "cover" for legislators pushing voter suppression

"You can't continue to get the policies you want enacted unless you're elected," said Hogan Gidley.

For most of Trump's term in the White House, Gidley was a senior staffer, before he became the Trump 2020 election campaign National Press Secretary. He's now running the Center for Election Integrity at the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a group with deep ties to Trump world and to many of the other speakers at the meeting.

Gidley was at the ALEC meeting to pitch AFPI's list of voter suppression tactics, and to offer help to protect or reward legislators who push them.

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley speaking with attendees at a campaign event with Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump at Mountain Shadows Resort Scottsdale in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore

The AFPI Center for Election Integrity has developed a list of policies - "25 things" as Gidley put it - that legislators and others could do around elections. Gidley was there to pitch that list. "We have to step up and hold people to account. And that's where you guys come in. And that's where our partnership, I think, is so vital and so important."

That AFPI policies include banning the use of absentee ballots for most people, blocking any ballots received after election day from being counted, eliminating the use of ballot drop boxes, banning same day voter registration, and introducing a 30-day before election day cut-off date for voter registrations.

"You're going to be called all the bad names in the book. All the 'ists', the racists, the segregationists, the suppressionists, the fascists, all the bad things," Gidley warned the assembled ALEC legislators.

One of the reasons we wanted to come to ALEC was to embrace not just what you guys are doing, but to hear back what else we can do to help you in the fight because we know we need to provide cover because you're going to be attacked, we know that.

What's the best way to provide cover? Is it us coming in and helping you do some rallies? Is it us coming in, doing some radio hits, some television hits, et cetera, et cetera? You can forget the national media because they're not going to help us and they don't care. But the local folks are where we think we can do the best work with y'all to try to get things accomplished.
Hogan Gidley, America First Policy Institute, speaking at ALEC on Dec 1, 2021

America First Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that describes itself as being a "non-partisan research institute." It recently forged a new close relationship with America First Works, a dark money group. Ashley Hayek, simultaneously the President of America First Works, and the Chief Engagement Officer of America First Policy Institute, told CNBC that the new relationship means America First Works is “an extension of AFPI."

Carrie Levine at the Center for Publicly Integrity recently obtained the America First Works 2020 tax filing, which listed grants from the group to a number of organizations that push voter suppression legislation and other tactics that undermine democracy.

The grants included $4.75m to the Honest Election Project, a group that promotes a range of policies that would make it harder to vote, and almost a million dollars to Heritage Action for America. Earlier this year, Documented obtained the recording of a Heritage Action donor presentation, in which the group outlined its leadership role in promoting the 2020 wave of state level voter suppression we have seen in legislation in Iowa, Georgia, Texas, and Florida. A Heritage Action campaign plan for its election project, obtained by Documented, named ALEC as one of its project partners.

America First Works also gave $100k to Moms for America, one of the named sponsors of the "Rally to Save America," in Washington D.C., which proceeded the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

You can listen to Gidley's full presentation here:

Rigging elections through Redistricting

Democrats made Texas' House a primary target last cycle. They managed to lose seats. So what happened this time though is Republicans went in, redrew the Senate and House maps and really took the chambers out of play for the foreseeable future.

The state Senate: Texas Republicans picked up four more seats and dropped the number of Democrats in competitive seats by two each. In the House picked up a whopping 12 reliable Republican districts. Dropped the number [of Democrats] in the House by five and dropped the number of seats down to seven. So even if the Democrats won all nine of those competitive seats they'd still be in an eight seat minority in the state of Texas. So that's what we're seeing across the board
Adam Kincaid, Fair Lines America

Adam Kincaid, the Executive Director of Fair Lines America, gave a presentation on the state of redistricting around the country.

Kincaid painted a picture of redistricting as a process that is highly partisan, with both parties doing what they can to protect their own interests and limit the number of competitive seats where opponents could mount a realistic challenge.

His presentation was a pretty good argument for redistricting reform. The For the People Act (HR1), currently stalled in Congress, contains a provision requiring states establish independent redistricting commissions, which would limit the power of partisan hacks to rig our electoral maps. According to to the Brennan Center, the redistricting reforms in HR1 would "ban partisan gerrymandering by prohibiting adoption of any map that has the intent or effect of 'unduly favoring or disfavoring' one political party over another."

Kincaid signed on to a memo published by the Conservative Action Project, opposing HR1 in 2019, which they referred to as a "Fantasy of the left." Other signatories on that memo include Lisa Nelson, ALEC's CEO, as well as Cleta Mitchell, Hans A. von Spakovsky, Trent England, and J. Christian Adams, all of whom spoke at the San Diego meeting.

Fair Lines America claims on its website to be a "nonpartisan organization" that supports "fair and legal redistricting" and makes "strategic investments in redistricting-related reforms and litigation."

In addition to his role with Fair Lines American, Kincaid is also the Executive Director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, which describes its role more straightforwardly as coordinating "the GOP’s 50-state redistricting effort."

According to Kincaid, 25 states are now done with their reapportionment. Others are still drawing their maps, and some are with the courts for a variety of reasons. The Brennan Center has a great tracker of where each state is at. According to Kincaid, in many of the states where the maps are now complete, both parties have used their power to try to maximize political advantage. That means drawing district lines to secure reliably safe seats for their own party, while also reducing the number of competitive seats where the other party might realistically challenge.

So as far as what we're seeing overall with the congressional maps. So far, of the 25 states that have been complete before redistricting, before reapportionment there were 158 seats in those states. Now there are 161.

We're seeing that the number of Republican seats, so reliably Republican districts has gone from 70 to 84. So the floor for the right is going up.

Democrats have picked up four reliably Democratic seats over the same period of time, and then 15 have dropped. So the competitive seats have dropped from 40 down to 25 in those 25 states. And we're seeing this trend from state to state. It's not just in the red states, it's in the blue states as well. Illinois and Oregon are good examples of where Democrats are trying to make seats as uncompetitive as possible as well.
Adam Kincaid, Fair Lines America

Part of Kincaid's work involves providing support to litigation, and he predicts that this cycle will see more litigation than ever before. "There's going to be a lawsuit in every single state over their maps," he said.

You can listen to Kincaid's full presentation here:

Connecting voter fraud myths to Fox News school board protest lies

Commissioner Christy McCormick of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission appeared thrilled that the HR1/For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act have both stalled in Congress.

”Those bills are chock full of all kinds of ideas, desires of the of the left on how to federalize elections,” McCormick complained. “The Constitution leaves the conduct of elections to the states and that's the legislators, you, the elected representatives of the people.”

After dismissing national election protections in HR1, McCormick then suggested they might want to come up with their own uniform national standards. “Republicans should possibly consider some sort of a model election uniform election code. I don't know if that would work, but it's something to consider,” she said.

Christy McCormick speaking at The 2020 Elections Disability, Accessibility and Security Forum in Washington on February 20, 2020.
Christy McCormick speaking at The 2020 Elections Disability, Accessibility and Security Forum in Washington on February 20, 2020. PHOTO BY YURI GRIPAS. PUBLISHED BY THE U.S. ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION

McCormick told the legislators that the Biden administration won't be prosecuting any voter fraud cases. "I can tell you, the current AG's office and Department of Justice is not going to get involved in that. So you need to look at that," she said.

If you were playing the right wing conspiracy theory drinking game, it would be time to take another shot. You also might be quite drunk at this point. McCormick pivoted to saying that although voter fraud isn't (she claimed) being prosecuted, large numbers of people on the right are being targeted as domestic terrorists.

This isn't true, of course. McCormick was repeating a right-wing conspiracy theory (it's really an outright lie) circulating on Fox News and elsewhere claiming Attorney General Merrick Garland called parents attending school board meetings "domestic terrorists." Ted Cruz has been a leader in pushing this false narrative.

"The feds," McCormick said are now "coming after anyone on the right, however, and defining us as domestic terrorists and a threat to democracy, which is kind of scary because once they do that, they can justify doing anything to us.”

“But, you know, it is what it is,” McCormick concluded.

You can listen to McCormick's full presentation here: