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'It Feels More Desperate Than 2020': Attorney On New Voting Restrictions

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Georgia, Florida, Iowa and Montana - these are all states where, in recent months, governors have signed restrictive voting bills into law. Arizona, Texas and Ohio likely aren't far behind. In fact, in the first quarter of this year, legislators across the country have introduced 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions. Meanwhile, federal legislation aimed at making voting easier across the country is languishing in Congress. Marc Elias is an election law lawyer. He's a Democrat, and he filed a lawsuit challenging the new Florida voting law nine minutes after Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill. Marc Elias joins us now.

Welcome.

MARC ELIAS: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So let's just start with that Florida lawsuit. Is it true that you filed it nine minutes after the governor signed the bill into law?

ELIAS: We did. As you recall, he kept the - most of the media out of the signing. It was only...

CHANG: Fox News.

ELIAS: ...An exclusive for "Fox & Friends," but yes.

CHANG: And tell us on what grounds you're challenging that law.

ELIAS: So we're challenging the Florida law under the First and 14th Amendment to the Constitution - that these restrictions on voting make it harder for people to vote and make it harder for people who want to help people to vote really without any good reason to do so.

CHANG: Well, on top of this litigation, federal legislation could invalidate some of these measures that we are talking about. But just today, Senate Republicans pushed back pretty hard on that idea. Do you think passing federal legislation to make voting easier is even realistic right now?

ELIAS: I do think it's realistic, and I think it's necessary. The federal government plays a critical role in setting floors around voting. The federal government is the reason why we all vote on the same day, why there's a uniform election day. That's a federal law. The federal government passed a law that said that when you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agencies, you have an opportunity to register to vote. That's a part of federal law. The federal law set minimum standards for our military voters to receive absentee ballots. That's a federal law. So Congress and the federal government are playing an important role in setting minimum safeguards for voting.

CHANG: Right, but given how closely divided the Senate is, is it realistic to say that the kind of legislation you would like to see pass Congress is going to happen?

ELIAS: Sure. So it's already passed the House - a version of H.R. 1, the For the People Act. Earlier today, it was marked up in the Senate Rules Committee, and it will now go to the floor. And obviously, if 50 Democrats vote to pass that bill and find that it is not blocked by the filibuster, Kamala Harris can provide the deciding vote, and it can be signed into law.

CHANG: Why are you so optimistic about that House bill passing the Senate because Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia hasn't indicated that he supports getting rid of the filibuster? So how do you see that legislation getting through the Senate?

ELIAS: Look; when you're a voting rights lawyer in the age of Trump and now post-Trump, you have to be an optimist and hope that if people are put to the question of, should people vote, should people's vote be counted, should we have consent of the governed, that people will answer the question, yes. But that may just be more of a commentary on my state of mind than anything else.

CHANG: You've been an election lawyer for a very long time now. This is not the first time that we've talked to you about efforts to restrict access to voting. But I'm wondering, does this moment right now feel different to you in all your years litigating these issues?

ELIAS: It does. It feels more desperate in many respects than even it did in 2020 because, you know, Donald Trump is gone. And one might have hoped that the pathology that led to some of the anti-voting and voter suppression efforts would have gone with him. But instead, the big lie has now become orthodoxy in far too many corners of the Republican Party. You know, we're going to see the Republican House likely kick Congresswoman Cheney out of leadership for no offense other than saying that Joe Biden won the election. So the stakes feel very, very big as the big lie now becomes the policy of state after state in these new laws.

CHANG: That is Marc Elias, democratic election law lawyer.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

ELIAS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.