A Republican lawyer who advised Donald Trump on his campaign to overturn the 2020 election results is now playing a central role coordinating the Republican effort to tighten voting laws around the country.
The moves comes as Trump himself signaled his support for new Republican-pushed legislation in Georgia which critics have slammed as being a major blow to voting rights for communities of color, especially Black voters. Joe Biden called the Georgia laws “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity”.
But Trump, whose grip on the Republican party remains strong, welcomed the Georgia developments. “Congratulations to Georgia and the Georgia state legislature on changing their voter rules and regulations,” Trump said in a statement through his Pac, Save America, which repeated his baseless allegation that fraud was a factor in his election loss to Biden. “They learned from the travesty of the 2020 presidential election, which can never be allowed to happen again. Too bad these changes could not have been done sooner!”
Trump is still a dominant force among the party’s Republican base and his backing for clamping down on voting rights – and the involvement of people close to him – reveal the likely future direction of the party as it faces up to diversifying demographic trends in America at odds with its mostly white support.
Cleta Mitchell, a longtime Republican lawyer and advocate for conservative causes, was among the Trump advisers on a January phone call in which Trump asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him, and not Biden, the winner of the battleground state.
Now Mitchell has taken the helm of two separate efforts to push for tighter state voting laws and to fight Democratic efforts to expand access to the ballot at the federal level. She is also advising state lawmakers crafting the voting restriction proposals. And she is in regular contact with Trump.
“People are actually interested in getting involved and we have to harness all this energy,” Mitchell said in an interview with the Associated Press. “There are a lot of groups that have projects on election integrity that never did before.”
Trump’s false claims of fraud during and after the 2020 election have fueled a wave of new voting restrictions.
More than 250 proposed voting restrictions have been proposed this year by mostly Republican lawmakers, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
On Thursday, Georgia’s GOP governor signed into law a measure requiring voters to present ID to vote by mail, gives the GOP-controlled state legislature new powers over local elections boards and outlaws providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote.
In response, Democrats have stepped up the push for a massive federal election overhaul bill. That proposal, known as HR1, would effectively neuter state-level voter ID laws, allow anyone to vote by mail if they wanted to and automatically register citizens to vote. Republicans view that as an encroachment on state control over elections and say it is designed to give Democrats an advantage.
“The left is trying to dismantle 100 years of advancement in election administration,” Mitchell said, expressing bafflement at Democrats’ charges that Republicans are trying to suppress votes. “We’re watching two different movies right now.”
Mitchell’s most public involvement in the voting wars came in participation on Trump’s call to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, on 2 January. During that call, Mitchell insisted she had evidence of voting fraud, but officials with the secretary of state’s office told her that her data was incorrect.
Mitchell has two new roles in an emerging conservative voting operation. She’s running a $10m initiative at the limited government group FreedomWorks to both push for new restrictions in voting and help train conservatives to get involved in the nuts and bolts of local elections.
She’s also a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization run by former Republican Senator Jim DeMint. She says she’ll use that role to “coordinate” conservative voting positions, particularly in opposition to HR 1.
Mitchell, 70, has links to other influential players in the conservative movement and serves as outside counsel to the American Legislative Exchange Committee, a conservative group that provides model legislation to state lawmakers and organized a call with state lawmakers and Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, on opposing HR 1.
Mitchell told the Associated Press she’s been talking regularly with Republican state lawmakers about the need for new election laws. She would not identify whom she speaks with but said it’s been a longtime passion.
She similarly would not detail her conversations with Trump or say whether they involved the new voting fights. “I’m in touch with the president fairly frequently,” she said of Trump.
Repeated audits have shown no significant problems with the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters lost more than 50 court cases challenging its results.