HOUSTON -- A bipartisan group of mayors said Tuesday that whatever political differences they might have, they are united in fighting against recent voting restrictions enacted in some Republican-controlled states that they view as an attack on democracy.
The mayors spoke at the National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voting Rights, a three-day conference held in Houston to discuss strategies on promoting voter rights education. A similar conference was first held last year in Denver.
"We are all standing together, Democrats and Republicans... to say that the (voting) infrastructure should be non-partisan. The campaigns can go and do what they do, but the infrastructure, our democracy is non-partisan," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, said on Tuesday, which was also National Voter Registration Day in the U.S. Turner was part of the group of mayors -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- who co-hosted the event.
John Giles, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Arizona, said his state has introduced hundreds of pieces of election and voter related legislation since the 2020 election, prompted in part by disinformation on election integrity. Former President Donald Trump's campaign unsuccessfully tried to push officials in Arizona to help him overturn his loss in the state.
"This is not unique to Arizona. This a corrosive trend in states across our United States," Giles said. "We're all here because we agree with and want to support election integrity."
The conference, which began Monday, comes as Republican lawmakers around the country have tightened voting rules, an effort that has been fueled in part by false claims from Trump and his allies about widespread fraud. Voter fraud is rare, typically occurs in isolated instances and is generally detected.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said 34 states, including Texas, Florida and Georgia, have passed new voting restriction laws since the 2020 election. He said such legislation threatens the right for many to vote, including during the upcoming Nov. 8 midterm elections.
One of the Arizona officials who Trump tried to pressure was state House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who spoke at the conference and recounted for those in attendance his interactions with the former president. It was a topic Bowers had previously described to the Jan. 6 committee in June.
Bowers said that in addition to focusing on registering people to vote, officials and others need to also teach people "what is at stake. What do we have together that we need to keep alive?"
"What is the value of a nation that is divided versus the value and strength of a nation that recognizes that unity, the value of unity is more important than almost anything, to hold us together," Bowers said.
At a Tuesday press conference in Austin, Texas Secretary of State John Scott said the new voting requirements the state enacted in 2021 "ensure that we can have confidence on the way that elections are conducted."
Scott pushed back on criticism that the new laws would hinder voter participation, saying the state is nearing 18 million registered voters--a record high-- and "the proof is in the pudding, the people who want to vote get out and vote."
Michael Thompson, 22, from Miami, said he believes people from his generation are concerned about recently passed voting restrictions and that those new laws along with abortion rights and student loan forgiveness will be issues that will prompt younger voters to go to the polls in November.
"It's time to have our voice heard. I see a lot of older people always making decisions for us. We definitely need to have a seat at the table," said Thompson, who is currently studying for a master's degree in public health at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Associated Press reporter Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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