Sometimes the threat to democracy takes the form of a violent mob, incited by the president himself, ransacking the halls of government, invading the floors of the US House and Senate, and disrupting the constitutionally mandated Electoral College count.
Other times, democracy can be subverted through the legal and political process by lawmakers who assert groundless claims of “voter fraud” and “stolen” elections, support lawsuits that seek to nullify legitimate election results, and back efforts in Congress not to certify electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania when the people’s will differs from their own.
Amped up by lies about “voter fraud” and urged by their leaders to “stop the steal,” the first mob staged a bloody insurrection in which five people died. Then the second mob — 139 Republican members of the US House, a majority of the caucus — filed past bullet holes and broken glass and voted to endorse the big lie that those states somehow had been stolen from Donald Trump.
Glass can be replaced, security enhanced. But what if the more dangerous threat to our nation comes from the mob that would legally subvert free and fair elections? Even as the nation condemns the violent rioters, that other mob, the respectable one, has stayed busy working to remake electoral rules to their advantage in legislatures nationwide.
After fueling a phony narrative around voter fraud, many Republican legislators are orchestrating real suppression techniques that will disproportionately affect young and minority voters. Even before Joe Biden has been inaugurated, Republican-controlled state legislatures are seeking to capitalize on the misinformation they sowed as justification for rigorous new voter ID restrictions, new limitations on mail voting, and other unnecessary barriers to the ballot box — all of which will reverberate in their favor in 2022 and 2024.
Earlier this month, Republican legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan proposed reallocating their states’ electoral votes for the winner of each congressional district, with just the other two electors going to the statewide popular vote winner. Under this system, Trump could have earned a majority of electors even when he lost the states. Awarding electors this way would also heighten the impact of Republican gerrymanders in these states, which already provide them with an enduring advantage in both Congress and the state legislature. A New Hampshire Republican has introduced a similar bill that would probably siphon at least one elector to the GOP candidate, even though the state has gone blue in seven of the last eight presidential elections.
In Georgia, which turned blue at the presidential level for the first time since 1992 and elected two Democrats to the US Senate in a runoff this month, Republicans have declared that they want to eliminate no-excuse mail-in voting. Biden defeated Trump nearly 2 to 1 in mail-in votes.
They would also require additional photo ID verification for those who vote absentee — perhaps requiring mail voters to photocopy their driver’s license or other identification and return it with their ballot — and also put an end to drop boxes. Two state senate committees have already begun hearings, and Governor Brian Kemp has backed the efforts. Voting rights advocates, meanwhile, have warned that the new GOP restrictions would create disproportionate burdens for minority voters.
Republican lawmakers have also targeted one of their own: Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, whose office certified the results and oversaw a recount by hand, but held off an effort from the White House to interfere, and said that his team found no evidence of systemic voter fraud. And so some legislative Republicans have said that they will seek to make the secretary of state’s office a political appointee of the legislature. That would make the state’s chief election officer a wholly-owned subsidiary of lawmakers who seem to believe in free elections only when they come out ahead.
It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania — like Georgia, another swing state narrowly captured by Biden but with a gerrymandered state legislature dominated by Republicans. Seventy-five of those lawmakers signed a letter to the state’s congressional delegation asking them to block the state’s electoral votes from being cast for Biden, the duly-certified winner, in effect nullifying the election and replacing the voters’ will with their own.
That gambit failed. But these lawmakers have also proposed a series of additional restrictions at home. They include a repeal of the state’s mail-in voting provision and also additional, burdensome ID requirements. Two other bills would add additional signature verification on absentee ballots; multiple studies have shown that valid signatures of Black and first-time voters are most likely to be wrongly disqualified, often using faulty matching technology.
In closely contested Minnesota, a Republican lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require voter ID for both in-person and mail-in balloting, arguing that “millions of Americans believe there was widespread fraud during the last election” as his justification. Belief, of course, does not make it so.
In Texas (like Georgia, home to a rapidly changing electorate), Republicans are looking to make it tougher to vote in a state already known as one of the most restrictive. The chairman of the state GOP made clear a new assault on voting rights would be his party’s top priority in 2021. There are already a dozen bills circulating in Austin. One bill would prohibit counties from sending absentee ballot applications to every registered voter, an apparent response to Harris County officials who drove turnout and made voting safer and more convenient by doing that amid a pandemic.
Our states do not have a problem with voter fraud. They do, however, have a problem with Republicans propagating false narratives of stolen elections, all to justify enacting additional restrictions that further rig the rules to their advantage. That mob is already inside the House.
David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.”