Republicans Are Destroying Democracy…Precinct by Precinct
An overview of the GOP assault on voting
Republicans have decided that the party has no future if it must rely on developing policies that attract new voters. At the moment, its base consists primarily of older white evangelical men without a college education. Groups who vote Democratic are growing while the GOP base is getting smaller. What’s a political party that has no message and no policy proposals (at least none that resonate with most Americans) and is shedding voters to do? The GOP has concluded that it can only retain the reins of power by rigging elections. It is doing so in an energetic way.
The Brennan Center for Justice has been tracking GOP anti-voting efforts closely:
“Overall, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.” These laws fall into several categories.
Attacks on Availability of Mail-In Voting
Mail-in voting has been targeted by GOP legislatures with special vigor. Republicans once favored mail-in voting. Myrna Pérez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program points out: “Absentee ballots have been largely uncontroversial when they were used by older, whiter, Republican-leaning Americans,” but “as soon as communities of color started [using them] … we’re starting to see restrictions.”
In Florida, Republicans promoted mail-in voting because their supporters tended to be older and more affluent. The party liked that it was relatively easy to contact voters to assure they had sent in their ballots. Republicans embraced a change in the law in 2002 that allowed voters to get a mail-in ballot simply by asking.
In the past several elections, though, the party has seen the Democrats make good use of mail-in ballots. As FiveThirtyEight reported, Biden won the absentee vote in 14 out of the 15 states for which it had mail-in vs election day voting data, while Trump won the election day vote in 14 out of the 15. Mail-in ballots, then, have become the basis for Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. The GOP is now intent on restraining a voting method that it once saw as increasing ballot access for its own voters.
At least a dozen states have passed restrictions that will make mail-in voting more difficult. These restrictions include reducing the time during which voters can request mail-in ballots (Georgia seeks to cut it in half), prohibiting the state from sending unsolicited ballots, changing to earlier deadlines for requesting mail-in ballots, and new or stricter ID requirements for mail-in ballots.
Election Day Voting Barriers
Several states are making in-person voting more difficult through new and even stricter ID requirements. In addition reducing polling places, reducing polling place hours, reducing the availability of ballot drop boxes, and denying local election boards the ability to set their own polling practices will make it tougher to cast a ballot on election day. (Reducing polling places has been a favorite tactic of Republican legislators and election officials for years. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the U.S. had more than 132,000 polling places; by the time Donald Trump ascended to the White House, eight years later, more than 15,000 of them had been closed nationwide.) Leaving no anti-democracy stone unturned, Florida and Georgia have passed laws that make it illegal to provide snacks or water for voters standing in long voting lines.
Registering to Vote Will Be More Difficult
Barriers to voter registration are being proposed in at least six states. Minnesota and Rhode Island would require an ID simply to register to vote. Other bills remove or restrict the ability to register on Election Day.
Voter Purges are A Favorite Tool
Expanding voter purges increases confusion among voters as to whether they are registered or not. That is apart from many states’ tendencies to kick legitimate voters off the rolls. In 2019, Ohio purged 235K voters from registration rolls due to voting inactivity. Just about 20% of those voters, about 40K of them, were purged in error. Ohio’s process for identifying and correcting purge list errors is to “crowdsource” the activity: the state makes the purge rolls available to the public and invites us to look over the hundreds of thousands of names and catch the errors. At that, Ohio is ahead of other states that don’t bother to make the lists of purged voters available. Most of Ohio’s errors were caught by organizations and even private individuals who pored over the purge rolls. It’s likely that other states engaged in the same activity will learn a lesson from Ohio: don’t release the purge rolls to the public.
State Republicans Are Taking Over Elections
Perhaps more troubling than even these efforts to restrict access to ballots are Republican maneuvers to overtly control and manipulate the voting process. Worse, legislatures would have the power to simply refuse to certify any election results they didn’t like.
Twenty states are proposing legislation that would give more power to poll watchers and vote challengers while eliminating non-partisan challengers. Georgia has already passed legislation that gives poll watchers access to voters at any point apart from allowing them into the voting booth. As the rights of poll watchers are expanded, their ability to approach and even intimidate voters is increased. Texas election officials already suffer harassment by poll watchers. As the number of poll watchers and challengers increases, the work of election officials overseeing them is subject to more disruption.
Republicans in several states are proposing harsh penalties for small technical mistakes on the part of election officials. A Texas proposal would impose criminal penalties on any election official found to have obstructed the view of a poll watcher.
Other laws allow legislatures to step in and reverse election board decisions or election results that they don’t like. Arkansas’ SB 644 is one such law: “[SB644 will] allow a legislative committee to investigate election complaints and allow that committee to refer election complaints to the state Board of Election Commissioners, controlled by Republicans. The board could take over the conduct of local elections if it deems there’s an “’ appearance’ of an unfair election.”
A Georgia law allows the legislature to suspend election officials for any infraction, even if it is inadvertent. It’s not difficult to imagine that these two states and others will keep changing and adding to election laws making it all but impossible to comply with them. In three states, legislatures would have final authority over the certification of an election. These bills raise the alarming prospect that legislatures could disrupt elections to make the work of local election officials impossible. Given that poll watchers and challengers are appointed by the parties and candidates in many states, the potential for serious disruption of the voting process is apparent.
An important reason that last year’s elections went relatively smoothly was the successful recruitment of large numbers of poll workers. It will be more difficult to get poll workers when potential volunteers are increasingly afraid that they’ll be harassed as they do their work and possibly fined and jailed for small infractions. The disruption and delays in voting that will result are intentional on the part of the Republicans passing these laws.
Attacks On Voting Are Unprecedented
Altogether, these attacks on voting are not like anything the country has seen since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. They are motivated by a simple desire to retain power that will be used to sustain the suffering of marginalized groups and redistributing wealth to Republican’s benefactors. Failure to thwart conservative’s aims on this front could lead to years of fraudulent elections that favor the GOP. The States United Democracy Center insists:
“This is a disaster in the making, one that could potentially unravel much of the progress American democracy has made over centuries toward fairer, more open, more inclusive election processes. Our democracy both deserves and requires a better, and less politically motivated, approach.”