Let's be honest, America has a long history of vote suppression going back to the founding of the republic. It tends to come in waves, usually following one of our regular paroxysms of racist hysteria. In the bad old days of Jim Crow, vote suppression was enforced by physical violence. Thankfully that hasn't happened in recent years. But our current surge of suppressive activity includes various forms of intimidation, from unscrupulous "poll watchers" to armed guards patrolling voting places as well as lots of propaganda and disinformation to confuse voters and try to frighten them out of voting. The most aggressive forms of vote suppression we face today, however, remain the same as they ever were: The law is still used to make it difficult for people of color to vote.
In the wake of Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, Republicans have gone into overdrive, using his pathetic inability to admit he lost as an excuse to enact voting restrictions in the name of "restoring trust" in the electoral system. The Brennan Center reports that as of March 24, Republican legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states:
Most restrictive bills take aim at absentee voting, while nearly a quarter seek stricter voter ID requirements. State lawmakers also aim to make voter registration harder, expand voter roll purges or adopt flawed practices that would risk improper purges, and cut back on early voting. The states that have seen the largest number of restrictive bills introduced are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills). Bills are actively moving in the Texas and Arizona statehouses, and Georgia enacted an omnibus voter suppression bill last week.
Georgia and Arizona are both states Trump narrowly lost. Texas Republicans sense an ominous shift in power with the formerly GOP-voting white suburbs voting Democratic for the past few cycles. Georgia's bill has gotten the most national attention, largely because Trump's crude attempts to strongarm the Republican election officials into cheating on his behalf became big news. Rather than praising the integrity of their state's election process, the state Republican-controlled legislature reacted by making it harder to vote.
The resulting decision by major Georgia corporations Delta and Coca-Cola to publicly protest these moves and Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game to Denver shows the highly controversial nature of the state's actions. It's 2021 not 1921, and a majority of the public does not approve of these actions. If corporations care about their brand and their bottom line they can't afford to not weigh in. These undemocratic, racist policies are being enacted after 60 years of public awareness of voting rights as a moral issue in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and a majority of the country is appalled.
This seems to have confused the Republican party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the man who believes so strongly that corporations have a right to spend as much money as they choose to influence politics he took a case all the way to the Supreme Court, said on Monday, "my warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics!" He quickly added, "I'm not talking about political contributions," which is absurd. Basically, he is saying that corporations may support Republicans but not oppose them.
What this illustrates most vividly is not just the collapse of any ideological consistency in the Republican party — we've had plenty of examples of that recently — but also that their shamelessness knows no bounds. The power of that attitude is likely going to empower the GOP in ways that will test our democracy beyond the familiar vote suppression methods like intimidation.
The New York Times' Nate Cohn wrote a controversial analysis of the Georgia voting law that seemed to give short shrift to the immorality and total unacceptability of its attack on voting rights because it may have the unintended effect of boosting turnout among Democrats as a backlash ensues. It was a thoughtless take in many ways, suggesting somehow that the opportunity costs of voting rights groups having to expend massive amounts of energy and Black voters having to jump through ridiculous hoops, particularly based upon the lie that they are cheaters who must be restrained, was good for them. Voting should be simple, easy and accessible for every eligible citizen. All of these restrictions are nothing more than undemocratic, racist attempts by Republicans to hold on to power, even in the minority, by any means necessary. So Cohn wrote a follow-up analysis that makes a number of very important observations about the Republican efforts to hold on to power. In it he wonders what would have happened if Donald Trump had been successful in his attempt to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" the 11,789 voted he "needed"? We don't know. But we do know that Georgia has moved to make it more likely that someone will succeed in the future:
[T]rying to reverse an election result without credible evidence of widespread fraud is an act of a different magnitude than narrowing access. A successful effort to subvert an election would pose grave and fundamental risks to democracy, risking political violence and secessionism.
Beyond any provisions on voting itself, the new Georgia election law risks making election subversion easier. It creates new avenues for partisan interference in election administration.
Cohn goes into the details of the bill, showing exactly how it might have been used to overturn the 2020 election on Trump's behalf. It's chilling. And it's happening all over the country, not just in Georgia. He recalls that after the November election, "a majority of Republican members of Congress and state attorneys general signed on to efforts that would have invalidated millions of votes and brought about a constitutional crisis."
As we know, Trump had it in his head on January 6th that the vice president could refuse to certify the election and "send it back" to the state legislatures because someone told him they might overturn the results. That belief didn't come out of nowhere. The concept that state legislatures have supremacy over the state courts and other officials is one that's gaining currency on the right since they have managed to gerrymander themselves into majorities in many states. In places like Wisconsin if a Democrat wins the governorship they simply pass veto-proof laws that remove the governor's powers to do much of anything, In Kentucky last month, Mitch McConnell worked with the Republican-controlled legislature to remove the power of the sitting Democratic governor to name a temporary replacement to the Senate should the seat become vacant. It too was passed over the governor's veto.
This behavior demonstrates that they would not have any reluctance to use their power to overturn elections either. They are quite clearly setting the table to enact an "Independent State Legislature Doctrine" that would make that much more possible. Election expert Richard Hasen calls this "a ticking time bomb."
Unfortunately, as Nate Cohn points out, the big voting rights bills in Congress don't address this problem at all. The "For the People Act" was conceived before the 2020 election debacle and I don't think anyone anticipated Republicans' actions would be quite this extreme. The Democrats need to consider how to deal with it or all the provisions to protect voting won't be worth anything if partisan state legislatures have the power to throw out their votes after they've been counted.