State Watch

On The Trail: GOP’s tyranny of the minority

A "Vote" sign
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Republican lawmakers in Washington and around the country are increasingly embracing measures to limit voting access after losing the highest-turnout election in American history.

The party’s embrace of restrictive new measures and rollbacks of popular vote-by-mail and early voting programs that enjoyed bipartisan support just a few years ago is a reflection of the new incentive structure facing the Grand Old Party.

Rather than recalibrating positions after an electoral loss to better appeal to the vast middle, Republicans today appear to see more advantage in excluding as many voters as possible from communities likely to vote Democratic.

In Georgia, the GOP-controlled state House this week voted to strictly limit absentee and early voting.

In Arizona, the Republican-controlled state Senate approved a measure to remove voters from a permanent absentee ballot list if they do not vote in two consecutive elections. Republicans are working on another measure to end the permanent list altogether.

In Missouri, the Republican-controlled state House began considering a measure to require identification when casting an absentee ballot. And Montana’s Republican-led state House approved new limits on those who can collect absentee ballots on behalf of voters.

Overall, more than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would restrict access to the ballot box.

The moves to restrict votes came against the backdrop of the Democratic-controlled U.S. House on Wednesday night passing the broadest overhaul of national voting laws since the Voting Rights Act, expanding voter registration and access through widespread use of early and absentee voting while limiting a state’s ability to purge voters from its rolls. No Republicans supported the measure.

“What Democrats are doing is consistent with longstanding American values of treating all citizens equally and ensuring that they have equal voting power and influence, and what Republicans are trying to do is classic authoritarian democratic backsliding like you see in places like Hungary and Poland and Turkey and Venezuela,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the think tank New America.

Republican opposition to expanding voting rights reflects the current complexion of the two major party coalitions: Republicans are earning a growing share of the vote among older whites and rural residents, who face fewer impediments to voting and ballot access than the younger, more diverse communities that form the cornerstone of the Democratic Party.

In recent years, Republicans have relied on those voters to hand them power disproportionate to their share of the electorate.

Republican presidential candidates have carried the popular vote just once in the last eight elections, but the Electoral College has handed Republican presidents three terms over that stretch. Republicans have held control of the U.S. Senate for 18 of the last 40 years, though they have accounted for a majority of the popular vote for only two of those 40 years, and they have represented a majority of Americans for only two of those 40 years.

Republicans have wielded their majorities to install a six-vote majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. That majority has struck down key elements of the Voting Rights Act, and it appeared receptive to further restrictions on voting rights during oral arguments this week.

Study after study has demonstrated that restrictions on voting disproportionately impact minorities and low-income voters, who are less likely to have a government-issued identification and more likely to have to wait in line at a polling place. Women, minorities and people with disabilities are more likely to have their signatures on absentee ballots challenged. A new study out last month from researchers at Yale, Harvard and Penn found minorities were disproportionately likely to be incorrectly purged from Wisconsin voter rolls in recent years.

On the other hand, study after study has shown there is no widespread voter fraud in the United States. One review conducted by Loyola Law School elections expert Justin Levitt of elections between 2000 and 2014, in which a collective 1 billion ballots were cast, found a grand total of 31 different incidents of fraud. In 2016, four instances of fraud were discovered among the 135 million ballots cast.

Though it is vanishingly rare, voter and election fraud isn’t entirely made up.

Former Rep. Steve Watkins, a Republican, reached a plea deal with prosecutors this week after he voted fraudulently in 2019. A North Carolina Republican operative was indicted in 2019 in connection with a ballot-tampering scheme. An Iowa woman was arrested for voting twice for President Trump in 2016. A Pennsylvania man cast his dead mother’s ballot for Trump in 2020.

The only potentially illegal vote identified so far in Georgia in 2020 belonged to Lin Wood, Trump’s conspiracy theory-spouting lawyer who is under investigation after he told a reporter he was living across state lines in South Carolina.

Some leading Republicans have made it clear that it is expressly against their interest to count every vote.

“If Republicans don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there will never be another Republican president elected again,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News days after the 2020 election.

Democracy advocates around the globe have taken note of what’s happening in America, seeing it as a slide away from the nation’s former position as the lodestar of democratic ideals.

Freedom House, a nongovernmental organization founded by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, gives the United States a democracy score of 83 out of 100, on par with Panama, Romania and South Korea and far below Western European nations. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2020 rates the United States as a “flawed democracy,” ranked around Portugal, Estonia and notoriously ungovernable Italy. The Global State of Democracy Initiative rates America as only a mid-range performance democracy.

“By every major indicator of democratic health and by every international ranking, American democracy is sliding to really flawed democracy levels, increasingly flirting with competitive authoritarian levels,” Drutman said. “At some point it will be hard to call some of the states democracies if the anti-democratic restrictions being proposed in many state legislatures pass.”



Tags Arizona Donald Trump Georgia Lindsey Graham Montana Steve Watkins voter fraud voting rights

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