Mellman: Enemies of democracy

Republicans probably don’t think of themselves as enemies of democracy. And many aren’t.

But notwithstanding their self-perception, the actions of some GOPers put our democracy at grave risk.

Robert Dahl, the preeminent theorist of democracy, identified “voting equality” as  one of its central criteria — “each member must be ensured an equal opportunity to express a choice that will be counted as equal in weight to the choice expressed by any other member.”


Yet, Republicans have worked to suppress the votes of some groups, rendering their ability to express a choice and have it counted less than equal.

For example, Kenneth Mayer of the University of Wisconsin (disclosure: we attended graduate school together) found his state’s voter ID law deterred 27.5 percent of African-American but only 8.3 percent of whites from voting in 2016, creating an unequal opportunity to express a choice.

Republicans put this antidemocratic law in place and then, a few days ago, in the wee hours of the morning, passed a law making it more difficult for Gov.-elect Tony Evers (disclosure: our client) to undo the damage.

A federal court found North Carolina GOP legislators “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices” — then, with data in hand, “enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”

Here too, by purposefully creating unequal opportunities to cast a ballot, Republicans undermined democracy.

There are also efforts to avoid giving equal weight to all ballots in counting.

The federal government’s Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) finds that the most common reason to reject mailed-in ballots is signature mismatch.

“Put simply,” says election attorney extraordinaire, Marc Elias, “signature matching laws are terrible. They are premised on faulty pseudo-science that lay people (often untrained) can somehow compare two signatures and determine if they match or not… these matching laws disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters … worse, many states provide no notification to the affected voter or meaningful opportunity to ‘cure’ the rejected ballot.”

This cycle, a former member of Congress from Florida had his ballot rejected by his state because of allegedly mismatched signatures.

The Republican attack on democracy extends beyond the ballot box.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt concluded that democracies don’t die at the hands of armed mobs, so much as at the hands of politicians who, in their unconstrained zeal for power, undermine norms like mutual toleration, accepting the legitimacy of rivals and self-restraint in the use of institutional prerogative.

Republican enemies of democracy are violating these norms in Wisconsin and Michigan, as they did in North Carolina.

The notion that legislators and parties that have lost the consent of the governed would try to pass legislation in lame-duck sessions was deemed reprehensible by most everyone.

The 20th Amendment was passed to curtail this possibility.

Instead of respecting that limitation, today’s GOP legislators are taking it further—not just passing new laws, but passing laws that reduce the power of governors who won the support of the voters.

Wisconsin Republicans also confirmed 82 appointments to judgeships and state boards by ousted Gov. Scott Walker (R). Some of the positions had been vacant a year before Walker lost.

At least 30 of the appointees had no hearing and many had not filed required financial disclosures, designed in part to assess conflicts of interest.

Their hypocrisy is brazen.

These same legislators cheered when Senate Majority Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.) abused his power by refusing to consider Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMellman: Roberts rescues the right? McConnell easily wins Kentucky Senate primary Don't mess with the Supreme Court MORE’s Supreme Court nomination a year before an election.

Walker himself demanded that his predecessor (disclosure: also a client), Gov. Jim Doyle, who retired after two terms, not make any appointments during his final months in office.

Some might accuse me of partisanship for repeating that it’s Republicans who are attacking democracy. For now at least, it’s just fact.

Democrats aren’t trying to suppress any votes, nor have they turned lame-ducks into power grabs.

Republicans will own the consequences of these actions, but we all will suffer from them. 

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.