Republicans do not want more people to vote. This has been clear for close to a decade. After the Obama coalition swept to power in 2008 and retained the White House in 2012, Republicans had a choice: attempt to broaden their own coalition by appealing to new groups, like Hispanic voters and women, beyond their traditional base of older white Christians; or double down on the white Christian nationalism. They chose the latter, but because this made winning an actual majority of voters difficult, they had to prevent other groups from voting and dilute the power of those votes. The Party of Lincoln has, as a result, pursued a suite of policies aimed at rigging elections for their own benefit.
There are the voter-ID laws, cooked up on the pretense of combatting the non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, but which in practice disproportionately suppress black voters and others who tend to support Democrats. In Texas, they gave away the game on this: a student ID from a college or university did not qualify you to vote, but a concealed-carry handgun license did. The purpose of these laws is to prevent potential Democratic voters from voting, which a Pennsylvania state legislator admitted in 2012 when he bragged that the state's new ID law would deliver Pennsylvania for Mitt Romney. It didn't, but that was the goal of the law.
In other cases, there's even more straightforward voter suppression. Reuters found states across the South have closed 1,200 polling places since the Roberts Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. This leads to longer lines, even as some states scale back voting hours, all of which discourages people—particularly, say, hourly workers—from participating. By the time of the Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018, when Brian Kemp was running for governor while overseeing the election as secretary of state—this is known as a conflict of interest—huge numbers of polling places had been closed, often in poorer rural areas and counties with significant African-American populations. This was accompanied by a massive purge of the voter rolls, as more than 100,000 citizens were literally stripped of their voting rights in an initiative overseen by Kemp. Then there was the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a sprawling initiative overseen by Kris Kobach to purge Certain People from the voter rolls across multiple states.
There's also the extreme gerrymandering, as Republicans seized power at the state level following the 2010 Census and—using new technology—drew congressional and district maps that either packed Democratic votes into as few areas as possible or spread them across many districts to dilute them. Democrats in some legislatures have done their own gerrymandering, but there is really no comparison in terms of the extreme tactics. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker lost his 2018 bid for re-election by one percentage point, but he carried 63 of 99 state legislative districts. Republicans got 46 percent of the vote in 2018, according to Ari Berman, but won 64 percent of the state legislative seats.
And it's Wisconsin that illustrated just how severe the decay of American democracy has become on Tuesday, when the state held an election at the height of a global pandemic. Democratic Governor Tony Evers initially supported going ahead with the election back in March, but reversed his position as the coronavirus began to ravage the country. The Republican legislature rejected calls to move the election and allow for voting by mail, however, and Evers' emergency executive order on Monday postponing the election was rejected by conservative majorities on the state supreme court and the United States Supreme Court. The former court is why this was a major issue: Wisconsin elects its judges, and a seat was up on the court that Republicans wanted to retain. They apparently thought their best chance to keep it was to go ahead with in-person voting yesterday.
This produced a world-historical farce, in which the city of Milwaukee held an election after 175 of its 180 polling places were closed. That's five sites for a city of 600,000 people. In Green Bay, there were two polling places for 105,000. It also produced more than one iconic image. First, there was Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, one of the two legislators most responsible for this state of affairs, telling everyone it was perfectly safe to go out and vote while looking like he was about to venture into Chernobyl.
Then there was this fantastic sign.
Milwaukee resident Jennifer Taff holds a sign as she waits in line to vote. Many lifelong voters had to stay at home Tuesday during Wisconsin's primary because of COVID-19. https://t.co/eZkXxB5nvO pic.twitter.com/GbIV4RTXEu— USA TODAY Podcasts (@usatodaypodcast) April 8, 2020
It was a preview of what is very, very possible on a national level in November. Public-health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have indicated there will likely be a second wave of COVID-19 by the fall, which could make in-person voting perilous. A big issue is finding poll workers, who normally skew older, but who in this case are forced to interact with hundreds and hundreds of strangers during a pandemic. There's also the risk to voters themselves, which Vos and others were hoping would depress turnout among the right groups. The way to counter this is to do mail-in voting, which Oregon—and the United States armed forces—have done with great success for decades. Mail everybody a ballot, and have them send it back in. That's it.
Of course, that's not it, because Republicans don't want more people to vote. That includes the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, who engaged in a legendary faceplant when asked about it at Tuesday's daily news conference in the White House Briefing Room, which—like every other one—offered viewers very little useful information about the national coronavirus response. Anyway, here's the faceplant:
President Trump: "I think mail-in voting is horrible, it's corrupt."— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 7, 2020
Reporter: "You voted by mail in Florida's election last month, didn't you?"
Trump: "Sure. I can vote by mail"
Reporter: "How do you reconcile with that?"
Trump: "Because I'm allowed to." pic.twitter.com/Es8ZNyB3O1
Absolutely incredible. Just like Republican claims of "voter fraud" to justify their voter-ID laws, Trump's claim of "corruption" with mail-in voting has the same naked self-interest. After all, his White House has signaled they're open to sending ballots only to voters over 65, who skew Republican.
It's horrible, it's corrupt.
You just did it.
Yeah, I did.
I'm allowed to.
This is a nice distillation of the Republican attitude towards voting. If you vote Republican, you are free to pursue any route to voting, because it will lead to another Republican vote. If you vote Democrat, fuck you.
At the end of last month, Trump made the rationale even more explicit during an appearance on Fox & Friends. When asked about Democrats' attempts to get national vote-by-mail into the last coronavirus relief bill, he said all the quiet parts out loud. He's not the first Republican to characterize expanding access to our most fundamental right as citizens as a "special-interest project," presumably because, as he openly admitted here, he feels it's not in Republicans' interest.
Trump openly admitting if we made voting easier in America, Republicans wouldn't win elections— Lis Power (@LisPower1) March 30, 2020
Trump: "The things they had in there were crazy. They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." pic.twitter.com/x5HmX6uogo
There you go. He just out and said it. If you allow registered voters to vote easily, Republicans will struggle to win a majority of votes with their narrow coalition. That's it. In Georgia, the Republican Speaker of the House, David Ralston, said allowing people to vote by mail would be "extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia." They're not even trying to hide it anymore. This is eerily reminiscent of that Pennsylvania state legislator's brag back in 2012. Sometimes they just can't resist. In typical fashion, Trump jumped on Twitter this morning to rehash his claims that vote-by-mail carries the risk of voter fraud, but he couldn't stop himself from once again saying the quiet part:
Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans. @foxandfriends— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020
The end there is the real reason: "...doesn’t work out well for Republicans." The idea that Donald Trump is concerned about fraud is among the more absurd things you'll hear all week. He's concerned about losing, because more people might vote for someone else unless as many obstacles as possible are put in their way. That's the point of voter ID and everything else: raise the opportunity cost of voting to keep just enough of The Wrong People from participating.
Of course, it's all tied up in the party's now-bedrock belief that only their voters represent the true will of the American people, and that all Others are just pretenders with no claim to power, regardless of who wins elections. Some people are Real Americans. Everyone else should shut up and be happy they're allowed to stay here. It's the logic of authoritarianism, and of a party that was waging war on democracy well before Trump entered the stage. As usual, the president is not some aberration who has ushered in new and dark forces into Republican politics. He seized on what was there, and merely refashioned it into something more garish and shameless and, yes, dangerous. Instead of a bonehead state legislator giving away the game, it's now the president. And yet they might just get away with it.
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