Republican attempts to restrict voting options based on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election were bad. What’s ahead is worse.
The time to prepare is now. Republicans most of all need to recognize that threats to our democracy are coming from the Trump faction of the party. Those of us who still consider ourselves Republicans need to be the first to call them out.
Behind the scenes, Trump has been actively working to purge those who refused to steal the election for him in 2020, as well as those who made any effort to hold him accountable for his role in the Jan. 6 attempt to overturn the election. He has endorsed and endorsed candidates for state-level office who, if recruited, would oversee election administration. Many of these candidates are boldly telling us right now what they want to do and where their loyalties are.
And it isn’t to American democracy.
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The threat they pose is urgent. While some Republicans may wish they lived in a post-Trump era, that’s simply not reality. Trump is almost certainly going to run for president again.
While it’s true he won’t have the powers of the presidency at his various disposals as he did 2020, he may have at his various compliant local and state officials—each substantial power over elections. In the event Trump loses again, the officials he and his allies worked to put in place can easily set in motion a chain of events that would throw our elections into chaos.
Serious people don’t argue over whether or not Trump tried to overturn the election in 2020. He did. But some conservatives argue we shouldn’t be alarmed because his attempts were so cartoonish and our institutions held. In fact, it was Republicans in many obscure but important positions—secretaries of state, boards of canvassers—who were unwilling to do what Trump demanded.
Now he’s working to replace them with candidates who will do exactly what he wants when the next election comes. In fact, it’s the only way he will endorse them.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is already facing a primary from Trump-endorsed Rep. Jody Hice—who stated that his core reason for running is “to stop Democrats before they rig and ruin our democracy forever.” Trump-backed Michigan Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo says she is running to “remove corruption from our elections.” Michigan candidate for attorney general Matthew DePerno has pushed election fraud conspiracies on the basis that he has “the proof that voting machines used in the 2020 elections can be compromised.” And Arizona Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem claims “we are living through a slow motion coup” and has called for numerous audits of Arizona’s election results.
Candidates’ lies about the 2020 election’s legitimacy also dovetail with efforts by Republican-majority state legislatures across the country trying to pass more restrictive voting bills. According to Voting Rights Lab, 535 bills have been introduced across 39 states that would restrict voter access or election administration. Some of these bills—like Illinois’ HB 4761—can be fairly defined as benign changes to election law. Shortening the early voting period so it ends on the Friday before Election Day instead of 7 pm the day before Election Day isn’t voter suppression.
But the overall narrative around this effort is rooted in a lie that our elections were rife with fraud and lack public confidence. Ironically, that view is a result of many Republicans’ failure to denounce conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
It’s a feedback loop of Republicans’ own creation. That makes it all the more important for Republicans to call them out as unnecessary solutions to an imagined problem.
On the furthest fringes, Trump’s former top political aid, Steve Bannon, has been promoting direct electoral action as a means of addressing these fake outrages. He recently interviewed the head of Precinct Strategy, a group that believes “each conservative American’s top priority should be active engagement as a precinct committeeman.” The group’s explicit goal is to hand control of elections to people fueled by misguided rage over an election being stolen and who genuinely believe that their job is to steal it back.
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Subverting or stealing an election isn’t the only bad outcome from loading these positions up with “stop the steal” candidates. The likelier scenario is that once elected, local officials would refuse to count and certify votes over (ahem, Trumped-up) concerns of fraud. Then, Republican-majority state legislatures would use that as an excuse to throw out election results and send their own slates of electors to Congress. If this is allowed to occur, it could do catastrophic damage to confidence in the country’s ability to run free and fair elections.
How much more do people need to see? Trump and his cronies have already tried this playbook of sending fake slates of electors to Congress and attempting to delay the certification process. The only thing they didn’t have last time was enough willing participants. In 2024, they might. We know what their intentions are this time. So now, we have to act.
The mechanism necessary to guard against this outcome needs to be twofold: reforming the Electoral Count Act to remove ambiguity around election certification and working toward the defeat of anti-democracy Republicans at the ballot box.
While moderate Republican senators like Susan Collins work toward a solution on the former, all of us in the GOP should be working toward the latter.
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