American democracy is under threat.
To many that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually true. Donald Trump’s Republican party is working feverishly to learn from what didn’t work in their efforts to overturn the 2020 election and to remove obstacles that stood in their way. They are pursuing anti-democratic efforts on three fronts.
First, Republicans are working to suppress voting rights. They are able to pursue this due to the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, which eliminated the Department of Justice’s power to preemptively enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As a result, multiple states have enacted legislation to disenfranchise certain segments of voters in the past year alone, typically targeting Democrat voters in Republican-leaning states. Republicans have created false narratives of election irregularities and fraud (i.e., the “Big Lie”) as a pretext to restrict voting access. The actual evidence from the 2020 election indicates the opposite. The Department of Homeland Security declared the 2020 election secure. All 50 states certified the results of their elections. President Trump and his allies brought 62 lawsuits to overturn the election and lost 61 of them. The only suit they won was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In the past year, more than 425 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced by Republicans in 49 states, and at least 34 of these bills were enacted across 19 states. These bills largely center around limiting mail-in voting, more restrictive voter ID laws, shortening early voting, eliminating automatic and same-day voter registration, curbing the use of ballot drop boxes and allowing for increased purging of voter rolls. Their primary goal is to make voting more difficult for working class voters, who tend to vote for Democrats. Efforts by Republicans to degrade voting rights are extensive and well-coordinated, and being well-coordinated is a key to their success.
Secondly, Republicans are attempting to manipulate the vote-counting process. For example, the legislatures in Georgia and Arkansas have given Republican-controlled partisan election boards more power. In Arizona, the Republican legislature passed a new law to transfer election rules enforcement from the Democratic secretary of state to the Republican attorney general. Throughout the country, Republicans are recruiting “the Big Lie” advocates to staff local election boards and run county elections to install partisan operatives in key positions for future elections.
Elections are most vulnerable to subversion within the state process to certify elections. Making voting more difficult and installing partisans to determine which votes are legal helps Republicans to manufacture voting fraud. Manufactured claims of voter fraud allow the third front of Republican election subversion: disallowing the candidate who received the most votes to be seated in office. In a close election, such as the presidential election of 2020, the party that controls the state legislature can reassign electoral delegates from the winning candidate to those whose party controls the state legislature, claiming “massive fraud.” Republicans control both chambers in 30 states, while Democrats control both in 18 states. This is not hyperbole; it’s a real threat. Republicans are fielding candidates for governor, secretary of state and other offices who would likely block the certification of free and fair election results they do not support.
So, what are Democrats doing to counter these anti-democracy efforts? So far, not nearly enough. To their credit, Democrats in Congress have tried to protect citizen voting rights through the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Although these bills were passed by U.S. House, they stalled in the Senate. Thus voting rights protection in Congress has, so far, failed.
Other actions by Democrats have centered around traditional get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drives, but these traditional efforts don’t address Republicans’ work to subvert the counting of votes or their seating of Republican candidates that did not receive the most votes. Democrats need a new paradigm in their counterstrategies, starting with a bit of analytical work to draw a clear picture of the election process in each state. Call this picture the crafting of “election roadmaps.” Election roadmaps will clarify where democracy is under the greatest threat, and where the Democrats have their best chance of countering Republican anti-democracy efforts. They should also identify current efforts already underway to protect democracy, and how to best invest critical resources going forward.
Simply put, the Democratic Party needs to do some basic project management to answer key questions towards protecting our democracy. What are the current election standards and procedures within each legislative district in every state? Do these include restrictions or barriers that inhibit voting? Do they include standards that threaten accurate counting of votes? Have new restrictive standards been implemented since the 2020 election? Are they currently being proposed by Republican operatives? Have Republicans installed partisan believers of “the Big Lie” into key election roles?
Democrats need to incorporate this data into an interactive dashboard, i.e., a map of the United States showing the status not only for each state, but also drilling-down to show the status for each legislative district (LD). Then Democrats can develop action plans for each LD, focusing on high priority districts first. They can develop LD action plans to be pursued to ensure democracy prevails. They can estimate financial and human resources required to implement the action plans, and determine if existing organizations are fully prepared for success or if they need additional resources to implement their action plans. Critically, Democrats need to work with local community-based organizations to help with pro-democracy efforts.
This may sound onerous, and boring as hell, but it’s the basic project management effort required to match current Republican organizing efforts. Republicans have made stunning progress in the past year to ensure they never again lose a close election. If Democrats fail to effectively counter these Republican anti-democracy efforts, American democracy is truly at risk. Democracy is not about doing whatever it takes to ensure your candidate wins; it’s about ensuring that the candidate that receives the most legal votes wins and is then seated in office. Using tactics replicating those of historical fascist leaders, Trump has convinced his followers that democracy is unimportant and that winning is everything. Even lifelong Republicans should find this terrifying.
Read more of the Mar. 2-8, 2022 issue.