When and how will the madness stop? In the grip of its authoritarian wing, the Republican Party is starting to resemble a fifth column that’s out to sabotage the American electoral system.
It is astonishing enough that these Republicans refused to accept the results of the Nov. 6 election and, through disinformation campaigns that prey on the gullible, are still propagating former president Donald Trump’s mythical claim that it was stolen.
It is astonishing enough that many Republican states are now taking steps to significantly limit participation in elections through measures against early voting, absentee voting and automatic voter-registration laws. Given demographic trends, the Grand Old Party seems to feel that in order to win, it must effectively disenfranchise voting blocs. It is proceeding to do just that.
It is astonishing enough that Senate Republicans blocked an independent inquiry into the Jan. 6 mob attack by supporters of Mr. Trump on Capitol Hill. There’s no need, the contemporary version of Abraham Lincoln’s party says, to probe a rebellion against the state the likes of which have not been witnessed since the Civil War.
There’s all that, not to mention the party’s embrace of cynical gerrymandering strategies. But even more ominous is the push in many Republican states to change voting laws and electoral oversight. It’s a power grab that could provide these states with the wherewithal to actually overturn election results.
In Texas, the Governor is threatening a special session of the legislature to pass a law that would, among other things, allow a judge to void an electoral outcome on the basis of what they determined to be a sufficient number of fraudulent votes.
A new Georgia law gives the State Election Board the power to intervene in counties where it deems local officials have mismanaged elections; the Republican-controlled legislature gets to appoint the Election Board chair. The new law stripped that power away from the Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, who stood up against pressure from Mr. Trump in January to “find” enough votes in the state to swing the election to him.
In Arizona, a controversy rages over an audit of the 2020 vote in Maricopa County ordered by the Republicans. The inquiry is being conducted by an outside private firm whose chief executive officer posted about and amplified Mr. Trump’s hallucinatory election claims.
The Constitution gives state legislatures the power to regulate federal elections. This gives state lawmakers some legal credibility in seeking greater powers to intervene, election experts such as Stanford University’s Nate Persily say.
While it is far from clear whether a legislature can overturn an election, Mr. Persily told The Washington Post that what is happening should be viewed with a sense of alarm. “If this practice becomes routine or institutionalized, then it converts elections into advisory exercises that legislatures can take or leave as they choose.”
In other words: the electoral process becomes a sham.
President Joe Biden is limited in what he can do because of the Constitution and Republican opposition. He has introduced a sweeping electoral reform bill designed to restore integrity to the system, but predictably, it isn’t garnering enough Republican support to pass.
Many moderate Republicans in Arizona and other states oppose the extremes of what the Trump wing of the party is doing. But they lack the muscle of the former president’s backers, who are supporting the various measures on the pretext of ensuring electoral justice in the future.
While they’ve lost the great majority of judicial challenges related to the 2020 vote, Republicans have won enough to lead hard-liners to believe they are justified in their plotting. Some Democratic Party tactics used against Mr. Trump in the 2016 campaign, such as the fallacy-ridden Steele dossier, have also provided them with a sense of justification.
If the Republicans win back the House of Representatives in the midterm elections – a strong possibility – they will be in a position to give assent to what is being done in the states, even if this includes throwing out election results.
If it sounds far-fetched, one need only think of the lengths the Trump Party and its supporters have been prepared to go. One need only think of Jan. 6.
At the policy level, Mr. Biden is on course to reverse much of Mr. Trump’s unhandiwork. It is in the political domain where the Trump legacy could be lasting and ruinous. If the designs of his party of white nationalists are carried out, that legacy could be the establishment of a democracy that’s more Putinesque than Lincolnesque.
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