In the months building up to the 2020 presidential election, the Republican Party, recognizing the weaknesses of their campaign and their candidate, shifted their focus from the result to the process. Led by then-President Donald Trump, elected Republican officials began to disingenuously cry foul about new voting laws that were passed in anticipation of an unusual election season: due to COVID-19 and higher expected voter turnout, many states around the country implemented laws that would make it easier for people to vote without exposing themselves to the virus or waiting in extremely long lines. These included measures that expanded absentee, drop-off and curbside voting, all of which made it easier for people to exercise their right to vote while making it safer and maintaining the integrity of each individual ballot.
The result was a seven million vote victory for Joe Biden, along with the flipping of Senate control to the Democratic Party. By perpetuating false claims about the integrity of voting prior to the election, Trump had set the stage for a wildly false and dishonest campaign about the overall integrity of American elections after his loss. Now, state Republican parties are capitalizing on that campaign to pass restrictive voting laws across the U.S., to the tune of 253 bills in 43 different states as of Feb. 19, 2021.
Perhaps the most egregious of these was a bill recently passed by the Georgia Senate that seeks to repeal no-excuse absentee voting, which was used by 1.3 million citizens to cast their vote last year. It is no coincidence: Georgia was a battleground state in the 2020 election and was deeply important in Biden’s win with its 16 electoral votes as it turned from red to blue. Stacey Abrams, who played a key role in flipping the state, called the effort “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.” She’s right.
The country-wide effort by the Republican Party is based on nothing other than the fact that they lost. There are no examples of widespread election or voter fraud, as determined by over 60 losses in court, the rejection of a case by the Supreme Court and the words of Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr himself. Yet, Republicans continue to press the unfounded claim that the election was fraudulent and use it as justification for restricting the constitutional rights of American citizens.
The Republican Party faces an interesting future. Changing demographics in the U.S. may mean that in the next few decades they lose paths to national power; the population is becoming more diverse and educated, and people of color and with a higher level of education tend to vote Democratic. These trends mean that Republicans likely have a limited time frame to either adjust their platform to be more inclusive or work to solidify power. They have chosen the latter, and it is going to wreak havoc on American democracy.
By seeking to restrict the ability of people to vote, the Republican Party is seeking to entrench minority rule for years. In fact, they have said it themselves: Senator Lindsey Graham is on the record as saying “if we don’t do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country,” a clear recognition of the fact that when more people vote, Republicans do not get elected. Trump during the presidential campaign said “they had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” referencing the push to make reforms to voting prior to the 2020 election to make it safer amid rampant COVID-19 spread.
The threat of this antidemocratic potential is why the passages of the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are essential. The For The People Act, or H.R. 1, would “make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics rules, and more,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore protections granted by the Voting Rights Act, which was gutted in 2013 by a Supreme Court ruling. These sorts of reforms are exactly what is needed to ensure the equal representation of Americans in their national government, as well as preserve the right to vote for citizens in the face of so many undemocratic attacks from the Republican Party.
The U.S. is at an important juncture and the enshrinement of voting rights is absolutely necessary to the survival of democracy and the “great experiment” of America.