Hello, and happy Thursday (and 2022),
Over the last few days, I’ve been reporting on Republicans’ efforts to exert partisan control over election administration and the counting of votes, a new and deeply alarming anti-democratic trend.
One year after the 6 January attack on the US Capitol, a staggering number of Republicans continue to believe the election was stolen. A recent UMass Amherst poll, for example, found that 71% of Republicans, and 33% of Americans overall, do not think the 2020 election was legitimate. Other polls from CNN and Reuters/Ipsos have similar findings.
Even though officials have described the 2020 election as the most secure in modern history, it’s easy to see why the belief that the election was fraudulent continues to be so pervasive. Republican politicians across the country have embraced the idea and refused to publicly affirm Biden’s win. In turn they’ve capitalized on the lack of confidence they’ve created, passing laws to impose new restrictions on voting access, saying they’re needed to shore up voter confidence.
Jessica Marsden, a lawyer at Protect Democracy who tracks state bills permitting election interference, told me something this week on this point that stuck with me. She noted that in 2020, there was a push from Trump and his allies to get legislatures to convene special sessions to throw out the results of the popular vote in their state and appoint their own set of electors. In the end, key Republicans in places like Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania were unwilling to go along with it.
Marsden thinks the reason that effort didn’t succeed was not because of legal barriers but because of politics. Republican politicians were wary of blowback from discarding votes.
“In both Arizona and Georgia, you had the governors not willing to go along with that game, they would have been doing that quite explicitly to throw out the vote of their own constituents,” she said. “What the disinformation campaign does is try to lower the political cost of throwing out election results by creating a lot of uncertainty about what the true results were.”
That lowering of the political cost may be Republicans’ biggest achievement over the last year. The idea that politicians may need to step in and toss out legitimate votes is no longer a fringe idea, but instead one that has moved to the center of our political discourse. Combined with more explicit legislation to exert partisan influence over election administration – 32 bills became law in 17 states last year – Republicans have created a uniquely powerful threat to America’s democracy.
“Just as gerrymandering and Republicans trying to make voting harder have been baked into our expectations of democracy, it won’t be long until we just accept that Republicans will try to overturn elections they lost,” Matt Fuller writes in a haunting piece for the Daily Beast. “To not do so, to affirm an election that hands power to a Democrat, will become treachery in the GOP. That’s really where we’re headed – if we’re not already there.”
Please continue to write to me each week with your questions about elections and voting at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter at @srl and I’ll try to answer as many as I can.
Also worth watching …
Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, pledged there will be a vote on changing the filibuster rules by 17 January to pass voting rights legislation. It’s unclear if Democrats will have enough support to change the rules.
A group of prominent election law scholars wrote an op-ed laying out how Congress can fix the Electoral Count Act, a confusing 19th-century law that Trump and allies tried to rely on to overturn the 2020 election. The law has remained unchanged since last year.
Texas quietly released the results of the first part of a review of the 2020 election on New Year’s Eve. Officials didn’t find much.
California authorities completed a months-long investigation into a man who was found passed out with 300 absentee ballots last summer, and said there was no evidence he intended to commit election fraud.