Republicans Strategize for Next Elections: ‘Their Plan Is to Make It Harder for Voters to Participate’
Sam Levine / Guardian UK
WASHINGTON (December 19, 2020) — After record turnout in the 2020 presidential election, Republicans in some states are already signaling they will pursue measures that make it harder to vote in the coming years.
The Republican efforts come after an election in which nearly 160 million people voted, the highest in a presidential election in over a century. About half of voters cast their ballots by mail, a big increase from 2016, while about another quarter cast their ballots in person ahead of election day.
The GOP backlash underscores how swiftly and severely the party is willing to cut off access to the ballot amid signs of a changing electorate. The baseless accusations of fraud that Donald Trump and other allies continue to levy about the election has offered election officials justification for passing the measures.
“There will be some states where it is very clear that the existing power structure is worried about their voters. And part of their job security plan is to make it harder for their voters to participate,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Two states that appear to be at the center of the push are Georgia and Texas, where Republicans are already advocating measures to scale back mail-in voting and other access to the ballot. Both states, traditionally seen as Republican strongholds, are increasingly seen as politically competitive because of demographic shifts, with the electorate becoming much more diverse. In Georgia, there has been significant growth among Black, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters over the last two decades, while Texas has seen a surge in its Latino population.
“I am not at all surprised to see this happening in Texas and Georgia that I think are on the cusp of a big shift,” Pérez said. “You have some dinosaurs who are not going to stay in power much longer trying to suppress votes.”
In Georgia, a state where record numbers of voters cast their ballots by mail, Republicans who control the state legislature have said they want to pass a slew of new restrictions focused on mail-in voting. They have said they want to require voters to submit a copy of their ID with their mail-in ballot and eliminate ballot drop boxes.
While Georgia currently allows anyone to vote-by-mail, Republicans said they intend to work on a new law that would only allow voters to cast a mail-in ballot if they have an excuse. Newt Gingrich, the conservative Georgian and former speaker of the US House, complained earlier this month that Republicans were helping Democrats by making it easier to vote.
The Republican push to do away with no-excuse absentee voting comes just 15 years after the party embraced the practice and adopted a state law doing away with the excuse requirement to vote by mail. In previous elections, Republicans in the state have used the practice more widely than Democrats, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
“Now, they’re clearly operating on the premise that: ‘fewer votes, we win’,” he said. “Making it harder to do absentee voting, assuming we don’t remain all locked in our homes because of the pandemic, that may hurt Republicans more than Democrats. It’s kind of a simple, knee jerk reaction to an election they very narrowly lost.”
Helen Butler, the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights group that works on expanding voter access, questioned why Republicans were suddenly interested in restricting access to vote by mail. “I’m just gonna be honest, more white people used vote by mail than people of color, because they didn’t trust the process — now that we’ve got them trusting the process, now they want to go in and change the rules,” she told the Guardian earlier this month.
Backlash following the 2020 election underscores how severely the party is willing to cut off access to the ballot amid signs of a changing electorate
In Texas, which already has some of the most stringent rules around voting in the country, lawmakers have pre-filed several bills with new restrictions. One bill would prevent state officials from sending out applications to vote by mail. The measure comes after election officials in Harris county tried to mail applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county.
“There are differently going to be those same efforts, like we saw during the election, to combat what local election administrators are doing to try and innovate to try and make voting more convenient and safer,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of Common Cause Texas, a government watchdog group. “Texas is always on the cutting edge of finding new ways to suppress the vote.”
Another measure would require state officials to investigate anyone who casts a ballot while swearing they don’t have an acceptable form of photo identification (something currently allowed under Texas law). The same bill would require the state to regularly compare its voter rolls with a Department of Homeland Security data to try and find registered non-citizens, a process that has been shown to be inaccurate in the past. In 2019, Texas officials announced they had found nearly 100,000 non-citizens on its voter rolls, but were forced to retract that accusation once the data was shown to be inaccurate.
This isn’t the first time that lawmakers have moved to cut off voting access after turnout surged, Pérez said. After the 2008 presidential election, Republicans took control of state legislatures in 2010 and were more likelyto pass voting restrictions in places where there were high minority populations or high turnout among minority voters. “People don’t get threatened about participation levels until they start reaching a certain threshold where they can actually disrupt the power structure,” she said.
Keith Bentele, a professor at the Southwest Institute for Research on Women at the University of Arizona who has studied efforts to restrict voting access, said it was “extremely likely” that Republicans — who will still wield enormous power over state legislatures — would pass new voting restrictions.
“Given the extraordinarily intense amplification of the voter fraud myth by President Trump and allies unfolding currently, it would seem odd if state legislators did not follow through with legislation to address these alleged (and in nearly all cases immaterial) issues of election integrity,” he wrote in an email.
Pérez questioned what kind of message it would send to the American public to see politicians so swiftly restrict access to voting after many people used it for the first time.
“What does it do to the American population to have to see our politicians being so self-serving. So brazen in their attempts to make it harder for people to vote?,” she said. “It’s just gonna tell a really ugly story about America.”
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