The Republican Party has waged war for the democratic process since the 2020 presidential elections. It has initiated phony “audits” of swing-state election resultsFormer President Donald Trump falsely claimed that the elections were rigged against his character. State GOP parties have purged Trump critics, including fellow Republicans, from positions in power. In Georgia, and elsewhere, the state legislatures have passed laws that make it easier for the governing party to purge election officials who don’t bend to partisan claims of fraud.
Ultimately, however, even with laws making it easier to remove low-level election officials, each state’s secretary of state still has the most say over how elections and post-election controversies are conducted in their jurisdiction. Trumpified GOP has been increasing pressure on high-ranking officials.
Trump has been supporting a number of primary challenges in an effort to remove all opposition from the Republican party. He claims that he cannot lose an election if his rivals rig the vote count. Trump, for example, pushing to oust Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who had the temerity to push back against Trump’s demands that he “find” enough pro-Trump votes to deliver the Peach State to him in 2020.
In each state, GOP legislators passed and governors signed laws that would massively reduce access to the ballot box and make it more difficult for non-white and poor residents to vote. Legislators have proposed draconian restrictions in 43 states this year, in an effort to roll back early voting, to impose onerous voter ID requirements, and to limit actions such as the Black church–led “Souls to the Polls” walks on the Sunday before Election Day in many states throughout the South in particular. As of July at least 17 states had signed such restrictions into lawMore states will likely follow suit.
This is a multipronged, strategic attack on the viability and protections of American democratic institutions.
Two pieces of legislation were introduced by Democrats in Congress to strengthen the Voting Rights Law, which has been widely criticized. drained of its force by the Supreme CourtThe last ten years. These are the most ambitious. the John Lewis Voting Rights ActIt contained a number of provisions that expanded automatic voter enrollment, protected early and postal voting systems, and ensured that states could be subject to federal review if they passed laws that appear to discriminate against voters from color. The second act, also known as the Freedom to Vote ActThis compromise, which was brokered by Senators Joe Manchin and Amy Klobuchar (D–West Virginia), is less important but still critical. It seeks to reduce gerrymandering in which political parties create voting districts that are nearly immune to partisan challenges.
However, neither of these bills has received significant Republican support in Senate. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)John Lewis Voting Rights Act was supported by the majority of those who voted for it. It was actually the opposite: Mitch McConnell orders his staff to lockstep filibuster the legislation and prevent it from being passed every time the Senate votes. McConnell sought to maintain the state-level stampede towards massive voter suppression in the coming elections. This has led to an ongoing impasse.
This stalemate can only be broken by Democrats, given the complex rules of the senate. Scrapping the filibuster has been known as the “nuclear option” since Republican majority leader Trent Lott coined that phrase when musing on what he saw as the dangers of meddling with age-old institutional rules. 2013: Democratic leader Harry Reid abolished the filibuster for presidential nominees. McConnell was more adamant about it when it concerned Supreme Court nominees. However, neither party has yet to give the formal nod for the complete abrogation of the antiquated process. Yet, given the five-alarm-fire nature of the attack on voting rights, such an option is now more needed than ever before, for without doing so, popular and vital political measures aimed at protecting fundamental parts of the country’s democratic system will continue to be stymied by a determined and anti-democratic minority.
Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D. New York), who is not nearly as adept at keeping his caucus in order as McConnell, has failed to make progress on this matter.
Ironically, Manchin, who claims to support voting rights but refuses to consider abolishing the filibuster or modifying it, is the biggest obstacle to reform. The senate institutionist, President Joe Biden, has not fully supported the efforts to repeal the filibuster. With a lot of grumbling, but very little real bite, the Democrats have taken a backseat to the issue. GOP senators, whose 50 members represent 41 million fewer Americans than do their 50 Democratic colleagues, are given free rein to run roughshod through the democratic process.
The Democrats are running out of time on this issue. Failure to protect voting rights federally this year makes it all but certain that in a critical number of closely contested states in 2022 and again in 2024, the full force of the GOP-controlled state political machinery will be brought to bear to limit the franchise and also to make it easier to reject inconvenient political results that don’t go the way the GOP and their marquee candidates want them to.
If the Democrats had been riding high in this election cycle, the failure of voting rights protection might not have been as devastating. Even if the Democrats win by large margins over the GOP, it would not change the outcome. The party is not doing well with key segments of the electorate, however. The Democratic Party is hemorrhaging support in rural AmericaIt is deeply rooted in the culture. underwater with suburban independent voters?They have been the key to victory in the two previous elections. The best case scenario for 2022 would be that Democrats are able to hold their own. However, the worst and most likely scenario involves voter disillusionment as a result of legislative letdowns combined with aggressive GOP-led restrictions placed on the franchise couple. This could lead to a GOP sweep similar in effect to the Tea Party Wave of 2010, which overwhelms the Democratic Party and makes it a minority in Congress for years.
In the aftermath of last Tuesday’s election results, the Democrats’ prospects in next year’s midterms look increasingly tenuous; and, in consequence, their failure to forcefully advocate for meaningful voting rights protections looks increasingly self-destructive.
Biden’s popularity has sunk to dramatically low levels, and even though large majorities of the public support the infrastructure bill that just passed Congress, it seems unlikely that the president or his party will, in the short term, benefit politically from its passage, especially since so much attention has centered on the intraparty warfare within the Democratic caucus process leading up to the bill’s passage rather than the substance of the bill itself.
This was a self-inflicted wound, as has been the abject failure to tackle McConnell’s shameful obstructionism on voting rights. It will make it harder for Democrats to have a fighting chance in 2022. This could have enormous implications for the 2024 presidential elections.
For if the GOP controls both houses of Congress in 2023 and 2024, and if state parties continue their crusade to undermine ballot box access and to eviscerate vote count protections going into the next presidential election, the stage will have been set for a contest in which the institutional brakes that just about worked in 2020 and early 2021 to stop Trump’s attempted coup no longer hold. That could be the end for democracy in the U.S.