The GOP's voter suppression mania is threatening American democracy. Democrats need to step up and fight back.
- Republicans in states across the country are pushing laws that would make it harder to vote.
- These measures are a threat to US democracy.
- Democrats need to step up and combat these laws with plans to make it easier for everyone to access the ballot box.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The Republican Party is losing the public opinion fight on all fronts.
Their twice-impeached standard-bearer is the least popular president ever polled, they continue to block policies in Congress with overwhelming public support, and most Americans don’t believe their baseless electoral fraud claims or conspiracy theories.
Much of this isn’t new – the GOP has thrived for years without winning any popularity contests – but the party today is heading so far into crazytown that they are starting to lose critical votes.
The GOP is at a crossroads with two possible paths before them: pitch a wider tent with a message that appeals to constituencies they have lost; or retrench to focus on a shrinking segment of the population. Based on their actions at the federal and state levels, it appears Republicans are choosing the latter.
To win against the majority, GOP officials are changing the rules of the game. Because they can’t win on the merits, Republicans are taking voter suppression to increasingly dangerous new heights. They must be stopped.
The GOP’s go-to strategy
Voter suppression is not a new concept for the Republican Party. As Republican advisors have admitted, the GOP has long relied on restricting the vote to compete in key battleground contests. Some of their favorite tactics have been shutting down polling sites in Democratic-leaning Black and Latino communities, pushing unnecessary voter ID laws that benefit Republicans, and purging voter rolls.
Last year, Republicans became even more brazen. The Wisconsin GOP rejected reasonable requests to delay the primary vote in April and blocked Democratic efforts to extend absentee ballot deadlines, hoping to preserve a conservative seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Then came Trump’s assault on mail-in voting and even the USPS. The grand finale was the Trump GOP’s Big Lie about the integrity of the 2020 election, which aimed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters and led to the horrific attack on the Capitol.
While those efforts failed to stop President Joe Biden from taking the Oval Office or Democrats from capturing both chambers of Congress, the Republicans have not been deterred. Instead, they are doubling down on suppression efforts to stack the odds in their favor in 2022, 2024, and beyond.
A new assault on democracy
Already in the first few months of 2021, Republicans nationwide have worked furiously to implement new voting restrictions. GOP leaders in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills to restrict voting access. The themes are familiar: absentee voting restrictions, voter ID laws, criminal disenfranchisement, and so on. In one especially egregious measure, Georgia House Republicans introduced a bill to eliminate early voting on Sundays, which is when many Black churches hold get-out-the-vote drives.
The conservative majority on the Supreme Court is unlikely to stand in the way of this state-level onslaught. The Court appears poised to further gut the Voting Rights Act by upholding two voting laws in Arizona that lower courts ruled unfair to minority voters – one involving counting votes cast in the wrong precincts and the other restricting who may turn in another person’s ballot. Both policies are in common use across the country.
If Republicans are successful in even a fraction of these new voter suppression efforts, they will deal a considerable blow to our democracy that will be difficult to recover from.
Suppressing GOP suppression
In 2018, Trump acolyte Brian Kemp clinched the tight Georgia governor’s race over Stacy Abrams after a concerted GOP-led voter suppression campaign – overseen by Kemp as Secretary of State. While the GOP won, it also turbocharged Abrams’ commitment to fighting voter suppression and getting out the Democratic vote in her state.
She founded Fair Fight in 2018, a political action committee focused on mobilizing voters and advocating for election reform. The organization raised tens of millions of dollars for voter education and mobilization, and it pursued advocacy and litigation efforts that kept tens of thousands of Georgia voters on the rolls.
The years of work on the ground by Abrams and other Democratic community organizers paid off mightily for Democrats in the 2020 election. Georgia flipped blue for the first time in nearly 30 years, and the state handed Democrats control of the Senate.
Congressional Democrats must match Abrams’ tenacity to protect the right to vote. The party’s best chance to counter GOP attacks is to establish national election standards that supersede measures by Republican-controlled states. Earlier this month, House Democrats passed H.R. 1., or the For the People Act, a landmark bill to expand federal voting rights. However, its odds of surviving Republican opposition in the Senate are slim as long as the filibuster is in place.
Their next opportunity may be the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which requires states with a history of voting discrimination to seek federal approval to adjust voting procedures. Such a procedure, called preclearance, was a standard part of the Voting Rights Act until the Supreme Court gutted the rule in 2013. Restoring this important procedure is critical to supporting our democracy. House Democrats hope to bring it to a vote around Labor Day.
Democrats must also take the fight to each state. In Georgia, voter education, mobilization, and publicity efforts have put a bright spotlight on suppression tactics in the state. Democrats must hammer home exactly how the GOP is infringing on voting rights in other states to inform and mobilize the public and put pressure on local policymakers.
Finally, Democrats must turn to the courts. For years, Trump and his Senate raced to fill seats with judges who back voter suppression. Democrats must prioritize making appointments to the federal courts that ensure Americans’ voting rights are adequately protected by the judicial branch.
The GOP train is off the rails and hurtling far from the track most Americans want to be on. As more suburban voters and other key groups jump off, the Party will become increasingly aggressive in its voter suppression efforts. Democrats must punch back against the GOP’s assault on voting rights while they are in power. The integrity of our upcoming elections – and our democracy as a whole – is counting on them.
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