The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Shrinking the GOP, one state at a time

Stickers for voters are seen at a booth set up by Pathways for Housing in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 4. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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Republicans, of all people, should understand the laws of supply and demand.

The Hill reported last week: “More than 30,000 voters who had been registered members of the Republican Party have changed their voter registration in the weeks after a mob of pro-Trump supporters attacked the Capitol — an issue that led the House to impeach [President Donald Trump] for inciting the violence.” The number could actually be much higher because the “30,000 who have left the Republican Party reside in just a few states that report voter registration data, and information about voters switching between parties, on a weekly basis.” Democratic dropouts are more scarce.

Along similar lines, NPR reported on Monday: “In the week from Jan. 6 through Jan. 12, about 4,600 Republicans changed their party status in Colorado. . . . There was no comparable effect with any other party. [Colorado Public Radio] was able to contact dozens of them by tracking changes in the state’s voter file.” NPR reiterated, “The number of people changing parties spiked immediately after the Capitol breach. The same phenomenon is playing out nationwide. News outlets documented about 6,000 defections from the party in North Carolina, 10,000 in Pennsylvania and 5,000 in Arizona.”

The dropouts might continue, especially if congressional Republicans defend QAnon extremists such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) or vote to acquit the former president in the Senate trial expected to start next week.

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The defections underscore the urgency of Republicans’ efforts to stem their demographic decline. As the portion of electorate that was White went from 71 percent to 67 percent between 2016 and 2020, Republicans were once again reminded that the diversification of the electorate is bad news for a party that relies so heavily on white grievance.

That should explain why Republican efforts to make voting harder, which has been underway for years, intensified after the 2020 election. As the progressive Brennan Center for Justice explains: “In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced three times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to this time last year. Twenty-eight states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 106 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020).”

The ostensible reason for such measures has been “fraud,” but President Biden’s victory triggered the most intensive search for fraud in any election. The result: No evidence of widespread fraud. Moreover, efforts to curtail no-excuse early voting have nothing to do with election security.

In reality, the frantic effort is clearly meant to compensate for voters fleeing the party. But no matter how many congressional Republicans attempt to overthrow an election, the fate of the party rests with voters. While Republicans are abandoning their party, Democrats such as Stacey Abrams are undertaking efforts to organize and register new voters.

It would certainly be easier for Democrats across the country to have automatic registration, as 20 states plus the District of Columbia currently do, but as they invest in and expand state outreach efforts such as the one that flipped Georgia from red to blue in 2020, the gap between the two parties may tip even more heavily in Democrats’ favor.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 34 states and D.C. used no-excuse absentee voting. That’s certain to expand in coming years. NBC News summed up the changing landscape ahead of the 2020 election: “In the 16 states that require excuses, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia lifted restrictions on what qualifies a voter for an absentee ballot for either the rescheduled primaries in June and July or for statewide elections in the same time period. And in Georgia, while there’s never an excuse needed, all registered voters were sent a mail-in ballot application for the state’s May 19 primary. Similarly in Maryland and Delaware, all voters will receive a ballot for their new primaries.”

Only seven states — all deep red except Connecticut (Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas) — never abandoned excuse-only absentee voting. Given that, according to a recent poll, some 63 percent like early voting, it is not clear Republicans are going to be able to roll back a convenient voting system used by both parties.

In short, the electorate is changing thanks to demographics, Republican flight and Democratic outreach. It will become increasingly difficult for Republicans to suppress enough votes to retain power. At some point, they might consider whether the search for a dwindling electorate is all that helpful for their survival.

Read more:

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Henry Olsen: Republicans’ best move with Marjorie Taylor Greene is to gerrymander her out of her seat

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Democrats are faced with a choice. Protect the filibuster or protect democracy.