The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Why the GOP’s awful new voter suppression effort is so alarming

Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. (Seth Wenig/AP)

It has become routine to observe that Republicans are responding to their 2020 loss by making it harder to vote wherever they possibly can. That’s ominous: We’re getting lulled into treating the GOP’s ongoing radicalization against democracy as a normal feature of our politics, as just Republicans being Republicans.

We shouldn’t let that happen. And a major new voter suppression push that Republicans have launched in Georgia provides another way to look at the bigger story here, a way to maintain appropriate alarm and urgency.

In short: The GOP’s escalation of voter suppression isn’t just a response to their loss. It should also be seen as a revanchist effort to strangle the ambitious — and popular — agenda that Democrats are undertaking to rescue the country from two of its biggest crises of the modern era.

It’s no accident that the GOP’s redoubled anti-democratic and anti-majoritarian efforts have come even as President Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue package is winning the support of large popular majorities. Indeed, for Republicans, the broad popularity of Biden’s first big move is itself arguably making their plunge into anti-democratic radicalization more urgent.

In Georgia, Jim Crow is back

Georgia illustrates the point. Late Monday, the Georgia Senate passed a measure repealing no-excuse absentee voting for large numbers of voters, a remarkably radical reversal given the huge role vote-by-mail played in the last election.

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This comes after the Georgia House passed a draconian package that would sharply cut back on drop boxes, which simply make voting by mail easier. It would also limit “souls to the polls” voting to one Sunday during early voting, an extraordinarily blatant effort to reduce the electoral impact of the African Americans who vote in great numbers after church.

As reporter Ari Berman put it: “Collectively, these bills represent the most sustained effort to roll back access to the ballot in Georgia since the Jim Crow era.”

What’s more, as organizer Stacey Abrams told Berman, the new push is “explicitly” designed to “block communities of color from active participation in choosing the leadership that will guide their democracy.”

Importantly, this is underway in the state where Democratic victories in the two Senate runoffs are the very reason Biden’s $1.9 trillion package will soon become law. A GOP-controlled Senate would have left us debating a package half its size or even smaller.

Why Georgia matters

It’s in part because of the surprisingly high turnout of Democratic voters, a large percentage of them African Americans, that we’ll get this package, with large stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, funding to speed vaccinations, financial assistance for health care and a groundbreaking child allowance.

Every congressional Republican voted against all this at a time of widespread deprivation, even as defeating the pandemic remains critical for national renewal. That, plus the fact that large majorities approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic and broadly support the rescue package’s efforts to rise to the needs of the moment, aren’t remotely denting GOP opposition.

Why? Part of the answer is what we’re seeing in Georgia. Anti-majoritarian tactics could help insulate Republicans from accountability for opposing broadly popular policies, even if the Biden agenda succeeds.

Republicans give away the game

Republicans themselves are revealing this. One GOP activist in Georgia told CNN, “Republicans either stand for election security and integrity or they stand with Democrats.”

That echoes what former president Donald Trump recently told a conservative conference: That standing for “election integrity” is “urgent” for Republicans.

“Election integrity,” of course, really means reversing efforts to make voting easier and justifying this with Trump’s lies about the election’s illegitimacy, that is, making voting harder wherever possible. This is “urgent” for the GOP, and failing to do this helps Democrats.

And so the Georgia effort is being matched by Republicans all over the country. And Republicans are even boasting that extreme gerrymanders will help take back the House, halting Biden’s agenda.

Not part of the conversation

It’s hard to avoid the sense that many Republicans believe these tactics will help them recapture power even as the party broadly remains entirely outside the conversation about how to address major challenges facing the country.

We’re now learning that Biden’s covid relief bill could boost the income of the poorest fifth of earners by 20 percent, slash child poverty in half and allow millions of people to save hundreds of dollars in health-care costs. Yet Republicans are wandering the right-wing media desert, spinning wildly lurid tales about stimulus checks going to criminals and terrorists.

Of course, Republicans likely know their own voters won’t blame them for their opposition to popular policies. They will get stimulus checks and vaccinations while hailing GOP lawmakers for fighting to stop the phantom excesses in the bill manufactured in the right-wing media universe.

But Republicans also know their anti-democratic tactics could go a long way toward helping recapture power.

As Richard Yeselson details in a good piece, this GOP posture has much deeper implications:

The country’s political and economic order is experiencing acute and chronic crises. One of the two major parties has given up hope of winning over a majority of the country’s voters.

As Yeselson concludes, the fact that the GOP has largely abandoned winning majorities, instead recommitting to anti-democratic tactics and exacerbating its anti-majoritarian structural advantages, itself looms as the chief obstacle to “a more just and egalitarian political system.”

The stakes are tremendously high. And the voter-suppression underway in Georgia — the very state where voters just made an immensely ambitious response to our immediate crises possible — illustrates this with alarming clarity.

Read more:

Dana Milbank: Republicans aren’t fighting Democrats. They’re fighting democracy.

The Post’s View: Republicans want to sideline minority voters. The Supreme Court could clear the way.

The Post’s View: Republicans’ rhetoric on H.R. 1 is apocalyptic. Are they that afraid of democracy?

Greg Sargent: The massive GOP betrayal of our democracy requires a forceful Democratic response