Perhaps we should be thankful that Rep. Jody Hice is running to be the new chief of elections in Georgia, with the enthusiastic backing of former president Donald Trump. That’s because the Republican’s candidacy is exposing vile truths about the GOP’s ongoing slide into authoritarianism with dispiriting but useful clarity.

We need to retheorize what’s right in front of our noses. Republicans have launched new voter-suppression efforts everywhere, while Democrats are pushing reforms to thwart those tactics and make voting easier. Yet this is often covered as a “partisan” struggle, as if each side were trying to manipulate election rules to its advantage in a manner that was vaguely equivalent.

A new CNN piece on Hice’s candidacy, and a new political science paper that breaks fresh ground on the pernicious impact of GOP tactics, should help lay that tendency to rest, by demonstrating just how radical the GOP’s descent into anti-democratic derangement truly is.

Hice is challenging Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. The entire raison d’etre of Hice’s candidacy is that Raffensperger affirmed the integrity of Trump’s 2020 defeat. After Trump failed to corruptly strong-arm Raffensperger into overturning that loss, Trump endorsed Hice, suggesting Hice would have gladly done that dirty deed.

As CNN’s Daniel Dale shows, Hice’s candidacy is based on a series of lies he’s been telling about the 2020 election. Hice falsely claims drop boxes for mail ballots in Georgia were not monitored. He baselessly claims hundreds of thousands of “illegal” voters received mail-ballot applications. And he routinely lies that President Biden didn’t win the state legitimately.

These lies aren’t just about re-litigating the past. They also seem designed to lay the groundwork to overturn an election result that Georgia Republicans don’t like in the future.

This is inescapably the real meaning of the core rationale of Hice’s candidacy. He’s running precisely because Raffensperger did not use those lies as pretexts to overturn the outcome. When Trump says Hice will “fight” where his rival did not, he’s telling us Hice will do exactly that.

Georgia’s GOP legislators, of course, have already taken the intermediate step of passing a host of new voting restrictions that appear designed to make it harder for African Americans to vote.

The targets of those restrictions are the very things Hice keeps lying about: They impose multiple new hurdles on vote-by-mail, sharply restrict drop boxes and ban mobile voting places, among other things. In the last election, those options were heavily employed by Black voters.

The Georgia law also transfers some authority over county election machinery from the secretary of state to an official selected by a majority of state legislators, effectively giving the party in control of the legislature more influence over that machinery.

But the secretary of state still retains critical power over election results. As Dale notes: “The secretary remains in charge of voter registration, certification of results, investigations into alleged election fraud, and other important elections matters.”

We don’t have to imagine what Hice would do with that power. Trump has already told us: Hice would all but certainly use it to try to overturn results that are not to Georgia Republicans’ liking.

Where this is all going

The bigger story here is that we’re seeing this kind of thing in multiple states, and it all appears to be shaping up as a forward-looking effort.

“Republicans are using the former president’s failed attempt to overturn the election as a guide to how you would change the system to make it possible,” writes Jamelle Bouie.

This effort, Bouie notes, has spread far beyond Georgia:

In Pennsylvania, where a state Supreme Court with a Democratic majority unanimously rejected a Republican lawsuit claiming that universal mail-in balloting was unconstitutional, it means working to end statewide election of justices, essentially gerrymandering the court. In Nebraska, which Republicans won, it means changing the way the state distributes its electoral votes, from a district-based system in which Democrats have a chance to win one potentially critical vote, as Joe Biden and Barack Obama did, to winner-take-all.

Which brings us to a new paper from political scientist Jacob Grumbach. It seeks to tally up the overall impact on democracy that has been wrought by GOP state governance.

Democratic backsliding in GOP states

Grumbach’s paper creates a complex measure of “democratic performance” in any given state. That metric is an amalgam of many factors, including how easy a state makes it to register, to vote early, and to vote-by-mail. Other factors include whether felons can vote and how deep the partisan skew of a state’s gerrymanders have recently been.

That amalgam creates a “democracy score.” The key idea here is to measure “democratic backsliding” within states, relative to other ones, and to measure the degree to which “state governments expand or restrict democracy.”

The result: Republican-controlled states during the period of 2000 to 2018 have tended to have meaningfully lower democracy scores. The aggregate of all those scores has been lower than the aggregate of democracy scores in states controlled by Democrats or under mixed control.

“Republican control of state government,” the paper starkly concludes, “consistently and profoundly reduces state democratic performance.”

What this illustrates is how much damage Republicans can do to democracy via state governments. Which raises two big questions: First, whether this democratic backsliding will continue getting worse (which seems very likely). Second, whether that backsliding will cross over into something even more radical, such as an overturned presidential result in a particular state (which simply cannot be ruled out).

We know what Hice would like to see happen. Trump has told us so. What’s going on in many states, coming after large swaths of Republicans went all in with Trump’s efforts to overturn the results, suggests they are hardly alone.

Which leads to a third big question: Whether the rest of us are going to allow it.

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