The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ war on democracy is ramping up

Election workers in Lawrenceville, Ga., tabulate ballots in Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5.
Election workers in Lawrenceville, Ga., tabulate ballots in Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)
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REPUBLICANS’ WAR on democracy is gaining steam. Unable to persuade a majority of voters to vote for their presidential standard-bearer or Senate candidates in some key races, many have decided that instead of trying to compete in a free and fair vote they will make the contest less free and less fair. Republican state lawmakers are introducing voter-suppression bills all over the country. But ground zero is Georgia, where former president Donald Trump and two Republican Senate incumbents unexpectedly lost.

Two monstrous election bills emerged in the Georgia state legislature this week. One, in the state Senate, would end no-excuse absentee voting. Only Georgians who meet specific criteria, such as being over 65, could cast mail-in ballots. Even if they have a valid excuse, the bill would require voters to find witnesses to sign their absentee ballots, and voters would have to attach photocopies of their IDs, making the process vastly more difficult.

Georgia Republicans were not previously so wary of mail-in voting, perhaps in part because older and rural voters tend to use it. Other states run their elections almost entirely by mail with a high degree of security. There was no substantial fraud in the 2020 vote, in Georgia or elsewhere, implicating either mail-in ballots or in-person voting. The difference is that Democrats embraced absentee balloting in 2020, avoiding polling places because of coronavirus concerns. Suddenly, Republicans are determined to roll back a proven, reliable and increasingly popular voting option.

Meanwhile, in the state House, Republicans passed out of committee Wednesday afternoon a bill that would restrict Sunday early voting, a blatant attempt to suppress Black voter turnout. Black churches often run “Souls to the Polls” voting drives during the early voting period, in which worshipers vote after they attend services. The bill would also limit mail-in ballot drop boxes, allowing them only inside polling locations or elections offices, and it would narrow the time when voters could request absentee ballots.

Following a presidential election that experts deemed the most secure in U.S. history, there is no rational explanation for all of this — if, that is, the goal is to ascertain the will of the people. The most common excuse: Republican constituents are concerned about the integrity of the vote, and lawmakers must take measures to assure them. Of course, it is Republican leaders themselves, led by Mr. Trump, who encouraged baseless suspicions about the 2020 election. Now, Republicans use the fact that many of their voters believed their lies to restrict voting, focusing on the types of voters who tend to favor Democrats.

Georgia Republicans are hardly alone. New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice reported that, “as of February 19, 2021, state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled, or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access.”

Congress must step in, requiring that states run federal elections in a convenient, open and fair manner. That includes absentee-ballot policies based in reality, ample early voting, smart post-election audits and an end to partisan gerrymandering. Democrats have a bill — H.R. 1 — that would do this and more. It must be a top priority this session.

Read more:

Read a letter responding to this editorial: Georgia is using Putin’s playbook

Stacey Abrams: Our democracy faced a near-death experience. Here’s how to revive it.

Paul Waldman: Republican voter suppression kicks into high gear

The Post’s View: Republicans want more voter suppression. Here’s how to make elections more fair — not less.

The Post’s View: The GOP response to losing in 2020? Make it harder to vote. Again.

Jennifer Rubin: Can some sort of voting reform pass?