While the facts show that the November presidential election was clean and secure — and that there were no irregularities that could have moved the needle in any of these swing states — the myth that the vote was awash with fraud has taken hold among Republicans. “We will fix this,” the Georgia Republicans ominously promised. Fix what? Democracy?
While many Republican state lawmakers may feel they need to say these things because their constituents believe President Trump’s lies about voter fraud, it is also the case that perpetuating the lies is politically useful for them. USA Today reports that state legislators across the country have called for election “reforms” that would make it harder to vote, in response to a nonexistent election-fraud crisis they have cooked up. Depressing turnout, especially among populations that, say, lack photo ID or prefer to mail in their ballots, could tilt the playing field in favor of Republican candidates.
Before Nov. 3, many Republicans favored mail-in voting, but now, after its presidential candidate lost, the party is shifting. In response to the covid-19 pandemic, almost half of voters cast ballots by mail, and these mail ballots broke heavily for President-elect Joe Biden. So the Georgia Republicans are calling to repeal a law allowing voters to obtain absentee ballots without an excuse, and they want to ban ballot dropboxes that many voters use to ensure their ballots do not get delayed or lost in the mail. A similar movement is brewing among Pennsylvania Republicans, with the bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting sponsored by a GOP lawmaker who had previously voted to allow it.
Republicans in other states, such as Michigan and Texas, are calling for voter roll purges; such purges can remove some people who have moved or died, but they also can complicate voting for people who should still be allowed to vote in a particular area. Texas Republicans are also considering a bill that would prohibit local officials from sending voters absentee ballot applications unless they request them, even though Texas is already one of the hardest states in which to cast a ballot. Wisconsin Republicans are contemplating measures to make the state’s already-demanding mail-in voting procedures even more burdensome.
Some of these proposals may sound reasonable when unexamined or in isolation — but none of them responds to an authentic need. U.S. elections are not prone to the fraud that these plans would seek to curb, but the restrictions would without doubt make it harder to cast ballots. It is, moreover, easy to get lost in the details of these proposals while losing sight of the big picture: Republicans want it to be harder to vote, either because they believe Mr. Trump’s lies about fraud or because they seek to game the rules to prevent Democratic voters from casting ballots. For many, the motivation may be a combination of both factors. Even under the kindest reading — that GOP lawmakers are recklessly uninformed about the election system’s strengths and weaknesses — the coming wave of Republican voter suppression measures is wrong.