One party, and one party alone, has abandoned the old-fashioned electoral strategy of appealing to a majority. Instead, it has fully, openly embraced voter suppression.
In Texas and Ohio, Republican officials reduced the number of ballot drop boxes, particularly affecting densely populated counties more likely to vote Democratic. In South Carolina and Oklahoma, GOP leaders fought to require witness signatures or even notaries for absentee ballots, despite a pandemic that makes such requirements dangerous. In Michigan, they supported a suit to allow open carry of firearms at the polls, despite the obvious potential for intimidation. They’ve praised other forms of voter intimidation, too, including an alleged attempt to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off the road.
At the federal level, the Trump administration crippled operations of the U.S. Postal Service. Then — in states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina — Trump allies have fought to disqualify ballots that might be delayed by the resulting slowdown in deliveries.
And so on. As longtime Republican election attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg summarized in a Post op-ed: “The Trump campaign and Republican entities engaged in more than 40 voting and ballot court cases around the country this year. In exactly none — zero — are they trying to make it easier for citizens to vote.”
Not all their efforts have succeeded, of course. But where they have, they’ve been disproportionately aided by federal judges appointed by President Trump. Nearly three out of four opinions issued in voting-related cases by Trump appointees favored policies reducing ballot access, as my Post colleagues have tallied. Judges appointed by earlier presidents (including Republicans) do not have nearly the same anti-suffrage record.
In some of their efforts, Republicans have precisely targeted voters likely to cast ballots for Democrats. In others they appear to be pushing to throw out batches of ballots more or less randomly, without knowing the partisan composition. But this, too, is a strategy that can help Republicans: If you expect to lose when all the ballots are counted — as polls suggest — the best thing you can do is add variance. By cutting off the vote tally somewhere short of a full count, you increase your odds of winning.
Republicans will (thinly) veil these voter suppression ploys with legalese, ginned-up fears about voter fraud, procedural integrity, that sort of thing. But every once in a while they slip and give the game away — as when Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller told ABC News on Sunday that Democrats are trying to “steal” the election by, no joke, counting all the votes.
At this point, the only way to avoid a protracted legal battle, and any doubts about the perceived legitimacy of the outcome, would be for Biden to win in an in-person-and-on-Election-Day-ballot-count landslide. That way the absentee, drive-through and provisional ballots that Republicans are trying to invalidate won’t end up mattering.
But even so, the broader issue still would.
Because let’s be honest. America can’t continue calling itself a democracy if it throws out tens or hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in good faith, for transparently anti-democratic reasons, simply because a political party asked for it. We can’t continue to pretend our judicial branch is made up of neutral, qualified individuals calling balls and strikes — at least not when the courts have been packed with appointees vetted for their inclination to cement a partisan agenda that Republican politicians openly expect voters to reject.
The legitimacy of our government, and respect for the rule of law, depends on voters’ belief that it has been put in place as a result of free and fair elections. That’s the social contract. And Republicans have set it aflame.