President Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 presidential election fell short. Now Republicans across the country are promoting changes to laws and personnel that could allow him — or someone like him — to succeed in 2024.

I’m not referring to the hundreds of GOP proposals in statehouses across the country that will make it harder for many people, in particular Black Democrats, to vote. Those measures are egregious and offensive. They are the strategy of a party that has given up on winning by putting forward more appealing policies and candidates and so hopes to win by keeping as many of its opponents away from the ballot box as possible.

What I’m talking about is in some ways even more insidious: an insurance policy to potentially steal the election if the vote-suppression strategy fails.

Recall Trump’s post-election campaign last fall. Having lost decisively, he thought he could pressure local and state officials to nullify the results.

He implored the Republican majority in the Pennsylvania legislature to defy their people’s will and appoint a slate of electors who would vote for him in Washington.

He urged the Georgia secretary of state to claim that Joe Biden’s victory there was fraudulent.

He pressured the Michigan Board of State Canvassers not to certify Biden’s clear victory in their state.

He failed because enough local officials had more integrity and courage than a majority of the Republican caucus in the U.S. House has mustered. The leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature said they didn’t have the authority to do what Trump was demanding. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger simply refused to go along. One of two Republicans on the Michigan board caved to the pressure, but the other, Aaron Van Langevelde, listened to his conscience, and his vote alongside the board’s two Democrats was enough to turn aside Trump’s attempted theft.

All of this was inspiring to many of us. To the anti-democracy forces ascendant in the Republican Party, it provided a challenge and a road map.

Michigan Republicans chose not to nominate Van Langevelde to another term. Raffensperger will face a primary challenge from an amplifier of Trump’s lies about election fraud, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who already has Trump’s endorsement.

“At the end of the day, there were good people on both sides of the aisle who were determined to protect people’s right to vote,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in a meeting with Post reporters and editors this month. “If those people change in 2022, then you have a scenario in 2024 where the good people who protected their states in 2020 aren’t there any more.”

Nor are the anti-democracy forces focused only on top officials. Another Democratic secretary of state, Arizona’s Katie Hobbs, told us that “people around the state are very worried that they’re going to come infiltrate poll workers in the next election.” The law requires a balance of Republicans and Democrats as poll workers — but, Hobbs noted, “it’s very easy to change your affiliation from R to D.”

As they target the people and positions that stood in their way last time, they also are attempting to change the rules, so a pro-Trump legislature could more easily override the will of the people — and the objections of any honest secretary of state who stood in the way.

“In 2021, state legislatures across the country — through at least 148 bills filed in 36 states — are moving to muscle their way into election administration, as they attempt to dislodge or unsettle the executive branch and/or local election officials who, traditionally, have run our voting systems.”

That is the conclusion of a recent report, “A Democracy Crisis in the Making,” by two nonpartisan organizations, States United Democracy Center and Protect Democracy, and a nonprofit law firm in Wisconsin, Law Forward.

“Had these bills been in place in 2020,” the report found, “they would have significantly added to the turmoil that surrounded the election, and they would have raised the alarming prospect that the outcome of the presidential election could have been decided contrary to how the people voted.”

One such measure was included in Georgia’s recent electoral “reform.” While many of us paid attention to the mean-spirited ban on giving water to people waiting in line — and understandably so — the intrusion of the legislature into the counting process could have far more nefarious consequences.

This is why it matters so much that Trump continues to lie about 2020, and that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and most of his party have abjectly surrendered to the lie. It’s not just about history. The lie is being used to give cover for actions that in 2024 could turn the big lie into the big steal.

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