This isn’t a game. Republicans are responding to Donald Trump’s loss, a loss that should have been predictable after a presidency that careened from incompetence to disinterest to outright corruption, with a concerted effort to make sure fewer of the wrong kind of Americans can vote in future elections. Abandoning white nationalism is right out, and the base is now so thoroughly corrupted by the hoaxes served up by grifting television hosts that dragging them back into reality’s fencelines likely cannot happen. So that just leaves voter suppression. Again. Still.
The plans of Georgia Republicans are particularly instructive. In January the party lost both Senate seats to Democratic candidates, the result of herculean turnout efforts by Democratic activists even as the COVID-19 pandemic jumbled both parties’ usual plans. Republican lawmakers in the state are therefore piping up with a series of “reforms” aimed squarely at sabotaging each Democratic path to getting votes.
Skim through this rundown of Republican efforts in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and take note of each one.
Republicans want to end the practice of automatically registering state voters when they obtain driver’s licenses. When automatic registration was introduced in 2016, it resulted in nearly 700,000 new voters being added to the state’s rolls. Given that the winning margin of Democratic candidate Joe Biden over Trump in November was roughly 12,000 votes, curtailing that flow of new voters could be expected to have substantial effects.
Republicans want to end no-excuse absentee voting, instead sharply limiting those who can receive mail-in ballots. It was Republicans themselves who instituted the reform in the first place, believing (correctly!) that their own base of voters, which tends to skew older, would disproportionately take advantage of the convenience. The pandemic, however, reversed that dynamic: Democratic voters were far more likely to vote by mail, because their politicians told them that was the safer option, while Republican voters shunned mail-in ballots after being peppered by conspiracy theories from Dear Leader and Dear Leader’s associates. Democrats sent their ballots in, and Republicans, comparatively, didn’t.
So now it’s gotta go, say Republicans. We’ve changed our minds; now the reform adopted to allow the Republican base to more reliably cast ballots is suspect and possibly fraud-infused, after non-Republicans began voting the same way.
Another Republican proposal: Banning dropboxes for ballots, instead requiring that ballots be hand-delivered to county election offices or be sent via U.S. mail. That piggybacks on what was broadly suspected to be moves by the Trump administration to reduce delivery capabilities in the months before the election, scrapping mail sorting machines and instituting new rules sharply limiting overtime hours despite a pandemic-caused reduction of available workers.
And then there are the usual voter ID-requiring bills. Georgia Republicans want to require voters to submit a copy of their voter ID or other state identification when requesting an absentee ballot. As usual, such rules disproportionately restrict access of poorer state residents, who are less likely to have such identification and are less likely to be able to shell out time and money to get it. And poorer communities do not vote Republican, so ID restrictions have become a reliable staple of the party’s disenfranchisement strategies nationwide.
All of these bills identify a specific source of Democratic-leaning votes in the just-passed elections and looks to put an end to it. There is no parallel attempt to court more Republican votes, only an institutionalized effort to make voting more difficult than it previously was, in response to specific identified weaknesses in the party’s past voter suppression efforts. If it requires turning party ideology upside-down, flipping from pro-vote-by-mail when it benefited older voters to no-vote-by-mail when it benefits, during a pandemic, a much broader swath of the public, then the party’s stance will flip as needed.
What will not flip is the party’s approach to nonwhite Americans, to poorer Americans, and to other groups long demonized in party rhetoric and held up to be the cause of all of the nation’s problems. The votes cast by those groups are instead simply declared to be “fraudulent,” by Republican officials who are unable to find any such fraud but still willing to level the charge and repeat it so often that it becomes pointed-to justification for mob violence.
The party’s push to restrict voting is going to be extravagant in coming months. Propaganda-based white nationalist hucksterism is not a majority movement, in this country, and cannot win elections without limiting the input of everyone else. So that is what America’s far-right will now attempt.