John Colson: Biden poised for existential election-law battle
Hit & Run
President Joe Biden has passed his first 100 days in office, and generally I applaud most of what he has done to try to reverse the downward spiral of democracy in the U.S.
But he’s up against an existential election-law battle now, as Republican obstructionists dig in to prevent passage of the For The People Act (HR1 and S1), introduced and passed originally in 2019 in the House of Representatives but blocked by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
The bill is a complex bit of legislation aimed at shoring up voting rights across the country in the face of a concerted effort by Republicans to pass hundreds of voter-suppression laws in more than 40 states.
A big part of this tangled knot of anti-democracy hubbub comes directly out of what is commonly known as The Big Lie. That’s the one repeated ad nauseum by former president Donald Trump, who maintains, in the face of an Everest-sized mountain of evidence to the contrary, that the 2020 election was somehow “stolen” by Democrats.
By now many of us have heard of the Republic leadership’s open admission that, if election laws permit every eligible voter in the country to cast a ballot, the Grand Old Party would lose on nearly every level of government.
And since the basic philosophy of the party seems to be “win at any cost, including structural damage to our nation’s form of government,” the faithful have fallen into line on a plan to criminally deny the vote to huge segments of the electorate.
But the movement to scrub Democrats from the electoral rolls, and to prevent huge numbers of Democrat-supporting voters from casting ballots at all, goes back further than Trump. It could be said to reach as far back as the Bush v. Gore debacle in 2000, when a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority whisked electoral victory out from under former Vice President Al Gore and gave it to George W. Bush, in part by stopping an electoral recount in Florida that seemed to be leaning toward a Gore win.
And, in fact, you may recall that Gore ultimately pulled in a couple million more votes than Bush, nationwide. The message was clear to the GOP — limit the numbers of people casting ballots, and the party has a chance of holding onto power.
An October article in The New Republic magazine put it quite clearly, I thought, by pointing out that the right-wing’s most blatant turn to voter suppression started in “the early aughts, as enterprising political operatives on the right began experimenting with new, high-tech ways to marginalize and disenfranchise key constituencies of voters that were starting to emerge as the building blocks of a potential Democratic majority coalition.
“It involves the militant weaponization of a landmark Supreme Court decision essentially rescinding the most substantive provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“But at its core, the Republican assault on open ballot access and fair legislative representation hinges on a simple offensive: wipe out competitive voting districts, and erect elaborate new requirements for voting, together with cumbersome new logistical obstacles to turning out on Election Day.”
But the current atmosphere of political divisiveness and electoral cheating is as bad as it’s ever been, to my knowledge, and it’s filtering down from the halls of power in Washington, D.C., all the way to small-town election machinery, at least according to a recent story in the New York Times.
The vast army of volunteers who do the nuts and bolts work of every election are complaining that this work is becoming hazardous, thanks to harassment by partisan poll workers determined to disrupt voting in every way they can, and now to the prospect of new voting laws penalizing election workers for doing their jobs.
According to the NYT, many of the laws now being pushed through in state capitols, at least in part, are aimed at creating “harsh penalties on election officials or poll workers” over alleged errors or election-law violations.
Remember, now, that of the more than 60 lawsuits filed by Trump supporters in the last election, none found the supposed intensive voter fraud claimed by Republicans. Most of those suits, in fact, were thrown out by judges, including judges appointed by Trump.
So, theoretically, Republicans are pursuing remedies for a problem that does not exist other than in their feeble, Trump-addicted minds. In point of fact, however, they are pursuing ways to guarantee that the United States becomes the permanent fiefdom of the GOP, despite the fact that, according to election experts, Democrats outnumber Republicans nationwide.
And by doing it through hate-mongering, harassment and threats, the party is making it more difficult to find election workers willing to expose themselves to possible prosecution, massive fines and perhaps even jail time over the kinds of unintentional errors that happen all the time in human endeavors.
The GOP seems to have concluded that the best way to hold onto power falls along the line, “If your party can’t win elections fairly and honestly, it’s best to destroy the system and rebuild it so that only your party can win.”
And that, dear readers, is no way to run a country.
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