Hours after Michael Flynn, the retired three-star general and former national security adviser and convicted criminal, told a group of QAnon conspirators who gathered in Dallas over Memorial Day weekend that the Biden administration expected to be overthrown by force, Democratic lawmakers at Texas State House, two hundred miles away in Austin, did something remarkable: They prevented their fellow Republicans from adopting one of the most restrictive ballot bills in the country. Flynn’s statement and the Republicans’ efforts hinge on repeating the same untruth: that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump by a cabal of Democrats, election officials, and election agents who perpetrated election fraud. It does not matter that this claim has been pleaded, challenged and demystified. Based on data collected by the Conservative Heritage Foundation, the incidence of voter fraud in the two decades leading up to last year’s election was around 0.00006% of the total ballots cast. It was also negligible in 2020, as Trump’s attorney general William Barr acknowledged at the time.
Senate Bill 7 was blocked at the last minute when House Democrats in Texas walked out, depriving Republicans of a quorum. The legislation is chock-full of what are becoming standard removal tactics – most of which weigh on people of color, who in 2020 voted overwhelmingly Democratic – and includes measures that would allow, for example, a judge to overturn a result of election simply if a challenger claims, without any evidence, that fraudulent votes changed the outcome. Sarah Labowitz of the Texas ACLU called the bill “ruthless.” Texas was already the toughest state to vote, according to a recent study from Northern Illinois University. In 2020, voter turnout was among the lowest in the country. Even so, with non-whites making up over sixty percent of the population under the age of twenty, Texas is on its way to becoming a swing state. SB 7 is intended to ensure that this is not the case. Governor Greg Abbott has promised to call a special session of the legislature to reintroduce it.
Since January, Republican lawmakers in forty-eight states have introduced nearly four hundred restrictive vote bills. What sets these efforts apart is that they target not only voters, but election officials and agents as well. The Texas bill makes it a criminal offense for an election official to obstruct the view of poll observers, who are usually partisan volunteers, and grants those observers the right to record videos of voters in the polls. polling stations. In Iowa, officials could be fined ten thousand dollars for “technical offenses,” such as not clearing voters enough from the lists. In Florida, workers who leave drop boxes unattended, even briefly, can be fined up to twenty-five thousand dollars. In Georgia, election observers can challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters.
Even before the pandemic, sixty-five percent of the country’s jurisdictions struggled to attract election officials. The threat of significant fines and criminal prosecution will only make this task more difficult, and that is clearly the point. Polling stations cannot function without election officials. Voters cannot vote if there are no polling stations or if they cannot queue for hours at open sites, let alone if other means of voting, such as by mail , were banned.
What started as thinly veiled attempts to keep Democrats from voting has grown into a move to undermine confidence in our democracy itself. How else to understand the current “recount” in Maricopa County, Arizona (which gave Joe Biden the state), six months after the certification of the elections? Despite an audit in February that found no wrongdoing, Arizona Senate Republicans took possession of more than two million county ballots and turned them over to a private Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, who has no election audit experience. The CEO of the company reportedly tweeted that he was “tired of hearing people say there was no fraud.” It’s unclear who is paying for the recount, which was due to end last month. According to Republic of Arizona, project recruiters “reached out to traditionally conservative groups.” At least one of the witnesses took place during the Stop the Steal rally on January 6 in front of the United States Capitol. Some have examined the ballots for bamboo fibers, allegedly proving that counterfeit ballots for Biden were sent from South Korea. The official chain of custody was also severed for the voting machines, which could allow real fraud and force the county to replace them.
It’s easy to joke about conspiracy hunters looking for pieces of bamboo. But the fact is, more than half of Republicans still believe Trump won, and a quarter of all Americans believe the election was rigged. Republicans in at least four other states – New Hampshire, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania – are now considering a recount. Soon Trump will start organizing rallies again and use them to amplify his Big Lie lie; he reportedly suggested he could be back at the White House in August, once the recounts are over. The real and imminent danger is that all the noise will make it easier for a cohort of Americans to welcome the dissolution of the political system, which appears to be the ultimate goal of current Republican efforts.
Last Tuesday, in a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, Biden vowed to “fight like hell” to preserve the voting rights, and he deputized for Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the charge. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, has said he will put the For the People Act to a vote this month. Among other provisions, the law mandates automatic voter registration, prohibits voter intimidation, and reduces the influence of black money in elections. If it becomes law and survives the inevitable legal challenges, it could end much of the Republican plunder and perhaps prove the most crucial piece of legislation in a generation.
Almost seventy percent of Americans are in favor of the bill’s measures, but it is unlikely to win the support of Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat of West Virginia, let alone a number enough Republicans to overcome the obstacle of sixty votes imposed by the systematic obstruction. So far, much to Biden’s chagrin, Manchin and fellow Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have opposed removing the filibuster. It is up to Democratic leaders to make their colleagues understand that their heritage and that of their party are now linked to the survival of American democracy. ♦