“Our entire democracy is now at risk.” That was the note of alarm sounded last week by a group of prominent intellectuals on both the left and the right. The source of their concern are the Republican efforts, underway across the nation, to operationalize the “big lie”: the bogus claim that a vast conspiracy of fraud cost Trump the 2020 election.
Consider the audit recently ordered by the Republican-controlled state senate in Arizona of the 2.1m votes cast in Maricopa county in the 2020 presidential contest. Lest the audit confirm what has already been proven ad nauseam – that the count was accurate and free of fraud – the senate chose an obscure company called Cyber Ninjas to conduct the recount. Based out of Florida, Cyber Ninjas has no record of ever having conducted an election audit and neglected to even submit a bid for the Arizona job. But the tiny firm did have one thing going for it: its CEO, Doug Logan, a self-proclaimed “follower of Jesus Christ” and proud father of 11, was on record attacking the 2020 election as riddled with fraud.
Inspired by the Arizona case, Republicans in Georgia have demanded that their state undertake a similar “forensic” audit of the 2020 presidential count. And last Wednesday, a group of Republican state lawmakers from Pennsylvania paid a visit to the Arizona audit site, demanding that their home state conduct a like review.
The aim of these efforts is not to overturn the result of the 2020 election, despite Donald Trump’s fantasies to the contrary. Evidently the former president anticipates his reinstatement in the White House roughly two months from now, and his coming rallies will no doubt give him the opportunity to grandly cast himself as a latter-day Napoleon returning triumphantly to power from his palmy exile. But the audits are not designed to stamp Trump a ticket back to DC – at least not at present. The goal is not to oust Biden now, but to conspire against his reelection in 2024.
In this, the audits are of a piece with larger Republican campaigns to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters – specifically Black voters. The very Arizona Republicans who retained Cyber Ninjas recently passed a law that dramatically restricts the distribution of mail-in ballots. Republicans in Georgia have passed a sweeping law that limits the use of drop boxes and criminalizes the simple act of offering water to citizens stuck on long voting queues. And Texas Republicans are on the cusp of passing the most restrictive law of all: one that would restrict absentee ballots and ban drive-through voting altogether. Dozens of other states with Republican-controlled legislatures are racing to pass similar measures.
True, suppressing the Black vote has been a staple of Republican politics for decades. But what distinguishes these new laws is both their sweep and the cynicism of their justification. For it is one thing to use the specter of possible fraud to justify such measures; another, to operationalize a lie about history to justify restrictions in the name of electoral integrity.
Indeed, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these new laws is that they lower the bar for partisans to challenge and alter election results. In Georgia, for example, the new law prohibits the secretary of state from certifying results, a move designed to target Brad Raffensperger, the intrepid Republican who refused Trump’s demand that the secretary “find” enough votes to overcome Biden’s victory in the Peach State. And in Texas, partisans would no longer need to show that improper votes had materially affected the outcome of an election in order to seek to reverse the results.
In the words of the bipartisan group, thanks to these changes, “several states … no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections”. Here I might add –that is precisely what the Republicans want. Fair elections entail…