Democracy Under Attack

by Tony Wen

According to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and a broad coalition of government and business officials, the 2020 United States Presidential Election was the most secure in American history.[1] President Joe Biden won the election, defeating former President Donald Trump with an Electoral College victory of 306-232, and a seven million popular vote margin.[2] However, in a poll conducted by YouGov and The Economist after President Biden’s inauguration, 72% of Republicans still believed that Biden’s win was illegitimate.[3] This is in large part due to Trump’s refusal to concede and his ongoing claim that he won the election espoused most notably in his first public speech since leaving office at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March of 2021.[4] And what did Republican elected officials do in response? More than half of the Republican conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, 138 members, and seven U.S. Senators voted against certifying the election results. This followed a deadly mob’s attack on the Capitol, where they trashed the historic building and threatened to kill members of Congress and Former Vice President Mike Pence.[5]

It is clear democracy is under attack in the United States. The country, proclaimed as the leader of the free world and noted as the gold standard for elections, is faltering under the weight of disinformation and propaganda. Nonetheless, even in the face of these extreme falsehoods being spread and believed by a large part of the country, President Biden was still inaugurated on January 20th, 2021. The checks and balances upon which our government was built held firm.

Instead of moving forward and working to govern, the GOP has focused on turning these falsehoods of voter fraud and irregularities into legislation. Since the 2020 election, over 106 bills restricting voting access have been introduced in 28 states, three times the amount introduced this time last year.[6] These bills, all introduced by Republicans, show the desperation of the GOP. During the four years of President Trump, the party lost the White House, House of Representatives, and Senate. Instead of changing their party platform or increasing voter outreach, their solution is to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Their excuse — the so-called widespread and rampant voter fraud and election irregularities — motivates their base to support legislation restricting voting access. But in reality, these claims are baseless and reckless. As indicated by legitimate government agencies and election watchers, there was no widespread fraud in any recent election. The proposed laws meant to “protect” American democracy are only damaging it.

There is no state where legislation to restrict voting is more evident than in Georgia. Joe Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1992.[7] Voters turned out in massive numbers, shattering previous records, and forced both Georgia’s Senate elections into runoffs. In the Senate runoff elections in January 2021, both Democratic candidates, like Biden, shocked the world and defeated Republican incumbents, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats.[8] This was due to years of organizing and investment from the state Democratic Party and outside groups, who had long been wanting to flip the state. In response, Republicans in the Georgia Legislature passed an omnibus voter restriction bill, S.B. 202, citing the “mass fraud” in the 2020 elections and the need to secure their state’s elections. Simply put, Georgia’s Republican party failed and lost an election. They are now using the myth of voter fraud to achieve their goal of restricting turnout among specific groups to make voting harder for the opposing party. The Republican Party knows the electoral tide is turning against them, and their only solution is to limit turnout among Democratic voters.

The Georgia House of Representatives first introduced their version of the omnibus bill, H.B. 531, which contained a number of harmful measures. It would restrict Sunday voting to one optional Sunday per county, reduce ballot drop boxes by requiring them to be inside an early voting location, require a photo ID to submit an absentee ballot, and set a 11 days before an election deadline to request an absentee ballot.[9] At the time, the Georgia State Senate was considering its own legislation, which would end automatic voter registration and end no-excuse absentee voting.[10] The final bill that was eventually passed and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp, S.B. 202, introduced strict voter identification requirements for absentee voting, limited drop boxes, and expanded the state Legislature’s power over overturning elections.[11]

While restricting Sunday voting didn’t make it in the final bill, that tactic would disproportionately impact minorities and lower-income communities, who often do not vote for the GOP.[12] Many people that need to vote on weekends cannot throughout the week because of work or family responsibilities. Many low-income workers cannot request time off to vote, and would disproportionately be affected by these restrictions. Additionally, in Georgia and states across the country, there have been popular initiatives from Black churches to get their parishioners to vote after attending church.[13] These programs have brought millions of Black voters to the polls, many of whom overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

Additionally, across the country, absentee ballots in the 2020 election overwhelmingly favored Democrats.[14] This led to Donald Trump attacking the vote by mail process, claiming it was rife with fraud. While this was not the case, absentee voting disadvantaged Republicans and exponentially increased turnout. The GOP now sees voting by mail as a liability for them. Voting by mail allows the opportunity for the electorate to be expanded and for low frequency voters to easily request a ballot ahead of time. S.B. 202’s provision to limit ballot drop off boxes to inside early voting locations adds an unnecessary burden on these voters, with the goal of limiting turnout among absentee voters, who disproportionately voted for Democrats.[15]

Other tactics Republicans tried to implement in Georgia and in other states were ending no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration.[16] These two initiatives would drastically impact turnout, especially among vulnerable groups and communities. Requiring voters to have an excuse to request an absentee ballot could result in many voters choosing not to vote in person. This is especially an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, where over 500,000 Americans have died.[17] Requiring an excuse to vote forces vulnerable populations to go to the polls, such as the elderly, disabled, and the chronically ill. No one should have to choose between voting and getting sick. Furthermore, ending automatic voter registration would add an unnecessary burden to young and new voters, suppressing the youth vote which greatly favors Democrats. Automatic registration is seen as one of the best ways to engage young voters and increase their turnout.[18] It is well-known that young voters often do not vote for Republicans, so the GOP wants to suppress as much of their vote as possible.

On April 1st, 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp signed S.B. 202 into law. The bill signing was so private that a Democratic State Representative was arrested for trying to witness the ceremony.[19] While this package was less restrictive than many of the proposals considered by the Legislature throughout the legislative session, advocates labeled the bill as simple “voter suppression tactics” due to its many harmful components.[20] Provisions that made it in the final bill include severely limiting absentee drop boxes and requiring a photo ID to vote absentee, prohibiting handing out free food and water to voters in line, and empowering the state legislature with much more control over elections.

The 2020 elections resulted in the highest voter turnout our country has ever seen, and we need to keep that momentum going.[21] Our democracy is strongest when as many people participate as possible. By passing laws solely meant to suppress voter turnout and continuing to spread false claims about voter fraud, the GOP is attacking American democracy. When a foreign country influences our elections, it's well-accepted to be an attack. However, when the GOP does the same, Republican leaders call it patriotism. To protect our democracy and our country, we must reject baseless legislation that infringes upon our Constitutionally-protected right to vote and expand voting rights so everyone has an equal opportunity to make their voice heard.



 


[1] Eric Tucker & Frank Bajak, Repudiating Trump, officials say election ‘most secure,’ Assᴏᴄɪᴀᴛᴇᴅ Pʀᴇss (Nov 13, 2020), https://apnews.com/article/top-officials-elections-most-secure-66f9361084ccbc461e3bbf42861057a5.

[2] 2020 Presidential Results: Biden Wins, Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋ Tɪᴍᴇs (Jan. 7, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/03/us/elections/results-president.html.

[3] James Walker, Most Republicans Still Dispute Joe Biden's Election Win Now He's in Office: Poll, Nᴇᴡsᴡᴇᴇᴋ (Jan 28, 2021), https://www.newsweek.com/most-republicans-dispute-joe-biden-election-win-poll-1565041.

[4] Stephen Collinson, Trump unleashes new threat to American democracy, CNN (March 1, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/01/politics/cpac-2021-trump-speech-american-democracy/index.html.

[5] Jenny Gross & Luke Broadwater, Here are the Republicans who objected to certifying the election results., Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋ Tɪᴍᴇs (Jan 7, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/us/politics/republicans-against-certification.html.

[6] Voting Laws Roundup: January 2021, Bʀᴇɴɴᴀɴ Cᴇɴᴛᴇʀ ғᴏʀ Jᴜsᴛɪᴄᴇ (Jan 26, 2021), https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-january-2021.

[7] Elena Moore, Biden Flips Coveted Georgia, The Last State To Be Called By The AP, NPR (Nov 19, 2021), https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-2020-election-results/2020/11/19/934889071/biden-flips-coveted-georgia-the-last-state-to-be-called-by-the-ap.

[8] Alana Wise, Jon Ossoff Wins Georgia Runoff, Handing Democrats Senate Control, NPR (Jan 6, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/01/06/952417689/democrat-jon-ossoff-claims-victory-over-david-perdue-in-georgia-runoff.

[9] Mark Niesee, Voting restrictions bill passes Georgia House over strong opposition, Aᴛʟᴀɴᴛᴀ Jᴏᴜʀɴᴀʟ-Cᴏɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛɪᴏɴ (March 3, 2021), https://www.ajc.com/politics/georgia-house-to-vote-on-election-restrictions-amid-staunch-opposition/46SNHMIYGZGMZDG5KLGHAB6NQ4/.

[10] See Id.

[11] Nick Corasaniti, Georgia G.O.P. Passes Major Law to Limit Voting Amid Nationwide Push, Tʜᴇ Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋ Tɪᴍᴇs (March 25, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/us/politics/georgia-voting-law-republicans.html.

[12] Nicole Hemmer, Souls to the Polls: black churches and the election, Tʜᴇ Cᴏɴᴠᴇʀsᴀᴛɪᴏɴ (Oct 28, 2012), https://theconversation.com/souls-to-the-polls-black-churches-and-the-election-10373.

[13] See Id.

[14] Sam Levine & Alvin Chang, Democrats took a risk to push mail-in voting. It paid off, Tʜᴇ Gᴜᴀʀᴅɪᴀɴ (Dec 3, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/dec/03/democrats-mail-in-voting-2020-election-analysis.

[15] See Id.

[16] Mark Niesse, Georgia Senate panel backs end to automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, Aᴛʟᴀɴᴛᴀ Jᴏᴜʀɴᴀʟ-Cᴏɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛɪᴏɴ (Feb 26, 2021), https://www.ajc.com/politics/senate-panel-backs-bill-to-end-automatic-voter-registration-in-georgia/HLQU3OUNKNDYPJHGXXWQRPMC7U/.

[17] Pien Huang,'A Loss To The Whole Society': U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Reaches 500,000, NPR (Feb 22, 2021), https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/02/22/969494791/a-loss-to-the-whole-society-u-s-covid-19-death-toll-reaches-500-000.

[18] Pam Fessler, Report: Voter Rolls Are Growing Owing To Automatic Voter Registration, NPR (April 11, 2019), https://www.npr.org/2019/04/11/711779753/report-voter-rolls-are-growing-due-to-automatic-voter-registration.

[19] Nick Corasaniti, Georgia G.O.P. Passes Major Law to Limit Voting Amid Nationwide Push, Tʜᴇ Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋ Tɪᴍᴇs (March 25, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/us/politics/georgia-voting-law-republicans.html.

[20] See Id.

[21] Drew Desilver, Turnout soared in 2020 as nearly two-thirds of eligible U.S. voters cast ballots for president, Pᴇᴡ Rᴇsᴇᴀʀᴄʜ Cᴇɴᴛᴇʀ (Jan 28, 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/28/turnout-soared-in-2020-as-nearly-two-thirds-of-eligible-u-s-voters-cast-ballots-for-president/.

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