The problem Republicans face, according to party leaders themselves, is that too many Democrats took advantage of vote by mail during a freaking deadly pandemic, compared to Republicans who were dissuaded from voting by mail by Republican leaders bent on pretending the deadly pandemic was a hoax. Now that the party is freed from having to pretend their concerns revolve around anything other than an attempt to cling to power despite shedding voters, they are saying so outright: “They’ve got to change the major parts of [voting rules] so that we at least have a shot at winning,” burped a Georgia Republican elections official last week.
The plan, then: End absentee voting, pandemic or no pandemic. Either make it so onerous that most voters cannot stomach it (as with an Arizona lawmaker’s proposal requiring absentee ballots to be notarized), or simply outlaw it except in narrow cases. Again, we’re in the midst of a deadly pandemic. People are choosing to vote by mail so as to … not die.
Georgia may turn out to be the epicenter of these new restrictions, if only because the state’s Republicans have largely unfettered power to enact them. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has been trying to make amends with his party after refusing to end democracy outright in his state by suggesting that the state’s vote-by-mail system be eliminated. It was originally adopted by Republicans as a way to boost Republican turnout, since Republican voters tend to be, ahem, older, but having the common rabble use the same laws to Not Die during a pandemic has infuriated party leaders, many of whom believe it to have caused Donald Trump’s loss in the state.
But similar bills are being proposed or have already passed in Arizona, which intends to strip the vast majority of voters from its early voting lists; Kentucky, where Republicans are looking to strip the Democratic governor’s authority to implement “emergency” election changes and instead give it to, well, themselves; Montana, where Republicans are looking to end same-day registration for no apparent reason other than, again, to screw with voters; and New Hampshire, looking to do the same.
With any luck, we will not still be in the midst of a pandemic emergency two years from now, or four, but what Republicans appear to have taken as the central lesson of emergency voting procedures during the last election is that vote by mail is inherently dangerous to Republicanism. States like Georgia, which have long relied on manipulations such as closing polling places in non-Republican counties while expanding them in Republican ones, saw those previous efforts rendered useless when voters could return their ballots by mail. Long lines at polling places due to understaffing? Also circumvented.
Voting by mail, in other words, short-circuits many of the party’s most popular methods of minority disenfranchisement. It was fine as a means of boosting Republican turnout; now that it has turned into a more general-purpose tool, the party now believes it’s got to go.
We’ll be seeing a lot of this in the next two years. The Republican push toward fascism—the notion that only Republican rule is legitimate, and that votes against Republican power are inherently not—will continue with aggressive moves to sabotage American elections one way or another. Limiting who can vote has been the go-to method since Reconstruction, and with a Supreme Court majority now itching for excuses to undo whatever civil rights legislation they can, will now become the party’s signature issue.