Election Integrity Under Attack By MAGA Republicans Again

Heather Cox Richardson

The election of 2000 was back in the news this week, when Nate Cohn of the New York Times reminded readers of his newsletter, using a map by data strategist and consultant Matthew C. Isbell, that the unusual butterfly ballot design in Palm Beach County that year siphoned off at least 2,000 votes intended for Democratic candidate Al Gore to far-right candidate Pat Buchanan. 

Those 2,000 votes were enough to decide the election, “all things being equal,” Cohn wrote. But of course, they weren’t equal: in 1998 a purge of the Florida voter rolls had disproportionately disenfranchised Black voters, making them ten times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected.

That ballot and that purge gave Republican candidate George W. Bush the electoral votes from Florida, putting him into the White House although he had lost the popular vote by more than half a million votes.

Revisiting the 2000 election reminds us that manipulating the vote through voter suppression or the mechanics of an election in even small ways can undermine the will of the people.  

A poll out today from the Associated Press/NORC showed that the vast majority of Americans agree about the importance of the fundamental principles of our democracy. Ninety-eight percent of Americans think the right to vote is extremely important, very important, or somewhat important. Only 2% think it is “not too important.” The split was similar with regard to “the right of everyone to equal protection under the law”: 98% of those polled thought it was extremely, very, or somewhat important, while only 2% thought it was not too important. 

Recent election results suggest that voters don’t support the extremism of the current Republican Party. In local elections in the St. Louis, Missouri, area on Tuesday, voters rejected all 13 right-wing candidates for school boards, and in Enid, Oklahoma, voters recalled a city council member who participated in the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and had ties to white supremacist groups. 

Seemingly aware of the growing backlash to their policies, MAGA Republicans are backing away from them, at least in public. Earlier this year, Florida governor Ron DeSantis called for making it harder to ban books after a few activists systematically challenged dozens of books in districts where they had no children in the schools—although he blamed teachers, administrators, and “the news media” for creating a “hoax.” 

Today, lawyers for the state of Texas told a federal appeals court that state legislators might have gone “too far” with their immigration law that made it a state crime to enter Texas illegally and allowed state judges to order immigrants to be deported. (Mexico had flatly refused to accept deported immigrants from other countries under this new law.) Nonetheless, Arizona legislators have passed a similar bill—that Democratic governor Katie Hobbs refuses to sign into law—and are considering another measure that would allow landowners to threaten or shoot people who cross their property to get into the U.S.

Indeed, the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party seem less inclined to moderate their stances than either to pollute popular opinion or to prevent their opponents from voting. 

While Trump is hedging about his stance on abortion—after bragging repeatedly that he was the person responsible for overturning Roe v. Wade—MAGA Republicans have made their unpopular abortion stance even stronger. 

Emily Cochrane of the New York Timesreported today that the hospital at the center of the decision by the Alabama state supreme court that embryos used for in vitro fertilization have the same rights and protections as children has ended its IVF services. And on Monday, Florida’s supreme court, which Florida governor Ron DeSantis packed with extremists, upheld a ban on abortion after 15 weeks and allowed a new six-week abortion ban—before most women know they’re pregnant—to go into effect in 30 days. 

In the past, people seeking abortions had gravitated to Florida because its constitution upheld the right to privacy, which protected abortion. But now the Florida Supreme Court has decided the constitution does not protect the right to abortion. Caroline Kitchener explained in the Washington Post that in the past, more than 80,000 women a year accessed abortion services in Florida. This ban will make it nearly impossible to get an abortion in the American South. 

Anya Cook, who in 2022 nearly died after she was denied an abortion under Florida’s 15-week ban, gave Kitchener a message for Florida women experiencing pregnancy complications: “Run,” she said. “Run, because you have no help here.”

Extremist Republicans have managed to put their policies into place not by winning a majority and passing laws through Congress, but by creating cases that they then take to sympathetic judges. This system, known as “judge shopping,” has so perverted lawmaking that on March 12 the Judicial Conference, the body that makes policy for federal courts, announced a new rule that any lawsuit seeking to overturn statewide or national policies would be randomly assigned among a larger pool of judges. 

On March 29, the chief judge of the Northern District of Texas, where many such cases are filed, told Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that he would not adhere to the new rules. 

Rather than moderating their stances, extremist Republicans are doubling down on their attempt to create dirt on the president. With their impeachment effort against President Joe Biden in embarrassing ruins, House Republicans are casting around for another issue to hurt the Democrats before the 2024 election. 

Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico reported today that in the last month, House Republican Committee chairs have sent almost 50 oversight requests to a variety of departments and agencies. Haberkorn noted that there is “significant political pressure on the party to produce results after months of promising it would uncover evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors involving Biden.”

But it is Trump, not Biden, who is in the news for questionable behavior. In The Guardian today, Hugo Lowell reported that Trump’s social media company was kept afloat in 2022 “by emergency loans provided in part by a Russian-American businessman under scrutiny in a federal insider-trading and money-laundering investigation.”

There is more trouble for the social media company in the news today, as two of its investors pleaded guilty to being part of an insider-trading scheme involving the company’s stock. They admitted they had secret, inside information about the merger between Trump Media and Digital World Acquisition Corporation and had used that insider information to make profitable trades. 

Meanwhile, Trump is suing Truth Social’s founders to force them out of leadership and make them give up their shares in the company. His is a countersuit to their lawsuit accusing him of trying to dilute the company’s stock. 

Of more immediate concern for Trump, Judge Juan Merchan denied yet another attempt by Trump—his eighth, according to prosecutors—to delay his election interference trial. The trial is scheduled to begin April 15.

Finally, in an illustration of extremists aiming not to moderate their stances but to impose the will of the minority on the majority, Republicans are putting in place rules to make it easier for individuals to challenge voters, removing them from the voter rolls before the 2024 election.

Marc Elias of Democracy Docket noted today that states and local governments have regular programs to keep voter registration accurate, while right-wing activists are operating on a different agenda. In one 70,000-person town in Michigan, a single activist challenged more than a thousand voters, Elias reported, and in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, right-wing activists have already challenged 16,000 voters and intend to challenge another 10,000.

One group boasted that their system “can and will change elections in America forever.” 

Rather like the election of 2000.

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