This Is NOT What Democracy Looks Like
Almost exactly a year ago in North Carolina, after Democrat Roy Cooper had been elected governor and Democrats won control of the State Supreme Court, the Republican-led legislature took the extraordinary step of stripping the governor of certain powers and transferring other powers of the State Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals which still contained a majority of Republicans. It was an unprecedent power grab that Cooper fought in the courts with some degree, but not total, success.
Now, Republicans in Michigan and Wisconsin, which both saw Democratic governors elected in November, are employing similar tactics, attempting to strip existing powers from the incoming governors and other Democratic officeholders. In Wisconsin, the Republican legislature, dominated by the GOP through extreme partisan gerrymandering, is expected to vote as early as tomorrow on a package that would limit the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, Tony Evers. In addition, one of the bills to be considered would change the date of the Supreme Court election in order to protect a conservative justice over the objections of 80% of the county election supervisors in the state and a unanimous vote against the idea from the bipartisan state elections commission. Yet another bill would attempt to limit early voting to within two weeks of an election, a move that has been ruled unconstitutional as recently as 2016.
In Michigan, Democrats won all three statewide offices, Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State, in November. As in Wisconsin, the Republican-held legislature, again a result of extreme partisan gerrymandering, is considering a number of bills that would limit the power of all three incoming officeholders. One bill would let the legislature, not the Attorney General, intervene in legal battles involving the state that the AG may have chosen not to engage. Another bill would strip the Secretary of State’s authority over campaign finance and give it to an independent commission made up of three Republicans and three Democrats.
These actions follow the legislature’s admitted attempt to sabotage the Michigan ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage and offer paid sick leave. The legislature passed bills that included these protections back in September specifically to invalidate the proposed ballot initiative in November and had every intention of then repealing those bills after the election.
That attempt was certainly a unique method for invalidating a ballot initiative. In the past, legislatures have simply passed laws overriding the results of those initiatives, many of which embody progressive ideas. In 2016, South Dakota’s legislature effectively watered down a ballot initiative on government ethics that limited the influence of lobbyists. In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage successfully delayed the implementation of Medicaid expansion which had been approved by the voters in a ballot initiative. Oklahoma’s legislature sought to overturn the results of a criminal justice reform ballot initiative. In the District of Columbia, the city council overturned a minimum wage ballot initiative.
While Democrats are trying to fight extreme partisan gerrymandering on a national level, the Democratic-controlled New Jersey legislature is trying to entrench their power by using those very same tactics. A new proposed constitutional amendment would give the legislature power over the redistricting commission and institute a mathematical modeling formula that could be tweaked to arrive at the result the commission wants. All this is being done with the assumption that Democrats will still be in control after the 2020 census, allowing them to set the maps for the next decade. However, nothing would stop Republicans from using these same tools to rig the map in their favor in the unlikely event they gain control of the legislature.
Meanwhile, top Republican officials are pursuing outlandish claims of electoral fraud simply because counting mail-in and absentee ballots takes time. Paul Ryan, illustrating the spectacular hack he has always been, is claiming that there must be rampant voter fraud because of the way ballots are counted in California. Said Ryan, “California just defies logic to me… We were only down 26 seats the night of the election & 3 weeks later, we lost basically every contested CA race. This election system they have – I can’t begin to understand what ‘ballot harvesting’ is”. Lindsey Graham had a similar issue with how the votes were counted in Florida, saying, “This is a constant problem… If you’re a Republican, you’ve got to win by a lot to win by a little. Rick Scott had a 60,000 vote majority and wound up winning by 10”.
Those comments are laughable. What is not is the actual voter fraud that appears to have occurred in North Carolina. There, the bipartisan Board of Elections unanimously agreed not to validate the Congressional election in the ninth district, where Republican Mark Harris apparently eked out a 905 vote victory. In two counties within that district, some fairly unusual things occurred. First, there was an unusually high number of absentee ballot requests, followed by reports that voters were being told their registrations had dropped and offering to submit an absentee ballot while their attempts to re-register would be processed. The election returns indicated two related anomalies. First, a large number of absentee ballots were never returned. More worryingly, the percentage of absentee ballots actually cast for Harris in those two counties was far higher than in any other county in the district. Together, this seems to indicate that absentee ballots for the Democratic candidate were suppressed while the ones for the Republican were actually sent in and processed. Now, apparently, the Board of Elections is looking at potentially similar problems with Harris’ victory in the Republican primary back in May.
So, despite the constant Republican bogeyman about in-person voter fraud, which has been shown to be virtually non-existent, it appears the real voter fraud is being carried out by a Republican using absentee ballots. Voter ID would not have stopped this apparent fraud. Restricting early voting wouldn’t have stopped it either. Rather, those are just “legal” steps to suppress Democratic votes.
American democracy has become fundamentally broken and dysfunctional. Politicians are now brazenly and willfully putting obstacles in place to restrict the will of the voters and, worse, actively overturning actions voters specifically authorized, responding instead only to the moneyed, corporate interests that fund their campaigns or pay them directly. It is no wonder that we see such a precipitous decline in the faith that younger people have in the very concept of democracy and increased tolerance for those such as Trump with autocratic tendencies. Restoring that faith and repairing the system will not be easy and will take time, but it must be done.