Stop the Steal (of Democracy)

In 2022 and 2024, Democracy is on the ballot.

The January 6th House committee is hard at work ferreting out the truth of the insurrection. We will learn a lot more in the first half of 2022. What we learn may not matter.

The January 6th insurrection was a pre-season game in professional football parlance. As historians have noted, the first overthrow attempt usually is not the one that works.

Meanwhile, the steal of the 2022 and 2024 elections is on autopilot, with the pedal to the metal.

There are three dizzying frontal assaults on our system of voting and elections: (1) blatant and Supreme Court-blessed gerrymandering of house and statewide legislative seats, (2) restricting and preventing voting, plus deployment of intimidation troops, and (3) overturning and stealing legitimate voting results.

Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan, said this about these frontal attacks, “This a five-alarm fire.”

As for the first assault, the Supreme Court-blessed gerrymandering, Paul Waldman, a Washington Post columnist, said this, “ This (redrawing lines) is not ordinary partisan jockeying. Its goal is not merely to give Republicans an advantage in close elections. Its goal is to make elections irrelevant, so that no matter what the voters want, Republicans will always stay in power.”

There was a lynchpin to the current gerrymandering wave. It was the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. States with a history of racial discrimination in voting no longer had to seek permission from the Department of Justice to change voting policies. This hacked the Voting Rights Act off at the knees and tied one arm behind its back. The Supreme Court tossed a live grenade into elections in the United States.

In the blink of an eye, the Republicans launched a full-scale assault on redistricting via gerrymandering.

For a prima facie example of this kind of redistricting within a state, consider Wisconsin. After winning control of the Wisconsin state government in 2010, the Republicans gerrymandered maps so one-sided that their state legislative majorities were guaranteed even if Democrats garnered more votes. In 2018, Democrats won 53% of votes for the state assembly, but held onto to just 36% of the seats. Game — set — match to the Republicans.

As for Wisconsin statewide elections, Wisconsin Republicans are livid that Biden won the state in 2020. But it was they who had created a bipartisan commission five years prior. Now they want that commission arrested and charged with felonies. Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson is proposing that the Republican state legislature simply take control of elections in the state. (See Georgia example later in this blog.)

A 2019 Supreme Court decision sanctified gerrymandering — you know — states rights. They held that gerrymandering is a political issue and not a federal court issue. Any state where one party dominates can “politically” do anything they damn please. And they are. Funny thing that states’ rights’ thing — in 2000, in Bush v Gore, Florida’s state’s rights were ignored, because in that case Gore would have become president. Republicans controlled the Supremes.

(Author’s note. The following Congressional gerrymandering examples, with some 2020 data added, were part of a recent Paul Waldman Washington Post column.)

In Texas, Republicans have eliminated competitive races. Only one of their 38 House districts will be competitive; 24 will be safe Republican, and 13 will be safely Democratic. This, in a state, where in a few years, Democratic voters will be in the majority.

In North Carolina, Republicans redrew maps that created ten safe Republican seats, 3 Democratic safe seats, and one competitive seat. In 2020, Trump won the state with just 50.7% of the vote. Do the math. Republicans are guaranteed 71% of the House seats.

In Georgia, where Biden won the state and where two Democratic senators were elected, the newly drawn map (by the Republican-controlled legislature), gave Republicans control of 9 of 14 districts, and made it nearly impossible for a veteran, prominent Black Democrat, Lucy McBath, to win reelection. They put her in a majority Republican-voter district.

In Utah the new map divides Salt Lake County, which Biden won, into four districts so that all will be Republican.

In Ohio, a new map will ensure that as many as 13 of the state’s 15 seats will be held by Republicans. In 2020, Trump won the state with just over 53% of the vote. Do the math. Republicans are a lock on 87% of the House seats.

In fairness, there are four states, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico and New York where Democrats gerrymander in their favor. None of them are swing states. Maryland is interesting in that the Democratic controlling party could have easily drawn an 8–0 map, but kept one seat for a Republican. New Mexico’s new lines will likely give Democrats all three seats. One district was drawn so as to include most of the Indians in New Mexico so they could have a voice.

More often than not, blue states and purple states have gone to either independent commissions or bipartisan commissions to draw lines. California is such a state, but based on their recent map drawing, Democrats will likely lose two seats in Congress.

As of last count, Republicans are projected to be only one seat away from taking back the House in 2022, and installing Kevin McCarthy as speaker. A few states are still not done with redrawing maps.

The goal is to make voting irrelevant.

The make-up of the Senate has historically skewed in favor of the small states, which in recent decades are decidedly Republican. My state, California, with 39 million people, has two senators. Listed alphabetically, the combined population of Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Wyoming is also 39 million people. They have 28 Senators, only one of which is a Democrat. That is called minority control. I would argue it has become tyranny by the minority.

(For my readers outside the United States, I will not attempt to explain our Electoral College system — nothing like it anywhere in the world — American exceptionalism.)

In case you have not been noticing, Republicans have only won the popular presidential vote in one of the eight presidential elections since Reagan. In every other so-called Democratic country, the popular vote winner is the winner. Game — set — match.

We are this close to a minority-controlled national government — President, Senate, House and Supreme Court — and once in, it will be nearly impossible to dislodge them.

Why does this matter — other than living under an authoritarian government? Let’s zero in on just two issues: abortion and guns. Based on polling, 75% of us believe that an abortion decision is between the woman and her doctor. Yet here we are. Sixty-eight percent of us do not personally own a gun. A similar percent favors stricter gun laws. Yet here we are. In the United States, guns are almost holier then the defense budget. Most gun owners are white men, Republican or conservative, and tend to live in more rural areas. There are a lot of issues with similar skewed polling results — think immigration reform, voting rights, infrastructure needs, lower drug prices, affordable healthcare, term limits, equal rights and women’s rights, minimum wage, taxing corporations and the wealthy, and keeping hands off of Social Security and Medicare, to name a few. For now, Social Security and Medicare are not on the table. But, the other issues are, and the Republicans are nearly lockstep in opposing all of them.

The 2020 presidential election saw record turnout and a huge upswing in voting by mail, mostly due to COVID. And in fact, many states have permanently expanded access to alternative voting methods after finding that voters like them. Good for them. Secretaries of state throughout the country, both Democrats and Republicans, validated the 2020 election. It seemed Democracy and our republic was affirmed.

Yet here we are. A Forbes July poll says that two-thirds of Republicans do not believe Biden won the election.

As for the second frontal assault, in contrast to the states expanding voting, to date, 19 states have passed 33 laws that restrict voting when compared to 2020. The nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice says: “This wave of restrictions is really historic.”

Taken individually (not the 19 states collectively), each state change doesn’t seem like a big deal, other than the obvious question of why is there a need for a change when there is zero proof of any significant fraud. (For the record, most known cases of election fraud in 2020 have been by Republicans.) Their goal is not to eliminate fraud. That’s a canard. The goal is to confuse and intimidate voters who liked or become accustomed to a 2020 voting system, only to see it change.

Many changes are targeted at large counties with Democratic majorities. Imagine that. Taken collectively, 160 days of voting have been eliminated. Polling places continue to shrink. In some cases drop boxes have been restricted, drive-thru voting has been eliminated, and absentee-voting rules changed. It is now harder for a volunteer to help handicapped voters. In Georgia, volunteers are not allowed to provide food or water for voters in long lines. Partisan poll watchers have more access to the process.

Republicans firmly believe that the reason Biden won and the Democrats control (barely) the House and the Senate is that too many people voted.

As for the third assault, Republicans are hard at work infiltrating all levels of the voting process, beginning with secretaries of state. Wherever they have a majority, people not loyal to Trump are being removed or powers taken from them, including down to the county level. It is more difficult to shine a light on shenanigans that are more localized. Smaller municipalities have struggling news organizations, which lack the staffing to cover elections.

Until 2013, Georgia elections operated under federal oversight to ensure fair participation of Black voters. Now, Georgia is leading the way in controlling elections by first taking power away from the Secretary of State. You know, the guy who refused to “find” Trump over 11,000 votes. A new 5-member state board (with only one Democratic member) has been given new powers. They can swoop in and take over any county election process it deems as “underperforming”. Define underperforming. Me thinks it means that if the Republican does not win, the county underperformed. Talk me down from this. The new board has already replaced members in several counties and installed Republicans. These new boards can then further re-write (read restrict) the voting procedures in each county. And they have broad sway over post-election provisional-ballot tallies, audits and recounts.

In Spalding County, near Atlanta, the new board eliminated Sunday voting in a recent municipal election. Sunday voting is a tradition for Black voters — go to church — go to the polls.

The states of Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Utah all have self-appointed grassroots organizations going door-to-door to ferret out fraud, still believing the 2020 election was stolen. Somehow they have gotten their hands on names, addresses and whether people voted absentee or in-person. The group names seem harmless. In Arizona, it’s the Election Integrity Fund. In Colorado it’s the U.S. Election Integrity Plan — New Hampshire, the Voter Integrity Group, and Utah, the Utah Voter Verification Project. These are nothing more than self-appointed vigilante groups.

What to do?

Ari Berman, a national expert on voting, believes very little can be done at the local or state level to stop these assaults, other than to vote out those trying to steal Democracy. He feels all focus should be on pressuring Congress to pass a bill reaffirming the Voting Rights Act, which creates oversight and requires states to get clearance when changing their voting system. The House has passed the Freedom to Vote Act. Polls indicate that 72% of us support the policies of this bill, one of which is to declare Election Day a national holiday, and another curbs gerrymandering.

The Senate has not passed the Freedom to Vote Act. Why? Because in the United States, keeping the filibuster and forcing 60 votes out of 100 is more important than our Democracy. The Republicans are filibustering the bill. They even filibustered debate on the Freedom to Vote Act — all 50 of them. As recently as 2006, Republican Senators unanimously voted to reaffirm the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What changed? A Black man won two presidency terms. And then came Trump.

If no one is willing to join Sirius XM host, Joe Madison, in his hunger strike for voting rights, now approaching 40 days, you can at least bring pressure on the Senate from the comfort of your home. Do not waste your time on any Republican. To carve out a filibuster exception for this bill, your lobbying targets are Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, both so-called Democrats.

If the Voting Rights Act does not become law — game — set — match, to Trump and his troops, armed and ready to rule. Steve Bannon is recruiting 4,000 storm troopers (his words) to infiltrate the government once back in power. Kiss Democracy goodbye.

Here we are.

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Keith Frohreich

Keith Frohreich

Writer of books, blogs and newspaper columns. Due to the current threats to our democracy, my blogs, for now, will focus on those threats. If not me, who?