Elections expert explains what scares him about GOP efforts to subvert election: They 'will mess with the count'
The ongoing farce of Arizona's "fraudit" of 2020 ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, is largely treated as a joke because the people behind it are prone to spouting such out-of-this-world conspiracy theories. But many smart people, people like Rick Hasen—legal scholar and expert in legislation, election law, and campaign finance; current chancellor's professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law; and the guy behind Election Law Blog—aren't laughing.
"I'm scared shitless," he told investigative journalist Jane Mayer for The New Yorker. The audit combined with a spate of new election laws stemming from the kind of theories underpinning this action go beyond anything we've seen out the extreme right before. "It's not just about voter suppression," he told Mayer. "What I'm really worried about is election subversion. Election officials are being put in place who will mess with the count." This is happening, as Mayer exposes, through the efforts of longstanding conservative groups, groups that have posed as mainstream Republican organizations.
It's funded by those groups and "fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country's wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives," Mayer writes. Groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Federalist Society—all groups that the left has known for decades are extremist, but which mainstream Republicans are happy with which to associate. It's all the dark money groups that started whispering "voter fraud" in the George W. Bush administration, building up to the point of the Big Lie, which if they can get it well enough established in state legislatures—like Arizona's and Georgia's—they can take control of elections.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, has been following all of this, and told Mayer that from his perspective there is a "flotilla of front groups" that has moved from the kind of normal anti-regulatory, anti-abortion movement and has now "more or less shifted to work on the voter-suppression thing." They are, as Mayer puts it, "tampering with the guardrails of democracy." They've all teamed up to start pushing new voting restrictions in the states, but this new movement we're seeing in Arizona and Georgia to move beyond restrictions into controlling who is doing the election administration and counting the votes—that's what has Hasen scared "shitless."
He's not alone. Former Republican Ralph Neas, once executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, explained how this is working:
The Maricopa County audit exposes exactly what the Big Lie is all about. If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos. That will enable new legislation. Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping Donald Trump to be elected again in 2024. That's the bottom line. Maricopa County is the prism through which to view everything. It's not so much about 2020—it's about 2022 and 2024. This is a coördinated national effort to distort not just what happened in 2020 but to regain the House of Representatives and the Presidency.
There's a Supreme Court—shaped by the Federalist Society—that is more likely than not to let it happen once state laws are in place. There's a glimmer of precedence for right-wing justices to do just that in the Bush v. Gore decision that selected the president in 2000. In their concurrence on the decision, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, "argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors." That's the underpinning, the "Independent Legislature Doctrine," to attempts by the right and the former guy's lawyers to overturn elections. It's what Republican legislatures are going to point to in order to justify new laws to take over elections. Nathaniel Persily, an election law expert at Stanford, told Mayer, "It's giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument."
The dark money-funded Public Interest Legal Foundation is taking that job on. It's brought nine election law cases in eight states in just the last year, and features some of the leading lawyers trying to end democratic elections. One of those is John Eastman, a Federalist Society bigwig.
ALEC is also on the job, and in fact was laying the groundwork for legislatures to contest the popular vote well before November 2020. "That February," Mayer reports ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson "told a private gathering of the Council for National Policy about a high-level review that her group had undertaken of ways to challenge 'the validity' of the Presidential returns." She told a gathering of the Council for National Policy, caught on tape and obtained by the investigative group Documented, that "Obviously, we all want President Trump to win, and win the national vote." Nelson continued: "But it's very clear that, really, what it comes down to is the states, and the state legislators." She said conservative legislators should be encouraged to sow doubt about election results should Trump lose and to ask, "What did happen that night?"
Mayer's story is well worth the read, exposing a who's who of the mainstream of Republican politians who are determined to end democratic elections in this country. She features Arizona and the bizarre fraudit, but Georgia is providing another case study where Republican legislators are laying the groundwork to seize control of elections away from Fulton County election officials. Fulton County is the most Black, most populous, most Democratic county in the state.
Which brings us around to the filibuster, the only thing standing between fixing all that with new voting rights and election laws from Congress. The Jim Crow filibuster—endorsed by Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—is allowing all of these dark money groups and Republican states to start planning for 2022 and 2024. Manchin and Sinema center their defense of the filibuster in lofty ideals of what the "founding fathers" intended (which was not to have a filibuster) and "traditions of bipartisanship," giving Republicans undue credit for being patriotic Americans.
Every Republican they consider "good people" is connected to those groups that have been plotting this takeover of elections. Every single one of them has benefitted form their largesse. They have no qualms about doing anything to win. That includes eliminating the filibuster—they did it for Supreme Court justices!
Democrats being just as ruthless about saving our democracy as Republicans are in stealing it isn't "stooping to their level." It's saving it from them. And it has to happen soon. While Manchin and Sinema are basking in the glow of being used by Republicans to water down President Biden's goals with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are plotting how to return them to the minority and keep them there forever.
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