Conventional wisdom is that all political parties cheat. But in 2018, Republicans are doing a hell of a lot more of it than Democrats.
Stung by losses across the country, the GOP—the self-proclaimed party of traditional values and American patriotism—is resorting to the kinds of chicanery not seen since the days of Tammany Hall. In Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, Republicans who lost the 2018 elections are now trying to rig future ones, strip the winners of their power, and force them to continue the Republican policies that voters just rejected.
Their nakedly anti-democratic actions—taken while they hope no one is paying attention—are desperate attempts to forestall the demographic reality: that a party now wedded to Trumpist white supremacy cannot survive in a more diverse America.
In Wisconsin, state Republicans got shellacked, losing the governor’s mansion and several legislative seats. In response, they’re about to pass a wave of sore-loser, lame-duck legislation that strips Governor-Elect Tony Evers of much of his power, eliminates the office of solicitor general entirely, preserves a corrupt pro-business board that Evers promised to scrap, and forbids Evers from keeping his campaign promise to stop fighting Obamacare.
There are a host of smaller steps too in the 141 pages of legislation that were drafted in secret last week and rushed to the Wisconsin State Assembly floor this week: allowing the legislature to effectively hire its own attorney general, reducing the power of the actual attorney general, and requiring Evers to implement work requirements for Medicaid.
For good measure, the bills also have a host of voter suppression measures: cutting early voting from six to two weeks, separating the primary for state supreme court (where Republicans have a one-seat edge) from the general primary, and cementing outgoing governor Scott Walker’s voter ID regulations.
All of this is taking place in one of the most Republican-gerrymandered states in the country. In the recent election, Democrats won 54 percent of the statewide vote, but only 36 out of 99 seats in the legislature. In January, the Supreme Court allowed Wisconsin’s gerrymandered electoral map to remain in place after Chief Justice Roberts called the proof of its partisan slant “sociological gobbledygook.”
And all this is taking place in the holiday season when people may be distracted. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “It’s real kind of inside baseball, kind of legislative stuff that it’s hard for me to believe people will get too excited about.”
So he hopes.
Neighboring Michigan has apparently contracted the same anti-democratic flu as Wisconsin. There, too, Democrats won the races for governor and attorney general, and the lame-duck Republican legislature has proposed a similar package of steps to reduce their power: empowering the legislature to basically act as the state attorney general and shifting the oversight of election law from the secretary of state (also an incoming Democrat) to a bipartisan commission.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Republicans in the legislature were particularly incensed at Attorney General-Elect Dara Nessel’s statement on the campaign trail that she would have difficulty defending laws she believed to be unconstitutional, including one that allows state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples.
Of course, all attorneys general have this discretion, which is how former Attorney General Jeff Sessions used his civil rights division to investigate claims of discrimination against white people, and refused to defend the Affordable Care Act in court.
Finally, North Carolina’s irregularities fall into two categories: micro and macro.
On the micro level, it now appears that the race in the state’s 9th congressional district has been tainted by good old-fashioned criminal behavior. In that race, fire-breathing Republican Mark Harris—who, among other things, preached in a 2011 sermon that there would be no peace in the Middle East until Jews and Muslims converted to Christianity—defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of 282,717 cast.
Fair enough: close elections happen. But the state has refused to certify the election due to irregularities in Bladen and Robeson counties. The Robeson County elections commissioner reported that someone had gone door to door lying to residents that their voter registrations had expired and having them fill out absentee ballot request forms; 62 percent of those absentee ballots were subsequently not returned.
And in Bladen County, 7.5 percent of voters mysteriously requested absentee ballots, more than double the state’s average of 3 percent. Forty percent of the ballots were unreturned. In addition, the Democratic Party has submitted evidence that other absentee ballots had been collected (“harvested” in election law jargon) and tampered with.
Longtime North Carolina political analyst Michael Bitzer of the Old North State Politics blog extensively crunched the data on the district’s voting irregularities. He found that in Bladen County, 61 percent of absentee ballots went for Harris, the Republican, even though the county is only 19 percent registered Republican.
Meanwhile, on the macro level, North Carolina is the state that paved the way for Michigan and Wisconsin’s antics. Its Republican-led legislature passed a wave of restrictions on the executive branch after Republicans lost the gubernatorial election in 2016.
It’s also the state that, in 2016 (right before Republicans lost that election), passed one of the most overtly racist voter suppression packages in the country, written by Jesse Helms protégé Thomas Farr. He was recently rejected for a federal judgeship but almost sure to be confirmed next spring. An appellate court struck down those rules after finding that “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
And now, in the wake of an actual voter-fraud scandal that is still developing, the Republican-led legislature is considering a lame-duck bill that would restore the voter ID law (which has no impact on actual voter fraud) and write Republican control of election boards into law.
These three states may be early adopters, but they may also be trendsetters for a party threatened with demographic oblivion.
As the GOP has abandoned its moderate wing and bought into a combination of Trumpist/racist populism and Christian theocracy, it has made itself into an endangered species as the country grows less white, less religious, and less rooted in the prejudices of the 20th century.
Remember, Democratic presidential candidates have won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. Only that greatest electoral fix of them all—the electoral college, engineered to benefit slave-holding states—kept two of them out of office, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.
And once Texas, thanks to its burgeoning Latino population and liberal urban centers, goes the way of Colorado, another formerly-red state turned purple and now a blue shade of indigo, it’s hard to see how a Republican wins the White House in the near future, absent a serious ideological course correction.
All this electoral cheating—the gerrymandering, the voter suppression, the lame duck sessions by sore losers—is just rearranging deck chairs on the sinking Republican Titanic.