What if Georgia election officials had somehow found those nonexistent votes that then-President Donald Trump pressured them to “find” to overturn his narrow loss in the Peach State? What if there hadn’t been a secretary of state with not only the spine but the authority to make sure the election was immune from partisan cheating?
It would have been a devastating loss for democracy, that’s what. And it would have been much easier to pull off had Georgia’s brand-new election law been in place.
Thanks to a somewhat overlooked provision in Georgia’s new restrictive voting law and similar measures being pushed in more than a half-dozen other GOP-controlled legislatures, the skids are becoming better greased for Trump-style election tampering in the future. These attempts to subvert the will of voters must be stopped.
What is behind the law
Tucked inside the new Georgia elections law is a measure that shifts a significant amount of election oversight power from the secretary of state and county election boards to the legislature. The measure removes the elected secretary of state as chair of the state election board and replaces him or her with an appointee of the Republican-run legislature.
Such a coincidence! Just a few months after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says “no” to magical vote-finding, the legislature takes a chunk of power and authority from his office and shifts it to someone of their choosing — and, we can only assume, more likely to do their bidding.
The law doesn’t just change who picks the chair. Now, the majority of the board’s members will be legislative appointees, and the board gains ominous new power: the ability to remove and replace election officials administering the vote at the level where the real elections work happens — the county level.
Let’s say the state board does not like the way vote-counting is going in heavily Democratic Fulton County. Under the new law, the board can fire those in charge and plop in a new boss more to its liking.
“After the November election last year,” Gov. Brian Kemp said as he signed the bill into law, “I knew … that significant reforms to our state elections were needed.”
Given that no one has produced evidence of large-scale cheating, fraud, counting dead people’s votes, or losing living people’s votes, I think we know what Kemp sees as needing “reform”: Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in previously red Georgia.
“Republicans are brazenly trying to seize local and state election authority in an unprecedented power grab,” says voting rights leader Stacey Abrams, former Democratic leader in the Georgia State House. The new law, she says, is “intended to alter election outcomes and remove state and county election officials who refuse to put party above the people … Had their grand plan been law in 2020, the numerous attempts by state legislatures to overturn the will of the voters would have succeeded.”
Abrams is one of many calling the new Georgia law unconstitutional, and three voting-rights groups have filed a lawsuit. Not to play judge, but bear in mind that the Constitution forbids states from placing undue burdens on citizens’ right to vote. It stands to reason that includes the burden imposed by politicians’ power-grabbing authority over election administration.
Stacey Abrams:Don’t boycott corporations over voting rights yet. First press them to speak up.
Arizona — which like Georgia dealt Trump a narrow defeat — is also weighing legislation that would make election oversight more prone to partisan manipulation; one measure introduced there would give the GOP-led legislature authority over the state elections manual, which now rests in the hands of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
Overall, as the New York Times reports, GOP legislators in at least eight states are pushing bills that would take election oversight power away from secretaries of state, governors and nonpartisan election boards, and turn it over to legislatures.
Restoring confidence in elections?
Republican lawmakers must be savoring the prospect, as foxes generally do when they’re about to take over guard duty at the henhouse.
Party leaders will tell you that moves like these are necessary to restore public confidence in elections. Quite a trick, that. The only reason confidence needs restoring is that Trump and his party destroyed it by pushing the big lie that that November’s election was rigged and stolen. As attested by judge after judge and election official after election official, Republican appointees as well as Democrat, there is no evidence of cheating or fraud at anything approaching the scale that would change the outcome of the Nov. 6 vote.
Use every tool to protect voting:The Georgia Republican Party wants to set voting rights back decades. Is your state next?
I don’t doubt that some everyday Republicans sincerely believe the lie that’s been fed to them by right-wing media and the ex-president. But it’s increasingly obvious that the most aggressive and high-profile propagators of the lie — hello, Sidney Powell — don’t mean it literally when they tell it.
Trumpian words like “rigged,” “fraud,” and “steal” should be taken as code words. Their real meaning? The election was decisively influenced by people who should not be allowed so much say in electing the president and determining the direction of the country.
The only thing “wrong” with the 2020 presidential election is that a lot of liberals and people of color voted, and the “wrong” person won.
What’s truly wrong is changing election laws to make sure those people can’t do it again.
A member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, Tom Krattenmaker writes on religion and values in public life. He is the author of Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower. Follow him on Twitter at @krattenmaker.