Legalizing Undemocracy

With hundreds of thousands needlessly dead from COVID-19, it’s hard to say we got lucky with Trump. But when it comes to authoritarianism, we were fortunate in that he is lazy, impulsive, and ignorant. But this is the 2024 scenario that worries me (boldface mine):

The direct implications of the new law are alarming enough: conservatives with an interest in voter suppression could use their authority to disrupt election administration in majority-minority counties. The possibilities for mischief by a partisan legislature fearful of high turnout by opposed constituencies are endless.

But it’s the chilling effect on the actions of secretaries of state in future elections that should terrify defenders of American democracy. Raffensperger was engaged in very public, very bitter dispute with then-President Trump over the election result. Trump’s actions were both immoral and very likely illegal. The House of Representatives was on track to possibly impeach Trump for his threatening phone call, until the events of January 6th presented an even more immediate danger to the nation that demanded addressing. Prosecutors in Georgia are still closing in on the former president for his cajoling threats against Raffensperger, empaneling two grand juries with possible RICO and election fraud charges in the works….

The message here is clear: next time the Republican nominee for president demands that a Republican secretary of state invent a reason to simply give the Republican the state’s electoral votes, they will know they had better do so–or else. The incentives roll outward from there: both secretaries of state and appointee overseers of elections will know they had better find reasons to invalidate the votes of Democratic constituencies or find themselves threatened and disempowered. The Republicans sitting on bipartisan election boards will find reasons to refuse to certify elections.

Democrats would of course challenge all of it this in the courts. But in many states, the end result will be deadlock and non-certification. That would in turn then hand the election to be decided by gerrymandered state legislatures, which often lean heavily Republican even when the state itself votes majority Democratic as a whole. The formerly small faction of authoritarian Republicans seeking to repeal the 17th Amendment will have won the day not only for Senate elections, but for Presidential elections as well. It would overlay a series of undemocratic gerrymanders on top of already malapportioned Electoral College that increasingly grants the presidency to the loser of the popular vote.

It would mean, in short, the end of American democracy.

This is how the smart authoritarian rolls: one legalizes minority rule. This is very dangerous. There are some things we could do to stop this–if nothing else, the National Vote Compact, in which states agree to allocate their electoral college votes by the popular vote result, would go a long way. However, it wouldn’t stop chicanery at the state level.

Mind you, this is what happens when forty percent of one party’s vote represents an ethnic group, white evangelicals, that is only fifteen percent of the population. Add to that a persecution complex, and history is painfully clear about how that minority often will side with authoritarians to maintain power–sometimes at all costs.

This might not end well.

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