Democracy is rotting slowly.
Its deterioration is sometimes entirely legitimate, sponsored by the legislature and recognized by the courts.
It occurs when elected officials purposely tip the game to their own benefit. On Sunday, Donald Trump’s fuming audio recordings were released by the Washington Post, badgering the Georgian State Secretary to “find” enough votes to overturn the election results and declare Trump the winner, or face potential legal repercussions. Even some Republicans have admitted that there has been a violation of the bright line between democracy and authoritarianism, but that line has been melting for some time.
It didn’t begin with the presidency of Trump.
Nor, when he leaves the White House, will it stop. The rot lies deep inside a Republican Party that not only has lost confidence in democracy, but also has an interest in law manipulation and minority rule for its future. In Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republican gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral boundaries to support one party – has secured Republican dominance of state legislatures, even though their candidates have earned hundreds of thousands of fewer votes nationally. Trump is a buffoon – but the next potential autocrat will not be so inept | Richard WolffeRead moreRepublicans drew equally favorable maps for Congress and state legislatures in Texas, Ohio and Florida. When Democratic governors prevailed in Wisconsin and North Carolina, Republican-led legislatures defeated them in unprecedented lame-duck sessions. Then, with the approval of the United States, these gerrymandered legislatures The Supreme Court, which annulled the 1965 Civil Rights Act, sought to make it more difficult for Democrats and minorities to vote by using surgically targeted voting identification rules, closing polling places or reducing early voting days. For instance, in a 2018 constitutional amendment approved by nearly two-thirds of voters, when Floridians overwhelmingly voted to restore voting rights for ex-offenders, it was praised as the largest extension of voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed.
An estimated 1.4 million people who completed their sentences reclaimed their voice in public affairs – this overwhelming vote should have been the last straw in any functional representative democracy. But this is Florida, where a constitutional amendment banning political gerrymandering was defied by Republicans in 2011 and trapped themselves in districts so friendly that the will of the people barely counted.
When voters wanted to end restrictions designed after the Civil War to curb black voting rights, the Legislature substituted another reminder of those days: a poll tax.
The Republican legislature insisted that all the fines and penalties associated with their sentences be charged by previously convicted citizens – sometimes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars – before they recovered the right to vote. This is the time bomb that threatens American democracy. The challenge is increasingly urgent. Poll taxes are incredibly successful, as the suppressors of voting know well.
Last fall, ProPublica, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times compared voting lists with a registry of prisoners released in the last 23 years and found that only 31,000 of those 1.4 million former prisoners had been able to register to vote. By a mere 370,000 votes, Trump carried this perennial swing state. This is the time bomb that threatens American democracy. The challenge is only getting more urgent.
The gerrymandering policy of the Republicans, known as Redmap, was executed in 2010. In the Shelby County case, the Supreme Court upheld the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Long before Trump came down an escalator in the Trump Tower and launched his initiative, these efforts came about. After Trump leaves, they may become even more virulent, when 2024 presidential candidates like Josh Hawley, the Missouri senator, decide that the best way to claim the Trump vote is to double down on “fraud” charges, and as red state legislators use these false fraud allegations to justify new voting restrictions. These attempts are already underway.
The new legislature has not even been sworn in in Pennsylvania yet, so legislators are already searching for co-sponsors to curb new voter participation.