Monthly Archives: February 2021

“In Statehouses, Stolen-Election Myth Fuels a G.O.P. Drive to Rewrite Rules”

Michael Wines for the NYT:

Led by loyalists who embrace former President Donald J. Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, Republicans in state legislatures nationwide are mounting extraordinary efforts to change the rules of voting and representation — and enhance their own political clout.

At the top of those efforts is a slew of bills raising new barriers to casting votes, particularly the mail ballots that Democrats flocked to in the 2020 election. But other measures go well beyond that, including tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules for the benefit of Republicans; clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives; and outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections, which were crucial to the smooth November vote.

And although the decennial redrawing of political maps has been pushed to the fall because of delays in delivering 2020 census totals, there are already signs of an aggressive drive to further gerrymander political districts, particularly in states under complete Republican control.

The national Republican Party joined the movement this past week by setting up a Committee on Election Integrity to scrutinize state election laws, echoing similar moves by Republicans in a number of state legislatures.

Republicans have long thought — sometimes quietly, occasionally out loud — that large turnouts, particularly in urban areas, favor Democrats, and that Republicans benefit when fewer people vote. But politicians and scholars alike say that this moment feels like a dangerous plunge into uncharted waters.

The avalanche of legislation also raises fundamental questions about the ability of a minority of voters to exert majority control in American politics, with Republicans winning the popular vote in just one of the last eight presidential elections but filling six of the nine seats on the Supreme Court.

The party’s battle in the past decade to raise barriers to voting, principally among minorities, young people and other Democrat-leaning groups, has been waged under the banner of stopping voter fraud that multiple studies have shown barely exists.

“The typical response by a losing party in a functioning democracy is that they alter their platform to make it more appealing,” Kenneth Mayer, an expert on voting and elections at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said. “Here the response is to try to keep people from voting. It’s dangerously antidemocratic.”

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“At conservative conference, Trump’s election falsehoods flourish”


Right Side Broadcasting Network was streaming the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the content was becoming a problem. One of the weekend’s first panels had brought a lawyer for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign together with other anti-“voter fraud” crusaders, and they suggested that Nevada’s election was stolen for the Democrats.

“We must jump in here and make a small disclosure: We want you to do your own research,” broke in Brian Glenn, a host at the conservative streaming network.

The Republican Party on display at CPAC this weekend was anti-monopoly, anti-free trade, skeptical of foreign wars, girded for economic conflict with China — and frequently invested in things that aren’t true.

Election myths were mentioned often, though rarely the damage they’d led to on Jan. 6, when hordes of Trump supporters fueled by the falsehoods and seeking to block Joe Biden’s election stormed the Capitol.

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“How Trump upended the race to control the House through 2030”


Days after the 2020 election, House Democrats convened to address some of the party’s most surprising losses, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos name-checked one in particular: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a freshman from South Florida.

Party data missed a huge surge to the right in her Miami-based district, where voters backed Hillary Clinton by 16 points in 2016 — and then voted for former President Donald Trump by more than 5 points in 2020, after he rebounded with Cuban Americans and other Latino groups.

Traditionally, state legislators and political mapmakers rely heavily on recent election results for clues about how communities will vote in the future — baselines they use to gerrymander advantageous districts for their party. But the whiplash in Trump-era elections make drawing conclusions from those results more complicated this year. And both parties’ strategists know that if they make bad bets, drawing districts based on elections that were driven more by Trump’s singular personality than by trends that will persist until 2030, those mistakes could swing control of the House against them over the next decade.

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“Some local GOP leaders fire up base with conspiracies, lies”


A faction of local, county and state Republican officials is pushing lies, misinformation and conspiracy theories that echo those that helped inspire the violent U.S. Capitol siege, online messaging that is spreading quickly through GOP ranks fueled by algorithms that boost extreme content.

The Associated Press reviewed public and private social media accounts of nearly 1,000 federal, state, and local elected and appointed Republican officials nationwide, many of whom have voiced support for the Jan. 6 insurrection or demanded that the 2020 presidential election be overturned, sometimes in deleted posts or now-removed online forums.

“Sham-peachment,” they say, and warn that “corporate America helped rig the election.” They call former president Donald Trump a “savior” who was robbed of a second term — despite no evidence — and President Joe Biden, a “thief.” “Patriots want answers,” they declare.

The bitter, combative rhetoric is helping the officials grow their constituencies on social media and gain outsized influence in their communities, city councils, county boards and state assemblies. And it exposes the GOP’s internal struggle over whether the party can include traditional conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists and militias as it builds its base for 2022.

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“Determinants of Rejected Mail Ballots in Georgia’s 2018 General Election”

Enrijeta ShinoMara Suttmann-Lea, and Daniel A. Smith in Political Research Quarterly:

Because of the COVID-19 threat to in-person voting in the November 2020 election, state and local election officials have pivoted to mail-in voting as a potential solution. This method of voting—while safe from a public health standpoint—comes with its own set of problems, as increased use of mail voting risks amplifying existing discrepancies in rejected mail ballots. While some mail ballot rejections are to be expected, a lack of uniformity in whose ballots get rejected among subgroups of voters—whether for mistakes on a ballot return envelope (BRE) or lateness—raise concerns about equal representation. We draw on official statewide voter file and mail-in ballot data from the 2018 midterm election in Georgia, a state that until the pandemic did not have widespread use of mail voting, to test whether some voters are more likely to cast a mail ballot that does not count. Most importantly, we distinguish between ballots rejected for lateness and those rejected for a mistake on the return envelope. We find that newly registered, young, and minority voters have higher rejection rates compared with their counterparts.

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“Trump shares plans for new super PAC in Mar-a-Lago meeting”


President Donald Trump told political advisers Thursday that he’s chosen longtime ally Corey Lewandowski to run a yet-to-be-formed super PAC as part of his expanding post-presidential political apparatus, according to multiple people familiar with the discussion.

The decision was made in a multi-hour meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Thursday. Trump gathered his top political lieutenants, including Donald Trump Jr., former campaign manager Bill Stepien, former deputy campaign manager Justin Clark, former campaign manager Brad Parscale, former White House social media director Dan Scavino and senior adviser Jason Miller. Alex Cannon, an attorney who has been advising the Trump team on the post-White House plans, was also present.

Lewandowski, himself a former campaign manager for Trump in 2016, did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the former president will announce more details about his political operation “in the coming weeks.”

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“How to Keep Extremists Out of Power”

That’s the title the NYT gave my latest piece. I’ll include an excerpt here, though it’s a bit hard to excerpt this one because I raise reform proposals in four different areas:

American democracy faces alarming risks from extremist forces that have rapidly gained ground in our politics. The most urgent focus of political reform must be to marginalize, to the extent possible, these destabilizing forces.

Every reform proposal must be judged through this lens: Is it likely to fuel or to weaken the power of extremist politics and candidates?

In healthy democracies, they are rewarded for appealing to the broadest forces in politics, not the narrowest. This is precisely why American elections take place in a “first past the post” system rather than the proportional representation system many other democracies use.

What structural changes would reward politicians whose appeal is broadest? We should start with a focus on four areas.

Reform the presidential nomination process

Until the 1970s, presidential nominees were selected through a convention-based system, which means that a candidate had to obtain a broad consensus among the various interests and factions in the party. “Brokered conventions” — which required several rounds of balloting to choose a nominee — offered a vivid demonstration of how the sausage of consensus was made. In 1952, for example, the Republican Party convention selected the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower over Robert A. Taft, the popular leader of the more extreme wing of the party, who opposed the creation of NATO. …

How can we restore some of the party-wide consensus the convention system required? The parties can use ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. This rewards candidates with broad appeal to a party’s voters, even if they have fewer passionate supporters. … Ranked-choice voting reduces the prospects of factional party candidates. Presidents with a broad base of support can institute major reforms, as Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan demonstrated.

Reform the party primaries

Many incumbents take more extreme positions than they might otherwise endorse because they worry about a primary challenge.

One way to help defang that threat is to eliminate “sore-loser” laws. These laws, which exist in some form in 47 states, bar candidates who have lost in a party primary from running in the general election as an independent or third-party candidate. Thus, if a more moderate candidate loses in a primary to a more extreme one, that person is shut out from the general election — even if he or she would likely beat the (sometimes extreme) winners of the party primaries. One study finds that sore-loser laws favor more ideological candidates: Democratic candidates in states with the law are nearly six points more liberal and Republicans nearly nine-to-10 points more conservative than in states without these laws. …

Reform gerrymandering

Many reformers agree on the need to take redistricting out of the hands of partisan state legislatures and give it to a commission. In several recent state ballot initiatives, voters have endorsed this change. But that still raises a question: What constitutes a fair map?

Redistricting reform should have as a goal the creation of competitive election districts. Competitive districts pressure candidates from both the left and the right, which creates incentives to appeal to the political center. They also encourage more moderate candidates to run in the first place, because they know they have a greater prospect of winning than in a district whose seat is safe for the other party.

[I’ve left out suggestions for the right direction for campaign finance reform]

Jan. 6 provided a painful demonstration of the dangerous currents gathering in American political culture. Every proposed election reform must now be measured against this reality to make sure political reform furthers American democracy.

I’m aware of ongoing debates about these issues, which there was no space to address in the NYT. My goal was to frame the general question and encourage debate and discussion about these specific proposals, along with additional ones that should be part of the conversation. I’ll respond in later posts or elsewhere to what I expect will be some pushback on some of these ideas.

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