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Trumpism and voter ID laws threaten democracy in Texas

Republican candidates in Texas are coalescing around Trump's 2020 lies at an astonishing clip.
Photo illustration: A hand putting a torn ballot into a the map of Texas.
Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Texas has been a hot spot for disconcerting news about the health of our democracy this week. Reporting shows that scores of Republican candidates in the state are coalescing at a remarkable speed around a commitment to the lie that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election. Separately, Texas’ new voter ID law appears to be causing havoc for the state’s voters.

The Southern state showcases how former President Donald Trump and the GOP establishment are enacting a two-pronged attack on the democratic process in America. The combined effect of these trends, if they continue to spread, will be to further reduce the already exceptionally low voter participation in this country and breed even greater mistrust in the political system.

Congressional candidates are not merely experimenting with Trumpist stances on 2020 but actually trending toward a potential consensus on the illegitimacy of 2020.

The Houston Chronicle reported that “candidates in nearly every competitive race across the state have raised questions about the validity of the 2020 election or said outright that it was stolen,” and that even outside the state’s most conservative areas, Republican candidates are “calling for large-scale audits or otherwise casting doubt on the outcome of the election.”

The Houston Chronicle also described the findings of a new survey that involved reaching out to all 143 Republicans running for Congress in Texas as well as searching their websites to ascertain their stance on the 2020 election. The statistics were grim:

Of the 86 with discernible stances, at least 42 have said outright that the 2020 election was stolen, called the results illegitimate or said they would have voted not to certify. Another 11 candidates have said there was enough fraud or irregularities to cast doubt on the results of the election. Just 13 said the results were legitimate.

Some candidates dodged the question but shared policy stances suggesting elections in America are insecure. Moreover, “virtually every candidate” — even those who said the outcome of 2020 was legitimate — said “questions still need to be answered about the election.”

What we’re seeing in Texas is that congressional candidates are not merely experimenting with Trumpist stances on 2020 but that many are increasingly see it as a standard badge of conservatism. Rather than serving as a signaling mechanism for the anti-establishment lane of Republican primaries, trafficking in 2020 disinformation could become a banal Republican talking point shockingly swiftly.

In separate news, Texas is also seeing the vote-dampening effects of its new voter ID requirement. The state has already rejected thousands of mail-in ballots that have come in ahead of the March 1 primary. Under the new law, voters must submit their driver's license number, a Texas ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number that matches their voter registration file. (This was not a requirement before.)

According to The Hill, in Harris County, Texas' most populous county, 38 percent of mail-in ballots have been flagged “specifically because there was no ID,” and the county’s rate of rejection is more than double the rate seen in the 2018 primary so far.

Leah Shah, the communications director for Harris County elections, told The Hill voters might find the new requirement confusing or they might be overlooking new fine print — and all this could be exacerbated by a “rushed” process for the new policy.

Those who believe that making voting accessible is a prerequisite for what it means to be a democracy would view this situation as a policy failure. But those who want to narrow access to the voting booth because they’re threatened by a highly participatory democracy will view this chaos with satisfaction.

The Republican establishment fits into the latter camp. This law, like many popping up across the country, wasn’t actually created to address voter fraud — a virtually nonexistent problem. It was designed to deal a disproportionate blow to demographics that Democrats are dependent on, like people of color and young people.

All in all, we’re seeing how Trumpism and Republican voter ID law campaigns are mounting an attack on the democratic process from different angles. They don’t necessarily combine very well — after all, even Trump’s own allies have pointed out that if too many Republicans truly mistrust the electoral system, Republican turnout will fall — but they share something substantial: contempt for participatory democracy.