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A voter drops an election ballot off at the Pitkin County Administration box in Aspen, Colorado, on Nov. 6, 2018.Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times via AP

Republicans eye voting restrictions, despite smooth 2020 cycle

The fact that the 2020 elections were administered smoothly won't stop the Republican crusade for new voting restrictions.


There are a variety of reasons Republicans embraced the Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election with such vigor. Some were desperate to protect Donald Trump's ego, while others saw a fundraising opportunity. Some hoped to undermine Joe Biden's presidency from the outset, while others saw value in keeping rabid elements of the GOP base agitated.

But among the most important rationales behind the Big Lie was, and is, Republicans' desire to impose harsh new voting restrictions -- because the more people were told the United States has a corrupt and broken system of elections, the more demand there would be for a crackdown.

As the Associated Press reported last month, the fact that the 2020 elections were administered smoothly won't stop the crusade for new restrictions.

Changes to the way millions of Americans voted this year contributed to record turnout, but that's no guarantee the measures making it easier to cast ballots will stick around for future elections. Republicans in key states that voted for President-elect Joe Biden already are pushing for new restrictions, especially to absentee voting. It's an option many states expanded amid the coronavirus outbreak that proved hugely popular and helped ensure one of the smoothest election days in recent years.

That article was published shortly before Biden's presidential inauguration, and the GOP push has only intensified since. Politico added this week, "Republican legislators across the country are preparing a slew of new voting restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump's defeat."

It's hard to imagine anyone seriously being surprised by any of this. After voters rewarded Democrats with control over the White House and Congress, Republicans could've taken stock of their failures and reevaluated their platform, but it's vastly easier to simply explore new ways to make it harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy.

This will almost certainly be a multi-state effort, but Georgia -- a "red" state in recent decades that elected Biden and two Democratic U.S. senators in the most recent election cycle -- is likely to be the epicenter of the GOP's anti-voting efforts. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday on what Republicans have in mind.

Georgia voters would be required to make copies of their photo ID and mail them to election officials twice before being allowed to cast an absentee ballot, according to a bill introduced Wednesday. The legislation, Senate Bill 29, would create a photo ID requirement for voting outside of polling places in Georgia. Voters would need to submit ID both when applying for absentee ballots and when returning them.

I kept reading that sentence over and over again, largely because it's so hard to believe. Georgia voters would be required to make copies of their photo ID and mail them to election officials twice before being allowed to cast an absentee ballot.

To be sure, this is one proposal, which may or may not become law. Other GOP officials in the state have other voting restrictions in mind.

But while we wait to see which anti-voting measures advance, let's not lose sight of an important detail: according to Republican officials in Georgia, including the GOP officials who oversee the state's system of elections, the 2020 cycle was effectively problem-free. There's no systemic or institutional reason to make any changes at all. The phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" keeps coming to mind.

Except, from a partisan perspective, the system must be "fixed" -- because allowing more Georgians to cast ballots led more Republicans to lose.

Some have been surprisingly candid on this point. Earlier this month in Georgia, the Republican Party's representatives on the Gwinnett County elections board conceded they wanted changes to statewide election laws. One, Alice O'Lenick, recently told the Gwinnett Daily Post, in reference to state election laws, "They don't have to change all of them, but they've got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning."

Though it's likely to get ugly, congressional Democrats have rallied behind an ambitious voting-rights plan, called the For the People Act, which is designed to bolster the nation's democracy. The bill would, among other things, "dramatically broaden voting access"; "require states to implement automatic voter registration, extensive early voting and same-day registration"; and "restrict efforts by states to place suppressive hurdles on voting and vote-by-mail."

It's among Democrats' top legislative priorities for the next two years, but the odds of it overcoming an inevitable Republican filibuster are poor.