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Republicans replace election officials, setting stage for future crises

Democracy didn't fail in 2020 because officials did what was required of them. But what happens when the GOP replaces those officials with ideologues?


It was just last year when Hood County, Texas, hired a new elections administrator. By any fair measure, local officials made a smart choice: Michele Carew was a 14-year veteran of elections administration at the county level; she'd already run an elections system in a different Texas county; and she was a respected professional in her field with impeccable credentials.

Not surprisingly, when Hood County held its elections last fall, they went off without a hitch, thanks to the effective system Carew oversaw. Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden in the county in a lopsided landslide, which was not at all surprising given the community's far-right leanings.

At face value, there was no obvious reason for anyone in Hood County to take issue with Carew, her office, or the way in which the election was administered. And yet, local Republicans nevertheless vilified Carew and demanded her firing. Late last week, she resigned and it's important to understand why. The Texas Tribune recently explained:

[F]ar-right conservatives who preach allegiance to Trump have split with more establishment-aligned Republicans in demanding that Carew's duties be placed under elected County Clerk Katie Lang, who has espoused Trump's stolen-election theory.... [Lang] frequently shares "Stop the Steal" and "Impeach Biden" memes and videos, including those produced by Blue Shark Media, a popular local far-right Facebook and YouTube show that has claimed the presidential election was stolen, vigorously opposed mask mandates and repeatedly called for Carew's ouster.

In other words, Hood County Republicans wanted to force Carew out because she was a competent and qualified technocrat — and they instead wanted local elections to be in the hands of a conspiratorial ally.

"I felt alone to tell you the truth," Carew told the Texas Tribune. "The worst part was being dragged through the mud over something they don't know what they're talking about."

She added, "I don't feel like I am the same person I was a year ago. This county has ruined me."

After resigning, Carew went on to say, "When I started out, election administrators were appreciated and highly respected. Now we are made out to be the bad guys."

Obviously, this is an unsettling story about a small community in Texas, where a local official has been treated unfairly for no good reason. But as Rachel noted on the show last night, it's also a piece of a larger mosaic in which Republicans at the national level are, among other things, trying to shift control over election administration toward those who are already predisposed to believe nonsense.

Similar efforts are underway in Michigan, as The Detroit News reported this week:

Republican Party leaders across the battleground state of Michigan have quietly worked in recent weeks to replace incumbent county election officials with newcomers, some of whom have sought to undermine the public's faith in the 2020 vote. The trend focuses on four-member county canvassing boards, the bipartisan panels in charge of verifying records and importantly, certifying results.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Trump personally leaned on Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, hoping to stop certification of the election results. After initially balking, these local GOP officials ultimately did the right thing.

Nearly a year later, Republicans now want the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to have a Rudy Giuliani "witness" who's helped push unsubstantiated election claims. In a different Michigan county, local GOP officials are pushing the wife of a conservative radio commentator who recently moderated an event with the My Pillow guy about how the Supreme Court is about to put Trump back in office.

Circling back to our recent coverage, there's a school of thought — which I'd love to believe, but can't — that says anxieties over upcoming elections are overwrought because, despite all the 2020 drama, the system worked. As the argument goes, voters did what they were supposed to do, which led local election officials to do what they were supposed to do, which led governors and secretaries of state to do what they were supposed to do, which led the courts to do what they were supposed to do, which led Congress and the sitting vice president to do what they were supposed to do.

As such, proponents of this idea tell us, there's no real need to worry. There are systems and institutions in place to protect the integrity of the nation's electoral process. "See?" they say. "Despite all of the threats and antics from Trump and his followers, democracy held firm."

The problem with this argument isn't that it's factually wrong, it's that the argument fails to appreciate what's happened in Republican politics over the course of the year. What pro-Trump forces in the GOP have concluded is that it's time to identify, target, and replace those Republicans who did the right thing in 2020 — and make sure there are new Republicans in place who'll do the wrong thing going forward.

To fail to appreciate the seriousness of the threat is to fail to pay attention to the developments unfolding in plain sight.