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We need to talk about truly illegitimate elections

Trump-loving Republicans keep talking about rigged elections with no irony whatsoever. But it's GOP-controlled legislatures that are doing the rigging.


Since the 2020 election, several states under Republican control have instituted laws making it more difficult for voters who often lean Democratic — those who are young or nonwhite or don't speak English, etc. — to cast their ballots.

These laws have come as part of the GOP’s voter suppression crusade, fueled by former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Republicans have passed these laws while claiming they need to make elections fairer and more secure. But these measures are doing the opposite. By building barriers to democracy, they’re delegitimizing elections as accurate measurements of the public’s desires.

Many media outlets, excluding sycophantic right-wing ones, have done a fair job of rejecting the GOP’s false claims that the 2020 election was plagued by widespread fraud.  

But at the same time, many in the press seem to be ignoring the fact that GOP-backed laws are allowing Republicans to put their thumbs on the scale this fall, with gerrymandered districts, voter intimidation tactics and restrictions to ballot access

I’ve thought about this as I’ve heard journalists discuss how the upcoming midterm elections will serve as a referendum on the Biden administration. It would be nice to get an accurate gauge of public sentiment this fall, and for the polls to reflect that. But GOP-passed voter restrictions are designed to prevent that. 

Any member of the media discussing poll numbers and other staples of horse race politics in states affected by GOP-led voter restrictions need to make clear these elections are not occurring on an even playing field. Otherwise, they risk following in the footsteps of early-20th-century news outlets that reported on elections and political victories while often neglecting to mention they were held under post-slavery conditions, where vote-suppressing violence and racist voting laws were common.

History is repeating itself today.

Florida’s governor is personally and deliberately diluting Black voting power and authorizing voter intimidation squads, and Georgia’s governor frets over nonwhite voter registration before approving measures to slash the number of voting centers in Black districts and ban people from serving voters water in line. These elections can’t earnestly be considered legitimate, complete representations of the collective people's will. They are merely performances of democratic values in a country viewed on the global stage as a backsliding democracy.

And the elections don’t require Republicans to win to be illegitimate, in my view. Even if Democrats happen to overcome the systemic barriers Republicans have put in place — at least one of them literally in defiance of a court order — that won’t justify the GOP's anti-democratic efforts.

Republicans using terms like “illegitimate” and “rigged” to portray themselves as victims of election malfeasance shouldn’t deter those of us who believe in reality from using the terms accurately. GOP-controlled state legislatures across the country are attempting to rig their elections in Republicans’ favor. And that effort does undermine the legitimacy of this November’s midterms and for any elections down the line that rely on the same restrictive laws.  

It’s time we call it out for what it is, and demand the media do the same.