Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election had absurd elements, and it culminated in the deadly chaos of the Capitol insurrection. Now, the more we learn, the more we realize there was a concerted plan to steal the election and upend the results.
Next time it will not be so amateurish. In fact, Trump’s allies are systematically removing obstacles to stealing elections in states across the country. The Brennan Center published a report recently documenting the campaign, The Election Sabotage Scheme and How Congress Can Stop It by Will Wilder, Derek Tisler, and Wendy Weiser.
Two state legislatures have bestowed upon themselves the power to remove and replace local election officials with partisan operatives. Six states have passed laws threatening election officials with new or heightened criminal penalties. Three states have robbed election officials of the power to properly regulate partisan poll monitors in the polling place. Five states launched phony partisan reviews of last year’s election results led by biased actors who employed inadequate safeguards.
To the longstanding problem of vote suppression, add election sabotage. Some state legislators are trying to go even further. How much further? In 2021, lawmakers in seven states — Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma — introduced bills to give elected officials the power to overturn an election.
Thankfully, none of those bills passed this time around, but their widespread consideration is itself alarming. The Arizona bill, which is among the most shocking to democratic sensibilities, reads: “The legislature may vote to reject or confirm the preliminary results of the election.” It garnered seven sponsors.
In Wisconsin, two partisan bills were introduced by Republicans that would have granted the Legislator broad powers to seize control of the election administration process.
Wisconsin: A.B. 304 would have granted the state’s Elections Commission the power to issue temporary restraining orders against local election officials and review election officials’ decisions regarding recounts. Currently, only courts have these powers in Wisconsin. The Elections Commission, while officially bipartisan, was created to shield former Governor Scott Walker from a campaign finance investigation and has a history of partisanship. Two of its members objected to certifying the 2020 general election results.
Ballots cast in drop boxes: In several lawsuits following the 2020 election, including one in Wisconsin, partisans sought to invalidate all votes cast through mail ballot drop boxes on the theory that those drop boxes were not authorized. Sec. 1305 of the FTVA would preempt those efforts by creating a federal requirement that states establish secure mail ballot drop boxes.
Just five years ago, the idea that politicians should have the power to overturn an election would have been unthinkable. Indeed, what is the point of voting if the politicians in power can simply wave away the result? The alarming success of the election sabotage movement during the past year, along with the audaciousness of its leaders, should have Americans worried about the health of our democracy. It is worth noting: legislatures come back for another swing of the bat in January. We have not hit bottom yet.
All this is one more powerful reason that federal legislative action is the only truly effective answer. The Freedom to Vote Act, currently pending in the Senate, would prevent most forms of election sabotage. It would protect local election officials from politically motivated reprisals. It would reverse state attempts to limit mail-in and absentee voting.
It would establish limits on mass voter purges, and it would allow voters to correct ballot defects so that minor clerical errors won’t result in disqualification. If elected officials ever attempt to nullify results, the Freedom to Vote Act gives private citizens the right to sue for redress. We cannot wait for the election sabotage movement to progress further. Anti-democracy advocates have made their intentions clear. It is time to repudiate them, and to stand up for democracy.