Republicans Have a Plan for Never Losing
Dirty tricks and undemocratic tactics have been a part of politics in the United States since the Constitution was ratified. Some have even been humorous.
During the 1950 Florida Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, Rep. George Smathers was speaking to a group of rural – perhaps, not too sophisticated – voters. He scandalously accused his opponent Rep. Claude Pepper of “matriculating” with young women in college, of being a “shameless extrovert” who has engaged in “nepotism with his sister-in-law,” and a man who habitually practiced “celibacy” before marriage. Smathers continued by outing Pepper’s brother as a “practicing homo sapien,” and his sister as a “thespian in wicked New York.” Smathers won handily, although he denied ever making these statements.
One of the most famous and disturbing attempts to sway an election, of course, was when President Nixon’s campaign operatives bungled the June 1972 break-in of the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. Nixon went on to overwhelmingly win the election but the Watergate coverup and scandal forced him to resign. At least once, political misdeeds were punished.
More recently, in 2018, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a small time Republican operative in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, was caught harvesting mail in ballots and manipulating them in various ways to benefit the campaign of Republican Rep. Mark Harris who narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready. A new election was ordered and Dowless was indicted for obstruction of justice and illegal possession of an absentee ballot, among other charges.
There was an election in Texas, however, that I believe predicts what could occur if the voting laws being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures remain effective for the 2022 and 2024 elections. And it’s all about manipulating election results after the polls close.
Texans alleged for decades that significant fraud enabled Lydon B. Johnson to win the 1948 Texas Democratic primary runoff election for U.S. Senate by 87 votes. They became suspicious when Johnson overcame a huge deficit to snatch victory from defeat. Robert A. Caro’s 1990 book, “Means of Ascent,” however, details what actually occurred during the vote counting after that election.
On a Saturday primary election night, Johnson trailed former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson by 20,000 votes, according to Mr. Caro, with a few areas yet to report. When San Antonio tallies were included, Johnson had miraculously picked up 10,000 more votes than Stevenson, who had beaten Johnson in these precincts by 2 to 1 in the first primary. Johnson’s deficit to Stevenson narrowed more later that evening due to returns from rural Rio Grande Valley counties. Next day a newly discovered, uncounted precinct went heavily for Johnson.
Then, on Friday, the Rio Grande Valley precincts made corrections to their returns that narrowed Stevenson’s advantage to 157 votes. Later that day, Jim Wells County telephoned in its amended vote totals that put Johnson on top. County officials had cast the votes of deceased and absent voters and had given Johnson an extra 200 votes by simply changing the 7 in a “765” tally to a 9. Johnson had won because a South Texas political boss manufactured thousands of votes for him, according to Mr. Caro.
Actually, a very similar situation could occur in several states like Georgia if the 2024 Democratic presidential candidate holds a slim lead on election night.
Georgia’s current voting laws give Republican legislators control of the State Election Board, which has responsibility for election oversight and the power to replace local election officials. This Board could easily use mere allegations of fraud or election irregularities to replace officials in Fulton County, which includes heavily minority precincts in Atlanta. Politically motivated operatives could then find more votes for the Republican candidate and/or invalidate votes for the Democrat.
President Biden won Georgia by a little less than 13,000 votes, despite winning the popular vote by 7,000,000. He won in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin by a combined total of just under 44,000 votes, which narrowly avoided a tie with then-President Trump in the Electoral College. A tie would have thrown the election into the U.S. House where Trump would have won because Republican-controlled states are in the majority and each state gets one vote. That’s right; just 44,000 votes saved us from another four years of Trump.
Like Georgia, many of the voting laws recently enacted by Republican-controlled states have some mechanism for more easily challenging the final vote counts, giving the legislature an opportunity to flip close elections to the GOP candidates.
Republican state voting laws will surely be challenged in court, of course, but it is clear that federal laws governing the conduct of elections are critically needed. Unfortunately, any legislation that would negate suppressive state election laws and prevent them from being enacted in the future – like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – has zero chance of overcoming a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
This arcane Senate rule was once used by segregationists to obstruct civil rights legislation. Now, it will allow Republicans to block any legislation that would standardize fairness in state election processes or otherwise disrupt GOP plans to win by voter suppression and other election skullduggery.
They’re trying to rig the system so Democrats never win.