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Mounting Evidence Shows Meadows' Role As Key Player In Coup Plot

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Democrats Mull 2024 Primary Calendar Under Shadow Of GOP Meddling

Sixteen states vying for the early slots in 2024’s presidential primary calendar pitched their case to the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday and Thursday, touting their history, diversity, economies, and electoral competitiveness in the general election.

State party officials, a governor, lt. governors, an attorney general, members of Congress, senior staff and party strategists touted their electorates, industries, heritage, and features that would propel presidential candidates and draw national scrutiny, which pleased the officials on the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC). But the panel’s leaders also probed whether Republicans in otherwise promising states would seek to impede a revised Democratic primary calendar.

“Is this a Republican who will respect the will of the voters, or a Republican who won’t?” James Roosevelt, RBC co-chair, asked Nevada’s presenters about their top election official, its secretary of state, as that western state sought to be 2024’s first primary, which would supplant Iowa’s caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary.

“We are in an open contest now,” replied Rebecca Lambe, one of Nevada’s foremost Democratic strategists. “We’re just in a place where we believe that we will have a Democratic secretary of state [after the general election this fall].”

“If you had told any of us five years ago that we would consider the election for secretary of state to be at the top of our list of important elections, we would have said you were nuts,” Roosevelt replied. “And now that’s true for all of us.”

But a 2020 presidential election denier last week won Nevada’s GOP primary for that office, raising a complication for the panel that plans to issue its 2024 nominating season schedule in August – months before that election’s outcome will emerge. Other GOP complications, or their prospect, shadowed the otherwise upbeat presentations.

For example, Georgia – which helped elect Joe Biden president and cemented a Democratic Senate majority – made a strong case as the South’s foremost battleground state. In addition to touting the Peach State's diverse communities, its presenters, led by state party chair and Rep. Nikema Williams, noted that Georgia’s statewide elections could not be won without appealing to urban, suburban, and rural voters together.

But its top election official is currently a Republican, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has the authority to set 2024’s primary’s date and may not cooperate with the DNC. Moreover, since 2020, Georgia’s GOP-run legislature has passed several laws restricting voting options and unseating Democratic election officials in blue epicenters.

“I don’t think I have to tell you about the intensity of the other side because of what you have been able to do in the past,” said Yvette Lewis, RBC member and Maryland Democratic Party chair. “And that’s what concerns me about moving forward.”

New Hampshire, surprisingly, has similar complications. Bill Gardner, its longtime secretary of state, retired in 2022 after serving for more than four decades. Its legislature, which appointed a Republican successor, broke with past practice of appointing a Democratic deputy. The GOP legislature also has added paperwork requirements to Election Day voter registration, which is its latest effort to discourage college students from voting.

In the case of New Hampshire, which, like Iowa, has been criticized by some DNC leadership for being too white, rural, and out-of-step with national demographic trends, its legislature could complicate any effort by the DNC to supplant its first-in-the-nation primary, which is required under a state law. Its Democratic Party leadership also opposed losing its prized slot – and said so.

“I’ve been a very proud Democrat, but I’m a prouder Granite-stater,”said Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair, when asked how the party would “handle” not being the first primary. “The state law isn’t something that the people of New Hampshire would allow to be changed.” Moments later, he added, “We don’t have the power to tell the secretary of state not to schedule the primary.”

“I think it would be very detrimental on the Senate race [where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is seeking re-election this year], the congressional races, and on all of the down-ballot races because the Republican Party is already teeing up to blame Democrats,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), after a presentation emphasizing the state’s legacy and increased diversity. “We have been able to win consistently because we continue to engage with voters, and because those voters are so engaged.

”Iowa’s reaction was even blunter. RBC member Scott Brennan, who was among its presenters, told the panel that Iowa would hold a party-run contest in 2024 where participants would cast mailed-out ballots.The votes would be counted on the same day as it convened meetings to appoint delegates to the process’ next stage: county conventions.That scheme was still a “caucus” under Iowa law, he said, which led to RBC questions whether that process differed from a government-run election, and conflicted with New Hampshire’s primary.

“We intend to remain first,” Brennan said, when asked by Roosevelt what would happen if it was not allowed to hold the first caucus.

Other states, meanwhile, eagerly sought to be their region’s early contest and lacked similar complications.In the Midwest, Minnesota and Michigan gave strong presentations to replace Iowa. Minnesota, which, for years has had the nation’s highest voter turnout, emphasized its ethnic diversity, which was spread across urban and rural areas. Its secretary of state, Democrat Steve Simon, told the RBC that Minnesota’s Republicans – from ex-governors and senators to its Chamber of Commerce – would support legislation to authorize an earlier primary. For their part, Michigan’s presenters emphasized its racial and economic diversity, and also said that they privately had been getting assurances of cooperation from Republicans on legislation to move up the primary.

“Michigan Democrats and Republicans have a proven track record of working together when it matters,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) “And in Michigan, everybody knows that this matters.”

New Jersey, in a presentation led by Gov. Phil Murphy, a former top DNC officer, made much the same pitch. His state is not only ethnically and economically diverse, with liberal voting laws that have boosted participation, but as governor, he emphasized that he appoints the secretary of state and attorney general.

“We will not let you down,” Murphy said. “If you chose us to go early, you will look back on that decision and say, ‘You know what, we made the right decision. These folks are in it for the right reasons. They view the party the right way. They’ve got a reliable electoral system. There will be no noise around secretaries of state or attorneys general.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Heroes Who Pushed Back Against The Big Lie Tell Their Stories

The scope of Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election widened in Congressional testimony on Tuesday as Republican state legislators, state election officials, and local election workers described Trump’s pressure campaigns and bullying that targeted them and led to severe harassment for doing their jobs.

“There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere,” said Ruby Freeman, who, with her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, were election workers at an Atlanta arena who were repeatedly named and smeared by Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for what the men falsely said was stealing Georgia votes for Joe Biden.

“Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States to target you?” Freeman continued. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American, not to target one. But he targeted me.”

A video of the two women as they resumed processing ballots after an evening break was mischaracterized and widely circulated by Trump’s allies. Giuliani told Georgia’s state Senate that the Black women were criminals. Trump said they were part of a conspiracy to steal the election, which led his supporters to threaten and stalk the women, and even saw vigilantes barge into Freeman’s elderly mother’s home to attempt a “citizen’s arrest” of her and Moss.

The January 6 hearings have shown that it was Trump and his minions – not Democrats, nor state officials who followed their oaths of office, nor local election workers who did their jobs – who were plotting to overturn the election, and who embraced lying, lawlessness, harassment, and violence to seize the presidency.

“Donald Trump did not care about the threats of violence. He did not condemn them… He went forward with his fake allegations,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) the panel’s co-chair. “We cannot let America become a nation of conspiracytheories and thug violence.”

From a legal standpoint, Tuesday’s hearings directly tied Trump to one scheme where complicit Republican Party officials and state office holders knowingly forged and signed fake Electoral College certificates that declared Trump, not Biden, had won their state’s votes. That scheme emerged after Trump could not convince any Republican governor or GOP-led state legislature to reconvene to award him an Electoral College victory despite Biden winning the state’s popular vote.

But what stood out Tuesday was Trump’s boorish and boundary-breaking harassment of legislative leaders and top election officials who would not bend to his will to overturn their state’s election results. Trump’s ongoing claims that the election was stolen has sparked many copycat candidacies in 2022 among right-wing Republicans. That posturing continued Tuesday and targeted the panel’ sopening witness, underscoring the threat that Trump’s cadre still poses.

Before the hearing began, Trump issued a statement saying that the first witness, Rusty Bowers, longtime speaker of the Arizona House, had personally told Trump in November 2020 that Arizona’s election had been “rigged” for Biden.

Bowers described Trump’s efforts, from presidential phone calls to lobbying by Rudy Giuliani, aimed at pushing Bowers to launch an unprecedented legislative process to retract Biden’s victory.

“Before we begin with the questions I have prepared for you, I want to ask you about a statement that former President Trump issued, which I received just prior to the hearing,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who led the hearing

“Former President Trump begins by calling you a RINO, Republican in Name Only. He then references a conversation in November 2020, in which he claims that you told him that the election was rigged, and that he had won Arizona… Did you have such a conversation?”

“I did have a conversation with the president. That certainly isn’t it,” Bowers said. “Anywhere, anyone, anytime has said that I said the election was rigged – that would not be true.”

Bowers went on to testify that Trump bullied him to convene a special legislative session to revoke Biden’s victory. (Michigan’s Senate President,Republican Mike Shirkey described the same process to the panel in a videotaped interview played on Tuesday: Trump had pushed Shirkey to take the steps needed to declare him the state’s Electoral College vote winner.)

Bowers testified that he told Trump that he did not have the authority to do so under Arizona’s state constitution and the federal Constitution, and that he would not violate his oath of office. Shirkey told Trump much the same thing. Then Trump moved onto a second ploy based on an untested legal theory by John Eastman, a lawyer who argued that state legislatures had the power to ignore the popular vote and appoint Electoral College slates of their choosing.

The so-called fake-elector plan involved Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who Trump asked to promote it – another disclosure on Tuesday.

In that same conversation with Bowers, Trump claimed to speak on behalf of other senior Arizona lawmakers, Bowers recounted, to pressure the speaker to hold a hearing on Eastman’s theory — which would lend it credibility.

“I said to what end? To what end the hearing?” Bowers recounted. “He said, ‘Well, we have heard by an official high up in the Republican legislature that there is a legal theory or a legal ability in Arizona, that you can remove the electors of President Biden and replace them. And we would like to have a legitimate opportunity through the committee…’ And I said, ‘That’s totally new to me. I’ve never heard of any such thing.’ And he pressed that point.”

Trump’s lie-laced pressure tactics didn’t end there. Giuliani kept lobbying Bowers.Then came more bullying. When Bowers did not budge, Trump supporters went to his home and held menacing protests, he said. The protests occurred while his daughter was very ill at home; she would soon pass away.

“We had a daughter who was gravely ill, who was upset by what was happening outside,” he said at Tuesday’s hearing, where numerous Republican and Democratic legislators and state election officials described how Trump’s foot soldiers threatened them on social media, published their private contact information online, stalked them outside their homes – which neither Trump nor his team discouraged, as Cheney noted.

The officials who recounted this harassment included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who testified Tuesday; Michigan’s Shirkey, a Republican, and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat.

Raffensperger recounted how someone broke into his daughter-in-law’s home after the election, which he attributed to the threats he received. When asked why he didn’t leave his job or cave to Trump, his reply was much the same as Bowers: He felt he had a public duty to oversee a constitutional process even if it meant that his party did not win the White House.

“I knew that we had followed the law, we had followed the Constitution,”Raffensperger said. “You’re doing your job. And that’s what we did.”

But not every witness on Tuesday had a simple story of valor under duty. Georgia’s Ruby Freeman said that the targeting of her by Trump and Giuliani led to the loss of her business, a loss of privacy, and sense of security. She was afraid to use her name in public, she testified, because she feared it could provoke more harassment.

“I’ve lost my name and I’ve lost my reputation,” she said. And her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, told the committee that she had to leave her job as an election worker after a decade, became deeply depressed, and gained unwanted weight. But she was most upset over the threats by Trump’s thugs to her grandmother – who called her in a panic when his foot soldiers barged into her house seeking to make a "citizens’ arrest" of her and her mother.

“It was my fault for putting my family in this situation,” she said, referring to her work as an election official.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Schiff replied.

But on Tuesday morning, Trump was back at it – putting false words into another witness’s mouth, as if nothing mattered except his return to power.

Select Panel Hearing Will Probe Trump Push To Overturn 2020 Results In States

One day after Arizona’s 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump’s supporters, including armed protesters, converged on Maricopa County’s ballot counting center. That morning, a local congressman, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) had amplified Trump’s stolen election claims. He tweeted that Trump votes were uncounted in his state’s most populous county because many voters had used sharpie pens, which bled through the paper and spoiled their ballots.

Although the rumor, dubbed “Sharpie-gate,” was false, Gosar made a beeline for the protest. Rather than urging those present to accept disappointing results, he validated their fears. Gosar was not alone. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, another ambitious Republican – now running for the U.S. Senate as a “true conservative” – announced an investigation. These reactions, abusing their office’s prestige and authority, were not unique.

Trump called Maricopa County’s top elected Republican to pressure him to stop counting votes. The Arizona Republican Party, like the GOP in many battleground states, filed baseless lawsuits. Later that month, Trump’s Washington-based lawyers, who knew that Joe Biden won, flew into Phoenix. They met with GOP legislators, who let them use Arizona’s statehouse as a stage for making more false claims. In December, loyalists from state party officials to legislators, forged and signed a fake Electoral College certificate saying that Trump had won. Then they lobbied the vice president to count their fraudulent and illegal votes on January 6.

The fourth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol will focus on how Trump’s team pressured local and state government officials to overturn Biden’s victory. Tuesday’s witnesses include two Republican election officials from Georgia and a state legislator from Arizona who resisted Trump’s pressure and received numerous threats from Trump supporters that have continued into 2022’s elections.

The events in Arizona followed a template also seen in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to the panel’s disclosures and other reporting compiled by States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan organization advancing free, fair, and secure elections.

“The same lies and conspiracy theories that fueled the January 6 attack contributed to threatening and violent messages aimed at election officials,” its Arizona update said. “These threats were launched over email, voicemails, texts, letters, social media, and in-person events, including gathering outside election officials’ homes.”

As the hearings continue, there are not only questions of what accountability will ensue for participants in Trump’s failed 2020 coup, but what can be done about a Republicans who still embrace the stolen election lie. This past weekend, for example, the Texas Republican Party adopted these claims in its party platform. That action follows scores of election-denying candidates running for state and federal office in 2022 and winning their primaries.

“These candidates and their successful primary campaigns are a stark reminder that the insurrection—and the lies that sparked it—did not end on January 6, 2021 or when former President Trump left office,” wrote States United’s leadership team, Noman Eisen, Joanna Lydgate, and Christine Todd Whitman (New Jersey’s ex-governor and a Republican) in Slate. “And they are proof that the kindling for the attack—and the continued stoking of the fire—is alive and well in the states.”

The trio contend that local accountability would have the greatest chance of stopping the cynical and dangerous stolen election claims. They suggest disbarring the “bad lawyers” who perpetuated the evidence-free falsehoods, which means ending their legal careers. They said that “district and county attorneys can bring criminal charges” against the coup’s participants and cited the investigation in Georgia’s Fulton County, where Trump tried to get Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” votes to reverse Biden’s victory. (Raffensperger and his deputy are witnesses on Tuesday.)

They further suggested that local prosecutors go after militias like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers for confrontations with police, citing a lawsuit by the District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine. They also suggested that state attorneys general go after Trump’s post-election fundraising where false claims were used to dupe donors, citing a Michigan inquiry that’s underway and a possible New York State investigation.

“Democracy cannot exist without the rule of law,” they wrote. “Seeking accountability for those who step outside those bounds is critical to stopping the ongoing insurrection before it’s too late. If we want to prevent an election hijack in 2022 and 2024, it’s going to take a full-speed-ahead approach to accountability. And just like with our elections, we believe those [accountability efforts] will be run and led by the states.”

Tuesday’s disclosures may suggest which legal venues would be best for seeking accountability.

But there is another aspect of accountability that involves understanding and confronting the dysfunctional political psychologies that enabled this crisis. Pro-Trump politicians, candidates,and campaigners seem to share a mindset where they valued obtaining power above other personal, public, and professional considerations. It’s one thing to be a loyal and ambitious politician. It’s another to mimic party leaders who lie, show indifference to facts, embrace chaos and violence, bilk supporters, and say such actions were patriotic — and still are.

The hearings are revealing how far people who admired or envied Trump were willing to go. As new details surface so too are suggestions for how and where to hold participants accountable. But what has not yet been revealed is what might excise the dynamic in political life that allows such self-serving people to advance, and, as just seen in Texas, to keep lying.

How Mike Pence Fanned The Flames Of The Capitol Riot

The third hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol celebrated Vice President Mike Pence for his refusal to buckle to weeks of private and public bullying by Donald Trump, who pushed Pence to abuse his power as the presiding officer at Congress’s ratification of 2020’s Electoral College vote on January 6 -- and turn Trump’s defeat into a second term.

Before installing Pence into the pantheon of constitutional heroes or naming him the exemplar of conservatives who defeated Trump’s coup (which is the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s take, because Republicans, not Democrats, “foiled” the seditious president), let’s recall what Pence said at a Georgia rally two days before January 6.

“I know we all, we all got our doubts about the last election,” Pence said, speaking in Milner, Georgia, before two U.S. Senate runoff elections the next day. “And I want to assure you I share the concerns of millions of Americans about voting irregularities. And I promise you, come this Wednesday, we’ll have our day in Congress. We’ll hear the objections. We’ll hear the evidence. But tomorrow is Georgia’s day!”

Pence, unlike the stream of Republicans now speaking truth to the January 6 committee because they are not in power, did not say what he apparently knew at that time. He knew, as the hearings showed, that Trump’s claims about the 2020 election being stolen were a big lie. Yet Pence led Trump supporters on, suggesting there were irregularities that led to Joe Biden’s victory, and, that he would somehow be addressing those problems when Congress convened on January 6.

“This [speech] contributed to the expectations of Trump supporters that something could be done at the January 6 joint session, and thus helped set the stage for the “‘wild’ chaos” that Trump and his supporters, including apparently some of his team’s lawyers, wanted to foment,” wrote Ned Foley, an Ohio State University professor specializing in election law and the transfer of presidential power, on ElectionLawblog.org, where he is a contributing editor.

Foley wasn’t the only observer to note that Pence’s comments, or, rather, his failure to speak the truth from the beginning, is troubling. Pence is still avoiding a public confrontation over Trump's lies. As Tim Miller wrote on Thursday in The Bulwark, an anti-Trump Republican news and opinion website, “Now don’t get me wrong, the former vice president does deserve recognition for his actions on January 6… [but] what reason is there for his absence [at the hearings]—besides rank politics?”

“Shouldn’t the man of the hour have been in the building?” Miller said. “Shouldn’t he testify, under oath, about the events of January 6? Don’t we deserve to hear from Pence what his conversations with Trump were like in the lead-up to that day? Shouldn’t he tell us the ways in which the president abdicated his responsibility to help protect the Capitol and everyone within it as the mob descended? Shouldn’t he be asked whether the president was on the side of America and the Constitution or the insurrectionists who were trying to tear it down?”

Perhaps the answer to these questions is that politics, like life, is complicated. Pence may have faced bullying and degrading treatment from Trump for not playing a unique role in seizing a second term for Trump (and himself). But, as Foley said, Pence fanned false expectations that something could be done on January 6.

Worse, Foley said that Pence’s remarks at the January 4 rally in Georgia were misleading, because, neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Electoral Count Act of 1887 gave Pence any leeway to alter the 2020 Electoral College vote count.

“Those expectations were altogether inappropriate because under the Twelfth Amendment and the Electoral Count Act, the only role for the joint session of Congress is to accept as ‘conclusive’ electoral votes from states that comply with the conditions set forth in 3 U.S.C. 5,” Foley continued. “Any claims of ‘irregularities’ – there was no procedure for ‘evidence’ to be presented in the joint session – would have been contrary to this congressional obligation, and thus it was wrong for Pence on January 4 to say that the January 6 joint session was entitled to ‘hear’ such claims.”

While Pence deserves credit for not pushing the country into an unprecedented constitutional abyss, the testimony of another conservative to the committee on Thursday, retired federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, highlighted the need to clarify the ambiguities in federal law that Trump sought to exploit.

“Our democracy has never been tested like it was on that day and it will never be tested again as it was then if we learn the lessons of that fateful day,” said Luttig in prepared remarks submitted to the committee. “On the other hand, if we fail to learn the lessons that are there to be learned, or worse, deny even that there are lessons there to be learned, we will consign ourselves to another January 6 in the not-too-distant future, and another after that, and another after that.”

Yes, Pence played a historic and ultimately courageous role on January 6. He did his duty in the face of real danger. But two days before, he fanned the flames that erupted on January 6, even though he knew, as his staff repeatedly told the committee, the limits of his legal authority. Historic, yes. But heroic?

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Election Subversion Replacing Voter Suppression As New GOP Threat

The language of the voting rights movement is changing. For decades, it had been centered around overcoming voter suppression and Jim Crow, which is shorthand for intentional barriers to stymie voters at the starting line -- affecting their voter registration, their voting options, and whether their ballots will be accepted. But today, thanks to Donald Trump’s 2020 election-denying loyalists, the focus is shifting to the finish line, where counting votes is what matters.

Election subversion is the new political buzz phrase.

One day after Georgia’s May 24 primary, where 2020 presidential election deniers lost GOP nominations for governor and secretary of state, Marc Elias, the Democratic Party’s top election lawyer, posted a piece on his website: “Election Subversion Is the New Voter Suppression.” A day before Georgia’s primary, Brave New Films, a progressive documentary shop, held online screenings of its updated film about voter suppression during Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race to include post-2020 subversion by Trump’s allies. It was retitled, “Suppressed and Sabotaged.”

Just days before, a trio of pro-democracy groups, including States United Democracy Center, whose advisors include Republicans who reject Trump’s 2020 claims, issued a masterful report, “A Democracy Crisis in the Making: How State Legislatures are Politicizing, Criminalizing and Interfering with Election Administration,” which details how plans to overturn popular votes are becoming legally institutionalized. It traces how power grabs by GOP state legislators, via bills being introduced and passed since Trump’s defeat, are being woven into state law and vote-counting rules to allow hyper-partisans to intervene and tilt the results at key junctures.

The New York Times, in its Sunday, May 22 edition, cited the report in a front-page analysis affirming that nearly half of Republican lawmakers in the top swing states have already acted to subvert results. It found “44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided” used their office’s authority to “discredit or try to overturn” 2020’s presidential results. States United’s report traces their subsequent actions, pushing and passing bills to let legislators and appointees intervene to subvert election results.

The threat and terminology of subverted or sabotaged election results is meant to be jarring. It is not merely a preview of early June’s House hearings about the January 6 insurrection, which is likely to show Americans that Trump allies in Washington and the states took part in a willful, political, and likely criminal, effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The emergence and naming of election subversion as a deepening threat is equally, if not more so, about the future elections – in 2022 and 2024 – rather than the last presidential election.

“We have a democratic crisis in the making,” States United concluded. “All of us who care about our democracy—regardless of political affiliation—must continue to use every tool we have to protect free and fair elections in this country, and to reject efforts to undermine them.”

But a buzzphrase can lose its meaning, especially if imprecisely or overused in politics. In the above examples, subversion was cited for different purposes. Elias was sounding alarm bells, saying that Republicans have an advancing strategy and Democrats don’t yet have a response. Brave New Films cited subversion to inspire the get-out-the-vote efforts in Georgia and other states holding May 24 elections, and to push back on assertions by Georgia’s GOP that higher turnout in 2022’s early voting, compared to 2018, did not mean that the state’s Republicans were not still targeting Democrats blocs. The States United report sought to expose how Trump-inspired legislators have been using disinformation and introducing chaos into an orderly process to justify potential power grabs by their branch of state government.

Despite these analyses, elevating the prospects for election subversion in 2022 and 2024 is hampered by a problem common to many similar issues: While warning signs abound, the threat has not yet materialized. It is too early in 2022’s cycle to cite examples of Republicans subverting the popular vote at this stage in the process – in primaries. (The closest example is from Texas, where, under technicalities in a new state law, 12.4 percent of absentee ballots cast on March 1 were rejected after voters mistakenly filled out return envelopes.) The fall general election is when most electoral power grabs are likely to surface.

The Times’ May 22 analysis hinted at that reality. Its report underscored that many Republicans, already in statehouses, tried but failed to subvert the 2020 presidential results, which shows a power-grabbing mindset. Looking to 2022’s general election and beyond, the Times noted that would-be subverters have not yet reached critical mass as far as hijacking future results. “In most states, the lawmakers who challenged the 2020 results do not yet have the numbers, or the support of governors, secretaries of state or legislative leaders, to achieve their most audacious aims,” the Times said.

Mindsets And Actions

Still, it is undeniable that Trumpist Republicans embrace power-grabbing tactics. The Times report focused on legislators who acted to overturn the will of the people in their state. Since then, in numerous 2022 Republican primaries, many members of Congress who were elected on the same ballot where Joe Biden won – but voted to reject their state’s Electoral College slate after the January 6 riot – have been rewarded by voters. They won their primaries.

And Trump has urged his handpicked candidates to prematurely declare victory. In May 17’s Pennsylvania primary, he told Dr. Mehmet Oz, his pick for U.S. Senate, to declare victory and not wait for a recount. (Oz did not follow Trump’s script.) As the June hearings by the House’s January 6 committee approach, the panel is expected to show how scores of state and federal Republican legislators took part in a concerted but seat-of-the-pants effort to overturn the presidential election.

While the uprising may emerge as a criminal conspiracy – violating state and federal election laws in place at that time, what has unfolded in GOP-led swing states since January 2021 has been a more careful and deliberate strategy to achieve similar aims – by passing new laws empowering Republican legislators to interfere at key junctures with counting votes.

“Contrary to what some argue, I don’t expect Republican election officials to blatantly ignore the election results and declare that the candidate who received fewer votes has won,” Elias wrote on May 25. “The Republican election subversion plan is more sophisticated than that. Instead, I expect Republicans to use false allegations of fraud as a pretext to remove ballots from the vote totals and then certify those incomplete results.”

“To accomplish this, Republicans — before an election takes place — will seek to sow doubt in the legitimacy or integrity of the ballots they aim to challenge,” he continued, alluding to the role that disinformation plays in fomenting electoral coups. “Maybe they’ll say that ballots cast in a certain kind of drop box are invalid, or that ballots collected by third-party organizations are illegal, or that voters who were given food and water while waiting in line should have their ballots discarded. The list of potential unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud is endless.”

The report by States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward, further breaks down the interrelated building blocks of the subversion strategy that Republicans have been honing and putting in place since the 2020 presidential election. Unlike Trump’s sloppy post-election lawsuits, where conspiratorial claims and a lack of factual evidence led to 60-plus state and federal rulings against him, Trumpist legislators have been introducing bills, and, in many cases passing them, to usurp counting votes – which is a different strategy. (It also fits with an untested legal theory, where they claim the U.S. Constitution grants this authority.)

The groups’ report delves into little-understood details of election administration, which, in contrast to Trump’s stolen election clichés, is what makes these developments legally potent and increases the number of insider-driven tracks to subverting the popular vote. Under the modern version of Jim Crow, ruling politicians over-policed many steps in the voting process, never knowing what would have the greatest impact in any year. This post-2020 strategy takes that scatter-shot approach to ballot-verifying and counting process.

“This year alone [2022], lawmakers have introduced scores of new bills that increase the likelihood of election subversion, whether directly or indirectly,” the report’s summary said. “In some cases, the potential subversion is quite direct — for example, bills that give the legislature the power to choose a victor contrary to the voters’ will. In others, the impact is less direct but still dangerous. Some bills would introduce dysfunction and chaos into the election system and could lead to delay, uncertainty, and confusion, all of which could provide cover for subversion.”

The Blueprint

The report describes five categories of interrelated “legislative maneuvers” that build on each other and can cascade. The first is passing new laws that “would give legislators direct or indirect control over election outcomes, allowing lawmakers to reject the choice of voters.” While no such bills have become law so far in 2022, the authors state that “the fact that they are being introduced indicates that legislatures are considering the option.” However, this category includes giving legislators greater control over the statewide and county election boards that certify winners, which have become law in Georgia, for example.

The second legislative maneuver is launching post-election “audits” or reviews by partisans with little or no experience in election administration and technologies. This is where undermining public confidence and chaos via made-for-rightwing-media spectacles is a deliberate tactic.

Seventeen states saw bills to allow these reviews, which “threaten to call election outcomes perpetually into doubt. They would tie up election administrators and likely would amount to state-sponsored vehicles for disinformation,” the report said, which is what happened in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. “The bills… lack standardized procedures, lack basic safeguards to protect the security of voting equipment and cast ballots, or fail to require that reviews be conducted by non-partisan election administration experts.” Post-2020 reviews did not alter any state’s presidential results but looking ahead “could be used to illegitimately delay certification of results, opening the door to conspiracy theories and subversion.”

The third maneuver is “shifting power from professional election administrators to partisan legislatures or legislatively appointed officials,” the report continued. This tactic would disrupt how the legislative and executive branches of state government function.

“It is traditionally the role of the state executive branch to appoint election officials, issue more granular regulations, and administer elections according to the rules set by the legislature. Among other benefits, this traditional allocation of power allows election administrators to respond to changing circumstances and exigencies,” it said. This cooperation is what happened in 2020 when public health and election officials collaborated to make voting safer during the pandemic by encouraging voters to use mailed-out ballots – which Trump assailed.

Intentionally disrupting these roles, where legislators with little nor no experience managing elections start imposing administrative decisions that run counter to the best practices of civil service election professionals, leads to the fourth category of overreach, “creating unworkable burdens in election administration.”

“We are seeing a wave of legislation that interferes with the most basic routines and procedures of local election administrators — such as voter roll maintenance, testing election equipment, and tabulating ballots — in ways that impose new, unworkable burdens on them,” it said. “One particularly dangerous flavor of these bills, under consideration in six states, would require all ballots to be counted by hand, practically guaranteeing delays, higher rates of counting error, and increased risk of tampering by bad actors.”

Trump's Election Denial Candidates Defeated Soundly In Georgia

In victories that forcefully rejected former President Donald Trump, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp won the Republican nomination and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had a double-digit lead and was hovering above the threshold that would trigger a GOP primary runoff.

Kemp, who resoundingly defeated former Sen. David Perdue, will face a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams, who he defeated by nearly 55,000 votes in 2018 in a race where Abrams did not concede and accused Kemp, then secretary of state, of abusing his office’s authority to suppress voter turnout across Georgia’s communities of color.

Kemp and his successor, Raffensperger, both rejected pressure from Trump in the immediate aftermath of the state’s 2020 presidential election to “find votes” to finesse a Trump victory, which neither did. In response, Trump viciously attacked both men and recruited primary challengers, including Congressman Jody Hice to take on Raffensperger.

With 90 percent of the vote counted, Kemp crushed Perdue, 73 percent to 22 percent, a half-million vote victory margin. Raffensperger lead Hice, 52 percent to 34 percent. Several metro Atlanta counties had yet to fully report, but Raffensperger firmly led in the region.

In other races of national interest, two Trump acolytes won their primaries. Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, one of Congress’ most unabashed conspiracy theorists, garnered more than 70 percent of her district’s GOP vote. Former football star Herschel Walker won his Senate primary with similar margins and will face Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock this fall.

Many analysts will note that Trump’s grip on the Republican Party seems to be looser than the former president boasts. Kemp’s victory will be parsed by other candidates seeking to distance themselves from Trump but appeal to his base in the general election.

Patricia Murphy, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, wrote late Tuesday that Kemp did not respond to Trump’s months-long taunts, while he oversaw the passage of legislation that appealed to Trump’s stolen-election believers and social conservatives – from election reforms that were aimed at thwarting Democratic voting blocs to a six-week abortion ban. And Kemp touted his accomplishments in office, in part fueled by a federal stimulus passed by Democrats in Washington.

Raffensperger repeatedly accused Hice of waging a campaign based on stolen election lies. However, he tacked to the far right in the finale of the primary campaign. He touted his office’s efforts to police the electoral process, such as going after voting by non-citizens, a virtually non-existent threat. He also criticized Georgia’s automatic voter registration system.

In recent weeks, Raffensperger also said that record levels of in-person early voting for 2022’s primary disproved the accusation from Democrats that Georgia was a state with a continuing legacy of racially targeted voter suppression. Georgia’s civil rights activists reject that assertion, saying that te state’s post-2020 reforms making absentee voting less accessible has meant that they had to work harder to turn out voters. As a result, many people voted early and in person, so that any problem with registration or accessing a ballot could be resolved.

The other major GOP-led election reform, increasing the state’s legislature authority to directly appoint, replace, and control election officials was not clearly tested in the May 24 primary. Those authorities, which election policy experts say can subvert American democracy, may emerge in the general election if there are photo finishes in high-stakes races.

GOP Split: Far Right Gains Ground In East, While Losing Out West

The Republican Party’s radical right flank is making inroads among voters and winning key primaries east of the Mississippi. But out West, among the five states that held their 2022 primary elections on May 17, a string of GOP candidates for office who deny the 2020’s presidential election results and have embraced various conspiracies were rejected by Republicans who voted for more mainstream conservatives.

In Pennsylvania, Douglas Mastriano, an election denier and white nationalist, won the GOP’s nomination for governor. He received 568,000 votes, which was 44.1 percent of the vote in a low turnout primary. One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s nine million registered voters cast ballots.

In Idaho, by contrast, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who also claimed Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate and has campaigned at white supremacist rallies, according to the Western States Center, an Oregon-based group that monitors the far-right, lost her bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination to incumbent Gov. Brad Little.

Idaho also saw two 2020 election-denying candidates vying for the GOP nomination for secretary of state lose to a career civil servant and election administrator who defended 2020’s results as accurate. On the other hand, an ex-congressman who is an election denier won the GOP primary for attorney general.

“In addition to Janice McGeachin, who was defeated in her bid for governor, a number of other anti-democracy candidates were rejected by voters, including Priscilla Giddings, who ran for [Idaho] Lieutenant Governor; Dorothy Moon, who ran for Secretary of State; and Chad Christensen, Todd Engel and Eric Parker, who mounted bids for the state legislature,” the Western States Center’s analysis said. “In Ada County, anti-Semitic sheriff candidate Doug Traubel was soundly defeated, alongside losses for Proud Boy and conspiratorial candidates in Oregon.”

Voters in western states with histories of far-right organizing and militia violence have more experience sizing up extremist politics and candidates than voters out east, the Center suggested. However, as May 17’s five state primaries make clear, the GOP’s far right flank is ascendant nationally.

Various stripes of GOP conspiracy theorists and uncompromising culture war-embracing candidates attracted a third or more of the May 17 primary electorate, a volume of votes sufficient to win some high-stakes races in crowded fields.

Low Turnouts Boost GOP Radicals

The highest-profile contests were in the presidential swing state of Pennsylvania, where Mastriano, a state legislator, won the gubernatorial primary with votes from less than seven percent of Pennsylvania’s nine million registered voters.

In its primary for an open U.S. Senate seat, several thousand votes separated two election-denier candidates, a margin that will trigger a recount. As Pennsylvania’s mailed-out ballots are counted and added into totals, the lead keeps shifting between hedge-fund billionaire David McCormick and celebrity broadcaster Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Mastriano campaigned on his rejection of President Joe Biden’s victory, chartered buses to transport Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol for what became the January 6 insurrection, is stridently anti-abortion and often says his religion shapes his politics. On his primary victory night, he sounded like former President Trump, proclaiming that he and his base were aggrieved underdogs.

“We’re under siege now,” Mastriano told supporters, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report. “The media doesn’t like groups of us who believe certain things.”

That “siege” appears to include a cold shoulder from pro-corporate Republicans who campaigned against Mastriano as the primary crested, fearing that he would lose in the fall’s general election. A day after the May 17 primary, the Republican Governors Association downplayed his victory, a signal that it was unlikely to steer donors toward him, the Washington Post reported.

Other election-denying candidates sailed to victory across Pennsylvania, including five GOP congressmen who voted against certifying their state’s 2020 Electoral College slate: Scott Perry, John Joyce, Mike Kelly, Guy Reschenthaler and Lloyd Smucker. Their primaries, while not garnering national attention, underscore Trump’s enduring impact on wide swathes of the Republican Party.

It remains to be seen if any of the primary winners will prevail in the fall’s general election. It may be that candidates who can win in crowded primary fields when a quarter to a third of voters turn out will not win in the fall, when turnout is likely to double. But a closer look at some primary results shows that large numbers of Republican voters are embracing extremists – even if individual candidates lose.

That trend can be seen in Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor’s race. The combined votes of three election-denying candidates (Rick Saccone, 15.63 percent; Teddy Daniels, 12.28 percent; Russ Diamond, 5.87 percent) was about 35 percent. That share of the party’s electorate, had it voted for one candidate, would have defeated the primary winner, Carrie Delrosso, a more moderate Republican who received 25.88 percent of the vote and will have to defend conspiracies as Mastriano’s running mate.

Fissures Inside the GOP

While Trump-appeasing candidates won primaries in May 17’s four other primary states – Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon – some outspoken and badly behaved GOP radicals, such as North Carolina’s Rep. Madison Cawthorn, lost to a more traditional conservative Republican.

Cawthorn was defeated by Chuck Edwards, a pro-business Republican and state senator described by the Washington Post as “a McDonald’s franchise owner [who] was head of the local chamber of commerce.”

Edwards campaigned on returning the House to a GOP majority and backed a predictable obstructionist agenda to block the Biden White House, as opposed to Cawthorn’s embrace of 2020 election conspiracies and incendiary antics – which included taking loaded guns on planes and accusing other GOP congressmen of lurid and illegal behavior.

Edward’s focus, the Post reported, “will be on ‘removing the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand, and then taking the teleprompter from Joe Biden and restoring the policies that we enjoyed under the Trump administration, to help get this country back on track.’”

Cawthorn’s defeat came as North Carolina Republicans chose a Trump-praising candidate, Ted Budd, for its U.S. Senate nomination over an ex-governor, Pat McCrory.

As Tim Miller noted in the May 18 morning newsletter from The Bulwark, a pro-Republican but anti-Trump news and opinion website, McCrory had “criticized Trump over his Putinphilia and insurrectionist incitement… he lost bigly to Ted Budd, a milquetoast Trump stooge who will do what he’s told.”

As in Pennsylvania, a handful of incumbent congressmembers in North Carolina who voted to reject their 2020 Electoral College slate, easily won their primaries.

“Virginia Foxx and Greg Murphy voted to overturn the results of the 2020 election after the events of January 6 and have been endorsed by Trump in their 2022 campaigns,” said a May 17 factsheet from ProjectDefendDemocracy.com, a website that tracks the GOP’s election-denying candidates. “Foxx was later fined $5,000 for failing to comply with security measures put in place in the House after the January 6 attack and Murphy has claimed that antifa may have been responsible for the violence at the Capitol.”

Foxx won her primary with 77 percent of the vote. Murphy won his primary with 76 percent of the vote.

Idaho Republicans Clash

The election-denial and conspiracy-embracing candidates fared less well in May 17’s primaries out West, the Western States Center’s analysis noted.

“Yesterday in elections in Oregon and Idaho, anti-democracy candidates were defeated in several marquee races,” it said. “Most notably, Idaho gubernatorial hopeful Janice McGeachin, whose embrace of white nationalism and militias was soundly rejected by voters.”

In the GOP primary for secretary of state, which oversees Idaho’s elections, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, narrowly beat two 2020 election deniers, state Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) and state Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene). McCrane had 43.1 percent or 114,392 votes. Moon had 41.4 percent, or 109,898 votes. Souza had 15.5 percent or 41,201 votes.

“Donald Trump carried Idaho by 30 points in 2020, but… State Rep. Dorothy Moon has alleged without evidence that people are ‘coming over and voting’ in Idaho from Canada and called for the decertification of the 2020 election,” said ProjectDefendDemocracy.com’s factsheet. “State Sen. Mary Souza is part of the voter suppression group the Honest Elections Project and has blamed ‘ballot harvesting’ for Biden’s victory. Only Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane has stated that he believes that Idaho’s elections are legitimate, and that Joe Biden was the winner of the 2020 election.”

Another way of looking at the contest’s results is that an election-denying candidate might have won, had Idaho’s Republican Party more forcefully controlled how many candidates were running for this office. Together, Moon and Souza won nearly 57 percent of the vote, compared to McCrane’s 43 percent.

McGrane will be part of a GOP ticket that includes an election denier who won the primary for attorney general. Former congressman Raul Labrador received 51.5 percent of the vote, compared to the five-term incumbent, Lawrence Wasden, who received 37.9 percent. Labrador accused Wasden of “being insufficiently committed to overturning the 2020 election,” ProjectDefendDemocracy said.

On the other hand, another 2020 election defender won his GOP primaries. Rep. Mike Simpson won 53.3 percent of the vote in Idaho’s second U.S. House district in a field with several challengers who attacked him for being one of 35 House Republicans who voted in favor of creating the January 6 committee.

What Do GOP Voters Want?

But Mastriano’s victory in Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial primary, more so than any other outcome from May 17’s primaries, is “giving the GOP fits,” as the New York Times’ Blake Hounshell, its ‘On Politics’ editor, wrote Wednesday.

“Conversations with Republican strategists, donors and lobbyists in and outside of Pennsylvania in recent days reveal a party seething with anxiety, dissension and score-settling over Mastriano’s nomination,” Hounshell said.

That assessment may be accurate. But one key voice – or GOP sector – is missing from the Times’ analysis: the GOP’s primary voter, a third or more on May 17, embraced conspiratorial candidates – though more widely in the East than in the West.

“For decades we’ve seen that our [western] region has been a bellwether for white nationalist and paramilitary attacks on democratic institutions and communities, but also home to the broad, moral coalitions that have risen up to defeat them,” said the Western States Center’s Eric K. Ward. “The defeat of anti-democracy candidates with white nationalist and paramilitary ties up and down the ballot is evidence that those of us committed to inclusive democracy, even if we have vastly different political views, do indeed have the power to come together to defeat movements that traffic in bigotry, white nationalism, and political violence.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Christian Nationalist Mastriano Rising In Pennsylvania Primary

J.D. Vance, the Ohioan who grew up poor, joined the Marines, got a Yale law degree, wrote a bestseller about his hardscrabble upbringing, became a venture capitalist, and panned Donald Trump before becoming a convert to Trumpism and winning Ohio’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate, is one brand of 2022’s Republican candidates—a shapeshifter, as the New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens noted.

“He’s just another example of an increasingly common type: the opportunistic, self-abasing, intellectually dishonest, morally situational former NeverTrumper who saw Trump for exactly what he was until he won and then traded principles and clarity for a shot at gaining power,” Stephens said in a conversation with New York Times liberal columnist Gail Collins that was published on May 9.

But the GOP’s frontrunner for governor in Pennsylvania’s crowded May 17 primary field, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, is an entirely different Republican: a man of deep religious and political convictions who, if he wins the nomination and the general election, could be problematic for Americans who do not want elected officials to impose their personal beliefs on the wider public, whether the topic is abortion, vaccines, denying election results, or calling on God’s help to seize political power.

Mastriano’s current lead among nine candidates, with nearly 28 percent, could be taken two ways. He could be an extremist, like Trump in 2016, who won because too many contenders split the mainstream vote in a low-turnout primary. (In 2018, less than one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s voters turned out—suggesting that 2022’s winner may be nominated by as little as 5 percent of its state electorate.) Or, if Pennsylvania’s GOP were more firmly in control of its nomination process, Mastriano’s support might pale next to the establishment’s pick.

It remains to be seen if voters’ allegiances will shift as May 17 approaches, especially as the Democrats’ likely nominee, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has signaled that Mastriano is the Republican he would most like to run against in the general election by launching TV attack ads. Centrist Republicans also are attacking Mastriano, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports it’s not working.

Mastriano’s prospects, and his chances in the upcoming general election in the fall as another breed of 2022’s GOP mavericks, suggest that wider currents are roiling American politics, including, in this national battleground state, a mainstreaming of white Christian nativism.

Mastriano is a retired Army military intelligence officer and Army War College historian (whose error-filled 2014 biography of a World War I heroic Christian soldier embarrassed its university press). In uniform, he served overseas in Eastern Europe, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His career in elected office started in a predictable rightward fashion: proposing a bill to ban abortion. But after 2020’s election, he emerged from local ranks as an early and fervent member of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” cavalry who sought to subvert the certification of its winner, Pennsylvania native Joe Biden, who officially beat Trump by 80,000 votes.

Mastriano invited Big Lie propagandist Rudy Giuliani and others to legislative hearings. On January 6, 2021, he bussed Trump supporters to the U.S. Capitol, and newly surfaced videos show that he followed them past police barriers. He opposed COVID-19 mandates, and in mid-2021 started calling for an Arizona-style “audit” of the state’s 2020 presidential election results. But unlike Arizona’s effort, led by the Cyber Ninjas’ Doug Logan, another deeply observant but more private Christian, Mastriano is vocal about how much his religion influences his politics.

A New Yorker profile by Eliza Griswold on May 9 characterizes Mastriano as a white Christian nationalist—a term he rejects—who, before the January 6 Capitol riot, “exhorted his followers to ‘do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.’”

On the 2020 election denial front, Mastriano is not alone. Although he was leading in a crowded field, there are other candidates for governor who have been falsely proclaiming that Democrats stole their state’s 2020 election and the presidency, and even forged Electoral College documents sent to Washington, D.C.

“If you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor,” wrote Amanda Carpenter, a political columnist for the Bulwark, an anti-Trump Republican news and opinion website.

“They’re all election conspiracists.” she continued. “The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.”

But Mastriano is not a mere Trump imitator. He is cut from an older, more gothic American political cloth: mixing a nativist piety, conspiratorial mindset, and authoritarian reflexes. The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized his unbending religiosity as belonging to the “charismatic strand of Christianity.” The New Yorker’s Griswold concluded that “Mastriano’s rise embodies the spread of a movement centered on the belief that God intended America to be a Christian nation.”

This political type is not new, wrote Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist and historian, in 2006 in American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, which detailed how George W. Bush’s evangelism tainted his presidency. However, Mastriano’s ascension, coupled with a Trump-fortified U.S. Supreme Court that’s poised to void a woman’s right to abortion, affirms today’s reemergence of a radical right.

“Christianity in the United States, especially Protestantism, has always had an evangelical—which is to say, missionary—and frequently a radical or combative streak,” wrote Phillips. “Some message has always had to be preached, punched, or proselytized.”

Add in Mastriano’s embrace of Trumpian authoritarianism, and the Keystone State’s leading GOP candidate for governor is proudly part of this pantheon. As the Inquirer wrote on May 4, he “often invokes Esther, the biblical Jewish queen who saved her people from slaughter by Persians, casting himself and his followers as God’s chosen people who have arrived at a crossroads—and who must now defend their country, their very lives.”

“It is the season of Purim,” Mastriano said, according to the paper’s report of a “March [campaign] event in Lancaster, referring to the Jewish holiday celebrated in the Book of Esther.” The gubernatorial candidate continued, “And God has turned the tables on the Democrats and those who stand against what is good in America. It’s true.”

A Heavy Hand?

It’s hardly new for Republicans to demonize Democrats. But under Trump, the enemies list has grown to include not just the media (Mastriano has barred reporters from rallies and abruptly ended interviews), but America’s “secular democracy” (as Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne, put it in Griswold’s piece for the New Yorker). This targeting includes the government civil servants who administer elections and the technology used to cast and count votes.

When it comes to election administration, if elected governor, Mastriano gets to appoint the secretary of state, the state’s top election regulator. He also has pledged to sign legislation to curtail voting with mailed-out ballots, which was how 2.6 million Pennsylvanians—about 38 percent of voters, including nearly 600,000 Trump voters—cast 2020’s presidential ballots. (As of May 10, nearly 900,000 voters had applied for a mailed-out ballot for 2022’s primary.) Such a policy shift, if enacted, would deeply inconvenience, if not discourage, voter turnout.

Mastriano, if elected, could also play an outsized role should the presidency in 2024 hinge on Pennsylvania’s 19 presidential electors. In the wake of the 2020 election, as Trump and his allies filed and lost more than 60 election challenge suits, one of their arguments was the U.S. Constitution decrees that state legislatures set the “time, place and manner” of elections. That authority could include rejecting the popular vote in presidential elections and appointing an Electoral College slate favoring the candidate backed by a legislative majority, which, in Pennsylvania, has been Republican since 2011’s extreme gerrymander.

Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of recent litigation over this power grab, the so-called “independent state legislature doctrine.” If elected governor, Mastriano could hasten a constitutional crisis, because under the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which was designed to say how competing slates of presidential electors are to be resolved, the governor—not the state legislature—has the final say, according to Edward B. Foley, a widely respected election law scholar.

“A key provision of the act says that if the [U.S.] House and Senate are split [on ratifying a state’s Electoral College slate], the governor of the state in dispute becomes the tiebreaker,” Foley wrote in 2016, when scholars were gaming post-Election Day scenarios in Trump’s race against Hillary Clinton. While speculating about 2024 is premature, there’s some precedent to heed.

After the 2020 election, 84 people in seven battleground states that Biden won, including Pennsylvania, sent lists of unauthorized Trump electors to the National Archives in Washington. Two of Mastriano’s primary opponents, ex-congressman Lou Barletta and Charlie Gerow, signed the fake Electoral College slates. Mastriano, however, did not.

With days to go before the primary, Josh Shapiro, the Democrats’ likely nominee for governor (he is running unopposed in the party primary) is already running anti-Mastriano TV ads seeking to tie the Republican candidate to Trump. (Incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, faces term limits and cannot seek reelection.) Shapiro’s strategy to elevate Mastriano is “dangerous,” according to Inquirer columnist Will Bunch, as it affirms Mastriano’s credentials to voters and could backfire in the fall—in a replay of Trump’s 2016 victory in the state.

“A Gov. Mastriano, Shapiro’s new TV spot says, would effectively ban abortion in the Keystone State and, the narrator continues, ‘he led the fight to audit the 2020 election,’” Bunch wrote on May 8. “‘If Mastriano wins, it’s a win for what Donald Trump stands for.’ Cue the Satanic music, maybe the only clue that the Shapiro campaign thinks these are bad things. The commercial’s closing pitch: ‘Is that what we want in Pennsylvania?’”

“The answer, for far too many people in a state where the wife-cheating, private-part-grabbing xenophobe won by 44,292 votes in 2016, would, unfortunately, be ‘yes.’”

But a Mastriano primary victory would be more than the latest affirmation of the ex-president’s sway over swaths of today’s GOP. It heralds the rise of “radicalized religion,” as Phillips wrote in American Theocracy about fundamentalists and George W. Bush’s presidency, merged with more recent Trumpian authoritarianism.

“Few questions will be more important to the 21st-century United States than whether renascent religion and its accompanying political hubris will be carried on the nation’s books as an asset or as a liability,” Phillips wrote. “While sermons and rhetoric propounding American exceptionalism proclaim religiosity an asset, a sober array of historical precedents—the pitfalls of imperial Christian overreach from Rome to Britain—tip the scales toward liability.”

Reprinted with permission from Independent Media Institute.

Georgia's Honest Republican 'Bends' To Election Conspiracists In Re-Election Bid

Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who in November 2020 refused Donald Trump’s demand to “find” the votes for the ex-president to win the state and vigorously defended the accuracy of Georgia’s results and recounts, is “being bent to the will” of 2020 election deniers as his May 24 primary approaches, civil rights advocates say.

Raffensperger, who knows what factually occurred during the election, has endorsed a new investigation by the State Elections Board into specious allegations that thousands of mailed-out 2020 ballots had been illegally collected in metro Atlanta by dozens of workers hired by left-leaning nonprofit groups whose leadership supported Joe Biden’s candidacy.

The allegations, which are not new, and which the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and FBI examined last fall and declined to investigate, are at the core of an inflammatory new movie, 2000 Mules, made by right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza and a right-wing voter vigilante group, True the Vote, which is now being promoted in pro-Trump circles.

“We will continue investigating every credible allegation of ballot harvesting in Georgia. The only ones that should touch a ballot are the voter and the election official,” Raffensperger said on Facebook on May 2, as he reposted an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on the Georgia State Elections Board launching an investigation into possible illegal ballot collection.

“They [True the Vote] need to provide us [the board] the names of those people that they say harvested the ballots. We’re going to find out who they are and where they live, were they paid, and how much were they paid,” Raffensperger said during an April 23 debate.

While it is standard for Georgia’s secretary of state to open investigations after receiving complaints, Raffensperger’s revisionism appears to cede ground to a primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) who, like many Republicans across the country, has built his primary campaign on attacking the 2020 presidential results and has been endorsed by Trump. Raffensperger’s last-minute validation of True the Vote’s allegations is troubling to voting rights advocates.

“Raffensperger, whether you like him or not, still followed the rule of law [in 2020]. And now he is being bent to the will of these conspiracists,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action committee chairman. “These people who used to be genuine conservatives are now part of the cult when they know better.”

“I do believe that a lot of people respected Raffensperger for having a little integrity and a backbone and standing up and telling the truth that there was no fraud,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda. “And to veer away from that is just playing politics and not really being truthful with voters.”

True The Vote

True the Vote is a Texas-based voter vigilante organization that grew out of the Tea Party and has been promoting the myth of voter fraud since the early years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Initially, the group sought to train poll watchers to confront what its founders, predominantly white conservatives, believed were illegal votes by people of color. Despite earning media coverage, it failed to deliver on its claims—in part because illegal voting is exceptionally rare, and when it occurs it is usually a result of an individual’s error and not a partisan conspiracy. True the Vote filed lawsuits that were ridiculed by Republican judges and senior election officials. However, in today’s era of social media-driven disinformation, it has found new audiences, including Trump, who played the trailer to “2000 Mules” at an Ohio rally in late April.

True the Vote is known for making outsized allegations based on shoddy methodology and withholding evidence to support its claims, including its Georgia-based assertion made last fall that it had analyzed cell phone-tracking data and video footage, and had identified 279 people who made repeated trips to ballot drop boxes in 2020’s general election. Under Georgia law, only voters, their immediate family members, and the caregivers of voters with disabilities are allowed to handle and return mailed-out ballots.

“The key distinction to make here is between ballot harvesting and ballot trafficking,” D’Souza told Chicago’s AM 560 talk radio. “In Georgia, for example, you can give your ballot [to another person to return]—but only to a family member, or, if you are in a nursing home, to a caregiver to drop it off… What we have here is left-wing nonprofit organizations operating as vote stash houses, accumulating vast numbers of ballots, and then hiring paid political operatives called mules to deliver them. That is illegal.”

Last fall, when True the Vote presented these allegations to state officials, D. Victor Reynolds, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation director, wrote back saying his agency had reviewed the allegations, consulted with the FBI, and concluded that “based on what has been provided and what has not been provided, an investigation is not justified.”

“What has not been provided is any other kind of evidence that ties these cell phones to ballot harvesting; for example, there are no statements of witnesses and no names of any potential defendants to interview,” Reynolds’ letter said. “Saliently, it has been stated that there is ‘a source’ that can validate ballot harvesting. Despite repeated requests that source has not been provided to either the GBI or to the FBI.”

But now that the movie, 2000 Mules, is poised to debut in 270 theaters across the country, the filmmakers are trumpeting interview footage—which they claim is real—of a paid ballot trafficker allegedly explaining the ballot delivery operation. And the right-wing filmmakers have expanded their allegations, claiming that a “‘network’ of non-governmental organizations… worked together to facilitate a ballot trafficking scheme in Georgia” that was based out of “10 hubs” in metro Atlanta, according to an April 21 subpoena by the State Elections Board to True the Vote founder Catherine Englebrecht to testify on May 26—two days after the state’s 2022 primary—and present her evidence.

When Englebrecht testified about the same allegedly illegal ballot trafficking scheme before Wisconsin’s legislature in late March, Democratic legislators replied that she was overclaiming—replying that Englebrecht may not like mailed-out ballots, but that did not mean illegal voting occurred. She replied, “Maybe a few percentage points of your population needs to vote legitimately by mail because, certainly, we don’t want to see anyone deprived… But that tips over into an indefinitely confined list and it becomes theater of the absurd.”

'No Evidence'

The Atlanta NAACP’s McClendon said that it is the 2020 election deniers who are putting forth political smears that have no basis in reality.

“It’s unbelievable to me, the depths to which they will go with these lies, and that they can gain traction with no evidence,” said McClendon, who led a field operation in 2020 that spanned 17 counties where 75 percent of Georgia’s Black voters live and involved nonprofit civic groups.

“We haven’t done anything like what they are alleging. I don’t know any groups that have done, quote-unquote, [ballot] harvesting,” he said. “I know people that have delivered valid ballots to the county registrar’s office. They don’t bring them to drop boxes… Those people are nursing home attendants and family members.”

McClendon said that the new allegations by the Trump propagandists and the responses by the State Elections Board and Raffensperger lending credence to their claims—allegations that the GBI and FBI already rejected—were ugly but not unexpected. But he said that there was little more that Georgia’s Republicans could do to impede voting with mailed-out ballots in 2022, because the state’s red-run government has passed laws making that option inconvenient.

Under SB 202, a massive election bill passed last year, the Georgia legislature and Gov. Brian Kemp instituted an overly bureaucratic absentee ballot application and return process. It also made returning mailed-out ballots less convenient by restricting drop boxes. For example, metro Atlanta’s most populous county, Fulton County, can deploy fewer than 10 drop boxes across the entire jurisdiction, McClendon said. As a result, the NAACP and other groups seeking to turn out primary voters were encouraging people to vote early and in person.

“Our game plan has already been—and this is part of our text-banking that started last weekend—to tell all of our people, if you are physically able, you need to early vote starting May 2,” he said. “Don’t rely on any kind of mail-in balloting.”

On May 3, the Associated Press published its fact-check report on “2000 Mules,” finding the film’s research and claims were “based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cell phone location data, which is not precise enough to confirm that somebody deposited a ballot into a drop box, according to experts.”

In other words, the propaganda put forth by the latest pro-Trump movie is not relevant to Georgia’s 2022 voting options, as the state’s Republicans have already impeded absentee voting. Raffensperger certainly knows that reality, as well as the fact that his state’s 2020 presidential results and recounts were accurate. And that’s what makes his last-minute embrace of 2020 election denial claims disturbing.

“People should tell the truth, stick with the truth, and leave it at that,” said Butler.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Greene Insists She Was 'A Victim Of The Riot' On January 6

Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) defended her right to remain on the 2022’s ballot in a Georgia courtroom on Friday by repeatedly saying that she could not recall, nor would take responsibility for, statements posted on social media or uttered on camera that encouraged the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—where Greene insisted that she had been a victim of the violence.

“I was very scared. I was concerned. I was shocked, absolutely shocked,” Greene said. “Every time I [had] said, ‘We’re going to fight,’ it was all about objecting [to ratifying 2020’s Electoral College] and to me that was the most important process of the day. And I had no idea what was going on. And I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt… Yes, I was a victim of the riot that day.”

But Andrew Celli, Jr., the attorney representing a handful of Georgia voters who sued to remove Greene from the 2022 ballot under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which bars anyone from holding a federal or state office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same,” urged Administrative Judge Charles Beaudrot to look past Greene’s denials to videos filmed a day before the insurrection -- where she said that a peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden must be stopped by any means, including violence.

“You saw and heard it with your own eyes, judge. She said the quiet part out loud,” Celli said in his closing statement. “She spoke her truth out loud in a video that she made, that she posted on her own Facebook page, and that she wanted her hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers and the untold millions of other people that she wanted to know – that her point of view was you can’t allow… power to transfer peacefully.

“The is not Internet drivel This is not the dark corners of Parler [a right-wing social media site]. This is a person who is a federal official, a member of government, and this wasn’t even a rhetorical flourish on the back of a campaign truck after a long day,” he said. “This is somebody who sat down in front of a camera and calmly and carefully told her viewers, 'We will not accept a peaceful transfer of power. We can’t allow it.' And then she said we will not go quietly into the night. She framed this as an existential battle, a new Fourth of July, a new Fourth of July 1776.”

Greene’s legal team, led by longtime Republican Party attorney James Bopp, Jr., replied that her statements were protected political speech. He cited Supreme Court rulings that distinguished between political speech that was overheated and speech that directly incited violent actions—which he said that Greene’s rhetoric had failed to do.

“[That’s] the reason there’s the protection of the First Amendment, which we have now seen on full display,” Bopp said. “Full display here—the danger of construing words way beyond their meaning to allow political opponents to smear their opposition in a court of law.”

Bopp said that the pro-Trump rally outside Congress on the morning of January 6, 2021, before the storming of the Capitol that ensued, was “peaceful and nonviolent." He said that Greene’s support of the rally and her participation were constitutionally protected, whereas the riot and interruption of the joint session ratifying the Electoral College count were not constitutionally protected .

“And to drag her into, ‘Well, did you promote the rally?’ ‘Did you, you know, put it on your calendar?’ ‘Were you invited to speak?’ …is to strip her of her First Amendment rights,” Bopp said. “All of these are First Amendment protected activities, every single one of them. And none of them constitute even incitement, much less constitute engaging in unlawful conduct.”

Bopp contended that the constitutional questions raised by the lawsuit coordinated by Free Speech for People, a progressive law firm, to remove Greene from the 2022 ballot were not appropriate for the state tribunal. It will issue a recommendation to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who must decide whether Greene should remain on the May 24 primary ballot. Bopp also raised legal issues that Beaudrot could cite to recommend that Greene remain on the ballot, such as what activities legally constituted an insurrection, and noting that 2022’s primary ballots had already been printed and mailed out.

The administrative law judge appeared to be more interested in Bopp’s assertions than Celli’s arguments. Beaudrot told both sides to file final written arguments by next Thursday, April 28, and said he would issue a decision within a week after that.

But the hearing in the Office of State Administrative Hearings court was not designed to parse complex constitutional issues, as Beaudrot reminded the lawyers during the proceeding. It was, instead, a hearing to gather evidence about what Greene said and its impact.

Celli concluded that Greene’s rhetoric and actions supporting the January 6 insurrection disqualified her from seeking re-election to Congress. Bopp, of course, disagreed.

“We find ourselves back where we started—with the disqualification clause of the 14th Amendment and its three very simple requirements,” Celli said. “That the candidate for federal office had taken the oath to the Constitution; that an insurrection occurred; and that the candidate [in 2022, Greene] having taken that oath engaged in insurrection: promoted it, supported it, assisted it, [and] helped bring it into fruition.”

“This is a political agenda,” Bopp said, “and this has been a political show trial.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Marjorie Taylor Greene Facing Questions Under Oath Over January 6 Role

On Friday, April 22, when Georgia Republican Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene becomes the first member of Congress to be interrogated before a court that must decide if her support for Donald Trump’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021, disqualifies her candidacy for federal office, Greene will likely do what she’s always done since the insurrection. She will lie.

“I have to go to court on Friday and actually be questioned about something I’ve never been charged with and something I was completely against,” Greene told Fox News Channel’s pro-Trump host, Tucker Carlson, on April 18.

That Greene would deny that she ever supported the riot that sought to block Congress from ratifying the 2020 Electoral College votes that certified Joe Biden’s presidential election victory is contradicted by her public actions and statements on and after January 6, according to the factual documentation in a lawsuit that is seeking to disqualify her candidacy under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which bars anyone from holding a federal or state elected office if they have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.”

“Representative Greene promoted the demonstration ahead of time, declaring that it was ‘our 1776 moment’ on an interview the day before. Furthermore, the planners of the January 6 demonstration report that she met with them beforehand,” said the lawsuit seeking to bar Greene’s candidacy filed by Free Speech for People, a progressive public interest law firm. “The stated goal of the organizers was to pressure Vice President Pence into disregarding the electoral votes from several states and declaring Trump the winner of the 2020 election.

“The likelihood of violence during the implementation of this plan was plain to bystanders and probably more so to those intimately involved,” the legal complaint continued. “Before the demonstration, violent groups announced they were going to attend it. Plans for violence—and specifically occupying the Capitol to prevent the certification vote or violently influence its outcome—were so prevalent that one reporter has remarked that “[a]nyone with a Twitter account and an hour of time to kill could have warned about the potential for violence on Jan. 6—and many did.” Furthermore, the insurrection was in part motivated by a desire to prevent the certification in order to send false electoral slates to Congress—an effort Greene endorsed and promoted.”

Greene, whose belligerence defending Trump and attacking Democrats is well known, is among a handful of federal and state lawmakers whose 2022 candidacies have been challenged under the Constitution – which she swore to uphold when taking office days before the uprising. But Greene, like Trump, has pretended nothing happened and called her critics criminals.

“This is how far it’s going, these leftists, these progressives who would rather want – they’d rather have the judge or bureaucrats making decisions instead of voters, they want to hand that over to them and not let the people in my district to even have the right to vote for me,” she told Carlson. “But no, the Republican Party needs to fight harder, Tucker. You know, there is something that I have learned, and I think this is really important. You know, if you can challenge any representative's candidacy or elected office holder, then I bet you we could round up some Republican voters who didn't like [Vice-President] Kamala Harris funding rioters, criminal rioters out of jail, or [Reps.] Ilhan Omar or Cori Bush or Maxine Waters inciting riots.”

Factually, no Democratic woman officeholder Greene mentioned incited the January 6 riot. But her attack on her political opponents – accusing them and the FBI of igniting the insurrection – and her denial of any involvement in the failed coup has become a common refrain among the 2022 candidates challenged by Free Speech for People.

“It is absurd to claim that a sitting member of the United States Congress advocated for the overthrown of the United States government,” said Arizona attorney Alexander Kolodin, who represents Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whose public support of the insurrection is also well-known, during an April 20 state court hearing in Phoenix where the group’s lawsuit challenging the candidacy of Gosar and two other pro-insurrection candidates was heard.

“In fact, there are not even any specific allegations as to Congressman Gosar to that effect,” Kolodin continued. “In fact, he’s [Gosar] not alleged to have called for violence except in some speech before that Capitol riot where he said, ‘A civil war is coming. We just haven’t started shooting yet.’”

Like the suit against Greene, Free Speech for People’s lawsuit extensively documented Gosar’s pro-insurrection actions. But the legal challenge drew a cold reception from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury, who repeatedly said that the group’s legal team had misread the Arizona law they claimed allowed candidates to be removed from the ballot.

A forthcoming ruling raising procedural issues would delay hearing the 14th Amendment case, although Arizona’s primary is not until August. In contrast, the group’s legal action against Greene has taken a different course from its lawsuit against North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who also faces a Republican primary in mid-May. On March 10, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Myers ruled that Cawthorn’s candidacy could not be challenged because his support of the insurrection was absolved by an 1872 federal law granting amnesty to former Confederates – southern supporters of the Civil War. That ruling has been appealed.

In the short run, however, it is notable that Free Speech for People’s legal team, suing on behalf of a handful of voters in each state, will accomplish on Friday what the U.S. House’s Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has failed to do thus far: interrogate a member of Congress about her role in the riot.

Given the propaganda and serial lying by Greene about the insurrection – first denying Trump’s 2020 loss, then encouraging the attempted coup, then accusing her political opponents of inciting the violence that ensued, then denying her involvement in any of these events – the media coverage of Friday’s hearing is likely to be intense and circus-like, and possibly obscure the constitutional questions raised under the 14th Amendment’s Section Three.

“An ‘insurrection’ or ‘rebellion’ under the Disqualification Clause includes actions against the United States with the intent to overthrow the government of the United States or obstruct an essential constitutional function,” the complaint against Greene said. “The events of January 6, 2021, amounted to an insurrection or a rebellion under Section Three: a violent, coordinated effort to storm the Capitol to prevent the Vice President of the United States and the United States Congress from fulfilling their constitutional roles by certifying President Biden’s victory, and to illegally extend then-President Trump’s tenure in office, including by illegally introducing illegitimate electors as ‘alternate slates’ for Congress to vote on.”

Whether Greene is ineligible to be a 2022 candidate for federal office is not the only issue at stake, according to Free Speech for People’s “14 Point 3 Campaign.” Their candidate challenges are seeking to defend the laws, rules, and guardrails governing American democracy – starting with the foundational charter, the U.S. Constitution. Their biggest target is not lawmakers like Greene or Gosar in this year’s elections, but Trump and his plans for 2024.

“Trump is preparing to run for president again in 2024, holding rallies across the country to activate his base… However, Trump’s incitement of the January 6th insurrection makes him ineligible for any future run for office,” the organization said. “Free Speech For People… urge[s] Secretaries of State and chief election officials across the country to follow the mandate of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment and bar insurrectionists from any future ballot.”

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Is Iowa’s ‘First Primary’ Franchise About To Expire?

The jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries for 2024’s Democratic nominee.

In the past half-century since the Iowa caucuses have led off the presidential nominating season, only one Democratic candidate who was not already president — a U.S. senator from the neighboring state of Illinois, Barack Obama — went on to win the White House. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden all lost in Iowa in their first bid for the presidency, even though they went on to win the nomination and the election.

The record for Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire, the nation’s first presidential primary election, isn’t much better. In the same time period, only Carter — in his first campaign for the presidency in 1976 — won the state’s primary, Democratic nomination, and White House.

These awkward facts, coupled with criticism that both states’ voters do not reflect a sufficiently diverse cross-section of the national electorate, and a technical meltdown during Iowa’s 2020 caucuses that led to its results being delayed, have led the Democratic National Committee to open its first review since 2005 to reassess which states will open the 2024 presidential nominating season.

“Our party is best when we reflect the people we are trying to serve,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison told the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) on March 28. “I want folks to understand that this process, like all of the processes that we have gone through time and time again after each election cycle, will be open. It will be accessible. And it will incorporate the diverse perspectives that make our party strong.”

Harrison’s language, like much of the RBC meeting, was cordial, and emphasized transparency and inclusiveness. But it was clear, from the comments made by several RBC members, that Iowa’s days as the nation’s first contest, a party-run caucus, may be numbered. If the state kept an early role, it would be conducted as a party-run primary — not a party-run caucus — which, in itself, would be a major change inside the state and nationally.

More pointedly, the jockeying has begun over which mix of states might take part in a series of coordinated opening primaries on the same day in different regions of the country. While it is impossible to predict what will emerge from the RBC’s review, which it hopes to present this August, voices have suggested that Michigan, New Jersey or Wisconsin should replace Iowa, amid concurrent elections in Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

“As things stand right now, the first state to hold a delegate selection process in 2024 would be Iowa, whose 80 percent white electorate hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in a decade,” wrote Morley Winograd, a former RBC chair and top party official who oversaw the creation of the party’s opening primary schedule, in a March 25 blog at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. “The second state would be New Hampshire, which may have more of a historical and legal claim [since 1920] to be ‘first in the nation’ but whose electorate is even whiter, 90 percent, than Iowa’s… Most importantly, neither state voted for Joe Biden’s candidacy in 2020.”

Morley was welcomed at the March 28 meeting by James Roosevelt Jr., RBC co-chair, who said that the panel looked forward to hearing from him. At the meeting, Harrison announced that the RBC would be holding “three national virtual listening sessions” in coming months to gather input from the public and stakeholders. RBC members also suggested that state parties, unions, political scientists, and past and future presidential candidates should all weigh in.

But the groundwork was already being laid for reconfiguring what the RBC committee refers to as “the pre-window period,” which are the nominating contests before the numerous primaries held on the first Tuesday in March, called Super Tuesday, and the final contests in mid-June.

As Roosevelt summarized, the RBC is envisioning a process where state parties would apply and make their case for an early slot. The panel is looking at several criteria, which are priorities but not inflexible. States should commit to a primary election, not a caucus. States should also play a competitive role in the fall’s general election. And they should have a diverse electorate.

New Priorities, Led by Diversity

At the meeting, some RBC members began to press various constituencies’ cases, starting with a push for choosing early states that have a more racially diverse electorate.

“We know that we can engage more diverse groups that we need to help us win in the general election,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair, presidential campaign manager and recent Fox News analyst. “It’s time for us, Mr. Chairman, to take a hard look at this.”

“We cannot be stuck in a 50-year-old calendar when we are trying to win 2022 and 2024,” said Leah Daughtry of New York. “This idea of considering the changing electorate is so important. Our country is very different than it was when we first set up the [pre-Super Tuesday] window… African Americans comprise 25 percent of rural America, and when you add [in] Latino Americans and Native Americans, rural America is nearly 40 percent people of color.”

But other members countered that the presidential campaigns prefer smaller states.

“[What] presidential candidates have always wanted from us… is that the early states be small states, and I do not see that listed in this framework,” said Carol Fowler of South Carolina. “And presidential campaigns have very good reasons for that. It has to do with cost. It has to do with a candidate who is not well known being given a benefit about campaigning in small states before they move onto larger states. I do hope that will be something that we can consider.”

“Carol’s right,” said Scott Brennan of Iowa, speaking several minutes later. “I think it would be very helpful to hear from presidential campaigns, folks like that, because, again, well, I think the touchstone is electing Democratic presidents.”

Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa, recently wrote a Washington Post opinion piece where he said the DNC was poised to bypass and disrespect rural America, and, with that, extinguish the prospect of another candidate like Obama emerging and triumphing.

“Yes, the Democratic National Committee is holding its quadrennial ritual of lashing us deplorables because, its notables believe, the two early-voting states do not represent the electorate and because politicians hate having discerning voters run the show,” he said.

“The caucuses are misunderstood—they were never meant to pick a winner,” he continued. “Their role is to winnow the field—down from 10 or 20 candidates sometimes to five or six viable campaigns going into New Hampshire. In 2020, the Democratic winner was picked by Black women turning out in droves for Joe Biden in South Carolina.”

But even South Carolina, despite Biden’s debt to that state’s Democrats, might not make the RBC’s final cut, as it hasn’t elected a Democratic presidential candidate in the fall since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and is not a battleground state. (The DNC, however, historically follows an incumbent president’s preferences.)

Nevada, despite its diversity, has other problems. The state party has internal leadership fissures after Democratic Socialists swept all the positions, prompting Nevada’s top elected Democrats to create a “shadow party.” In 2020, the state party ignored the RBC and used untested software to tally its caucus votes, causing delays in announcing the winner that were longer than Iowa’s breakdown weeks before. (Because Bernie Sanders won by a large margin, the press ignored the technical snafus.) In 2021, Nevada passed legislation making it the earliest presidential primary state in the West.

In contrast, Iowa, which has become an increasingly red-run state in recent years, has not passed legislation to replace its caucuses with a government-run primary. That means Iowa’s Democratic Party would have to stand up another entirely new voting system in 2024 — if it preserved its early role — after the high-profile failure of its new voting system in 2020.

And Winograd, who led the RBC decades ago and had a major role in shaping the party’s current schedule, apart from pushing for Michigan to replace Iowa (he was that state’s Democratic Party chair in the 1970s) also noted in his recent blog post that New Hampshire might have to change its primary rules to satisfy the committee’s new requirements.

“There is, however, one thing New Hampshire can do to assure their first in the nation status, at least for 2024,” he wrote. “To deal with the state’s lack of diversity, the party should permit only registered Democrats to vote in its primary in 2024, abandoning their tradition of allowing voters from one party to vote in the other party’s contest.”

The RBC is heading into stormy waters. The politics, voting rules, and election administration details quickly become complicated. For example, other states, such as South Carolina and Virginia, have open primaries where voters who are not registered Democrats can participate. The RBC is unlikely to pursue a rule change that would upend more states than necessary.

No matter what the RBC decides, some states will not be pleased, which raises another possibility. The earliest nominating races, while high profile, only involve a small number of the delegates needed to win the nomination. Thus, small states might ignore the DNC and proceed no matter what, even if the RBC sanctions them after the fact—as it did in 2008 when Florida and Michigan moved their primary dates. (The RBC stripped both states of half of their delegates, but restored them before the national convention.)

Meanwhile, the competition to be first only promises to become more heated.

“Why not end the early primaries with the most bitterly contested swing state in the nation — Wisconsin?” wrote the New Republic’s Walter Shapiro, a veteran political journalist who first covered the Iowa caucuses in 1980, endorsing yet another Midwestern state.

“What matters more than anything is that the Democrats retain for 2024 and beyond the most democratic aspect of running for president,” he wrote. “And that is creating a system under which candidates do not view most of America as flyover country as they race from major media market to major media market. Even in a nation of 330 million, personal campaigning should matter.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Wisconsin GOP’s Post-2020 Inquiry Slanders Bipartisan Pro-Voter Groups

Last October, Michael Gableman -- a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and the Assembly Republicans' lead investigator in their post-2020 election review -- told reporters that he did not have “any understanding of how elections work.” On Tuesday, Gableman summarized his findings to lawmakers, showing a continuing lack of understanding of how elections work, but a fresh and belligerent impulse to smear Wisconsin elections for partisan gain.

Gableman’s report to lawmakers was filled with error-laden, guilt-by-association attacks on election officials and national non-profits that assisted Wisconsin voters after the state's disastrous April 2020 presidential primary – where Republican-led litigation stopped Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from postponing the primary during the pandemic’s first weeks. The court fights and ensuing administrative chaos led to scores of polls being closed due to staff shortages, hours-long waits for voters in several cities, exposure to COVID-19 for poll workers and voters. That fiasco became a national model of how not to run an election in a public health crisis.

The story of how Wisconsin’s election officials and non-governmental experts pivoted in the months that followed, to avoid repeating the primary’s mistakes and to accommodate voters before vaccines existed, was absent from Gableman’s screed -- in which, among other things, he called for the dismantling of the statewide Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), a bipartisan panel which Republicans created in 2015 and had sanctioned 2020’s emergency measures.

Gableman also attacked officials from Wisconsin’s cities, Democratic epicenters, for taking grants from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s family foundation, which paid for protective equipment and to modernize infrastructure to accommodate voters who wanted to cast a mailed-out ballot or vote early in person. (Nationally, Zuckerberg’s grants were on par with Congress’s emergency election funding to respond to the pandemic.)

“Partisan groups, partisan people, coming in and pretending to be for transparency, for accurate voter rolls,” Gableman said, as he wove a tapestry where election officials and non-profits with election administration expertise were colluding with Democrats to drive up voter turnout to beat Donald Trump (who lost to Joe Biden in Wisconsin by 20,608 votes). “There’s no record in front of us that any of the five [of the state’s most populous] cities needed any kind of protective equipment or [grant] money… Our Wisconsin cities were doing just fine.”

The tenor of Gableman’s two-hour-plus presentation was best captured in 20 minutes of video interviews he played featuring eight elderly nursing home residents, most of whom had severe memory loss. He pushed them to display their confusion onscreen – as proof, he posited, that nursing home workers had illegally been filling out their ballots.

One resident, Marie Heyden, replied, “Gosh, I don’t know the right thing,” when asked by Gableman how she would vote on raising taxes, suggesting, in fact, that she may have been competent to vote. However, Gableman told legislators that 90,000 elders lived in nursing facilities across the state. He omitted that the WEC voted in 2020 to suspend the rules that specialized deputies go into nursing homes to help residents vote—because, at that time, no outsiders were allowed into these homes to prevents seniors from catching Covid-19.

Yet like many pro-Trump Republicans seeking to cast doubt on 2020’s election results, Gableman cited a figure – 90,000 nursing home residents statewide – that was not related to any proven record of illegal voting, but was several times larger than the election’s margin.

“As you hear testimony complaining about alleged violations of the law by the WI Election Comm, recognize these decisions were made unanimously by the bipartisan commission in April 2020, and went unchallenged in court [by Republicans] until AFTER their candidate lost,” tweeted David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), which assists Democratic and Republican officials. Becker helped dispense the Zuckerberg grants and was repeatedly attacked by Gableman.

“Those same COVID-related accommodations were affirmed in August 2020, I believe, by a 5-1 bipartisan vote. Both votes and accommodations were done publicly, and well known to supporters of the losing candidate. Why did they go unchallenged, if such a serious legal violation?” Becker’s thread continued. “To summarize the results of months of investigation, and $600K of taxpayer money, the investigation has discovered, at most, 8 possible cases of voter fraud statewide, in an election Biden won 500 days ago by more than 20K votes.”

Gableman attacked other non-profits, which, notably, have worked with Democrats and Republicans in numerous states to bring greater efficiencies to elections. The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) helps states update voter rolls by using more accurate data to remove people who moved or died, as well as identify eligible but unregistered voters – which local officials contact and urge to register. Gableman incorrectly said ERIC was funded by financier George Soros, an oft-wielded but incorrect accusation among right-wingers that has anti-Semitic overtones. He also said that communities of color face no voting barriers.

Gableman similarly attacked “the unknown” National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), which is led by the former Oregon Secretary of State, Phil Kiesling, a Democrat who oversaw the nation’s first effort to replace precinct voting with mailed-out ballots. In 2020, NVAHI’s staff, led by former election officials from other western states that shifted to voting by mail, shared their best practices with officials in many states like Wisconsin, where voting with mailed-out ballots was not widespread. In election circles, NVAHI is well known and respected.

Gableman said that the WEC, ERIC, NVAHI, CEIR all were shadow Democratic operations, which is inaccurate as all of them – governmental and non-governmental – work with both parties. What they all are dedicated to, however, is maximizing participation in well-run elections. (In November 2021’s elections, higher turnout helped to elect Republicans.)

“A key question that Gableman should address is why, if the elections were all tainted, any of the legislators who empowered him, who were elected on the same ballots, have any authority? Should their elections be decertified too?” Becker tweeted. “FACT: WI’s voter turnout rate in 2020 was about the same as it was in 2012, and 2004, for instance, right around 75%. There’s nothing suspicious about the voter turnout in WI, which has traditionally high turnout, despite insinuations to the contrary.”

Gableman ended his presentation by saying that he has only spent about half of the Assembly’s $600,000 appropriation and pledged to keep investigating to get to “the truth.”

Power Grab: How Georgia Republicans Aim To Overrule ​Local Elections

A new wave of power grabs by Georgia’s Republican legislators is threatening to wrest control of key local government bodies where Democrats, often people of color, have recently been elected and currently hold governing majorities.

The Republican moves are an effort to consolidate political control after passing sweeping legislation in 2021 that limited popular early voting options, and allowed state officials to oust county election officials and possibly overturn results.

The latest power grabs are occurring under the umbrella of reconfiguring political districts after the 2020 census, and they target county commissions, school boards and prosecutors in the metro-Atlanta region and other areas where recent elections have left Republicans as political minorities.

“They are not waiting for the [next] election,” said Richard Rose, Atlanta NAACP president. “That’s not quick enough for the powers that run Georgia.”

“They used to believe in local control,” said Helen Butler, a civil rights activist who was purged from Morgan County’s Board of Elections by GOP legislation passed in 2021. “The legislature is now coming in and saying, ‘we don’t like the maps that local people put together,’ and they’re drawing their own maps… They want total control.”

Legislation that is now moving forward includes Republican-drawn maps for county commissions in several metro-Atlanta counties, where numerous elected Democrats, who are Black, say they are being targeted for replacement by Republicans, who are white. In one of those counties, Gwinnett, home to the state’s largest school district and most diverse demographics, a bill would make its school board elections nonpartisan—masking a candidate’s party—and reschedule the election months before November, when voter turnout is lower.

The school board’s new chair, Tarece Johnson, speaking at a statehouse press conference on January 27, said the Senate-passed legislation was “targeting people of color and attempting to suppress the vote, erase their historical truths and censor diverse perspectives.” Republicans pressing for the change have attacked the board’s leadership, which only recently changed to control by elected Democrats, as incompetent.

That same charge, of managerial incompetence, has been used to justify legislation that passed in 2021 to remove local election officials, such as in Spalding County on Atlanta’s outskirts. It is also the rationale of another bill that would allow a newly created state panel to fire elected prosecutors, which is the latest development in a GOP effort to unseat Deborah Gonzalez, the state’s first Latina district attorney, who won after pledging to ignore low-level drug offenses.

“It was a very progressive platform, and I was very vocal about wanting to run to address systemic racism,” Gonzalez told the Marshall Project, a media outlet covering the justice system.

County-level partisan targeting often escapes coverage by national media. In Georgia, however, a national battleground state where demographic changes have evenly divided its electorate, the Republican takeover attempts follow 2021 legislation that rolled back early in-person and mail-based voting options, and empowered a GOP-run state board to purge election officials in eight counties. Voting rights advocates fear 2021’s legislation could set the stage for overturning election results. The latest power grabs worry but do not surprise advocates.

“We are hearing more and more that the worst abuses, the worst discriminatory redistricting and gerrymandering is playing out at the local level,” said Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “This is becoming an increasing concern in states that were formerly covered by [preclearance in] Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is the first redistricting cycle to occur without those protections.”

“In decades past, all of these sorts of changes, whether it is where district lines fall or the size of local governing bodies, county school boards, city councils, et cetera, would be assessed [by federal officials in Washington] for their tendency to diminish the influence of communities of color,” he said. “And there was certainly a deterrent effect because a legislature like Georgia’s legislature would know that what they were doing would have to pass muster.”

But outside of the Atlanta-based policy and activist circles that are tracking the power grabs, many Georgia voters are not yet aware of the Republicans’ latest moves, said Julius Johnson, who runs a democracy center in rural Hawkinsville—in mid-Georgia—that includes a food bank, meeting space, Black history museum and library, and hosts voter drives.

“Typically, locally, people don’t realize the importance of the local elections,” said Johnson, a Democrat who lost a 2020 bid for the state Senate. “We have to articulate very clearly what’s happening here—‘Here is the Republican strategy to get these people in at the local levels’—so that we can get people to step up their game with participation and keep people voting.”

Many Democrats have described the latest GOP moves as the latest structural racism in Georgia politics. The bills to redraw local districts, change who serves on local boards, alter the timing of local elections, and expand ways to unseat locally elected officials are seen by these officials as imposing rules that will steepen the path for people of color to hold majority power. The latest bills come after Republicans in 2021 reversed policies that made early voting easier.

“They’re leveraging their power wherever they happen to have it,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action chair. “If you look at all of these [voting] changes, it is not to take us back to Jim Crow where you have to count jellybeans in a jar to vote. All they need to do is just take off three, four, or five percent of voter turnout and they will accomplish what they want.”

McClendon said that the GOP’s 2021 election reforms were designed to discourage voting and disqualify votes cast early—which is when many working-class Georgians prefer to vote. Unlike the aftermath of the 2020 election when Donald Trump pressured top state officials to “find” enough votes for him to win, McClendon said the GOP’s strategy is for local officials to winnow votes.

“The combination of all of these [rule] changes on the mail-in ballot, no longer being able to have Sunday voting in certain cases because they stacked local election boards, the narrowing of the dates for early voting, the cutting back on the number of voting locations and drop boxes—they don’t sound like they are onerous provisions individually,” McClendon explained. “But when you take them collectively, and you take the fact that every one of these is in a state that is purple, these are steps that are intended to ensure minority rule.”

Data suggests McClendon’s analysis is correct. In November 2021’s municipal elections, the number of rejected absentee ballots increased 45-fold when compared to the percentage that were rejected in November 2020’s presidential election. The GOP’s 2021 law required that all ballot applications and returned ballots be accompanied by a photocopy of a voter’s ID.

Republicans, notably, have rejected the accusations of racism surrounding their voting reforms and county gerrymanders as “ugly” and “baseless.” They have defended their bills as efforts to make local government more representative, especially in parts of Atlanta where whites may now be in the political minority. (GOP sections of the city have repeatedly tried to secede.)

“I do believe that all of the communities in our county matter,” Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, whose map redrawing county commissioner districts in Gwinnett County passed her chamber, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That is why I drew lines that represent those distinct communities.”

Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican who represents a portion of Athens, a city about 70 miles east of Atlanta, told the newspaper that the legislature-imposed maps “protect the voice of every Athenian… [thus] ensuring greater opportunities for minority communities.”

Critics like the NAACP’s Rose say that rhetoric—portraying white Republicans as victims of discrimination after losing to people of color—is offensive. It also masks what is unfolding.

“It is a complete overhaul of the system that we know of,” Rose said. “They have to make sure that they control the elections, that they control the counting, that they control how absentee ballots are processed… And, in some counties, like Gwinnett, for example, where the county commission is all Democratic, they now want to change that. They want to change the school board… They feel they must change it if it does not allow them to maintain power.”

Georgia’s 2022 Primaries

There are many signs that Georgia’s upcoming primaries on May 24 will be chaotic for election officials, candidates, campaigns, and groups urging voters to turn out. The ballot will feature each party’s nominees for federal, state, and local office, including local judgeships. In short, the legislature’s election law and voting rule changes (and federal redistricting litigation) have left many issues unresolved, which makes it harder to inform voters about what will affect them.

In August 2021, the Georgia Association of Voter Registrars and Election Officials (GAVREO) passed a resolution in which they “implore[d]” the legislature to postpone 2022’s primary from May to June, because the officials needed time to make “complicated redistricting changes,” such as finalizing maps, allocating resources and related planning before candidates could file to run for office.

GAVREO’s plea was ignored, just as, several months before, a handful of counties with Black election officials (administrators and policymakers) were “blind-sided” when their lobbyists discovered that GOP legislators were drafting bills to fire them (by requiring they live in the county) or to purge election board members (who were Democrats), according to emails obtained by American Oversight, a progressive law group that has used public document requests to expose numerous anti-democratic effort by pro-Trump Republicans.

All of Georgia’s 159 counties are affected by the post-2020 legislation. But the counties that have been additionally targeted in specific legislation have notable populations of color. As a result, organizers like the NAACP’s McClendon or Helen Butler, who is executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a civil rights group, have been scrambling to track the changes to help voters chart a path through what she says is intentional chaos.

“They’re throwing so much stuff at us that we just have to put things in place,” Butler said. “Our ‘Democracy Squads’ monitor boards of elections to see what they’re planning on doing with regards to the vote… We send people to meetings. We get their minutes. We basically try to get people to report to us in real time so that we know what’s going on.”

“The chaos is real,” McClendon said. “It builds on what they are already doing to marginalize a percentage of voters. They are creating so many whack-a-mole situations that all we are doing as activists is trying to beat down one thing after another and then another thing pops us.”

In the meantime, the NAACP and its allies from the 2020 campaign—which include professional associations in communities of color and data-driven grassroots campaign experts—are looking to revive those networks and stand up “democracy centers” across the state, so that ordinary Georgians have trusted sources for addressing local needs, including voting.

“We have talked about the issues to raise, and one has to be true patriotism,” Rose said. “You cannot support the insurrection of January 6, and if you’re a veteran you cannot support the Confederacy… We’re also going to talk about bread-and-butter issues like Medicaid expansion, because rural hospitals are closing. And education, because the GOP is losing its mind over critical race theory, which has never been taught in public schools.”

But while Rose is looking to reactivate the grassroots networks that led Georgia to elect a Democratic presidential candidate and two Democratic U.S. senators in 2020, the Republican-run state legislature is seeking to reconfigure state and county election districts and boards in Georgia’s blue epicenters—by finding ways to oust popularly elected representatives.

“It’s untethering policymaking from public will and from voter preference in response to changing demographics and the political changes and policy preferences changes that go along with that,” said the Brennan Center’s Rudensky. “It’s very concerning because it really cuts to the heart of what our system is supposed to be about.”

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

While Advocates Seek Election Reform, Republicans Busily Restrict Voting

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

Seasoned advocates in battleground states say that Republicans have been pursuing a bottom-up strategy of targeting key decision points in the voting process that, collectively, could end up suppressing more votes than the winning margins in recent highest-stakes contests.

They point to new laws and policies in Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Texas, where the GOP has foreclosed early voting options, imposed new rationales to disqualify voters or cancel their ballots, and, in Georgia, has purged longtime Democratic county election officials. They also are concerned about new legislation that may be introduced in early 2022.

Georgia, whose 2020 elections were key to Donald Trump’s defeat and the return of the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority, offers many examples. (The state received a 100 percent grade in the Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform report, meaning it already complies with the suggested remedies.)

Beyond launching a state investigation of metro Atlanta’s Fulton County, which is seen as a precursor to a GOP-led takeover of its operations, pro-Trump Republicans’ partisan actions in Georgia also include a handful of smaller counties that have seen Democratic officials purged, polling place closures, and Sunday voting suspended, and more ballots disqualified during 2021’s municipal elections than in 2020’s presidential election.

“There’s a clear a pattern going on where they [pro-Trump Republicans] are burrowing into these counties,” said Ray McClendon, Atlanta NAACP political action chairman. “These [county] election boards are going to be hardened targets that you won’t be able to make heads or tails of how much they have rigged the system pro-Republican and anti-Democrat.”

“They’re going to tell you, ‘We’re just following the rules. There’s no requirement that we have Sunday voting. There’s no requirement that we have more than one polling place,’” said McClendon. “This is not a top-down strategy.”

News reports from local, regional, and national media confirm the overall pattern.

In rural Lincoln County, Georgia, county commissioners announced they would only stand up one polling place for 2022’s elections instead of seven. “We are not trying to suppress any votes; we’re trying to make it better,” Walker Norman, Lincoln County Commission chairman, told the local NBC TV affiliate. “If I thought it was suppressing anybody’s vote, I’ll be the first one with opposition to it.”

In Spalding County, south of Atlanta, several election commissioners in mid-2020—Black women and Democrats—were ousted under new authority given to local judges and county officials under SB 202, the GOP-led legislature’s response to the 2020 election. The new election board, led by Republicans, did not offer Sunday voting during 2021’s elections.

A Reuters investigative report found that Spalding’s Board of Elections (BOE) was among six county BOEs that had seen purges of Black Democrats under SB 202, which the federal Department of Justice has sought to overturn in a voting rights lawsuit filed in June 2021.

The six counties cited by Reuters—Lincoln, Troup, Morgan, Stephens, Pickens, and Spalding—supported Trump by large margins in 2020. But, collectively, the counties had more than 33,000 Biden votes, which was about three times Biden’s statewide victory margin over Trump. In contrast, in Fulton County, Biden beat Trump by more than 240,000 votes.

Similarly restrictive moves can be seen in Texas, said Andrea Miller, who heads the Center for Common Ground, which seeks to assist minority voters in Southern states.

“We’re currently dealing with the aftermath of the [2021] legislative changes in Texas,” she said, citing new rules over applying for a mailed-out ballot that have led to abnormally high rejection rates for the upcoming March 2022 primary elections.

“About 40 percent of the ballots are being rejected (which is a lot for Texas) and it is also taking nearly 30 days to get a ballot,” Miller said via email. “Seems Texas changed the length of your driver’s license number so if you have an old one, it doesn’t have nearly enough numbers and they ‘can’t find you in the system.’ The new law also requires that if you drop the ballot off, you must do so in person and you can only drop off your own ballot.”

Texas has also run out of voter registration forms, which the Texas secretary of state’s office has blamed on supply chain issues. (In his media briefing, Becker said that rejected absentee ballot applications were a failure by the state to educate the public, and the registration form shortage represented a failure to plan for implementing a new law.)

2022 State Legislation

Meanwhile, as 2022 begins, more legislation is looming. In Georgia, GOP legislators have introduced several bills to continue to foreclose voting options. One bill, sponsored by a state senator running for lieutenant governor, would prohibit the use of drop boxes to return mailed-out absentee ballots, which were a convenience during 2020’s COVID-19 outbreaks and alleviated polling place congestion on Election Day. In another battleground state, Wisconsin, a county judge ruled in mid-January that the ballot drop boxes were not properly authorized under state law in a lawsuit filed by a right-wing foundation. The state agency that approved their use in 2020 has been attacked by GOP lawmakers and is targeted in new legislation, Becker said.

Seen from the ground up, the purpose of the post-2020 legislation and related litigation is to allow newly empowered local Republicans to chip away at Democratic turnout, and, subsequently, to try to disqualify as many mailed-in ballots as possible, the NAACP’s McClendon said.

“They have become smart enough to know that they can’t justify just blocking people of color from voting,” McClendon said. “If they can just peel off a half a point from no Sunday voting, a quarter of a point from provisional ballots getting thrown out, another quarter of a point from people not properly filling out their ballot return envelope, they will get their numbers.”

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.