Imagine having $20 million and using it to oppose voting rights.
I wrote those words one year ago when we launched Democracy Docket. At the time, the idea that a national political party would spend such a large amount on voter suppression litigation seemed almost implausible. Yet, in the end, it far understated the Republican Party’s commitment to disenfranchising voters.
Whatever hopes some of us had that the rapid and dangerous spread of COVID-19 would convince Republicans to support more voter-friendly measures, it quickly became clear that they intended to do just the opposite. Just two months into the pandemic, the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced it had a war chest of tens of millions of dollars ready to fight efforts to make voting accessible and safe and the party was prepared to sue Democrats “into oblivion and spend whatever is necessary.”
By June, with the pandemic gripping the country, Donald Trump made a startling admission, revealing the goal of this aggressive and unprecedented assault on voting. He told Politico that voting rights litigation posed the greatest obstacle to his winning a second term. “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” Trump said. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits, I think—I think it puts the election at risk.”
He wasn’t kidding.
Over the next several months leading up to the election, Trump, the RNC and his political allies waged an unprecedented war against voting. The president of the United States openly and repeatedly spread lies about voter fraud that simply did not exist, using those lies to justify his party’s attacks on the franchise. And, while the president gave them rhetorical cover, Republican lawyers were deployed across the country to aggressively use the legal system to attempt to erect obstacles to voting every way they could.
The lies the president told about voting before the election turned out to pale in comparison to the Big Lie he and his team spread afterwards. In court case after court case, judges rejected false claims of election irregularity and fraud. Yet, Republican lies about the election grew. Even after Trump-appointed judges repeatedly rejected their claims, they continued their campaign to undermine public confidence in the election. In the end, 64 court cases rejected their legal claims and the lies they were built on. Yet, incredibly, those losses did nothing to slow down Trump and his allies from continuing to lie about the results of the election.
All of this boiled over on Jan. 6, when a violent mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol in furtherance of the biggest lie of all — that the vice president and Congress could somehow overturn the election results. Five people were killed. The blood of those who died and were injured that day will forever stain the presidential seal behind which Trump spoke and the briefcases his lawyers carried.
Even that violent insurrection and the deaths it caused could not stop the Big Lie. Republican legislators have now picked up the mantle of voter suppression and are pursuing it with a breathtaking aggression. In state after state, we are seeing a grotesque competition to see which Republican can propose the most suppressive voting law — all in service to the lies of a failed one-term president.
A year ago, when I wrote my piece warning about the Republican Party’s plan to spend “into oblivion” to impede voting rights, I was told that I was exaggerating the risk. I was assured that this was simply bravado by the RNC, but that cooler heads will prevail. I was told not to take Trump or his fellow Republicans literally.
We now know that there are no “adults” in the Republican Party willing to stand up to the Big Lie. Right now, pro-voting Republicans are a myth, a chimera or, perhaps in this context, a Kraken.
I ended my piece a year ago by writing: As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” On voting rights, Republicans showed us who they are, and it’s time we believe them.
This time, for the sake of democracy, we all must believe what we saw in 2020 will continue again in 2021 and 2022. Once again, voting rights and American democracy itself will be on the docket.
I hope you will join me in fighting back.