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Take "republic" out of "Republican"

3 min read

The form of government known as a “republic” has been around for thousands of years.

A republic is a type of government where citizens vote to elect representative leaders of their personal interests and political beliefs.

Modern republics are founded on the idea that sovereignty rests with the people (“demo” + “cracy” == “people rule”) because citizens do not govern the state themselves but through representatives.

Hence, the cornerstone of a “democratic” Republic is the VOTE.

But now, across the country, the group most responsible for making voting harder for millions of Americans is the Republican Party.

Ironically, Republicans were the original party of civil rights during slavery and afterward. But during the 1960s and beyond, the party sought to appeal to disaffected, segregationist Democrats through the so-called “white Southern strategy.”

But as the percentage of people of color in the country grew, Democrats began to gain an edge. Republican legislatures enacted new voting laws, such as requirements that voters at the polls show types of official photo identification that Black and Hispanic people were disproportionately less likely to have.

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” Paul Weyrich, a leader of the modern conservative movement, told a gathering of religious leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

This strategy has become a central pillar of the Republican platform. It is behind the party’s relentless push for certain state laws and practices — like strict voter-identification requirements and targeted voter purges — suppressing turnout and voting among groups that lean Democratic.

This strategy also is behind the partisan gerrymandering that Republican state lawmakers have mastered over the past decade, redrawing district lines to keep themselves in power even when they lose much of the statewide vote. To be fair, Democrats gerrymander when they can, too, but the most egregious examples of the past decade have been by Republicans. (See North Carolina as an example.)

Additionally, in 2013, by a 5-to-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, giving states with long histories of racial discrimination in voting a blank check. Last year, the court, again by a 5-to-4 vote, refused to block even the most brazenly partisan gerrymanders, no matter how much they disenfranchised voters.

For this 2020 election, Republicans have battled to ensure that casting a ballot is as hard as it can be.

  • In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott mandated a single ballot drop-box per county – including the increasingly Democratic Harris County, population 4.7 million.
  • In Nevada, the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party have sued to stop counting mail-in ballots until observers can more closely monitor the signature-matching process. As of this writing Nevada was announced as a Biden win.
  • In Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, Republicans have fought to prevent the counting of all mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they are postmarked on or before Nov. 3.

This all amounts to “a concerted national Republican effort across the country in every one of the states that has had a legal battle to make it harder for citizens to vote,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican lawyer who formerly led the Federal Election Commission and worked on both of John McCain’s presidential campaigns.

When that tactic fails, Republicans turn to another tried-and-true one: voter intimidation. Frightening people, particularly people of color, away from the ballot box has a long history in the United States.

Representative democracy works only when a large majority of people participate in choosing their representatives. That can happen only when those in power agree that voting should be as easy and widely available as possible.

Reverend Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign said the 2020 victory by Biden and Harris was all the more remarkable given that it came in the face of those changes in voting laws, showing that “when people have an opportunity to vote, they will clearly vote their interests.”

If we are to keep the democracy we have been given, all of us — Democrats AND Republicans — have to make voting as free, fair, and wide-spread as we can. Otherwise, Democracy will turn into Autocracy.


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