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The Growing Election Sabotage Movement

Proponents of the Big Lie are removing obstacles to stealing elections in states around the country.

November 10, 2021
State legislators intermingle around a legislative chamber
Tamir Kalifa/Getty

No doubt, Donald Trump’s effort to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion had absurd elements. (The Four Seasons Total Land­scap­ing press confer­ence? The Kraken?) It culmin­ated, of course, in the deadly chaos of the Capitol insur­rec­tion. Now, the more we learn, the more we real­ize there was a concer­ted plan to steal the elec­tion and upend the results.

Next time it won’t be so amateur­ish. In fact, Trump’s allies are system­at­ic­ally remov­ing obstacles to steal­ing elec­tions in states across the coun­try.

The Bren­nan Center published a report this week docu­ment­ing the campaign. Two state legis­latures have bestowed upon them­selves the power to remove and replace local elec­tion offi­cials with partisan oper­at­ives. Six states have passed laws threat­en­ing elec­tion offi­cials with new or heightened crim­inal penal­ties. Three states have robbed elec­tion offi­cials of the power to prop­erly regu­late partisan poll monit­ors in the polling place. Five states launched phony partisan reviews of last year’s elec­tion results led by biased actors who employed inad­equate safe­guards.

To the long­stand­ing prob­lem of vote suppres­sion, add elec­tion sabot­age.

Some state legis­lat­ors are trying to go even further. How much further? In 2021, lawmakers in seven states — Arizona, Nevada, Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Idaho, and Oklahoma — intro­duced bills to give elec­ted offi­cials the power to over­turn an elec­tion. Thank­fully, none of those bills passed this time around, but their wide­spread consid­er­a­tion is itself alarm­ing. The Arizona bill, which is among the most shock­ing to demo­cratic sens­ib­il­it­ies, reads: “The legis­lature may vote to reject or confirm the prelim­in­ary results of the elec­tion.” It garnered seven spon­sors.

Just five years ago, the idea that politi­cians should have the power to over­turn an elec­tion would have been unthink­able. Indeed, what is the point of voting if the politi­cians in power can simply wave away the result?

The alarm­ing success of the elec­tion sabot­age move­ment during the past year, along with the auda­cious­ness of its lead­ers, should have Amer­ic­ans worried about the health of our demo­cracy. It’s worth noting: legis­latures come back for another swing of the bat in Janu­ary. We haven’t hit bottom yet.

All this is one more power­ful reason that federal legis­lat­ive action is the only truly effect­ive answer. The Free­dom to Vote Act, currently pending in the Senate, would prevent most forms of elec­tion sabot­age. It would protect local elec­tion offi­cials from polit­ic­ally motiv­ated repris­als. It would reverse state attempts to limit mail-in and absentee voting. It would estab­lish limits on mass voter purges, and it would allow voters to correct ballot defects so that minor cler­ical errors won’t result in disqual­i­fic­a­tion. If elec­ted offi­cials ever attempt to nullify results, the Free­dom to Vote Act gives private citizens the right to sue for redress.

We cannot wait for the elec­tion sabot­age move­ment to progress further. Anti-demo­cracy advoc­ates have made their inten­tions clear. It is time to repu­di­ate them, and to stand up for demo­cracy.