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Analysis

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.