A plot to destroy U.S. democracy is centered in statehouses
Pennsylvania Republican state legislator, Doug Mastriano, as he appeaed with MAGA supporters the night he won the Republican primary election. Mastriano, now the GOP candidate for governor, is both a 2020 election denier and a strong advocate of giving the Republican-controlled legislature in his state the power to nullify the people's choice in presidential elections. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Hundreds of GOP state legislators in at least nine states have either already put in place or are now pushing new laws that will make Republican state legislators the decisive factor in who wins elections. The laws allow them to reverse the results of popular votes for president and select their own electors committed to their choice if a Democrat should win their states. The last chance to stop the threat is the 2022 elections currently underway. By 2024, when we vote again in a presidential election, it could be too late.

We already see how GOP state legislators are leading the way in attacks on women’s abortion rights, in purging and banning books from libraries and schools, in drawing gerrymandered district lines that make it impossible for Democrats and minority communities to win elections, in cutting tens of thousands of voters off the rolls, and in cancelling mail voting, ballot drop boxes and other measures to increase voter participation. It is clear that state legislative bodies are now the chief venue used by the GOP to ram their policies down the throats of the majorities of Americans who oppose those policies.

Less noticed, however, is the fact that they have a backup plan to use if all of the above measures fail them. They are passing laws that allow themselves to cancel the results of elections in their states if their candidates don’t win. The very state legislatures intended in the Constitution to help guarantee democracy are, as they were in the days of slavery and Jim Crow, used to cancel democracy.

A look at the recent past serves as prologue to where GOP state legislators are going today.

The New York Times on Sunday noted in a special report that at least 357 sitting Republicans in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their positions to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The 357 did this despite there having been no evidence of election fraud in their states.

The motivation was not always loyalty to Trump, who pushed the lie that the election was stolen. They were also aiming to get rid of new features of election practice introduced during the pandemic, including vote by mail, use of drop boxes, and other reforms. Those reforms were allowing the election of too many progressives, in their view. In any case, the idea that the election was stolen and that the small-d democratic reforms enacted in the pandemic must be ended is accepted now by the vast majority of Republican legislators in all the states.

The false stories about rigged elections and fraud motivated them to pass new laws making it more difficult to vote and easier to insert themselves into the process of vote counting by appointing the people responsible for conducting those counts. Their next move was and continues to be passing laws that allow them to become the final arbiter of election results.

Problem faced by the fascists

The problem faced by the fascist lawmakers in the GOP is that they do not yet have all the support they need from governors and secretaries of state. They require that backing in order to carry out their criminal overthrow of the Constitution. They expect that this problem will be solved if their hand-picked candidates for those offices win in the current 2022 election cycle.

They are twisting the meaning of a clause in the Constitution which gives state legislative bodies the responsibility to establish “the times, places and manner of holding elections” into meaning that they have the power to determine who is actually elected.

Donald Trump, of course, is cheering them on in case he decides to run again in 2024. He has admitted that he is backing candidates all over the country who want state legislators to be able to name electors. The threat to democracy by the GOP state legislators goes well beyond Trump, however, and can be with us for a long time if they are not stopped in the 2022 elections underway now.

One area of concern is the need to stop those among the 357 GOP legislators who are now running for higher office under the pledge that they will carry out and even increase the undemocratic laws they support.

Republican state senator Doug Mastriano from Pennsylvania is running for governor of the state. He was the initiator, months before the 2020 election, of a push for an “Election Integrity Commission” which studied election law and came up with the repressive measures now used across the country. He is promising, if he wins in November, to make everyone in the state register to vote all over again, and to back GOP legislators if they decide to overturn a presidential election.

Mark Finchem, a GOP state representative in Arizona, has pushed a theory of “election decertification,” the idea that an election can be decertified after it happens. He is a candidate for secretary of state in Arizona.

Where the fascistic crop of Republican state legislators are focusing their 2022 election efforts is in states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Nevada, and Georgia. In those states secretaries of state, and sometimes governors, acted to block their attack on democracy in 2020.

Again, with past being prologue, it serves to remember what happened January 2, 2021, four days before the House of Representatives was scheduled to meet to carry out its ceremonial duty of certifying the Electoral College votes in favor of Joe Biden. The House Committee examining the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol tells us that on Jan. 2, Trump led a Zoom call with more than 300 GOP state legislators. He pushed for them to change the certified results they had already sent to Congress, pointing to the dubious clause in the Constitution mentioned earlier, a clause they are now reinterpreting into law in their states.

Trump was saying that state legislators, not the courts or Congress, were the key to dismantling democracy in America.

Today, huge numbers of GOP state legislators are acting on that, using what they call the independent state legislators theory, which asserts that state legislatures hold absolute and exclusive power over presidential elections, including the appointment of electors to the Electoral College. The theory has never been affirmed by any court and is rejected by most legal scholars. Wherever it is accepted, or becomes law, it would be an unprecedented cancellation of democracy.

Thus far the fascist GOP state legislators who are taking away so many rights in their states have made their mark on the electoral process by radically changing voting procedures. A total of 54 new laws have been passed since the 2020 election that include restrictions on voting, not just placing limits on mail voting and drop boxes, but registration, the number of polling precincts and where they are located, no accommodation for rural voters, no leeway for delayed mail, outlawing provision of snacks and water (!) to voters standing for hours in long lines, etc.

Texas is one state where a new law gives state legislators the power to reverse the popular vote in presidential elections. When the law was first drafted and circulated it was mistakenly titled “Overturning Elections.” That error was corrected in time for the second draft.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.