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Steven V. Roberts: The party of truth

After Republicans lost the White House and both chambers of Congress last November, you might think they’d be asking themselves: How can we attract more voters in the next election?

Nope. In state legislatures across the country, Republicans are asking a very different question: How can we change the laws to prevent more people from voting Democrat?

Alice O’Lenick, the top election official in Georgia’s Gwinnett County, admitted publicly what other Republicans will only whisper in private. “We don’t have to change all of them,” she said, referring to the state’s election laws, “but they have got to change the major parts of them so we at least have a shot at winning.”

There you have it, folks. Voter suppression in its baldest, boldest form. In Georgia, where a Republican governor and a Republican secretary of state supervised a scrupulously fair election, an election in which Democrat Joe Biden edged out President Trump and Democrats captured two senate seats. And yet the legislature is swamped with proposals to restrict absentee voting by requiring photo IDs, outlawing drop boxes and eliminating “no-excuse” eligibility.

“These were elections that withstood the scrutiny of two recounts, an audit and a whole lot of attention in the political arena and the courts,” Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias told The New York Times. “The only reason they’re doing this is to make voting harder because they don’t like the results. And that’s shameful.”

That’s worse than shameful. That’s un-American and un-democratic. That’s also not new. Republicans have been following the same game plan for years, answering the country’s changing demographics and the declining power of aging white voters by erecting barriers that “make voting harder” for groups that tend to back Democrats — younger voters, people of color, folks with fewer economic and educational resources.

But this campaign of chicanery got a big boost from Trump’s unrelenting and unfounded cascade of malicious falsehoods that claimed the election had been stolen from him.

As the Brennan Center for Justice reports: “In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year.”

Republicans argue that reforms are necessary because faith in the political system has eroded, and they’re right about that loss of confidence. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, one-third of all voters and two-thirds of Republicans say Biden is not a legitimate president.

But the question is, why do they believe that untruth? And the answer is not that elections are fraudulent and need fixing. The answer is that they have been deceived — deviously and deliberately — by Trump and his toadies.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, put it bluntly on Fox News: “The notion that the election had been stolen or that the election was rigged was a lie, and people need to understand that. We need to make sure that we as Republicans are the party of truth, and that we are being honest about what really did happen in 2020 so we actually have a chance to win in 2022 and win the White House back in 2024.”

Republican apologists for more restrictive election laws are telling yet another lie. Faith in the system has been eroded by falsehoods, not facts. And Cheney is right, restoring that faith doesn’t require altering election laws, it requires that Republicans defend the system, not demean it.

The facts are clear: In 2020, the electoral system worked extremely well. And it worked for both parties. In the face of a perilous pandemic, 66.7% of eligible citizens cast votes — the highest percentage in 120 years! Trump lost, but his total of 74 million votes topped the record set by Barack Obama in 2008 by 5 million votes.

Moreover, all of the Republican complaints about fraud totally ignore the fact that GOP candidates did very well in down-ballot races. Republicans captured 15 House seats held by Democrats and now trail by the narrowest of margins, 222 to 213. How could Republicans possibly win all those seats if the process was rigged?

The answer, of course, is they couldn’t. The whole attempt to make voting harder is based on a cynical lie. It’s time for honorable Republicans to follow Liz Cheney, not fear Donald Trump. It’s time to reject his lies and become the “party of truth” once again.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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