It’s very important to preemptively push back against the inevitable “vote suppression and electoral theft are no big deal if they can be overcome by winning a 10-point national majority in spite of them” argument that will inevitably be made by people who don’t actually want Democrats to be able to govern if they win:
Republican commentators have pointed to such high turnout figures to portray Democratic outrage about voter suppression as histrionic, if not delusional. And some centrist and anti-Trump contrarian thinkers have done the same, in more measured tones. But this perspective is misguided for two reasons.
The first is that there is no contradiction between acknowledging that the 2020 election is likely to witness historically high turnout and believing that the election will be tainted by voter suppression. What qualifies as a historically high turnout rate in the United States is just mediocre by international standards. Official data on U.S. voter participation paints a misleading picture, as the most commonly cited turnout figure is the percentage of registered voters who show up at the polls. Yet voter registration itself is the most pervasive form of suppression in the U.S.: In many foreign nations, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that voters are registered to vote. Here, the Republican Party has blocked many policies that would make it easier for individuals to register themselves. As a result, when measured as the percentage of the voting-age population, America has one of the lowest voter-turnout rates in the developed world.
But the fact that one of America’s two major parties has made voter suppression integral to its electoral strategy is a crisis for our democracy even if that strategy backfires.
This is the second point that those dismissing Democratic alarm over GOP voter suppression miss. Trump’s reelection strategy is ominous less for what it is likely to achieve this year than what it reveals about the nature of the Republican Party. The GOP is now an institution that has no normative commitment to even the thinnest definition of democracy. It is a coalition dominated by interest groups that recognize that their core aims are anti-majoritarian: In an increasingly secular America, the Christian right can find no mass constituency for fetal personhood or LGBT discrimination; in an increasingly unequal nation, libertarian billionaires can’t buy much enthusiasm for “supply side” tax cuts; and in an increasingly diverse and progressive nation, the nativist right can call itself “populist” but not popular.
The fact that virtually all of the anti-majoritarian features of America’s constitutional framework — from the Senate, to the Electoral College, to the apportionment of state legislatures — are now biased in favor of the Republican Party, enabling it to win power with a minority of voter support, has made its latent hostility toward democracy conscious and manifest.
Thus, the GOP is now a party that has no compunction about nullifying the voting rights of its opposition to retain power. And once a party has liberated itself from the shackles of respecting its detractors’ rights, much else becomes permissible. The Trump administration isn’t just comfortable denying Democratic voters the franchise — it’s also happy to deny Democratic-leaning states and territories a fair share of disaster aid and pandemic relief, or to deny Democratic-leaning constituencies their fair share of representation by sabotaging the Census, or to deny the American people politically independent federal law enforcement. The GOP may fail to disenfranchise mail-in voters en masse this year. But the impulse behind its efforts could easily gain more effective expression in the future, especially with a six-vote majority on the Supreme Court. There are cracks in our constitutional framework that Republicans have yet to exploit, and which the Trump campaign has reportedly contemplated.
If Democrats win they need to take advantage of the brief available window to enact as many pro-democratic reforms as possible, because the Republican Party will get worse before it gets better.