The upcoming midterm elections in the United States are of utmost importance, as the future of multiracial democracy in the country hangs in the balance. What takes place during the 2022 election, and the 2024 presidential election will determine whether America has the potential to sustain a viable democratic system of governance.
As American citizens seek to exercise their right to vote, the Republican Party has been waging a nationwide assault on voting rights. Republican attempts to prevent some Americans from voting are part of a larger effort to erase fundamental rights and create a Trumpian autocratic state based on white Christian nationalism.
This year, at least 27 states have introduced or enacted 250 pieces of legislation designed to restrict voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This comes after a record year in which 19 US states enacted 34 restrictive voting laws in 2021.
These bills, which have a disproportionate effect on voters of colour, are insidious measures designed to obstruct the franchise and impede voter access and participation. Republicans’ outright war on voting rights takes place within the context of a political party that appeals to a dwindling base of aggrieved and angry white people who want to “Make America Great Again” and return to a day when America was great for white men.
For a Republican Party with unpopular policies and which makes overtures exclusively to this base of voters, minority rule through voter suppression is the only possible pathway to power.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law making it harder to vote, requiring additional photo ID, reducing the number of ballot boxes, prohibiting outside groups from providing food and water to voters standing in long queues, and allowing state officials to override county election officials.
Another leading state in voter suppression is Florida, whose Governor Rick DeSantis signed a law restricting vote-by-mail ballots and making it a crime to provide water and snacks to voters waiting in long lines. A federal judge struck down some portions of the election law because it targeted Black people and made it harder for them to vote. Meanwhile, DeSantis also eliminated two Black congressional districts via racial gerrymandering and created one of the few election police forces in the country.
The official purpose of the new police unit is to crack down on voter fraud, but voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the US. Still, Republicans cite rampant voter fraud as a pretext for promulgating these unjust election laws.
The GOP claimed the purpose of one of its recent voter suppression bills in Texas is to maintain the “purity of the ballot box” – language used during Jim Crow segregation to block Black people from voting on the grounds they were unfit to cast a ballot. That law makes it more difficult to vote by mail, allows for partisan poll watchers to intimidate voters, and targets election workers with criminal punishment if they encourage voting by mail or increase voter access.
Some states such as Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma are enacting laws to “sabotage” elections – laws that allow for partisan meddling and undermining of election processes, including by creating pathways for the overturning of valid election results. These measures destroy any pretence of a fair, transparent and accountable election administration.
Making matters worse is the rise of pro-Trump politicians – those who believe and promote the “big lie” conspiracy theory that the 2020 presidential election was rife with fraud, and President Joe Biden stole the election from Trump – who are running and fundraising for secretary of state races across the country. A once ignored bureaucratic position, the secretary of state administers the election of a given state.
Trump has endorsed secretary of state candidates in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan. If victorious, it is presumed these pro-Trump candidates would fraudulently manipulate their state election apparatus to guarantee a win for Trump if he runs in the 2024 presidential election. Even now, motivated by conspiracy theories regarding vote rigging, Republican officials and extremist election activists in eight localities are plotting to gain illegal access to voting systems.
In the absence of guaranteed voting rights for every eligible citizen, and with a wholesale denial of voting rights to marginalised groups, Republicans will enjoy minority rule in the Senate, Supreme Court and Electoral College.
This is not only undemocratic, it is antidemocratic. If Republicans win in the midterm elections through voter suppression, they will continue to enact unpopular measures such as book bans and abortion bans, prohibitions on political protest and the teaching of racial justice in schools, and they will be able to block any initiatives to address climate change. Democrats’ congressional investigations into the attempted overthrow of the government will also be quashed.
Moreover, American history has proven that voter suppression relies on violence to maintain the rule of the minority. Above and beyond racist voting laws that extinguished Black power and control of southern state and local governments following the US Civil War, segregationists in the Jim Crow South relied on racial domestic terrorism, Black church burnings and lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate Black people and maintain power by force.
Similarly, foot soldiers of the Republicans, such as Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, already emboldened by their deadly January 6, 2020 insurrection at the US Capitol, may employ further violence to cement their power. A Republican control of Congress could lead to the impeachment of President Biden, and some Trump supporters have floated the idea of installing Donald Trump as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
What is to prevent this state of affairs, given that many alleged January 6 perpetrators under investigation remain in their positions as government officials in the federal legislature, and possibly the Supreme Court?
Failing to prevent this foremost threat to democracy and the rule of law could spell the twilight of American multiracial democracy, or at least the promise of a democracy that never was allowed to flourish.
Federal voting rights legislation would provide an effective remedy against state-level corruption and power grabbing, and stem the tide of these brazen voter disenfranchisement efforts across the nation. Last year, the House voted for two bold pieces of voting rights legislation: the For the People Act, which would reform the funding of political campaigns and expand voting rights, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a vital law the Supreme Court gutted in 2012. However, the Democratic-controlled Senate – facing opposition from Republicans and corporate Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin who receive funding from anti-civil rights Republican mega-donors dedicated to decimating the Biden agenda – have been unable to pass the legislation through the Senate.
The Republican assault on voting rights has taken centre stage in time for the midterm elections, yet Democrats seemingly lack the resolve to take immediate action on this or anything to save democracy or even maintain their own power. As Democrats reminisce about a far-flung era of bipartisan cooperation, the Republican Party remains the greatest threat to America. Now is the time for people of goodwill to act and reverse this disastrous course before it is too late.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.