In Michigan and Wisconsin, lame duck Republican-majority legislatures are enacting laws to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors. Two years ago in North Carolina, the same happened. These moves are particularly striking examples of recent aggressive Republican procedural hardball. Whatever the right rules are for the separation of powers, they should apply to both parties and not be changed opportunistically.
.. Should they go tit-for-tat and escalate procedural shenanigans, rules-stretching and rules-breaking? Or should they strive, leading by good example, to maintain a system of norms that have provided political stability in the hopes that a more moderate, reasonable Republican Party will re-emerge?
.. Retaliating in kind could aggravate already deep polarization and wreck what’s left of our political norms. Restraint, on the other hand, would establish new norms that establish electoral disadvantages for Democrats and embolden Republicans.
.. There is a better option, and it also happens to be the best option. Democrats can use the Republican hardball against them by weaving together the Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina cases into a larger story to take to voters in 2020: the indictment of Republican attacks on democracy accompanied by an aggressive reform agenda for strengthening constitutional norms and democratic procedures.
.. But a very clear narrative or popular revulsion — or both — can change that. Examples are found in the Progressive Era around the turn of the 20th century and again in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, when procedural reform gained traction, for better or for worse, and both term limits and campaign finance reform had moments of widespread popular enthusiasm. There’s good reason to think that the next two years offer the opportunity to create such a corruption narrative and to take advantage of what’s likely to be growing revulsion.
.. President Trump’s administration has made this job easier: The midterm election results showed that its scandals and disgrace have already focused voters’ attention. That’s not the time for retaliation and escalation. It’s the time offer prescriptions for rebuilding the rules that accompany a diagnosis that helps voters make sense of how badly wrong things have gone. Democrats can try to punish Republicans at the ballot box by trying to strengthen rather than weaken democratic norms.
The obvious place to begin is with the White House itself. Proposals to
- require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns,
- give teeth to the Emoluments Clause,
- strengthen anti-nepotism rules that should keep unqualified family members out of sensitive offices,
- extend conflict-of-interest rules to include the president, and
- turn blind trust norms into binding rules
won’t be hard to understand under Mr. Trump. They will reinforce voters’ distrust of the president while also offering ways to prevent his abuses from becoming standard practice.
.. Republican procedural abuses at the state level precede the Trump administration, but they can fairly be connected to it. Most important is disenfranchisement. Democrats should emphasize the sustained nationwide Republican effort to limit access to the ballot and offer proposals to
- restore the Voting Rights Act,
- end felon disenfranchisement,
- undo restrictive voter identification rules,
- ease registration,
- protect early voting and
- ensure that voting places are more widely and evenly distributed.
Not only has Mr. Trump been on the wrong side of those issues, encouraging state crackdowns on imagined millions of noncitizen voters; but voting restrictions in narrowly won Midwestern states got him closer to the White House in the first place... Other proposals, from statehood for the District of Columbia to gerrymandering reform, then make sense as part of the same effort to strengthen representation and fair democratic practice.
.. This is also the best approach for Democrats in the short term because they’re not in a strong position to retaliate even if an angry activist base wants them to. Despite some losses last month, Republicans remain in control of more governor’s seats and more state legislatures. More important, making things worse right now really is the wrong thing to do. If Democrats follow a course of unrestrained but legal tactics, we could find ourselves embroiled in even more severe dysfunction and a constitutional crisis. Tit for tat is sometimes necessary to enforce norms, but escalation in an already seriously polarized environment is dangerous.
.. If Democrats can offer a unifying indictment tying Republican attacks on democratic norms to Trump administration abuses, along with a coherent package of serious proposals to restore procedural fairness, voters will have a way of making sense of new examples of Republican sharp dealing.
.. Proposals to shorten lame duck legislative sessions and to constrain their authority, for example, would reinforce the idea that Republicans have been the party of procedural abuses and unfairness while still setting forth a good neutral rule.
.. This is the alternative to doing nothing or making things worse: seek to punish Republicans in 2020 by offering a vision of how to make things better.
Shortly before the election, the president endorsed Mr. Kemp, and the political tide turned. He has a skill set that Mr. Trump desperately needed but was curiously silent about in his endorsement: He is a master of voter suppression.
Hackable polling machines, voter roll purges, refusing to register voters until after an election, the use of investigations to intimidate groups registering minorities to vote — Mr. Kemp knows it all.
.. Voter suppression keeps Georgia a red state. Since 2005, Republicans have controlled the State Legislature as well as the governor’s office. Now most of the congressional districts are Republican. So are nearly 64 percent of the state representatives and 66 percent of the state senators... Whites make up less than 60 percent of the state’s population but more than 90 percent of people who voted Republican in the primary. The state’s gerrymandered districts, drawn and redrawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature, mirror the inordinate and disproportionate power of this constituency... He has begun investigations into organizations that registered nearly 200,000 new Asian-American and African-American voters — efforts that resulted in the first majority-black school board in a small town.His investigations yielded no charges, no indictments, no convictions, despite years of probing, suspects’ losing their jobs and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents knocking on doors. Yet the intimidation had an impact. An attorney from a targeted organization told a reporter: “I’m not going to lie; I was shocked. I was scared.”.. While Mr. Kemp insisted that these investigations were about preventing in-person voter fraud (which basically doesn’t exist), he was more candid when talking with fellow Republicans: “Democrats are working hard,” he warned in a recording released by a progressive group “registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines.”
“If they can do that, they can win these elections in November,” Mr. Kemp said. Therefore, even after the multiple investigations yielded no indication of fraud, thousands of people registered during these drives were not on the voter registration rolls, and a court ruling kept it that way.
Mr. Kemp also used Exact Match, a version of the infamous Crosscheck database, to put tens of thousands of citizens in electoral limbo, refusing to place them on the rolls if an errant hyphen, a stray letter or a typographical error on someone’s voter registration card didn’t match the records of the state’s driver’s license bureau or the Social Security office
Using this method, Mr. Kemp blocked nearly 35,000 people from the voter rolls. Equally important, African-Americans, who made up a third of the registrants, accounted for almost 66 percent of the rejected applicants. And Asian-Americans and Latino voters were more than six times as likely as whites to have been stymied from registering.
.. But as diligent as he has been about purging eligible citizens from the voter rolls, Mr. Kemp has been just as lax about the cybersecurity of the state’s 27,000 electronic voting machines. Although there were a series of warnings about the ease with which they could be hacked, Mr. Kemp did not respond. Georgia’s electronic voting machines, which run on Windows 2000, leave no paper trail; as a result, there is no way to verify whether the counts are accurate or whether the vote has been hacked.
.. Mr. Kemp finally accepted federal dollars, which he had refused for years, to update some of the machines. But his efforts were too little, too late.
.. officials at Kennesaw State University, which provides logistical support for the state’s election machinery, “destroyed the server that housed statewide election data.”
.. That series of events, including an April visit to the small campus by Ambassador Sergey Kislyak of Russia, raised warning flags to many observers. But not to Mr. Kemp, who said that there was nothing untoward in any of it; the erasure was “in accordance with standard IT procedures.”
.. Mr. Trump’s endorsement, therefore, was no surprise. Mr. Kemp had pulled off an incredible feat: Georgia’s population increased, but since 2012, the number of registered voters has decreased.
A Kemp victory in November is, therefore, transactional but essential for Mr. Trump. It means that there will be a governor, in a state that demographically should be blue, who is practiced and steeped in the nuances of disfranchisement. Mr. Kemp can rubber-stamp the Legislature’s voter-suppression bills that privilege the Republican Party, artificially increase the Republican representation in Congress and in the end protect a president facing mounting evidence of graft, corruption, conspiracy and the threat of impeachment.