Calling on the Justice Department and corporate America to stand up for honest elections

The GOP is engaged in a blatant effort to steal future elections — on a scale that would make an old-time Chicago ward heeler blush.

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Some of the 2.1 million ballots cast during the 2020 election, ready for recounting at a election ballot audit ordered by the Republican-led Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, during a news conference on April 22 in Phoenix. The equipment used in the November election, won by President Joe Biden, and the ballots were moved to the site.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

In the middle of the last century, lore has it, political machines in Cook and St. Clair counties routinely stole votes for Democrats while their counterparts in Kankakee, DuPage and Sangamon counties routinely stole for Republicans.

There was truth to this. Charles N. Wheeler III, who covered Springfield for the Chicago Sun-Times and later taught at the University of Illinois-Springfield, likes to tell of how armies of precinct captains who owed their jobs to the political machines of both parties would employ a variety of tactics to ensure the vote came out as desired. If, for instance, someone spent too long in a voting booth, which indicated that the voter wasn’t voting a straight party ticket, a precinct captain might rap on the curtain to see what was going on.

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Various election reforms through the years largely put a stop to the worst of such electoral abuses. Straight-ticket voting, for example, was abolished. Most significantly, two landmark court cases — Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois and Shakman v. the Democratic Organization of Cook County — ended political patronage as we knew it.

Now, though, as a slew of front-page news stories over the past several months have made clear, Republicans across the country are engaged in a blatant effort once again to engineer the outcomes of state and local elections — and on a scale far grander than anything some old-time Chicago ward heeler could have imagined.

Georgia’s efforts to rig the electoral process have been among the worst, or at least among the most notorious, prompting Major League Baseball earlier this month to announce that it would pull this year’s All-Star Game out of the state. But the assault on our democracy has continued week by week, including a vote on Monday by the Florida state Senate to ban 24-hour ballot drop boxes. Republican state legislatures are even writing laws to make it possible to change election outcomes after the fact.

In every one of these schemes, the sole true purpose is to enable the Republican Party, which faces the existential crisis of a shrinking voter base, to prevail in elections the party cannot win honestly.

But what’s to be done about it? It falls to grassroots Republicans who can’t stomach this undermining of our democracy, to the U.S. Justice Department, and even to corporate America to step up and push back.

What may have began as a weaselly Republican gesture to placate former President Donald Trump after his election loss has spiraled out of control. Consider:

  • In Arizona, election truthers are holding their own “audit” of the votes in Maricopa County, which President Joe Biden won by a big enough margin to take Arizona’s 11 electoral votes. The effort, predicated on the Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump, is led by the Republican state senate, which won’t say who is funding it. Nor will the senate allow journalists access unless they work six-hour shifts as volunteer observers. A reporter who did just that noticed workers were carrying blue-and-black pens, which should have been barred from the floor because they can be used to change votes.

The Arizona state senate contracted with Florida-based firm Cyber Ninjas to conduct the “audit.” The company’s owner, Doug Logan, earlier had spread false claims of election fraud on Twitter and had written falsely that Dominion Voting Systems machines flipped votes from Donald Trump. At one point, the ballots were stored without the necessary security. Who can be sure, as Trump might say, that they have not been “adjusted”?

  • Georgia’s new election law gives the Republican-led state legislature, through a revamped elections board, control over vote counting and voter eligibility. In 2020, President Trump wanted the Georgia secretary of state to “find” enough votes to give him the state, which the secretary of state refused to do. Now, Republicans will be in a better position to comply with such requests.
  • On Monday, the Florida senate followed Georgia in criminalizing the giving of food and water to voters waiting in hours-long lines engineered by authorities trying to suppress the vote in Democratic areas.
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  • Around the country, lawmakers have introduced more than 360 bills in 47 states to make it harder to vote, mostly for Democrats, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The various bills would make it harder to vote by mail, create stricter voter ID requirements and ban or limit ballot drop boxes.

The November presidential election was honest and fair, as a flurry of audits, investigations and court rulings have concluded. Trump lost fair and square. But if our next elections are to be equally honest and fair, Americans at all levels must push back against this ongoing Republican assault.

In the 1960s, the Justice Department mounted legal challenges against Jim Crow laws that kept Black men and women in the South from voting. The Justice Department should step up again.

And while a few big companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, have expressed concerns about the growing number of voter suppression laws being pushed through red-state legislatures, the vast majority remain silent.

They should all be speaking up. They should all, better yet, be taking concrete punitive action, putting their money, sponsorships and business dealings elsewhere.

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