Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Election denial in GOP stirs alarm

Critics of party say Trump loyalists are bucking key norms

- By Nicholas Riccardi

Seven months after Election Day, former President Donald Trump’s supporters are still auditing ballots in Arizona’s largest county and may revive legislatio­n that would make it easier for judges in Texas to overturn election results.

In Georgia, meanwhile, the Republican-controlled state Legislatur­e passed a bill allowing it to appoint a board that can replace election officials. Trump loyalists who falsely insist he won the 2020 election are running for top election offices in several swing states. And after a pro-Trump mob staged a violent insurrecti­on at the U.S. Capitol to halt the certificat­ion of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory, Republican­s banded together to block an independen­t investigat­ion of the riot, shielding Trump from additional scrutiny of one of the darkest days of his administra­tion.

To democracy advocates, Democrats and others, the persistenc­e of the GOP’s election denial shows how the Republican Party is increasing­ly open to bucking democratic norms, particular­ly the bipartisan respect traditiona­lly afforded to election results even after a bitter campaign. That’s raising the prospect that if the GOP gains power in next year’s midterms, the party may take the extraordin­ary step of refusing to certify future elections.

“We have to face the facts that Republican­s — obviously with exceptions — have become an authoritar­ian party,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book “How Democracie­s Die.” “It’s impossible to sustain a democracy in a two-party system when one of the parties is not willing to play by the rules of the

game.”

Republican­s have already offered a preview of how they might operate. On Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol riot, a majority of House Republican­s voted to overturn Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvan­ia. Biden still would have won an Electoral College victory without those states, but the move signaled how the traditiona­lly ceremonial congressio­nal certificat­ion process could be weaponized.

For his part, Trump continues to push Republican­s to embrace his election lies. He’s criticized his former vice president, Mike Pence, for fulfilling his constituti­onal duty to preside over the congressio­nal certificat­ion of Biden’s victory. And Trump has gone a step further recently by giving credence to a bizarre conspiracy theory that he could somehow be reinstated into the presidency

in August, according to a longtime Trump ally who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversati­ons.

There’s no constituti­onal or legal mechanism for Trump to return to the presidency absent winning another election in 2024. Trump’s argument that the last election was tainted has been roundly rejected by federal and state officials, including his own attorney general and Republican election leaders. Judges, including those appointed by Trump, also dismissed his claims.

But Levitsky and others warn there are several weak points in the U.S. system where a political party could simply refuse to allow its opponent to formally win a presidenti­al election.

“I’m more concerned about this now than I was on Jan. 7,” said Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State

University who studies election disputes. “It seems that, over the months, the lesson has not been ‘never again,’ but how to be more effective next time.”

Still, even critics of the former president and the election paranoia he spread in his party say it’s important not to blow risks out of proportion.

“This strikes me as being overblown,” said Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state and a Republican who has been sharply critical of Trump’s election fraud claims.

Grayson said a comparable worry is that voting procedures have become a partisan issue like taxes and abortion, fomenting suspicion of election results.

Nonetheles­s, democratic­ally elected officials were able to withstand that “bad stuff” in 2020, despite Trump’s pressures. “When it came time for Republican­s

to do something in the 2020 election, most of those in power did the right thing,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensper­ger and Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledg­ed Biden’s win and resisted Trump’s entreaties to overturn it. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey did the same in Arizona. And Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who controlled the Senate on Jan. 6, gave a scorching speech condemning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Only a handful of GOP senators voted to reverse Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvan­ia.

Trump has sought revenge against Republican­s who didn’t back his attempt to overturn the election. He’s backed GOP primary challenger­s to Kemp and Raffensper­ger — the latter is being challenged by Rep.

Jody Hice, who voted to overturn the election in the House of Representa­tives.

Georgia’s new elections bill strips Raffensper­ger of some of his election duties and gives the GOP-controlled state Legislatur­e the ability to replace local election officials. Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislatur­e stripped Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her role overseeing elections, and state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was at the Jan. 6 rally outside the Capitol and is a central proponent of the Arizona audit, is running for her position.

Levitsky said the United States’ complex electoral system stands out among democracie­s by vesting oversight of elections in local, partisan officials. “We rely a lot on local officials, and if one party decides not to behave, we are in for a world of trouble,” he said.

 ?? ERIC GAY/AP ?? People sit in the gallery of the Texas House chamber in Austin last month during a debate on Republican-backed voter legislatio­n.
ERIC GAY/AP People sit in the gallery of the Texas House chamber in Austin last month during a debate on Republican-backed voter legislatio­n.

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