35: Legislative Take-Overs: New Threat To Democracy?

Since the November U.S. election, hundreds of proposed bills designed to make voting more difficult have been introduced in state legislatures. Among these are provisions that would empower elected legislators to overrule or replace local election officials. Is it fair to call this an insidious attack on the integrity of American elections?

Yes. The laws being proposed would in fact make possible the realization of the very same game plan that Donald Trump tried to carry out in his attempted coup d'etat following his defeat.

Already in late November Trump called on state legislatures to "have the courage to do what has to be done to maintain the integrity of our elections." The clear intent was to overturn official returns in enough states to return him to the Presidency. The focus was on Republican-controlled legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia.

And on the tumultuous day of January 6, 121 of the 211 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to invalidate the certified electoral votes of Arizona, and 138 voted to reject the certified Pennsylvania votes. The certified returns of four other states were challenged but not brought to a vote due to lack of support in the Senate.

It is well to remember that nothing stood in the way of Trump realizing his game plan that day except the lack of votes. Had the Republicans been in the majority, and had all or most decided to go along with Trump, we would have been in a constitutional crisis. As in Myanmar, it would have been a coup d'etat over invented claims of election fraud, albeit with less violence -- outside, that is, of January 6.

And we shouldn't forget the suggestion last December by Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security advisor, that the president declare martial law and use the military to "rerun an election" in key states that he lost.

Trump must have been told that martial law was out of the question. But bills have been introduced in at least 14 states to empower their legislatures to override, in one way or another, the existing (generally non-partisan) election procedures. A proposal in Arizona would simply have given the elected legislators power to overturn results they didn't like; it was fortunately dropped.

Other attacks have been mildly more subtle. Georgia's newly-passed law gives the legislature the power to suspend and replace local election officials and take over local election offices. A new Iowa law makes it a felony for election officials to disobey any guidance from the secretary of state (currently a Republican). Proposed laws in Arkansas would also give partisan election boards complete control of local election offices.

The proposed voting rights bill H.R.1, now stalled in the Senate, even if miraculously passed there, would apparently do little or nothing to address these challenges. Federal legislation can protect constitutional rights, but is limited in dictating voting procedures to the states.

Reportedly Trump has told friends he expects to be reinstated as President by August -- based on states overturning their previously reported electoral votes. The game plan endures. Even if the reports are true, however, it isn't going to happen. There is no mechanism for "reinstatement" in the U.S. constitution.

Too soon, Donald. You'll have to wait for 2024. This isn't Myanmar. Yet.