With Republicans out of power in Washington and a new president setting the national agenda, it is tempting to forget about the peril to which former President Donald Trump exposed the country's democracy. But GOP leaders outside Washington are still acting on his campaign of lies about the 2020 election, breaking norms and feeding falsehoods in ways that further endanger the U.S. system of government.
The latest example comes from Florida, where state lawmakers on Thursday passed an elections bill that will make voting harder for no legitimate reason. State leaders boasted last November about the quality of the 2020 vote in Florida, which is among the places where large numbers of people use absentee ballots.
But Trump and other prominent Republicans attacked mail-in voting, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud, as many Democrats embraced the voting method during the pandemic. So Florida Republicans cracked down on it.
Their bill will impose new ID requirements for requesting absentee ballots. It will drastically curtail the use of ballot dropboxes, which make submitting mail-in ballots more convenient and allow voters worried about postal delays to bypass the mail. And the bill will require voters to reapply for absentee voter status every two years instead of every four years, which will undoubtedly confuse huge numbers of people expecting their ballots to arrive as they did under the old system.
Election officials across the state have criticized the bill, but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will sign it.
Meanwhile, the Republican Arizona Senate is conducting a recount of ballots cast in Maricopa County, the state's most populous. The county, which is itself run by Republicans and has the equipment, staff and expertise to conduct election audits, already ran its own extensive checks and confirmed President Joe Biden's victory there.
After these credible examinations showed the count to be sound, Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, a Republican, decided to try another approach -- hiring Cyber Ninjas, a Florida company with no apparent expertise in election auditing, to scour the ballots and election machines. Election officials across the country have watched in horror as the Senate has disregarded quality control standards.
Trump is reportedly thrilled that Cyber Ninjas is examining ballots with UV light, though it is unclear what this test is supposed to show and experts warn doing so could damage the ballots. The whole process appears designed to introduce irregularities into the count, rather than discover ones that real experts failed to catch.
The goal is to provide "evidence" to justify Republicans' efforts to make voting harder, particularly for the poor and minority communities that tend to vote for Democrats.
The danger is not only that they will succeed in passing more restrictive laws, but that every time voters make a decision a partisan state legislature dislikes, lawmakers will seize the ballots from people who know what they are doing, conduct their own slanted count and declare the will of the voters to be fraudulent.
If it works in Arizona, expect Trump allies to push for similar efforts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Republicans must stop. Democracy cannot work if one of two major political parties is devoted to restricting the voters and rejecting their decisions.