A counter-majoritarian party and its radically anti-democratic plan to keep power

March 11, 2021 1:02 pm

Illustration by Niyazz | iStock / Getty Images Plus

It’s little wonder that the Republican Party is embracing counter-majoritarian policies: They know full well that they will lose their grip on power at the ballot box if they are forced to run on their actual ideas and records, so they’re going to rig the system so they can control the nation’s direction as a minority.

That’s particularly true in Arizona, where Republicans are increasingly unpopular in a state experiencing seismic demographic shifts that will in the near future treat the GOP the way a hammer treats a nail.

And it’s precisely why Arizona Republicans are pushing a slew of proposals this year that aim to cut the number of people who vote, make it harder for everyone — and particularly newer voters — to cast a ballot and to make those votes count for less.

The self-described champions of the free market can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas without putting a thumb — or even their whole hand — on the scale. 

Take, for instance, the bill that would remove registered voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they miss two straight election cycles. Or the legislation that would shorten the early voting period and throw out ballots that arrive by Election Day if they aren’t postmarked at least five days earlier. Or the bill that would require people who request an early ballot send back an affidavit with a copy of their driver’s license or electric bill or passport if they want their ballot counted. Or the measure that says all ballot measures must win 55% of the vote to pass. Or the proposal to require petition circulators for ballot measures read the legally required 100-word description of the measure out loud to everyone who signs the petition, or else those signatures get disqualified.

Of course, a counter-majoritarian party has to be counterfactual, as well: It can’t actually win support beyond committed partisans if it is honest about what it is. As press critic and journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote for The New York Review in November, “It has to fight with fictions.”

And that’s precisely why we now find Republicans screaming to high heaven about the dangers of mail-in ballots. These GOP lawmakers — Every. Single. One. Of. Them. — were elected by constituents who requested an early ballot and then either mailed it in or dropped it off at a polling location. 

That’s not hyperbole: Some 85% of votes in 2020 were cast by early ballot (92% in Maricopa County). So, either these Republicans who are calling for absurd overhauls to Arizona’s early voting system because they’re rife with fraud — a system, by the way, that has been in place for 30 years and is a national model for how to do it right — believe they weren’t duly elected or their concerns are manufactured.

One might conclude that they want fewer people to vote. 

And that’s precisely what a counter-majoritarian party has to do: It must choose its voters, suppress those who won’t support it and promote fictions, like the notion that voter fraud is rampant.

That’s how we end up with fantastical stories about a long-dead dictator conspiring with a voting machine company and truckloads of Chinese-printed ballots being stuffed into ballot boxes and almost satirically bad fact-free propaganda reports about rigged elections.

Those things can lead, as we saw on Jan. 6, to political violence. And they most certainly lead to the radical anti-democracy proposals that Arizona Republicans are lining up behind.

Attacking reality is the new game plan for the counter-majoritarian GOP. If we let them succeed, our chances of holding them accountable at the ballot box becomes that much harder.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.