Russian meddling is real — but Republicans have broader plans to ruin our elections

GOP doesn't want to hear about Russian interference, and is busy wrecking American elections at ground level

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 24, 2020 5:00AM (EST)

Voting Booths (Getty Images/Salon)
Voting Booths (Getty Images/Salon)

Ever since the 2016 election, the U.S. intelligence community has consistently claimed that Russia and its agents continue to work to undermine American elections. When intel officials returned to Congress on Feb. 13 to warn — as required by law — that Russians are already interfering in the 2020 election to aid President Trump, several Republican lawmakers pushed back against the assessment before rushing to the White House to complain. 

"I'd challenge anyone to give me a real-world argument where [Vladimir] Putin would rather have President Trump and not Bernie Sanders," Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, told The New York Times after the briefing before the House Intelligence Committee. According to reports, the intelligence community's top election security official told committee members that multiple agencies have concluded that Russia wants President Trump re-elected to serve the Kremlin's interests. Days later, Trump booted the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, and replaced him with Richard Grenell, a political lackey who lacks any relevant experience

This rinse and repeat of Republican corruption and cover-up at the expense of our elections is nothing new. Recall that Robert Mueller's investigation concluded the Russians had hacked both the Democratic and Republican national committees. The DNC's information was released ahead of the 2016 election, while the RNC's information was withheld — presumably to control the GOP. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader in the Senate, then threatened President Obama that if his administration went public with information about Russian interference, he would tell the voters that it was Obama who was interfering with the election.

At least a dozen Republican congressional campaigns went on to use materials stolen from Democrats by Russian hackers during the 2016 election. The GOP coverup continued within hours after Mueller's testimony about foreign election interference before the House Intelligence Committee in 2019, when the Republican-controlled Senate moved to block four separate bills to defend the U.S. democratic process. 

In a clear demonstration of the principle that rampant corruption always begins at the top, the RNC announced plans this week to support the downriver ripples of Republicans' long-term war against democracy.

Republican lawmakers across the country, faced with losing the popular vote by greater margins election after election, have responded by restricting access to the ballot before elections — and hen crippling the power of winning Democratic opponents after an election. In Kentucky, a GOP supermajority in the state legislature just voted to strip some executive powers from newly-elected Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat. Beshear won a closely contested election in which Republican incumbent Matt Bevin, who initially refused to concede. 

It's a move replicated by Republicans in North Carolina after losing the governorship in 2016, in Wisconsin after the 2018 defeat of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, and in Michigan, where Democrats swept every statewide office in 2018's midterm elections. Now the RNC, along with Trump's campaign, plans to spend millions to defend the GOP's nationwide efforts to thwart democracy ahead of the 2020 election.

As Politico first reported, RNC chair Ronna McDaniel has committed to spend $10 million in legal fees this cycle to defeat what she called "the Democrats' voter suppression myth" and to defend Republican legislation that imposes draconian restrictions on voter behavior, like Michigan's potential 90-day prison sentence for anyone found guilty of providing transportation to the polls for a person who is able to walk — even a legally blind voter who cannot drive. 

"These actions are dangerous, and we will not stand idly by while Democrats try to sue their way to victory in 2020," McDaniel said of lawsuits challenging Michigan voting laws. McDaniel pledged to use the RNC's resources to "aggressively defend the integrity of the democratic process and support the right of all eligible voters to cast an effective ballot."

Republicans in battleground states like Florida are already gearing up for Election Day voter challenges on citizenship and residency grounds, as evidenced by a new GOP bill that allows the political parties to assign poll watchers from outside a given district. In 24 states, any citizen can challenge a voter without documentation to prove his or her eligibility. In Indiana, Republicans are again advancing a bill that would allow county election officials to kick voters off the rolls immediately without notice, even after two federal courts found such a practice violates voters' rights. Republicans in several states have introduced a new crop of voter ID bills ahead of the 2020 elections. 

So while Republicans in Congress openly act to support Russian interference in our elections, Republicans in state legislatures across the country are determined to limit the number of Americans who can actually vote. Without these twin assaults on democracy, they know they can't win.


By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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