The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.
There are too many Democrats.
That’s what the Trump impeachment trial is really about. Republican ongoing efforts to suppress Democratic voting all across the country reflect the same political belief.
Fair elections with millions of new voters caused Trump’s defeat. That led to frustration, and frustration led to violence. For some rioters on Jan. 6, if their candidate could not win the vote count, they could use force to keep him in office.
Looking at American “modern” political history, measured since 1920 when women first voted in federal elections, the Democrats have won an overwhelming majority of the elections for both the U.S. House and Senate.
Democratic dominance, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 win, lasted until the 1994 congressional elections. That’s when the GOP defined itself as a unified, strongly conservative party, with strong appeal to southern, white voters on issues like race, guns and abortion.
Among presidents, the time in office has been about equal between the parties. But the election of Barack Obama, an African-American, caused the greatest concern to the GOP. For some conservative politicians, his election motivated their drive to suppress the Democratic vote.
Recently, greater participation by women and Blacks has threatened GOP power. The Democrats now control both the presidency and the Congress.
Donald Trump simply could not believe that millions more people voted for Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden than for him. In his thinking, Biden’s historic popular vote must have been the result of fraud, justifying the Capitol protest.
His impeachment and trial result from his frustration and resistance to the political reality that a changing electorate boosted the Democratic vote for president. His mishandling of the COVID crisis undoubtedly also contributed to Biden’s support.
The GOP set out in many states to make access to the ballot box more difficult for Black and poor voters. They erected new hurdles to voter registration, reduced the times and places for voting, and drew congressional districts to segregate Black voters and reduce the number of House seats they could influence.
The Democrats went to court to stop these moves. But an increasingly conservative judiciary rendered decisions allowing many steps taken by Republican legislatures. The U.S. Supreme Court even canceled part of the Voting Rights Act that authorized the federal government to block state efforts denying voting to Blacks.
Three factors worked against the GOP’s efforts to cut Democratic voting.
Mail-in voting had been growing as part of a nonpartisan effort to increase participation, and it greatly expanded as voters became worried about exposure to COVID-19. Election authorities under both parties paid extra attention to prevent abuse. Millions more voted.
Under former Attorney-General Eric Holder and Stacey Abrams of Georgia, the Democrats worked to get their voters to the polls even if it meant jumping GOP-imposed hurdles. While fighting suppression in court, they also got out the vote. Their efforts were successful, especially in bringing Black voters into the process.
Finally, the voting age population increased. As the average age continues increasing, so does the number of older voters. While a majority of seniors formerly voted Republican, in 2020, most went for Biden. Thus, there were more older voters and more of them voted Democratic.
The U.S. is a democracy. The people elect their government leaders, making the country a republic. Stealing an election by making false fraud claims or suppressing voting can undermine this democratic republic. State GOP organizations have vowed to try again. But the three changes counteract these efforts.
Aside from the Trump trial, what else can be done?
Congress could restore the Voting Rights Act, once again requiring federal approval of new election laws in places where discrimination has occurred. The GOP might argue that Obama’s and Biden’s elections make the act unnecessary, but that would ignore congressional voting and the massive efforts needed to overcome suppression.
The Democrats need to keep up those efforts if they want to hold onto their gains. And they can support efforts by officials of either party to run clean elections, as happened in 2020.
Republicans control more state legislatures than do the Democrats, and they will draw congressional district lines for the next 10 years. The Democrats need to be similarly aggressive in the states they control. Maine districts could be made more compact, making the Second District, carried by Trump, more favorable to the Democrats.
A lot of the 2020 problems could be eliminated by the National Popular Vote. Several more states need to adopt the proposed compact before it can replace electoral voting, which gives a voter more influence in Wyoming than in Maine. Maine could again consider joining the compact.
However Trump finishes his political career, he has warned the country that American democracy faces continued challenge and a perilous future.