Wannabee Strongman DeSantis Deploys Election Police
Florida is putting into effect the first “election police” in the nation - expect other GOP-run states to jump onboard soon, as the Republican War on Democracy continues apace
“There's a famous statement: Sometimes the vote counter is more important than the candidate.”
They used to go by the name Ku Klux Klan, those guys who’d show up every election day to “police” the ballot boxes and make sure only “authorized” people had a chance to vote.
By the 1960s, when William Rehnquist got into the game and would stand outside polling places near Phoenix challenging the credentials of every Black, Hispanic or Native American, they’d changed the name to the infamous Operation Eagle Eye.
Now Governor Ron DeSantis is bringing to the game millions of taxpayer dollars and the power, held solely by government, to imprison people.
Florida is putting into effect the first “election police” in the nation. Expect other GOP-run states to jump onboard soon, as the Republican War on Democracy continues apace.
In my new book The Hidden History of Big Brother in America: How the Death of Privacy and the Rise of Surveillance Threaten Us and Our Democracy, I detail the times in America’s past when democracy died and was replaced by regional police states that depended on the equivalent of “thought police.”
There was the theocratic period in New England throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries, and the complete collapse of democracy in the southern Confederate states in the 1840s. There have also been multiple instances over the years of smaller venues — typically small and remote towns — where a local oligarch (“company towns”) or corrupt sheriff commenced a reign of terror for a generation or more.
In every case, controlling the vote is job one. It’s the foundation of every autocratic or dictatorial government in history.
The entire concept of republican democracy is predicated on the idea that everybody affected by a vote has the right to vote. Without easy and uncomplicated access to the ballot, no nation can survive as a democratic republic.
Which is exactly why today’s Republican Party, having most recently embraced Trump and his fanboys Putin, MBS, and Kim Jong Un, is doing everything it can to make voting complicated, difficult, and even dangerous.
Multiple efforts by Democrats in Congress to put into place laws protecting election workers were defeated by Republicans, most famously when sellout Democrats Kirsten Sinema and Joe Manchin joined every single Republican in the Senate to vote against passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom To Vote Act.
When election workers were being threatened across the nation in the wake of Trump’s lies about the election he lost by 7 million votes, the GOP yawned. People got death threats, had their homes and children targeted, and were doxed all across the internet, but Republicans refused to make threats of violence to try to change election outcomes a crime.
But when Democrats started winning elections in states Republicans thought they had a lock on, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, the GOP took decisive action. Not to protect election workers, of course, or even to protect the right of people to vote. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Instead, they cracked down on “voter fraud” crimes like “voting while Black” and “voting while disabled” and “voting while a college student” and “voting while caring about Social Security.”
Seriously: these new GOP election laws specifically target racial minorities, disabled and elderly people who need to vote by mail, and college students. All of whom, by coincidence, tend to vote more Democratic than Republican.
The Republican Party nationwide has also been recruiting an army of “poll watchers” to threaten and intimidate voters under the rubric of preventing fraud.
As The New York Times noted following the last election, these self-appointed stormtroopers often harassed and made life miserable not only for voters but for the election workers simply trying to make the elections work:
“That year, a Tea Party-affiliated group in Houston known as the King Street Patriots sent poll watchers to downtown polling locations. The flood of the mostly white observers into Black neighborhoods caused friction, and resurfaced not-too-distant memories when racial intimidation at the polls was commonplace in the South. …
“‘Two poll watchers stood close to the black voters (less than 3 feet away) and engaged in what I describe as intimidating behavior,’ Ms. Wilson wrote in an email to the Harris County clerk that was obtained by The Times through an open records request.”
And when the poll watchers weren’t trying to intimidate voters of color, they were trying to gum up the election works in districts likely to go Democratic with the goal that the results would ultimately be thrown out.
As the Times’ writers added:
“’The behavior in the room changed dramatically in the afternoon: The rage in the room from Republican challengers was nothing like I had ever experienced in my life,’ wrote Anjanette Davenport Hatter, another election worker.
“Mr. McKernan wrote: ‘Republicans were challenging everything at the two tables I could see. When the ballot envelope was opened, they would say they couldn’t see it clearly. When the next envelope was opened, they made the same complaint. They were objecting to every single step down the line for no good reason.’
“The chaos provided some of the basis for Michigan officials to debate whether to certify the results…
But while the Republican poll watchers could harass and try to intimidate voters they thought “looked like Democrats,” and even slow down the voting and vote-counting processes, they didn’t have the uniforms, badges, and guns that would put the fear of imprisonment or death into voters.
DeSantis apparently wants to change that, and Republicans pursuing their GOP War On Democracy are committed to follow his example.
A law similar to Florida’s was just introduced into the Georgia legislature, and more will surely follow.
Ukrainians are showing us today how valiantly people can fight to defend their democracy.
Will Americans have the courage that Manchin and Sinema lack to stand up to these GOP threats and attempts to subvert our system of government? Keep an eye on the polls this fall and we’ll find out.