Times Reporters Discuss Threats to American Democracy

Our political journalists talked about the G.O.P.’s push to restrict voting and seize control over elections, and how Democrats are responding.

Carl Hulse headshot

Carl Hulse

The battle over democracy didn’t end on Jan. 6 last year. Voting rights are taking center stage in Washington, and Republican legislatures around the country are intent on imposing new voting restrictions and taking control of the election apparatus. What are you all seeing and reporting on?

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Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

In 2021, we saw one of the greatest contractions in voting access in generations, as 19 states passed 34 laws that added new restrictions to voting. And already this year we’ve seen key midterm battlegrounds like New Hampshire and Florida introduce bills to further restrict voting rights.

Reid Epstein headshot

Reid Epstein

Elected Republicans have adopted elements, if not all, of Donald Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 election was stolen, leading to a continuation of efforts to overturn the election and to create ways for future election results to be undone.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

I’m struck by how deeply the false narrative about Jan. 6 has taken hold among Republicans, many of whom now believe it was justified and see the attackers as “patriots.” It is the upside-down, topsy-turvy world. That disinformation campaign only fuels the idea of a “stolen election” — and all those voting restrictions.

Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

Lisa’s exactly right — that is often the justification for these new voting laws. In the preamble of some of the bills is a desire to “restore confidence” in elections.

Carl Hulse headshot

Carl Hulse

The Republican tone on the Jan. 6 assault has really changed from in the immediate aftermath, when many seemed shaken by it.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

It’s been quite the concentrated revisionist history campaign.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

I looked back at Biden’s inauguration speech recently — which, of course, happened just weeks after the attack. “Democracy is fragile,” he said. “And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.” I’m not sure that’s how people view this moment a year later.

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Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

That fragility will be on full display this year. There are statewide candidates for governor and secretary of state whose entire platforms will be based on digging into false claims of election fraud. Former Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge to Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia is perhaps the best example.

Astead W. Herndon headshot

Astead W. Herndon

I think we see a Washington that’s completely disconnected from the rest of the country, from underestimating the rally initially to misjudging how the Republican base would take those images. Jan. 6 showed the political class there was an ongoing threat to democracy.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

Totally right, Astead. An attack like that doesn’t just manifest out of nowhere. This sentiment was building in the G.O.P. grassroots for months. And, of course, it was stoked by Trump and conservative media.

Astead W. Herndon headshot

Astead W. Herndon

I was in Georgia a year ago, writing a story about the Democratic victories in the Senate. I’ll never forget going to the Trump rally earlier that week: the WiFi password set up by the Trump campaign was “SeeYouJan6th” (it also didn’t work).

Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

I would note that calling American elections “rigged” has been core to the Trump platform since 2016. At a Colorado rally I went to that year, he falsely claimed that absentee ballots were tossed out.

Astead W. Herndon headshot

Astead W. Herndon

That’s right — the idea that Trump wouldn’t concede or would question the results was also a huge worry in 2016. This has been building.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

Remember that third debate in 2016, when Trump said he might not accept the results of the election and it seemed so shocking? He was telling us then.

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Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

Trump’s refusal to concede and his effort to subvert the election revealed a key point of the fragility you mentioned earlier, Lisa. A lot of the American democratic system is rooted in good faith: certifying elections, counting the Electoral College, etc. Trump exposed the fragility of that faith.

Carl Hulse headshot

Carl Hulse

As they try to advance their own voting rights bills, Senate Democrats are now trying to tie the need for action directly to Jan. 6.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

Right, but action on voting rights bills feels pretty unlikely unless they upend the filibuster, right? And I’m not sure that’s going to happen … But never say never, I suppose! Am I being overly skeptical?

Carl Hulse headshot

Carl Hulse

It is definitely going to be uphill. The fight to change the Senate rules to overcome a filibuster will take the support of Senators Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema, and so far they have been reluctant.

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Astead W. Herndon headshot

Astead W. Herndon

Let’s say Democrats pass these voting rights bills. They don’t reverse the American public’s loss of trust. They don’t deal with election subversion. They can’t change a bad faith media ecosystem that has a financial incentive to push conspiracy. And they probably don’t change what Trump is going to say.

Nick Corasaniti headshot

Nick Corasaniti

Not to mention, Astead, that the voting rights bills are also likely to face a legal challenge from the right, if passed.

Reid Epstein headshot

Reid Epstein

The voting rights bills also won’t reverse a lot of the gerrymandering that Democrats had hoped to halt with the federal redistricting reform.

Astead W. Herndon headshot

Astead W. Herndon

The bills feel like an Obama-era solution to a Trump-era problem.

Charles Homans headshot

Charles Homans

One of the core aspects of the political dynamic now is that election issues are much more of a motivating factor for the Republican electorate than they are for Democrats.

Lisa Lerer headshot

Lisa Lerer

I think that’s exactly right, Charlie. Republicans see themselves as patriots fighting the “tyranny” of a “stolen election.” Democrats are concerned about voting, but they’re more worried about the pandemic, the economy, inflation, crime — day-to-day life things.

Reid Epstein headshot

Reid Epstein

Last week in Wisconsin, a state assemblyman introduced a bill that would allow the Legislature to nullify an election under a host of circumstances, including if the number of absentee ballots exceeds the margin of victory — which was the case there in 2020.

Carl Hulse headshot

Carl Hulse

Lots of information to process here, and there will be a lot more to come on voting rights this year. Thanks, all, for the insights on one of the most critical issues of the moment.

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