It’s been a year since we watched with horror as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bloody attempt to interrupt the certification of the 2020 election results and perhaps perpetrate worse against the country’s elected officials. What ought to have been a reckoning with far-right forces, political violence and those that are fostering the movement whether it be for power or profit has, predictably, become yet another political exercise in a world of us versus them. Instead of an earnest and bipartisan effort to examine what led to an attempt to overturn an election, we have elected officials who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the results of the election and have attempted to either dodge or reframe Jan. 6 as something other than a dark day for this country. This Republican amnesia is encapsulated in the opening lines of the Anchorage Daily News’ report on the congressional delegation’s about-face:
On Jan. 6, 2021, Dan Sullivan linked arms with Lisa Murkowski, and Alaska’s two U.S. senators ran through an underground tunnel, away from rioters invading the U.S. Capitol.
Later that day, they and Rep. Don Young issued a joint statement denouncing the invasion by violent supporters of President Donald Trump.
“The violence that transpired today in the U.S. Capitol building was a disgrace and will go down as one of the sadder and more dispiriting days in our country’s history,” Sullivan said at the time, and he repeated the statement on Wednesday.
“We must send a clear message by bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law,” Young said a week after the riot.
But in the year since rioters invaded the Capitol, Sullivan and Young have almost entirely stopped talking about the riot and have voted repeatedly against efforts to investigate whether it was deliberately organized, and if so, by whom.
That’s because getting to the bottom of what happened on Jan. 6 would undermine what has since become a central piece of the conservative identity, up there with opposing public health efforts to curb the spread of covid-19 and banning books or YouTube videos aimed at helping young people navigate puberty. Despite far-right efforts across this country, there’s been no evidence supporting the notion that widespread voter fraud deprived Donald Trump of a second term and yet this lie has not just lived on, it’s flourished.
On the one hand, it’s a convenient lie meant to coddle both Trump and his followers that it was conspiracy and not Trump’s generally abhorrent policies and inept handling of the pandemic that led to voters giving him the boot. It’s not us who are wrong, it’s the fraud! On the other hand, it’s an effective lie that’s been weaponized in order to pass precisely the kinds of laws to bend future elections to their will.
I want to focus in on the efforts to “reform” elections in Alaska and their reliance on the exact same lies that led to the violence of Jan. 6. Whether it’s Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower’s election bill, Gov. Mike Dunleavy/Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s election bill or Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s proposal to put the position of municipal clerk up for election, they’ve all couched the changes as efforts to restore trust.
“After the 2020 nationwide election, we saw that election integrity was a concern for many Americans,” Meyer said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement of the election bill. “Alaskans deserve to feel confident that the election process is conducted fairly and with integrity. At the end of the day, The Election Integrity bill will help place trust back into the election process.”
“The Municipal Clerk serves an important role in the administration, supervision, and execution of our elections. Anchorage voters should have a say in who does this job,” Bronson said about his proposal. “Having the Clerk elected by the people will improve transparency, create accountability, and increase trust in the democratic process.”
Transparency, accountability, election integrity. If these issues were truly what they wanted to solve, folks like Bronson and Meyer ought to look in the mirror. And I’m not just talking about rhetoric. Bronson rode into office with an opaque campaign that racked up campaign finance violations and, when in office, sought to put a finger on the scales of the recall election by utilizing public resources to effectively promote the recall in a manner that broke with precedent and, possibly, state election laws. Meyer’s Division of Elections wrongfully denied the recall—robbing it of months of pre-pandemic signature gathering—as well as several initiatives leading into 2020.
And let’s be honest, there’s very little that will truly ease concerns that are, in the first place, not based in reality. Heck, Meyer ordered an audit of the results of the Ballot Measure 2 vote to find that the vote-tabulation system—Dominion machines, it should be pointed out—were actually more accurate than the previous system. And, still, Meyer has been portrayed on the far right as another nefarious meddler in elections to the point where Dunleavy had to ditch him.
The reason Meyer’s well-meaning effort to show there was nothing untoward happening in the election didn’t work is because the underlying drive behind this push for election “reform” has nothing to do with election integrity and is simply because the right candidate didn’t win.
That is not a reason to be radically altering how ballots are cast. Once we start to see the proposed changes here and elsewhere under that framing, we can see how many of these changes are making it easier to overthrow the next election.
The Meyer/Dunleavy proposal would end automatic voter registration, make it easier to cull voters from the voting rolls and encourage police to investigate voter fraud. Now, to be clear, the governor’s proposal includes some half-way decent ideas—it would also provide voters with postage for mail-in ballots and implement some kind of ballot tracking and ballot-curing system (akin to what Anchorage has implemented)—but it’s also a vehicle for Republican legislators to tack on whatever else is borne out of the far-right fringes of election conspiracy.
Bronson’s effort faces no chance with a progressive Anchorage Assembly that’s wise to his underlying efforts, but failure is perhaps even better than success because it allows him to continue to rile the base with unfounded accusations of partisanship and bias in the elections. Bias and partisanship that, to be clear, would only exist if he got his way and installed another partisan goon with their own long line of campaign finance violations.
Changes to our election system may be warranted, as we saw with the mild changes the Anchorage Assembly recently approved, but they need to be based in reality.
If we want to approach any of this with good faith, then it’s incumbent upon Dunleavy and Meyer—for however long it takes for Dunleavy to shuffle him to the periphery—to prove that any of these changes are actually warranted. This vague claim that people need to believe in the safety of our elections is hollow. We all know—and Meyer better than most—that nothing short of just giving them the result that they wanted will appease these rabid concerns.
But, hey, if you really think these changes will make a significant difference, prove it.
Changes to our election system should not only address whatever actual question of election security is at hand, but whether they make it harder—and thus less likely—for the average voter to cast a vote. Sen. Shower’s election proposal was worthy of all the derision it drew, but chief among them is the fact that he was proposing requiring two-factor authentication for voters. Setting aside the considerable technological hurdles of implementing such a proposal in a state with massive connectivity gaps, it would have created an enormous hurdle for Alaskans to cast a vote.
And, of course, we would be naive to think that making it harder for people—particularly people who don’t vote the right way—to cast votes isn’t part of the plan.
We should be less worried about the unfounded fantasy that there are thousands and millions of illegally cast ballots and more worried about the thousands and perhaps millions of legal voters denied the opportunity to vote by these very efforts.
While some would like nothing more than to forget about the violence of Jan. 6, sanding off the edges of an attempted coup to frame it as a simple issue of election integrity, we would all be wise to pay close attention to the path ahead, where we came from and where we’re headed.