Didn’t Win, Change the Rules

Terry Schwadron
4 min readFeb 21, 2021


Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 21, 2021

If you don’t win at the ballot box, don’t bother rethinking your message. Instead, change the voting rules.

If there are fewer of Them, you win.

That’s the idea behind at least 165 proposals under consideration in 33 states so far this year that basically amount to a Republican state legislative campaign to block mail ballots and require onerous voter ID that will disproportionately strike Black, Brown and Democratic voters.

In the never-ending grind to Win Elections and pursue grievances, the Donald Trump “Stop the Steal” efforts have morphed into a series of attempts in states where Republicans control the state legislatures to force through limitations on the vote that went against Trump in November.

Add in expected shifts in the delayed Census counts to add more congressional districts in Florida, Texas and North Carolina at the expense of New York and California, and you can see the shape of the political game starting to shift again towards better chances for Republican blocs in the very-close House and Senate. The Census changes are coming late, forcing some states to delay or reschedule the redrawing of voting districts. But they will come before very long, complete with gerrymandering efforts to make things easier for the GOP.

The efforts in Arizona with 19 proposals and Georgia with 11 are drawing the earliest looks, but these legislative efforts is also under way in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those all were states that were unduly close.

The big through line here is that after Trump’s claims of voter fraud to explain away his relatively small losses in several swing states, Republican legislators want to button down the rules. They seek limitations on unrestricted mail voting expanded for pandemic, the use of more convenient ballot drop boxes, early voting periods, and now requiring notarization of absentee ballot signatures and presentation of voter IDs.

Changing the Rules

We’re hearing plenty about Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, making fealty trips to Mar-a-Lago to receive Trump blessings and his financial help towards pro-Trump candidates in the 2020 congressional elections. Trump has vowed primaries to unseat even Republicans who have criticized him, and these same state Republican parties are busy censuring their own for turning against Trump.

We’re hearing a drop less about efforts to win by changing the rules. But there is no question that we are undergoing an attempted flip of Democratic efforts to woo new voters, and a very cynical view of how democracy should work. Rather than support more voting by appealing more broadly, the theory is to win by help our voters, and stop theirs.

Turnout in November was big for both Trump and Joe Biden. The voter registration and turnout efforts among Black and Asian-American voters in Georgia, and Latino and Navajo voters in Arizona helped flip traditionally from red states to blue. It is not hard to see the current efforts as aiming to squash those votes.

While Democrats are proposing bills to expand access to voting by auto-registration, for example, Republicans are seeking a new signature matching requirement in South Carolina, to switch voter citizenship checks in Texas from county clerks to the state Department of Public Safety, a bill to allow anyone in New Hampshire to observe polls “without obstruction.” Arizona wants to abolish early voting and require mail ballots to be notarized.

The ACLU has labeled these efforts exclusionary for voters of color.

The Washington Post reports that the coordinated efforts are dividing Republicans, “some of whom are warning that it will tar the GOP as the party of voter suppression and give Democrats ammunition to mobilize their supporters ahead of the 2022 midterms.”

Permanent Damage

The Brennan Center for Justice, a civil rights think tank, says the restrictive measures are up four-fold those from last year, attributing the increase to “a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud” and accused lawmakers of a “backlash to historic voter turnout” last year.

Just how successful these efforts will be remains questionable, though with the pandemic expected to recede, the desires for mail ballots will drop as well, no doubt. Still, the measures seem to serve as a test of loyalty to the baseless fraud allegations over ensuring voting rights.

In addition to population shifts, the efforts towards gerrymandering districts continues full-steam. There is a current effort in Pennsylvania, for example, to change the way judges are elected, to require creation of districts that would favor election of conservative judges rather than statewide elections. And there are more cases headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2019 already ruled that partisanship alone was not enough cause for overturning gerrymandered districts.

Mid-term elections traditionally favor the out-of-power party, or Republicans this time, and with margins in Congress so tight, the change of a few seats will change majorities — and perceived value sets.

But this spate of rule changes is an anti-democracy thrust that will outlive a single election.

We should be rooting hard for their defeat.