Opinion | Why Are Republicans So Afraid of Voters?

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has greenlit the Republicans’ anti-democratic power grabs. In 2013, by a 5-to-4 vote, the court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, giving free rein to states with long histories of racial discrimination in voting. Last year, the court, again by a 5-to-4 vote, refused to block even the most brazenly partisan gerrymanders, no matter how much they disenfranchised voters.

This year, in the face of the unprecedented hurdles to voting introduced by the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans are battling from coast to coast to ensure that casting a ballot is as hard as it can be. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott mandated a single ballot drop-box per county — including the increasingly Democratic Harris County, population 4.7 million. Republican lawmakers there are also suing to throw out more than 100,000 ballots cast by Harris County voters from their cars, at drive-through sites.

In Nevada, the Trump campaign and the state Republican Party have sued to stop counting mail-in ballots until observers can more closely monitor the signature-matching process. In Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans have fought to prevent the counting of all mail-in ballots that arrive after Election Day, even if they are postmarked on or before Nov. 3.

This all amounts to “a concerted national Republican effort across the country in every one of the states that has had a legal battle to make it harder for citizens to vote,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican lawyer who formerly led the Federal Election Commission and worked on both of John McCain’s presidential campaigns.

The effort has been turbocharged by President Trump, who has spent the past year falsely attacking the integrity of mail-in ballots. Mr. Trump’s lies have been echoed by the attorney general, William Barr, who has claimed that mail balloting is associated with “substantial fraud.” Not remotely true. Mr. Trump’s own handpicked F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, has said there is no evidence of any coordinated voter-fraud effort. Scholars, researchers and judges have said for years that voting fraud of any kind is vanishingly rare in this country. That hasn’t stopped Republicans from alleging that it happens all the time. They know that accusations of fraud can be enough by themselves to confuse voters and drive down turnout.

When that tactic fails, Republicans turn to another tried-and-true one: voter intimidation. Frightening people, particularly Black people, away from the ballot box has a long history in the United States. Modern Republicans have done it so consistently that in 1982 a federal court barred the national party from engaging in any so-called anti-voter-fraud operations. The ban was renewed again and again over the decades, because Republicans kept violating it. In 2018, however, it expired, meaning that 2020 is the first election in which Republicans can intimidate with abandon.

All the while, Mr. Trump happily plays the part of intimidator in chief. He has urged his supporters to enlist in an “Army for Trump,” monitoring polls. “A lot of strange things happening in Philadelphia,” Mr. Trump said during a recent campaign stop in Pennsylvania. “We’re watching you, Philadelphia. We’re watching at the highest level.”

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