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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Voter suppression reaches new lows

A sheriff's deputy looks out at the line

A sheriff's deputy looks out at the line to vote at an early voting location at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds on Oct. 24, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Georgia.  Credit: AFP via Getty Images/ELIJAH NOUVELAGE

If the 2020 election taught us anything, it’s that elections are never really over. They linger, and they linger longer when you don’t accept the results of that election.

It should come as no surprise that after former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that the election was stolen from him, the Republican Party is ramping up its usual vigorous efforts to suppress votes with a campaign that might be unprecedented in its scope, though not its DNA.

GOP lawmakers in 43 states have filed or carried 253 bills to restrict voting access, nearly seven times as many as at roughly this time last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a civil rights think tank that advocates for voting rights. The top three states in such proposals: Arizona (22), Georgia (22) and Pennsylvania (14). It’s no coincidence that Trump lost all three states narrowly to President Joe Biden, and that challenges were lodged to those results.

Iowa got out of the gate fastest, with its legislature in a strict party-line vote passing a bill last week that would cut the number of early voting days from 29 to 20, close polls at 8 p.m. instead of 9, and require that absentee ballots be received before polls close instead of the current mandate that they be mailed before Election Day.

It differs slightly in the details but is spiritually very much the kin of measures in other states that, per the Brennan Center, "seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges."

For local peculiarities, consider Georgia. The traditionally red state had been slowly turning bluer before Biden eked out a victory and Democrats won both open Senate seats in January on the strength of Black voters in the cities and suburbs. So the Georgia legislature is considering a bill that would block early voting on Sundays — a pretty flagrant attack on a long-standing tradition called Souls to the Polls, in which Black worshippers cast ballots right after church services on the Sunday before the election.

Republicans say such bills are needed to restore voter confidence in our elections. But the proper way to restore confidence would be to tell voters that Trump’s contention is a lie and to reassure them that, yes, the system worked with a few hiccups, as happens in every election, and that nothing happened that remotely affected the outcome, also the case in virtually every election.

Instead, this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando featured a series of seven sessions called "Protecting Elections," including one on "failed states" — Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada; Biden won all three. Other speeches and panels also discussed election security — analysis in search of a problem to analyze.

"We’re going to spend a lot of time going through what happened in the states," Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union which hosts CPAC, told CNN before the convention. "Just because you fail in court doesn’t mean you don’t have a good case."

When you fail in court more than 60 times, that’s exactly what it means.

Instead of trying to make it easier to vote, the party is trying to make it harder to participate in our democracy. This despite study after study finding no systemic voter fraud in our elections. None has been proved in 2020, either.

The highest vote total in our nation’s history should be celebrated as a genuine triumph. Instead, it’s been twisted to become a counterfeit calling card for a sham effort to make sure we never reach those heights again.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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