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Weaponizing Trump’s Big Lie: Ari Berman on GOP’s War on Democracy & Voting Rights

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Extreme voting restrictions have advanced in several Republican-led states across the U.S., including in Florida, where Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a sweeping voter suppression bill that will make it harder to vote by mail, limit ballot drop boxes, impose new voter ID requirements and criminalize giving food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places. Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman says these efforts are an extension of former President Trump’s “big lie” about voter fraud. “They’re trying to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to be able to vote in future elections, and they are trying to institutionalize voter suppression in a way that they couldn’t do in 2020,” Berman says. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a key Senate panel is set to take up the sweeping voting rights and election overhaul bill known as the For the People Act.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we end today’s show looking at the extreme voting restrictions advancing in a number of Republican-led states here in the United States. On Thursday, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping voter suppression law that will make it harder to vote by mail, limit ballot drop boxes, impose new voter ID requirements and criminalize giving food and water to voters waiting in long lines at polling places. Governor DeSantis signed the bill in a private ceremony broadcast on Fox & Friends, after a spokesperson barred other reporters, telling one the event was a “Fox News exclusive.” DeSantis was surrounded by a group of Republican lawmakers, none of them African American.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country. I’m actually going to sign it right here. It’s going to take effect. So, there you go. The bill is signed.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the Texas House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed voter suppression bill around 3 a.m. Friday morning after an all-night session. Republican Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the measure after it’s reconciled with a Texas Senate voter suppression bill.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Ohio have introduced a bill to put severe restrictions on ballot drop boxes and absentee voting.

At the federal level, the sweeping voting rights and election overhaul bill known as the For the People Act goes before the Senate’s Democratic-controlled Rules Committee Tuesday, where it faces changes aimed at winning support from the lone Democratic holdout, Senator Joe Manchin, and Republicans.

For more, we’re joined by Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman, whose article in the March/April issue of the magazine is headlined “The Insurrection Was Put Down. The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On.”

Ari, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, describe what happened in Florida, then go to Texas, and talk about what these voter suppression laws have at their core, and the details.

ARI BERMAN: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me back.

Well, first off, the Florida law really is a copycat of the Georgia voter suppression law. It does a lot of things that the Georgia law did. It bans drop boxes, or severely restricts them. It makes it a crime to give people food and water, makes it harder to get absentee ballots. It expands access for partisan poll watchers to observe ballot counting. It was signed, as you mentioned, as a Fox News exclusive, something I’ve never seen before, where the press and the public, by extension, were shut out — an example of democracy dying in the dark in the so-called Sunshine State.

And then you go to Texas, another state where democracy is dying in the dark, because they literally passed a voter suppression bill at 3 a.m. that will criminalize efforts to make it easier to vote, while legalize voter intimidation. And I say that because it criminalizes efforts to make it easier to vote, because if election officials, for example, will send out absentee ballot request forms to voters who don’t request them, which is a standard thing in lots of states, they can now be charged with a criminal offense. At the same time, if election officials try to remove partisan poll watchers who might be trying to intimidate voters, they could themselves be charged with a criminal offense. So, basically what it’s trying to do is legalize voter suppression.

I think, at the core, the Florida bill, the Texas bill, all of these bills, they are trying to weaponize the big lie that Trump told that the election was stolen. They’re trying to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to be able to vote in future elections. And they are trying to institutionalize voter suppression in a way that they couldn’t do in 2020. They were unable to overturn the election through litigation and intimidation in 2020, so now they’re trying to change the rules to get the same outcome in 2022 and 2024.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, can you talk about the Texas bill’s statement of purpose initially stating the measure is designed to “preserve the purity of the ballot box”? Talk about the significance of that phrase.

ARI BERMAN: That language about the “purity of the ballot box” is straight from the Jim Crow era. It was literally used to defend things like all-white primaries and to disenfranchise Black and Mexican American voters in Texas and other states. And a Texas Democratic rep, Rafael Anchía, asked the bill’s sponsor about this. He said, “Did you know that the phrase 'purity at the ballot box' was used to disenfranchise African Americans and Mexican Americans in Texas and to justify Jim Crow?” And the bill’s sponsor, Briscoe Cain, who, by the way, traveled to Pennsylvania after the election to try to overturn the election results there, said that he wasn’t aware that “purity at the ballot box” had been used to justify Jim Crow. That was either shockingly ignorant or knowingly obtuse. But either way, the fact that Texas Republicans put language into their bill that was ripped straight from Jim Crow gives you an idea of what they’re trying to do with these voter suppression bills.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said, “The fact that GOP voter suppression efforts [are] still being described as partisan battle [rather than an] all-out assault on democracy is unconscionable.” Talk about that. And also, if people aren’t following what’s happening in Arizona, the fourth counting by this ninja private company, that’s being paid a fortune by Arizona, some of those counting participated in the insurrection?

ARI BERMAN: Well, the point I was trying to make is that every single day you see headlines that basically say Republicans try to protect election integrity, and Democrats call it voter suppression. The media is still trying to do false equivalence in terms of how they cover voter suppression. The issue is not Democrats versus Republicans. The issue is Republicans versus democracy. They’re making it harder for everybody to vote. And yes, this might fall harder on Democratic-leaning constituencies, but these are changes in Georgia, in Florida, in Texas, that are going to affect millions of voters. So this is not about partisan politics. This is about one party having an all-out assault on democracy, on the democratic process. And I think that’s how it should be covered.

And if you look at Arizona, this is not a fourth counting of the votes. This is just a complete conspiratorial witch hunt, where they are trying to manufacture claims of fraud in order to build support for overturning future elections. Remember, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona is dominated by Republicans. Every single member of that board is a Republican except for one Democrat. It was Republicans in Arizona that signed off on the election results. It was the Republican governor, the Republican attorney general, the Republican head of the Supreme Court. All of the people that signed off on the election results in Arizona were Republicans. But that’s not enough for Republicans in the Legislature. They are basically trying to weaponize the insurrection through this audit, which is not really an audit. It’s a witch hunt, actually. And I think it’s going to have very detrimental effects, not just in Arizona, but in other states that are trying to export this audit now to other states. It’s being led by someone that was a key member of the “Stop the Steal” movement.

So, it’s very, very disturbing, what’s happening here. And my worry is that in so many different ways, the big lie is being weaponized, whether it’s the audit in Arizona, whether it’s the new voter suppression laws, whether it’s the attempt to oust Liz Cheney and put in place someone that backed overturning the election results in her place. I think this is all connected in terms of the fact that the Republican Party is just waging an all-out war on democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Ari — we have less than a minute — the whole issue of the federal law, the For the People Act, H.R. 1, explain its significance and where it stands.

ARI BERMAN: So, the For the People Act is going to pass the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. Then it will go to the Senate floor. It’s a sweeping democracy reform bill that would put in place measures like automatic registration, Election Day registration, early voting, expanded mail voting in all 50 states. And I think it’s more important than ever, given these voter suppression laws. It’s going to be hard to challenge all of these laws, in Florida, Texas, Georgia, through the courts. And I think it makes federal legislation all the more important. And it’s very clear that Democrats are either going to pass legislation to protect democracy, or the Republican Party is going to undermine the democratic process for the next decade and beyond at the state level.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, we want to thank you for being with us — we’ll link to your piece — is a reporter for Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

And that does it for our broadcast. Again, if you want to sign up for our Daily Digest, get our news headlines and news alerts daily, you can send the word “democracynow” — one word without a space — you can text that to 66866. That’s 66866.

Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke and the whole miraculous team that makes Democracy Now! happen every day. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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