CNN’s Dana Bash reported an hourlong special looking at how Trump’s lies about the election led to new voting laws in key states. I talked to her about what she learned from the project, which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Our conversation, conducted by email, is below.
WHAT MATTERS: It is October of an off-year. There are a smattering of elections coming, but most Americans won’t vote for a year. Why make this special now?
BASH: Because what is happening right now in key states across the country will have a huge effect on whether and how voters have access to the ballot, and who oversees the process that counts and certifies the votes that are cast.
There was record turnout in 2020, even though the election came in the middle of a pandemic, before vaccines were available. The reason for the unprecedented participation in a lot of states was because Covid-safe voting measures made it easier for people to vote in general. It turns out that when you make it easier for people to vote — they do so in bigger numbers. And there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Again, there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
But that’s not what conservative voters are being told by President Trump, his allies and like-minded media that amplify the lies. GOP-led legislatures are rolling back access to the ballot for the next elections and this will have an effect on voting in these states, and in turn the balance of power in Congress in 2022 and even the presidency in 2024.
Fighting fraud many admit did not occur
WHAT MATTERS: What’s your bottom-line takeaway from making this special? What’s happened to American democracy since November 2020?
BASH: The short answer from election expert after election expert — including Republicans like veteran GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg — is that American democracy is in danger. Most of the Republicans we talked to said they believed the 2020 election was free and fair — but said their constituents do not. Some of them basically admitted, in the most careful of terms, that they changed the laws in their states because of pressure from their own base who are being fed lies about 2020.
But the threat is bigger than Donald Trump and the big lie. What we heard repeatedly was GOP-led legislators using it to justify voting changes because of demographic changes that increase minority votes, which tend to support Democrats, and are making the Trump base smaller. They are passing laws that will increase GOP chances of staying in power by restricting access to the ballot and taking more control of the process of counting the votes.
Changes that target communities of color
WHAT MATTERS: The stated reason for these laws is election security, but you talked to Republicans who said there’s a more directly political reason behind them, to drive down the minority vote. Is there enough evidence to make that conclusion?
BASH: Republicans told me that this is what you do after elections — you look at what went right, you look at what went wrong, and you fix it for the next time. But an election law expert I talked to told me point blank: They’re looking at what went right and banning what went right.
Take Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston. It has a huge minority voting population and they came out in record numbers thanks in part to 24-hour voting for shift workers and drive-thru voting — coronavirus-prompted innovations.
Although Donald Trump won Texas, Joe Biden won Harris County thanks in part to easier access to voting. There was no evidence of fraud in Harris County, but the GOP legislature banned drive-thru and 24-hour voting. That will disproportionately affect communities of color and they are the ones who used those methods of voting.
Seeking uniformity in states, obstructing it in the country
WHAT MATTERS: Republicans in states told you they want new, more restrictive voting laws to create uniformity. But at the national level they oppose another kind of uniformity — a national standard — to protect voting rights. Do they acknowledge those conflicting ideas?
BASH: They don’t — and it’s a really interesting question. Because they believe election law and procedure to be a state issue, not a federal one.
One expert I talked to used Texas as an example, where they limit one drop box per county. Harris County — which has about the population of Louisiana — will have one drop box. And a rural county with a few thousand people will get the same treatment. So there’s a bit of an irony in arguing that a state as demographically diverse as Texas should have uniform laws, but the country as a whole should not.
Attacking the underpinnings of democracy
WHAT MATTERS: The great irony of undermining faith in the election system, as Trump has done, is that politicians need people to vote to win elections. How did you see that dichotomy playing out?
BASH: It’s a great observation — and it’s true that by casting doubt on the system, Trump’s big lie is potentially discouraging his supporters from participating. He even said that if we don’t “solve” the problem of election fraud, “Republicans will not be voting in ’22 or ’24.” That’s his not-so-subtle way of pushing Republicans in states that haven’t already succumbed to election law changes to do so.
But he is even pushing states he won — like Texas — to conduct sham audits in Texas’ big cities that he lost. That is the kind of thing that election experts across the ideological spectrum say sows doubt in the voting process — which is the fundamental underpinning of America’s democratic process.
Meanwhile, back in Washington
The other obvious consequence of Trump’s anti-democracy effort is the search for accountability by the January 6 committee on Capitol Hill.
Not all Trump allies are refusing to cooperate. CNN’s Kaitlin Collins reported Tuesday that multiple former White House officials — at least five — have voluntarily given information to the committee.
This is in contrast to those who have ignored subpoenas, like Steve Bannon, the former Trump aide turned election provocateur, and close Trump adviser Dan Scavino.
Arizona’s Katie Hobbs shared vulgar and threatening voice mails with CNN. “I think you should be hunted,” a woman says in one recording. “Die you bitch, die!” says a man, repeatedly, in another.
The reporters also talked to Colorado’s Jena Griswold, who has contracted private security.