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Lame ducks and sore losers

Last month’s elections are not quite over.

In two states that chose Democratic governors, Michigan and Wisconsin, Republican-controlled legislatures are trying to nullify the results by passing bills in lame-duck sessions that handcuff the incoming chief executives.

In North Carolina, there’s mounting evidence of massive fraud by local Republicans in a congressional district they narrowly won. State officials have yet to certify the results, and even Republican leaders are conceding a new election might be necessary.

Political scientist Donald Moynihan of Georgetown described these developments in Politico: “Today, Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina are weaponizing lame-duck sessions to thwart the will of the public as newly elected officials sit on the sidelines, watching their predecessors straitjacket their mandates to govern.” Adds Moynihan: “Sore losers make for bad lame ducks.”

These episodes are part of a much wider and longer effort by Republicans to thwart the impact of what Sen. Lindsey Graham calls the “demographic death spiral” facing his party. Pro-Democratic groups are rising in power; pro-Republican groups are declining. But instead of trying to win over the growing sectors of the electorate, Republicans are desperately trying to diminish their political clout.

In many states, GOP legislatures are taking steps — like requiring expensive IDs and limiting early voting options — that fall harder on poor and minority voters, who tend to back Democrats. Another favorite tool is gerrymandering, which can drastically tilt the table in favor of the ruling party. In Wisconsin, for example, Democrats won 54 percent of the vote in state legislative races last month, but only 37 percent of the seats.

Signs of the GOP “death spiral” were clearly evident in balloting last month. Voters under 45 backed Democrats for Congress by 61 to 36, and those under 25 were even more pro-Democratic: 67 to 32.

The electorate was 28 percent nonwhite, a figure that will continue to rise, and those minority voters backed Democrats 76 to 22. The percentage of voters holding a college degree was 41 percent — another figure that will only go up — and they favored Democratic candidates by 20 points.

Overall, Democratic House candidates won almost 10 million more votes than Republicans, a margin of 8.6 percent. And Republican strength was centered in groups like whites over 65 — now 22 percent of the voting population — that will steadily decline in the years ahead.

Republicans are right to be scared, but their reactions are reprehensible. In Wisconsin, where Democrats recaptured the state house for the first time in eight years, governor-elect Tony Evers heavily criticized outgoing governor Scott Walker for joining a lawsuit that would strike down the Affordable Care Act. A promise to withdraw Wisconsin from the lawsuit was a key factor in Evers’ victory, but the legislature seems intent on passing a bill that would require legislative approval to do so — barring Evers from keeping his campaign promise.

The new governor was certainly correct when he accused Republicans of “unfettered attempts to override and ignore what the people of Wisconsin asked for this November.”

In Michigan, Republicans’ goals in their lame-duck session include crippling public sector unions and gutting minimum wage and paid sick leave measures. “This power grab is a deliberate attempt by legislative Republicans to silence the voices of the 4.3 million Michiganders that made their choice clear in the last election,” says Christine Greig, who will lead Democrats in the state legislature.

In North Carolina, it’s increasingly clear that operatives hired by Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in the state’s 9th Congressional district, manipulated absentee ballots to favor Harris, who defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes. The only real question facing local officials, who have twice declined to declare Harris the winner, is whether the fraud was widespread enough to warrant a new election.

The final word, however, rests in Washington, since the Constitution grants Congress the right to judge its own members. Democrats are threatening to vacate the seat and redo the voting if the state fails to act. “This is bigger than one seat,” said Nancy Pelosi, the likely speaker when Congress reconvenes next month. “This is about determining the integrity of our elections.”

That’s true in all three states. The integrity of elections is not just about counting votes; it’s about respecting the results after the votes are counted. Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina are guilty of an old and ugly tactic: denying the will of the voters and demeaning the principles of democracy.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at

Cokie & Steve Roberts

Cokie & Steve Roberts

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