*Published with the generous permission of David Pepper. Read and watch more of his work here.
By David Pepper
It gets lost amid the media battles and the “both sides” narratives, but so much of what drives the current attack on democracy around the country is a clear-eyed understanding by those waging that attack that they represent views that are unpopular. That their ideas and priorities are in the minority. Toxic, even.
Whether it’s trickle-down economics or cutting Social Security or gun extremism, or banning abortion, they understand full well that the heart of their agenda is deeply unpopular. This means that they know that over a repeated series of broad-based elections focused on their agenda, their candidates and issues would lose. And not just in blue states. (See Kansas last fall).
This understanding is leading to a feverish effort to avoid, at all costs, such straight-up elections on a fair democratic playing field. Because such elections would be sure-fire losers. It’s why we see such intense gerrymandering, blatant voter suppression (targeting important elements of the majority coalition), and egregious disinformation to pull attention away from their core, unpopular issues. It’s why Mitch McConnell told Lindsey Graham not to talk about abortion last Fall. On a higher plane, it’s why we see their fascination with Hungary’s Victor Orban, who’s mastered rigging the rules of democracy to lock in unpopular policies and approaches over time.
For years, they’ve framed much of this anti-democracy work with pro-democracy rhetoric—spreading myths such as widespread “voter fraud” and needing to shore up “election integrity.” But lately, they don’t even bother with these bad-faith justifications.
To see how desperate and transparent they’ve become, let me walk through a perfect (if horrible) case study in Ohio. Brace yourself:
After Dobbs and thanks to our gerrymandered legislature, Ohio faces an abortion ban. (It’s in the state courts right now but is highly likely to take effect).
At the same time, every poll shows that Ohio is decidedly pro-choice. Somewhere in the high 50%s to low 60%s of Ohioans support a woman’s right to choose. So a straight-up referendum on abortion access would likely reflect that majority.
Thankfully, a group of Ohio doctors is working hard to give Ohioans that referendum, already gathering signatures to place a pro-choice Constitutional Amendment on the ballot this November (2023). Under the current rules, the measure would need to earn 50% of the vote this November to amend the Constitution to protect abortion access. Again, clearly doable given the pro-choice majority of the state.
So what are gerrymandered GOP statehouse leaders pushing for right now? They are pushing their own Constitutional Amendment…to lift the threshold needed for citizens to amend the Constitution from 50% to 60%.
You see the trick? They—locked into gerrymandered districts that are sealed off from the voters—get to ram through unpopular laws like abortion bans (no exceptions) on a pure legislative (gerrymandered) majority basis. BUT when the people choose to speak—whether to reverse those unpopular laws, or proactively protect against them—they must do so with 60% of the entire state. So a coalition of 40%+1 of Ohio voters could stop any such citizen effort. As I said, they’re no longer subtle—their measure would lock minority rule into Ohio’s Constitution.
But they also have a problem. They’ve run out of time to get their Amendment ahead of the doctors’ November 2023 pro-choice Amendment. Even if their 60% Amendment passed in November, it would not have taken effect before the pro-choice Amendment that would be on the same ballot.
So how do they solve that problem? Simple: they are trying to jump the line—pushing for their Amendment to be voted on in a statewide election this August.
But this also requires a rule change…because they recently eliminated August elections. Why? Because they said so few Ohioans voted in August elections, it was not an appropriate, democratic way for the state or local communities to make major decisions (and also was a huge waste of money).
And that admission tells us everything. Now that they want to cement minority rule into Ohio’s Constitution, using an election where few people vote offers the perfect way to sneak such an odious change through.
Take a step back for a moment. Think about the one-two sequence they are proposing: to ensure that citizen-led Constitutional Amendments must earn 60% of the vote to succeed, they are proposing that their Constitutional amendment be allowed to pass with 50% of the vote in an election where (they acknowledge) almost no one will be voting.
That shameless approach is how willing they are to rig multiple rules to lock in minority rule. That is how scared they are of Ohio’s majority exercising its will.
As disturbing as all this is, do not fret:
I will keep you posted.