As Republican-held Florida joins Republican-held Georgia in adopting a panoply of new measures meant to curtail absentee voting after Dear Unmentionable Leader collapsed a lung or two bellowing about invisible "fraud" being the only possible reason for his election loss, The Washington Post brings us the tale of "some" Florida Republicans sweating over the wisdom of, say it with me now, directly targeting the method of voting Republicans themselves championed and relied on to boost turnout in their own key constituencies.
Yes, that's right. Somebody on the red team finally noticed that passing flurries of new laws predicated on Donald CheatsAtGolf's continued insistence that Actually He Is the Real President is going to have consequences not just for the working poor—the group Republicans are most trying to target—but for the elderly and military voters that Republicans have relied on to keep them relevant even as they kneecap themselves with other constituencies. They’re talking to a brick wall when it comes to explaining it to Republican lawmakers, but they’ve noticed.
To reiterate, yet again: Republicans originally backed (and authored) laws promoting mail-in balloting for self-serving reasons. The most loyal Republican voters tend to be older, and older voters tend to have more difficulty getting to the polls than their younger counterparts. Transportation can be more difficult. Even leaving home can be more difficult. Standing in line can be intolerable. To ensure elderly loyalists could continue to vote for straight-ticket Republicanism even if their opportunities to get to the polls had at some point dwindled, Republicans lobbied for more widespread use of mail-in voting. It worked, and very well—up until a deadly worldwide pandemic made mail-in voting a popular means of avoiding, you know, death—absentee ballots predictably swung hard to the right, benefitting Republican candidates.
Republican campaigns regularly boosted the ease of using absentee ballots to their base, and Republican lawmakers rewrote laws to make the process even simpler and to send out such ballots automatically. There was no particular nobility in the cause, no higher visions of a more inclusive democracy. It was simply a nod to Republican realities. The Republican base has steadily gotten older and older. (Oh, and the odds that a member of the armed forces would on any given Election Day be stuck in a tent a full hemisphere away from their U.S. precinct began to swell considerably soon after George W. Bush’s election. For reasons.)
Two things conspired to dampen that Republican enthusiasm in recent years: Progressive-minded states began to adopt mail-in balloting as means of boosting overall voter turnout and better ensuring equality in voting opportunities, generating the predictable (indeed, unavoidable) Republican reflex of now seeing conspiracy in use of the thing they championed because now the wrong people were using it. There is no better way to convince a white conservative that a government program is corrupt or unnecessary than informing them that a nonwhite nonconservative is benefiting from it, and that is such a universal truth that Fox News was able to build a whole network around it.
But it was Donald Trump who flipped Republican lawmakers, in some cases overnight, on the subject. A narcissistic conspiracy crank and ignorant buffoon in all subjects, Trump began to see the promotion of mail-in balloting as an insult to him, personally, in that calls to vote by mail emphasized the dangers of the deadly pandemic that he also believed was being inflated solely to make him look bad. Because Trump is Trump, this almost immediately evolved into claims that mail-in voting was itself a conspiracy against him; as Trump slid in the polls and it began to look more improbable that he could step over half a million corpses to win a second term, Trump's team began to overtly say that if they lost, they would blame it on "fraud" rather than acknowledge his loss.
A coping mechanism for a decompensating malignant narcissist in the throes of mental crisis thus became a new Republican Party core belief. No, no, it couldn't possibly be that the Dear Leader’s incompetence through four years culminated in economic collapse and nationwide chaos. It must be a conspiracy by "urban" voters, globalists, immigrants, atheists, and every other enemy of white nationalist chaos. It turns out that if you get hundreds of Republican lawmakers to repeat the same white nationalist claims, enough of the Republican base will believe the claims to mount a genuine, if incompetent, insurrection.
Back to Florida, then, and the Post's report. The Post's Greg Sargent highlights an especially damning detail in which a state party official confirmed that while throwing together the new voting restrictions, Republicans "briefly discussed" whether state lawmakers could write exemptions for military and elderly voters, the two Republican groups most likely to run afoul of the new plans. It was rejected as being likely illegal, but that it was contemplated shows that Republicans pushing for the new laws were (ahem) not as concerned with election integrity as they were with the partisan makeup of who would be affected—and whether that partisan makeup could be further tweaked to exclude Republican voters who would otherwise be caught up in it.
What Republican state lawmakers did come up with was a laundry list of restrictions primarily designed to add a series of new "taxes" to the voting process. Shortening the length of time in which ballots can be requested, adding new photo ID requirements for absentee ballots, and requiring mail-in voters to rerequest mail-in status each election cycle are all meant to impose small taxes of time and attention on voters—and be an easier means to cull those not willing to jump through the new hoops. A new limit on when ballot drop boxes can be open will make it more difficult for working-class voters to access them. New limits on providing food and water to voters in line will matter most in precincts where the state has already (intentionally) underfunded and understaffed polling places, resulting in those many hours-long lines; in places where sufficient polling machines have been allocated to meet demand, it will make no difference at all.
The bet being made here and elsewhere by Republican lawmakers is that while new voting restrictions will certainly affect voters of both parties, actual disenfranchisement will affect primarily the working poor—people who oppose Republican goals but whose jobs, income, and travel difficulties all conspire to make new ID restrictions, ballot return restrictions, or even just additional forms to be filed obstacles that impose disproportionately on them compared to voters with more time and resources available. It is certain that elderly voters will face many of those same new obstacles, but Republican lawmakers appear to believe that culling will be less severe. That is ... not necessarily the case.
It is a gamble, but one with enough complexity to be willingly overlooked by Trump-supporting lawmakers feverishly looking to keep in Trump's good graces rather than face the wrath of his now thoroughly fascist base.