Does Anyone Really Want to Do This After Every Election for the Rest of Our Lives?

Older white men hold signs reading "DETROIT CHEATS" and "VOTER FRAUD! WE DEMAND RECOUNT."
A pro-Trump demonstration outside Detroit’s TCF Center on Nov. 6. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

Are we done yet?

On Monday night in Michigan, two Republican members of the four-member, bipartisan Wayne County Board of Canvassers briefly shoved a 10-foot metal pole into the gears of the electoral process, moving to exclude Detroit’s votes from certification. In Pennsylvania, Rudy Giuliani is asking a judge to throw out all of the state’s votes. In Nevada, other lawyers are making the same demand. In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is being harassed by local and national Republicans, up to and including the president and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, because he won’t disqualify votes on the basis of unsupported claims that Democrats committed fraud.

Judges are expected to dismiss the lawsuits, and Raffensperger is standing his ground. In Wayne County, Monica Palmer and William Hartmann, the two Republicans on the canvassing board, agreed to certify the country’s full results after two hours of withering criticism during a public comment period and a promise that the state will conduct an audit of some tiny, routine precinct-level counting inconsistencies. (Most of these inconsistencies involve one to four votes, according to a reporter who’s been following the issue.)

Palmer, the board chair, made something of a misstep by trying to block Detroit’s votes but not those tallied in nearby Livonia, which has a much whiter population, even after it had been noted during the meeting that Livonia’s numbers included the same kinds of small inconsistencies that were purportedly at issue. The differential treatment made it explicit that Palmer’s objective, like that of Republicans pushing to throw out votes in Philadelphia and Milwaukee but not their Joe Biden–friendly suburbs, was racially discriminatory.

Palmer’s position was the logical culmination of the conservative white Midwest’s response to the civil rights era, which was to box Black populations into struggling cities whose struggles were then taken as evidence that their residents were unable to govern themselves, predisposed by culture or genetics toward criminality and drug use (and, by extension, election-rigging). The MAGA supporters who rallied outside Detroit’s TCF Center after the election may well truly believe that Detroit’s Democrats perpetrated a fraud, but that’s just a manifestation of a deeper, long-standing problem. For his part, Republican canvassing board member William Hartmann has spent the last decade-plus filling his Facebook account with images of Barack Obama caricatured as a toothless, cigarette-smoking bum and hustler.

Fortunately all of this failed to go over with the members of the public, many of them Black, who spoke directly to Palmer and Hartmann during the comment period before they reversed their position. Palmer and Hartmann were lectured about the vote-counting process and told repeatedly they were embarrassing their state in what was sure to be a losing effort. In Wayne County and elsewhere, the size of Biden’s win and the inevitable momentum of his presidency have been sufficient to discourage partisan judges, local functionaries, and state legislators from creating a succession crisis.

Maybe Palmer and Hartmann ended up feeling bad about what they’d done; it seems unlikely. Appealing to the conscience of modern Republican hard-liners is not something that has ever worked at scale. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger is under sustained, organized attack for believing his job as secretary of state is to administer elections rather than to help his party accumulate power. Each individual attempt to overturn the election may be pathetic and comical on its own terms, but the widespread (re)adoption in the U.S. of a model of politics in which public servants are overtly expected to maintain loyalty to an ethnic faction rather than the broader citizenry is not funny at all. People have been warning for a while that someday there’ll be a more capable and ruthless version of Donald Trump, but Republicans’ current rear guard actions against the election results demonstrate that, for his party, the necessary ruthlessness is already in place. They just need a closer margin of votes to apply it to.

A movement that’s willing to engage in the straightforward racial disenfranchisement of an entire city and risk the failure of government in order to overturn an election will probably not be beaten back by making its supporters feel guilty. Perhaps the only solution is to promise the kind of mutually assured frustration that the residents of Wayne County delivered—a level of pushback, outrage, vigilance, and friction that makes the process exhausting on both sides. Maybe Monica Palmer and William Hartmann just got scared of how they’d be perceived nationally and tired of getting yelled at and threatened with lawsuits themselves; if so, good. That’s how they should feel. They should feel like they are outnumbered, and that everyone else is tired of their shit, because it’s true.