This weekend the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states got clobbered with a major snow storm. I was luckily down in Central Virginia, and got to see the Blue Ridge beautifully dusted with powdered snow. And with most chores beyond feeding apples to the horses and seed to the birds snowed out, I read a lot. On Sunday morning, unable to get across the mountains to Grace Episcopal Church, I did penance by finishing Stephen Bates’ fascinating if painful study of the Anglican Communion’s rendering over the ordination of gay priests and bishops, A Church At War. Bates, a religion correspondent for The Guardian, does not pretent to be an impartial arbiter of the politico-sexual agony of Anglicans in recent years. He clearly views the whole crisis as having been engineered by conservative evangelical Anglicans, especially in England, who chose sexual issues as just another weapon with which to promote their quasi-fundamentalist drive for power in a faith community that has for centuries balanced Protestant and Catholic traditions and habits. Indeed, Bates almost certainly goes too far in suggesting that the African and Asian bishops who insisted on a condemnation of homosexuality at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 were just instruments of an intra-British ecclesiastical fight. But he knows the Anglican landscape well, and his profiles of the two unintentional protaganists of the current war over sexuality–the unsuccessful candidate for Bishop of Reading, Jeffrey John, and the successfully confirmed Bishop of New Hamphsire, Gene Robinson–are exquisitely wrought. As an Episcopalian, I also took pride in Bates’ argument that Americans handled the subject of gay and lesbian ordinations more honestly, and with greater theological depth, than their British counterparts. At a time when both the religious and secular conventional wisdom holds that conservative movements are the only vibrant and authentic trends in all the great faith traditions, Bates makes a strong case that the conservative ascendancy in Anglicanism is temporary, opportunistic, and ultimately incompatible with the future of the Communion. From what I know of Anglican Episcopalians, even those deep in the heart of Protestant Virginia, I think he’s right.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
As someone who closely monitored Donald Trump’s campaign against voting by mail in 2020, I am discouraged but not surprised to report that Republican state legislators are now reversing the kinds of access to mail ballots they use to support, as I explained at New York:
Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on voting by mail throughout the 2020 presidential-election cycle were clearly designed to set up a bogus election contest by creating a partisan gap in voting methods, an early Republican lead on Election Night, and a host of empty but redundant claims of voter fraud. But while his effort to reverse the election results failed, his determination to restrict the franchise live on wherever Republicans control the state legislature. According to the Brennan Center for Justice,
“Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges. These bills are an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud that followed the 2020 election.”
While voter-ID requirements, tougher voter-registration procedures, and aggressive voter-roll purges are perennial Republican “ideas” in this era of adverse demographic trends for the GOP, the attack on voting by mail is actually rather new. The big bipartisan trend prior to 2020 was toward liberalized voting by mail, a convenience measure favored in some states by Republicans in particular (most notably in the all-mail-voting jurisdiction of Utah but also in states, such as Florida, with histories of heavy no-excuse absentee voting). All in all, 34 states entered 2020 allowing any registered voter to cast a mail ballot without an excuse, including the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Notably, Republicans controlled the legislatures in all of these states other than Maine.
While Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature approved no-excuse voting by mail in 2019, as Michigan voters had before them in a 2018 ballot initiative, some of the states now looking at mail-ballot restrictions haven’t had them in a long time. Florida’s GOP governor and legislature introduced no-excuse absentee ballots in 2002, as did Georgia’s in 2005. In Arizona, such ballots were first permitted in 1991. Thanks to Trump, there are now strong Republican efforts under way to restrict eligibility in all these states.
The most blatant of them may be in Georgia, where Trump-generated hostility toward voting by mail has been augmented by a flank-covering maneuver from Trump nemesis Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state, who refused to “find” the 45th president enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s Georgia victory. Raffensperger, who had already annoyed the White House by proactively sending mail ballots to voters qualified for the 2020 primaries, now backs new excuse requirements and redundant voter-ID rules. Legislation is currently moving in both chambers of the Georgia legislature to accomplish these and other “reforms.” The chief state-senate bill would restrict voting by mail to people who (a) are over 75, (b) have a disability, or (c) are physically absent from the voting jurisdiction on Election Day.
Republicans are promoting a subtler effort to undermine access to mail ballots in Florida. Until now, Florida, like a number of other states, allowed people to register in advance to vote by mail for multiple elections (under current law, someone registering to vote by mail in 202a could continue to do so through 2024). Republican-sponsored legislation would require reregistration for every election cycle.
Particulars aside, these developments show a depressing retreat by Republicans from “convenience voting” measures that, before Trump started attacking them, were considered at least as friendly to Republican voters as to Democrats. The countertrend parallels and reinforces the more general GOP retreat from the very concept of voting as a right rather than a privilege, with the privileged having a thumb on the scales. And it underlines the urgency of federal voting-rights legislation to create a level playing field.