Voiceover: This is The Takeaway with MHP.
Jessica: My name is Jessica, and I live in Columbia, Maryland. I'm watching all of them. I want to find out what the American public is wanting and where they're at on things, what folks are feeling, but I'm also really concerned that we might not even be able to recognize that information because of gerrymandering and restrictions on voting and things like that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're with The Takeaway on election day, and as we just heard from Jessica, the messages that voters are trying to send on this election day just might end up distorted by the realities of gerrymandered districts and restrictions on voter participation.
Redistricting following the 2020 census resulted in fewer competitive districts than at any point in the last 52 years. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, just since the beginning of 2021, lawmakers have passed 42 restrictive voting laws in 21 states.
When faced with voting restrictions and gerrymandered districts, there's really only one person to call, Ari Berman, national voting rights correspondent at Mother Jones. Ari, thanks for coming back on The Takeaway with us.
Ari Berman: Hey, Melissa. Happy election day. Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, happy Eeection day, and in fact, let me just start by asking what are you looking at most closely today? What are the big 2022 takeaways that you're watching?
Ari Berman: Wow, what am I not watching this election cycle is the better question, but I think the overarching thing that I'm watching is will people who don't believe in free and fair elections take over our election system? That is a threat that is really unique to this election compared to previous elections.
In 2020, Donald Trump was really the only election denier. It was really unprecedented for a candidate to launch a full-scale attack on the election system. Now we have election deniers running in 48 of 50 states, and so I'm watching that. I'm watching to see whether there will be one-party rule in certain places that had a divided government, places like Wisconsin.
I'm also paying attention to whether some of these efforts to try to attack democracy will fail, and whether there will be some lessons coming out of this that maybe basing your entire campaign on trying to prevent people from voting, trying to question election outcomes is not a smart strategy, but I guess we're going to have to wait and see for all of that.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Do you ever feel guilty, Ari? You and I have been talking about the questions of voter suppression, about the challenges to free and fair elections for a decade. You've been writing about it. I used to frequently have you on as a guest in previous incarnations of being in media. I wonder about all of the concerns we've had in terms of trying to sound the alarm about ensuring we have free and fair elections that we created space for this election integrity language which is really about denying election outcomes.
Ari Berman: That's a good question. I was just thinking about this, actually. The fact that we have discussed this issue for a decade all the way back to the 2012 election in the Nerdland days, and I don't feel guilty. I feel frustrated. I feel frustrated about the fact that the attacks on democracy that I've been covering are getting worse and worse.
From efforts to make it harder for people to vote, which date back a long time in US history but have really intensified over the past decade, to repeated efforts to try to gut the Voting Rights Act and to take away federal protections for voting rights that have existed for decades. Now it's accelerated to the point where we're talking about not just old school voter suppression, which is the traditional barriers to the ballot box, but also new school voter suppression, which is efforts to throw out votes altogether.
I don't think it's because of us that the problem has gotten worse. I think it's because, quite frankly, the extreme radicalization of the Republican party and the fact that the leaders of the Republican party have whipped their base up into a frenzy, and basically, you have the situation where the entire Republican party has completely radicalized against democracy. I think the media is having a tough time covering that.
I think they're trying to say, "Voters are concerned about inflation. Voters are concerned about gas prices. Voters are concerned about rent," and all that is true, but to me, the dominant storyline is that one party no longer believes in democracy. I think that should be the takeaway from the election.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to go to Pennsylvania, specifically, their US Senate candidate, John Federman, and some other Democrats filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, Monday, challenging Pennsylvania's plan not to count undated or wrongly dated ballots that have been mailed in. Can you help us understand this issue of mail-in ballots and what effect a decision not to count them if they've got the wrong date on them could be?
Ari Berman: It's just crazy that control of the US Senate could come down to whether or not someone wrote the correct date outside of their ballot envelope. These are just the absurd things about the American political process right now. This has been a long-running dispute all the way back the last election. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that, basically, if you made a minor error or left out information on the outside of the ballot envelope, so you didn't actually make a mistake on your ballot, just the envelope that it goes in, that those ballots had to be set aside.
This is likely going to go to federal court as well and possibly all the way to the Supreme Court but basically, what election officials are saying is that if you had one of these errors, you should go vote in person instead.
There's been this mad dash to try to cure these ballots. There were two-hour lines outside of City Hall in Philadelphia where people were lined up to try to get their ballots counted in. This is a real source of frustration to me, Melissa, is that things are being litigated while people are voting. We should know what the laws are. Whether they're good or bad, people should know what the laws are before they cast their ballots so they have certainty that their votes will count.
This back-and-forth litigation, really, to me, serves no purpose. My fear is that Republicans are filing these-- because this is originally a lawsuit filed by Republicans. Republicans are filing these lawsuits, number one, to try to get votes thrown out, but number two, to try to sow doubt about the outcome of the election if they end up losing.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. We're pausing here, but we'll be back with Ari Berman in just a moment.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hey, it's The Takeaway on election day 2022. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and I'm still with Ari Berman, national voting rights correspondent at Mother Jones. In addition to the concerns about whether or not your vote will count and these new restrictions, voter IDs, all of that kind of thing, what do we know about how that's affecting turnout?
On the one hand, we're seeing indications of very high voter turnout. Does that mean, again, are we guilty? Are we wrong? That we have misunderstood the ways that these laws would dampen downvoting. That, actually, people are still able to get out to the polls.
Ari Berman: I think voting methods are changing, and they're changing partly because of the legacy of the pandemic but also partly because of the intention of some of these new restrictions on voting. In Georgia, for example, where I was recently, there were a lot of new restrictions put on mail voting. Mail voting has declined dramatically, I think even beyond what it would've coming out of the pandemic.
Early in-person voting has increased dramatically because Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock voting rights groups told people vote early in person instead of voting by mail. Does that mean voter suppression doesn't exist? No. It means that people are trying to counteract voter suppression by using the methods they have available to them to still be able to vote, but we don't know how many people wanted to vote by mail and couldn't.
We don't know how many people wanted to drop their ballot off at a Dropbox but didn't because armed vigilantes were guarding them in places like Arizona. We don't know how many people showed up and had their votes challenged and decided they didn't want to participate. We don't know how many people have just been hearing that voting is somehow more difficult or scary or perhaps criminal, and they just decided, "I don't want to vote," altogether.
Things like people with past felony convictions being arrested in Florida for casting ballots. That is a chilling effect on voter participation. Yes, it's great that so many people are voting and so many people are voting early, but that doesn't mean that there aren't barriers to the ballot box, and that doesn't mean that people are either not turned away from the polls or just decide not to vote altogether.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You mentioned Georgia. In the last gubernatorial race four years ago in 2018, Democrats were quite upset, concerned with Brian Kemp, who was not only running for governor and won but was also the election administrator in his role. That is now happening in Arizona, where the Democrat, who is the candidate, is also the election administrator. Should she be asked to step aside in the role of managing the election while she is a candidate in a statewide election?
Ari Berman: It probably would be a good idea for her to step aside and have a neutral party count the votes, but I don't think that you can draw an equivalence between Brian Kemp, who was actively trying to suppress voting rights while he was secretary of State of Georgia, first Katie Hobbs in Arizona, who's trying to encourage people to register to vote. In general, I think it's an incredible conflict of interest that someone could be-- First off, we shouldn't even have partisan election officials. Most countries don't have this.
People always ask me, what should the US do differently? Well, we shouldn't have people who have a vested interest in their own elections running elections. That's just number one, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, but certainly, in close races, it's an inherent conflict of interest. If you're the top elections official, you should step aside from that job.
I talked to other secretaries of state that are running just for their own re-election. They're not even running for higher office, they're just running for re-election as Secretary of State, like, for example, the Secretary of State of Michigan, Jocelyn Benson. She told me she's stepping back from a lot of her duties, even though that is part of her portfolio to oversee elections, but I do think as secretaries of state, they have a role to provide guidance to voters.
I don't think it's wrong for Katie Hobbs to be providing guidance to voters about how they should vote and tackling things like voter intimidation, but I think when it comes to the counting of ballots, that's something that she should probably remove herself from.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Ari Berman is national voting rights correspondent at Mother Jones. Ari, as always, thanks for joining us.
Ari Berman: Thanks so much, Melissa. Great to talk to you.
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