The assault on democracy didn’t start when Donald Trump fired up a mob of fanatics on the National Mall last Jan. 6. High ranking Republicans have been trashing the legitimacy of elections for years, priming supporters to believe that they have to literally fight for their freedom.

At some point, the party went from hating Democrats to hating democracy, and that gave Trump all the fuel needed to light a fire.

In Maine, you can find these unfounded attacks going back a decade or more, and not just from anonymous cranks or marginal legislators. The rigged-election fantasies come straight from the top: from party leaders, a secretary of state and twice-elected Gov. Paul LePage, who wants to recapture his old office this November.

When Republicans took control of the Maine House, Maine Senate and governor’s office in 2011, they seemed poised to pass some of the voting restrictions used in other Republican-controlled states, which disproportionately affect minority and young voters. They installed as secretary of state Charlie Summers, who announced an investigation into widespread voter fraud, based, he claimed, on records proving that hundreds of out-of-staters were illegally voting in Maine elections.

He turned up exactly one noncitizen, who had voted a single time in Maine, nine years earlier. Those suspicious voters on his list turned out to be people who had moved to Maine and registered to vote here after voting elsewhere in a previous election.

”Technically, it’s not a violation of the law,” Summers admitted, adding, “I’m not sure exactly how patriotic it is – when people are moving from one state to the next state and one state to the next state, like that.” Summers, who himself had moved to Maine from another state, was not punished for the embarrassing report. He went on to be his party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in 2012.

When Republicans lost their majorities in the House and Senate that fall, state Republican Party Chair Charlie Webster went on television to say he smelled a rat.

“In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of Black people who came in and voted on Election Day,” he fumed. ”Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in (these) towns knows anyone who’s Black. How did that happen? I don’t know. We’re going to find out.”

If Webster ever did find out, he never told us, but the damage was done. It was neither the first nor the last time that a Maine Republican made clear that when they say “fraudulent voting,” they mean “Black voting.”

LePage took antidemocratic trutherism to a new level. Weeks before Election Day in 2016, Maine’s then-governor claimed without evidence that “I’m not confident of a clean election in Maine.”

After the votes were counted, he sent a formal letter to legislators who’d won their races, writing – with no supporting evidence – “I maintain strong concerns regarding the integrity of Maine’s ballot and accuracy of Maine’s election results and I cannot attest to the accuracy of the tabulation certified by the Secretary of State.”

He was more succinct in 2018 when Republican Bruce Poliquin lost his congressional race to Jared Golden. In the official document certifying the results, LePage scribbled “stolen election.”

His lack of support for democratic ideals followed him out of office. In a talk radio appearance in 2019, LePage said that we need the Electoral College, which gives a voter in Wyoming four times as much influence in a presidential race as a voter in California, to maintain white political power. Without it, “white people will not have anything to say,” he explained. “It’s only going to be the minorities who would elect.”

You could write these off as mean, petty or stupid comments that don’t really matter in a nation of laws. But if you wonder how so many Republicans believe that Trump won the 2020 election, or why thousands of them stormed the Capitol last year to take back what they thought was rightfully theirs, these mean, petty and stupid statements add up.

It didn’t end with LePage. In the days after the 2020 election, Maine Republicans joined the Trump administration in claiming that the election had been stolen.

“We will not rest until the truth about the 2020 election is revealed and we return trust to American elections,” wrote state Republican Chairwoman Demi Kouzounas in an email seeking donations for a dubious Trump legal fund.

The vote had been “crooked, illegal and unconstitutional,” claimed Oxford County Republican Peter LaVerdiere, as he cast Trump’s one Electoral College vote in the State House on Dec. 14, 2020.

On Jan. 4, two days before the insurrection, state Republican Vice Chair Nick Isgro claimed that the election had been hijacked by the Chinese Communist Party. “I don’t think there’s any circumstance right now where (Trump) should step out of office.”

Are they lying or delusional? Does it really matter?

Between their attacks on the legitimacy of elections and the meek silence of other Republicans who ought to know better, we have an authoritarian movement in this country that’s not going away.


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