“White evangelical Protestants now make up 14 percent of Americans, down from 23 percent in 2006, “the most precipitous drop in affiliation” for any religious group, according to a 2020 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. Even though white evangelicals made up 34 percent of Trump’s voters, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of election data, their support wasn’t sufficient to propel him to reelection. “Without such broad support for Trump among White evangelicals, [Joe] Biden would have beaten him by more than 20 points,” the Pew analysts wrote earlier this year.
Trump’s defeat proves that even massive conservative Christian turnout is no longer enough to win. The strategy white evangelical supporters have coalesced around to supplement it: election laws built on the lie that the other side’s ability to turn outvoters must be “fraudulent.””
“As Trump tried to strong-arm state election officials to throw out the ballots of 11,780 Georgians and declare him the winner of the state’s 16 Electoral College votes, the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia sent a fundraising email to its supporters in December: “Election reform is coming to Georgia, and we are all in!”
Cole Muzio, the group’s executive director, acknowledged that this was new territory for his organization. “As you know, this is not one of our ‘core issues’,” he wrote. “However, issues like life, religious freedom, and school choice will never win if the vote is being diluted by radical leftists exploiting the system to cheat.””
“When Democrats stunned even themselves by winning both seats in the January 5 runoff, Georgia Republicans sprang into action, introducing a slate of bills that would, among other things, eliminate drop-box sites, impose more restrictive rules for absentee ballots, and prohibit judges from extending voting hours at precincts experiencing long waits, all under the guise of stopping fraud. Another objective was to defeat Warnock, who is up for reelection in 2022.
The flurry of legislation overtly became about religion and race, pitting white evangelical Republicans against Black church leaders, whose flocks are predominantly Democratic. One provision would have eliminated Sunday voting, a potentially dire blow to get-out-the-vote efforts of Black churches and their “souls to the polls” events that have been at the core of Black voter mobilization for decades.
A national outcryled legislators to nix that provision. But Republican lawmakers ignored the objections of the state’s Black pastors to the bill’s many other restrictive provisions. Black leaders couldn’t even get a meeting with GOP leaders, said Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. “They didn’t pay any of us any mind.”
Less than two months after the bill was introduced, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a 98-page law that criminalizes providing water or food to voters standing in line and empowers state officials to replace local election officials — for example, the Democratic registrar of voters in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta — with appointees from their own party. The impact would be greatest on Black voters. “It is How to Steal an Election 101,” McDonald said.”
“National organizations aligned with the Christian right embraced “election integrity” with fervor. In March, Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the right-wing policy hub the Heritage Foundation, announced it would pour at least $10 million into lobbying and TV and online ads about the urgent need to “protect the rights of every American to a fair election.” In a video obtained by Mother Jones, a Heritage Action official admitted that the organization drafted the legislation in many states, including Georgia, and helped organize support.
At the same time, evangelical leaders opposed measures that would make it easier to vote. Advocates particularly targeted the For the People Act, which would create nationwide automatic voter registration, restore voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, and expand voting by mail and early voting, while shoring up the security of election infrastructure. The Phyllis Schlafly Eagles — an offshoot of the group once headed by the late conservative figure best known for helping kill the Equal Rights Amendment — claimed (falsely) that the bill “would enshrine Democrat ballot stuffing into federal law forever.” The Family Research Council called it “a federal power grab that cripples states’ ability to run elections and increases the likelihood of voter fraud” (another lie). Other conservative activists contended that the act’s financial disclosure requirements violated First Amendment protections for religious speech.”
“There were plenty of true believers. A June Washington Post/ABC News poll found that while only 30 percent of all respondents favored passing “new laws making it harder for people to vote fraudulently,” 51 percent of white evangelicals supported such legislation. While 62 percent of all Americans expressed support for “new laws making it easier for people to vote,” only 43 percent of white evangelicals did.
By that time, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 17 states already had enacted 28 new laws suppressing voting rights.”