How Jan. 6 Enabled Greater Interference In Our Elections

“In around a half dozen states under Republican control, new laws have reduced the authority of state election officers who haven’t backed Trump’s “Big Lie” and/or allowed GOP-controlled statewide boards to more easily override or threaten local election administrators in Democratic-leaning areas. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg, as bills to create similar laws have been proposed in other states, too, as well as even more extreme proposals that would make it easier for state legislatures to subvert or even ignore election results.

For instance, some Republican-controlled states have even targeted statewide officials to reduce their oversight over elections. In Arizona, for example, the GOP took away the authority over election-related litigation from the secretary of state – currently a Democrat – and shifted it to the state attorney general — a Republican. Tellingly, however, this change is set to expire in January 2023 at the same time the secretary of state’s term ends. Meanwhile in Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s refusal to help Trump interfere in Georgia’s 2020 election result not only earned him a Trump-endorsed primary challenger who supports the Big Lie, but it also led state Republicans to remove the secretary of state as a voting member of Georgia’s State Election Board and give the Republican-run state legislature control over appointing the board’s chair.

New laws in GOP-run states have also placed local election officials more overtly under the thumb of state authorities, enabling Republicans to target the election apparatuses of Democratic-leaning localities. In Georgia, for instance, the Republican majority on the State Election Board can suspend local officials and appoint temporary replacements. County boards have the power to decide challenges over voter eligibility and certify election results, so this law creates a conceivable path for Republicans to influence the results in heavily Democratic counties by disqualifying votes based on challenges to individual voters’ eligibility — or even by refusing to certify results.

Laws in some Republican-controlled states also now include heavy penalties for election officials who supposedly step out of line. Take Iowa, where officials can now face felony charges for failing to carry out election laws or failing to follow the guidance of the secretary of state, who is currently a Republican. They can also be fined $10,000 for “technical infractions” of their duties. Such rules could have a chilling effect whereby local officials may not govern as they see fit out of fear of being targeted.

In fact, faced with such legal changes, threats made by Trump supporters and the stress of the 2020 election, many local election officials have quit en masse — a loss of experience that could weaken the election system. This exodus has also created vacancies in state and local election administration that supporters of the Big Lie have sought to fill. Coupled with the far right’s concerted effort to recruit precinct officers who often decide poll worker assignments and choose local election boards, the likelihood of future election chicanery motivated by Republican electoral interests has undoubtedly increased.

And this may only be the beginning. Graver threats lurk, such as a Republican proposal before Arizona’s legislature that could permit the legislature, by simple majority vote, to ignore the state’s presidential vote and appoint the state’s electors in the Electoral College. Republicans in Wisconsin are also considering ways to upend the state’s bipartisan election agency and assert partisan control over Wisconsin’s election results.

Rather than ebbing, the movement on the right to threaten free and fair elections appears to be picking up speed. The nation’s small-d democratic backslide is already happening — the question now is just how far will it go?”

Turkmenistan’s Record-Setting Repression

“Berdimuhamedov’s Turkmenistan is one of the most secretive and repressive dictatorships on the planet.

Berdimuhamedov isn’t so shy himself. The Turkmen president balances out his harsh governance with flamboyant public displays. In one popular video clip, he “plays” a white guitar clad in a pastel green sweater—though the fog creeping up from below, obscuring his hands, casts doubt on his musical chops. The crowd doesn’t seem to mind. In a different video, Berdimuhamedov shoots at targets while his ministers look on with adoration. In another, he triumphantly lifts a thin golden rod above his head, which looks as if it weighs about as much as a fishing pole. He does donuts in his car, writes poetry, and races on golden Akhal-Teke horses, of which he owns nearly 10 percent of the world’s population.

Berdimuhamedov has used spectacles like these to curate a bizarre cult of personality around himself. Core to his image is a quest to nab as many Guinness World Records as possible. Since he ascended to Turkmenistan’s top office in 2007, the country has clinched quite a few superlatives, including “largest single line bike parade,” “largest roof in the shape of a star,” and “largest gerbil species.”

It’s so much lighthearted fun that you might almost forget the country has earned another distinction not recognized by Guinness: the most oppressive of the former Soviet countries, scoring a 2 out of 100 on Freedom House’s index. In Turkmenistan, there are essentially no recognized human rights and the economy has no meaningful private sector, with dysfunctional state-run monopolies dominating a country plagued by insufficient access to food, water, and natural gas.

What life is like inside the country is somewhat of a mystery. For those living there, the outside world is even murkier: Internet access is prohibited, foreign travel is restricted, and there is not even a semblance of a free press.

Turkmens are to believe one thing: Berdimuhamedov is their Arkadag (“protector”). That might become a tougher sell if the country’s economy continues to implode. Yet Berdimuhamedov’s public persona is a reminder of how such cults are cultivated in the first place: If you can’t give your country the basics, you have to give them a show.”

The intellectual right’s war on America’s institutions

“It’s easy to dismiss this kind of illiberal language as purely rhetorical: radical posturing with few practical implications. But the past year of conservative politics, from the January 6 riot to the spread of voting restrictions and extreme gerrymandering to the rise of Rufo’s war on the education system, has shown that the right’s illiberal impulses are actually shaping our reality.

Conservatism, in theory, is supposed to be an ideology of preservation. But the current right is increasingly being shaped by a reactionary impulse bent on the radical transformation — if not the outright destruction — of America’s leading institutions.”

Sudan’s civilian prime minister is back. Here’s why thousands are still protesting.

“In April 2019, a military coup ended Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, which was marked by press censorship, the jailing of political dissidents, and the imposition of harsh sharia law, all enforced by regime security forces. Following al-Bashir’s arrest, the military worked with civilian parties to establish a transition to democracy and civilian rule”

“That included a transitional power-sharing agreement between the military and civilian leadership, which was then amended with the Juba Peace Agreement in 2020, a deal between the transitional government and several armed groups which sets out the constitutional process and power-sharing arrangements, among other stipulations for the future democratic government. Crucially for the current crisis, civilian leaders insisted on an eventual governmental structure free from military influence; the memory of al-Bashir’s regime and its brutality were still fresh, and a government run under the auspices of the military couldn’t be trusted.”

“But that progress appeared fleeting when al-Burhan moved to seize power on October 25, forcing Hamdok into house arrest, detaining other members of the civilian government, and using deadly force to crack down on the massive, widespread protests against the coup that occurred over the past month.”

“Since the coup, according to Siegle, the junta, led by al-Burhan, has been searching for a civilian leader to serve as a figurehead prime minister while the military maintained actual control, and even appointed some politicians from the al-Bashir government, like Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who led brutal campaigns against opposition fighters in Darfur, into leadership positions — essentially trying to continue the regime that civilian groups had sacrificed so much to overthrow just two short years ago.
When the junta was unable to find a suitably legitimate figurehead, Siegle theorizes, it was decided that Hamdok would be able to return to his position and preside over a “technocratic” cabinet. What that means is unclear, however: While protesters are calling for absolutely no military influence in the selection of the cabinet, there have not been assurances that Hamdok will be free to select his own ministers.”

“Already, as civilian protest leaders have made clear, there’s little confidence in Hamdok’s return to office, and demonstrations will likely continue”

What one American’s case says about the future of the courts in Hong Kong

“When Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China’s control in 1997, it was with the understanding that the territory would be governed under the principle of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would maintain a separate economic and political structure from mainland China until 2047. That includes Hong Kong’s tradition of common law, an independent judiciary, and protections for certain freedoms like speech.

The Chinese Communist Party has sought to erode the separation between the two systems. In the aftermath of the 2019 protests, it intensified its efforts to dismantle it entirely. Covid-19 restrictions quelled Hong Kong’s mass demonstrations, and in the summer of 2020, Beijing imposed a national security law targeting crimes, such as secession, subversion, colluding with foreign powers, and terrorism. It portended a dragnet on dissent in Hong Kong. This week, a 30-year-old man was sentenced to more than five years in prison for “inciting secession.” He yelled pro-Hong Kong independence slogans in public.”

A Soviet-Style Strongman Still Rules Belarus

“Democratic governance, freedom, and flourishing in Belarus have long been hampered by Alexander Lukashenko, a demagogue and dictator who took power in 1994. In the country’s first and only open election, Lukashenko—who ran on an anti-corruption platform—was elected president. But once in office, he proved reluctant to let go of power or tolerate dissent.
“Openly nostalgic for Soviet times,” as the Associated Press put it in 1996, Lukashenko was dismissive of the country’s parliament, hostile to constitutional limits, and enthusiastic about state control of information. From the beginning, he was warm to Russia, signing a friendship treaty in 1995 that included concessions such as allowing Russian troops to be stationed in Belarus. He continues to encourage the people to speak Russian, not Belarusian.

By 1996, Lukashenko was proposing constitutional amendments to extend his term in office and expand his power. Parliament would not approve a referendum on it, instead proposing impeachment. “I will not give up the reins of power,” Lukashenko vowed in response. And he hasn’t.

Lukashenko has held on to his position by quashing opposition, suppressing nonstate media, interfering with elections, and otherwise denying civil liberties and political freedom to Belarusians.”

Nicaragua’s Ortega seeks reelection in questioned vote

“Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sought a fourth consecutive term in elections..against a field of little-known candidates while those who could have given him a real challenge sat in jail.”

“The opposition called on Nicaraguans to stay home in protest of an electoral process that has been roundly criticized as not credible by foreign powers.”

“The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions against those in Ortega’s inner circle, but Ortega responded only by arresting more of his opponents.
…a senior U.S. State Department official, who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government was willing to consider additional targeted sanctions, but had tried to avoid measures that would more broadly impact the Nicaraguan people.

“It is very hard when you have a government that has very minimal goals that include remaining in power at any cost and disregarding the will of their own citizens or the needs of the citizens to retain that power,” the official said.

The Organization of American States has condemned Nicaragua’s holding of political prisoners and unwillingness to hold free and fair elections, but Ortega’s government has only railed against foreign interference.”

The coup in Sudan, explained

“Sudan’s move toward democracy is in peril, after the military seized control of the country’s transitional government in a coup.

The country’s democratic project began just two years ago, after Sudan’s longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted amid mass protests in 2019. Civil society and protest leaders and the military ultimately reached a power-sharing arrangement that put both in charge of the country with the commitment of transitioning to full civilian rule, which would lead to a new constitution and elections in 2023.

[The] coup has upended that entire endeavor, fracturing what was already a tenuous arrangement between the military and civilian factions and jeopardizing any gains made. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s top general, orchestrated the power grab, detaining the civilian prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and other civilian leaders, and firing ambassadors who resisted the takeover.

But the coup also reignited resistance, as protesters returned to the streets in cities and towns across Sudan to denounce the military takeover. The Sudanese military shut down the internet, making it difficult to fully understand the scope of the resistance — and the security forces’ response to it — especially outside major cities like Khartoum. At least 170 people have been injured, and at least seven people killed in Monday’s protests, according to data compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some pro-democracy leaders have reportedly been detained.”

Iraq’s parliamentary vote marred by boycott, voter apathy

“Iraqis voted..in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the voting was marked by widespread apathy and a boycott by many of the young activists who thronged the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces in late 2019. Tens of thousands of people took part in the mass protests and were met by security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured within just a few months.

Although authorities gave in and called the early elections, the death toll and the heavy-handed crackdown — as well as a string of targeted assassinations — prompted many who took part in the protests to later call for a boycott of the vote.”

“The election was the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that independent candidates from the protest movement stood a chance against well-entrenched parties and politicians, many of them backed by powerful armed militias.”

Report Cites New Details of Trump Pressure on Justice Dept. Over Election

“Even by the standards of President Donald Trump, it was an extraordinary Oval Office showdown. On the agenda was Trump’s desire to install a loyalist as acting attorney general to carry out his demands for more aggressive investigations into his unfounded claims of election fraud.

On the other side during that meeting on the evening of Jan. 3 were the top leaders of the Justice Department, who warned Trump that they and other senior officials would resign en masse if he followed through. They received immediate support from another key participant: Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. According to others at the meeting, Cipollone indicated that he and his top deputy, Patrick F. Philbin, would also step down if Trump acted on his plan.

Trump’s proposed plan, Cipollone argued, would be a “murder-suicide pact,” one participant recalled. Only near the end of the nearly three-hour meeting did Trump relent and agree to drop his threat.”