Panelists at an InvestigateWest salon discussion
Panelists Mónica Guzmán​, Kevin Hamilton, and Girmay Zahilay discuss threats to U.S. elections and the future of American democracy at a salon organized by InvestigateWest (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

With a nation’s news media “hol­lowed out” by clos­ings and down­siz­ings, Seat­tle-based Inves­ti­gateWest is swim­ming against a tide as it pur­sues a task vital to the repub­lic: It has tak­en on the job of seek­ing the truth about those seek­ing pow­er in Amer­i­ca, specif­i­cal­ly report­ing on ongo­ing threats to Amer­i­can democracy.

“We’re not hys­ter­i­cal at all: We should, how­ev­er, all be wor­ried… What I am wor­ried about is the enor­mous amount of mon­ey being spent to attack the sys­tem” elec­tion law expert Kevin Hamil­ton told a Wednes­day night forum, as Inves­ti­gateWest sought input on how to go about its task.

Hamil­ton was a lead lawyer in fend­ing off chal­lenges to the Biden-Har­ris ticket’s 2020 vic­to­ries in Geor­gia and Michi­gan. He has also worked elec­tion cas­es here and in Mon­tana, Ari­zona, Min­neso­ta and Virginia.

The 2022 midterm elec­tion bal­lot return dead­line is still more than forty days away, but ear­ly vot­ing has begun. Hamil­ton not­ed there has been an increase of more than 400 per­cent in “anti-vot­er law­suits” across the country.

Wor­ry­ing­ly, believ­ers in Don­ald Trump’s com­plete­ly false claim that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen are on the bal­lot right now for offices rang­ing from Gov­er­nor of Penn­syl­va­nia, Ari­zona and Michi­gan, to Sec­re­tary of State in Michi­gan, to the 3rd Dis­trict U.S. House race in this Washington.

Gir­may Zahi­lay, a King Coun­ty Coun­cilmem­ber and a Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia-trained lawyer who opened NPI’s Spring Fundrais­ing Gala this year, point­ed to the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion in this pro­gres­sive state. Politi­cians and cer­tain media out­lets are “cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the public’s legit­i­mate con­cerns for pub­lic safe­ty,” he said, in order to fan fears and divide peo­ple by race and where they live.

A des­per­ate U.S. Sen­ate cam­paign has late­ly resort­ed to Seat­tle bashing.

FNC car­ries non­stop sto­ries of crime in “Demo­c­rat-run” cities.

Right wing activists dri­ven by false elec­tion fraud the­o­ries are chal­leng­ing and work­ing to toss out vot­er reg­is­tra­tions and bal­lots, from Mason Coun­ty in our state to bat­tle­ground states of the Midwest.

State leg­is­la­tures have tried to make vot­ing more dif­fi­cult: The Perkins Coie law firm, where Hamil­ton is part­ner, is argu­ing a chal­lenge to new Mon­tana laws that make it more dif­fi­cult to vote. The Big Sky State has banned same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion. The Repub­li­can-run leg­is­la­ture has also adopt­ed Texas’ pol­i­cy of refus­ing to rec­og­nize stu­dent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Two Native Amer­i­can action groups and three youth advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions are chal­leng­ing the new law.

Accounts of attempts to over­turn 2020 elec­tion results have been filled with bizarre claims and behav­ior by Trump lawyers, from accu­sa­tions that vot­ing machines were designed to ben­e­fit a long-dead leader in Venezuela to a news con­fer­ence where hair dye streamed down the cheeks of an agi­tat­ed “Trump lead lawyer” Rudy Giu­liani. It’s time to stop laugh­ing, Hamil­ton argued.

“We faced the ‘B’ team (in 2020). Those days are long gone.”

Defend­ing the Biden-Har­ris vic­to­ry, Hamil­ton and oth­er lawyers swept the board. “We won every one of those cas­es,” he said, recall­ing a sweet vic­to­ry before a Trump-appoint­ed judge in Georgia.

“A fun­ny thing hap­pened after the elec­tion,” he added. “Even the Trump judges said, ‘Show us your evi­dence… The sys­tem held.”

Why? In Hamilton’s view, “Judges closed ranks and became Amer­i­cans first… They stood up, they were Americans.”

Yet, the nation’s high­est court has gut­ted the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act, with the bizarre legal rea­son­ing that its guar­an­tees are no longer needed.

The Supreme Court’s Repub­li­can-appoint­ed major­i­ty has refused to check leg­is­la­tures from the brazen ger­ry­man­der­ing of leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al dis­trict bound­aries. A look at Ohio’s map shows the 4th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict snaking west, then south, then west and final­ly north. Its bound­aries were designed to pro­tect Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jim Jor­dan, the ultra MAGA Repub­li­can in line to chair the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee if Repub­li­cans regain con­trol of the House.

America’s demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­lic used to play by the hand dealt by its vot­ers. Par­ti­san debate was intense, but society’s com­pro­mis­es emerged. Par­ty lines were not a bar­ri­er to friend­ship and could be crossed. Sev­en­teen Repub­li­can sen­a­tors vot­ed against one of Richard Nixon’s sub­par nom­i­nees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With the advent of Trump and the ultra MAGA move­ment, how­ev­er, cries of “Lock her up!” were heard at 2016 cam­paign ral­lies, while 3rd Dis­trict U.S. House can­di­date Joe Kent would like to see Dr. Antho­ny Fau­ci tried for murder.

“I just don’t want to live in a banana repub­lic where the los­er in an elec­tion gets pros­e­cut­ed,” said Hamil­ton, a ref­er­ence hith­er­to for­eign to Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. We live in a coun­try, he not­ed, where: “Even pro­fes­sion­al sports teams shake hands at the end of the game, regard­less of what has gone on dur­ing the game.”

But rough, ruth­less tac­tics have come to the fore.

The un-Amer­i­can tac­tic of try­ing to dis­cred­it an elec­tion is being deployed before the first votes are cast. The prac­ti­tion­ers of scorched earth tac­tics seek to raise mon­ey, and to keep the vic­tor from get­ting any­thing done.

Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell has greet­ed the last two Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dents with a vow to block their agen­da and, in Obama’s case, thwart his reelection.

Audi­ence mem­bers at InvestigateWest’s salon, in their ques­tions, seemed to have trou­ble grasp­ing the awful and held out hope that the “bet­ter angels of our nature” will once more res­cue the country.

Hamil­ton deliv­ered an under­stat­ed answer when asked what’ll hap­pen if pow­er flips: “I would like to think cool­er heads will pre­vail, but I don’t know.”

An opti­mistic note was pro­vid­ed by Móni­ca Guzmán​. A senior fel­low at Braver Angels, a non­par­ti­san grass­roots group that is work­ing to depo­lar­ize Amer­i­ca. “Life has nev­er been bet­ter for so many Amer­i­cans,” she told the salmon, not­ing the move­ments that have improved life for many for­mer­ly mar­gin­al­ized Amer­i­cans. If the coun­try can ever pull itself back togeth­er, she added, “Good Lord, we can do any­thing. How can we coor­di­nate so we can get stuff done?”

The prob­lem is, how­ev­er, that pow­er­ful ele­ments are work­ing to pull the coun­try apart. Cre­at­ing chaos and sow­ing divi­sion is their path to conquest.

“I have to hand it to the Repub­li­cans,” said Hamilton.

“They are genius­es with the lan­guage of demonization.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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