In the tumultuous months following Joe Biden’s presidential victory, GOP state legislators in 33 states have already set 165 bills in motion aiming to restrict voting in future elections. This is well over four times the number of bills relating to vote suppression proposed this time last year, and it is difficult to understand this as anything other than the Republican party’s response to a disappointing performance in November’s polls.
An example of this new legislation is Georgia Senate Bill 67 mandating that all voters requesting absentee ballots in the state submit a photocopy of a government-issued ID. While bill-author state Sen. Larry Walker III has claimed that this measure would increase “security in the vote,” it would, in fact, provide an additional barrier to thousands of people participating in the electoral system and disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. Arizona House Bill 2701 is another example of restrictive voting legislation that would limit mail-in voting to individuals who physically cannot attend a polling location. Notwithstanding the pandemic making in-person voting more risky, this legislation would also reduce the ability of many workers without schedule flexibility to cast their ballots. These are just two cases of the many ongoing attempts by the GOP to pass restrictive voting laws across the nation, which aim to suppress votes, particularly those of marginalized Americans, in the name of fraud prevention.
The official Republican stance is that passing voting reform laws will ensure election “security and integrity.” While this sentiment may seem commendable and compelling, the reality is not so virtuous: rather, these underhanded efforts to influence election results are likely a power-grabbing tactic by the party in the face of voter demographics largely shifting out of their favor. The whole world witnessed President Trump undermine the electoral process throughout the 2020 campaign season, despite overwhelming evidence against his claims denouncing mail-in voting as fraudulent. His infamous phone call to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger asking him to “find 11,000-plus votes” was another blatant attempt to subvert the results of a fair election in order to secure a GOP victory and his second term in office. However, Trump was not the only one attacking the system. Many more Republicans were reluctant to concede electoral defeat until after the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, which frames their attempts to “secure” elections in a more sinister light and sours their supposedly altruistic motivation. This deliberate erosion of trust in the democratic process reasonably points to the conclusion that the GOP’s continued endeavours to influence elections by restricting the number of voters are principally guided by a selfish desire to remain in power. Research highlighting how low voter turnout favors the Republican party also insinuates these moves to suppress votes, especially of minorities and marginalized groups, as an intentional method of preserving the party’s political future.
On the other hand, while the Democratic party has also been complicit in previous attempts to manipulate elections in their favor, and should not be lauded for its electoral transparency, its members have been especially vocal recently about expanding voting access and boosting voter turnout across the country in direct contrast to their Republican counterparts. This dichotomy between the parties, supported by evidence that most of the restrictive new bills are passing state committees along party lines, highlights a dangerous reality about the state of the political system in the United States today: voting, and by extension democracy, has become a partisan issue.
Setting aside the fact that high voter turnout can actually benefit both parties, for a democracy such as the US to function, it is a prerequisite that all eligible citizens deserve to, are able to, and are encouraged to vote. The entire premise of a representational political system is that each citizen has equal opportunity and ability to influence policy decisions in order to represent their own beliefs and interests. It is essential that this viewpoint is presumed as a baseline for all sequential political discourse, as attempting to draw up policy decisions without authentic public input is not just undemocratic and unconstitutional, but ineffective and will serve only those in power and not the constituents they are meant to represent. Therefore, for a major US political party to have incorporated vote-suppressive policy and rhetoric into their official platform is a dangerous precedent for the future of our electoral system and a concern for the integrity of our democracy as a whole.
With this in mind, we as American citizens must consider our next steps. Fortunately, 37 states have also drawn up 541 vote expanding bills aiming to secure electoral representation for more of the population and to create a more equitable system, in opposition to all the restrictive legislation being proposed. However, while this is an encouraging start, an ideological shift toward heightened civic engagement nationwide is necessary in the long-term. Perhaps this change could be fomented through the implementation of a policy such as Australia’s mandatory voting law. Not only would this discourage suppressive voting laws, but it could also inculcate the populace with a greater sense of the importance of voting, and thus increase voter participation.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, a great way to stand up for voting rights and against moves by politicians to damage them is through activism and voter advocacy, such as the work done by Brown Votes. Write to your representatives. Support candidates in local and federal elections who are campaigning to expand voting rights. Encourage your friends and family to engage civically and to use their voice regardless of political affiliation. By increasing awareness of the importance of voting and actively attempting to make changes in our communities, we can direct the US toward a fairer and more transparent electoral system. With heightened advocacy and civic involvement, we can ensure that our views are considered and our perspectives uplifted, rather than silenced for the sake of continued political power.
By Adam Brandt