Commentary

Voting restrictions, bereft of evidence, threaten fairness in elections

July 29, 2022 12:03 am

Voters at a polling station in Buckingham County, Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Only once this century, over six presidential contests, has a Republican candidate attracted more popular votes than his Democratic opponent. That was in 2004, when incumbent George W. Bush narrowly took both the popular and electoral votes and won reelection.

Drop boxes for ballots, decried as a nefarious tool by Republican critics, didn’t cause major problems when many states increased their use during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Associated Press survey of state election officials released this month. “No cases of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the results” were uncovered, the AP said. The findings were the same in both GOP- and Democratic-controlled states.

Given that the bar has gotten higher for Republican candidates to win the presidency and their claims that drop boxes harmed election integrity were debunked, the dilemma the party is facing nationally is clear. The problem isn’t that people are voting illegally on a large scale. It’s that Republicans have fewer avenues to win votes.

When you add the enmity the party has shown for non-Whites over the past half-century and the nation’s changing demographics, their situation becomes even trickier.

How have Republican state legislators responded? Have they modified their platform and outreach to African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans? Have they asked why some voters prefer early and mail voting, and why drop boxes are so convenient?

Please.

They’ve shown they don’t care a whit about evidence, including the absence of electoral wrongdoing. And they’ve revealed just how politically thuggish – and racially discriminatory – they can be.

States Newsroom, the national nonprofit that includes the Virginia Mercury, recently reported that since the 2020 election, 26 states have enacted, expanded or increased the severity of 120 election-related criminal penalties. Of that total, 102 were enacted in 18 Republican-controlled states.

Many of these new laws target voters, election officials or folks who help voters. Georgia’s Republican governor, for example, signed legislation criminalizing individuals who give food or drinks to voters waiting in lines at the polls.

So much for preventing your fellow Atlantan from passing out.

The Georgia law will have a huge impact on communities of color. ProPublica reported in 2020 that Georgia’s voter rolls have grown substantially since 2013, but polling locations have been cut by almost 10%, with metro Atlanta hit especially hard. The city’s population is 50% black.

These new laws followed then-President Donald Trump’s repeated lies about his Election Day defeat – including in Georgia. He suffered dozens of losses in court nationwide trying to overturn the result.

Trump then incited an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. The attempted coup is now the focus of a select committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Justice Department is also investigating Trump’s actions as part of its criminal probe.

GOP legislators around the country might not have known all the details about Jan. 6 that the special committee has since publicized. They surely knew, however, what then-U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said shortly after the election: The Justice Department hadn’t found evidence of widespread fraud that would’ve overturned the outcome.

Those legislators also knew Trump was – is – a serial prevaricator, and shamelessly so. The Washington Post recorded more than 30,000 lies and misleading claims he uttered during his four years in office, including more than 500 as he barnstormed the nation the day before the 2020 election.

“What is especially striking is how the tsunami of untruths kept rising the longer he served as president,” The Post reported, “and became increasingly unmoored from the truth.”

Many Republicans, if given truth serum, would admit they don’t believe most of Trump’s utterances.  They’re in fealty to him, though, because he has a huge base of voter support. Such is their profile in cowardice.

Something more, however – something unsavory, lazy and cynical – also spurs this glut of voting restrictions.

Republicans want to stay in power, at all costs. They fear the changing demographics of a country that’s becoming less White, and where Republicans have often struggled to gain enough electoral votes to win the presidency. They’re in a party that has been traditionally inhospitable to people of color.

Thus, they make it tougher for non-Whites to vote, under the guise of “election security.” That scheme is easier to pull off than conducting a serious reexamination of your own party’s policies and rhetoric.

“It’s clear that the vast majority of these laws are motivated by the conspiracies and lies about the 2020 election being stolen,” Jonathan Diaz, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told me this week.

“The real reason behind them is the overwhelming turnout in 2020,” he added, “particularly in communities of color.”

Diaz noted the clampdown on the ballot, particularly for the formerly disenfranchised, is nothing new: “Restrictions on voting that are racially motivated … are as old as the republic,” he noted.

Virginia, incidentally, made it easier to vote when then-Gov. Ralph Northam was in office and Democrats controlled the General Assembly. State Republicans then took the governor’s chair and the state House in the 2021 elections under those laws.

Despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s flirtation with the issue of “election integrity” on the campaign trail, he’s backed off the subject while in office. As long as the state Senate remains in Democratic control, it’s doubtful major restrictions on voting will be reinstalled.

All the seats in the Assembly will be up for reelection in 2023, however.

Nationwide, Democratic-leaning groups must decide how to attack the undemocratic, Machiavellian tactics aimed at discounting or discarding their voice. They can choose disenchantment and isolation. Or they can choose large-scale, continuous demonstration and revolt.

Neither choice is desirable.

Nor is this blatant attack on the ballot box, built on a tower of lies.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]

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