Voter Suppression in America: The Truth
Over the past seven months, multiple states including Georgia, Florida, and Arizona have passed voting rights bills with the intention of “fighting election fraud”. However, many on the left argue that these bills were created to suppress and disenfranchise minority voters. The most recent fight over these voting rights bills occurred in Arizona and made its way up to the Supreme Court. The case involved two Arizona laws, one of which limited the collection of absentee ballots to only relatives or caregivers and the other nullified ballots cast in the wrong precinct (Totenberg 2021). The Court’s ruling held that the laws were not in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices and procedures that discriminate on the basis of race (Department of Justice). Despite arguments from many on the left, however, Biden’s Justice Department agreed with the court that the laws did not violate Section 2, but they disagreed with the scope of the ruling made by the court (Sherman 2021).
While some of the laws that have been passed are restrictive and will undoubtedly have inequitable impacts, Republicans maintain that they are simply trying to maintain election integrity. A common Republican talking point, especially surrounding the Georgia bill, was that it is more difficult to vote in New York, a consistently left-leaning state, than in Georgia under S.B. 202. This is, for all intents and purposes, true. New York has one of the most strict electoral processes in the U.S., but it has been working to expand access to voting for its citizens (Sherman 2021). Democrats, on the other hand, claim new voting bills and restrictions are a direct attack on voting rights and reminiscent of Jim Crow-era policies. The truth of how voting rights bills affect voters in different states lies somewhere in the middle.
When the Georgia bill was passed, Democrats and many news outlets latched on to specific portions of the bill that they claimed were direct attempts to limit access to voting. One of the most repeated claims was that the new law stated voting was to be conducted between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a move that Democrats, including President Biden, claimed would disenfranchise those who could not take time off from work to vote. However, the portion they were referring to allows counties to set voting hours anywhere between 7 a.m, and 7 p.m. and required that, at minimum, voting be available from 9 a.m - 5 p.m. on Election Day (S.B. 202). This is no different than the previous law, which stated “during normal business hours”, a statement that was taken to mean 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. anyways (Horton 2021).
Another myth perpetuated by Democrats was that the bill drastically reduced the number of ballot drop boxes in an attempt to disenfranchise minority voters. While it is true that the number of ballot boxes is being reduced from the numbers during the 2020 election, there is important context that Democrats leave out when making these claims. Prior to 2020, ballot drop boxes weren’t used in Georgia at all, so while the number of boxes is being reduced from 2020 levels, there will be more drop boxes than in prior elections (Horton 2021). While the bill is restrictive in some ways, it also has the potential to expand access to voting by requiring ballot boxes, removing signature matching requirements, adding an additional day of mandatory Saturday early voting and two days of early Sunday voting ( S.B. 202).
The misinformation being spread around the Georgia voting bill creates two major problems for Democrats. Firstly, it reduces the credibility of Democrats who continue to rage against the spread of misinformation on the right, while purposefully being less than truthful themselves. Secondly, when bills such as those in Arizona and Florida are passed, it is easy to write them off as Democratic whining, rather than legitimate threats to voting rights.
The Florida bill, S.B. 90, is a 48-page law that made sweeping changes to Florida’s voting process. Specifically, the bill shortens the amount of time a voter may remain on the state’s vote-by-mail list (S.B. 90). It severely limits access to ballot drop-boxes by requiring drop boxes to only be located at permanent county voting offices or early voting locations, and to only be accessible during early voting hours. It then goes a step further by requiring all ballot boxes to be staffed by a county employee during hours of operation, which will most likely further decrease the hours of operation (Sweren-Becker 2021). Similarly, the Arizona laws nullifying ballots cast in the wrong precinct and restricting the collection of ballots are concerning when it comes to equal access to the electoral process. Especially because in areas of Arizona, such as Navajo Nation, there are limited post offices and postal routes, and many people do not own cars, making ballot collectors crucial for access to voting (Totenberg 2021).
Democrats and liberal media take advantage of the fact that many of their voters won’t go and read a 48-page bill in order to fact-check inflammatory headlines. However, this takes away from their credibility in the long run, especially when laws that are truly concerning are passed. This is not to say that Republicans don’t use the exact same tactics with their voters, nor is it to say that restricting access to the electoral process is acceptable or democratic. The main issue is that Democrats spread misinformation while criticizing Republicans and Republican-media for doing the same. At the same time, Democrats have been unable to get either H.R. 1 or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act passed, which are the two major electoral reform bills that the Democrats proposed in order to stop attempts at voter suppression like those seen in Florida and Arizona.
The biggest changes to voting in America would come from H.R. 1. The bill would automatically register every eligible citizen to vote, guarantee mail-in and in-person early voting in all 50 states, and would do away with voter identification laws (Riccardi 2021). The more controversial portion would be providing $6 of public money to campaigns for every $1 from small donors. Meanwhile, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act aims to reverse the ruling of the 2013 Shelby County Supreme Court case. The case threw out the court’s previous “formula” for deciding which states needed to seek Justice Department approval before changing voting laws due to their history of racial discrimination (Riccardi 2021). This is especially controversial for Republicans and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) because they claim it would unfairly target Republican states. However, those are the states that have a history of voter suppression.
Democrats have spent the last six months in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, but have yet to sign either of their election overhaul bills into law. Instead, members of Congress and left-wing media have used half-truths to further mislead voters. By doing this, they haven’t just used the polarizing tactics of the right, they have also lost their credibility when they do call out states for passing bills that are actually restrictive and racially motivated. The bills passed by Florida and Arizona do purposefully make it more difficult and more of an inconvenience to vote. However, when Democrats lump laws like those together with ones like Georgia’s, they minimize the damage done to voting rights by the truly restrictive bills, and give Republicans another easy call-out of hypocrisy when Democrats accuse them of spreading misinformation.