Explaining Recent Voting Legislation
States across the country have embarked on new voting endeavors to ensure “election integrity,” as FiveThirtyEight notes, “253 bills to restrict voting access had been introduced in 43 state legislatures as of Feb 19.” Most of the attention has been placed on Georgia with the passing of Senate Bill 202 and the response by large corporations, such as Major League Baseball removing the 2021 All-Star Game from the state. This has caused a frenzy on social media with people being quick to defend their political ideology rather than understanding or explaining what is actually happening in these voting bills. For those who aren’t familiar with the nuances of voting systems or why legislation might be harmful one way or another, it is easy to take these voting bills at face value and make a conclusion. Reality isn’t as simple.
The biggest issue has revolved around the strengthening of voter ID requirements, mostly in response to nonexistent theories of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, but there are logical arguments from both sides. One side says that there needs to be identification so we can keep track of who votes and to make sure people are voting in their right jurisdictions. No problem there. The other side says, with evidence, that minorities are less likely to have the required government-issued IDs, therefore making the stricter parameters discriminatory. Researchers at Tufts University and Harvard University did a study to measure how impactful voter ID laws are in an election. They found that 3.6% of white voters “had no matching record in state or Federal identification databases. By comparison, no matching records were found for 7.5% of people identified as Black and 5.7% of people identified as Hispanic.” They also found that 4.5% of all registered voters in the state of Texas “could not be found in any database of state or federal IDs deemed acceptable under S.B. 14.” While 4.5% might not seem like much, that amounts to over 600,000 citizens not being able to vote in a democracy.
While some form of identification is inherently needed, the strict parameters on state-issued IDs disproportionately impact minority voters.
Another very misunderstood measure specific to Georgia’s Senate Bill 202 is the added steps needed to acquire an absentee ballot and the minimization of ballot boxes. First, Georgia has cut the period to request an absentee ballot by half, from six months to three months. They have also added new ID requirements for those ballots, where if a voter does not have a Georgia-issued ID, they need to fill out another form from the Secretary of State and include a “photocopy or electronic image of such identification.” They must then follow the new steps to fill out the ballot exactly as the rules state or risk having their ballot being invalidated, as the Trump administration tried to do last year. This opens the potential for abuse or “interpretation” by S.B. 202 stripping the power of oversight from the Secretary of State and giving it a Republican-led State Election Board.
The Wisconsin state legislature has also proposed a rollback of the state’s no-excuse absentee ballot policy, where now everyone under the age of 65 would need to have proof from their healthcare provider that they can’t physically vote in person.
A popular counterpoint to Democrats’ objections to these laws is taking the stance that navigating these new voting requirements proves just how smart Black people are. Kathleen Thorman, chair of the Gordon County Republican Party in Georgia stated, “If I was somebody living in the Black community, I would be so insulted that people are basically telling me that I’m not capable of getting out to vote, and I’m not capable of getting an ID to vote. I would be so insulted.” She continued, “[Democrats are] saying: ‘You’re not smart enough, you’re not sharp enough, you’re not capable of getting out to vote.” However, it is a complete misrepresentation of the system as a whole. Edward Lempinen found “That people of color were less likely to vote but more willing to protest for social justice may reflect a desire to find alternative ways to advocate for civic change when institutional barriers dampen enthusiasm for voting.” While Lempinen was directly referring to Republican-led disinformation efforts targeting the Black community about the 2020 election, the more steps that are needed to take in order to simply engage in a fundamental democratic right, the more people are going to pursue other avenues of engagement instead of voting.
Not one of these measures in a bill such as the one passed in Georgia, on their own, screams intentional maliciousness. That is why it is fairly easy for someone to read the bill and come up with the conclusion that none of those things contribute to voter suppression. But by combining all those measures — the restrictions on mail-in voting, the minimization of usage of ballot boxes, and increased steps for voter registrations, among others, all add up to impact millions of voters.
The last thing to recognize in almost every single one of these bills across the country that are meant to increase election integrity is that they don’t address any of the relevant issues to election security. Voter fraud in the United States is exceedingly rare, and a study done by Cantoni and Pons found that “strict ID requirements have no effect on fraud — actual or perceived.” These bills focus more on voting ID, signatures, and the imagined fraud that mail-in ballots bring rather than addressing the outdated, vulnerable election infrastructure which is an immensely bigger threat to election security.
In essence, none of the passed and proposed legislation covers the actual concerns regarding election security, just the perceived. As Senate Bill 202 states, “there was a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems, with many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud.” While not based on evidence, there is direct meaning behind it. Cantoni and Pons cited a study by Gerber and Green stating, “Moreover, some citizens may become more likely to vote if the laws enhance their confidence in the fairness of the election, similarly to the participation boost of improving believes about ballot secrecy.” These voting moves are meant to ensure that one specific group has the confidence and comfort to vote but have no impact in solving the tangible problems that the US voting system faces.