Election Protection or Voter Suppression: The Future of U.S. Elections
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
When the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia on those hot summer days in 1787, they had little to no idea what would be in store for the country over the next 200 years. Planning the structure of government in a style that changes with the times was a difficult enough task, leading to bumps and holes in the road as time changed. When 2020 came around, months of repairs were needed. The year was spent battling a pandemic, vaccine rollout, racial injustice, and natural disasters. An election seemed like the perfect garnish to finish it off.
Due to turbulence brought about during the election cycle, every state has passed voting-related legislation this year. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, over half of these states passed bills seeking to restrict access to the polls. The question remains: is voter fraud such a credible threat that the drop inaccessibility created by these bills is justified by it? Studies and audits show that voter fraud in the U.S. is an anomaly, not any more common in places with increased voting accessibility when compared to states with restricted access. While the idea of protecting election integrity sounds great, it has made it increasingly difficult for marginalized groups to participate in democracy.
Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
The 2020 Election
In America, 2020 defined itself by an unusually prolonged election cycle. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many voters and officials debated if access to absentee voting should be available to the general public To make matters more difficult, the Constitution states that elections are the jurisdiction of the states, leaving the legislature unable to come to a national consensus as to how the election would be handled. This creates disagreements between states on what the best approach to the election would be.
Trump, desperate for re-election, used the media and his status to work hard attempting to ensure his win in November. He made various claims beginning early in the summer of 2020, crafting an idea that Democrats were behind COVID-19 to expand mail-in voting and use fraud to steal the election. However, this was merely an allegation as mail-in voting did not increase fraud and instead promoted access to participation in an election. Many of Trump’s supporters fell into this well and rallied against mail-in voting, extended voting hours, and pushed for harsher voter ID regulations.
Come election day, Trump was leading the polls in many states which Biden was expected to win by a landslide. Newscasters and TV networks emphasized that this lead would be short-lived since the mail-in ballots collected in most states would take up to days to count, but Trump took the opportunity and claimed that he had won early in the evening. When his leads shrunk and eventually disappeared in the next few days, he was quick to say that he won regardless, and all of the extra votes were falsified. This brings us to the large concern among Republicans in the US, and what ultimately pushed for the influx of voting-related bills we are seeing today.
A Recent Increase in Voting Laws
While one might assume both parties care, historically, it has been a partisan issue. Voter fraud in the U.S. is not even close to the level at which it is advertised. In a comprehensive study, Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt found only 31 claims of voter fraud, one vote each, throughout over one billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014- meaning that voter fraud exists at less than 0.00031%. So, then what is the real reason behind the right-wing push for election protection, seeing as nearly 90% of these bills are sponsored by Republicans?
The most prominent demand from Republicans is to increase the voter ID requirements to be able to vote. Currently, 35 states require photo IDs such as driver's licenses or passports, and the other 15 use non-documentary identification such as an affidavit or a signature. This proves a sharp contrast to elections 20 years ago when not one state had a photo ID law. Yet, voter fraud has remained at similarly insignificant levels, with the 2020 election showing no widespread voter fraud, similar to the 0.00031% mentioned earlier. Here we are again asking the same question: why is there such a sudden and robust push when data shows that they don’t impact the already minuscule number of cases of voter fraud?
The secret is in what Voter ID laws limit- mostly the groups in the US that would not support a Republican candidate. A national survey reported that 7% of citizens in the US are unable to acquire a photo ID, and 11% do not have one. This same survey also showed that the lack of photo ID is concentrated among populations that are low-income, female, elderly, African American, or Hispanic-- the populations that, other than elderly, tend to vote against the Republican Party. Now, let’s also take into consideration that this is not the only part of these new bills; many of them propose shortening early voting times, restricting who can request a mail-in ballot and how long the window will stay open, removing ballot drop boxes, removal of election day registration, and even banning things like snacks or water bottles to individuals waiting in line. Voter fraud is not as pressing of an issue as it is painted to be. These laws do not target fraud, but instead reduce the ability of working-class, disenfranchised, and marginalized Americans to exercise their voice in democracy.
Creating a more complicated process for voting could reduce the already low voter turnout in the U.S. As a country, the United States already ranks astonishingly low in voter turnout, landing at 26 globally. There is also a 66% turnout in the last election compared to the average voter turnout of high 50%-low 60%. There have also been increases in intimidation at the polls in the past few elections, which will likely only escalate as tensions increase. Growing frustrations between voters and volunteers can create situations that quickly escalate, leaving others in fear for their safety when trying to participate in democracy. Something similar happened in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 2020 when Trump voters took to the polls to intimidate early voters, encouraged by the President, and were not stopped by the poll watchers. Lastly, throughout the last 50 years, politics in the U.S. has grown further and further from the center. These laws continue to make what should be a bipartisan political topic overwhelmed with radical voices, further dividing the population.
However, not all hope should be lost. In 2021, 17 states passed bills to expand voting rights. This may appear minuscule compared to the number of laws meant to restrict participation in the name of election integrity, but progress is progress. Suppose these bills are being passed when there is such a push to protect the future of elections. In that case, these rights could easily be expanded in the future by promoting education about the dangers of voter suppression.