|If there’s anything that can cause a ruckus at the Thanksgiving table, I think the midterm elections might take the cake. But I’m not referring to candidates — I’m referring to our election laws. If you’ve read the news lately, you may have come across a commotion about a bill in Georgia to curtail voting rights.
The Georgia bill in question does a number on the right to vote. According to Ben Nadler and Anila Yoganathan of the Associated Press, the bill “require[s] a photo ID for absentee voting, limit[s] the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, restrict[s] where ballot drop boxes could be located and when they could be accessed and limit[s] early voting hours on weekends, among many other changes.” The reality is, as opponents of the bill have pointed out, this is nothing more than voter suppression. These provisions aren’t proven to decrease fraud, which already is nearly nonexistent. All these “election integrity laws” do is put up roadblock after roadblock to make casting ballots more difficult, more costly and more time-consuming. But Georgia isn’t the only state doing this. Many other states have enacted similar legislation over the past decade to curb voting rights.
In 2017, the Supreme Court refused to endorse the appeal for reinstatement of an extremely strict voter ID law in North Carolina. During appeals, the court chillingly said the legislature had “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” North Carolina’s legislature engaged in other measures such as the elimination of provisions, including same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct voting and the ability of high school students to preregister to vote. Other voter suppression tactics that include shutting down voting locations — which can force people to wait in line for hours to vote — the purging of voter rolls and more have been taken all across this country. These tactics do not actually make voting safer, but they do make it more taxing to vote.
The next logical question is why? Why are state legislatures making voting more difficult? The reality is that some political factions benefit from less voting. As you’ll learn in any political science class, Republican voters are disproportionately older and white, while Democratic voters are disproportionately younger and people of color. In addition, older white people are more reliable voters than younger people of color. This means that when turnout is down, conservative candidates often do well because the opposition didn’t come out to vote. As you can imagine, this gives the Republicans an incentive to make voting more difficult and to reduce turnout because, statistically speaking, it will benefit their party.
Furthermore, this is not controversial nor a secret. Paul Weyrich, a founder of the modern conservative movement and co-founder of conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, said in 1980 that he does not want everyone to vote since “leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” This is completely unmasked and cuts to the core of modern Republican voter suppression: If you can’t beat them, disenfranchise, incarcerate and misinform them.
So, what now? Where do we go from here? That question requires a much longer conversation, but to just scratch the surface, we need to bring back the Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 shortly after the Civil Rights Act. It was aimed at protecting people of color in particular from racist treatment by all states, but especially the South. The Voting Rights Act therefore created a preclearance process that forced Southern states to consult the Department of Justice for any changes of their voting laws to make sure voter suppression tactics weren’t being used to disenfranchise Black voters. This preclearance process included a mathematical formula to decide which jurisdictions require preclearance. Although the specific preclearance provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 because the Court found the formula was outdated, the overall policy was not ruled unconstitutional. Following this unfortunate ruling, Republican-controlled states throughout the nation, which had previously had to receive preclearance, passed waves of laws to make voting more difficult. Strengthening the Voting Rights Act and going beyond it to meet current challenges, to prevent blatant racist abuses of power, is how we improve our elections, not with another ID law.
Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Weyrich, as well as the modern Republican Party, have shown us who they are. Making it more difficult to vote will not make our elections more secure, but will disenfranchise thousands, if not millions. Expanding voting rights and implementing checks on rogue state legislatures is how we make all our elections more fair, just and democratic.
Eleanor Gully is a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.
Reinstating the Voting Rights Act is the only way to promote fair elections
Through disenfranchising marginalized groups, restrictions prop up conservative agenda