Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 28, 2021
Spurred by Donald Trump’s never-ending allegations, however baseless, of fraud and stolen votes in the November elections, both parties are focused on changing voting rules.
Only they are looking in opposite directions.
Not surprisingly, each party says it is trying to protect democracy.
Democrats want early action in this Congressional session on new federal voting rights acts being lumped together to honor Civil Rights hero John Lewis, to build up protections against rising voter suppression efforts.
Meanwhile, Republican forces are already launching efforts in several states to use their majorities in local legislatures to make voting more difficult. This effort leans heavily on the months’ long whine from Trump about losing the elections only because it was an unfair steal of votes — that peculiarly was only limited to metropolitan precincts where Black voters were sizeable and states that Trump lost.
Overall, even as we will live through an impeachment trial over armed resistance to election results, we’re re-arguing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to die in 2013 after the election of Barack Obama; the Court ruled in a challenge to voter identification rules that racism had magically disappeared.
It was a bad decision that spawned a new generation of voter suppression efforts mostly affecting voters of color.
Of course, each party sees its strategy as using calls to protect democracy, to seek “unity,” and to police elections only as a means to advance its party’s chances.
Nevertheless, there are some basic principles at stake here, and it is on us as voters to tell our legislators, local and national, just what kind of a country we want. Given the divides and our history over at least the last couple of decades, I’m more hopeful about seeing lots of ground-level organizing than I am about legislative adherence to rules reflecting fairness.
Oversimplifying, Democrats want more liberal voter registration and voting — much as we approach drivers’ licenses, and Republicans want to worry about who should not be voting, including ex-cons, students, immigrants, and, without saying so outwardly, people of color. I say Republican, but increasingly that means the Trump MAGA crowd, which is forcing more moderate Republicans out.
If we can ever get beyond the fact that Trump supporters have provided no credible evidence for their complaints, there were changes in the voting rules for November. State legislatures and state election officials did authorize or expand the use of mail ballots, for example. Other debates have intensified over required voter identification rules, the wide perception that there is unfair suppression of voting places or machinery for precincts with high numbers of Black voters and the ever-present questions related to gerrymandering voting districts.
The debates are about who can vote, how we can vote, how we count and watch the vote — the entire process.
Despite anything that passes as high-ideal talk, this is all about making it more likely for one side to win. Meanwhile, both parties now have the fire of finding new voters.
Had Trump won the election, we might not be seeing any efforts from Republican states to revisit voting rules. At the outset, we should see these activities as part of a grudge match.
An Echo of Trump Gripes
There were a few points of focus in the Trump allegations that are starting to echo, including the expansion of mail ballots, requiring documents to verify voting registration and requiring fully updated voting registration rolls, and the rules governing counts.
Mail ballots themselves were not “fraudulent.”
But the processes did enable people to vote from home — and, whether any fraud occurred, that alone set off debates about the processes that followed in distributing ballots or ballot applications, vetting the ballots, collecting signatures, “harvesting” ballots through third parties, use of drop-off boxes, drive-through voting, setting postmark deadlines, timing the count of mail ballots and the like. As we saw in dozens of lawsuits, interviews, audits and the like, the state officials whose job it is to set and enforce the rules, swore that they did what was required.
There was no evidence fraud but there were lots of noise about each of those from Trump forces — but only in the battleground states he lost. Boil down the complaints, and they concerned whether state secretaries of state could change the rules in a time of pandemic or only state legislatures — which are majority Republican.
States have individual and contradictory rules for running elections. Democrats want to national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair. Those would include early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach. The For the People Act also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and require disclosure of tax returns. A separate bill honoring Lewis would reimpose “preclearance” requirements for court review of voter changes in states with histories of racial voter suppression.
Republicans have labeled it “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Basically, they want any voting issues settled in states, where they have advantage.
The bills could come up In the next month.
The Republican Pushback
Meanwhile, Republican-majority legislatures in several states are preparing new voting restrictions — citing the same claims that Trump wanted to investigate.
In Georgia, for example, where Trump lost narrowly and two Democrats took the U.S. Senate seats, some Republican officials want to limit early voting and to support the practice of shutting precincts in Black areas. They want limits on who can vote by mail and on the use of drop boxes.
In Arizona, another swing state that Biden narrowly carried, Republicans in the state Senate want more automatic recounts and eliminated of a list of authorized early voters.
In Pennsylvania, a Democratic governor is already signaling he would veto Republican efforts to impose voter ID laws and elimination of mail voting.
VoteRiders, a nonprofit group that helps prospective voters get identification if they need one, said it is expecting a push for new voter ID laws in at least five states, while North Carolina could implement new voter ID policies that have been held up in court. In all, now, 36 states have some form of voter ID law. Voters without approved ID must vote on a provisional ballot and take steps after the election to get their ballot counted.
Other states are moving to block students and those whose signatures do not exactly match from voting.
And through it all, groups like Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight are busy signing up new voters in sufficient numbers to win in Georgia and other close states. Her current ALL IN documentary on Netflix is an excellent resource on the history of voter suppression efforts.
In all, we’re watching a democracy struggle with whether it wants to be democratic.