“It is impossible to overestimate how much this [election reform] the bill is, “Texas State Representative Nicole Collier told VOA,” Republicans in this state and across the country are undermining our freedom to vote. “
Collier was referring to a controversial bill promoted by Republican state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott that would make it harder for Texans to vote by mail, ban drive-thru voting, and give more power to watchers who favor polls. , among other provisions. Collier and his fellow Democrats recently fled the state to prevent Republicans from voting on the measure.
But she could have referred to dozens of other measures approved or under consideration in legislatures across the United States – bills denounced by Democrats as attacks on democracy but hailed by Republicans as essential reforms following the much contested results of the 2020 presidential election.
In fact, all but three U.S. states have seen legislation introduced that would limit access to ballots from what was allowed in the 2020 presidential election, when many states relaxed the rules and expanded. the possibilities of voting during the pandemic.
Jay Williams lives in Georgia and has consulted with key GOP politicians. His belief, shared by many Republicans, is that the Democrats’ agitated and panicked response to the new election laws is politically motivated.
“I haven’t seen a single provision that limits an individual’s right to vote,” he told VOA. “If someone wants to vote, our new law still gives them plenty of ways to do so.”
Coincidentally, this week marks the 56th anniversary of the crucial Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory electoral practices targeting minority voters – such as literacy tests and voting taxes – that de many southern states adopted it after the Civil War.
While many Republicans echoing former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was rigged say they seek to ensure the integrity of the election, Collier and others see the introduction of restrictive ballot bills as an attack on the legacy of the VRA and the rights of American minorities. was created to protect.
Outnumbered in the state legislature, Collier and his fellow Democrats made the unusual decision to flee Texas on July 12 for Washington, DC, where they pressured lawmakers to enact federal legislation aimed at to expand access to voting nationwide. By leaving Texas, they deprived the state House of Representatives of the quorum necessary to vote on the restrictive ballot bill, effectively preventing it. Democrats do not plan to return until the current House session adjourns earlier this month.
“We tried to work with the Republicans to amend the bill, but they didn’t seem interested,” Collier said. “We had no other options, but the right to vote is too important not to fight.”
Across the country, Republican lawmakers have introduced 361 of these bills, according to a March report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
These efforts were most pronounced in Texas, Georgia and Arizona, where 49, 25 and 23 restrictive voting provisions were introduced, respectively. All three states have been Republican strongholds for decades. But Democrat Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia and Arizona in the 2020 presidential contest, and Democrats came within percentage points of registering upset in several statewide races in Texas. these last years.
“These are former Republican-leaning states that have turned to the Democrats or are about to do so,” Arizona voter Suk Moon told VOA. “Republicans in these states know they cannot win elections due to changing demographics, so they are trying to stay in power by making it harder for those who traditionally support Democrats to vote.”
What would these laws do
Republicans dispute such claims and maintain that the bills they are championing are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
In Georgia, for example, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp argued that the bill passed by the state in March does not ban ballot boxes, but simply guarantees that “ballot boxes are used in a safe manner.”
Kemp added, “To say that it restricts things, I really think that’s a little unfair.”
Republicans argue that it is particularly important to restore public confidence in the electoral system after the 2020 presidential election. To this day, Trump maintains that he was denied a second term not by the will of the voters but as a result of massive fraud and bickering.
“And it’s true that nearly 3 out of 4 Republican voters mistakenly think the election was stolen from former President Trump,” said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, “but that’s because that Republicans sowed these seeds by lying to their constituents. “
Yet the GOP currently controls both houses of 30 state legislatures. So far, 18 have successfully passed restrictive election laws, including Arizona and Georgia.
The exact provisions vary by state, but the new laws range from limiting the early voting window and restricting how people can vote, to requiring specific forms of identification and changing the vote. who oversees the elections.
In the case of Georgia – where Trump pleaded with the state secretary to cancel the 2020 election – the new SB 202 law empowers a Republican-controlled commission to remove election officials. They have already used their newfound authority to do so.
Democrats fear provisions like this could allow Republican lawmakers to overturn a hotly contested election. Collier understands that today’s voter suppression may not be as blatant as literacy tests and voting taxes, but she insists it’s still there if you know where to look.
“There are many ways to deprive a person of the right to vote that we see in these bills,” she said. “You can move someone’s polling station or remove their ballot box. You can create these complicated little rules that make it easy to reject your vote, and you can make sure the people making those decisions are partisan. You can remove the mobile polling stations that have allowed so many people to vote this (last) year, and you can try to prevent the Good Samaritans from leading people to the polls. These are all examples of voter suppression, and that’s what we see here. “
Exaggerated and political
Williams, the Republican political consultant for Georgia, noted that any resident of Georgia can apply for a mail-in ballot for any reason, that there are early voting days on weekends, and that the drop boxes are mandatory.
“In many ways,” he said, “it is easier to vote in Georgia than in other parts of the country.
The drop-box issue is a microcosm of the different interpretations Republicans and Democrats have on the new laws. Williams points out that there was no drop box requirement until 2020. In his opinion, that every county in the state must have one is an improvement over pre-pandemic voting in Georgia.
Democrats, however, view the limits of the drop-box law as a punitive step back from their more liberal use during the 2020 election cycle. While Republicans see such limits as necessary to protect ballots. vote against tampering, Democrats see them as making it difficult for some Americans to vote.
“There’s a lot of hyperbole on both sides,” said Bullock, a professor at the University of Georgia. “Republicans say we need to protect the electoral system from fraud, and there is no widespread evidence of this. Democrats say each of these election laws passed will prevent people from voting, but that’s not something we’ve seen either. Georgia and much of the rest of the country have just voted in record numbers. “
“Voting shouldn’t be difficult”
State representative Collier agreed voter turnout had increased, but said this should be celebrated and not used as justification for obstacles in the ballot.
“The only reason we’re seeing increased turnout is because Democrats have been creative in expanding access to polls,” she said. “Now they’re restricting mobile voting units and some of the other things we’ve done. But voting shouldn’t be difficult. It should be fair and it should be easy.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 took a hard hit in early July. The Supreme Court voted 6-3 along ideological lines to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that found two Arizona voting laws unconstitutional. A law prohibited the collection of postal ballots by anyone other than a parent or caregiver. The other disqualified any ballot cast in the wrong enclosure.
The federal appeals court said the two provisions would have a disproportionate impact on minority voters and that there was no evidence of voter fraud to justify their use. The Supreme Court disagreed. Judge Alito wrote for the majority that just because voting can be “inconvenient for some” doesn’t mean that access is unequal.
Bullock said it was difficult to guess what might happen as a result of these more restrictive election laws. Although voter turnout has continued to increase in the face of legalized obstacles, there is no guarantee that it will continue.
“Georgia was determined by 12,000 voters,” he said of the 2020 presidential election. “It’s nothing! It is possible that one of these new restrictions is a sufficient obstacle. to reverse a close race, but it’s also possible that these restrictive measures will backfire on Republicans by motivating Democrats to vote.
But for Representative Collier, these are not predictions. It is about making it easier for Americans to vote.
“We saw what happened in 1965 when our federal government protected people’s right to vote,” she said of the Voting Rights Act. “The percentage of voters – especially minority voters – has skyrocketed. We need the federal government to act again to protect this most important right to vote. “