It has been a year since the 2020 presidential election. The ongoing discussions on voter restrictions, harsher voter laws, and voter fraud have begun to quiet down a bit. However, it is important for us to keep this discussion going. The importance of free and fair voter laws, particularly the access to early voting, will help the sanctity of democracy in this country.
We have heard time and time again how unprecedented this past presidential election was when it came to voting. Typically voting in-person on the first Tuesday in November is the only real option for voters. But in 2020, registered voters could vote by mail, at an early location, and in some parts of the country, by car. With the threat the COVID-19 pandemic posed, and could continue to pose in upcoming elections, it was essential that this variety of options were in place.
In the most recent election, I and so many of my family members took full advantage of our early options. There was still no vaccine in sight and I was living with people who could be considered high-risk. Even the small threat of standing in a long line or being around too many people on election day was frightening to me. I also know I am not alone in that thinking. Many Americans were thrilled at the plethora of safe options. But, there are more benefits than just safety and comfort when it comes to early voting or voting by mail. One of these benefits is high voter turnout.
Voter turnout reached record-breaking highs in the 2020 election. More than two-thirds of the eligible voter population showed up. This was a momentous win in voter participation, a key element to upholding a fair and free democracy. Some of the success in turnout, particularly that of Democrats, must be attributed to the flexibility in voter options. That’s why Republicans immediately began taking action to shut it all down.
What Conservatives Have to Say:
President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud placed local and federal Republicans on the defensive. Democrats now have the (slim) majority in the executive branch and both chambers of Congress. The voters who got those Democrats elected, were far more likely to use an early voting method in the past election. By eliminating said methods, Republicans are repressing those same voters, helping them win more elections.
There are so many aspects of new voter laws in conservative states that are harmful to our democracy such as imposing harsher voter id requirements, eliminating same-day registration, reducing polling locations and hours, etc. But for me, the most startling laws impact access to mail ballots and early voting. After seeing how beneficial the access to early voting was, for everyone actually, it baffles me that there would be an effort to abolish these possibilities. These attempts at suppression are happening more intensely at the state level. Georgia, Iowa, and Texas have all passed laws limiting early voting days or hours. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Texas have enacted laws that will make it immensely harder to vote via mail. The Texas state legislature became so contentious over their new law that Democrats fled the state in an effort to block it. Unfortunately, it did eventually pass.
Although no restrictive voting laws are in contention at the federal level, House and Senate Republicans have still shot down potential protective laws. Republican members of the Senate blocked the Freedom to Vote Act from going to the floor for a vote. This bill would help with voting, redistricting, and campaign finance reforms. It works closely with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill that is a response to voter discrimination. Not only have Congressional Republicans prevented voter protection bills, but they also refuse to disavow voter suppression laws.
It is far too hard to expect states, especially conservative ones, to do the right thing when it comes to fair and free voting. However, with a slim majority in the House and Senate, we can hope that Democrats, and some Republicans, will support and pass The Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These laws would be monumental in the process of blocking restrictive voting laws.
These infringements on the right to vote are encompassing our nation. It is essential that we salvage whatever is left from the rubble that is the erosion of voting rights.