If there is one democratic concept that has been emphasized time and time again, one idea that is vital for a state to even credit itself as democratic––it’s elections. Yet, since the 2020 presidential election, many have questioned our electoral system’s integrity. Legal alternatives to in-person voting that have existed for years, such as mail-in absentee ballots and ballot drop boxes, have been associated with “voter fraud,” resulting in the passage of several voter restriction laws across the country.
Ohio’s House Bill 387, proposed on August 21, seeks to limit early voting to 13 days and exclude the Monday before Election Day. Furthermore, it bans drop boxes, restricts mail-in voting for people with physical disabilities, and requires mail-in ballots to be sent ten days instead of three days before an election. And it’s not a coincidence that many of these laws will disproportionately disadvantage Democratic and Independent voters and candidates.
A study by Ethan Kaplan and Haishan Yuan from the American Economic Journal cites that “Democrats, independents, and those of child-bearing and working age” are most likely to be impacted by law changes in early voting. They created simulations modeled after the 2012 and 2016 elections, where early voting was increased to up to 46 days or eliminated completely. Results showed that eliminating early voting in 2012 would’ve given Mitt Romney enough votes to win both Ohio and Florida. Contrastingly, if voters had been allowed to send ballots 46 days before the election, Obama would’ve won North Carolina. In the 2016 election, 23 and 46 days of early voting would’ve given Hillary Clinton Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, consequently giving Clinton the presidency.
In addition, many Republicans have been quick to pass or propose laws to punish state officials who didn’t comply with Trump on election day. Battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and Texas were quick to enact laws immediately, some which will increase partisan power by shifting or decreasing electoral responsibility from secretaries of state. Republicans wasted no time removing Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State from office for failing to comply with President Trump’s request to override the election results. Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state’s power has also transferred to the Republican attorney general. Ohio’s proposed House Bill 387 prevents the Secretary of State from sending absentee ballot applications to voters. This bill is alarming because changing election laws to keep or elect a person in power is a prominent symptom of democratic backsliding.
But this isn’t just a partisan issue. It’s also a race issue. With the spread of voter ID laws, purging of voter rolls, elimination of drive-through voting, and limiting options for absentee voting, these restrictions disproportionately affect minority and underrepresented groups. Statistics show that about 21 million citizens don’t have current government-issued IDs. Out of those 25 million, 25% are African Americans. A 2014 GAO study shows that “photo ID laws have a particularly depressive effect on turnout among racial minorities and other vulnerable groups, worsening the participation gap between voters of color and whites” (ACLU).
The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and public policy institute, has tracked every voting rights legislation in each state for the past decade. As of May 2022, the Brennan Center recorded 34 new restrictive voting laws and the introduction of almost 400 bills. Most of them have been implemented in minority-populated areas controlled by white legislators in Republican-controlled states.
Nevertheless, with the passage of these voter restriction laws, one would infer that voter fraud is a very pressing and common issue. However, the claim that voter fraud is the most crucial threat to our democracy lacks standing because cases of voter fraud in elections are significantly low. A study from UC San Diego shows there have only been 31 cases out of over 1 billion ballots cast since 2000, and almost all of these cases were accidental (Hajnal, Lajervardi, Nielson). Furthermore, every suit that Trump tried to argue in court over election results was dismissed by Democratic and Republican judges and courts. Trump’s inability to transition his executive power to the winning candidate peacefully has exacerbated the fear of voter fraud. Instead, Trump opted to throw a tantrum on Twitter that essentially destroyed voter confidence among his cult following, eventually leading to the January 6th insurrection. This is arguably a much more significant threat to democracy.
Fewer voters will be compelled to vote if they believe the election process is corrupt. When fewer people vote, this results in unequal government representation. Democracy depends on competitive elections and the idea that anyone can run for office or vote regardless of background. It is an unfortunate truth that the fear of voter fraud has overtaken the fear of not having equal and fair representation in our government. The process of electing someone to represent the individuals in their district is genuinely something so fundamental to Americans.
The growing distrust in the American election system represents a shift away from the very democratic values that our country rests upon, putting the future of democracy in the United States in great danger. This will only continue unless significant changes to the election process are implemented to include rather than exclude.