Standing in the polling place door
Published March 4, 2021
Yesterday’s newsletter highlighted H.R. 1, a Democratic bill that would nationalize elections (bad), and the GOP response, H.R. 322, a bill that would nationalize elections (also bad).
The piece got a record response for this site, with credit due to my friend Wally Olson, a Cato Institute scholar who retweeted the link. Many thanks!
Oh, and the bill passed, 220-210, by party-line vote. It’s headed to the Senate and unlikely to go anywhere unless President Biden can persuade Democrats to “refine and advance” it enough to peel off at least 10 Republican senators. Not likely.
The action instead is in state legislatures, where it should be. The left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice is tracking more than 250 bills in 43 states (including nine of the former Confederate states, but not yet North Carolina) that would, in the center’s view, restrict voting rights. It also lists more than 700 bills in a separate group of 43 states that would expand voting access.
The Brennan Center and its allies say almost any move to tighten voter eligibility checks would restrict voting rights. The bills they’re tracking on the “bad” list deal with: voter ID requirements, absentee voting, early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day registration, using third parties to register voters (say at nursing homes), letting third parties handle absentee ballots (aka ballot harvesting), voters who cast ballots in the wrong precincts, availability of drop boxes for absentee ballots, deadlines for counting absentee ballots received after Election Day, monitors at polling places, restoring voting rights to criminals who’ve served their sentences, student voting, provisional ballots, disability access, military voting, providing paid time off to vote, and “other” (I didn’t look).
The issues fall largely on two sides: Changes that would make it harder for ineligible voters to cast ballots; and changes that would make it harder for eligible voters to cast ballots.
The first set of concerns is legitimate. People who aren’t U.S. citizens, aren’t older than 18, or fail to meet legal or residency requirements have no right to vote and should be prevented from doing so.
The second set of concerns is not. And more and more of the Republican Party’s efforts are going into the second than the first. Which may be one reason of many the GOP is losing voters to the Democratic Party or to unaffiliated status. If so, Republicans deserve what they get.
By happenstance, in their weekly podcast, the fine folks at The Dispatchsaved me a lot of “show” prep this morning by posting an excellent discussion of the larger issues (it begins at the 37:40 mark, but the whole thing is always worth a listen):
Let’s separate the genuine concerns from the others. The best way to both ensure every person who votes is eligible and prevent fraud: require secure ID. The “how to do it” can vary, and states should make every effort to get valid IDs to anyone who wants one. Eliminate any barriers.
The left says imposing strict voter ID mandates suppresses turnout, especially from minorities and low-income voters. But there’s scant evidence it does. A Cato Institute paper reviewing voting behavior from 2000 to 2018 found “a change from a nonstrict voter ID law to a strict law … is unlikely to have a meaningful effect on voter turnout or election outcomes.”
Preventing ballot harvesting and denying Election Day voter registration can stop other shenanigans. Adequate safeguards can prevent them.
Ballot harvesting occurs mainly when people cast votes illegally by changing ballots or submitting fake ones. A ballot harvesting scandal led to the 2019 special election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
Since then, new state laws prevent ballot harvesting, including a requirement that absentee ballots must include either a copy of the voter’s ID or an affidavit. Good.
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North Carolina allows same-day registration during early voting, which ends the weekend before the election, allowing time to verify a voter’s eligibility. But you can’t register on Election Day. It’s a safeguard against possible double voting, voting outside your congressional or legislative district, or other types of fraud.
The left says preventing Election Day registration disenfranchises late deciders. It does discourage them. If a new state law or a judicial order forces Election Day registration, let’s hope it also forces those voters to cast provisional ballots. Before the ballots are counted, the voters would have to return to an elections office and prove their identity and residence.
Let’s debate these ideas. They address real concerns.
But the GOP is losing legitimacy by trying to limit the ability of people who are eligible to vote to go to the polls. By trying to make it harder for people to vote.
Like it or not, more lenient voting rules are here to stay. Take early voting. I like it. I do it. No-excuse mail voting isn’t going anywhere. Motor-voter? Of course.
Besides, as Sarah Isgur noted on The Dispatch podcast, these moves by Republicans to hassle minority or low-income voters seem to have backfired. (For one thing, Republicans probably lost control of the Senate because of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” garbage.)
Suburban and other upscale Republican voters are offended by the implied racism and condescension. (The campaign by some Republicans to do away with early voting on Sunday to discourage “Souls to the Polls” voting campaigns is not a close call. It’s racist.) These turned-off Republicans — more than 15,000 in North Carolina since January 6 — are becoming Democrats or dropping party affiliation entirely.
Moreover, the Trumpist GOP says it wants to remake Republicans into a “multi-ethnic, working class” party, going after what Jonah Goldberg calls the roughly 7 million Obama/Trump voters. But doing so can turn off the tens of millions of reliable Republicans who’d rather focus on, say, economic growth and building better communities than canceling Dr. Seuss.
We can enter endless debates about why or how the state and the nation have gone off the rails, abandoning limited, constitutional government. But we’ve made these decisions (largely) through democratic processes called elections.
If center-right voters want to restore economic and cultural dynamism, using the Republican Party as the vehicle, then they need to persuade people that living under such a system offers the way back. Support policies and candidates that will steer us in the direction of markets rather than mandates.
Building barriers that prevent people from participating in that process is a losing bet, now and later.