Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Truth Behind Voter Laws

It looks like Democratic-led campaigns against new voter laws are beginning to lose their appeal. Even some liberals are now questioning their tactics. I keep hearing that Republicans are trying to "suppress the vote," yet in reading the proposed new laws and those already passed, I find no evidence of this. In some cases, voting has been made easier. 

I have to conclude that Democrats want wide-open voting, with no requirements for ID, or any checks to prevent fraud similar to their open borders policy. Yet 72% of Americans in a recent poll support voter ID requirements. To say that requiring a voter ID is racist or discriminatory is to say that minorities are not capable of getting or having an ID. That sounds racist and is, of course, a lie.

The campaign against Georgia's new law’s specific provisions has been just as dishonest, as well as in West Virginia and Texas. Democrats leaned heavily on false claims about a provision barring food and drink handouts to people voting, which responded to real issues. The barrage of lies about “voter suppression” has gotten so bad that even media liberals have had to take notice. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post awarded “Four Pinocchios” to Joe Biden’s false claim that the law “ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.” Kessler even branded Biden a “recidivist” when the president repeated the same lie after Kessler pointed it out. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution issued a correction after making a similar claim.

In his first press conference in March, President Joe Biden claimed Republicans seeking to ensure election integrity in Georgia and other states “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” insinuating the GOP is worse than segregationists. The president has continued to parrot this illegitimate sentiment, claiming the newly passed Georgia election bill mandating voter ID for absentee ballots, among other things that should be uncontroversial, is “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Speaking on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Biden said the measure was “Jim Crow on steroids.”

The bad-faith comparisons Biden is making are perverse. Apparently, weekend voting, asking people to provide a driver’s license on an absentee ballot, and attempting to secure drop boxes are all “Jim Crow.” Not only is the president misleading the American people when he says this, but he is disrespecting black Americans whose ancestors endured legitimate discrimination at the hands of actual oppressive laws.

In reality, S.B. 202 beefs up Georgia’s power to force localities (which control individual polling places) to add more precincts and more voting machines, addressing a specific, longstanding complaint by Democrats about the state’s current voting system. More broadly, while the bill modestly shores up election security and efficiency, it also expands weekend voting statewide, permanently authorizes ballot drop boxes, adds more state oversight of local officials, requires pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots to expedite vote counting on Election Night, expands eligibility to be a poll worker, lets illiterate people have others help fill out their absentee ballots, and requires jails to give access to eligible inmates to apply for absentee ballots. On the whole, it creates broader access to voting in Georgia than existed before 2020, and bars nobody from voting. That may help explain why national polling shows that the Democrats’ effort is failing, and that voters are skeptical of corporations directing boycotts at it.

Losing the argument on both rhetoric and facts, critics have fallen back to their last refuge: arguing that it does not really matter what is in the bill or what its effects are, because it derives from bad motives. Just a few examples:

  • Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian: “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”
  • Chris Hayes on MSNBC: “Georgia turns Trump’s Big Lie into law.”
  • Zachary Wolf at CNN: “The same week that a major backer of former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud narrative admitted it was unreasonable, Republican lawmakers in Georgia turned legislation inspired by the false narrative into law.”
  • Tessa Stuart at Rolling Stone: “How Trump’s Big Lie Is Fueling the Voting Rights Battle in Georgia.”
  • Eric Kleefeld of Media Matters: “The Georgia legislation exists because of Democratic victories propelled by Black voters — plus Trump’s Big Lie.”
  • Jon Allsop at Columbia Journalism Review: “The why of the restrictive voting bills is also vital, arguably as much so as the what. Republicans across the country have pitched new laws as correctives to public fears about election ‘integrity’—even though such fears were, for the most part, simply made up by Donald Trump and his enablers in the right-wing political and media firmament.”
  • Eric Levitz at New York Magazine: “When you account for context — and acknowledge the bill’s most nefarious provisions — the left’s purported ‘double standard’ disappears. The leading lights of Georgia’s Republican Party spent the past five months validating baseless allegations of a stolen election and demonizing their own secretary of State for refusing to do the same. The GOP’s 2020 standard-bearer is still decrying the treachery of Republican election officials who failed to abuse their powers at his behest.”
Attacking motives is fair-enough game when you are explaining the origins of genuinely bad policy, but it is also a convenient crutch when you are unable to make that case on the merits. After all, nobody can ever really disprove a charge that they are operating from bad motives — especially when a bill is the product of two houses of an entire legislature plus a governor, and thus reflects the thinking of a lot of different people. The charge has the double benefit of tying the bill to Donald Trump with voters who might agree with its provisions, but mistrust or despise the former president.

It is also a way of dodging inconvenient facts. Many Democratic-run states have similar anti-electioneering laws and less early voting than Georgia. Stacey Abrams herself admits that she previously — and successfully — supported cutting the number of early-voting days in Georgia in half. It is “OK when we do it” if you simply argue that the same conduct is different because our people have pure hearts, and yours do not.

In reality, it is quite clear that — as usually happens with proposals that make it all the way into legislation — there are multiple reasons why this bill passed, and the lingering belief that the 2020 election was stolen is only one of those. The bill changed quite a bit from some earlier proposals after many hours of hearings, suggesting that this was not simply a headlong “do something” rush. There were at least three other factors at work in passing S.B. 202 that are hard for any serious person to deny:

First, Republicans have been arguing for decades in favor of voting rules that protect the security of elections, require identification of voters and the maintenance of accurate voter rolls, and otherwise defend the system of registered voters. Very little of what is in S.B. 202 is genuinely new, and a number of its ideas were once areas of bipartisan agreement. Progressives are overreaching by arguing that Donald Trump makes it illegitimate to continue standing for exactly the same things many Republicans already stood for. It’s like saying a politician must have been bribed because he voted for something he already believed in.

Second, the 2020 election was a highly unusual one. Democrats like to forget this now, but there was a pandemic on in 2020, and many innovations in mail-in voting and the use of drop boxes were brand-new experiments, adopted on the fly. Drop boxes were not even authorized by Georgia law; they were emergency measures, and new legislation was required to continue using them post-pandemic. There is nothing unusual about reviewing how new emergency measures worked, and tweaking them before enacting them permanently.

Third, it is seriously amnesiac to argue that public controversies over the legitimacy of Georgia elections began in 2020. As Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger has detailed, the false and misleading attacks launched by Abrams on the legitimacy of the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia followed much of the same script as Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election. Governor Brian Kemp was broiled by Democrats and the national media at the time on the theory that his role as secretary of state made the entire election illegitimate. Placing the state’s elections on a footing that is more defensible from attacks from either side is an entirely legitimate goal.

All of this pollical "maneuvering" can only backfire. At least I hope.

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