How The Republican Push To Restrict Voting Could Affect Our ElectionsHistorians in the News
tags: voting rights, Shelby County v. Holder, Vote Suppression
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers have pushed new voting restrictions in nearly every state. From making it harder to cast ballots early to increasing the frequency of voter roll purges, at least 25 new restrictive voting laws have been enacted, with more potentially on the horizon. The GOP has introduced such measures in the name of “election integrity,” but at the heart of this effort is former President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“I liken it to a quack doctor holding up an X-ray, pointing to something going, ‘See, see, see?’ and getting the person to believe that there’s something really there on that X-ray that requires expensive and dangerous surgery,” said Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies at Emory University, of Republican efforts to pass new voter restrictions even though there is no evidence of voter fraud in the election. “We had an election that was amazing in the midst of a pandemic. And instead of applauding themselves for it, they went with a Trumpian lie.”
Understanding how new voting restrictions will influence our elections is difficult. Political science hasn’t found that these types of laws have that big of an effect, at least as individual measures. But, while laws that make it more taxing to vote are not new, the current onslaught of voting restrictions and changes to how elections will be administered is not something we’ve grappled with on this scale. Additionally, there is their nakedly partisan origins — nearly 90 percent of the voting laws proposed or enacted in 2021 were sponsored primarily or entirely by Republican legislators — and the fact that these laws are likely to have a greater impact on Black and brown voters, who are less likely to vote Republican.
The GOP’s restrictionist bent sends the message that Republicans don’t want Black and brown Americans to vote. In September 2020, 54 percent of Black respondents and 35 percent of Hispanic respondents told FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos they believed Republicans didn’t want “people like me” to vote.
But those numbers become even more understandable when we consider the GOP’s history with limiting voting access. In our conversation, Anderson cited an infamous quote by the late conservative political operator Paul Weyrich that sums up the mindset of many Republicans to this day. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” he said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
And with that in mind, election fraud has grown into what Benjamin Ginsberg, longtime attorney for Republican Party organizations and officials, has called the GOP’s “Loch Ness Monster” — something Republicans forever search for, even though it doesn’t exist. But that search has greatly influenced our election laws, as Anderson told me “the lie of voter fraud is what provides the rationale” for voting restrictions.
“I think Shelby is going to go down in history the way the Plessy v. Ferguson decision has,” Anderson told me, referencing the infamous 1896 Supreme Court decision that established the racist doctrine of “separate but equal.” She pointed to how GOP-controlled states have moved to restrict eligibility of certain forms of ID in ways that particularly affect people of color. For instance, Alabama’s ID law doesn’t permit the use of government-issued public housing ID, which Black Alabamians are more likely to have. And North Carolina’s 2013 law was so blatant an attempt to restrict voting access for Black Americans that a federal court overturned the law in 2016, writing that the law had targeted Black voters in the state “with almost surgical precision.”
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