Voter turnout in the November 2020 election was the highest in American history with over 158 million people voting. However, instead of celebrating this increased electoral participation, Republican state legislatures across the country are enacting laws to make it harder to vote in a blatant attempt to support Republican candidates by disenfranchising voters.
Due to COVID-19, many states expanded early and absentee voting, which made voting much more accessible. In typical years, finding time to vote had been very difficult for many. Election Day falling on a Tuesday hurts many voters, especially hourly workers who may not be able to take time off of work or find child care. Voters without access to reliable transportation also face barriers making their way to the polls. The additional options of absentee and early voting alleviated these issues and made it much easier to vote.
Despite these clear benefits, Republican state legislatures across the country are attempting to enact new legislation to restrict absentee and early voting to make it harder in general for people to vote.
Georgia is one of the states at the forefront of this effort to restrict enhanced voting access. In 2020, Georgia surprised the nation by going blue in the presidential election for the first time since 1992. Georgia voters provided another political upset in early 2021 when they elected Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in the Senate runoff. These two critical wins flipped control of the United States Senate to the Democrats.
In the wake of these defeats, Georgia’s Republican-controlled state Senate has passed legislation that specifically targets Democratic voters by making it more difficult to vote absentee. These bills, among other things, restrict who can use an absentee ballot, shorten the early voting period and limit the number of absentee ballot drop boxes.
Sixteen years ago, Republicans in Georgia passed no-excuse absentee voting, which allowed anyone to vote absentee without a reason. However, now the Republican legislature is attempting to reverse this policy and require voters to have a specific excuse to receive an absentee ballot. This change is clearly in response to the increasing number of Democrats in Georgia who prefer to vote by mail, which the state GOP views as a threat against their attempt to reclaim and retain office.
The election bills in Georgia are especially concerning as they also promote disenfranchisement for voters of color. African Americans are one of the largest Democratic voting blocs in Georgia. One of the most successful mobilization efforts of African-American voters is the Souls to the Polls program, where parishioners would go to vote together after their Sunday morning church services.
In the 2020 election, African Americans made up a higher percentage of Sunday voting than other days of early voting. The proposed Georgia legislation would allow counties to not hold early voting on Sundays, severely damaging the Souls to the Polls program. Stacy Abrams, Georgia voting rights activist, has emphasized the racial aspects of the Georgia bill, calling it and similar bills, “Jim Crow in a suit and tie.”
Other states have also taken steps to restrict voting access. In Iowa, the Republican governor signed legislation that shortens the early voting period, requires absentee ballots to be received rather than just postmarked by Election Day and makes the polls close an hour earlier at 8 p.m. Another very concerning aspect of the Iowa legislation is that voters who skip a general election and don’t register again will be purged from voter lists. This provision will lead to the disenfranchisement of many voters who likely will not know that they were unregistered if they miss an election.
Arizona, another state that flipped for President Joe Biden, has also advanced new voting restrictions. They have attempted to pass legislation that would reduce the number of absentee voters and require additional identification for absentee voting. A state representative in Arizona recently went viral for comments saying that Republicans “don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”
This statement demonstrates the clear motivations of Republicans in these states and potentially others. They are not actually concerned about the nonexistent voter fraud. Instead, they saw how increased voter participation led to Democratic wins. However, instead of trying to motivate their own voters, Republican state legislatures are targeting voting rights and attempting to make it harder to vote.
In order to address this issue, the U.S. Congress must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This bill, named after the late civil rights icon U.S Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., would strengthen the Voting Rights Act and help combat voter suppression. This bill is our best option to stand up to disenfranchisement.
The right to vote is one of the most sacred rights we have. For anyone in our government to restrict those rights for political gain is unconscionable and must be opposed at every level.
Isabelle Schindler can be reached at email@example.com.
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