The real lesson of the 2020 election was that, in the face of the pandemic and a ceaseless and baseless campaign by President Trump and his supporters to delegitimize voting by mail, a record number of votes were cast and counted largely without a hitch. Voting was made easier, and voters took the opportunity to have their voices heard. The system worked.
But some Republicans are bent on learning the wrong lesson, pushing to restrict voting access instead of embracing the heroic efforts by state and local officials across the country to expand it. Elected officials and the voters they serve must reject any such new restrictions outright.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger drew praise from political leaders around the country — and Trump’s ire — when he certified the state’s presidential election results in President-elect Joe Biden’s favor Nov. 20, adding that a statewide audit “reaffirmed that the state’s new secure paper ballot voting system accurately counted and reported results.”
But even as he slapped down the false claims of election fraud that have served as the underpinning of Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss in court, Raffensperger also used the contrived confusion as an excuse to propose a solution that lacks a problem: more restrictive voting laws.
“Close elections sow distrust; people feel their side was cheated,” Raffensperger said, urging new rules including those that would make it easier to purge voter rolls and impose a photo I.D. requirement for mail-in voting. Essentially, after touting the success of an election where voter access was expanded due to the pandemic, Raffensperger wants to make it harder to vote again, ostensibly because some voters believed Trump’s lies about fraud. It’s both illogical and anti-democratic; what might actually give people more trust in elections is if they all know their votes counted.
Georgia Republicans aren’t alone in using Trump’s bogus fraud claims as fuel for restrictive voting laws. Last month South Carolina Republicans in the US House called for more election laws including stricter photo ID laws and boosting state officials’ review of voter registration rolls — all while echoing Trump’s debunked claims of fraud and irregularities.
In Ohio, Republican lawmakers attempted to roll back early in-person voting for November’s general election after it was expanded during the primary. That language was ultimately stripped from the legislation that advanced before the election. Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin, more recently urged a nationwide ban on absentee voting by mail, except in very limited cases. This was after Wisconsin Republicans blocked an effort to expand mail voting in the state’s primary election, resulting in long lines at polling places and a late-spring surge in COVID-19 cases.
Voter ID laws in particular have been a popular hammer in Republicans’ toolbox to fight the largely imagined scourge of voter fraud. They have also been criticized in court decisions as a way to suppress the Black vote “with almost surgical precision.” Coming on the heels of the Trump campaign’s efforts to stop mail-in voting and challenge the vote counts in counties in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania with high populations of Black voters, passing more such measures would compound an already insidious problem, voting rights advocates say.
“We’ve been really deeply concerned with what has basically been an attack on democracy, what has been an attack on election results, what has been an attack that has fallen…on the backs of Black voters specifically,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Sadly, we’ve seen this story many times before. Our nation’s history is replete with examples of voter suppression efforts, particularly those that serve to disenfranchise a higher share of voters of color and others in marginalized communities. GOP-controlled state legislatures rushed to impose restrictive voting laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting part of the Voting Rights Act that, in response to Jim Crow-era voter discrimination, made certain states’ electoral laws subject to pre-review by the Department of Justice.
Such laws have also emerged after Democratic election victories, including the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Citing the need to prevent voter fraud — despite a lack of evidence that any widespread fraud existed — several states imposed restrictions such as photo identification requirements for voters in the aftermath. The laws, according to the nonpartisan policy think tank Brennan Center for Justice, disproportionately restrict Black and brown voters’ access to the polls. Yet they still are being emulated now by Raffensperger and other Republicans.
Liliana Zaragoza, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund who recently worked on litigation in Alabama challenging absentee voting restrictions, said any such new proposals in states would be met with legal challenges.
But, she added, “The most effective and sure way of halting voter suppression is to do it before the voter suppression tactic can even take effect.”
Of course, to do so, Congress should fully restore the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement mechanisms — a point that even the Supreme Court made when it struck those provisions down seven years ago. And voters, who experienced first hand the benefits of rules making it easier, not harder, to vote, should make clear to those they elect that turning those efforts back now is unacceptable.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.