The issue of voting rights was easily one of the most important and publicized aspects of the 2020 election, with politicians arguing ardently in support of or against provisions expanding mail-in voting and laws that add additional barriers (voter ID laws, signature check, etc).
There were stories of success, such as that of Stacey Abrams, whose work expanding voter access and engaging communities in Georgia was instrumental in the state’s shift to blue.
Across the country, however, cries of voter fraud and calls for election integrity provided a basis for a systemic push to deny the right to vote. One study found only 27% of Republicans believe the election was legitimate despite an overwhelming lack of evidence both from governmental and independent research agencies.
Under the guise of addressing electoral fraud, Republicans have focused their efforts on pushing back mail-in voting (which was overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats).
Many republican officials have perpetuated messaging about the insecurity of mail-in ballots, but South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham gets to the heart of the sentiment in a conversation with Fox News: “If we don’t do something about voting by mail, we are going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”
This is problematic to the nature of our democracy as a whole. When politicians are working to restrict voting access in order to get elected and stifling the voices of their constituents, it opens the door for further corruption and degradation of our representative system.
Within Pennsylvania, conservatives in the legislature waged legal battles up to election day to preserve restrictive laws and work against vote-by-mail expansions.
As of February, 43 states “have introduced, prefiled, or carried” over 253 bills restricting voting access (Brennan Center for Justice). These bills aim to tighten restrictions on mail in ballots, implement stricter Voter I.D./signature check policies, make it more difficult to register to vote, and make it easier to purge voter rolls.
In total, there are 8 current bills with restrictive provisions making their way through the Pennsylvania state house, most of which center on mail-in voting (3 attempt to do away with “no-excuse” absentee ballots entirely).
On a national level, the Supreme Court heard arguments last week on the constitutionality of two Arizona laws, one which made it harder for Navajo Nation voters and another which required absentee ballots to be collected only by the voter’s relative or caregiver.
Given the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, it is very possible that the court will rule these laws as constitutional.
While there is a push for more restrictive voting laws in many statehouses, there is also a fight for expansion in others, with a different set of 43 states proposing or implementing 704 bills that will act to expand voting access.
In Pennsylvania, there are 9 bills that act to make voting more accessible by expanding early voting times and locations, allowing election day registration, and automatic voter registration.
On a national level, President Biden has taken action by signing an executive order this past Sunday which directs federal agencies to work on policies that “promote voter registration and participation.” This comes as the House passes H.R. 1 (For the People Act), a bill that builds on the protections of the Voting Rights Act and the work of John Lewis in his proposed Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Among other things, the bill would allow for same-day registration and nationwide expansion of early voting (allows lower-income workers with generally less flexible schedules to vote) and push back against aggressive voter roll purging and gerrymandering (especially in communities of color).
The act would also include provisions to regulate campaign finance by creating “a small donor system of public financing for congressional and presidential elections,” making space for candidates to better represent the views of their constituents rather than their financers (Brennan Center for Justice).
However, the For the People Act still needs to pass in the Senate, which is unlikely with the filibuster still in place. This bill has mounted increasing pressure on Democrats within the Senate to consider the merits of doing away with the filibuster, and it is possible that it will be abolished in order to pass H.R. 1.
Regardless, voting rights are still a battleground issue, and it is vital that we continue to stay engaged. Whether through pushing for less restrictive laws, ensuring fair maps, or working outside the governmental confines to empower and educate voters, the work done now is critical to guaranteeing access to the ballot box, regardless of assumed political affiliation.