Constitutional right to vote must be protected as Republicans seek to limit voter access, eligibility

In the wake of the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers nationwide have released a slew of restrictive measures to limit the right to vote, threatening democracy and our constitutional rights

· Feb 16, 2021 Tweet

Emily Kriner-Woodworth

Over the past year, former President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the integrity of the American electoral process — a rhetoric that has caused many of his constituents to question their current voter laws, few of which hold protections against voter fraud. Many states do not require photo identification to vote and some allow for counting absentee ballots after election day. 

Due to many voters’ fears of electoral fraud this November, Republican politicians across the country are proposing hundreds of new voting laws in an attempt to make elections more secure. In states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, state representatives hope to ban no-excuse absentee ballots, which many people believe are an easy way for non-citizens to steal registered voters’ ballots without a witness. 

Other measures include doing away with absentee ballot drop box locations, mandating voter IDs and even requiring absentee ballots to be notarized to make their vote official. 

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In Wisconsin, Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, introduced a bill that would change Wisconsin’s electoral vote process. Tauchen proposed distributing Wisconsin’s electoral vote for the presidential election by assigning each electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district instead of giving all of Wisconsin’s votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote.

Tauchen reasons that given Wisconsin’s “numerous political views and progressive history, this alternative distribution system would better reflect Wisconsin’s diverse political landscape.” 

Others doubt whether Tauchen’s bill would benefit Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin professor Barry Burden warns that such legislation could encourage partisan gerrymandering, where politicians draw congressional boundaries to give themselves the best chance of winning. Also, splitting Wisconsin’s votes would dramatically decrease its importance in presidential elections, where presidential candidates regularly campaign here to try and get Wisconsin’s 12 electoral votes.

While Republicans propose hundreds of new bills to make stricter voting laws, Democrats nationwide are proposing an equal amount of legislation to make voting easier. Four hundred and six bills have been introduced in 35 states to expand voting rights, including increased access to absentee ballots, early voting privileges and restoring voting privileges for felons. 

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Most Democrats argue the November presidential election was secure and that voting laws should be relaxed to allow more people access to vote.

Voting laws, such as requiring identification, are often criticized for disenfranchising lower income or ethnic minority voters who can’t access a driver’s license or state ID. In Wisconsin, a UW study on the 2016 presidential election determined that over 11% of eligible voters were deterred from voting by Wisconsin’s voter ID law. 

While Republicans may want to feel like their elections are more secure, there seems to be little evidence that these proposals would have such an effect. The real consequences are that stricter voting laws would prevent many eligible citizens from voting — a constitutionally guaranteed right to American citizens. Our politicians must consider the impact on the electorate’s access to voting when they pass these measures.

Our country has a long history of expanding voting rights and increasing citizens’ access. Beginning with only wealthy white landowners possessing the vote, Congress gradually expanded privileges to all white men in the early 1800s, all African-American men in 1870 and all women in 1920.

In 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which allowed the vast majority of African-Americans to vote by abolishing unconstitutional practices such as voting poll taxes and literacy tests.

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New laws continued to expand Americans’ access to vote for 50 years after the Voting Rights Act. In 1971, the 26th Amendment passed, allowing 18-year-olds to vote.

Other measures continued to increase Americans’ access to voting, including multilingual ballot translations, polling place accessibility for disabled people and offering voter registration on driver’s license applications. 

Only within the past 10 years have new voting restrictions reemerged, when a 2013 Supreme Court ruling canceled much of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and allowed states to pass voter restriction laws at their own discretion, without federal clearance if the statutes were racially discriminatory.

Since that ruling, dozens of states have enacted new restrictions on early and absentee voting, as well as requiring official forms of ID to gain access to vote. 

Whether or not the new restrictions intended to discriminate, they clearly do in action.

Of those prevented from voting in Wisconsin because of ID laws, 21.1% make under $25,000 compared to only 2.5% of Wisconsinites with incomes over $100,000 being deterred. In addition, 27.5% were eligible African-American voters in comparison to the 8.3% of white residents who were disenfranchised. 

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While Republicans may intend for these laws to make our elections more secure, there seems to be minimal proof they are actually doing so.

Of the 62 lawsuits that Trump’s lawyers have filed nationwide, 61 failed without sufficient evidence of electoral fraud. While many Trump supporters still believe the election was rigged in President Joe Biden’s favor, no evidence has substantiated the claim that tens of thousands of ballots had been falsely counted to change the election’s outcome. 

Despite new voting restrictions within the past 10 years, the rare instances of voter fraud have not become more prevalent. While Republicans may argue that new laws may prevent fraud from occurring, they appear to be unnecessary protections against a problem that does not exist. 

As long as instances of fraud remain minimal, politicians should allow Americans the right to vote undisturbed from government measures preventing them from doing so. 

Hayden Kolowrat ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying Southeast Asian studies.


This article was published Feb 16, 2021 at 10:00 am and last updated Feb 13, 2021 at 8:19 pm


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