A new bill in the Arizona state legislature would require voters using mail-in ballots to have them notarized. “The early voter shall make and sign the affidavit in front of a notary public,” House Bill 2369 states. This is just one absurd example of the more than 250 current bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access across the nation, part of an organized effort to shape the electorate to meet the needs of one party over another.
Even as the pandemic turned our usual voting procedures upside down, there was hope. Voter turnout shattered records in 2020 and in January’s Georgia Senate runoffs. While many people, particularly Black voters, were once again forced to wait in long lines to cast their ballots, this unprecedented election cycle proved that voting by mail is safe, convenient and secure, that early voting periods work, and that ballot drop-off boxes are effective.
State GOPs target minority voters
Now, however, it’s time to speak out against lawmakers who are peddling disinformation and introducing anti-voting legislation aimed at undoing this progress. If successful, these efforts will result in an unrepresentative electorate, muting the voices of many Americans who are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
This is not hyperbole. There are now over four times as many bills to restrict voting access in states as compared to this time last year. In Georgia, lawmakers are working to forbid governments and independent organizations like ours from mailing absentee ballot applications. To be clear, independent organizations have played an important part in our nation’s voter registration and turnout history since before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Georgia lawmakers are also trying to restrict absentee and in-person early voting in a bill that would target Democratic strongholds with large minority communities.
Line for early voting at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga., on Oct. 12, 2020. (Photo: Michael Holahan, AP)
Further, Florida legislators are considering changes to mail-in voting that would make it harder, despite a smooth operation in 2020. In New Hampshire, some bills would remove college addresses as acceptable voter registration addresses. And in Pennsylvania, a proposal would restrict access to ballot drop boxes. The list goes on. These efforts — in many cases meant to silence the voices of Black voters — are echoes of the worst voting abuses of the Civil Rights era.
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To state the obvious, voting should not be a partisan or race-based issue. Voting should be easy and accessible to all, and it shouldn’t have taken a deadly pandemic to increase access to the ballot box. We should make permanent the positive changes that election officials put in place last year. Universal access to absentee voting should be the norm, not the exception. States like Utah and Washington have seen high turnout rates because of mail-in voting, without a partisan impact. Expanding access to voter registration and voting by mail is the only way we can ensure that voters elect leaders based on principles, not party.
Don’t let voters get disenfranchised
Unfortunately, some state legislators seem to be motivated to disrupt certain groups’ access to the ballot box. These legislators and state leaders who are working to restrict access to the polls will impact largely Black and brown communities, out of fear that they are more likely to support Democrats. This is not new, but some are doubling down in 2021. And they received fresh encouragement Sunday night from former President Donald Trump, who called for an end to early voting and no-excuse absentee voting during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Congress is currently considering H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a comprehensive voting rights package, as a long overdue first step to strengthen our democracy. If signed into law, voters across the country will find themselves on an equal playing field. Candidates can focus on attracting voters based on their ideas, instead of ostracizing those who historically vote for the other side. The For the People Act will codify the simple solutions that contributed to higher turnout in 2020. This is critical to bringing more people into the democratic process.
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Our democracy cannot afford to bend any further than it did on Jan. 6. If we aren’t careful, ongoing partisan vitriol will lead to our demise. We can no longer accept partisan efforts to only empower certain people to participate in voting. We cannot stand idly by as some work to pass laws that will disenfranchise American voters — laws that bear a scary resemblance to the racist Jim Crow laws of the past. Elections should be decided based on ideas, not on who was cut out of the process.
Marissa McBride is Board Chair of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information. Tom Lopach is president and CEO of the two organizations.
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