Did the Supreme Court gut voting rights or back election security?

Something monumental happened to American election law today. But when it comes to the Supreme Court’s latest decision, people don’t agree on much past that basic statement. Let’s take a look at how each side has arrived at such distinct conclusions about what this decision means for the future of voting in the US.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Arizona’s new voting laws are constitutional and do not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The laws require voting precincts not to count out-of-precinct votes and prohibit third-party collection of ballots. The laws do not violate the Voting Rights Act because “to the extent that minority and non-minority groups differ with respect to employment, wealth, and education, even neutral regulations, no matter how crafted, may well result in some predictable disparities in rates of voting.”

The conversation that followed this decision almost makes it feel like we’re talking about two different rulings. Each side perceives and transmits the story in a way that emphasizes what they believe is more important, and omits what they feel is irrelevant or untrue. 

Left

To the left, this decision has essentially made the Voting Rights Act toothless, leaving historically oppressed minorities unprotected from discrimination. The right can’t be trusted to treat minorities fairly in its absence. These far-reaching voter suppression laws are unjustified, since there is no evidence of wide-spread voter fraud. The new laws are at least a move by Republicans to preferentially select the electorate and cheat in future elections. At most, these laws are a new Jim Crow and an explicit attempt to suppress minority votes. 

 

The left uses language such as “suppression” and “guts,” which are particularly cruel and violent sounding words. This reflects their deep passion for protecting minority voting rights, as well their perception of this ruling as an assault on justice. Indeed, any story with “suppression” and “guts” in it’s subtitle is going to sound like someone awful did something cruel to an innocent party. And that is exactly how the left perceives this event. 

Right

To the right, the Court was absolutely correct — these election security measures are a no-brainer. The left’s outrage over “voter suppression” is an overreaction to small changes that don’t make voting much harder, but make elections much more secure. These laws don’t target minorities — the laws apply equally to all people. At least, these laws will increase the confidence in election results after the chaotic 2020 election. At most, the new laws are necessary to prevent future elections from being stolen.

 

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The right uses language such as “fraud” and “harvesting,” which are notably sinister sounding words. This reflects their strong emotions around protecting our elections from perceived interference. There is something afoot about these elections — they’re rife with charlatans and thieves. And likewise, any story with “fraud” and “harvesting” in it’s subtitle is going to sound like a deceptive cabal has tipped the scales in their favor, underhandedly victimizing the good, innocent people.

Key takeaways

The whole truth is often more than what we instinctively perceive. We use language to communicate what matters most to us — the emotional components of a story stick out to us, while more pedestrian facts fall to the wayside. 

The specific, animating word choices we use reflect how we feel about a topic. Our side’s linguistic framing appears as self-evident truth, but we tend to ascribe malicious intent when our contra-partisans do the same.

 

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Further reading

US Supreme Court Rules in favour of voter restrictions, Aljazeera

U.S. Supreme Court gives states more leeway to restrict voting, Andrew Chung for Reuters

Supreme Court upholds voting restrictions in Arizona 6-3, Mark Moore for New York Post

Opinion Analysis: Court upholds Arizona voting restrictions, limits cases under Voting Rights Act, Amy Howe for SCOTUSBlog

Anna Tyger, Shaun Cammack, and Sofia Sedergren-Booker July 1, 2021