Saving democracy by changing election law — but which laws?

January 14, 2022

~ 4 minutes read

Since the fallout of the 2020 election, changes to voting laws have been a top priority for both parties — but what those changes look like vary dramatically. The left has sought to increase access to voting (especially for marginalized groups), while the right has sought to ensure elections are secure against fraud.

The bottom line: Our view of both Republicans’ state-level election security legislation and Democrats’ federal voting rights legislation ultimately depends on our view of the integrity of the 2020 election, as well as how we evaluate the trade-off between ease of voting and election security.

First, let’s look at the changes each side wants to see in voting law.

Note: The changes below are examples of legislation that has been introduced in state legislatures, but don’t apply to all states seeking changes. See the further reading section for more details.

At the state level...

Changing mail-in or absentee voting by: 

  • Establishing a vote-by-mail system, in which all eligible voters receive a ballot in the mail.
  • Extending the early voting period and access to mail-in-ballots.
  • Granting extra time for the receipt of mail-in ballots.
  • Codifying the use of ballot drop boxes.
  • Revising the process to “cure” signature errors on ballot envelopes.

 

Other changes:

  • Expanding options for voter ID.
  • Establishing automatic voter registration at DMV facilities and other government agencies.
  • Restoring voting rights for people on parole and increasing access to voter registration.
  • Improving language accessibility for ballots.
  •  

Changing mail-in or absentee voting by:

  • Shortening the amount of time voters have to send in or request ballots.
  • Restricting third-parties from mailing in or submitting ballots/ballot applications for voters.
  • Limiting ballot drop-box usage.
  • Increasing signature requirements for mail-in ballots.
  • Automatically updating mail-in voting lists to disclude inactive voters.
  • Banning drive-thru voting.

 

Other changes:

  • Introducing ID requirements for in-person or mail-in ballots, or restricting alternatives to presenting a state-issued ID to prove your identity.
  • Making voter registration deadlines earlier, or eliminating same-day voter registration.
  • Redistributing election certification power, typically from Secretaries of State to legislatures.
  • Codifying new crimes around voter fraud.
  • Expanding the role of partisan poll watchers.

At the federal level...

House Democrats recently passed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act (that has not been voted on in the Senate), which seeks to:

  • Require states with histories of voter discrimination to receive federal approval before enacting voting changes (essentially a renewal of the section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was nullified by the Supreme Court in 2013),
  • Require states to offer online and Election Day voter registration,
  • Require that states with identification requirements accept a significantly wider range of documents, and
  • Ban partisan gerrymandering.

The right wants elections to be administered at the state, not the federal, level, and so is focusing its efforts at the state level.  

The right is relying on the state and federal court system to ensure that any unconstitutional changes made by Democrats are struck down.

Now, let’s take a look at how each side is thinking about these changes to voting laws.

What's wrong with our election laws?

To the left, federal voting legislation is critical for ensuring that marginalized groups continue to have easy access to voting. 

Restricting access to voting hurts marginalized groups who don’t have the time to go far or the ability to put in a lot of effort to vote. These actions hurt people with fewer resources more than other groups and are discriminatory.

To the right, state-level election security legislation is critical for ensuring our elections aren’t vulnerable to fraud. 

Quick changes to voting laws in the 2020 election made the election less secure at best, and fraudulent at worst. We need to ensure those rapid, poorly thought through pandemic changes cannot be made again.

Federal voting legislation is critical for ensuring that marginalized groups continue to have easy access to voting. 

Restricting access to voting hurts marginalized groups who don’t have the time to go far or the ability to put in a lot of effort to vote. These actions hurt people with fewer resources more than other groups and are discriminatory.

State-level election security legislation is critical for ensuring our elections aren’t vulnerable to fraud. 

Quick changes to voting laws in the 2020 election made the election less secure at best, and fraudulent at worst. We need to ensure those rapid, poorly thought through pandemic changes cannot be made again.

Why do these changes need to happen now?

In case of another emergency event in an election year, like COVID-19, it’s important that states have the flexibility to react and ensure all people have easy access to the ballot.

Additionally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required southern states to get approval before making changes to voting laws, but this provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. Without federal approval, Republican states will recreate the Jim Crow-era restrictions on voting previously prohibited under the Voting Rights Act. 

An additional Supreme Court decision in 2021, which limited the scope of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, makes federal legislation to renew the Voting Rights Act even more critical.

The potential fraud in the 2020 election highlights why states should take action to secure elections

Additionally, the measures in the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court were meant to be temporary, and we’ve moved past the need for them. Now states who were previously restricted in their ability to secure their elections against fraud can do so through common-sense reforms like voter ID laws — which many northern states already have.

In case of another emergency event in an election year, like COVID-19, it’s important that states have the flexibility to react and ensure all people have easy access to the ballot.

Additionally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 required southern states to get approval before making changes to voting laws, but this provision was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. Without federal approval, Republican states will recreate the Jim Crow-era restrictions on voting previously prohibited under the Voting Rights Act. 

An additional Supreme Court decision in 2021, which limited the scope of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, makes federal legislation to renew the Voting Rights Act even more critical.

The potential fraud in the 2020 election highlights why states should take action to secure elections.

Additionally, the measures in the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court were meant to be temporary, and we’ve moved past the need for them. Now states who were previously restricted in their ability to secure their elections against fraud can do so through common-sense reforms like voter ID laws — which many northern states already have.

Finally, let’s look at why people have such different visions for what changes need to be made to election law.

It’s rare that any policy that increases election security also makes it easier to vote, and vice versa. Both securing elections and making it easy to vote are laudable goals, but it’s difficult to achieve both at the same time. Each side has clearly established their preference between the two:

The left is motivated by a desire to make election access equal for all groups in society, fearing that historical and modern-day racism will result in voting restrictions having a disproportionate impact on voters of color.

The right is motivated by a desire to ensure that only people who have the right to vote are able to vote. The implementation of systems to verify voters’ identities minimize voter fraud and ensure our elections remain fair and secure.

Each side is attempting to mind-read and caricature the other side’s intentions — is the right really trying to make elections more secure, or are they trying to keep Democrats/minorities from voting or winning elections? Is the left really trying to make it easier to vote, or are they trying to set themselves up to steal elections in the future?

 

It’s natural not to trust someone else’s intentions when their values differ from ours. But most people involved in this debate aren’t lying about their intentions, nor are they brainwashed by their parties, nor are they ignorant of some greater truth. At the core, people on both sides are pleading for a path forward that preserves the integrity of our democracy — they just see that path forward as very different.

Further reading

About the 2013 Supreme Court decision: Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et al.:

 

About the 2021 Supreme Court decision: Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee:

 

About the changes states are making to voting laws:

 

About Democrats’ proposed federal voting legislation, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act (a combination of two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act):

 

About the status of states congressional redistricting processes:

What do you think? Do you agree with one side, or do you fall somewhere in between? Give us feedback on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, or by emailing info@narrativesproject.com.


Related News