Democrats are rightly decrying the multiple GOP attempts in various states to tighten voting procedures and enhance partisan influence over the election results certification process. But the rhetoric on the Democratic side is both overstated and confused.
Take the voting procedures issue. The key source of confusion is the failure to distinguish between intent and impact. It is a reasonable contention that Republican intentions are not benign. They would like to depress the turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies. That is the intent, but what is the impact likely to be?
Here we have data, especially on voter ID laws. The story, as told by relevant research, rather than the wishes of Republican operatives or the fears of Democratic activists, is simple: these laws just don't have much effect. They don't deter voter fraud, a minuscule problem to begin with, but they also don't depress turnout, including among minority voters. This has been the great worry among Democrats, but it appears that, whatever the malign intent of GOP politicians--and it is certainly true that the drive for these laws has been highly partisan--depressed Democratic-leaning turnout has not been the result.
Nor is there much evidence that tweaking the convenience level of absentee/mail/early voting has much of an effect on turnout patterns. These voting procedure changes, as malignly motivated as they may be, are hardly Jim Crow for the 21st century (if only the original Jim Crow had been so ineffective!).
This confusion is not good. As summarized by Bill Scher in a recent commentary.
"[R]ecent history — Barack Obama’s reelection, Democratic takeover of the House in 2018, Biden’s victory and the Democratic takeover of the Senate in 2020 — supports the....view [that] Democrats can and have overcome Republican-backed restrictive voting laws. In particular, academic research shows that strict laws requiring ID to vote have outright backfired on Republicans by firing up the Democratic base.
However, to acknowledge that Democrats have the capacity to outmuscle and outfox Republicans is to acknowledge that modern attempts at voter suppression have been too feeble to doom our democracy. The Republican intent behind restrictive election laws may be nefarious, but the impact to date has been negligible.
Such analysis is completely out of sync with the perspective of most activist Democrats, who have convinced themselves that Republicans are building a suppressive election law regime that harks back to the era of Jim Crow. In turn, Biden and his team have chosen to not provoke intra-party tension by openly and forcefully challenging the narrative deeply held by most rank-and-file Democrats.
While it is certainly understandable that Biden doesn’t want [to] sow dissension in his own party ranks, we are seeing the downside with failing to correct flawed narratives. No party leaders were willing to challenge the assumptions held by most party members, walk them through the available data, and explain how Democrats can still get their voters to the polls regardless of what Republican state legislatures pass."
In other words, prepare for counter-mobilization against changes in voting procedures, which is actually quite likely to be effective, while paying much closer attention to GOP attempts to partisanize election certification processes. It is not clear that even these moves will be that easy to implement for GOP purposes but that is where the real danger lies.
And for you HR1 fans--it's still not gonna pass and it wouldn't really do much about this problem even if it did. So let's concentrate on the important stuff, which starts out with differentiating intent from impact.