Republicans, you have nothing to fear from voting reform — just look at North Carolina

Already this year, more than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states to restrict access to the voting booth, according to the Brennan Center.

A cynical political calculus is animating this effort — Republican lawmakers across the country have concluded that the more difficult they make it for voters to cast ballots, the better Republican candidates will fare on election day.

This was the reasoning behind the slew of voter ID laws enacted around the country in the early 2000s. It was rationale for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNew Capitol Police chief to take over Friday Overnight Health Care: Biden officials says no change to masking guidance right now | Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of Medicaid expansion | Mississippi's attorney general asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE’s opposition to voting by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the logic undergirding Georgia’s recent efforts to restrict voter access after Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense: Senate panel adds B to Biden's defense budget | House passes bill to streamline visa process for Afghans who helped US | Pentagon confirms 7 Colombians arrested in Haiti leader's killing had US training On The Money: Senate braces for nasty debt ceiling fight | Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan deal | Housing prices hit new high in June Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill to hold platforms accountable for misinformation during health crises | Website outages hit Olympics, Amazon and major banks MORE won the state in 2020. And last week, it explains why Republicans in the U.S. House voted against H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a transformative voting rights and election reform package.


Yet this political strategy — with all of its attendant consequences for our democracy — rests on a set of faulty assumptions. Republicans have nothing to fear from voting reform or higher levels of voter participation. And the proof lies in my home state of North Carolina, where progressive voting laws have contributed to high-turnout elections and done little to dent Republican hopes in statewide elections.

In 2020, North Carolina offered the longest voting period in the country. The State Board of Elections mailed absentee ballots to voters a full 60 days before the Nov. 3 election —  earlier than any other state. In addition, in-person early voting was open for 19 days prior to the election, and same-day registration was allowed at all early voting locations.

In part because our state made voting so convenient, North Carolina saw record voter turnout in 2020, with 75 percent of voters casting ballots, the vast majority of whom voted prior to Election Day.

Did these changes lead to sweeping Democratic gains up and down the ballot? Far from it. In fact, Republicans registered important gains. Because of — not despite — the ease of access to the ballot in North Carolina, Donald Trump and a collection of Republican appellate judges secured victories on Nov. 3. (Of course, in true swing state fashion, our incumbent Democratic governor also won another term.)

North Carolina has allowed voting by mail since the mid-19th century in order to ensure that soldiers could cast their votes during the Civil War. The state’s large military population has guaranteed voting by mail a sustained base of support, regardless of the party in power.


So last year, when North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bipartisan bill to make it easier to vote by mail, the move was a notable departure from GOP tactics in other states, but very much in keeping with North Carolina’s history.

These progressive voting laws have not uniformly benefited Democratic candidates and disadvantaged Republicans. Instead, they have served the interests of candidates from both parties who could most effectively energize and inspire our state’s closely divided electorate.

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's belated filibuster decision: A pretense of principle at work Obama, Springsteen releasing book based on their podcast 10 books that take readers inside the lives of American leaders MORE benefited from North Carolina’s newly-instituted same-day registration and early voting laws to win in 2008, while Donald Trump’s success in 2020 was abetted by our pandemic-inspired voting reforms — the same pro-democracy reforms that he would later denounce in the swing states he lost.

Nationally, Republicans have resorted to claims about widespread voter fraud to justify steps that will reduce voter participation. But these allegations are not just baseless, they continue to backfire on the Republicans making them. For example, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, noted that Donald Trump likely would have won the state in 2020 had he not sown distrust in absentee voting among Republicans.

Expanding voter access and convenience should not be a partisan issue. A recent analysis found that mandatory vote-by-mail “has a modest positive effect on turnout, but it has no measurable effect on how well Democratic candidates perform at the ballot box.” Moreover, expanding voter access is enormously popular among voters of both parties: according to a 2018 survey, the majority of Americans, as well as the majority of Republicans, believe too few people are voting and support measures to increase voter access.

If North Carolina Republicans can win hard-fought, high-turnout elections under voting laws that enhance accessibility and convenience, then Republicans in every state in the nation can do the same. Republican lawmakers should have enough faith in themselves and in our country to stop erecting new barriers to the ballot box and start working with Democrats to make voting easier for all of our people.

Together, we can make our democracy stronger. 

Ross represents North Carolina’s 2nd District.