War over voting laws further corrodes trust in elections
The messaging war over new voting laws has led to a rise in exaggerated or misleading claims at a time when trust in elections is already fragile after a contentious 2020 campaign.
Both parties have turned to a new law in Georgia as the latest political cudgel to energize their respective bases.
Democrats, led by President Biden, have decried the Georgia law as “Jim Crow on steroids,” statements that have led to GOP criticism that the White House is exaggerating claims about the new measure.
Repeated statements by Biden suggesting that the law reduces voting hours in particular have been called out. The law does not change voting hours and would allow local communities to keep the polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and actually expands early voting hours. The Washington Post’s fact checker column gave Biden “four Pinocchios” for the claim.
Republicans, with notable exceptions, have been complicit in spreading former President Trump’s false claims about widespread voter fraud after the 2016 and 2020 elections, with the latter culminating in a violent assault on the Capitol by the former president’s supporters.
Conservatives also have attacked Democrats’ voting rights legislation in Congress in over-the-top terms, with former Vice President Mike Pence and others calling it an attack on the Constitution and a power grab by the Democratic Party to remain in office.
The result is an increasingly partisan debate around something as basic as voting rights that experts said may benefit each party in appealing to its respective bases, but could threaten how Americans view elections at a time when distrust in government institutions is already on the rise.
A January Morning Consult poll found 65 percent of those surveyed felt the 2020 election was free and fair, but just 32 percent of polled Republicans felt that way.
Dozens of GOP-led state legislatures have proposed new voting laws in the aftermath of the 2020 election, which saw record turnout and a surge in mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Many of the laws, including Georgia’s, have been criticized by Democrats as designed to suppress Black votes.
Republicans in the state argue the new law will enhance election security, even though Georgia Gov. Brain Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who are both Republicans, have been adamant that the state’s elections were secure and fair after multiple recounts.
Georgia’s new law requires additional voter ID to complete mail-in voting, reduces the number of ballot drop boxes in some locations, grants additional authority to electors to challenge voter eligibility and makes it a crime for anyone other than election workers to provide food or water to people standing in line.
Experts said it’s too soon to know for certain how the law will impact turnout, but that new limits on absentee voting and ID requirements are likely to affect working class or low-income voters.
Biden has called the law “an atrocity” while saying it will make it more difficult for working people to vote, the charge that led the Post’s fact checker to give him four Pinocchios.
The law does not regulate that polls close at 5 p.m., but the White House has refused to acknowledge Biden’s mistake when asked about it in recent days.
“The fact-checkers will also tell you that this bill does not make it easier for people across the state of Georgia to vote, and that’s where [Biden] has concerns,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
Some Republicans have blamed Democratic claims about the Georgia law being akin to Jim Crow for Major League Baseball’s decision to relocate its All-Star Game this year from Atlanta. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) warned that corporations should not give in to “absurd disinformation” about voting laws.
David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said the laws being debated and passed in Georgia and elsewhere appear purposely designed to restrict turnout of minority voters.
But Barker called it “hyperbolic” to compare the Georgia law to Jim Crow, which segregated all aspects of life including where people could sit to eat, where they could use the bathroom and where they could sit on public transportation.
“I also think it probably doesn’t help matters in terms of lowering the temperature,” Barker said. “I think that Biden has conscientiously gone out of his way during the campaign and especially since he became president to lower the temperature with respect to polarization, he tries to not fan those flames. But this is an example of him maybe fanning those flames a little bit.”
The heated rhetoric around voting rights is unlikely to subside once new regulations are in place in Georgia and elsewhere.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, suggested both parties are likely to continue to use newly imposed voting laws as a cudgel for the foreseeable future, with Democrats reasoning they would win elections were it not for GOP-passed voting regulations and Republicans arguing each defeat will call for additional measures.
“For both sides, they’ve got their political messaging. and their messaging is used because it works,” Bullock said. “It motivates their base.”