A spate of voting restrictions, disproportionately and negatively impacting people of color, has reemerged in the South. In Florida, Republicans are plotting to constrict mail-in voting, even eliminating drop boxes, proven helpful and secure in 2020. In Arizona and Texas, Republicans hope to narrow ballot submission times, dropping names from early-voting lists if a citizen votes less often. The first salvo, however, of what President Biden calls “21st century Jim Crow” was recently fired in Georgia. Advocates call their new law, which suspiciously looks like voter suppression, a necessary prevention of fraud. Maybe Georgia’s intentions are good, but one has to ask: why the fixation on fraud after presidential and state elections which demonstrably had none? As Karl Marx noted, even well-intentioned road work can be an interstate to hell. Dixie’s preoccupation with election integrity seems entirely rooted in losing conservative minds and neuroses that improving their prospects means suppressing minority turnout.
Last November, 66.7 percent of the eligible U.S. population voted. More mail-in ballots resulted in more Americans casting votes in 2020 than any other election since 1900. Then, 73.7 percent of voters spread support among William McKinley, William Jennings Bryan, Social Democrat Eugene Debs and Prohibitionist John Granville Woolley. That said: last year’s turnout was lousy compared to other countries. The key to elevating U.S. voter participation has always been political dynamism, usually lacking here, and making vote casting accessible. Mail-in balloting improves the latter. Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. allow “no excuse” absentee voting, while another 16 states allow voters to mail-in ballots for varieties of reasons. Five lucky states conduct elections entirely by mail, doing so long before the pandemic ─ Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Not surprisingly, these “universal vote-by-mail” states generally exhibit higher rates of participation. In 2016, nationally, about 1 in 4 U.S. votes were mailed. Proving canards about “mail-ins” and voter fraud baseless, MIT found just 0.00006 percent of 250 million votes cast by mail (i.e. 150) fraudulent. And those were easily rejected, making voting machine malfunctions far more likely. Further debunking Trump’s departures from the truth, Stanford University, by analyzing universal vote-by-mail states (1996-2018), proved mail-ins are not only safe and secure but didn’t disadvantage Republicans.
By expanding voter-ID requirements for absentee ballots and imposing new limits on drop boxes, some of which will be locked at night in office buildings, Georgia’s new law makes it harder for Black and other minority voters, as well as disabled and poor, to vote. Without an automobile and driver’s license, getting alternative forms of ID and accessing widely-scattered drop boxes and rural polling places imposes hardships which infringe on access and discourage voting. Neither financially nor physically encumbered, I nonetheless find campaign-littered polling places annoying and inconvenient. Living rurally and non-gregarious, I much prefer voting by mail.
Much has been made of MLB’s All-Star game being moved from Atlanta to Denver’s Coors Field and Coca Cola, United Airlines et al. taking stands on voter suppression. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia announced Monday it will donate $1 million to multiple Georgian voting rights groups to overturn the legislation. So long as capitalism holds Americans hostage, corporate political leveraging is inevitable. It’s about time CEOs, albeit for profit, assumed such progressive mantles as mitigating climate change, protecting species diversity and upholding voters’ rights.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.