Whether the country needs a national act spelling out voting rights is a big question before U.S. Senators this week. The House passed the For the People Act to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and keep dark money out of elections on a straight party-line vote–Democrats in favor and Republicans against.
Republicans are taking credit for the 253 bills in state legislatures aimed at suppressing votes. They’re out to fight voter fraud and don’t buy the idea that voting should be easy.
You’d think that a state that had voters in long lines–some claim eight hour waits–would pass some regulations about the number of polling stations per precinct.
Not Georgia. Instead, they made it a crime to provide food or water to voters in line.
The state is also closing ballot drop boxes three days before the elections so those that don’t get their absentee ballots mailed in early have no way to return them.
Worse, the legislature has made a major power grab. The secretary of state, once chair of the board overlooking elections, is being replaced by a member chosen by the legislature. Legislators will have three of the board’s five votes; the secretary of state, elected by voters statewide to supervise elections, will have none.
This new board will have the power to remove county election superintendents and appoint temporary replacements.
Swing states that will be electing a senator in 2022 are getting the worst changes. Among those are Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Iowa.
Overall, changes are not so bad. We are hearing a lot more about the 253 bills the Brennan Center lists as restricting voter access than about the 704 identified as improving it. Some states are enacting changes–like no-reason absentee voting–made because of the pandemic. For example, one of the two election-related bills that have passed a house of the Idaho legislature would allow early processing of absentee ballots. (The other would require election offices to notify those voting absentee if their signatures have been rejected.) More restrictive bills have died in committee.
Many states want to replace signatures on the envelopes of absentee ballots with affidavits. Most would ask for the number on a voter’s driver’s license or state ID; others, for photocopies. There are problems with the signatures, but this could be difficult for nondrivers, especially the poor or elderly. (Do residents in other counties have to wait four hours at the DMV like those of us in Canyon?)
Some restrictions make sense. For instance, since 2007 Arizona has allowed voters to sign up to get absentee ballots for life. Today, ballots are being mailed to the addresses of people who haven’t voted in years. A bill would require election offices to write those who haven’t voted in four years and ask if they wish to continue receiving ballots.
Even Iowa’s new law to forbid counties from mailing absentee ballots to people who haven’t requested them is reasonable. That might have made sense during an emergency, but Idaho acted early enough to send requests for absentee ballots, rather than ballots themselves.
The Federal law shouldn’t interfere with those changes. It would, however, give other voters some of the rights that benefit Idahoans–same day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and reasonable lines at the polls. It would also ensure that we can keep our non-partisan redistricting commission.