The Vote Suppression Tipping Point

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tags: voting rights, Vote Suppression, 2020 Election

On Wednesday, my colleague David Leonhardt wrote about the battle Democrats and Republicans are waging over voting rights. “In almost every instance,” he noted, “Democrats are trying to make it easier for Americans to cast ballots, and Republicans are trying to make it harder.”

But despite the political and epidemiological challenges arrayed against them, Americans are participating at record levels. With five days still to go before Election Day, the number of early votes cast by mail and in person, more than 80 million, has already exceeded half of the total votes cast in the 2016 election.

That amount of turnout is “stunning,” according to Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist and voting expert. Does that mean the Republican strategy might be failing?

Even before the coronavirus, the United States had made it harder to vote than any other affluent democracy:

  • The United States is one of only seven countries in the 37-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that don’t hold elections on a weekend or a holiday.

  • While many countries put citizens on the voter rolls by default or promote voter registration, signing up to vote here is a cumbersome, opt-in process.

  • Some Americans find out too late that they cannot cast a ballot because they lack photo ID or were erroneously purged from voter rolls, and millions more are made automatically ineligible because they were convicted of a crime.

  • Shortages of equipment and poll workers often cause unreasonably long waits, especially for Black voters. In the 2016 election, voters in Black neighborhoods waited 29 percent longer on average than voters in white neighborhoods, according to one study.


The high levels of early turnout now on display have raised questions about whether the Republican strategy to suppress the vote is backfiring. In Texas, for example, Governor Abbott’s emergency declaration limiting drop-off sites for absentee ballots may have galvanized voters in Democratic-leaning areas like Harris County, whose early vote count as of Wednesday was rapidly approaching the total number of ballots cast there in the 2016 election.

“Efforts to suppress votes in Texas and across the South have very often been done in secret, in smoke-filled rooms, in ways the public can’t fully digest,” Chris Hollins, the county clerk of Harris County, told Mother Jones. “When it’s thrown in your face like it has been this election season, voters are responding by saying, ‘I’ll show you,’ and coming out in record numbers to have their voices heard.”


Read entire article at New York Times

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