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Let voters vote

Although it may sound cliché, voting is the cornerstone of democracy. For the United States to properly function as a strong, healthy republic, all eligible voters must be able to make their voices heard and guide the nation’s leadership and policy.

Historically speaking, the U.S. had strong voter turnout in 2020. Over 158 million Americans, roughly two-thirds of eligible voters, cast ballots. This marks a 7% increase over 2016 presidential election voting, and the highest voter turnout since at least 1980 according to the Pew Research Center.

The 2020 election cycle was also a testament to the efficacy of U.S. election workers and systems. In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, they successfully carried out a safe and widely accessible election that the Department of Homeland Security described as “the most secure in American history.”

By any logic, this increase in voter turnout is good for the United States. It means that more Americans are participating in their democracy. But in state legislatures across the country, many Republican lawmakers appear to disagree.

In March, Georgia passed Senate Bill 202, making a variety of modifications to the state’s election law. These changes include significantly reducing the time period for voters to request absentee ballots, restricting drop-boxes, limiting election officials’ ability to mail out absentee ballot applications to eligible voters, imposing stricter ID requirements, largely banning mobile voting centers, and making it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in line. The effect of this bill is undeniable: it makes it harder to vote.

Georgia is not the only state to propose voting restrictions. The Brennan Center for Justice, a bipartisan law and policy institute at New York University, reports that as of March 24, lawmakers in 47 states had proposed bills with “restrictive provisions.”

In Michigan, a host of such bills were recently introduced in the state legislature. SB 310 would prevent the Secretary of State from sending out absentee ballot applications in mass. SB 285 and SB 303 would set stricter voter ID requirements. SB 287 would prohibit prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes, and SB 286 would restrict the times during which absentee ballots can be returned.

Lawmakers claim that these bills will counteract voter fraud and restore public confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections. But there is no evidence for this alleged fraud, and the loss of public confidence in election integrity is the direct result of politicians and media outlets promoting these baseless claims.

These bills do not address a real problem. They are based on conspiracy theories of a fraudulent or stolen election. In many cases, these bills were created by the same people who are responsible for circulating these falsehoods. The existence of these bills is predicated on a lie, and if passed, they ratify this lie.

While these bills do not solve a real problem, they may benefit their architects. Laws like Georgia’s SB 202 not only make it harder to vote, they have a disproportionate impact on people living in densely populated areas, people who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and people of color. In other words, they make voting harder for people who tend to vote for Democrats. In addition to the voting restrictions in SB 202, the new law also makes it easier for state legislators to ignore the popular vote and overturn election result after votes are counted.

The GOP has lost the popular vote in seven or the last eight presidential elections. Many Republicans seem to think that the best way to win future elections is to suppress voters. But a party that wins by denying citizens their basic rights and lacks the support of a plurality of voters should not hold power.

If the GOP cannot win elections legitimately, it should change its policy platform to attract more voters. If the GOP stopped giving handouts to corporations and the wealthy, and started supporting beneficial and widely popular policies – e.g., addressing climate change, passing common sense gun legislation, expanding access to healthcare, and investing in American infrastructure and economics – more people would probably vote for Republicans.

While many issues are complicated and nuanced, this one is not. Regardless of your political leanings, suppressing voting is anti-democratic. A nation that suppresses the will of the people is not a true democracy. Voting is a sacred right, and safe and secure voting access should be provided to all eligible voters.

Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw Resident and a freelance journalist.

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