Michael Wines for the NYT:
It was an election where Republican charges of fictitious voter fraud took center stage before, during and after the count, backed by a barrage of lawsuits intent on making it harder to cast or tally votes.
Yet by its end, Americans had cast ballots at a rate not seen in a century. A Democrat was elected president. And Republicans drew surprising support from Black and Latino voters — the very groups the party historically targeted with restrictive voting laws in state after state.
That a strategy Republicans long relied on largely fell flat, experts say, can be explained by the partisan divisions that drove record turnout, by self-inflicted wounds on the part of President Trump and by a pandemic that turned a gradual trend toward voting early — by mail or in person — into a stampede.
Some of those factors may be one-offs. But aspects of this election — especially the shift from Election Day voting to mail ballots, and the party’s surprising gains with some racial groups — raise questions of whether the Republican strategy of voter restrictions served the party’s interests as it once did. Also unclear is whether the changes in how people voted this year, in the middle of a pandemic, reflect long-term changes pointing to higher turnouts or factors unique to the 2020 vote.
“Stereotypes die hard, and this Republican idea that if more people vote it benefits Democrats was at some level more true in the past,” said Norman Ornstein, a scholar of American politics and democracy at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “It was certainly true when Republicans believed that white working-class voters were Democrats. But it’s a ridiculous stereotype now.”
Mr. Ornstein is a relentless critic of Mr. Trump and the Republican Party’s increasingly authoritarian bent. And nobody expects party leaders to quickly abandon a strategy that has served its interests from North Carolina to Texas to North Dakota. Republicans have argued that measures like voter identification laws, purges of voter rolls and limits on mail ballots are necessary to combat fraud, but ballot fraud is so rare that the rules often accomplish little more than suppress legal turnout. Even so, such strategies have long been part of American politics and are not going away.
“As long as the Republican Party is going to depend on whiter, older and more rural electorate,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, “they’re going to make it harder for some people to register and vote.” Assertions of fraud, he said, fire up loyalists, increase political contributions and delegitimize Democratic victories.
“Already,” Dr. Hasen said, “Biden is going to come into office with millions of people believing falsely that he cheated his way into the presidency.”
But the election also highlighted how trying to place limits on casting a ballot might actually motivate voters to turn out. And even ignoring the toxic effects on democracy, some experts say, this was an election in which the results suggested that the Republican voting playbook may no longer be as effective as before.