Panic setting in over new voting rules

Politico reports on the fear among Democrats and voting rights activists that getting out the vote (GOTV) will be much harder in light of the new more restrictive voting laws being adopted in states like Georgia. The article is useful because it helps explain the intensity of the opposition to these laws. And without getting into a discussion here about how unjustified (or not) these new laws are from a policy perspective, it is worth noting an analytical distinction that often gets elided in the coverage of these laws: cutbacks in voting opportunities that are retrogressive, and thus are an impediment relatively speaking to GOTV efforts, are not necessarily voter “suppression” in the strict sense of disenfranchisement (i.e., a barrier to casting a ballot and thus participating in the election). If voters have a genuine opportunity to participate but choose to abstain, they aren’t being denied the right to vote. This is true even if voter turnout efforts on the left fail to reach their target goals, or even past turnout levels. To be sure, these laws may be cynically motivated by a partisan realization that turnout rates are variable, depending on how convenient voting is; if it is less convenient, some marginal voters may not bother to cast a ballot, even though they actually have an opportunity to do so. It is certainly appropriate to condemn that kind of cynical partisanship, since it is a form of bad faith and contrary to the ideal of structuring the rules of electoral participation in the public interest (based on a nonpartisan assessment of the overall relevant policy considerations). Even so, discussion of this topic (at least in my view) ought to be careful to use terminology that recognizes the distinction between new laws that hinder participation compared to new laws that deny participation. Often, it seems that the phrase “voter suppression” or similar language is employed to make the former seem more like the latter, or at least to lump the two categories together.

Share this: