Republicans have looked at the voting patterns of the last election and determined that they need to limit the ease of voting, or they risk losing elections. Democrats have concluded the opposite: that the continued expansion of ease of voting has resulted in their wins at the ballot box.
Both are wrong.
The United States has some of the most open and available voting in the world. That does not mean it is unique or significantly ahead of most other Western countries; it is not. The general voting mechanism is fairly standard, though. What is currently under attack are generally the outlier procedures along the fringe.
As an example, Texas is currently looking at eliminating “drive-through voting”, which is a deceptive term which conjures images of people driving up and just tapping a button or two; in reality, it is simply drop boxes where people can deposit a completed and signed ballot. The UK doesn’t provide specialized drop boxes; people can use the traditional mailboxes and they need to go through their mail system…. except in Northern Ireland, where people need to demonstrate that they wouldn’t have access to a polling station before they’re allowed to mail vote. Canada’s mail system is similar to the UK. France doesn’t allow mail voting for the general public.
This is similar to other efforts in play by both parties. The Democrats are attempting to get everyone to vote, while the Republicans are trying to ensure that only those who are truly interested in voting do so. What is being attacked is ease of voting, not ability to vote.
None of this needs to matter, save for the recent drives of both parties. Increasingly, the Republicans have decided to rely on xenophobia and misinformation to drive their voters to the poll, Democrats have promised financial and social benefits to their voting blocs, and both parties have relied on fear of the opposition and general catastrophism. These focuses – far from unusual when compared to historical trends – are the natural results of a split country.
The Democrats ran against a highly unpopular President in the last election, and a party which had demonstrated itself to be led by highly corrupt leaders. They won, but by a much closer margin than they’d expected. The Republicans had been unexpectedly successful with their misinformation campaign.
Jingoism wasn’t the only thing the Republicans had going for them, though. They were benefitted greatly by the Democratic agenda. Biden was smart, and recognized that pushing some of the desires of the hard left during the election could be catastrophic for his numbers. He ran as a centrist, instead. He attempted to calm the concerns that he would casually raise taxes and spend profligately, be a tool of the unions in domestic work and international trade policy, grab guns, and validate unusual social compacts. All of those policies are unpopular with a majority of Americans, even as they see significant support in specific areas. Democrats from those locations tend to elect radicals, just as Republicans have been electing radicals – historically from heavily rural areas, and eventually from most of their constituencies.
The upshot of all of this is that the analysis that both sides have done on the election is wrong – provided that Biden actually governs as a centrist. Even were the Republicans to successfully pass all of the restrictions they’re proposing and they were to survive legal scrutiny (and some, like the restriction of handing out water and having slogans within a distance of people in line, are unlikely to do so) they wouldn’t significantly diminish the actual voting. People would bring their own water bottles, as many already do, if they want to vote and anticipate a long line.
Trump was aided by the impression that the stock market gains were due to him (which, in part, they were – but only because of the policy he’d continued from Obama) and that Biden couldn’t continue them. He was aided by an effort to paint Biden as the puppet of Ocasio-Cortez, or at least a radical in hiding. He was aided by the incumbency and a bully pulpit that stressed “bully”. Every one of those elements is now completely controlled by Joe Biden.
If he decides to govern as a centrist, none of the efforts by Republicans to diminish casual voting will matter, because they’re not going to affect people’s actual ability to vote, and the majority of Americans will happily re-elect him so long as the economy doesn’t crash (a distinct possibility due to the aforementioned policy of Obama and Trump).
I expect the legislative brawling to continue back and forth between the parties, with each seeking to gain what advantages they can along the fringes of voting… one to two percent can make a huge difference in a close race. One side will demand that everyone’s vote is tallied, to get a true representation of the entire populace. The other side will argue that everyone who wishes to vote should be allowed a very easy process to do so, but that only those who have at least a modicum of interest in the outcome (and theoretically have bothered to learn about the issues or candidates) should exercise the rights which exist for all.
But if Biden decides to push a moderate, rather than a radical, agenda, those small percentages will be overshadowed by the larger shift that the Democrats had expected to see in the prior two elections. If the Republicans viscerally abandon their nationalist populism, they can still convince some of the independents who haven’t been paying much attention to climb on board with them. It’s only if the parties ignore the popular will that they’ll be in trouble… and that’s the way it should be.