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The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision upholding a voting law passed by Arizona’s Republican-controlled state legislature is a shot across the bow to President Biden’s Justice Department, which is challenging another such law in Georgia. It’s also likely to pour another gallon of gasoline onto the voting debate in the country.
Former President Donald Trump has as recently as yesterday cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election results, citing widespread voter fraud for which there is no evidence. But more sober-minded Republicans are also worried that practices like ballot harvesting (the involvement of third parties in collecting and delivering absentee ballots, which Arizona banned in the law affirmed by the Supreme Court) and too lenient protocols around mail-in voting are lower integrity, pointing to the conclusions of a 2004 bipartisan commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker.
In close elections, marginal changes to the law in this area could matter. And in Electoral College terms, the 2020 election was close: Trump lost by about 43,000 in three battleground states. Two of them were Arizona and Georgia.
There have always been tradeoffs involved between ballot access and ballot security. Any requirement that makes it easier to verify who a voter is will also make it more difficult for someone who recently moved but did not update their voting records or who isn’t carrying proper identification to vote.
What has raised the temperature of this debate beyond the normal level, other than Trump’s claims about last year’s presidential election, is the not wholly unjustified perception that each party is weaponizing election integrity or voting rights for their own partisan gain. Each party’s stance, while defensible in purely neutral terms, happens to perfectly line up with what most experts believe would help them win a competitive election.
Taking things up a notch further, each side also behaves as if we are experiencing either an old-style urban political machine level of voter fraud or a Jim Crow-level of voter suppression. It may indeed be the case that some GOP election integrity measures have a disparate impact on racial minorities that can’t be justified in terms of the voting violations that actually exist, or that the voting practices adopted by many states during the pandemic need to be tightened up. But the reality doesn’t match the hyperbole — or demagoguery — of either party.