The next two years are going to be as partisan as the last four as the myth of the stolen presidential election has become the cornerstone for battle over who will get to vote.
Elections have winners, losers and consequences — and power ensures policies of conservative or progressive voters are what becomes law.
People of color have been underrepresented for many years at both the state and national level. They helped deliver the presidency to Joe Biden and created a tie in the U.S. Senate. We tend to think that everyone has the right to vote and we encourage them to exercise their rights. However, state capitals have become the new testing ground for voter suppression that reminds historians of the old South, as over 250 bills in 43 state legislatures have been introduced to make it more difficult to vote in an attempt to undo the progress that has been made by people of color in obtaining the right to vote, and run for and hold public office.
At the same time, over 700 bills have been introduced to improve access to voting. Washington is a blue state, so the likelihood of legislation passing that would limit or take away people’s voting rights is unlikely. But passing laws isn’t always the goal. In this case, political messaging for next year to increase Republican voter turnout is of more importance. Republicans believe they can claim at least one House in Washington state and claim both Houses of the national Congress in 2022.
Much of the motivation to grab power is being fueled by inaccurate statements that voter fraud was widespread in the last presidential election. It wasn’t, as 50 states certified their elections and the courts threw out 60 lawsuits with no proof of fraud. The election was considered one of most secure in history. Former President Donald Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr disagreed with Trump, saying fraud barely existed.
Both parties saw the same election last year and each learned from it. Democrats benefitted from an overwhelming vote from people of color, particularly women. Republicans did well in the rural areas, but saw urban cities with large minority populations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit vote Democratic, so they want to limit turnout in urban areas.
After years of mostly white legislators, almost a third of legislators in the House of Representatives in Washington are people of color. There are two ways for the Republicans to take over the power in state capitals. The first is to defeat incumbent Democrats. The second is to change the rules on who can vote or which votes get counted. That is voter suppression.
Washington has been an all-mail voting state since 2012. Republicans have sponsored SB 5143, which would require voters to request absentee ballots, and HB 1377, which would erect hurdles for mail voting. Here and in other states, new measures to require photo identification, along with aggressive purging of voter files that can result in eligible voters being deleted from voter rolls, are being introduced.
Also, a reduction in dropboxes is up for discussion and would likely be deleted from urban areas with large primarily minority voters in red states.
In King County, 74% of ballots were returned through dropboxes and 25% by mail. Other efforts include having fewer early voting days, closing the polls earlier, or limiting the authority of county auditors to determine rules that serve the most voters. Most county auditors believe their job is to ensure eligible voters can vote. Many temporary changes to make voting easier and safer during the pandemic may be vulnerable to elimination, and that can unfairly impact voters of color.
One that strikes at Black voters in Georgia is “souls to the polls,” where Black voters go to church, then get bus rides to the polls. In Arizona, the Legislature wants to override voters’ preference in presidential election years and have the Legislature award the state electoral votes.
But there are also other bills in the Washington Legislature sponsored by those that favor making it easier to vote. One such bill would restore or ease felony policies when the individuals are back in their home communities. Another of which I am skeptical of is HB 1156, or ranked choice voting, which passed out of the State Government and Tribal Relations Committee recently. With that system, there is no primary, and voters choose their favorites in 1-2-3 order. There are instant runoffs until a victor emerges. I was able to look at the system when I worked for King County. It was tried in Pierce County in 2008, and a controversial perennial candidate with name familiarity was elected assessor-treasurer. Ranked choice voting was then repealed in 2009.
There is a thought that ranked choice voting may result in more people of color winning elected office, which is a good reason to consider the idea. However, one of the lessons I learned in Olympia was if the opposition votes for your bill, you may want to take a closer look at unintended consequences. Four Republicans voted for the Democratic bill on ranked choice voting. If one party puts several different candidates in the same race, they could elect a less qualified person and repeat the Pierce County mistake.
Both parties have introduced legislation to our national Congress. Republican legislation seeks to protect the Electoral College process, which has resulted in them claiming the presidency twice while losing the popular vote. They would seek to punish states with progressive mail-in procedures. Republicans win when less people vote, particularly people of color.
Democrats have won the popular vote in all but one of the last eight presidential elections, so they want more people to vote. In a recent court case in Arizona, the lawyer for the Republican party, Michael Carvin, confirmed that view with his shockingly candid answer to a question about why proponents would want to limit who can turn in absentee ballots and enable ballots to be thrown out if cast in the wrong precinct. He said “because it puts us at a disadvantage relative to Democrats” and “politics is a zero sum game.”
The public may have arrived at the lowest common denominator when our politicians are arguing for political gain over who should be allowed to vote, rather than trying to ensure all eligible voters get to vote. The winners in our national elections in 2022 and 2024 will be determined by who wins the voting battles in the state legislatures in 2021 and 2023. That is a sad comment on our state of public policy, but until truth returns and our leaders care more about the public interest, we will continue down the path of partisanship that only serves a few.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.