Todd Schaefer

Todd Schaefer

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Many Americans may not’ve realized it, but we saw a minor miracle in November: in the midst of a pandemic, in a distrustful, polarized environment, and with a presidential administration that tried to undermine its legitimacy, we pulled off a well-run, accurate, and peaceful election that also saw record voter turnout.

Various people from different sides of the aisle, from varied walks of life, saw that the potential for post-election chaos was high, and sought to do something about it. Even Zach Wamp, former Republican U.S. Representative and Trump supporter, who helped run a bipartisan election-protection consortium, said “We can look back and say this (election) went pretty well, but it was not at all clear in September and October that that was going to be the case.”

In fact, behind the scenes, an amazing coalition of activists from across the political spectrum, from labor unions, to business and civil rights groups, to dedicated citizens and officials at the state and local level, all combined in a moment of fragility to protect the vote, insure the election was fair and open, and save American democracy from itself. (Time magazine had an excellent feature story on this back in February.)

The 2020 election really was one of the best and cleanest in history. For example, the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (who, remember filed the frivolous lawsuit alleging Texas was hurt by “fraud” in Pennsylvania, etc.) spent 22,000 hours investigating voter fraud in his state and found only 16 cases of false addresses on absentee ballot forms out of 17 million registered voters. In part, it’s our decentralized system of locally-run elections that — despite sometimes enabling inequality, as in the South during the Jim Crow days — actually makes election rigging more difficult.

It’s something that we should all be proud of as Americans. And it’s an all-too rare case these days of where the U.S. can be an example to the rest of the world.

Instead, driven by Trump’s unproven claims of election fraud and “sore loser” approach, Republicans have chosen to take a completely different message from this election and go the other direction, and make elections and voting more difficult. Republican state lawmakers, especially in those states where they control statehouses, have introduced over 250 bills to restrict voting in over 40 states.

For example, in my home state of Iowa the GOP statehouse and governor just passed a law reducing early voting and closing the polls an hour earlier on Election Day, after a high turnout and no evidence of fraud and their party surprisingly won relatively easily. Right now, Georgia — stemming from their close margins and record turnout in 2020 — has a bill that would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, and require additional burdensome voter ID requirements to even request an absentee ballot. Some major employers there like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Aflac are publicly opposing it.

The double irony is that such restrictions hurt Republican voters as well, by making it harder for them to participate, too. One reason Donald Trump did see an increase in his vote totals from 2016 (though he was swamped with by the anti-Trump tide) and Republicans did “better than expected” in down-ballot races was the increased interest he generated and ease of voting, especially for first-time, often working-class voters. It wasn’t just poor or minorities casting votes for Biden.

Furthermore, it may end up costing, not helping, them in the future, especially in emerging “purple” states like Arizona and Georgia. If it’s true educated and suburban voters are leaving the Trump GOP and becoming blue, and some lesser-educated blue collar types are turning red, who do you think will have an easier time navigating the new restrictive voting laws or being able to vote in person, etc.?

We (and Oregon, too) should know different, given the benefits and integrity of our all-vote-by-mail system that has worked, and survived recounts, challenges and the like. We’ve made registering and voting easier, the biggest obstacles nationwide to a decent turnout. (In most civilized countries, for example, the government is responsible for insuring you can participate — so the burden is on them to prove why you can’t vote, not on you to prove why you can.)

Yes, there is somewhat of a tradeoff between turnout and security, but as we have shown, that can readily be reconciled so that a “representative democracy” really is more representative.

Todd Schaefer is a Central Washington University political science professor. Left and Right is a column provided by CWU professors to represent and variety of political viewpoints.

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