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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Note to Democrats: Voting has never been easier

Democrats took a beating last week when their massive effort to federalize elections went down in blames.

One reason for their election-reform flop is they haven’t been able to convince voters – or Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinEven working piecemeal, Democrats need a full agenda for children Poll: 30 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Congress is doing Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE (D-W.Va.) – that millions of voters are being disenfranchised. And the reason that narrative has been a hard sell is that voting has never been easier.

You don’t have to take my word for it. A recent survey from National Public Radio/Medill School of Journalism/Ipsos found that 67 percent of voters cast ballots in 2020, more than in any other presidential election in 120 years.

NPR’s Senior Political Editor Domenico Montanaro, reporting on the survey, pointed out that while a third didn’t vote, “Difficulty voting doesn’t appear to be a major reason why they don’t vote. Three-quarters said they think it’s at least somewhat easy to vote.”

Indeed: There is no poll tax or literacy test to register to vote, and lots of people are actively and successfully registering new voters. Cars, public transportation and more flexible work schedules for many have made getting to the polls much easier than decades ago. States increasingly try to minimize language and disability barriers. And local media outlets go to great lengths to provide the public with news about dates and requirements for voting, polling places, candidates and ballot issues.

In addition, most states have made voting easier. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) 44 states, Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories offer early in-person or absentee voting, including the eight states with all mail-in voting — options that have increasingly been allowed and expanded for three decades. Only six states do not offer those options: Alabama, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina. 

Even so, Democratic ire is targeting several states, especially Georgia and Texas. Let me comment on the latter. 

I live in a very racially diverse suburb of Dallas. Not only is no one turned away from voting places because of their race (our community wouldn’t stand for that), many candidates are minorities.

I always vote early. There are usually no lines or waiting times; the process takes all of 10 or 15 minutes. There are several volunteers doing the work, and I personally have never observed anything that looked amiss. Maybe that’s why Phase 1 of Texas’s four county election audits found virtually no problems.

So what were the reasons why those in the NPR/Medill survey didn’t vote? 

  • 29 percent said they weren’t registered;
  • 23 percent weren’t interested in politics;
  • 20 percent didn’t like the candidates;
  • 16 percent said their vote wouldn’t have made a difference; and
  • 10 percent were undecided about the best candidate.

Democrats’ election reform efforts wouldn’t have much impact on those Americans. If you aren’t interested in politics – which is your right – you probably aren’t that concerned about registering to vote or care about the candidates. And notice that voter ID laws, which the large majority of states have, were not cited as a deterrent to voting.

None of that is to say there isn’t room for improvement, as an October 2020 FiveThirtyEight report highlights. But while the U.S. Constitution empowers the states to establish election procedures, counties manage them — and there are some 3,142 U.S. counties and county equivalents.

Although most county election officials are dedicated professionals, with that many people, human error, incompetence and some questionable, even illegal, practices will occur.

One reason that several states have passed, or are considering passing, election reforms is to address such issues. For example, Texas’s Harris County (Houston) decided to mail all registered voters a mail-in ballot in the 2020 election. The state stopped that effort because it had never been done or approved by the legislature.

Several states are also requiring additional efforts to ensure their voting rolls are up to date. While the left seems to see that as a not-so-subtle effort to disenfranchise some voters, people move to different areas, change their names, pass away and make other adjustments — often without informing or providing the correct information to the state. Keeping track of those changes for millions of people is incredibly challenging. Just look at how many checks Social Security sends to dead people.

Yes, some states may go too far in their reforms, and that’s a problem for the courts to decide. But most states are working to ensure that voting is as easy and secure as it can be. And that’s an ongoing challenge that will never be finished.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

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