The Voting Wars Are a Danger to Our Democracy
Published in The Washington Post
on May 20, 2020
President Trump’s threats on Wednesday to hold up federal funds to states such as Michigan and Nevada that expand the use of mail-in balloting are more than wrongheaded. They’re the latest example of the bipartisan, paranoid fears over voting that are undermining American democracy.
Trump’s tweets reflect the Republican side of this coin: fear of voter fraud. Many Republican activists and leaders are convinced that they lose elections because the nefarious Democrats encourage and abet fraudulent voting by undocumented immigrants or college students. They claim that people impersonate others at the polling place, collect blank absentee ballots via ballot harvesting and mark them for Democrats, or simply register people who are ineligible to vote and likely to support Team Blue. These unsubstantiated fears that millions of Democratic votes are obtained this way are behind many efforts to limit same-day registration, mail-in balloting and other approaches to increase voter participation supported by Democrats.
These fears are not new. Republicans believed that the Democratic mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, had stolen Illinois’s 27 electoral votes for John F. Kennedy in 1960. Activities in the 1981 New Jersey gubernatorial race led to a consent decree that prevented national Republicans from engaging in “voter security” efforts for more than three decades (the decree was lifted in 2018). The fraud myth seems to be a way to explain large Democratic margins in cities and neighborhoods where there are small numbers of Republicans.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.