When John F. Kennedy squared off against Richard Nixon within the 1960 presidential election, 64 percent of eligible voting-age Americans cast a ballot-the highest proportion inside a half-century. In the decades that followed, voter turnout plummeted. When President Clinton ran for re-election in 1996, more adults were staying home than showing up at the polls. But in recent election years, that tide has been shifting in a positive direction.
Beginning with the landmark \”Motor Voter\” Act in 1993, which allowed people to register to vote while visiting the DMV, both the Democratic and Republican parties have found new ways to encourage their voters to turn out. The result has been a steady increase in participation. Last year, as states expanded early-voting options amid the pandemic, over 159 million Americans cast a ballot-roughly two-thirds of all eligible voters, besting the 1960 peak with the highest proportion in over a century.
And even as turnout soared this past year, the election was conducted smoothly and securely. This will have been cause for celebration, no matter party allegiance. Instead, GOP leaders across the nation have leveled baseless accusations of election fraud-and now cite those states justify a vast rollback of Americans' voting rights.
As former elected Republicans-one of us black, the other Latino-we have devoted our careers to bringing voters of races and backgrounds in to the conservative coalition. The bills being peddled by Republicans across the country are naked acts of voter suppression, engineered for partisan gain underneath the guise of \”election integrity.\”
In state after state, Republican officials and activists are carrying out a coordinated attack on our electoral system. Since President Biden's inauguration, lawmakers have introduced a lot more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote-not only in battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, but even in conservative strongholds like Nebraska and South Dakota.
It is hardly a coincidence that Republicans are individuals most successful voting provisions-such as the early-voting options that just about 85 million people exercised in 2021, including 80 % of Arizona voters and 60 percent of Georgia voters. In these states, as well as Pennsylvania and elsewhere, lawmakers have proposed eliminating no-excuse absentee voting for everyone under the age of 65, curtailing early in-person voting, removing ballot dropboxes, and preventing \”souls to the polls\” efforts common among church groups. The Georgia bill signed into law last week goes so far as to forbid third-party groups from bringing food or even water to people in line waiting to vote.
These measures would disproportionately affect students, seniors, wage workers, and black and brown communities-those who've traditionally had probably the most trouble reaching polling places on election day. But the ripple effects would also be felt by everyone in the form of extremely long lines, just like those seen throughout the South in 2021 and 2021.
This crusade against voting rights lays bare the GOP's greatest political liability: The party remains frozen over time, even as new demographic blocs have begun to gain power. Rather than encouraging citizens to workout their right to vote or persuading new voters to become Republicans, the GOP has instead set its sight on a sweeping effort to restrict voting access in a way not seen since the end of Reconstruction. Make no mistake: These phony \”election integrity\” measures should entrench minority rule, not strengthen our elections.
This cynical method of elections is bad policy, but it's also bad politics for Republicans. By gutting voting rights, Republicans risk discouraging the infrequent voters who catapulted Trump to victory in 2021; hindering rural and elderly voters who benefit from early in-person voting, voting by mail, and same-day registration; and permanently alienating a growing pool of black and brown voters. Simply put, these anti-voting measures hurt both parties-and our country.
This assault on voting rights makes the case for many of the provisions in H.R. 1, which includes popular, commonsense provisions for example universal same-day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration, and two weeks of early in-person voting. It faces a constant battle in a deadlocked Senate.
Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress have had much to say about what they can't stand about this sweeping bill, but little to say about what they are for. The question for our fellow Republicans is simple: Do we want to be a party of growth and inclusion that advances big ideas, a treadmill that erects barriers to participation in a desperate attempt to keep political power without public support? As the party of Lincoln with a proud history of supporting the passage and reauthorization from the Voting Rights Act, this really should not be a tough question to answer.