The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans want more voter suppression. Here’s how to make elections more fair — not less.

Georgia voters cast their ballots during the Georgia runoffs elections on Jan. 5.
Georgia voters cast their ballots during the Georgia runoffs elections on Jan. 5. (Virginie Kippelen/AFP/Getty Images)
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BY ALL credible accounts, the 2020 elections went off remarkably well: Security held up, fraud was practically nonexistent, and a record number of voters turned out in the middle of a pandemic. But conducting a sound, well-run election in Georgia resulted in stinging losses for Republicans in presidential and Senate races. So now, Georgia Republicans want to cook the rules, reinforcing Republican control of the state by suppressing the voters.

Georgia GOP state senators unveiled on Monday bills that would end no-excuse absentee voting, ban ballot drop boxes and restrict automatic voter registration. The week before, a Republican lawmaker submitted a bill that would require absentee voters to send in two copies of their IDs — when applying for and when submitting mail-in ballots.

Nothing in the 2020 election experience suggests that wide-scale use of mail-in ballots, the provision of drop boxes or the rollout of automatic voter registration pose major risks to voting integrity. Indeed, automatic voter registration programs are designed to increase the accuracy of voter registration lists. No conceivable public purpose is served by making it harder to register. Meanwhile, the crackdown on mail-in ballots reflects the fact that large numbers of Democrats shifted to absentee voting in 2020.

Georgia Republicans are not alone. The Brennan Center for Justice has counted 106 bills in 28 states designed to restrict voting access so far this year, a massive jump from last year. Republicans have concluded that if they cannot win a fair election, they must make elections less fair. Their strategy, supposedly to promote election integrity, would, in fact, corrode democracy.

U.S. democracy needs an overhaul — not to restrict voting but to shut down politicians who seek to tilt the rules at the people’s expense. Using their power over federal elections, Democrats and any Republicans of conscience in Congress must make such an overhaul a top priority in the coming months. Fortunately, Democrats have an appealing bill ready to go that they have been crafting for years. The For the People Act would require automatic voter registration, which could add 50 million people to electoral rolls while improving their quality. It would mandate bipartisan redistricting commissions for congressional maps, ending partisan gerrymandering in federal elections. The bill would ensure access to early and mail-in voting and restore voting rights to people with prior criminal convictions. And it would create a public financing system for political campaigns, amplifying the power of small contributions with matching funds for candidates who decide to participate.

The package would level the playing field in places where it is now badly tilted and expand access to the ballot box without risking election integrity. If anything, it does not do enough; the Jan. 6 electoral vote counting fiasco in Congress showed that the creaky laws governing the electoral college also need an overhaul.

The 2020 election showed that the nation’s electoral system is unacceptably vulnerable — not to voter fraud but to politicians who seek to deny the will of the voters. A thorough renovation is needed, now.

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