As Arit John at the LA Times reminds us, your access to vote depends entirely on where you live, as the red/blue divide increasingly defines how, when, where and even if you can vote at all.
For a brief time in 2020, it seemed as though the vote-by-mail movement was having a bipartisan moment.
Red and blue states that had offered the option only to a relatively small number of residents were suddenly scrambling to expand mail voting to as many people as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at polling places. Voting rights advocates saw it as a chance to educate lawmakers and voters about the long-term benefits of moving away from casting ballots in person.
Then came President Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread mail ballot fraud.
Two years later, access to mail voting looks radically different from state to state, mirroring a broad partisan divide in voting policies.
Republican-led states, echoing the former president’s unfounded fraud claims, have passed laws restricting access to ballot drop boxes, created new requirements for verifying voters, limited who can return a voter’s ballot and made it harder to correct mistakes on mail ballots. Democratic states have moved in the opposite direction — or attempted to do so. Legal challenges, failed ballot initiatives and constitutional hurdles have hampered efforts to make mail voting easier, particularly in the Northeast.
Voting rights advocates say mail voting makes the process easier for people who have difficulties traveling to polling places and helps blunt the impact of policies that suppress voter turnout, such as polling location closures that have a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Latino communities, leading to longer lines. They have raised concerns that the policies Republicans have enacted to prevent mail ballot fraud — despite existing safeguards such as signature verification and ballot tracking — are discriminatory and disenfranchise people of color and low-income voters.
“It’s getting to the point where, really, we’re seeing these two democracies emerge,” said Liz Avore, a senior policy advisor at the Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan advocacy group that tracks state election laws. “Your ZIP Code really determines what kind of access you have to the ballot, which is concerning.”
During the 2020 election, Trump repeatedly attempted to cast doubt on the security of mail ballots, though he has used the practice himself, claiming without evidence that the general election would be “rigged.” After he lost, his campaign filed more than five dozen election lawsuits that failed to turn up proof of widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election.
The lasting impact of his claims has led to stark differences between how Democrats and Republicans view mail voting. Democratic voters were nearly twice as likely to support allowing voters to request an absentee ballot without a documented excuse or vote early in person as Republicans were, according to a June 2020 Pew Research Center poll. Several Republican nominees for secretary of state across the U.S. have campaigned against mail voting, including Arizona candidate Mark Finchem, who has denied the results of the 2020 election and, like the former president, has himself voted by mail.
Vote-by-mail policies exist on a spectrum. Eight states, including California, offer universal mail voting, which means registered voters automatically receive a ballot for elections. About a dozen states offer mail voting in smaller counties or in state and local elections.
In 15 states including Texas, voters can request an absentee ballot only if they provide an approved reason for voting by mail, such as being outside of one’s voting jurisdiction, working as a poll worker or having an illness or disability that prevents in-person voting.
Conversely, 27 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to request a mail ballot without providing a reason. Some of those states allow eligible voters to sign up to receive an absentee ballot on an ongoing basis.
Within those states, there are varying rules dictating how ballots are verified, when and how ballots should be returned, and what happens if a voter’s signature doesn’t match the one on file or they don’t properly fill out their ballot.
Increasingly in red states, voter ID laws are designed to eliminate marginalized, Democratic-leaning groups from the electorate altogether, laws selectively applied to intimidate potential voters, while making voting as easy as possible for white, rural precincts.
No wonder then that Republicans vehemently fought against a national voting legislation rather than letting the patchwork of state laws proliferate into a confusing mess.
They are destroying the country on purpose, and they know it.