As early voting lines in states like Georgia and Texas stretch for blocks and blocks, a recent study indicates something shocking: Making it easier for people to vote increases the likelihood that they will vote. U wot???
The study, published in Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy, suggests that states are “influencing who votes by making it easier or harder to cast a ballot, and that’s likely shaping election results,” according to a press release from Northern Illinois University, where the study’s lead author Scot Schraufnagel is chair of the Department of Political Science.
The study created a “Cost of Voting Index,” with various factors like voter ID laws and absentee ballot rules, to calculate how easy it is to vote in each state. Oregon, which has automatic voter registration, topped the list; Mississippi came in last. Improving access to the ballot box “could bump presidential election turnout from an average of about 55 percent to more than 65 percent,” according to Schraufnagel.
The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham looked at the numbers further on Monday, and discovered that the “five most restrictive states had turnouts in 2016 that were, on average, nearly nine percentage points lower than turnout in the five easiest states to vote in.” When the researchers controlled for factors like income and education levels, which also affect voting rates, “the model predicts an 11 point turnout difference between the least restrictive and most restrictive states in 2016,” Ingraham wrote. Even a few percentage points difference in turnout could swing results in statewide and presidential races.
The groups who are most likely to be turned off or away from voting because of restrictive laws skew Democratic, which is why so many states make it harder to vote. Old, better-off white people with no job to get to or kids to look after will overcome essentially any hurdle to vote for Mr. A. Racistman, R-TX. And it’s not just a practical matter of ease of access to the vote: it sends a message, too. When your government is telling you that it doesn’t want you to vote, why would you bother trying?
Conversations about elections and voter turnout can often turn into lectures: “You foolish young people, don’t you realize you just have to vote?” “Why, if only young people would vote, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Studies like these emphasize how empty that sentiment is. Yes, some young (and older) people don’t vote because they’re lazy or apathetic—but how many millions are there who don’t vote because of the bureaucratic hurdles, because they’ve tried and been turned away, because they don’t understand a needlessly complicated registration process, or because they just don’t feel like government is for them, precisely because of how difficult it is to vote? There has been a years-long campaign by Republicans to make it harder for major Democratic constituencies—the young, students, the poor, and people of color—to vote. It’s not those people’s fault for getting the message that the government doesn’t want them to vote.
The turnout message isn’t “vote, because you’re a bad person if you don’t.” It’s this: Vote because they don’t want you to—because it’s their fault it’s so hard. These old white Republican fucks don’t want you to speak because they’re afraid of what you’ll say.
But a message will only get you so far. Elections, in fact, will only get you so far. The scale of what needs to be both done (like automatic or same-day voter registration) and undone (like voter ID laws) is vast, and it’s not something that can be won at the ballot box alone, in part because of how effective these measures have been. Republicans will fight for these restrictive policies until the party’s dying breaths, because it’s the only way they can hold onto power with a shrinking and aging constituency. The only way these policies are going to go away is with the death of the Republican Party.