A zero-sum game: The democratic politics of voter suppression

Scout Hutchinson, Columnist

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increased awareness of voter accessibility, the 2020 election created opportunities for more voter turnout and participation. However, the election simultaneously gave way to false narratives perpetuated by Donald Trump and other Republicans about fraudulent activity from Democratic voters. Trump’s more flagrant remarks about fraud and “stolen elections” have been condemned by most Republicans, but that has not stopped them from riding on his coattails and using the same arguments to systematically subvert voting legislation, from state legislatures to the Supreme Court. 

The false conception that widespread fraud was the reason for an increase in voter participation has elicited an attack on voting rights. It has also created an opportunity for the Supreme Court to strike down more of the Voting Rights Acts, which were created to protect minorities from voter suppression. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Republican lawmakers in 43 different states have proposed at least 253 laws that range from limiting mail-in votes and early in-person and election day voting to increased voting constraints such as requiring ID verification. 

These proposals, under the guise of combating voter fraud, are in direct opposition to movements that do more than just “encourage” people to vote. These movements create equal opportunities to vote by helping combat restrictions already in place that disproportionately affect minority groups. Many of the restrictions proposed, like one in Georgia that will not allow for Sunday voting, directly targets the Souls to the Polls community effort organized by Black churches. These legislative initiatives have been called Jim Crow with a suit and tie.

Democrats on both the state and national level are trying to pass their own legislation to solidify voter protection. The For the People Act has been passed in the House, but it faces a potential Republican filibuster within the Senate. The Supreme Court could also set a precedent that would make it much harder to combat these state laws and could gut the Voting Rights Act. 

The Supreme Court is currently reviewing cases in Arizona about a voting restriction that disqualifies ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Michael Carvin, the lawyer who is defending these restrictions, gave key insight into Republicans’ motivations for pushing for these restrictions. Carvin said that allowing these misplaced ballots to count “puts [Republicans] at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game.” In simpler terms, Carvin’s answer perfectly sums up the Republicans’ new strategy to win elections: suppression of Democrat voters and more specifically, minority voters. 

Carvin’s message is abundantly clear. By suppressing minority votes through laws that disproportionality affects their opportunities to vote, the Republican party can help combat the growing shifts in a national ideology that do not align with the party’s politics. The fewer votes that Democrats get, the more likely Republicans are to win.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that fewer restrictions on voting allows for a significant increase of citizen participation within elections. No matter the result, increased participation should be applauded on both sides of the aisle. One would think that an increase in voter participation would be democracy at its finest. However, it seems as though Republicans only love the system when it works in their favor.

Republicans are starting to realize that democracy, the thing they promise to uphold, will make it much harder for them to win. By using voter suppression to “even” out the playing field they are creating a system that cannot represent the whole population. Under the false conceptions of widespread fraud, Republicans have been able to enact some of the largest voter restrictions since Jim Crow, and if gone unchecked, these restrictions could affect the way elections are conducted for years to come.