Cynical activists and politicians are trying to mislead voters for their own gain.
If you’ve heard one thing about the state of democracy in America in 2020, it’s probably that it is under threat from mass “voter suppression.” Partisan activists and cynical politicians have made a habit of scaring voters into believing their rights are one election away from being cancelled by racially discriminatory voter ID laws and mass “voter purges.” It’s an emotional narrative, repeated often and uncritically in the media, and assumed by many to be true. But hard data puts the lie to this myth.
The reality is, 2018 was a banner year for voting. The American electorate was among the largest and most diverse in history, with overall turnout up 24% over the prior midterm in 2014. In fact, the 2018 midterm was the first ever to see more than 100 million ballots cast, and the Pew Research Center found “historic jumps in voter turnout” for every major racial and ethnic group in America. Black voter turnout was up 27%; Hispanic turnout rose even more, by 50%. In Georgia, where Stacey Abrams lost her bid for governor and blamed discriminatory “voter suppression,” voters actually flocked to the polls at historic levels and black voter turnout outpaced white turnout by more than three points. Clearly, the supposedly noxious voter ID laws in place in two-thirds of the states did nothing to depress or deter people from turning out. In fact, the very voters supposedly targeted by these laws are participating at record rates.
That’s a big win for democratic participation, and it ought to be celebrated by politicians and pundits alike. So why are so many instead pushing a “voter suppression” narrative that is unsupported by facts. It’s just too useful. By scaring people into voting and demonizing the opposition, activists help to ensure that the base shows up and remains loyal. And it is a scapegoat for politicians who lose elections and want to save their reputations.
Fortunately, the average voter is not persuaded. By wide margins, Americans support common sense measures like voter ID laws and voter roll maintenance because they know elections are too important to leave unprotected.