There has been outrage since Georgia passed Senate Bill 202. Democrats have objected to a bill that they believe will limit people of color from voting, corporations have been pressured to denounce the bill and Major League Baseball has moved the location of the MLB All-Star game out of Georgia in protest. A similar bill passed in Texas, drawing significant outrage and criticism from Texas-based corporations.
A few weeks ago, I wrote on the trend of states passing restrictive voting laws, and the need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and H.R.1. My point still stands, but it must be readdressed and refocused, resolving confusion pertaining to the consequences of these restrictive voter laws.
Nate Cohn published a piece for “The Upshot” of The New York Times on Saturday in which he analyzed the consequences of restrictive voter laws on turnout and partisan politics. He concluded that these bills are not as detrimental as Democrats suggest, utilizing credible studies that prove restrictive voter laws do not significantly decrease turnout of either party.
What Cohn’s piece fails to highlight is the meaning behind these bills. The issue with these restrictive bills is not that they will make it harder for Democrats to win elections. As Cohn asserts, that may not occur. The issue is in regard to democracy. Republicans in control of state legislatures are changing the rules of the game to advantage themselves over Democrats. This is undemocratic. This is an abuse of power.
I have written extensively on the subject of competitive authoritarianism. There’s a reason for that: It is proving to be an overwhelming threat to western democracies, and the U.S. is not immune. The threat of competitive authoritarianism did not leave office with Trump. It simply changed. Now, competitive authoritarianism manifests within the U.S. as subnational authoritarianism, in which officials at the state level are leveraging their incumbency to change the rules of our democracy in order to advantage their own party.
Perhaps these efforts put forth by Republican state legislatures will not limit Democratic turnout — though their redistricting efforts will certainly reward Republicans with more seats in the House. Yet the principle driving these bills must be feared. Democracies require tolerance for the opposition. This has clearly died. What is holding U.S. democracy on its last leg is forbearance.
The principle of forbearance states that politicians should not do things simply because they can. While the U.S. Constitution has provisions that check the power of politicians, amending voting laws in hopes of consolidating your party’s power is not forbidden, yet doing just that is antithetical to democracy. Republicans are violating this principle of forbearance, utilizing their incumbency to obtain an unfair advantage.
Perhaps these bills will fail to restrict the vote, as Cohn suggests. That doesn’t mean they’re acceptable. These bills are being weaponized by Republican-controlled state legislatures to advantage Republicans over Democrats in the national government. This is undemocratic. This is a competitive authoritarian threat.