Political types are already starting to talk about the next round of elections. If there had not been an impeachment trial underway, the national media would already be talking the issues that they believe will play a part in the 2022 federal elections and starting to set up a few high-profile horse races that they could put on the front page of their newspapers and websites. Polls would already be being run by candidates to provide additional information to the ones they have already run since last November. Some of those have happened, but impeachment coverage slowed the start out of the gate. The media will make up that time soon enough.
But some aspects of the next cycle are not going to get the attention they need. There will not be as many news stories about them and they will not get prominent placement in publications or broadcasts. The coverage they do get will often remain local. A few might get broader regional attention, but any national awareness of them will be relatively limited. Without enormous effort, even those who are the political type will not have enough information to recognize the nationwide trend that threatens to disenfranchise, or perpetuate the disenfranchisement of hundreds-of-thousands of people.
First, there are the attempts to restrict voting through the mail. Predictably, the legislatures in Pennsylvania and Arizona are among the main offenders. Some legislators in those states are not happy that their preferred presidential candidate lost and, even though there is no evidence that there was substantial fraud in the 2020 elections in those states, they are proceeding as if there was and looking to limit or abolish, not reform or revise, the vote by mail process. Eliminate the permanent absentee list? Require notarized absentee ballots when they were not required before? Or maybe just put an end to "no excuse" absentee voting altogether? In Arizona and Pennsylvania, lawmakers are considering those things.
Georgia officials are looking to do away with automatic voter registration. Iowa may establish a much earlier deadline for mailing ballots. Bills introduced in New Hampshire would make it more difficult for college students to vote there, as well making it easier for officials to purge people from the voter rolls.
Some of those previously mentioned states did not live up to their reputations as battlegrounds in the 2020 elections. But other states looking into these types of legislation were ones who suddenly found themselves being considered swing states because of last year's close results. They are not the only states considering making changes to their voting and election laws, but they are the most active in trying to do so. They are also the ones trying to implement the harshest and most restrictive measures. That is not a coincidence.
The distributed nature of our elections is a strength. But there are some aspects of such a system that provide openings for those who hope they can exploit the differences in each state's system and use the complexity that comes with having 50 different sets of rules to provide cover for their desire to disenfranchise those they disagree with. Within the confines of what the Constitution will allow, Congress should enact standards, rules, and guidelines that would limit confusion and prevent antimajoritarian forces from being able to act in a duplicitously piecemeal fashion.
H.R. 1 and S. 1 are bills in front of Congress now that would address many of these problems. But there is, and will remain, even if federal law is adopted, a need for awareness about contemporary voter suppression tactics in states other than a voter's own.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.