Voting Rights goes “On the Issues”

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Voting Rights goes “On the Issues”

The Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education hosted “On the Issues with Mike Gousha: Changes to Election Laws – Is Your Right to Vote Secure?” on Wednesday, October 20.

“On the Issues” is Marquette Law School’s conversation series that is hosted by Mike Gousha, a distinguished fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School.

Gousha spoke with Atiba Ellis, professor of law and Molly McGrath, an American Civil Liberties Union voting rights attorney.

The topic of this conversation was the changes to state elections laws and how that might impact future elections.

“Supporters of voter restrictions say that it is in response to questions about election integrity and questions about voter fraud. Voting rights advocates say that there is no evidence for widespread voter fraud and these are attempts to suppress voter turnout, largely democratic turnout,” Gousha said.

Ellis said that the COVID-19 pandemic caused questions surrounding voter accessibility after the pandemic prevented people from voting in person. During the pandemic, there was an expansion of voting accessibility via mail-in ballots.

Ellis said that since the previous election, there has been a backlash to voter accessibility.

“Nineteen states have enacted 33 laws that make it harder to vote. We are seeing another wave of what folks might call voter suppression in terms of the narrowing of access and how that might impact vulnerable communities,” Ellis said.

McGrath said that some of the common issues in pushing voter restriction legislation is that it will make it more difficult to vote through limiting votes by mail,  increased identification requirements and smaller time windows to return ballots.

To vote in Wisconsin, one must be registered to vote in Wisconsin and have an acceptable photo ID. McGrath said that some of the laws passed in Wisconsin took away the ability for people who were indefinitely confined to vote by mail due to illness or age, and required them to get an ID.

Both Ellis and McGrath agreed that the conversation surrounding voter fraud and election integrity was accelerated due to the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and his allies. Ellis said that the rhetoric has also accelerated the claim that elections need to be further secured.

“There is this threat to our democracy and all of this is being brought forth in the name of election integrity. In the name of preserving election integrity we are actually degrading it,” Ellis said.

McGrath defines the claims of voter fraud and election integrity as the “big lie,” because none of the claims have been legitimized.  She said that the “big lie” has caused a deteriorating faith in democracy which has led to the attacks on voting rights.

Ellis said the “big lie” is a distraction from doing the right thing like solving policy problems.

Ellis said that voter fraud disinformation is a danger to the American republic and has been around for a long time, with few answers and little evidence. He referenced a study conducted by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School, in which he found 31 irregularities out of close to one billion votes cast over elections for nearly a decade.

Gousha said that despite the lack of evidence some argue to add more restrictions to elections to restore confidence in the election outcomes.

“We’ve had recounts, we’ve had audits, we’ve had canvases, we’ve had court challenges but what we don’t have is evidence of widespread fraud yet there is belief and we see this is our polling here at the law school amongst the 35%-40% of the people we talk to have doubts of the election results,” Gousha said.

McGrath said that the goal of these allegations is to cast doubt on the election system which will cause others to feel like there need to be more restrictions. She said that instead of focusing on the allegations,  legislation needs to be passed.

“We could be doing things like passing legislation that would prevent foreign interference in our elections or passing national standards like early vote standards for all so that it’s equal across states,” McGrath said.

Each state, except North Dakota, requires citizens to register prior to voting.

Some states request or require voters to show a photo ID, for example, a driver’s license, state-issued ID, and others. Examples of these states are Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia.

Other states like Arizona and Ohio accept non-photo identification such as a bank statement.

Instead of focusing on bills that make voting more difficult, McGrath said that politicians should focus on pro-voting bills and ways to make voting more accessible.

“The pro-voting bills that we see make voting more accessible and ensure every voice is heard, like access to voting by mail, access to same-day registration, and early voting. These are the things that are incredibly popular, these are the things that our politicians should be focusing on,” McGrath said.

Ellis said he thinks about the historical view of voting rights and how civil rights activists across American have died in the name of the right to vote for all. He said that these laws look like an effort to disconnect people from what brings them together, voting.

“The supreme court has repeatedly said throughout American history, ‘The vote is the most important of all our rights because it is preservative of all other rights,’” Ellis said.

This story was written by Hannah Hernandez. She can be reached at hannah.hernandez@marquette.edu.