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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abramowitz: Voter Suppression Probably Won’t Work in Midterms

Alan I. Abramowitz explains “Why Voter Suppression Probably Won’t Work” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

“Former President Trump and his political allies continue to push baseless allegations of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election more than a year after Joe Biden’s inauguration. Largely in response to those allegations, Republican state legislatures around the country have enacted dozens of laws intended to tighten identification requirements, limit access to absentee voting, reduce the time period for early in-person voting, and limit the use of drop boxes for absentee voting. Democrats have responded to these new laws by proposing legislation in Congress to override these laws but have failed to pass new voting rights laws due to unified Republican opposition and the unwillingness of 2 Democratic senators to modify the filibuster rule in that chamber.

An important question raised by both these new laws and Democratic efforts to override them is just how effective such voter suppression laws would be in reducing voter turnout among Democratic-leaning voter groups. In an earlier article in the Crystal Ball, I examined the impact of expanded absentee voting on the 2020 election. I concluded that increased use of absentee voting had only a small impact on turnout and no effect at all on the Democratic margin in the 2020 presidential election. In this article, I expand my focus to look at the effects of other voting procedures that Republicans have targeted, including increased availability of early in-person voting, use of drop boxes for absentee voting, and stricter identification requirements for absentee and in-person.[1]

The results reinforce the findings of my previous research. These voting rules had only minor effects on turnout and no effect at all on the Democratic margin in the presidential election.”

Analysing data from the 2016 and 2020 elections, Abramowitz notes further,

Turnout of eligible voters increased in every state and the District of Columbia between 2016 and 2020, with an average increase of just over 7 percentage points. The turnout of roughly 2/3rds of eligible voters in 2020 was the highest in any presidential election in over a century. The percentage of voters casting their ballots before Election Day also increased dramatically as many states adopted policies to encourage both early in-person voting and mail or absentee voting in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, there was considerable variability in the policies adopted by the states regarding both early in-person and absentee voting as well as the use of drop boxes and voter ID requirements.

Abramowitz highlights two voting reforms that did have a beneficial effect on voter turnout:

“However, after controlling for 2016 turnout, the data show that states that mailed absentee ballots directly to voters had a significantly higher turnout in 2020 than other states. Similarly, states that allowed the use of drop boxes for absentee voting had significantly higher turnout than those that required voters to put their absentee ballots in the mail. Finally, early in-person voting had a small negative impact on turnout but this effect was not statistically significant….It should be emphasized that although some of these effects on turnout are statistically significant, all of them are quite small — no greater than 2 or 3 percentage points.”

Who turns out to vote in state and congressional districts will shape the outcome of the midterm elections, and the incumbent President’s party usually loses seats. Here and there, however, Democrats can take advantage of divisions in state and local Republican groups. In the 2020-21 U.S. Senate elections in Georgia, for example, the GOP was damaged by internecine bickering amplified by Trump in combination with run-off rules that helped Democrats. In the runoff elections of January 5th, 2021, “Both elections saw significant turnout by Black voters, who overwhelmingly support Democrats. Just 8% fewer Black voters turned out for the runoffs, compared with an 11% decline among white voters,” according to according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were elected to the U.S. Senate by margins of 1.2 percent and 2.0 percent respectively.

In his conclusion, Abramowitz writes that “efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to suppress turnout by Democratic-leaning voter groups by imposing restrictions on absentee voting, early in-person voting, and use of drop boxes or by requiring that voters present photo identification in order to vote are unlikely to bear fruit. Such efforts could even backfire by angering voters who are the targets of these efforts and by causing left-leaning voting rights groups to increase their voter registration and GOTV efforts.”

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