Over the weekend, President Donald Trump threatened prosecutions against nonexistent voter fraud, a message likely aimed at intimidating voters and stopping some from voting. With Trump’s heightened rhetoric and a seemingly increasing number of stories about voter suppression around the country, it is worth asking: Has voter suppression actually gotten worse in the 2018 midterm election season? Or are we just hearing about it more thanks to the hyperpolarized political environment? The truth depends on which state you are talking about. In many parts of the U.S., even in many Republican states, registering to vote and voting is becoming easier. But in some key Republican states, Supreme Court decisions have allowed states to put up new hurdles for voting. Just ask Native Americans in North Dakota, black voters in Georgia, or Latinos in Dodge City, Kansas. Whether or not these hurdles actually affect election outcomes, they are outrageous, unjustified, and a drain on state resources.
In some ways we are really talking about two Americas. In one part of America, voting is getting easier. Many blue states, and even some red ones, have moved to adopt automatic voter registration. Many red and purple states have much more generous periods of early voting than blue states; early in-person voting started Oct. 10 in Ohio, yet does not exist at all in New York. And both red and blue states have moved to adopt online voter registration, which is a convenience for voters and avoids errors in data entry. Other bipartisan reforms include the sharing of information across states through the ERIC database to avoid duplicate voter registrations.
That is all good news, and it is often ignored in the fight over voter fraud and voter suppression. Such actions deserve praise and support as election officials and legislatures do their jobs to ensure that all eligible voters can easily cast a ballot that will be fairly counted.
But there’s the other part of America too. There’s North Dakota, which changed its voter identification law after the razor-thin election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in 2012 to make it harder for Native American voters living on reservations and lacking a residential street address to be able to vote. There’s Georgia, where Secretary of State (and current gubernatorial candidate) Brian Kemp has been holding for administrative review up to 53,000 voter registration cards for failing to have an exact match (like a missing hyphen) between the official record of a person’s name and the name appearing on the registration card. And there’s Dodge City, Kansas, a Latino-majority city with only a single polling place for 27,000 people—a polling place that was recently moved out of town and a mile from public transportation for the 2018 midterm elections.