Ranking the Barriers to Voting

Disparities Politics Voting Voting Rights

            New Orleans      The Cost of Voting in the American States, 2022, is an invaluable guide that provides a nonpartisan, in fact, academic, ranking of what states do to make it harder or easier to vote in terms of access, convenience, registration, and other factors.  This is a public service provided by political science professors at Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University, and Wuhan University.  It’s worth a good look because, as the Times reports, “This year’s rankings are the first since the avalanche of voting laws passed by state legislatures across the country after the 2020 election [where]…19 states passed 33 laws restricting voting…and twenty-five states expanded voting access in 2021….”

The actual Cost of Voting Index for 2022 is not available on their website yet, but from the reports, we can glean some facts and figures, as well as an understanding of ongoing disputes.

When looking at registration deadlines, mostly there were not a lot of changes in recent years.  New Mexico was a big one, because it moved from 28 days ahead of elections to same day registration.  They are now one of eighteen states that allow same day registration and voting.  Looking at that list is a mixed bag of red and blue states that might surprise.  Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Maine are on the list, and those have been bright or reliably red states for quite some time.  The longest lead time to register before voting at 30 days put a bunch of states in bad company including Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.  Only tiny Rhode Island is a predictably blue state on that roster.  Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Kentucky are only slightly better at 28 days.

Besides the big swing for New Mexico, Vermont also marked a big improvement, moving from 23rd in the ranking to third after going forward with a statewide vote-by-mail system.  Wisconsin went the other way from down to 47th from 38th, which wasn’t a number of have been proud of beforehand, partially because they added a proof of residency on voter registration applications to throw a rock in the road of voters there.

Some states fall down because, like Florida, they restrict voter registration drives, or Georgia, with its bizarre rules banning water on voting lines.  Others like Colorado soared to near the top of the list because they adopted a voter-registration-default system where people were automatically registered to vote at state agencies and later sent a postcard allowing them to cancel the registration.  It netted 350,000 new voters since 2020, which does rock the vote.

There was whining from some conservatives about the fact that the ten criteria used by the professors don’t credit their so-called new “security” measures as positive points in the scorecard.  The professors in fact matched the data with voter fraud data from the arch conservative Heritage Foundation and found that the new Republican reforms did not decrease fraud statistically.  They just made it harder.

One of the bittersweet points in the rankings was that as hard as some states tried to make voting, it was bad, but could have been worse, and, in fact, other states were already worse.  As the Times noted,

…while the placement of states that passed laws with significant restrictions dipped — Florida dropped to 33rd from 28th, Georgia to 29th from 25th and Iowa to 23rd from 19th — they still maintained higher rankings than many other states. Even though the laws included a range of voting restrictions like new identification requirements for mail voting, limits on provisional ballots and reductions in drop boxes, Florida and Georgia still have early in-person voting periods, which the study weighs heavily, and Iowa has same-day voter registration.

This would be one of those times where sometimes the sun shines on a cloudy day.

The ever-present question that has to continually be asked is why in a democracy does the project of some continue to be coming up with ways to make it harder to vote?