By Niko Skaperdas
Elections have been on the minds of Americans since the events of 2020 and the subsequent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. With the passing of laws tightening access to polls in states like Georgia after alleged voting fraud (though there has been no corroborated evidence of such from voting audits), the question of impact is now on the minds of politicians and activists who see these restrictions as a new form of voter suppression that disproportionately affect Black-Indigineous people of color.
This subject is a sore one in the American consciousness as centuries of systemic voter suppression have left districts misrepresented and many citizens apathetic and disillusioned to the American democratic process. With access to the polls being a major focus as of late, the capitalistic ethos of American public policy forces the question of how access affects the economy and what would be the impact of establishing federal voting days as holidays so wage workers would have access to the polls.
The new voting restrictions come in the wake of high mail in and absentee voting in the 2020 election. As former deep republican states began to turn democratic and ultimately handed Joe Biden a victory, conservative lawmakers claimed election fraud. These calls snowballed into legislative action in 13 states, where 30 laws have been passed to restrict the ease of absentee and mail in voting, according to the Brennan Center (Brennan Center). These laws, while neutral on their face, hold restrictions that target individuals who are the least likely to vote in the first place. Wage working people of color are the least likely to vote as they are the most likely to suffer from voter apathy and discouragement according to Pew Research Institute (Pew).
Laws such as those passed in Georgia see additional photo ID requirements, limits the window for absentee ballots, and diminishes ballot drop locations throughout the state, according to the Associated Press. Outrage has been expressed over the institution of a new chair of the state election board by the legislature, which increases partisan influence on election integrity. Laws like this come across as reactionary as Georgia saw a massive increase to its voter base in the 2020 election thanks to the efforts of Stacey Abrahms registering 800,000 non-voters for the first time. Many of these voters identify as black and/or POC. This group that was once silent in the state of Georgia became a force that thwarted Conservative expectations (Associated Press).
With state legislatures passing laws like those in Georgia, the question arises of how voting restrictions can be blocked or circumvented. Obviously, any government that silences the voices of a specific group of people is not a true democracy and systemic protections should be put in place at the federal level to protect voting rights. However, this seems to be an aspiration rather than a tangible goal (Britannica).
A popular idea that has circulated recently is the concept of making voting days a federal holiday. While this would increase overall voter turnout (as shown in Belgium with 87% of citizens casting ballots compared to the US’s 44%), blue collar and wage workers would not be protected as federal holidays have no jurisdiction over private businesses. Holding voting on weekends would be similar as many wage workers work then. Doing so, according to Annie McDonald, Editor of the Berkeley Public Policy Journal, would disadvantage low income workers even more and misrepresent districts as only higher income individuals with jobs that observe federal holidays would have access. Retail employees may even face higher hours and less access to the polls as many stores run holiday sales which increase customer turnover and lead to managers scheduling employees for more hours (Britannica).
The ideal situation to block voter suppression is to enact federal legislation that protects early and absentee voting in both public and private enterprises. Every American deserves the opportunity to have their voice heard. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act are currently held for Senate approval after passing the House of Representatives. These laws would protect against voting restrictions that primarily affect BIPOC individuals. The onus is also on private companies to allow their employees to vote during a potential work day. Public policy should guide corporate actions, not the reverse. The United States has a long history of voter suppression in marginalized communities, but there is absolutely no reason any citizen’s voice in 2021 should be silenced for someone’s political gain.