Red state election blues: could voting restrictions threaten Biden’s lead?

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By all accounts, Joe Biden looks set to win the presidency.  Not only is “Amtrak-Joe” steaming ahead nationally by double digits, he is also ahead in key swing states, and is even drawing level in some traditionally Republican states: Georgia and Texas. Without these states President Trump’s chances of keeping his place in the Oval are non-existent. The Economist’s election model places Biden’s chances of winning at 94% with only a week left to go. But though models do a good job of deciphering polling data, many forecasters have struggled to gauge the impact of voting restrictions, whether they be due to Covid or due to more nefarious restrictions aimed at bringing round certain results.

There are two issues at hand here. The first, Covid-19, is largely unavoidable. The pandemic has meant that many poll workers, who are typically much older than the average citizen, cannot perform their duties. There are fears in the media and among political operatives of long lines and chaos on election day, similar to the shambolic Primary votes held earlier this year. This issue has been somewhat alleviated by a surge of younger volunteers in major urban areas, though there is still concern regarding polling stations in rural areas.

There are fears of long lines and chaos on election day

The second issue is potentially far more sinister. Partisan meddling with polling stations and voting rights could further complicate events on election day – and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 placed strict restrictions on southern states’ ability to alter voting laws within their states. This ‘preclearance clause’ was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013. Since, Republican held state legislatures in the South have been quick to capitalise on the ruling.

Partisan meddling could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the outcome

This is nowhere more apparent than in the aforementioned states of Texas and Georgia. Both states have enacted strict voter ID laws and closed nearly a thousand polling stations between them. The closures, the states claim, are due to a lack of funding; it is certainly true that election infrastructure in the US is woefully underfunded.

The vast majority of poll closures however, are in areas with majority minority populations. When considered with evidence that Georgia’s recent voter roll purge overwhelmingly targeted black voters, a more worrisome pattern emerges. Minority voters, especially African Americans, are significantly more likely to vote Democrat. The executive branch, who had under Obama sought to challenge such tactics by southern states, has at best ignored and at worst contributed to the problem by meddling with the postal service whom many will rely on for postal voting.

Democrats fear that long lines at polling stations along with stricter registration and ID laws will cause many blue voters to turn away on election day. This combined with Covid-19 related fears (that are more prevalent among Democrat voters) have led many to question whether we really will see the blue wave predicted by the polls or just a disappointing ripple. It also explains why Biden has been downplaying his lead in the polls over recent weeks and encouraging his voters to get out on election day in spite of health concerns.

Democrats need not despair yet

Democrats need not despair yet, however. Unprecedented early voting turnout has alleviated some of the expected pressure on polling stations come election day. So far polling suggests that the early votes have favoured Biden. Nonetheless, voting democratic is indubitably more difficult in southern states. A one- or two-point polling edge in states like Texas and Georgia is unlikely to translate into a Democratic win in those states. Fortunately for Joe Biden, he still has many more paths to the Oval Office.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

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