If this is Joe Biden when he’s forceful and passionate, the country is better off with the passive and detached version.
The president gave a thunderous address in Philadelphia on Tuesday denouncing alleged Republican voter suppression. Playing on the darkest fears of Democrats and layering on the adjectival overkill, Biden blatantly distorted Republican state-level election laws in a frankly demagogic speech.
If Democrats lose in 2022 or 2024, his speech will provide warrant for Democrats to embrace a corrosive excuse — GOP foul play.
This tack already got a successful test run by Stacey Abrams when she lost in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial campaign. She refused to concede and today almost all Democrats treat her, without cause, as the rightful victor.
According to Biden, the GOP election rules are one of the most grievous affronts to our democratic rights ever. He called this push “the most serious test of our democracy since the Civil War.” Half the country left the union during the Civil War, and more than 600,000 people died in a yearslong war, which obviously doesn’t bear comparison to, say, passing voter ID laws.
At one point, Biden referred to “Georgia’s vicious anti-voting law.” As the president himself might say, “Come on, man.”
Although it tends to be Exhibit A in the Democratic argument against GOP voting initiatives, the Georgia law was fully debated prior to its passage, and refined in the legislative process. The result is well-crafted legislation that is not anywhere close to hearkening back to Lester Maddox.
First of all, the Georgia law increases the hours available for early voting, and it preserves ballot drop boxes, an emergency measure adopted during the pandemic.
Other key provisions have sensible rationales. The law dispenses with signature match, which Abrams has criticized as unreliable, to verify absentee ballots; instead, it asks that voters provide a driver’s license or state ID number.
Where long lines are an endemic problem, the new law mandates that counties either reduce the size of precincts or add new equipment or workers.
The law seeks to reduce the number of provisional ballots, which are hard for election workers to handle, by diminishing a leading reason people vote provisionally, i.e., they show up at the wrong precinct. Election workers will direct such voters to the correct precinct.
In the same spirit, the law says voters can’t request absentee ballots later than 11 days prior to the election — because many absentee ballots are rejected for arriving late.
Even if you oppose every single one of these measures, Georgia will still have online registration, extensive early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. As Henry Olsen of The Washington Post points out, most advanced countries around the world don’t have all the different ways to vote that Georgia does. “If Georgia’s elections are undemocratic,” Olsen writes, “then almost all of our democratic allies are also undemocratic.”
Biden either doesn’t realize this, or doesn’t care — in other words, he’s either being recklessly irresponsible or deeply cynical (and probably both).
The presumption that marginal changes in election laws measurably affect turnout, a key assumption of the Democratic case against GOP election bills, is simply erroneous. Voter ID laws haven’t suppressed turnout. The Supreme Court’s Shelby decision ending federal pre-clearance of voting changes in certain states hasn’t stopped minorities from voting. And states that adopted no-excuse mail-in balloting last year didn’t have higher turnout than states that didn’t.
Regardless, Abrams has proved that the charge of voter suppression is a powerful partisan motivator. Biden made a nod in this direction when he said, “We’ll engage in an all-out effort to educate voters about the changing laws, register them to vote, and then get the vote out.”
Never mind that this wouldn’t be possible under a new Jim Crow.
When it comes to juicing up his own supporters, the Biden speech may have been effective, but it wasn’t statesmanship — or remotely truthful.