In the weeks before an election, political campaigns are focused on getting voters to the polls — holding rallies, knocking on doors and making phone calls to make sure people show up.
In Georgia and other states, the question in this election is not just about which candidates voters will support, but whether they’ll be able to cast a ballot in the first place. The fight over voting rights in the midterms is a reminder that elections are not solely about who is running, what their commercials say or how many people are registered to vote. They are about who is allowed to vote and which officials are placing obstacles in the way of would-be voters.
The issue of voter suppression has exploded in recent weeks, most notably in the Georgia governor’s race between Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, and Brian Kemp, a Republican. While running for higher office, Mr. Kemp, as secretary of state, also enforces Georgia’s voting laws. This month, The Associated Press reported that Mr. Kemp’s office had put more than 53,000 voter registration applications in limbo because the information on the forms did not exactly match state databases. Seventy percent of the pending registrations were from African-Americans, leading Ms. Abrams to charge that Mr. Kemp was trying “to tilt the playing field in his favor.” Mr. Kemp claimed a voter registration group tied to Ms. Abrams had “submitted sloppy forms.”
Since the 2010 election, 24 states overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans have put in place new voting restrictions, such as tougher voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and barriers to registration. Republicans say these measures are necessary to combat the threat of widespread voter fraud, even though study after study shows that such fraud is exceedingly rare. Many of these states have hotly contested races in 2018, and a drop in turnout among Democratic constituencies, such as young people and voters of color, could keep Republicans in power.
This month, the Supreme Court upheld a law in North Dakota that could block 70,000 residents who don’t have a qualifying ID from the polls, including 5,000 Native American voters. The law is particularly burdensome for Native Americans because it requires an ID with a “current residential street address,” but some Native Americans live on reservations and get their mail through post-office boxes. This is worrisome news for Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, who is trailing her Republican opponent in the polls. She won election to the Senate in 2012 by 3,000 votes, thanks largely to 80 percent support from the two counties with large Indian reservations.