The 2024 presidential race is a long way off, but it’s being fought right now, not by candidates and not in front of voters, but with legislation and in the courts.
Republicans are pushing hard at the state level to generally make it more difficult to vote, and say they want to make the vote more secure, although there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Democrats are pushing in Washington to generally make voting easier. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called GOP efforts “voter suppression that is rampant and current” as she pushed a Democratic bill to create new federal voter protections.
Which side wins could very much determine who controls the Senate and House in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
Look at the map. The Brennan Center for Justice has been tracking where Republicans are focusing their efforts to restrict access to mail-in ballots, increased registration and other things credited with expanding the number of people who voted in 2020.
You’ll note that three states have seen the most bills introduced: Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Those were also the three states at the heart of former President Donald Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election being stolen.
Now do this math. The 2020 election results were decisive: Biden got 306 electoral votes and Trump got 232.
Subtract these and Trump would have won. Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, plus Georgia’s 16 and Arizona’s 11, made Joe Biden the President. Trump needed all three. No wonder Republicans are focusing their suppression efforts on those president-making states, where the state legislatures are all currently controlled by the GOP.
An Arizona law being challenged by the Democratic National Committee was before the Supreme Court Tuesday and conservative justices were skeptical of the argument that Arizona’s effort to restrict ease of voting by mail would harm anyone. (More on that below)
The numbers are changing. So is the country. You also have to remember that with the 2020 Census, a number of states will either gain or lose electoral votes. The states gaining the most are Texas and Florida. Pennsylvania loses a vote. Arizona gains one.
If you apply the 2020 state results to the 2024 electoral votes, Biden’s margin of victory shrinks by four votes. In this way the electoral map is moving toward Republicans. But it’s also true that the states that are gaining the most new people, like Texas, are moving, albeit very slowly, left in recent elections, although not enough for Democrats to gain a foothold in the legislature.
All this will get very real next year. Two states have flipped from two Republican senators to two Democratic senators in the past several years — Georgia and Arizona — have Senate seats up for election in 2022. So does North Carolina, long a Democratic target. And so does Michigan, which is becoming more competitive for Republicans.
The Senate is currently evenly divided, which means if either party gains a single seat, they either gain or solidify a slim majority.
Here’s another important map to tell that story:
What’s happening in Washington. For all the work Republicans are doing at the state level to throw up hurdles to mail-in voting and voter registration, Democrats are doing their best at the federal level, where they have more power.
The House this week will vote on H.R. 1, which they call the “For the People Act.”
A riff on a similar proposal passed in 2019, but ignored by the then-GOP-controlled Senate, one key element of the For the People Act is its effort to end partisan gerrymandering by installing bipartisan commissions to draw state congressional district lines using new Census data. A number of states have such commissions, but the majority still allow state legislatures to draw lines and state legislatures have a habit of making districts dominated by one party or the other, which has cemented a partisan atmosphere in Washington.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza explains that a world without partisan gerrymandering might look like Iowa, where nonpartisan staff have drawn congressional lines since 1980:
The state’s congressional districts have regularly changed hands between the parties, with Republicans winning two previously-held Democratic seats in the 2020 election. And generally speaking, three of the four districts in the state — the exception being the Republican-friendly 4th in western Iowa — are extremely competitive every two years. Check out the winning percentages for four incoming members of Congress in the state: 62%, 49%, 50% and 51.3%. In the election in the state’s 2nd District, the Republican candidate leads the Democrat candidate by six — SIX! — votes.
Logic follows that if you, as a member of Congress, know that you represent a district evenly split along party lines, you are much more likely to try to find ways to appeal to voters of both parties through your actions in the House. Right? Right!
What does the Constitution say? The Constitution give states the ability to choose the time, manner and place of their elections, but gives Congress the power to regulate them. The Supreme Court in recent years has given deference to states with a bad track record for marginalizing certain voters and done a lot to unwind federal oversight meant to ensure protections for minority voters.
Those court decisions, along with roadblocks put in place by state legislatures helped Democrats move to put voter access to the top of their platform in recent years even as Republican-controlled legislatures moved to put up new roadblocks.
The Supreme Court did not sound keen during oral arguments to strike down an Arizona law that would restrict who can deliver an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter and also restricts where voters on election day can cast ballots.
The patchwork of laws and rules for all manner of voting in the US is not likely to go anywhere until or unless Congress can figure out a way to act. CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein writes that the Democrats’ proposal would also tackle one of the most restrictive elements of American democracy, a byzantine and complicated set of voter registration rules, which, if unlocked, could bring many more young voters, a majority of whom are non-white, to the polls.
The divided Senate is the issue here. It’s not clear if Democrats can currently find a way to pass their legislation. Republicans aren’t going to support it and enough Democrats (two!) oppose ending the filibuster custom, which means it’s destined to die in the Senate again this year.
Watch this video: Citizen by CNN’s panel on the Divided States of America.