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The GOP discovers it can compete without voter suppression laws

Voters in Virginia and New Jersey offered the GOP a reminder: Voter suppression laws are not necessary to make elections competitive.


After Democrats took back Congress and the White House, Republicans responded in the worst possible way. GOP officials across the country not only concocted ridiculous conspiracy theories, denying electoral reality, they also got to work imposing new voting restrictions, putting hurdles between Americans and the ballot box at levels unseen since the Jim Crow era.

The subtext was hardly subtle: Republicans came to believe they'd lose fair electoral fights. To win future elections, the GOP would have to make it harder for voters to participate in their own democracy.

Yesterday offered a timely reminder of how wrong they were.

In Virginia, for example, the outgoing Democratic majority invested real time and energy into making it easier for voters to cast ballots. The New York Times reported in April:

As states across the South race to establish new voting restrictions, Virginia is bolting in the opposite direction. The Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, this week capped a multiyear liberal movement for greater ballot access by signing off on sweeping legislation to recreate pivotal elements of the federal Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court's conservative majority in 2013. Alone among the states of the former Confederacy, Virginia has become a voting rights bastion....

The article added that over the course of 14 months, Virginia Democrats, among other things, scrapped the commonwealth's voter-ID law, enacted 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting, made Election Day a state holiday, and enacted automatic voter registration.

A month earlier, New Jersey Democrats made it easier to vote, too. NBC News reported in March:

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday a bill instituting early voting at an event that sought to draw a contrast between his state and Republican efforts to curb access elsewhere.... New Jersey's bill will create as many as nine days of early voting before elections, and it includes evening hours and two weekends of early voting in general elections.

That was in the spring. In the fall, Republicans excelled in both states. Making voting easier didn't hurt the GOP at all.

Indeed, while I realize how unlikely it is that far-right conspiracy theorists who dominate Republican politics will reconsider their assumptions, the GOP's performance in Virginia and New Jersey should — in theory — put reality in a new light.

The system is not "rigged." There is no systemic "fraud" tilting the playing field in Democrats' favor. No one is "stealing" elections from Republicans. Voter suppression laws are not necessary to make elections competitive. I don't agree often with National Review's Jim Geraghty, but he helped drive the point home nicely this morning:

The pre-election contention from Newt Gingrich that if Virginia's elections were close, Democrats would steal them, was paranoid nonsense. What, did the vast evil Democratic vote-stealing or vote-switching conspiracy just take the night off? Did the Venezuelan hackers get lazy? Did somebody forget to program the Chinese-built thermostats? Was the paper used in Virginia's ballots certified bamboo-free?

This shouldn't be necessary, but after yesterday's results, Republicans have new reasons to acknowledge the integrity of their own country's electoral system.