In previous elections, Democrats such as Stacey Abrams publicly said that the election system was being rigged against them by certain laws. While they put together a persuasive case, there is also plenty of evidence suggesting that most or even all plausible voter access changes including mail in voting have little to no effect on turnout or margins.

Researchers showed that mail in voting has little effect on voter turnout, and even less of a boost to Democrats. You cannot legally be removed from voter rolls explicitly because of political affiliation or views. In addition, NYC's mayoral primary had a poll showing 61% of Democratic primary voters planned to vote in person on election day while only 9% planned to go by mail (!). This is a massive departure from 2020's election.

Some research shows that Democrats respond to such voting restrictions by becoming more determined to vote and that could cause such restrictions to backfire and therefore even be a net negative for Republicans. The Biden administration has said that it could "out organize" these laws.

Why are/were Democrats up in arms about this? Some people within the party were even calling it "the new Jim Crow" despite the fact that nonwhite voters turnout increased regardless of such laws.


2 Answers 2


The only concrete piece of research being discussed there by Hillygus is the effects or NVRA (aka "motor voter act"). From a quick look at one such paper "Motor Voter and Turnout 15 Years after the NVRA", the effects were pretty mixed (e.g. increase in turnout in presidential election years but--for some reason not exactly explained--decrease in turnout at midterms. Bare registration did increase though.) Also, by socioeconomical quintiles, NRVA indeed did not increase participation in the lowest one, but only in the next 3 ones. I'm not like totally surprised because I suspect the lowest earning might have fewer driver licenses.


Representative democracy always engenders a tug-of-war between pragmatist/realpolitik worldviews and idealist/ethicist worldviews. That breaks down as follow:

  • Pragmatist/realpolitik worldviews hold that:
    • gaining power is the goal
    • power is achieved by politicians who win elections
    • elections are a competition between (prospective) leaders to gain more votes than their opponents
    • therefore, limiting voting to those who will vote for you and yours is an effective, efficient strategy
  • idealist/ethicist worldviews hold that:
    • gaining power is the goal
    • power is granted by citizens through elections
    • elections are a competition among citizens to elect leaders who will represent their interests
    • therefore, limiting voting in any way is amoral, Machiavellian, and reprehensible

Now, one can make a reasonable case for both of these positions within a healthy, functioning democracy; or rather, within a healthy, functioning democracy representatives' self-interest keeps them more or less in line with the interests of both their constituents and their nation. However, the two positions are not equal. Some element of the idealist/ethicist worldview must be present or else the system ceases to be a representative democracy. Without a firm belief that power is vested in the citizenry, politics de-evolves into a mere no-holds-barred power struggle between (prospective) leaders, and that quickly collapses into autocratic or authoritarian systems.

In our current political environment in the US, conservatives have gone all-in on realpolitik. Even before the 'Reality TV' politics of Trumpism, conservatives had been playing the pragmatist game, seeking out every political loophole and twist that would grant them some slight edge against the clear moderate-liberal-Democrat majority in the US population. Trumpism merely went further, trying to break the very rules of the game when the tricks and tactics of gamesmanship weren't sufficient to keep Trump in power.

Democrats, by contrast, have stuck more closely to the idealistic view that power is vested in the people, and that it's vital to persevere the people's ability to execute their power. In that sense, it doesn't matter whether efforts to restrict, inhibit, or suppress voting are inconsequential, or might produce a backlash that nullifies them. The act of installing voting restrictions, inhibitions, and suppressions goes against the ideals of representative democracy, against the founding ideals of the nation, and thus are inherently immoral.

One can make the cynical claim that Democrats are only being idealistic because it's in their self-interest to do so, but that misses the point on two counts;

  1. Democrats are not guaranteed to be the majority party in the general population forever. expanding voting rights takes power away from both parties, and forces 8both* parties to compete for voter attention.
  2. Clinging to idealism for jaded reasons doesn't hurt the ideals in the least; a good product isn't diminished by a bad salesman.

In the best case democrats actually believe in the ideals of representative democracy; in the worst case they are promoting the ideals for their own advantage, which they will trip over in the future when their fortunes change. Either way, it's to our advantage as citizens to cling to and promote these ideals.

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