The Voting Rights Debate Is Not What You’ve Been Led to Believe

“It’s on us to look past the elephant-donkey fight, stand tall, and be the freethinking people America needs now more than ever.”

It’s not a niche idea to say that extreme factions on the political left have overplayed their cultural hand. In the past several years, they have gone after everything from Sesame Street to maple syrup. But it may ruffle a few feathers more to note that segments of the political right have done the same thing, claiming Cardi B’s Grammy performance was the “end of an empire” and 27% of Republicans believing Donald Trump is fighting a secret cabal of pedophiles.

A Silly, but Dangerous Fight

Both sides of the political aisle are in deep water, and we’re getting near the drop off. Partisan pundits and politicians from the right and the left have both proven their willingness to engage in hysteria, fear-mongering, and in some cases, outright disinformation. While this is all very entertaining, it’s entertaining in the same way that an elephant and a donkey wrestling near a cliff would be. It’s amusing—the elephant and the donkey both look stupid—and we can laugh. At some point, though, someone really should pull these two idiotic animals back from the edge before we have a catastrophic fall and a PETA nightmare.

Election Lies From Both Sides

The most recent incarnation of this animal vs. animal tomfoolery is the issue of voting rights. In the wake of the contentious 2020 election debacle, many states are pushing to amend voter laws in an attempt to streamline voting processes and eliminate fraud. Stacey Abrams responded to this policy suggestion in both measured and not-hyperbolic-at-all fashion, calling the Georgia bill “the largest push to restrict voting rights since Jim Crow.” On the right, Donald Trump claimed falsely that mail-in ballots were being dumped in creeks and denigrated the integrity of mail-in ballots throughout his campaign leading up to November 3rd. He later claimed that he won an election for which there was no necessary evidence. Both sides have behaved well within expectation.

But where do the data actually lead? It is true that election integrity is a national imperative, but making this statement the crux of one’s position on voting rights betrays misleading presuppositions. A 2021 study at Stanford examined the consequences of no-excuse absentee voting, the focus of many recent pushes for voting reform, and the results deal blows to both narratives.

Here’s the Truth about Voting

Firstly, the study found that “states newly implementing no-excuse absentee voting for 2020 did not see larger increases in turnout than states that did not.” The notion that this type of policy led to disparity in turnout was also seemingly disproven, with the study going on to say the absentee option “did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout, as the increase in Democratic absentee voting was offset by decreases in Democratic in-person voting.” In a sharp contrast to general bipartisan heightened rhetoric, the authors concluded that “the results suggest that no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic.”

This is not a new notion either. A previous Stanford study used data from 1996-2018 to determine the effects of vote-by-mail policies. Researchers deduced three conclusions from the study’s results: “vote-by-mail does not appear to affect either party’s share of turnout… vote-by-mail does not appear to increase either party’s vote share… [and] vote-by-mail modestly increases overall average turnout rates, in line with previous estimates.” Once more, contradicting popular narrative, the study concluded that “all three conclusions support the conventional wisdom of election administration experts and contradict many popular claims in the media.”

The Bottom Line

Our interest in the elephant-donkey cliff fight has blurred our ability to see data clearly. If certain changes in voting policy do not indicate deep racist division or the end of the republic, then either the data have lied or our politicians have. While neither are impossible, one of these is far more likely than the other.

In Federalist 10, James Madison stated that “no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” The father of the Constitution was right. The modern political argument, true to trend, is one in which our various political factions have blown smoke in our eyes and fogged the lenses with which we see reality. It’s on us to look past the elephant-donkey fight, stand tall, and be the freethinking people America needs now more than ever.


Isaac WillourIsaac Willour is a reporter for the College Fix and a contributor to Lone Conservative. He serves as an executive scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, a columnist for Grove City College’s college newspaper, The Collegian, and an associate editor for the GCC Journal of Law & Public Policy.