In a major decision on Thursday, the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court upheld voting restrictions in the state of Arizona and signaled it was unlikely to strike down new state laws the Republican Party is pushing to limit voting across America. The high court’s ruling preserved policy that a lower court said discriminated against minority voters, while President Joe Biden condemned the decision as part of a “broad assault against voting rights.” This comes with 2021 already having seen, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “the most aggressive voter suppression effort since Jim Crow,” after 17 states enacted 28 laws restricting access to the ballot—driven by a widespread belief in former President Donald Trump’s lie that he didn’t really lose reelection last year. At the same time, 28 bills preserving or expanding voting rights have been signed into law in 14 states. High-profile experiments with new kinds of voting like New York City’s ranked-choice method are on display. Is this a moment of a fundamental change for elections in America?

David Becker, the executive director and founder of Center for Election Innovation & Research, says the U.S. has been “on a steady path of progress for decades toward more accessible and secure elections with more integrity in their results,” increasingly embracing auditable paper ballots as well as early and mail voting. A record number of U.S. voters—roughly 100 million—cast early ballots by mail or in person in 2020, and 95 percent of voters used paper ballots, up from fewer than 80 percent in 2016. Becker reports that last year’s election was “the most secure, transparent, and verified” in U.S. history, but still warns of an unprecedented danger to the American system. Candidates who continue advancing Trump’s lie—who Becker calls “democracy deniers”—are now running to be election officials in many states. As he notes, “It's the first time in American history that we've had widespread consideration of changes to election policy based on a fantasy.”


Graham Vyse: You’ve described last year’s U.S. elections, in the midst of a global pandemic, as a historic success. Why do you see it that way?

David Becker: American election officials were under incredible stress. They were at risk of getting sick. They had staff getting sick. Some were getting threats even before the election and there was a lot of disinformation targeted at them, including from the White House. They somehow managed to facilitate democracy for 20 million more voters than America had ever seen in any election at any time in our history. It’s one of the great success stories of American democracy, if not the great success story. The officials and workers and volunteers who made it happen are heroes we’re not recognizing adequately. Many of them are still receiving death threats—and threats to their families—for doing their jobs so well.

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