Almost all the new laws raise new barriers to voting by mail. Republican officials dislike postal voting in 2021 because in 2020 Biden voters were much more likely than Trump voters to use a postal ballot.
But that pro-Biden tilt in postal voting looks like a once-in-a-lifetime event, driven more by divergent reactions to the threat of the coronavirus than by ordinary voting behavior. (Forty percent of Biden postal voters cited fear of the virus as a reason they voted by mail.)
In previous elections, constituencies that have generally supported Democrats in recent years, including younger voters and members of racial minority groups, have tended to use postal ballots less frequently than do Republican-leaning constituencies, including older, white, and military voters. And many of the particular restrictions Republicans have in mind will bear especially hard on their expected voters.
For example, the new Georgia law requires those voting by mail to include some form of proof of identity, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license or a utility bill. If you work in an office park in the increasingly Democratic suburbs of Atlanta, making a photocopy is easy. A machine is probably just down the hall. If you are tech savvy, you’ll scan the license on your smartphone and print a copy. But if you live on the edge of a conservative small town in rural Georgia, or if you are unfamiliar with computers, making a photocopy or scanning and printing can be complicated. Obtaining an affidavit may prove even more daunting.
You might assume that Georgia Republicans have absorbed such negative information, balanced it, and coldly calculated that the trade is worth it: They may lose some of their older, poorer, or sicker rural voters, but if they can thwart a larger number of Black or young voters, they will emerge ahead.
But in the Trump and post-Trump era, local Republican power holders have again and again demonstrated that they are not good risk assessors. They refuse to acknowledge awkward truths. They believe their own inflammatory propaganda. The result is that they make self-harming decisions based on inaccurate information.
Last week, the liberal world was much upset by a segment on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the highly influential host endorsed the white-nationalist fear of race replacement: “The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people—more obedient voters from the third world.”
Again, leave aside for the moment the origins and implications of the idea. Focus on the arithmetic instead. Donald Trump lost in 2020 in great part because his support collapsed among white voters, especially among white men. In 2016, exit polling found that white men with college degrees voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 14 points. In 2020, the same polls found they voted for Trump over Joe Biden by a margin of only three points, a startling 11-point drop. Trump’s margin in 2020 among white men without college degrees dropped by six points.