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For most of American history, laws had forgettable names that described their intentions. A comprehensive survey by Cleveland State law professor Chris Sagers found just three laws prior to 1988 with names that were clever or cute rather than descriptive.

Then all acronymic hell broke loose with acts like CAN-SPAM, FACT, HOPE, LIFE, and PREEMIE (Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early). The idea was to make the name memorable while still capturing its essence, no matter how convolutedly.

At some point, probably during a late-night session trying to name an unpalatable bill, some anonymous Hill staffer presumably had an idea: Name the bill its opposite.

A bill that makes it harder to protect bodies of water from pollution? Call it the Clean Water Act. A bill that threatens the marriages of millions of Americans? Call it the Defense of Marriage Act.

Republican controlled state legislatures across the country have spent most of 2021 passing new “election integrity” or “election security” laws. They are not actually intended to keep elections secure from voter fraud, since such fraud is already extremely rare. What these laws are intended to do is to meaningfully reduce voter turnout in specific populations which are more likely to vote for Democrats. Election integrity laws are typically associated with voter ID requirements, limitations on voting by mail, and a reduction in early voting days.

Voting rights groups have said that new legislation in Georgia targets Black voters. A voter ID law was recently struck down in North Carolina after two of three panel judges reviewing the legislation claimed the law targeted Black voters. In their court order, Superior Court Judges Michael O’Foghludha and Vince Rozier wrote that the law “was motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.” According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have passed a total of 33 laws in 2021 which make it harder for their residents to vote

Election integrity laws are deeply intertwined with former President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.

Election integrity laws are deeply intertwined with former President Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud. The former President has consistently claimed that voter fraud was occurring in majority Black areas that voted heavily Democratic. The implicit claim being made by Trump is that these voters are fundamentally illegitimate political actors, and that they should not be able to influence the political process. Trump’s claims have also fueled Republican challenges to election results. In Arizona, the legislature funded a partisan audit of the state’s election results. In Georgia, the Republican led legislature authorized multiple recounts. Republican lawmakers have even called for audits in states which Trump won, such as Utah.

Democrats have long called election integrity laws by another name: voter suppression laws. Democrats claim that these laws are solely intended to limit the scope of the electorate to be more favorable to Republicans. Republicans have been passing these types of laws at the state level for decades. The difference is that the former President is pushing for even harsher restrictions, and pushing for Republicans to challenge the results of unfavorable electoral outcomes after the fact. The result is a Republican Party that is less tethered to reality. Republican investigations into voter fraud have consistently yielded no results. This hasn’t stopped the calls for new restrictions on voting after elections where Republicans do poorly. 

Ultimately, election integrity laws are a direct threat to the voting rights of marginalized groups. These groups have fewer resources and little legal recourse to fight back against these forms of legislation. The intensity of the voter fraud claims and the new pushes to audit vote counts after elections also directly threatens the political voice of racial minorities living in red states. 

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Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.