The United States is so divided that even the act of voting is itself politicized. Democrats are concerned about restrictions on its free exercise in Georgia and other states. Some Republicans are so sure about electoral fraud that they doubt the validity of Donald Trump’s presidential defeat to Joe Biden.
Conservative mistrust is neither new nor invented by Trump. It has been around at least since the jokes about Illinois cows voting for John F. Kennedy in 1960. But the age and depth of a grievance do not validate it. Among the threats to American democracy, the reality of reduced access to the vote trumps the theory of massive abuse of it. (The courts, remember, dismissed the various appeals against the November results.)
If passed, the People’s Law, which cleared the House of Representatives last month, would go some way to solving the problem. The law seeks to tighten federal standards in what is currently a fragmented “system” of electoral rules. Each state should allow two weeks of early voting, for example. Postal ballots and same-day registration would become normal. Traitors who have served their sentence have the right to have their right to vote restored.
Even without its broader reforms – campaign finance, gerrymandering – this is bold legislation. This helps to explain the dearth of Republican support. Among the Conservatives, an easier vote has become increasingly synonymous with Democratic advantage. The problem here is not just the solipsism (isn’t there Republican fraud?) Or the partisan way of looking at a basic civic right. It is the strange defeatism. Although this was a valid argument against reform, the idea that a democratic American state means an ever more liberal state is wrong. It is based on demographic determinism: more precisely, the premise that ethnic diversity leads to liberalism. Trump’s gains among Latino voters in November suggest a more complex picture.
In any case, it is do not a valid argument. A country that denies the right to vote to some of its citizens well in its living memory must be all the more vigilant in the face of the new restrictions. On this point, the company appears more enlightened than the party it often finances. Over the weekend, more than a hundred business leaders reportedly met on Zoom to discuss the violation of voting rights in various states. The proposed responses included withholding not only donations from politicians who support such laws, but also investments from states passing them. This follows a recent open letter from black executives against the trend for stricter electoral rules.
It must be said that not all companies are making their voices heard. And skeptics are right that companies will ultimately serve their business interests. But the definition of this interest seems to be broader than it once was. Being seen as complicit in the actual franchise shrinkage could turn away a generation of potential consumers and recruits.
These are probably only the first days of a more politically assertive corporate sector, one that goes beyond tax and regulatory issues to express a civic vision. This outspokenness is not without risks. This could nurture the very modern idea that business is only good if it does unnecessary things: the work of creating jobs and inventing products should never be ignored.
But if a corporate world that was mostly calm during the outrages of the Trump era has found its voice, the United States will be better for it. Senate Republicans are likely to deny voting reform the necessary supermajority, at least in its current form. If they’re on the wrong side of a good cause, they can’t count on all of their natural supporters to be there with them.