The Economist: Biden's voting reform bill is futile -- and "misguided"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

“What better way to chase one humiliating setback and waste of political capital,” The Economist asks, “than with another?”  We’ve covered the futility of Joe Biden’s election-federalizing effort ad nauseam thanks to Chuck Schumer’s refusal to recognize it. However, the bill itself is almost as much of a non-sequitur to actual reform as it is futile, The Economist concludes, albeit while using a pox-on-both-houses approach:

Democrats make dark insinuations and allusions (to “purges” of the voter rolls, for example), but black turnout remains quite high. When Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket in 2012, it even exceeded white turnout. Some cite the growing black-white gap in 2016 and 2020 as evidence of voter suppression, yet there appears to have been no change in the racial turnout gap for mid-term elections (which you might expect would be even more pronounced as these generate less enthusiasm than presidential contests).

When Enrico Cantoni and Vincent Pons, two economists, examined all voter-ID laws enacted between 2008 and 2018 and their subsequent effect on turnout, they found that “the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation”. There is still an argument for federal prophylaxis. Republicans are plainly trying to create a voting regime that will skew to their benefit—they just have not yet found one that works all that well.

That slap at Republicans in this context is simply gratuitous. The GOP pushes voter-ID bills in states because that’s what voters want, and that’s true in all of the ethnic demos too. Even The Economist recognizes this, as we’ll see in a moment, while slapping Republicans for responding to voters. If there are some other elements of a “voting regime” that The Economist thinks are less than savory, then lay out that argument, but that slap is misplaced both rhetorically and factually.

And does The Economist not recognize that Democrats wants to bar voter ID in order to “create a voting regime that will skew to their benefit,” too? What other reason would Democrats attempt to pre-empt such a popular and basic element of election security?

However, we come to praise The Economist this time rather than bury it:

As with other culture-war issues in America, the parties have little capacity for self-examination over voting issues. Among Democrats, you are either for “voting rights” or against democracy. Yet an inconvenient truth is that the overwhelming majority of Americans, including majorities of African-Americans and Hispanics, think photo identification should be required to vote. Among Republicans, you are either for “election integrity” and Mr Trump, or you risk excommunication from the party. That is despite the complete lack of evidence of voter fraud—on even a small scale, let alone a systematic one.

They’re on firmer ground with this double-pox slap. American election counting systems are highly efficient and accurate, as the recounts and (professional) audits proved after the last election. Tearing out hair over that infrastructure is not just pointless but needlessly hysterical. However, so is the notion that a system that elected a black president twelve years ago and produces ever-increasing levels of black and Hispanic turnout somehow resembles Jim Crow voter suppression. It’s an absurd claim no matter how often Joe Biden makes it.

We gave the magazine some well-earned derision for floating the narrative last week that Joe Biden’s failure was the fault of Americans’ expectations and a supposedly impossible job. It redeems itself somewhat this week by reminding its readers that Biden keeps tilting at election windmills that largely don’t exist at all. Too bad this analysis won’t penetrate the craniums of The Economist’s target audience of liberals, Democrats, and cultural elites.