No, state election reform bills aren't "the new Jim Crow"

The left-leaning Brennan Center has driven a lot of coverage with a running survey finding that GOP lawmakers have introduced more than 350 state bills that “would restrict access to the ballot.” That scary-sounding formulation can mean almost anything. In the eyes of the Brennan people, for example, it “restricts access to the ballot” for a state that did 15 days’ worth of early voting during the pandemic—after having never done it at all before 2020—to scale back to doing only 10 days’ worth at the request of county administrators stretched thin. It also means measures to check voter ID, a step widely popular with voters across the board, including those from minority groups.

If the terrain over which people are bickering is solidly within the range of election law considered normal a half dozen years ago, it’s probably not a return of Jim Crow, nor is it likely to spell the end of American democracy. And most of the bickering—on measures likely to pass—is on stuff like this.

That’s a related point: Keep your eye mostly on the bills state legislatures pass, not the flotsam any old lawmaker may happen to introduce. Everyday coverage of the doings in state capitals typically spends little time counting the sheer number of bills filed on a topic. There’s a good reason for that. Any backbencher in a state capital can introduce a bill that will never pass or even be seriously considered. Consider Arizona, where one GOP representative has filed a bill that would authorize the legislature to overturn the state’s popular vote for president and substitute its own electors, as Trump forces called for in December. That’s a genuinely horrible idea and needs to be watched, but there’s no indication it will emerge from committee.