All over the country, Republicans are tightening state election laws. They say they just want to prevent fraud, not stop Black Americans or other Democratic constituencies from voting. But there’s a simple way to test that claim: What do these Republicans think of early in-person voting? Unlike mail ballots, which in theory could be faked in ways that in-person ballots couldn’t (though in reality, mail ballots aren’t), early voting at a polling place is essentially identical, in terms of security, to voting on Election Day. So letting people vote early and in person doesn’t make it easier to cheat. It just makes it easier to vote.
Former President Donald Trump, who is leading the charge to restrict ballot access, has called on states to eliminate no-excuse early voting. In some states, such as Iowa, Republican lawmakers have moved in that direction, shortening the time window for casting ballots. And despite the party’s claims of innocence, polls show that there’s a big constituency in the GOP—ranging from one-third of Republicans to 60 percent or more—not just for preventing fraud, but for making it harder to cast a ballot, even if you’re a demonstrably legal voter.
This spring, over several weeks, Economist/YouGov polls repeatedly asked whether “it should be easier or harder for people to vote in American elections than it is currently.” Each time the question was asked, more respondents said it should be easier than said it should be harder. But Republicans disagreed. By margins of 40 to 50 percentage points, they consistently said it should be harder.
Even when pollsters don’t mention the word mail, Republicans bristle at the idea of routine early voting. In April, when the Pew Research Center asked Americans to choose between two statements on this issue, 63 percent chose the position that “any voter should have the option to vote early or absentee without having to document a reason.” But 62 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners chose the alternative answer: that voters should be allowed to cast their ballots early only “if they have a documented reason for not voting in person on Election Day.”
From the standpoint of preventing fraud, it makes no difference whether the period for early voting, whether in person or by mail, is long or short. Either way, the same risks and security measures apply. Yet Republicans want to constrict this period. In May, when a Reuters/Ipsos survey asked about “shortening the time window for early or absentee voting,” more Americans opposed that idea than supported it. But Republicans strongly supported it, 65 percent to 23 percent. In March, when a Des Moines Register poll asked about a proposal to “change the early voting period in Iowa with fewer days allowed to request and cast absentee ballots,” most Iowa voters rejected that proposal. But Republicans endorsed it, 71 percent to 24 percent.
The best way to filter out concern over mail ballots—and thereby measure how many Republicans just want to limit access to voting—is to put the words “in person” in the poll question. Last month, in a Monmouth survey, 34 percent of Republicans said “in-person early voting” should be “made harder.” In the Pew poll, 36 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners opposed “making early, in-person voting available to voters for at least two weeks prior to Election Day.” In Connecticut, North Carolina, and Missouri, 30 percent, 39 percent, and 46 percent of Republicans, respectively, expressed opposition to similar questions about “in person” voting.
When polls ask about “early voting” in general, the number goes up. Last month, in a Navigator survey, 47 percent of Republican voters opposed “expanding early voting access by requiring all states to offer 15 days of early voting.” In Texas, 60 percent of Republican voters supported “prohibiting counties from offering more than 12 hours a day of early voting during the last week of early voting.” In Pennsylvania, 59 percent of Republican voters favored a proposal to “ban early voting.”
Another way to measure how many Republicans want to impede voting is to ask about making Election Day a holiday. That would allow people to go to the polls instead of being stuck at their workplaces all day. In three recent surveys, 37 percent to 42 percent of Republicans opposed this idea. They did so even when the poll question specified that the purpose was to give people “time off from work to vote.”
A third way to measure the make-it-harder constituency is to ask about voting at a different place, as opposed to a different time. Security-wise, it makes no difference whether you vote at one precinct or another: Your residential records could still be accessed, and you would have to present the same ID. Nevertheless, in June, when an Economist/YouGov poll asked what should be done with ballots cast in the wrong precinct, only 40 percent of Republicans said such ballots “should be counted in the correct precinct.” Forty-four percent chose the alternative answer: “Ballots cast in the wrong precinct should be thrown out, even if cast by eligible voters.”
That phrase, “even if cast by eligible voters,” says it all. For many Republicans, and by some measures most Republicans, the crackdown on ballot access goes well beyond concerns about fraud. They object to people voting early, voting at alternative polling places, or getting Election Day off from work, even if the security measures are the same. They agree with Trump that “far too many days are given to vote.” That’s not a movement for ballot integrity. It’s a movement to constrict democracy.