Majorities of Americans in both major parties think voting rules in their states are appropriate and support a voter identification law, but Democrats are increasingly worried about progress in voting rights for Black Americans.
A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed voting was the only one of eight subjects — including education and treatment by police — in which fewer Americans now than four years ago said African Americans had achieved significant progress since the civil rights era.
Concern about a lack of progress is much higher for Democrats, 86% of whom believe more must be done to secure racial equality in voting rights, compared with 40% of Republicans.
That's a reflection of the continuing partisan fight over election procedures that spawned more restrictive laws in 19 GOP-controlled states last year.
"I'm concerned that the more conservative elements are attempting to create a Jim Crow 2," said Richard Barnett, a retired attorney who volunteered as an election judge in his Chicago suburb, echoing the term President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, used to attack the new Republican laws. "They're making it hard for ‘the other’ people to vote to consolidate their power."
Still, even Democrats are fairly happy with the voting laws in their own states — red and blue. About 3 out of 4 Americans think the laws in their states are "about right," according to the poll.
Recoa Russell, a 67-year-old retired machine operator in Mobile, Alabama, who is Black, lives in a state with some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. But he said the rules there "work well. Just show your ID and pull the lever."
Indeed, voter identification is the most popular of a series of voting reforms in the poll, with 70% favoring requiring photo identification before casting a ballot. Smaller majorities were in favor of automatic voter registration of eligible citizens and sending mail ballots to all registered voters, two top Democratic priorities. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support the voter ID law, 87% to 55%.
The poll illustrates why Democrats have had such problems in their push for a federal overhaul of voting laws. An attempt to pass sweeping election changes stalled in the Senate earlier this year amid unanimous Republican opposition. For months, Democrats hesitated to even bring the bill to a vote because they couldn't get their entire 50-member Senate caucus to agree to it.
One of the bill's provisions would have banned partisan gerrymandering, or the contorted redrawing of legislative lines to make it easier for one party's representatives to win elections. The poll found that 69% of Americans believe that's a major problem, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to say so, 80% to 58%. The GOP had great success in the prior round of redistricting and has pushed to lessen legal oversight of the once-a-decade drawing of legislative lines.
Lisa Thomas worries about gerrymandering. The 48-year-old janitor in Lakeland, Florida, believes the Republicans who control her state government have been drawing lines to weaken the votes of African Americans like her. She links it to changes in the state's voting laws implemented by the GOP last year even though Republicans touted Florida's system as an example of a well-run election system.
Thomas, who says she leans Democratic but is an independent and hungers for more viable parties, dismissed arguments that voter identification laws hurt minorities because they have a harder time getting a government ID. "There are a lot of situations where you have to show who you are," she said.
Although she likes Florida's voting laws, she's worried that the changes — new procedures for mail ballots and limitations on drop boxes where they can be deposited — will ruin things. "It seems like in the past several years, it's been going the opposite direction, it's reversing," she said of progress on voting rights for African Americans.
Just 32% of Black Americans say there has been significant progress in racial equality in voting rights since the civil rights era, compared with 52% of white Americans. Majorities of Black and white Americans say more needs to be done, but Black Americans are much more likely to say a lot more is needed, 57% to 29% of whites who feel that way.
Thomas, like roughly three-quarters of all Americans regardless of party, also worries about the future of the country's democratic system. "We're still a two-party system, and they both fail us on a daily basis," she said.
Peggy Orr, 66, who lives in rural Nebraska, is also concerned, but for very different reasons. She's convinced there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, echoing former President Donald Trump’s false claims that that is why he lost.
Repeated audits and investigations have shown no widespread fraud in the election, but Orr, who described her profession as "a farm wife," isn’t satisfied. "There were too many unexplained things going on," she said.
Orr, who is white, was baffled at the concerns Thomas and others have about Black Americans' voting rights.
"I think African American voting rights — just like women's voting rights — are settled," Orr said. "We don't make a big issue about women having a hard time voting."