Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

In recent months, 47 state legislatures have introduced more than 360 bills to change processes that will make it more difficult to vote.

The adoption of such laws in Arizona, Florida, and Georgia has sparked both the introduction of similar bills in other states and a national protest. Across the country, voters, businesses, and national organizations (MLB) are waking up to the unethical efforts under way in states to suppress voting.

The underlying justification for these state bills is to prevent voting fraud that allegedly occurred in 2020.  Yet, multiple state and federal courts ruled that there was no evidence of such voter fraud. In most cases these bills have been introduced by Republicans based on the perpetuation of false claims of fraud, which they have recklessly circulated since the 2020 elections. These efforts to suppress voting are based upon the “big lie” promoted by former President Trump that the election was stolen from him.

The U.S. Constitution gives the Congress powers to adopt standards for national elections, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and amendments extending voting rights to Blacks, women, and those 18 or older, while each state establishes procedures for how, where, and when elections will be conducted. Because of these voter suppression bills and the confusing array of voting processes in states, the House of Representatives adopted HR 1, “For the People Act,” to expand voter access and standardize election processes for federal offices, regardless of the state administering such. This bill is now in the hands of the U.S. Senate, where its passage is not certain.

States have the legal authority to construct election rules, including making it more convenient or more burdensome to exercise one’s voting rights. Whereas these actions may be legal, they may not be morally proper. In fact, most of these bills run contrary to basic ethical norms.

One may apply several ethical lenses to the state bills to assess if they reflect foundational standards of ethical behavior. One lens involves rights: do these pieces of legislation protect and expand the rights of voters? The most fundamental aspect of a democracy is rule by the people through popular elections. Making it more difficult to cast a ballot is an unethical curtailment of one’s political rights and fails the ethical standard of protecting moral rights.

Another ethical lens evaluates the virtue of the legislation. An essential ethical virtue is truthfulness. Most of these bills fail this ethical lens because their justification is based upon a lie. The absence of illegalities in the 2020 elections is settled — there is no evidence for this. Laws based on this falsehood fail the ethical standard of virtue.

Lastly, we could examine these bills from the perspective of the common good. Do these bills advance what is in the public’s interest and promote a society in which the greatest good for the largest number of individuals is apparent in the legislative intent?  Does it demonstrate respect and compassion for all, especially the underrepresented in a democratic society? Without a goal of serving the common good, the legislation fails a crucial ethical standard.

Applying the lenses of rights, virtue, and the common good to these bills demonstrates the absence of ethical awareness on the part of state legislators and governors. Ethical considerations have been left by the wayside in a rush to fix a problem that does not exist. Whereas such laws may be legal, they are not ethical. It is time to urge states to stop using their legal powers for unethical purposes.

John P. Pelissero is a senior scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and a professor emeritus of political science at Loyola University Chicago.