GOP Arizona lawmaker misleadingly claims that voting restrictions are needed because ‘everybody shouldn’t be voting’

Arizona voting 2
Supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden Joe Biden explain the Democratic program to voters outside a polling place at the Tempe History Museum, in Tempe, Arizona, on November 3, 2020. Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images
  • An Arizona GOP lawmaker said voting restrictions are necessary because “everybody shouldn’t be voting.”
  • Rep. John Kavanagh falsely claimed that expanding voting options leads to more fraud.
  • “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well,” he told CNN.
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A Republican Arizona state lawmaker, who chairs a committee overseeing election administration, said that new voting restrictions are needed because “everybody shouldn’t be voting” and “we have to look at the quality of votes.”

During the ongoing legislative session, Arizona lawmakers have, introduced 19 bills aimed at making it harder to register and vote – the most of any state in the country, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In total, Republican lawmakers in 43 states have put forth 253 bills with the goal of restricting registration and voting in the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Center found.

While most Republicans cite the need to ensure “election integrity” and prevent fraud (which is already exceedingly rare) to justify such legislation, Rep. John Kavanagh, the chair of the state House’s Government and Elections Committee, took that argument a step further by saying that fewer people should vote.

“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Kavanagh told CNN. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote – but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

The bills include measures that would eliminate Arizona’s permanent early voter list (which allows voters to sign up to receive a mail ballot every cycle), make it easier to remove voters from the list, further restrict already-limited third-party ballot collection, require voters to get their mail ballots notarized, mandate voters to return mail ballots in person, and require mail ballots be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day.

“Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” Kavanagh further told CNN. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

As things stand, Arizona already has a strict voter ID law in place, votes on all paper ballots, conducts signature matching of mail ballots, requires ballots to arrive by Election Day, and carries out post-election audits.

Philadelphia ballots
A Philadelphia election worker processes mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Philadelphia. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

Research shows that expanding mail voting doesn’t always lead to higher turnout

Kavanagh is misinformed, however, about the relationship between voting laws and voter fraud as well as voting laws and voter turnout.

Simply put, there is no evidence that higher voter turnout leads to a greater chance of voter fraud. The 2020 election saw over 66% of the US’ voting-eligible population turn out to vote, the highest turnout since 1900, according to the US Elections Project.

2020 was also the most secure and transparent election in US history, experts concluded, with no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud, despite former President Donald Trump’s claims otherwise.

And, contrary to Kavanagh’s claim, expansive vote-by-mail options aren’t shown to benefit Democrats over Republicans or even to necessarily increase turnout.

Researchers at Stanford University authored a new working paper analyzing the results of the 2020 election. They challenge the conventional wisdom embraced by both Republicans and Democrats that making it easier to vote and offering more voting options boosts voter turnout and, thus, benefits Democrats.

The Stanford researchers, however, concluded that the rise of “no-excuse absentee voting mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect despite the historic pandemic.”

In line with previous research on the matter, Stanford concluded that a voter’s preexisting interest in voting is a far better predictor of whether they’ll turn out to vote than whether their state has widespread no-excuse mail voting, especially in high-profile presidential elections like 2020.

“We argue that, in high-salience elections like 2020, there are probably very few marginal voters who base their decision to participate on the relative costs of one mode of voting over another,” the authors wrote.

The researchers specifically examined data from Texas, which allowed only voters 65 and above to request to vote absentee without an excuse. While the rates at which 65-year-olds chose to vote absentee increased, they turned out to vote at virtually the same rate as 64-year-olds, with the greatest turnout increases being reported among people between 20 and 30 years old.

In other words, Stanford’s research suggests that if someone is “uninterested in voting,” as Kavanagh put it, the existence of a no-excuse mail voting, a permanent early voting list, or the lack of a ballot notarization requirement in their state isn’t what will draw them to the ballot box.

“As we’ve shown, the major effect of expanding absentee voting is to change how people vote, not whether they vote,” the authors concluded.