Voter Suppression

A few Republicans across the country are engaged in what I consider to be onerous, anti-democratic and even anti-American efforts to try to suppress voter turnout of groups not likely to vote Republican.   I do not believe this to be in the spirit of how most Republicans think, or the traditions of the grand old party.   But it’s happening.

The logic is simple: college students, immigrants, and the poor tend to vote Democratic more than Republican.    They also are less likely to have state drivers’ licenses and other forms of picture ID.   Moreover, though the Supreme Court has made it clear that students in college can vote in elections (states cannot deny them the ability to register – there is no requirement they have the intent to make a community their permanent home), students are less likely to have the kind of ID that some Republicans want to require.

The goal is clear: increase the chances that Republicans will win close elections by trying to suppress the turnout of groups that tend to vote Democratic.    The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York State School of Law has issued the most definitive report on the impact of these laws, noting:

“Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.

State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. “

Many rationalize this effort as protection against fraud.    Spare me.    At least New Hampshire’s speaker of the House William O’Brien was honest about the intent of making it harder to vote:

“O’Brien told the group that college students registering to vote on Election Day ‘are basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal.   I look at towns like Plymouth and Keene and Hanover, and particularly Plymouth,’  O’Brien said. ‘They’ve lost the ability to govern themselves.’

That’s it, those young foolish kids might vote liberal!  So making it harder to vote seems the right thing to do.    There are numerous studies that show how such laws prevent people from voting.   And while some offer misguided thought experiments (e.g., ‘I have to show ID to buy booze, why not to vote’) to rationalize the effort, the reality is that despite the expansion of voting rights and increased ease until this year of voting in US elections, all evidence indicates that fraud is lower than ever.

Intimidation has also been overt in Wisconsin as opponents of the campaign to recall Scott Walker have harassed people gathering signatures and even committed felonies by tearing up valid petitions and gathering names on fake petitions with no intent to submit them.   Democracy falters when people see it as a hindrance to “winning at any cost.”

The most obscene thing about these efforts is that higher voter turnout is usually associated with stronger communities and less poverty.   The more engaged people are in their civil society, the less likely they are to want to leech off of it and not take responsibility.   People who vote are more likely to work, pay taxes, take an active role in their community, and become informed on the issues.   The best way to expand the sense of personal responsibility and community involvement is to get people engaged in the process; make it easier rather than harder to vote.

It’s possible that these voter suppression efforts will backfire.  Students and members of other groups who are adversely affected might become motivated to get involved with more intensity than before.   The reality is that students, minorities and the poor tend not to vote.   Even in 2008 when the youth supported Obama by a large margin the number of non-voters under 25 was as high as usual.     Even with a black candidate, black voting levels remained far lower than average, the poor vote far less often than the middle class or wealthy.

Will this further discourage them from voting, or can the Democrats turn it into a motivational tactic — defy those who want to silence you by taking the steps necessary to assure your voice is heard!   Will this hurt the GOP among middle class voters who find this unfair and even dishonest?   I’m not sure, but you can bet that on college campuses these laws will yield intense organizational efforts by students involved in campaigns to try to not only get out the vote, but get students angry enough to want to vote.   By all accounts a larger and more organized Occupy movement will emerge in the summer; this could be an area of focus.

To me it’s troubling that people would embrace unnecessary efforts to suppress the vote in order to try to win.    It’s vindictive, anti-democratic and petty.     But in an era where “anything goes” to win, it’s not surprising.   I personally think these tactics will backfire, at least in a Presidential election year where the campaign is likely to be intense and emotional.  It also adds to an already negative Republican image; Scott Walker’s Wisconsin approval ratings have been sinking like a stone, now with 38% approval and 58% disapproval.    Maine recently overturned an effort to stop same day registration despite some dirty politics by the (out of state) opposition.

I again don’t think this reflects the true values of the Republican party.  I think most Republicans want to win, and believe they can win by convincing people of their values, arguing for a less intrusive government and more fiscal conservatism.    These tactics reflect a Machiavellian insider game by those who consider elections less as great public debates and more as ‘full contact sports’ where two teams look to use anything they can to their advantage.

I vote at the local community center.  I give my name, and they check it off.   I usually know at least one person working there, many in the community know each other.   It would be absurd to all have to show some kind of ID to be allowed to vote.   The impact this would have on even those not dissuaded would be sad, and there are likely to be elderly folk and others who would be turned away because they expect to vote as they usually do.   Let’s not make it harder to vote.

  1. #1 by Black Flag® on December 29, 2011 - 04:14


    Do you believe there is a difference between the Welfare/Warfare party and the Warfare/Welfare party?

  2. #2 by Black Flag® on December 29, 2011 - 04:14


  3. #3 by classicliberal2 on December 29, 2011 - 20:52

    Eric Holder has, in fact, challenged South Carolina Republicans’ vote suppression efforts under the terms of the Voting Rights Act, and may do so with other states. This year has seen a nationwide coordinated effort by Republican officials to fix the vote in various ways, taken to extremes that are often comical in their obviousness (under the scheme of the Texas legislature, a gun permit was deemed appropriate ID for voting but a student ID issued by a state university was not). The voter suppression efforts have gotten the most notice recently. Another is altering the way states award electoral votes for president. In Pennsylvania, the Republicans have moved to eliminate the winner-take-all awarding of the state’s 20 electoral votes. Simultaneously, in Nebraska, Republicans have moved to eliminate that state’s proportional distribution of electors, and go to a winner-take-all system. The only thing that reconciles the two is the goal of harming Obama’s reelection chances.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on December 29, 2011 - 21:05

      I think Michigan also has played with the idea of altering how electoral votes are awarded. Do these efforts have much chance of succeeding? Maine and Nebraska do split their electoral votes, but it was a bi-partisan choice done because people thought it best, not with on eye on defeating a candidate in the next election. Though it would be funny if splitting Pennsylvania’s vote were to actually give Obama the election (which would be possible).

      • #5 by classicliberal2 on December 29, 2011 - 23:55

        Pennsylvania is a reliable blue state in presidential races–splitting their electors can only hurt Obama.

        I’ve long been an advocate of eliminating the electoral college, but, barring that, proportionately awarding electors is a good idea. I object to selectively doing so only to defeat one party, though.

  4. #6 by renaissanceguy on December 31, 2011 - 13:56

    I don’t understand how anyone can live day to day without an ID card of some kind. It is required for so many things. As far as I know, all states offer an ID card for those who do not have a driver’s license. So the people who want to vote should just get one and stop whining.

    How do you even register to vote without one. You have to prove who you are and prove where you live.

    I don’t think people should just walk to a polling place and say, “Hey, I want to vote.” It would allow people to vote mutliple times in different districts.

    Besides, I don’t think that 18-year-olds, poor people, or ethnic minorities are too dumb or too lazy to get an ID. The people who think that they are too dumb or too lazy are selling them short and treating them as inferior.

  5. #7 by renaissanceguy on December 31, 2011 - 15:24

    Oh, and there is another way to look at it. You say the Republicans are suppressing votes. Others, including me, say that the Democrats want to allow for fraud. Not showing ID allows people to vote twice and allows ineligible people and dead people to vote. Saying “no they’re not” is not an argument, and it is–frankly–naive. I suspect that voting fraud goes on everywhere by people in every party, and it taints the system.

    By the way, you don’t mind having people scanned and patted down in airports, but you think it is oppressive to have them prove their identity at the polls. That seems twisted.

    • #8 by Scott Erb on December 31, 2011 - 15:57

      Except there is no evidence for fraud – indeed, fraud in elections is at the lowest level in US history. Moreover there is a lot of evidence that GOP insiders simply want to make it harder for certain demographic groups to vote. The difficulties this could create for college students are very real. There is a lot of evidence that this suppresses voting by minorities and the poor, no evidence that this will do anything about fraud.

      It’s easy for many of us for whom an ID would not be an issue to think ‘gee, doesn’t everyone have an ID.’ The problems are two fold. First, laws are being drafted that require certain types of ID that many poor and minorities don’t have; second, voting is so fundamental a right that it should be as easy as possible. Our legal system does not have a right to airline travel, so comparing voting to that is a false comparison.

      The reality is that studies conclusively show such laws limit voting by certain groups. Speculation about how “dumb or lazy” they are is irrelevant, the data is strong (I get this from colleagues who study American elections — this isn’t even controversial). The only purpose for such laws is to suppress votes from demographic groups that would hurt Republicans.

  6. #9 by renaissanceguy on January 1, 2012 - 01:20

    Scott, it is apparently also true that poor people eat more junk food that wealthier people. So what? They don’t have to. They have just as much ability as anyone else to eat healthy foods. My guess is that some people (only some) are poor for the same reason that they eat unhealthy foods. They are unmotivated to improve their economic condition in the same way that they are unmotivated to improve their health.

    My point is this–it might be true that poor people and minority people do not have the kind of ID required in some states–but it is also true that they can get one if they want to. Nobody is keeping them from having an ID. Do you think that people have ANY level of responsibility over their own lives and their own documentation?

    In my state there are several documents you can bring to the polling place, and if you forget you can have somebody else identify you or you can cast a provisional ballot and prove your identity later. I don’t see how it could be any easier except to have anybody and everybody able to walk in off the street and say, “Hey, I want to vote.” Of course, then that person can drive a few miles and vote in another precinct. He can also come back to the same polling place and claim to be somebody else and vote again. Oh, and people who look old enough to vote can vote, even if they are underage.

    Voting should be easy, and it is, even if you have to pull out your driver’s license or ID card before you vote. As for students, that is a very weak argument, since every student who is eligible to vote is also eligible to have a state driver’s license or ID card.

    • #10 by Scott Erb on January 1, 2012 - 04:15

      But I come back to the studies that show that fewer do vote when such restrictions are in place, and the easier voting is, the more people who vote. Given there’s no evidence of fraud, these kinds of requirements are only likely to reduce voting. There’s just no reason for it, it’s just more government regulation and control.

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