Voter Suppression Is Clearly a Republican Campaign Strategy

(Source: Brentin Mock/Colorlines)

Since the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in June, there has been a gleeful scramble in Republican-led states to renew efforts to restrict voting access for certain constituencies traditionally favorable to Democrats. Republicans insist these harsh voter ID requirements and other changes to election laws are simply motivated by a passion for electoral integrity.

But a review of some specific laws and proposals in a host of states points to a clear pattern of voter suppression on the part of Republican legislatures.

The GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature passed a bill last month that will dramatically hamper voting access by not only installing a very narrow and stringent photo ID requirement, but also by eliminating a slew of programs aimed at generating voter participation.

Thanks to some relatively innovative and progressive election laws enacted in the past, North Carolina has managed to become 15th among states in terms of voter turnout. But now it looks like that progress will likely be swept away by these new restrictions and long lines and greater obstacles will await voters every two years, especially those who are young and poor.

And now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down two majors sections of the Voting Rights Act, the GOP’s suppression efforts are going to spread from state to state like wildfire.

Defenders of harsh photo ID laws in particular, seem to be under the impression that in-person voter fraud is a widespread problem in this country. But in reality the data shows this type of fraud is extraordinarily rare.

In the 2008 presidential election, there was only one case of in-person voter fraud prosecuted in North Carolina, yet this new state legislation would disenfranchise nearly 320,000 eligible voters, the vast majority of whom belong to constituencies that usually vote Democratic.

And it’s not only the Photo ID requirements that are being used to target certain voters in NC–the legislation also does everything possible to limit voting access by cutting early voting by a week; ending early voting after 1 p.m. on the Saturday before the election; and making it illegal for counties to extend voting hours by an hour in extreme instances of long lines or other delays. It also opens the door to voter intimidation by essentially allowing citizen vigilantes to challenge voters at polling places.

Not a single provision in this legislation will address voter fraud or make the election process more efficient. Each measure is a transparent scheme to make it as difficult as possible for minorities, younger people and lower income voters to participate.

Photo ID laws are especially sinister because the poor and elderly are at a particular disadvantage. There are about 600,000 people in North Carolina who don’t have photo ID. To obtain them usually costs money and requires time and travel that many voters can’t afford. People who work multiple jobs and have no transportation require more flexibility. Early voting and Sunday voting offer greater opportunity for people to vote. These types of common sense, fundamentally fair practices in no way breed fraud. But Republicans have attacked them relentlessly.

And while it’s easy to pick on North Carolina because its radical laws are in the spotlight, it isn’t alone. Last year Pennsylvania made headlines when Republicans tried to sway the election in Mitt Romney’s favor by implementing extreme photo ID requirements that were ultimately delayed by court order until after the election. But that law would have potentially disenfranchised more than 700,000 voters, and prominent state Republicans have openly bragged or acknowledged that the law would disproportionately suppress Democratic voters. The Republican Majority of the state House even went so far as to predict that the law would hand the state to Mitt Romney.

And in Florida, after years of trying to ram through extremely aggressive voter suppression laws, Republicans finally found a more receptive governor once Rick Scott was elected, and the presidential election last November was a complete mess because of restrictions on early voting and other procedures. In a stunning admission, key Republicans have since gone on record admitting that voter fraud was never the motive behind these laws, but hampering Democratic turnout was.

Because of the recent Supreme Court decision, this assault on voting rights will continue to spread like wildfire, especially in states like Texas, which is now implementing a very rigid photo ID law that just last summer was struck down by a panel of federal judges as clearly discriminatory towards poor and minority voters.

Conservatives need a bogeyman. If it’s not the imagined threats of President Obama’s “government takeover” of our healthcare or the perceived erosion of our national sovereignty because of a (nonexistent) steady influx of Mexican immigrants, it’s the myth of voter fraud.

Unfortunately, Republican legislatures and governors all over the country have figured out that they don’t have the will or the capacity to broaden the party’s appeal beyond its current base, and so their only hope of winning elections is to do everything in their power to prevent legitimate Democratic voters from participating in the electoral process.

 

Doug Daniels is a former staff reporter for Campaigns & Elections. He is the author of the forthcoming memoir Sifting Through the Wreckage.