In 2011, more than 30 states considered various types of legislation that would make it harder for citizens to vote. Why is this happening?
The Republicans were extraordinarily successful in the 2010 election, capturing the House of Representatives and 675 new state legislative seats. The political control of nearly two dozen states has provided the opportunity for Republicans to lock in a nearly permanent advantage by changing the rules of the game.
But dark clouds linger on the horizon. The party is not generating much appeal among an expanding electorate made up largely of blacks, Latinos and young people. Unaddressed, this problem represents a demographic time bomb.
The Republicans could respond in two ways. They could moderate some of their policy stances, or they could pass state election laws with their newly acquired state majorities that would serve to disenfranchise a proportion of low-income people, minorities, students and, in some cases, the elderly.
The effort to suppress the registration and vote of groups that trend Democratic is much more systematic and organized than most people realize.
Since the 1970s, the American Legislative Exchange Council has provided model business-sponsored legislation to conservative state lawmakers. The most famous model legislation was the “Stand Your Ground” rule adopted in many states but made famous recently in Florida.
ALEC has feverishly distributed model legislation designed to repress Democratic voters. Some states have passed laws to put greater restrictions on voter registration drives. Such efforts usually register more Democrats than Republicans.
My mother, a lifelong Republican, was a member of the League of Women Voters. That organization has announced that it will no longer attempt to register voters in Florida because of new restrictive rules.
Several states have had a tradition of extended voting periods to make it easier for blue-collar workers to vote. Similarly, the use of absentee ballots has enabled many voters to participate when their work might have kept them from going to a physical polling place.
Many states are reducing hours and adding requirements to the use of absentee ballots. Such changes will discourage more Democrats than Republicans.
In most states, prisoners cannot vote. In many states, however, ex-felons can petition at some point to have their rights restored. Florida was one such state, until recently. That provision was repealed by a Republican majority. The primary effect will be to eliminate the vote of thousands of black and Latino males in a state that had its presidential election in 2000 decided by less than 400 votes.
Over the past couple of years, Republicans have made ever-more outraged complaints about voter fraud. This is the rationale for all sorts of vote-suppression legislation, particularly the requirement to show a photo ID at the polls. The number of state photo ID laws quadrupled in 2011 alone.
But are the fraud stories true?
Studies of electoral fraud claims by researchers have come up largely empty-handed.
The Brennan Center at the New York University Law School has traced dozens of allegations. Their conclusion is: “On closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke, without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”
Requiring a photo ID to vote sounds like a small requirement to most people. But around 11 percent of Americans (21 million people) don’t have a current driver’s license or passport. They are mostly urban dwellers, minorities, the elderly. Among voters older than 65, 18 percent do not have a current photo ID. The proportion is even higher among blacks and Latinos, who tend to vote Democratic.
Republican legislatures are also trying to depress the student vote by not accepting a student picture ID as identification. Wisconsin won’t even accept an out-of-state driver’s license.
The Brennan Center says, “Photo ID laws are effective only at preventing individuals from impersonating other voters at the polls — an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning.”
What true conservative or libertarian would approve of the government constraining a liberty for so little legitimate purpose?
If blacks, Latinos and students ever come to realize how the Republican Party is trying to disenfranchise them, the reputation of the GOP could be damaged for decades.
• Mickey McGuire, a retired high school social studies teacher, is among a select group of local residents with columns in the Tracy Press.