Yes, **sigh**, I am going to write about politics again. That’s a lot for me, I know, in a relatively short period of time, but it has to do with what comes up in the news. And I’m shocked that, once again, it appears that the Republican Party is going to allow itself to be associated with the voter suppression that is now becoming a pattern in a number of states, mostly with majority Republican legislatures and Republican governors. This is beginning to look like a deliberate foot shooting incident.
The first shock was that some of the provisions in the long standing Voting Rights Act of 1965 were overturned by the Supreme Court. Actually, what surprises me is that there was a time in the not so distant past when laws were passed to prohibit citizens of the United States of a particular racial, ethnic, or political background from casting ballots in elections. Discrimination, and the desire to limit the influence of people with whom you share the culture and society, but who are of a different race or ethnicity, and perhaps a different political perspective, will find different avenues to express itself. Though direct racist behavior is becoming less acceptable, there are those who have figured out that there are other ways to do the same thing.
Consultants are hired at a high price to analyze and evaluate voting patterns and habits. And some of those consultants discovered that members of ethnic and racial minorities are less likely to possess a government issued, photo I.D. card of some kind. Most African Americans live in inner city areas of the larger cities, or in rural areas of the South. In both cases, they are less likely to own a car, and thus need a driver’s license, than others. In cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York, and even Atlanta and Boston, the availability of public transportation to inner city areas means that a lot of inner city dwellers walk a few blocks, catch a bus, ride a train, or take some other form of public conveyance to work. One of the exit polls in the 2012 election noted that one out of ten African American residents of Chicago has a driver’s license. So, if you pass a law requiring a voter to show a photo I.D. at the poll in order to vote, you are requiring mainly African Americans to take an extra step to get a photo I.D. in order to vote. The aim is to reduce the number of African Americans who cast a ballot.
The excuse given for why we need to have a law requiring photo I.D. is to prevent “widespread voter fraud.” That’s certainly plausible, except that in this country, reported incidents of voter fraud are almost as rare as hurricanes on the Great Lakes. Given the total number of ballots cast over the course of a year, especially if there’s a mid term or presidential election, and the actual number of reports of fraud, such a law is pernicious and unwarranted.
Something else that the voter analysts discovered is that the longer the polls are open, the more people there are who will vote. And the rule of thumb in American politics for a number of years has been that larger turnouts usually favor Democrats. In both Ohio and Florida in 2012, early voting turned out to make the difference for the President in the election. In Ohio, the President got almost 65% of the early ballots cast, because most of the voters were in inner city areas that are heavily Democratic, where people take advantage of the early voting because on election day, the number of voting booths available are limited, and the lines are long.
Both states are now proposing to limit the number of days for early voting, and to limit the number of locations where it is available. The thinking is that this will create waits and lines to early vote, discouraging people from going. Keeping the limits on the number of machines available in certain precincts will also create long lines designed to keep people away from the polls, while in suburban and rural areas, there are never lines because there are twice as many machines. Yes, this really happens in America today. The principle is the same as the poll tax, or the reading test used to be.
I think the result of all of this is going to be disappointing to those who are using it to suppress the vote.
Florida had already limited the early voting time prior to the 2012 election, and in precincts where there were high percentages of minority voters, they also limited the number of machines that were available. What they didn’t count on was a campaign among minority voters to get the vote out, and people who provided refreshments, chairs, and all sorts of help to people who stood in line for hours to cast a ballot. It actually made people mad, and the backlash drove people to the polls in larger numbers than they would have turned out otherwise. Most of them voted for the President, and the candidates of his party, and in addition to carrying the state and its electoral votes, and they elected several new Democrats to Congress.
I don’t understand why a political party would think that an attempt to suppress the vote of the other side would be productive for them. The bad publicity reduces their own popularity and viability. Restricting access to a cherished, constitutional right is not a popular move, regardless of what it does. It demonstrates that politics are more important to you than principles. If the only way you can win an election is to suppress the vote of the other side, then is what you stand for really worth the effort? That’s counterproductive. In the long run, it costs you more votes than it does the other side, and you wind up losing anyway. The states that have passed these restrictions now are places where the Democratic party stands to make some gains in their representation in Congress. Democratic party registration in Pennsylvania has increased since the state passed its photo I.D. law, partly because of the publicity surrounding it, partly because one of the Republican legislators who supported it declared that its purpose was to help suppress the vote from the other side. Oops. I wonder how many Republicans will lose their state legislative seat or their congressional seat over that? I’m sure there will be several.