Suppressing the other side’s votes is as American as apple pie. Rigging the rules and fooling or intimidating voters happened all over the country for much of our history – not just in the South. In the 21st century, however, we all thought that was largely behind us.
Then came Bush v. Gore. Florida in 2000 reminded both sides that, in a sharply divided country in which the differences between the two parties are greater than they have ever been, just a few votes can make a huge difference in which direction the country takes. Discouraging the other side’s voters from casting their ballot counts just as much as encouraging one’s own side. So, since then, Democrats have tried to make it easier for people to vote, maybe out of the goodness of their hearts, but also because when more people vote, they win. Democrats have tried to:
- Make registering to vote easier, including through same day and on-line registration;,
- Expand early voting opportunities, including by mail; and
- Extend election day voting hours.
Most of all, Democrats have focused on fighting the GOP’s highly coordinated and dedicated attempts to make voting harder for some people. Republican efforts (intensified since the 2010 tea party triumphs at the state level) have included:
- Severe limits on voter-registration drives;
- Closing early-voting windows;
- Further limiting voting rights for ex-felons;
- Strict new limits on absentee ballots;
- Restrictive voter ID laws that many young, poor, and minority Democratic voters lack; and
- Trying to prevent Democrats from extending voting hours on election day, even when there are long lines.
This was all done allegedly to prevent voter fraud and improve election integrity. Almost every GOP-controlled state government put in place some of these tools in time of the 2012 election. This whole effort largely failed in 2012, in part because courts threw out most of the voter ID laws, but also because Democrats probably were exaggerating their potential to discourage voters in the first place.
I know most of you know all this, so what’s to talk about? First, this is not over. As long as bigger turnouts favor one party over the other, the incentives for this kind of thing will remain. I believe that the voting wars are now a major feature of our political landscape and will be here for a while. Democrats have to find ways to fight back. Yet, many Americans support these laws out of common sense: Why shouldn’t people have to show IDs at the voting booth just like they have to at the grocery store? Why shouldn’t we try really hard to prevent voter fraud at the polls, since one side says it’s a massive problem? If SCOTUS overturns the Voting Rights Act, GOP incentives will get even worse.
Second, I think this is about way more than partisan advantage. To me, the voting wars reveal a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives on the value of a broad-based electorate. One side believes democracy works best when elections are as widely representative of the general public as possible, and therefore every effort should be made to make it as easy for new and irregular voters to cast their ballots. Conservatives, I think, believe that it’s up to the individual to take responsibility to vote and that we should not make it particularly easy to vote because then low-information voters will determine the outcome and we should not make it easy for them to do that. I can’t think of any worse division in a democracy than one like this.
Lecture: Since you guys know most of this, I won’t give the full Monty lecture on voter suppression. Instead, I’ll just:
- Remind us all of the full range of tactics that both sides are using – the Democrats to expand voting, the Republicans to restrict it; and
- Preview what’s probably coming in the future from both sides (see the links for more on this).
Then, I hope we can talk about the difference in philosophy – and not just bemoan the naked partisanship – that I think undergirds this whole issue.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What tactics is each side using to (a) expand and (2) shrink the electorate? Why did they not make much difference in 2012?
- What’s coming in the future of voting wars, from both sides? What would happen if the Supreme Court strikes down the Voting Rights Act (as we discussed a few months ago)?
- Is this really just cynical, naked partisanship, or is something else at work philosophically? (See fourth link, below)
- Why do many regular people support voter restrictions? What could persuade them otherwise?
- Could there really a problem with election integrity? Are there ways to both expand/protect the right to vote AND ensure integrity?
- The War on Voting, the Rolling Stone investigation..
- The Myth of Voter Fraud, from the Brennan Center on Justice.
- However, Democrats probably were exaggerating the potential of these efforts to suppress votes in the last election.
- Behind all this is a difference in philosophy about the importance of letting everyone vote. A must-read.
- GOP plans for 2014 and beyond. Recommended.
- The Democrats’ agenda. Recommended. An example
- How about federalizing election management, like other countries do?
Vote with your feet and I’ll see you there!