Monday’s Mtg: Voting Wars and Protecting Voting Rights

With an election upcoming, I thought now would be a good time to reschedule a topic of major importance that we originally were going to discuss last June: The struggle over voting access and voting rights.  (We postponed because a young man fresh from Iraq showed up and we persuaded him to discuss what life there was like in the last decade.)  We did debate the Voting Rights Act last year, right before the Supreme Court struck down its key enforcement mechanism and Southern states began gleefully passing a bunch of new laws to make voting harder, or, as they argue, boosting their elections’ integrity.  

As I wrote in my pre-meeting post to the postponed meeting, the war over who can vote has very old roots in America, of course, but it was rekindled with a vengeance 14 years ago:

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. 

I added that after 2000 Democratic-controlled states:

  • Made registering to vote easier, including through same day and on-line registration;,
  • Expanded early voting opportunities, including by mail;
  • Extended election day voting hours; and, most of all
  • Fought the GOP’s highly coordinated and dedicated attempts to make voting harder for some people. 

While Republicans-governed state have tightened voting rules to make it casting a ballot harder.  Especially since the 2010 tea party wave election, a top priority in many GOP-controlled states has been to:

  • Impose severe limits on voter-registration drives;
  • Close early-voting windows;
  • Further limit voting rights for ex-felons;
  • Enact strict new limits on absentee ballots;
  • Pass restrictive voter ID laws that many young, poor, and minority Democratic voters lack; and
  • Prevent Democrats from extending voting hours on election day, even when there are long lines.       

What I did not say on-line last time is how despicable I think the GOP efforts are.  These laws are subtle efforts to rig the rules of elections so that their side wins more often.  I categorically reject the idea that what the Democrats are doing is just a mirror-image or morally equivalent effort.  To me, trying to stop Americans from voting is on a much lower ethical plane than trying to help more people vote, even if the latter also is done for partisan advantage. à  So, the links this week are more unbalanced than usual.  Sue me.  I’m sure our discussion of just this one aspect will be fun for the whole family.

Still, conservatives in my opinion have identified two matters that deserve our attention for a good reason, IMO.  First, liberals probably are exaggerating the number of votes that will be lost under GOP voter ID and similar laws.  A well-respected expert on election law is clear: Far fewer than 5-7 million Americans will be blocked or discouraged from casting ballots.  That may change our calculus on how harmful these laws are, although, in my view, it should not change our level of outrage, especially over the dishonest justification for them.   

Second and more crucially, the U.S. election systems have some real problems.  They are, at all levels, often poorly managed and chaotic.  Maybe it’s partly because, we have no national election standards that states or localities must adhere to, unlike every other advanced industrial democracy,  Regardless, public confidence in the integrity of our most basic tool of democracy is very low.  Large majorities (75%!) support things like strict voter ID laws as commonsense solutions.  People also believe that in-person voter ID fraud is common, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I will open on Monday by explaining what’s new in the voting wars and some of the arguments and evidence (and motives for!) for tightening U.S. election laws.  I hope, at some point in the evening, we can get into whether there might actually be room for compromise between the two warring sides on this volatile issue.  I think there is, at least in a a good government reform-y sort of way.

Discussion Questions –

  1. WHAT:  What tactics has each party used to either expand and shrink the electorate?  Why did they not make much difference in 2012?
  2. WHY:  Where is the evidence of a problem that these laws solve?! 
  3. WHY:  If not, is this just a cynical, despicable, effort by one side to suppress votes, like Democrats claim, or (and, IMO!) is something else at work philosophically?  Is there any independent value to democracy in making it as convenient as possible to vote, or are Democrats just trying to win more, too?
  4. THE PUBLIC:  Why do huge majorities of Americans support these laws?  What evidence/arguments could persuade them otherwise? 
  5. THE FUTURE:  What’s coming in the voting wars, from both sides?  What will  happen now that the Supreme Court has stricken the Voting Rights Act?
  6. A FIX?  Could there really a problem with election integrity?  Are there ways to both expand/protect the right to vote AND ensure integrity?

Links –

NEXT WEEK –   The future of Iraq.  (New schedule begins)

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2 responses

  1. I can’t imagine a clearer sign of a party which is bankrupt of ideas and appeal, than a party which has to resort to voter suppression.

  2. The NYT asks whether all of these new restrictions on voting – esp. on early voting – will be decisive in November. Eight states have narrowed early voting, including 3 having key senate races. It’s all about cost cutting and preventing voter fraud, my ass.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/us/politics/voting-restrictions-are-key-variable-in-midterm-elections.html?_r=0

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