Voting Rights

This past week, a state judge in Pennsylvania issued a ruling invalidating the state’s voter ID law, saying that the law does not further the goal of assuring free and fair elections. The judge, Bernard L. McGinley, is absolutely right. The Pennsylvania law, like many others that have been passed, proposed, or failed to pass throughout the country, are not designed to deter voter fraud. They are designed to make it harder for certain demographics that reliably vote for candidates from the Democratic Party to vote.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute out of New York University Law School, in just the past year, eight states passed laws that make it harder for people to vote. All of those states have Republican-controlled legislatures. At least half the states in the union proposed laws that restrict access to the polls. The only reason these laws, which would restrict early voting, registration, or require state-issued identification, among other ideas, are not more widespread is because such laws have engendered a fair amount of revulsion.

Democracy is a simple concept. The candidate that gets the most votes wins. But, simple concepts can become quickly complicated by reality. Republicans are up against an unstoppable wave of changing demographics. They are increasingly perceived as the party of white conservatives in a country that is growing more diverse in its ethnic makeup, and more liberal in its political morality. Faced with the prospect of elections becoming harder and harder to win without giving up key conservative ideals, Republicans have decided to change the rules instead.

Making it harder to vote, whether through restrictive ID laws, reduced early voting, by making it hard to register, or by reversing critical aspects of voting rights laws through litigation, tends to affect low-income citizens and minorities; constituencies that tend to vote Democratic. In a close election, voter suppression such as this could be more than enough to swing an election from one party’s candidate to the other.

Lest the GOP be accused of such nefarious activity without cause, one need only pay attention to what some Republicans say when they think only friendly ears are listening. In Pennsylvania, the aforementioned state where a voter ID law was struck down, the state’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, a Republican, was running through a list of recent legislative accomplishments in 2012 and said, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, [is] done.” On The Daily Show this past autumn, Don Yelton, a North Carolina GOP precinct chair, said, among some other outrageous things, that a voter ID law is “going to kick the Democrats in the butt.”

In a bout of honesty with the press, Jim Greer, the former Florida GOP chairman, said of early voting, “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates.” Not because early voting confers an unfair advantage, but because Democrats have done a better job of getting their supporters to the polls early.

These quotes, and many others, put the lie to the claim that the wave of voter suppression laws in the country is designed to prevent in-person voter fraud. Indeed, if that were the case, these laws are akin to killing a fly with a sledgehammer, as in-person voter fraud is, for all anyone can tell, a virtually non-existent problem. There is no call to pass a law that prevents two or three people in a state from casting a false ballot that, at the same time, prevents thousands of legitimate voters from voting. The only way such a law makes sense is when one sees who really is being prevented from voting.

Voter suppression is a shameful practice, and one that should not be tolerated, something especially poignant on this holiday. The ruling in Pennsylvania is welcome news in a political fight that should not even be occurring.