Will GOP plans to disenfranchise voters help Trump win?
Voting rights are addressed in the Constitution in the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments. But throughout most of our history, black people were not allowed to exercise this right. Most recently, the Voting Rights Act helped ensure that disenfranchised African American voters gained a voice in our political system. As the electorate has become more diverse (more babies are being born that are “of color” than at any point is US history), Republicans have done their best to disenfranchise voters with state-level “voter ID” laws that have one point, and one point only: make it harder for minorities to vote under the not very well veiled guise of preventing voter fraud.
Seriously? Is voter fraud a threat?
Voter fraud is loosely defined as a person who uses another person’s identity to cast a vote. Out of the estimated one billion votes cast in national elections since 2000, there has been 31 credible cases of voter fraud. As an ironic aside, the biggest issue isn’t voter fraud, but election fraud. In fact, in 2000, President Bush “won” the election with less than 600 votes. Many blamed Ralph Nader for not pulling out of the race, however, tens of thousands of black voters (a typically democratic-leaning demographic) were illegally removed from voter rolls, and they could have easily helped Gore win. But I digress.
GOP’s Solution: Disenfranchise ‘em all and let the Supreme Court Sort ’em Out
Since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013 which cut reduced part of the Voting Rights Act’s coverage, conservative State governments in the South – and key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio – have raced to introduce new voting restrictions, particularly new voter ID laws. The result? Voters in 22 states faced tougher rules than in the 2014 midterms. In 2014, the first major election with new voting restrictions in place, of the 22 states with new restrictions, 18 passed them through entirely Republican-controlled state legislatures. A study by social scientists Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien at the University of Massachusetts found that restrictions were more likely to pass “as the proportion of Republicans in the legislature increased or when a Republican governor was elected.” Essentially, this is a GOP strategy–not something that democrats tend to be engaged in. After Republicans took over State legislatures and governorships in 2010, voting restrictions typically followed party lines. And make no mistake, these restrictions were actually aimed to make it more difficult for voters to exercise their rights–not to prevent voter fraud, as they purported. Why would they do this? The Pennsylvania Speaker of the House explained it in a nutshell in 2012: voter ID laws help republicans get elected.
Race has been a Significant Factor
In 2008, voter participation among African Americans and certain other groups surged. Then came backlash. The more a state saw increases in minority and low-income voter turnout, the more likely it was to push laws cutting back on voting rights, according to a University of Massachusetts study. The Brennan Center for Justice likewise found that of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, seven passed laws making it harder to vote. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in the 2010 Census, nine have new restrictions in place. And of the 15 states that used to be monitored closely under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of racial discrimination in elections, nine passed new restrictions. This adds up to a whole lot of prevention against a problem that doesn’t exist (AKA voter disenfranchisement).
Voter registration problems, which tend to pass under the radar, have long been the single greatest barrier to voting. According to CalTech University, this has caused millions of lost votes per year. Unless your state has same-day registration, if you are not registered, you cannot vote. One in four eligible Americans is not registered, and millions more have outdated registration.
Do the Voter ID laws even work? The short answer? Nope. Voter ID laws often don’t address actual voter fraud. Case in point: A voter ID law enacted by the Republican legislature in Wisconsin in 2011 with the help of GOP governor Scott Walker was touted as the solution to the utterly non-existent problem of voter fraud in the state, although that didn’t stop National GOP chairman and Kenosha native Reince Priebus from estimating that 2 percent of the Democratic vote in the 2012 recall vote for Walker was fraudulent (http://www.salon.com/2014/06/
Soon after, an outrageous case of voter fraud was indeed detected and prosecuted in Wisconsin, seemingly giving credence to the views of the Republican champions of the law. Wisconsin resident Robert Monroe was charged with 13 counts of election fraud in 2011 and 2012, including “registering to vote in more than one place, voting where he didn’t live, voting more than once in the same election, and providing false information to election officials,” according to an account by Talking Points Memo (http://talkingpointsmemo.com/
The Good News? Justice is not Blind After All
On August 1, 2016, a Federal court struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law. As the Washington Post reported:
Today, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s voter-ID law, one of the strictest in the nation. In addition to requiring residents to show identification before they can cast a ballot, the law also eliminated same-day voter registration, eliminated seven days of early voting and put an end to out-of-precinct voting. The federal court ruling reinstates these provisions…