States looking to tip the scales in Republican favor are implementing new voting laws that affect women, minorities and college students.
“It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes.” This quote has been attributed to Josef Stalin, and while it’s hard to prove if he actually said it, the sentiment is irrefutable. And to take it to the next logical progression, it’s who determines who is allowed to vote that really counts.
Let’s face it, as long as there has been voting, there have been attempts to control the outcome. Even the Ancient Greeks who developed the process rigged votes by only allowing wealthy male landowners to cast votes. This paradigm existed on and off for a millennium – until the American Revolution! Democracy reborn and revised… But still limited to white male landowners.
Fast forward through a hundred years and a bloody civil war, and black men could now vote (sort of); fifty years later and women were allowed in the voting booth. Finally, 2500 years after it first appeared, a country existed with nominal universal suffrage. Nominal because of the endemic roadblocks that existed for blacks through Jim Crow laws. And flawed because of corruption on both sides of the aisle as both parties attempted to stuff ballot boxes.
“Vote early, vote often” was a saying in Chicago as ballots were cast by repeat voters and by thousands of the recently deceased. But in the sixties the Voting Rights Act paved the way for greater democratic participation, and it finally seemed that as a nation, we’d at last arrived at something resembling a true democratic republic. Sure, there were the occasional abuses; registering those who shouldn’t be, gerrymandering districts to guarantee desired outcomes, but in general, everything seemed to be working just fine.
All of a sudden, conservatives began calling for new voting laws, including stricter voter ID’s and an end to more expansive voting opportunities – specifically weekend voting and expanded voting beyond one day. While there have been earlier examples of voter suppression, the movement began in earnest in 2011 when, President Obama was up for re-election the following year.
We all remember what the Republicans’ focus had been since 2008. The economy? No. Immigration? Nope. Well, then it had to be creating jobs, right? Wrong again! As expressed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the number one goal was to deny President Obama a second term.
But how do we suppress the vote in the digital age? Simple – go old school. Legislate shorter hours for polling places. Eliminate advance voting. Abolish weekend voting. And do all the above in the areas where voters might have a predilection to vote Democrat – inner cities.
Then the US Supreme Court had their say. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act were rendered useless, paving the way for states to pass voting laws previously ruled illegal.
Republicans ranted and raved about the need for voter ID’s in order to prevent what they saw as a critical and imminent threat to the country, the democratic process – a threat to our very existence! Voters must have an official ID with a photo, without which they cannot vote. Otherwise, people might… pretend to be someone they’re not? Vote twice? There is no evidence that any of these things are happening with any regularity. As most research shows, the incidence of in-person fraud is virtually nonexistent.
The manner in which the new laws are being crafted are laughably transparent. Names on the ID must be identical, meaning that people who might at some point have their name changed legally would have a problem if there were minor differences. The one segment of the population most likely to change their name are women when they get married or divorced. In the months preceding the 2012 election, the writing was on the wall and even the Republicans could read it. So once they could change election laws, they made it harder for women to vote. They have even gone so far as to change the voting laws after the polls close in order to have a better chance of winning.
I hear some of you saying the Voting Right Act was all about minorities and some of you would be correct. The law was intended to prevent discrimination at the ballot box, and women will be discriminated against with these new laws. But setting women aside (in a figurative sense, of course), there are other groups whose voting rights will be infringed upon. People in poverty are less likely to have access to offices that provide ID’s, and are less likely to have a birth certificate or other acceptable forms of ID.
Then there’s the nonsense about what kinds of ID’s are acceptable. Pistol permits? You betcha! College ID’s? No way. Why in the world would a pistol permit be more legitimate than a school ID? People with pistol permits are more likely to vote Republican and college students are more likely to vote Democratic of course.
My Republican friends will complain, since people need ID’s for the most mundane transactions, why the uproar? And why can’t people just vote on Tuesday’s? The new voting laws, they say, protect democracy without really hurting anybody. To which I reply: we should be trying to increase the number of people who are part of the democratic process, not putting up roadblocks with voting laws. And there’s the rub – Republicans don’t really want to increase the number of people taking part, especially women, young people and minorities.
They will loudly exclaim that America is really conservative at heart, and that most Americans, given a real choice, would rather follow conservative leaders. But if that’s the case, then why the need to change voting to make it harder for some people to vote? Republicans know in their heart of hearts that their message isn’t really mainstream at all. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and as long as their laws inhibit potential voters from exercising the most elemental of rights, their motives are abundantly clear.