Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 7, 2011

WHEN IN DOUBT, DISENFRANCHISE.... The easiest way to win an election has nothing to do with candidates, fundraising, or grassroots operations. It's to stack the voting deck -- rig the system so that those most likely to vote the "wrong" way simply don't get to participate.

Republicans pursued this pretty aggressively during the Bush era, relying on odious tactics like "voter caging," and in the wake of last year's midterm gains, the GOP efforts to keep voters they don't like from the polls are intensifying.

New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack "life experience," and "they just vote their feelings."

New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state - and effectively keep some from voting at all.

One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there -- requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from. Another bill would end Election Day registration, which O'Brien said unleashes swarms of students on polling places, creating opportunities for fraud.

It's ridiculous enough for Republicans to try to stop those who "vote their feelings," but what's important to remember here is that the problem isn't limited to some offensive effort in New Hampshire.

ThinkProgress ran a report over the weekend, highlighting Republican efforts "that would dramatically restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless." How widespread is this? The report noted the developments in 22 states -- nearly half the country.

This isn't just wrong, it's dangerous. If the GOP is so panicky about losing elections, they should field better candidates and adopt a more sensible policy agenda, not push schemes like voter-ID bills that depress minority, youth, and low-income voter turnout. From the Post article:

Democrats charge that the real goal, as with anti-union measures in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, is simply to deflate the power of core Democratic voting blocs - in this case young people and minorities. For all the allegations of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights groups say, there is scant evidence to show that it is a problem.

"It's a war on voting," said Thomas Bates, vice president of Rock the Vote, a youth voter- registration group mounting a campaign to fight the array of state measures. "We'd like to be advocating for a 21st-century voting system, but here we are fighting against efforts to turn it back to the 19th century."

Republicans routinely pull a lot of stunts, but few are as offensive as these anti-voting tactics. They undermine democracy in a rather fundamental way. It's one thing to lie one's way through a campaign; it's more damaging to the integrity of the country to stop people who disagree with you from even having a say in the process.

I suspect a lot of folks backed GOP candidates last year, hoping and expecting they'd tackle economic issues. This is another reminder that, two months into the new Republican majorities in statehouses nationwide, the GOP agenda has nothing to do with jobs, and everything to do with a much larger, much darker, crusade.

And while this is ongoing at the state level, the agenda has President Obama in mind: there's a reason the fights are particularly intense in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and North Carolina -- these are three "swing" states the president will need for a second term, but may lose if Republicans prevent significant numbers of likely Democratic voters from participating.

Steve Benen 2:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Of course all of this is of a piece with the Rethugs efforts to undermine unions and limit the income and power of working Americans in general. They know who they represent and it isn't a majority of the American people.

Posted by: robert on March 7, 2011 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"the gop's waging a war on voting" should be repreated far and wide..

two trivia points

1. A new wisconsin policy research institute poll shows president obama's approval rating at 53% to 42%, a nine-point improvement from last november.
walker's doing his best to keep that state voting blue, which it has done in every presidential election since 1988.

2. florida is the one swing state that matters.
if obama holds it, the gop's road to 270 is really really rough.

Posted by: dj spellchecka on March 7, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

If the Republicans could figure out how to do it, the franchise would be limited to older, white, lower educated, evangelical, Fox watching, Limbaugh dittoheads.

And they'll get close to that, the way they're going. Successful register of poorer voters Acorn is gone. College students and non-drivers will soon be gone. A case working its way to the Supremes will likely see the end of oversight of redistricting in the South (and therefore the end of minority Congress[wo]men from the South). In coming years Hispanic-Americans will likely face intimidation to discourage voting.

Posted by: K in VA on March 7, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

It's called Class Warfare and it is about time the losing classes started fighting back.

Posted by: martin on March 7, 2011 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Alarming, certainly. But why would Republicans want to disenfranchise "rural voters [and] senior citizens"? Not exactly core progressive demographics, those.

Posted by: Anne on March 7, 2011 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I guess if you can't beat 'em, don't let 'em get in the game to play.

These people aren't just against "Democrats," they're really against small "d" democracy.

They are authoritarian nihilists and anarchists.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on March 7, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Apartheid, GOP-style.

Posted by: 2Manchu on March 7, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

There is no question that the GOP outclasses the Democrats in underhanded election activities.

And yet, all the Rovian shenanigans that the GOP pull every election cycle pale in importance to the fundamental flaws in our electoral system. Naturally, there is a bipartisan consensus to never fix these flaws. As Benen said, the easiest way to win is to rig the system so that those most likely to vote the "wrong" way simply don't get to participate.

If I had a magic wand and could choose between eliminating all of the GOP's underhanded election tactics and instituting a number of election reforms, I would choose the latter. It wouldn't be a tough choice and no sane lover of free elections would choose otherwise.

Give me instant runoff voting. Give me publicly financed elections. Give me election day as a national holiday. Give me more than two political parties. In other words, give me a series of reforms that makes voting easier and allows voters a greater ability to express their personal preferences. Do that and you will go much further towards fixing our broken political system than by addressing the relatively minor (though often illegal) activities that affect elections on the margins.

Posted by: square1 on March 7, 2011 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans cannot win honestly.

They flood the airwaves with lie upon lie, fantasy upon fantasy when elections roll around.

And the media is on their side? Why: because it brings them multimillion dollars in ad business.

They are also therefore on the side of stupidity, lack of education etc.

Of course they would want to KILL public interest news, public education and anything else that stands in the way of the Republican vision of reducing our populace to peon status and that can die in the streets for all they care: as Katrina showed us.

Why doesn't the media ever demand that Republicans lay out their real vision for America?

Cut teachers salaries so Tom Cruise need pay only $400 a year in property taxes in Colorado? That kind of question???

Posted by: jjm on March 7, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Riiiiight. Because Hard-Right Conservatives and Tea Partiers vote on reason and evidence?


Posted by: BrendanInBoston on March 7, 2011 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

The GOTP is a dying breed. As the white baby boomers age up and die, the country becomes younger,less religious, more diverse and less likely to vote for the narrow range of social and economic covenants the Republican/TeaParty insist on. Therefore the only means to extend their days of influence peddling is to keep young people, diverse people from voting. Naturally this has a shelf-life, because "times, they are a'changing" and the support for their hard-core policies will soon reach a tipping point.

Posted by: T2 on March 7, 2011 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

These are absolutist conservative ideologues who know that they already have the answers to life's persistent problems. All they have to do is to train the voters to accept those conservative answers.

Their job is to educate the voters and to limit the pool of potential voters to those who are educated. Attempting to "...field better candidates and adopt a more sensible policy agenda." means abandoning "The Truth!"

Posted by: Rick B on March 7, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are all against people who 'vote their feelings' but all in favor of people who vote their lack of them.

Posted by: cld on March 7, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

All the more reason to cry craven at the Dems for their poltroonery on the Acorn issue. Gutless weasels.

Posted by: Greg Worley on March 7, 2011 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

This is just going to PISS OFF college students and turn them off further more from Republicans.

In terms of New Hampshire there is a Democratic governor and he probably will veto the bill.

In terms of Wisconsin, I truly believe that Walker is going to get recalled so that law may be overturned.

In terms of North Carolina, that is where the DNC convention will be so there will be a huge voter drive happening for Democrats in that state.

Posted by: Maritza on March 7, 2011 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Expect all sorts of shenanigans about where New Hampshire college students vote. At home precinct or college precinct? Thats how you get rid of that vote. We've seen some of this in Georgia before.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on March 7, 2011 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

The issues of voter disenfranchisement and union busting highlight a difference between democrats and republicans. Democrats want to do something for people (one can argue from a libertarian perspective that many of these things are things people should be doing for themselves and I wouldn’t necessarily argue the point). In contrast, the republicans want to do things to people, primarily for the benefit of a few economic elite.

The republicans behavior isn’t new, they are just being more obvious about it than normal and letting a larger swath of individuals know that you are not one of us. Personally, I prefer the democratic model to the republican one.

Posted by: Ray on March 7, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Why not just cut to the chase and create a law that says college students can't vote for Democrats?

Posted by: eric72 on March 7, 2011 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

There is nothing wrong with American voting. There is something worng with the Republican party that continues to follow Fascist thinking to defy and decry the US Constitution. Taking away voting rights for ALL Americans is TREASON

Posted by: ML Johnston on March 7, 2011 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

The way to counter this is simple: hold big drives for Dem voters to get picture IDs.

Dems could also promote laws to allow college students away at school to be able to vote in their home district.

Posted by: JEA on March 7, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

There is also a Dem governor in North Carolina - keeping her veto pen working overtime with our Repugnant-majority legislature.

Posted by: withay on March 7, 2011 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Someone should ask this guy in public if he would say that to the face of any 18-year-old student who is in ROTC or was thinking of joining the military, or to any 18 - 21 year-old who is serving in the military. They should not be allowed to vote in N.H. if that's where they attend college? These GOP operatives need to be called out loud and clear for their profoundly anti-democratic maneuvers. Where is the mainstream media? Pathetic.

Posted by: Jan on March 7, 2011 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Seems like if they are going to discriminate against out-of-state college students, then they'd have to treat enlisted military the same way. Why does the GOP hate our military?

Posted by: josef on March 7, 2011 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Life Experience"

You need "life experience" to be permitted to vote. That's what even the young right wingers say. "I probably shouldn't have been allowed to vote" right out of high school, they'll tell you. "I didn't have life experience."

What does "life experience" teach you? Generally, that the ideals you learned about Your Country in school haven't been realized. That the government doesn't actually work the way they said it did. That politicians have been known to shade the truth. You learn that the government takes money right of your paycheck, and at the end of the year, you have to pay even more.

It's enough to make many a tender young person cynical and bitter. When this happens, then he's at last "ready to vote."


That's what is meant by "life experience."

Posted by: zandru on March 7, 2011 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

The majority of voters of any age vote with their emotions. Campaigns these days are all about emotions, not ideas. In Mr. Obama's campaign, the emotion he appealed to was "hope." In the 2010 campaign, the emotion the Republicans appealed to was "fear."

In my college town, a ballot initiative has been certified to move the municipal elections from November to June, when the student population is away. The sponsors of the initiative are clearly trying to disenfranchise the student population, believing that will make it more difficult for "liberals" to win municipal elections. Since the "conservatives" can't seem to win on ideas or emotions, they are trying this tactic.

Posted by: jpeckjr on March 7, 2011 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

The real goal is to establish a one-party state by wiping out the Democratic Party. Curiously, this goal is simultaneously Communist and Fascist. The more general terms are tyranny and despotism. Americans rejected tyranny and despotism in 1776. The flirtation Republicans are having with they now makes the, well, to put it as politely as possible, not in full accord with historic American principles.

Frankly, I think some of them are still upset George W. Bush and Company didn't find a way to abbrogate the Constitution and establish him as "president for life."

Posted by: james on March 7, 2011 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Give me instant runoff voting. Give me publicly financed elections. Give me election day as a national holiday. Give me more than two political parties. -- Square1, @2:31PM

The first three, someone might be able to "give you"; they're all within the power of Congress to legislate. Just don't hold your breath. The last one, however, you'll really have to catch yourself. Start that 3rd (or 4th or 5th) party yourself; write the platform for it; convince more than your immediate friends and family to join it; groom a credible candidate willing to run on your platform. Piece of cake but don't expect others to hand it to you.

Posted by: exlibra on March 7, 2011 at 8:20 PM | PERMALINK

You have got to be kidding me. Steve Benen, at least do some due diligence and look into your claims in your story.

You say of the current system "The easiest way to win an election has nothing to do with candidates, fundraising, or grassroots operations. It's to stack the voting deck -- rig the system so that those most likely to vote the "wrong" way simply don't get to participate.

And changing tje system to instant runoff voting, which has been shown to disenfranchise the less affluent, less educated, non-english speakers, and minorities is the solution? IRV does not make elections "easier", but complicates the process in ways that are unthinkable.

Posted by: Betty on March 8, 2011 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK



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