Political Animal


June 20, 2011 9:20 AM Shining a light on voter suppression

By Steve Benen

Much of the media tends to ignore this, so I was delighted to see this column from E.J. Dionne Jr. today.

An attack on the right to vote is underway across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.

The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, notably those limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.

These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.

Again, think of what this would look like to a dispassionate observer. A party wins an election, as the GOP did in 2010. Then it changes the election laws in ways that benefit itself. In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.

A party comfortable with the notion of limits probably wouldn’t even attempt such an audacious scheme. Under the auspices of rooting out non-existent “voter fraud,” Republicans are passing voter-ID measures, approving new laws restricting voter-registration drives, and closing early-voting windows. It’s not subtle, but it is disgraceful. The GOP fears losing in a fair fight, so the party is trying to rig the game.

Dionne added, “In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?”

Pretty much. The point of the GOP scheme is surprisingly similar to Jim Crow-era measures — identifying those the right doesn’t want to vote and passing laws that put barriers between them and the ballot box.

That this might actually affect the outcome of the 2012 election should be a national scandal. That this is occurring with minimal media coverage is a national embarrassment.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • FRP on June 20, 2011 9:25 AM:

    The notion of subtlety is mistaking silent collaboration for something it isn't .

  • c u n d gulag on June 20, 2011 9:27 AM:

    The Republican voting motto:

    "Free, white, and over 21."

    Also, too - male.
    And/or Evangelical Christian.

  • just bill on June 20, 2011 9:28 AM:

    this would make more of a difference if, you know, the american public actually voted.

  • Lifelong Dem on June 20, 2011 9:30 AM:

    I'm surprised the editors of the Washington Post let Dionne publish the truth about the media: Voter suppression so clearly benefits the Republicans that the media typically report this through a partisan lens, knowing that accounts making clear whom these laws disenfranchise would be labeled as biased by the right.

    Corporate media can't risk looking liberal, for god's sake, so it focuses on sexting scandals instead of voter suppression efforts that will actually have an impact on America.

  • Mr. Serf Man on June 20, 2011 9:30 AM:

    That this is occurring with minimal media coverage is a national embarrassment.

    We only care about voting on American Idol or the Voice or or ...if I can't text my vote it's too much trouble .
    A nation of vegetables poised in front of the TEEVEE

    Idiocracy : The Documentary

  • j on June 20, 2011 9:31 AM:

    The GOP is using third world tactics to destroy Americans constitutional rights, there should be crowds in the streets, when the repubs say they plan on taking back the country they mean it - or should I say the corporations want to take it back. Sadly the American public is not engaged enough!

  • rikyrah on June 20, 2011 9:35 AM:

    I, too, appreciate Dionne hightlighting this. The only person in the MSM who has been paying attention to this has been Rachel Maddow.

    this is about VOTER SUPPRESSION, plain and simple.

    no other way around it.

  • DAY on June 20, 2011 9:36 AM:

    But what about the New Black Panther Party, chasing old white women down the street, clubbing elderly White Men who tried to vote? And Eric Holder REFUSES to prosecute!

    We need the National Guard at the voting polls- with tanks and guns and racial identity checks. . .

  • RosiesDad on June 20, 2011 9:37 AM:

    We were discussing this over at Balloon Juice. Truth is, it's not that difficult to get a government issued photo ID (even though there is nominal cost and time involved). Rather than waste a lot of time hand wringing over the return of Jim Crow, time and effort would be better spent educating voters and providing support so that those who do not have acceptable photo id's get them. We have nearly a year and a half to the 2012 election; there is no reason that everyone who wants to vote should not be able to do so.

  • T2 on June 20, 2011 9:49 AM:

    Mr. Benen is exactly right. The GOP can't win a fair fight, so they devise various ways to tilt the playing field. Once in power, they enact rules designed to either keep them in power or rules that keep their views/priorities set far enough into the future to continue to affect us if they are out of power. Much of their actions speak to the second point..
    Stacking state and national judiciary with right wing judges, many with lifetime appointments, during the Bush years was part of that. With the judges in place, attempts to right the wrongs don't get far.
    Putting Roberts and Alito in the Supreme Court is part of that, and why the election of Barack Obama was so important, and why his re-election is so important. It is likely that one or two more justices will be replaced in the near term, and it goes without saying that the nation can't have a SC with a 5-4 Hard Right Conservative majority for decades...striking down each and every attempt to correct Republican voter theft.

  • berttheclock on June 20, 2011 9:51 AM:

    Damn it, Steve, when will you finally produce a column about the power of ALEC, American Learning Exchange Council, and their work in voter suppression?

    On March 8, 2011, Tobin Van Ostern wrote an excellent column for Campus Progress, part of the Center for American Progress, where Van Ostern pointed out the work of ALEC in blocking student voters.

    I have even asked BlueGirl to contact you about ALEC. Why do you think the many anti-abortion, anti-union and voter suppression bills have been so well coordinated in the various state legislatures? It is the work of ALEC, who has over 2,400 state reps working for them as flunkies.

    Please, Steve, write something pertinent about ALEC.

  • Hieronymus The Troll Braintree on June 20, 2011 9:54 AM:

    Two things:

    1. ID's can be faked. However, when I went to vote in Queens, I always had to sign in with previous entries of my signature right there where the polling people could see them. Isn't that a much more effective means of preventing voter fraud? Unless you're some super genius at forgery, copying a signature takes time. More than enough to arouse suspicion. Therefore, it would seem that the Republicans are putting in a system that's actually less effective at preventing voter fraud.

    2. As usual, where are the Democrats?

  • Tim on June 20, 2011 9:55 AM:

    I'm kinda w/ RosiesDad on this. People need IDs to cash checks, buy alcohol, drive a car, get a job, etc. You don't even need to drive to get an ID.

    While I realize that the much of the elected GOP is a nefarious bunch of asshats, how many people would actually get turned away at the voting booth by a law such as this?

  • Grumpy on June 20, 2011 10:02 AM:

    At the same time, I hear Repubs complain whenever laws require mandatory carding for all liquor sales. Because it would be a burden on booze buyers.

  • DAY on June 20, 2011 10:05 AM:

    Voter ID is not much of a problem, but long, loooong lines at the polls is/was. You have to be really committed to wait hours to vote. In the rain.

    That is why early voting is so important. And why the GOP is actively trying to curb/eliminate it.

  • pol on June 20, 2011 10:26 AM:

    Tim and RosiesDad -- A friend gave a good example of why these laws are nuts.

    Her grandfather lived in a nursing home and applied for Medicaid to help with the costs. Medicaid wanted a photo ID. He didn't have one... he hadn't driven in years. So, he went to DMV to get one. DMV wanted a utility bill, etc. as proof that he lived where he said he did. He lived in a nursing home, and someone else paid the bills. He had no proof.

    My friend said Medicaid finally bent the rules. However, this is an example of someone who had no proof of where he lived -- who couldn't get a photo ID.

    I DO think that perhaps photo IDs are a good idea, but be fair and give people long enough to get them -- perhaps 3 years -- to fight the system for obstructions like these, and to give a people a reasonable deadline to attain one.

  • rrk1 on June 20, 2011 10:27 AM:

    The most voter fraud that has occurred has been with electronic voting machines that flip votes or don't count votes or with partisan election commissioners. Then there's compiler manipulation with hackers doing their magic, trap doors in computer software that allows unauthorized access to results. We haven't heard anything about all this of late. All elections in this country are to some degree fraudulent, and many have been outright 'stolen' by one side or the other. As with other examples of American exceptionalism, the mythology is that the U.S. has a gold standard of election integrity, and that is, of course, nonsense. We need international election inspectors.

    These attempts at voter suppression are only the most recent effort to control the electorate to guarantee a certain outcome. There doesn't seem to be much interest in or understanding of what it means to have a level playing field. The Rethugs know they can't possibly win a truly fair election with high voter participation, and their ceaseless quest for absolute power permits, encourages, and endorses this sort of anti-democratic tactic.

    The Rethugs have a whole playbook for reducing voter participation by minorities, and the poor, and they far too often get away with it. As usual in right-wing circles they accuse their opponents of the tactics they themselves are using, and this is just another example of that.

  • RosiesDad on June 20, 2011 10:38 AM:


    Virtually every state that is enacting voter ID laws also grants exemption to the disabled (with documentation) and the elderly. The Texas Law mentioned by Dionne specifically exempts anyone who is age 70 or older as of the 2012 election.

  • Dan Tyler on June 20, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Universal mail-in voting

    If it's good enough for Oregon, it's good enough for me.

  • arkie on June 20, 2011 11:06 AM:

    "Virtually every state that is enacting voter ID laws also grants exemption to the disabled (with documentation) and the elderly. The Texas Law mentioned by Dionne specifically exempts anyone who is age 70 or older as of the 2012 election."

    What ID do you need to prove that you are over 70? Here in Arkansas the voter list does not have date of birth or age.

    And having been an election worker for the past ten years, I can tell you that voter fraud by individuals at the polling place is a non-issue as far as affecting election results. It would be an extremely inefficient method.

  • Diane Rodriguez on June 20, 2011 11:40 AM:

    I'm with Day about his observations on voting day lines having a more chilling effect on voting than mandatory picture ID. The restriction of early voting will make a more significant difference. I have always wondered why there is not a greater push toward an election day Holiday. In fact it's time for yet another letter to Boxer and Feinstein.

    I believe the ACLU will also challenge many of these provisions.

  • T2 on June 20, 2011 11:53 AM:

    In Texas, a handy method of limiting voter turnout in areas expected to be anti-GOP.....burn the warehouse where the voting machines are stored.
    That happened in Houston during the last governor election....Rick Perry's opponent was Bill White, popular ex-mayor of Houston. Houston was poised to vote heavily for White (as did most TX major cities). But all the voting machines were destroyed....so a few were borrowed, resulting in long, long lines - especially in the minority neighborhoods, surpressing anti-Perry voters.

  • elom on June 20, 2011 11:57 AM:

    ...study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem...

    Golly gee, voter fraud laws work!

  • Schtick on June 20, 2011 1:07 PM:

    A loco...er local election that was held a while back, a repub couldn't beat the repub he wanted to run against so he switched to the dem party and within a week of getting elected, switched back to the repub party. This was done in less than a year. It took me two years in the same area to switch my party. When I went to the election board, I was told he didn't do that. Then how could he run on the dem ticket? I got a shrug. The good thing about this is that he lost the next election badly and in a repub area, too. Sometimes justice comes in small ways.

    please fire whomever wanted the crapcha