Political Animal


October 05, 2011 4:15 PM A counter-offensive in the ‘war on voting’

By Steve Benen

Republican efforts appear likely to keep upwards of 5 million Americans from participating in the 2012 elections, following an aggressive campaign to restrict access. Ari Berman recently labeled it the Republican Party’s “War on Voting,” and as part of the national effort, GOP officials “have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote” next year.

But the initiative has not gone unnoticed by the administration. Berman noted this week comments from President Obama on the effort to keep people from voting.

“I will say that my big priority is making sure that as many people are participating in our democracy as possible. Some of these moves in some of the other states that we’ve seen try to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people.

“I think that’s a big mistake, and I have made sure that our Justice Department is taking a look at what’s being done across the country to ensure that people aren’t being denied access to the franchise.”

That part about the Justice Department is, as near as I can tell, a new development. DOJ officials may have some options in combating the Republican efforts — most notably, investigations on whether the new laws violate the Voting Rights Act — but the surest way to get to find out is for the president to ask Justice to launch a review.

That said, Ryan J. Reilly reports this morning that some DOJ efforts are already underway, but state discretion in this areas limits the reach of federal officials.

Sure, federal officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are reviewing voter ID laws passed in South Carolina and Texas because both states have a history of discrimination and are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ told South Carolina last month that they need more info before making a decision and in September told Texas they have more questions.

But for all the other states that passed voter ID laws that aren’t subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, federal intervention is a long shot. The only other option for opposing a voter ID law is an argument under Section 2 of the VRA, where the burden of proof is pretty high.

In most of the states where the war on voting is most intense, it looks like voters who wanted the public to have more access to participating in free elections shouldn’t have elected so many far-right Republicans to key state offices.

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.


Post a comment
  • zmulls on October 05, 2011 4:21 PM:

    Is it a possible strategy to create legal action that enjoins or holds up implementation of a law "pending review" -- and that keeps it off the books until, say, 2013?

  • c u n d gulag on October 05, 2011 4:25 PM:

    Stand by for cries of "More Voter Fruad!" and "Democratic Discrimination!"

    They are relentless, and play the MSM like virtuoso's!

  • Joe Buck on October 05, 2011 4:48 PM:

    There's also the 24th amendment:

    "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

    If an official ID is required for voting, and it isn't free, that's a poll tax. Any state that forces people to pay even a penny to exercise their right to vote is violating the Constitution.

    Obama's DoJ needs to get on this pronto if they don't want to be one-termers.

  • kevo on October 05, 2011 4:53 PM:

    Restricting access to the ballot booth is about as anti-democratic one could possible be!

    Witnessing such efforts is sickening for anyone who would dare call themselves American, and the fact that our brethren who identify themselves as Republican are indeed involved up to their ears in disenfranchisement is testament to their authoritarian streak. They think of their fellow Americans as unworthy, yet under democratic law all able bodied citizens should not be denied access to voting.

    Republicans and their benefactors don't care to have poor Americans vote because they have determined they are superior to us just like any Social Darwinist before them concluded when he looked out and saw miners with black-lung and truly believed the rich were the fittest because of such conditional disparity.

    I have an ignorant brother who is sending emails that reflect his ignorance more than they provide beneficial information to the prospective voter. The things he forwards are things only anti-democratic interests would want sent as many have contradicting information, confusion within the issues, and a general mismash of emotional intensity all produced to help defeat our current President in the next election.

    I call my brother ignorant because he is a retired CalFire Captain, and the things he forwards attack public employees (he can't remember that was what he was for 30+ years), denigrates defined retirement packages (something he got upon his retirement) and sullies our President's efforts to light a fire under Congress to get Americans back to work (he sees the "Democrat" party as a welfare party)!

    Because he has maintained his ignorance at the expense of truly determining who would work for his best interests as a memeber of the Middle Class, and as a result, I will have to now vote not only for the right candidate in 2012, but also to cancel out my brother's uninformed vote because he can't continue his well-being until that Black man is out of the WH. Yes, my brother has maintained his ignorance as a way to maintain his racist bigotry!

    My fear is that too many of us have too many brothers, sisters and parents who think (read NOT think) the way my brother does at this moment in our nation's history! -Kevo

  • June on October 05, 2011 4:54 PM:

    "In most of the states where the war on voting is most intense, it looks like voters who wanted the public to have more access to participating in free elections shouldn’t have elected so many far-right Republicans to key state offices."

    That's really what it comes down to - people wanted to be lied to and manipulated by Republican candidates; wanted to have their worst instincts and qualities mirrored and indulged -- and to some degree, they still do, hence all the blathering over a (now-future) Christie run.

  • paul on October 05, 2011 5:05 PM:

    To the extent that this is a legislative effort, it's hard to combat. But to the extent that it's an effort spearheaded by republican party officials, who face potential criminal contempt citations for repeating their previous attempts to interfere with minority voting rights, it could get interesting.

  • Ron Byers on October 05, 2011 5:28 PM:

    The best way to combate the Republican voter suppression campaign is for the Democrats to strike back with an intensive and early GOTV and voter registration campaign.

    I guess they can't do that since the Democrats threw ACORN under the bus.

  • dweb on October 05, 2011 5:33 PM:

    First to Joe Buck....yes, charging for a qualified voter ID is in effect a poll tax, so state's should have to provide a methods for their citizens to get such an ID. In Wisconsin, home of Gov. Walker's shock drive to gut unions and cripple registration by minorities, immigrants and students, the state is issuing such IDs via the DMV. However, as soon as that started, a memo went out to DMV employees advising them expressly NOT to volunteer information about their availability, but respond only if they were asked.

    One DMV employee then sent a memo to his colleagues suggesting they all make it a point to mention ID availability to anyone who came to their window. He lost his job for doing so. And it appears that to save money, DMV has reduced the number of offices it operates around the state and I am told that for some reason, closings happened most often in Democratic districts.

    So...face reality...a major national effort is underway, but state by state, to make it harder for non-GOP voters to register. What is the answer? Action and ASAP ...involving unions, immigrant groups, groups like MoveOn, and student organizations. From now to November, 2012.....mobilization, education, registration.

  • N.Wells on October 05, 2011 5:56 PM:

    They should not be investigating the Republican efforts for Voting Rights Acts violations, but rather the Republican Party for RICO violations.

    (And while they are at it, they could usefully turn over some Bush administration rocks and look for violations of treason laws.)

  • KurtRex1453 on October 05, 2011 9:12 PM:

    Let's not forget the Arizona Republican war on the independent districting commission approved by voters which has been going on for a while now, but with the approval of a tentative map, you can expect the fury to fly.

  • Brownell on October 06, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Steve, I have noted before that you seldom miss an opportunity to slam the "voters" who elected right-wing extremists last year. Obviously it's true that somebody elected them, and those people are voters - but it's also a fact that, CD by CD, the margins were very close to the 2008 margins and the difference was not Dem idiots who switched their votes to GOP. It was that more Republicans voted and more Democrats did not vote. Democratic candidates were defeated by the nonvoters more than the voters.

    The solution is to rebuild Democratic enthusiasm for less-than-ideal candidates - not an easy project. If I lived in Kentucky, I would have a hard time voting and working for Governor Manchin and the same goes for Montana's Senator Baucus or Louisiana's Senator Landrieu. So, the progressive political and grass-roots organizations should do their thing to resist voter suppression, the Justice Dept. should wave big sticks at the vote-suppressing States and you, Steve, should promote the necessity for stay-home Dems to become clothes-pin voters instead of castigating the "voters" who elected these bums. Your snark is misplaced.