Shining a light on voter suppression

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.