Quantifying the War on Voting

One of the more important political scandals of the year — a story that’s likely to have a major impact on the outcome of the 2012 race — generally goes overlooked by the larger mainstream discussion. That’s a problem.

The issue is what Ari Berman recently labeled the Republican Party’s “War on Voting.” As part of the national effort, GOP officials “have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote” in 2012.

The campaign isn’t exactly subtle. Under the auspices of rooting out “voter fraud” — a problem that appears to exist largely in the over-active imaginations of GOP activists — Republicans are passing voter-ID measures, closing windows for early voting, and approving new laws restricting voter-registration drives, all targeting specific kinds of voters who happen to be traditional Democratic supporters.

The GOP fears losing in a fair fight, so the party is trying to rig the game through voter suppression, plain and simple. As former President Bill Clinton recently put it, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”

But what kind of numbers are we talking about? How much damage could this initiative really do? A new comprehensive Brennan Center study said Republican measures may ultimately make it “significantly harder” for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

“These voting law changes are radical and completely unnecessary. They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students. Often they seem precisely targeted to exclude certain voters,” said Wendy. R. Weiser, report co-author and Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “After the Florida election fiasco in 2000, it became clear that the rules of election administration could affect outcomes. This time, those rules are being altered in a way that will likely hurt millions.”

“Significantly, these voting law cutbacks extend well beyond the most visible and controversial step to require government-issued photo ID that many citizens don’t have,” said report co-author Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and former Chair of the Ohio Secretary of State’s bipartisan Election Summit and Conference. “An array of technical moves can add to significant barriers to the ballot. And it comes at a time when experience has taught us there are many ways to improve the voting process and expand access to the franchise while reducing costs.”

All told, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes next year.

Digby recently said, “Democrats had better hope that the coming elections aren’t close. If they are, there’s just no way they can win with these laws that are coming on line. And that’s the plan.”