What’s the Rationale For Bad Election Administration?

In responding (somewhat charitably, as a matter of fact) to Republican complaints that they are being unfairly accused of racial animus in pushing, in every available circumstance, legislation and policies restricting access to the franchise in ways that invariably target minority voters, Jonathan Chait makes a pretty important point about the “voter fraud” rationale: it may in theory justify voter ID requirements, but in no way justifies early voting restrictions or other straight-forward methods to make it harder to vote.

[I]f voter-I.D. laws were solely designed to prevent fraudulent voting, rather than to winnow minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies from the electorate, why would they be paired with a host of other measures that do not prevent voter fraud but do winnow Democrats from the electorate? In addition to imposing a photo-I.D. requirement, North Carolina Republicans reduced early voting periods (which minorities disproportionately use), prohibited voting stations from extending voting hours when lines are too long, prevented voters who mistakenly go to the wrong precinct from casting a provisional ballot, and a host of other measures.

Surely all of these additional measures give the game away completely.

I think that’s exactly right. Poor voting administration–which is essentially what you have when you don’t make adequate provision for early voters or have sufficient polling places or poll workers to avoid long lines, which tends to happen in minority neighborhoods, particularly in jurisdictions controlled by Republicans–is generally justified (if its proponents even bother to explain it) on budgetary grounds. It’s just real expensive to make it convenient for people to vote, doncha know. But as Chait explains, lurking right beneath the surface is the strong feeling that certain kinds of people probably shouldn’t vote, or at any event should have to jump through hoops not required of manifestly responsible folk with different skin colors or lifestyles:

[Consider] this passage, from National Review…[which] does not mention the party’s broader restrictions on voting besides the I.D. requirement. However it expresses the idea — or, more accurately, the irritable mental gesture — that Democratic voting is inherently crooked:

“Go down to the local homeless shelter, day-labor corner, or wino encampment, pull up with vans, and distribute such benefits as may be motivational in exchange for the effort of the denizens therein to cast their ballots.”

Wino encampments? The point of this odd, paranoid digression seems to be that Democrats rely on the wrong kind of people and pay them something to vote, which is easier to do if it’s easier to vote. “Even the most able political machine can round up only so many people on Election Day,” argues the National Review editorial, “and those who are available for such rounding up often are not registered voters.” Note the assumption: They’re often not registered voters, made without any hard evidence. It’s just an inherent characteristic of a party reliant on winos, day laborers, the homeless, and the Wrong Sorts of People in general, which is why basically any restriction on the ability of Those People to vote is fine, because they shouldn’t be voting at all.

Aside from its heavy racial undertones, this attitude unfortunately contributes to a general tendency to think bad government is good for people either because that’s what they deserve or that will teach them not to depend on government. At some point, the racial animus of the past may well fade into a general misanthropy–at least for the 47%–but that is nothing at all for conservatives to brag about.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.