WHEN IN DOUBT, DISENFRANCHISE…. The easiest way to win an election has nothing to do with candidates, fundraising, or grassroots operations. It’s to stack the voting deck — rig the system so that those most likely to vote the “wrong” way simply don’t get to participate.

Republicans pursued this pretty aggressively during the Bush era, relying on odious tactics like “voter caging,” and in the wake of last year’s midterm gains, the GOP efforts to keep voters they don’t like from the polls are intensifying.

New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They’re “foolish,” Speaker William O’Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”

New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state – and effectively keep some from voting at all.

One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there — requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from. Another bill would end Election Day registration, which O’Brien said unleashes swarms of students on polling places, creating opportunities for fraud.

It’s ridiculous enough for Republicans to try to stop those who “vote their feelings,” but what’s important to remember here is that the problem isn’t limited to some offensive effort in New Hampshire.

ThinkProgress ran a report over the weekend, highlighting Republican efforts “that would dramatically restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless.” How widespread is this? The report noted the developments in 22 states — nearly half the country.

This isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous. If the GOP is so panicky about losing elections, they should field better candidates and adopt a more sensible policy agenda, not push schemes like voter-ID bills that depress minority, youth, and low-income voter turnout. From the Post article:

Democrats charge that the real goal, as with anti-union measures in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere, is simply to deflate the power of core Democratic voting blocs – in this case young people and minorities. For all the allegations of voter fraud, Democrats and voting rights groups say, there is scant evidence to show that it is a problem.

“It’s a war on voting,” said Thomas Bates, vice president of Rock the Vote, a youth voter- registration group mounting a campaign to fight the array of state measures. “We’d like to be advocating for a 21st-century voting system, but here we are fighting against efforts to turn it back to the 19th century.”

Republicans routinely pull a lot of stunts, but few are as offensive as these anti-voting tactics. They undermine democracy in a rather fundamental way. It’s one thing to lie one’s way through a campaign; it’s more damaging to the integrity of the country to stop people who disagree with you from even having a say in the process.

I suspect a lot of folks backed GOP candidates last year, hoping and expecting they’d tackle economic issues. This is another reminder that, two months into the new Republican majorities in statehouses nationwide, the GOP agenda has nothing to do with jobs, and everything to do with a much larger, much darker, crusade.

And while this is ongoing at the state level, the agenda has President Obama in mind: there’s a reason the fights are particularly intense in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and North Carolina — these are three “swing” states the president will need for a second term, but may lose if Republicans prevent significant numbers of likely Democratic voters from participating.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.