A couple of months ago, Bill Clinton spoke to a group of young people and addressed one of the biggest national scandals that generally goes unmentioned.

“[O]ne of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time,” the former president said. He added, “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.”

This was not at all hyperbolic. If you haven’t already seen it, Ari Berman has a tremendous piece on the Republican Party’s “War on Voting,” which is well worth reading. It points to a trend that could carry consequences that quietly dictate the outcome of the 2012 elections.

As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.

“What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century,” says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C. […]

All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting….Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year — perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP.

It’s hard to say which is more astounding — the scope of the Republican efforts, the brazenness of their schemes, or the fact that this has gone largely overlooked by the establishment media in recent months. There’s nothing normal about any of this.

Indeed, the concerted Republican effort 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 E.J. Dionne Jr. explained earlier in the summer, “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.”

Commenting on Berman’s article, Digby added, “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.”

She’s absolutely right.

“Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of and for the people,” Browne-Dianis told Berman. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are or where you live in the country – we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.”

Yes, but the people may not vote the way Republicans want them to, so apparently, the restrictions have been deemed necessary.

Read the piece.

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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.