The war on voting continues apace

David Savage has a terrific piece on the Republicans’ war on voting, offering another stark reminder of the barriers GOP officials are putting between certain kinds of Americans and the ballot box.

Barack Obama may have won this crucial state [Florida] three years ago on the Sunday before election day when “souls to the polls” drives brought a surge of blacks and Latinos to cast ballots after church.

Florida had opened the polls two weeks early, and even so, long lines across the state prompted the governor to issue an emergency order extending the hours for early voting. Propelled by waves of new voters including college students, Obama eked out a win with 51%.

It will be different next year, a result of changes in the voting laws adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before election day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration drives and accuse the Legislature of “reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics.”

It’s not called the “war on voting” for nothing.

I’m not sure how much clearer the circumstances can be. Republican officials in a variety of states are trying to rig the 2012 elections by making it harder for Americans most likely to vote Democratic — African Americans, students, the poor, the elderly — to participate in elections. It’s really as simple as that. They’re not even being subtle.

One leading GOP policymaker in the Florida legislature told Savage that voting “is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people died for. Why should we make it easier?”

That’s a ridiculous question. Why should policymakers offer more access to Americans to participate in their own elections? Perhaps because we live in a democracy made more vibrant by Americans who choose to cast a ballot?

Here’s a better question for Republicans: why should they deliberately make it harder to vote?

Race clearly plays a role. Risa Goluboff and Dahlia Lithwick recently noted that the Republican efforts to restricting voting rights in 2012 look “an awful lot like methods pioneered by the white supremacists from another era that achieved the similar results.”

As for the other side of the debate, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, in an apparent attempt at self-parody, said restrictions on voting are worthwhile because of “the infamous example of ACORN.” Seriously, he actually said that. (Reminder: voter fraud is a myth limited to right-wing imaginations, and ACORN no longer exists and was never found to have engaged in election irregularities.)

Remember, we’re not just talking about a state or two. This is, as Savage’s article noted, “a national trend,” occurring in states “where Republicans have taken majority control,” including key battlegrounds like Ohio. One independent study projected that GOP restrictions “could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at UC Irvine, told Savage the new Republican rules “could easily decide the outcome” of next year’s election.

A recent quote from Digby continues to ring true: “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.”