It should be a surprise to no one, but it still feels wrong that going into Election Day, one of our two major parties seems to be putting so much emphasis on keeping people from voting–on getting out the non-vote. As Mike Tomasky remarks this morning, this sort of thing used to be done furtively, as befits shameful acts:

[U]p to now its measures were local and somewhat haphazard–scare-tactic fliers circulated in black neighborhoods, GOP elections officials “forgetting” to ship the right number of voting machines to minority areas, that sort of thing. These things were usually perpetrated with plenty of plausible deniability.

Now, though, in these past couple of years, the GOP strategy has been institutionalized. It’s come above ground, and the thugs in black outfits distributing handbills in the dead of night before Election Day have been replaced or at least supplemented by thugs in suits and ties trying to put a respectable sheen this obviously anti-democratic business.

That’s probably fitting. This election does, after all, follow a four-year period in which conservatives have gotten into the habit of publicly proclaiming things they used to keep to themselves: anyone receiving any sort of government assistance is a “looter” or a “taker;” poor and minority people “vote themselves welfare;” voting is a “privilege, not a right;” people who don’t pay federal income taxes shouldn’t be allowed to vote, etc., etc. The desire to suppress votes to one extent or another has gotten deeply into the DNA of a party that considers itself under siege by demographic change.

And quite predictably, two of the more brazen GOP pols, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, are making a spectacle of themselves in their zeal to restrict voting opportunities. If one of them showed up outside an early polling place with a bullwhip and police dogs, it wouldn’t seem out of place, and many of their “base” supporters would lustily cheer. After all, when Husted defies a judge to require voters to fill out forms establishing their right to vote, or when Scott turns away voters standing in line for hours, that’s some more “looters” who won’t have the opportunity to take away the good virtuous folks’ tax dollars or (earned!) Medicare benefits.

In terms of election results, maybe this sort of crap won’t matter (though as we often forget, there are down-ballot elections that will be affected even if the presidential election isn’t) in the end. But it’s still an outrage to justice, and one that could soon become institutionalized still more if the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is repealed or made toothless by legislative or judicial action. That would truly bring us full circle, to the last time when arrogant men said to uppity Americans seeking to vote: “Don’t you dare!”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.