War On Early Voting Rages On

Remember the bipartisan “lines commission” set up by the president after the 2012 elections? Remember its recommendation for “increased use of early voting, whether in person or by mail?”

Well, it’s certainly been forgotten or ignored by Republican state officials who continue to pare back early voting opportunities for a variety of spurious reasons, with the clear rationale being the hope that a lot of those people will be discouraged from voting once they can’t cast ballots on evenings or weekends.

The latest state to curtain early voting is, unsurprisingly, Wisconsin, as The Nation‘s Ari Berman reports:

Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and nights, when it’s most convenient for many voters to go to the polls. When they took over state government in 2011, Wisconsin Republicans reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Now they’ve eliminated weekend voting altogether.

Over 250,000 Wisconsinites voted early in 2012, one in twelve overall voters. Cutting early voting has a clear partisan purpose: those who voted early voted for Obama 58 to 41 percent in Wisconsin in 2012, compared to his 51 to 48 percent margin on Election Day. Extended early voting hours were particularly critical with respect to high voter turnout in big cities like Milwaukee and Madison. “It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics,” said Wisconsin GOP State Senator Dale Schultz, a critic of the legislation.

Wisconsin Republicans are following their Ohio brethren in adopting this strategy:

A month ago, Ohio passed legislation cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same-day voter registration and restricting the availability of absentee ballots while Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive doing away with early voting on weeknights and Sundays as well. 600,000 Ohioans, ten percent of the electorate, voted early in 2012. The cuts in Ohio, like Wisconsin, have a clear partisan and racial underpinning—in Cleveland, for example, African-Americans made up 56 percent of those who voted on weekends in 2008.

It’s another sign, to me at least, of the folly of letting states and localities exercise so much control over the fundamental right of democratic participation. Of course conservatives who are prone to believe that evil liberal elites are buying votes by supporting government benefits for those people are going to utilize every lever they have for foiling the “plot.” But the rest of us don’t have to go along with it, and at some point we’re going to realize that nationalizing election procedures to the maximum constitutional extent is the only way to stop these franchise-reducing measures.

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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.