Could GOP Call Off the Voting Wars?

At TNR today Alec MacGillis looks at the current state of the War on Voting and makes a good case that Republicans should want to call the whole thing off. It’s a messy, bureaucratic and judge-driven area of law, which should distress GOPers inherently. The substantive case for things like voter ID is getting weaker by the minute. There’s more and more evidence Democrats are benefiting more from negative reactions to voter suppression than Republicans are benefiting from potholing the path to the ballot box. And at least one major national GOP figure, Rand Paul, has broken the seal by dissenting (however erratically) from the party line on this subject.

This all makes sense, and might obtain a respectful hearing in Republican circles if these points were made by, say, Byron York. But I’d offer a counter-argument based on a simple premise: the War on Voting isn’t just a coolly calculated gambit that would go away if it were not perceived as effective or efficient. It’s closely integrated with contemporary conservative ideology.

For one thing, the highly prominent Constitutional Conservative wing of the GOP considers democracy itself–if it aims at or even allows erosion of the Ideal Governing Scheme of states rights and property rights and religious rights (and for many ConCons, fetal rights) established by the Founders–as essentially un-American (This is a republic, not a democracy, they never tire of saying) and requiring significant restrictions. Anything that makes exercise of the franchise more difficult–especially by those people who so poorly resemble the white yeoman farmer property owners of the early Republic–is presumed to be a good idea in itself.

But even short of the Con Con ranks, the kind of thinking that produced Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remarks is deeply entrenched in the GOP, and its root idea is that voting by people who benefit from an active federal government (and don’t pay income taxes!) is corrupt. So you can talk all day about the non-existence of voter fraud in the legal sense of participating in elections without eligibility. For a large number of Republicans, “voter fraud” means Democrats trading other people’s money (their money) for votes, and being technically eligible to cast a ballot cuts little or no ice.

So long as these habits of thinking persist on the Right, then the War on Voting will persist as well, whether or not it’s “working” in the sense of producing a tangible positive net effect for the Republican Party.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.