Rick Hasen is a national treasure to those of us who are interested in voting rights. He’s a UC-Irvine professor whose Election Law Blog is an outstanding resource in understanding disputes over election procedures and especially the litigation that has played so important a role in this area.
So it was interesting and a bit painful to read his essay at Slate yesterday that (a) agreed strongly with the substance of Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on voting rights, but (b) argued that she is polarizing the issue by making it a presidential campaign theme.
On Twitter I complained that a campaign is the last place to have a rational conversation about our dysfunctional election system. Clinton’s lawyer Elias responded: “Wrong—it’s the best place to expose voter suppression for what it is. Worst place is in academic papers no one reads.”
That may be a great position to take in the campaign. But it’s not the kind of talk that is going to get Republicans in Congress to go along with a Voting Rights Act fix proposed by a President Hillary Clinton or any other meaningful reforms that will require bipartisan support. Clinton would do the country a service by leaving election reform to sober policy discussions and not campaign rallies.
I’m sure you know which way my knee jerks on this one.
Now Hasen isn’t just engaging in naive or ignorant over-estimation of GOP good faith on voting rights. He mentions some specific Republicans who have made specific steps towards non-evil outcomes in this area, and suggests Clinton is undermining them.
But still: Republicans have controlled the U.S. House for over four years now and have taken not the first step towards “fixing” the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Hasen mentions the bipartisan “Lines Commission” appointed by President Obama and its worthy recommendations. But the very reason so many people think HRC is taking a stronger position than Obama on this subject is that the “Lines Commission” report vanished without a single trace.
My first reaction to Hasen’s piece was to think, Okay, if it’s important to acknowledge Republicans who are kosher on this subject, maybe HRC should name-check them next time she speaks on this subject. It’s not like it would take that long. But then it immediately occurred to me that this would from Hasen’s perspective be even worse, since being praised by HRC is the kiss of death for Republicans, far worse than ignoring them.
So we’re left with the thought that Democratic advocates for election reform who are in the political arena at the highest level should either shut up about it until such time as Republicans decide to change their minds for their own reasons, or maybe talk about it quietly and with no hint that advocates might be willing to make it a partisan issue! Talk about a blind alley.
Interestingly enough, Hasen is indicating he’s rethinking his position based on the negative reaction he received for his Slate piece from people with whom he normally agrees. That’s a good idea.