The Anticonservative Attacks on Our Election System

It’s unfortunate that the two major American political parties have evolved in a way where one party gains an advantage by making it easier to vote and the other gains an advantage by making it harder to vote. It’s a problem because it introduces self-interest into a question that shouldn’t be partisan. Who should vote?

You can come at that question in a number of ways: legal, constitutional, ethical, philosophical, idealistic, ideological, etc. I come at it in a practical way.

In a representative democracy, you exchange some rationality and expertise (which are both overrated among elites anyway) for legitimacy. You want a population that consents to be governed and that respects the laws. Without that, you can’t build up a peaceful and prosperous country, especially if you want to avoid suppressing people’s rights. An individual’s vote is only decisive in the rarest of cases (although it happens more than you might think), but it’s important that no one is shut out.

This view comes at the question much differently from those who focus on voters having some minimal base of knowledge with which to make decisions, whether that’s on candidates or referendums. There are certainly a lot of people who know absolutely nothing of value to assist them in making decisions about our foreign policy or to judge between competing health, education, and tax plans. Why would we want the opinion of these people? Why not insist that voters have some minimal level of education? Can they even read and write? Are they sane? Are they criminals?

We don’t allow voter registration officials to give tests to applicants. The right to vote is strongly protected under our current legal regime. And we have been expanding access to the ballot in a variety of ways in recent decades, from lowering the voting age to creating same-day registration to expanding vote-by-mail to setting up early voting centers. The Republican Party is now openly at war with these reforms and has even gone so far as to invent in-person voter fraud as a concern that justifies requiring state-issued photo identification for people who want to cast their votes. The GOP lawyers and election officials who challenge these laws continue to lose in court with regularity.

They’ve had successes, though. They destroyed my former employer ACORN, for example. ACORN was mainly a housing advocacy group dedicated to helping people avoid losing their homes, but they advocated for a variety of issues of pressing concern to inner city communities. And they were very good at registering people to vote which is why they were targeted and destroyed.

It wouldn’t have made sense for Republicans to attack ACORN though if the party did well with minorities at the ballot box. If they won, say, 35% of the black vote, it wouldn’t have been worth the effort to destroy ACORN. The campaign was only rational because blacks and other minorities overwhelmingly support their opponents.

Now, Donald Trump is taking things to another level in questioning the legitimacy of our elections. And his surrogates are playing along.

What’s more, several high-profile Republicans are endorsing Trump’s rigged election narrative, showing no signs they’ll vouch for the legitimacy of the process. “They are attempting to rig this election,” Senator Jeff Sessions said on Saturday. “They will not succeed.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Sunday accused TV executives of a “coup d’etat” against Trump. And former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani pushed the voter fraud canard Sunday on CNN, saying, “I’m sorry, dead people generally vote for Democrats.”

As I said at the top, at least part of the reason why we want everyone to have the right and opportunity to vote is pragmatic. If they feel that they have a voice in the outcome, they’re more likely to submit to authority (in the good sense). In a typical American election, more than forty percent of the people vote for the loser. We need them to accept the outcome without resorting to violence or widespread civil disobedience. I assume that I’d get more agreement on this from traditional conservatives than the more antiestablishment and countercultural left.

Deliberately undermining millions of people’s faith in the fairness of a presidential election is the opposite of practical in this sense. It’s an incitement to civil disorder and an invitation for huge numbers of people to disrespect the law and the legitimacy of authority. It’s not conservative in any normal sense of the word.

Of course it’s dangerous, but it’s also ideologically schismatic.

Yet, it’s a logical outgrowth of the GOP’s self-interest in voter suppression.

Democrats are taking the high road on these voting issues and they have the courts on their side. It’s just unfortunate that the purity of their motives is called into question because they’re the party that benefits when more people vote. Would Democrats defend voting rights if their chances were diminished by good turnout?

I actually think they would, but not with the same energy and urgency.

I’m hoping we can get to the point (peaceably) in this country where conservatives relinquish control of the Republican Party rather than hold onto it like grim death. Because, as long as conservatives control the GOP and refuse to bend to a changing demographic reality in this country, they will continue to work at disenfranchising people and calling into question the integrity of our election system. And that’s a recipe for dystopia.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.