Ensuring the Right to Vote Is the Cornerstone of Progressive Change

I thought I’d seen everything when it comes to ways in which data from the 2016 presidential election has been sliced and diced. But Ron Brownstein noted something fascinating that hadn’t shown up in any other analysis of that race.

In a recent paper, Schraufnagel and two colleagues ranked the 50 states based on ease of voting: Of the 20 states they identified as making it most difficult to vote, Trump carried 17. Hillary Clinton carried 12 of the 20 states where it is easiest to vote.

When confronted with data like that, it is always important to remember that correlation is not causation. One of the reasons why Trump carried so many states that make it difficult to vote is that voter suppression is an agenda embraced by Republicans these days. So it makes sense that in states where they have the power to accomplish their goals, Trump would win. What we don’t know is whether the outcome would have been the same if the barriers to voting hadn’t been there.

That is precisely why Brownstein’s article is titled, “The battle over the voting booth is just beginning.”

The battle over voting access has become a critical front in the larger struggle over the nation’s direction between what I have called the Democratic coalition of transformation — centered on groups most comfortable with the demographic, cultural and economic changes remaking America — and the Republican coalition of restoration, most uneasy about those changes.

Particularly in states across the Sun Belt — from North Carolina, Florida and Georgia to Texas and Arizona — the electoral competition is shaped by a stark demographic divide. In all of those states, Democrats are increasingly reliant on growing populations of younger and nonwhite voters. But in each of those states and others demographically similar to them, a Republican coalition almost entirely dependent on white voters — especially older, blue-collar and non-urban whites — still has the advantage, particularly in state elections.

In each state the Republican majorities have used that power to approve either restrictions on voting — such as tougher voter identification laws — partisan gerrymanders or both, making it more difficult for that emerging nonwhite electorate to overturn their dominance…

Though the minority population isn’t growing there as fast, the same dynamic is present in Rust Belt states where Republican legislatures and governors empowered by the 2010 GOP landslide imposed new restrictions on voting or severely gerrymandered the lines for state elections, such as Wisconsin.

What all this means is that a movement for voting rights across the country—but especially in Sun Belt and Rust Belt states—will be critical to creating the kind of Democratic majorities necessary for progressive change.

That is precisely why the For the People Act (H.R. 1), with its emphasis on expanding access to voting, has become a Democratic priority. It is also why the bill was supported by every Democratic member of the House and opposed by every Republican: H.R. 1 defines the fault lines that will determine the outcome of what Brownstein calls the larger struggle between the “coalition of transformation” and the “coalition of restoration.”

Six years ago Rev. William Barber proposed that the country was in the midst of the Third Reconstruction.

Everything we’ve experienced since then reinforces his assessment. Following the election of this country’s first African American president, we are witnessing a face-off between the most openly sexist and racist president in recent memory and the most diverse House Democratic caucus in the country’s history.

As has always been the case in the past, the “coalition of restoration” is attempting to hold onto power by making it more difficult to vote. It is up to the “coalition of transformation” to remove barriers to voting and assure every citizen that their vote counts. Progressive change will be possible when that American ideal is guaranteed.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.