OPINION: Restricting the vote mattersThere’s plenty of information out this week about what liberals refer to as the Republican “war on voting” — that is, efforts to use essentially nonexistent voting fraud as an excuse to restrict the franchise.
By: Jonathan Bernstein, Special to The Washington Post
There’s plenty of information out this week about what liberals refer to as the Republican “war on voting” — that is, efforts to use essentially nonexistent voting fraud as an excuse to restrict the franchise.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has a great article about how fraud has been trumped up out of basically nothing (that site also has graphs about the various restrictions nationwide), and Harry Enten has a good column in the Guardian about how voting rules for ex-felons could swing presidential races.
I would add two things. First, some textbooks treat voting as a gradual but sustained series of victories, taking the nation from propertied white men in the 18th century to, eventually, the vote for all adults 18 and up. That story is wrong.
More accurate is that plenty of people who once had the vote lost it. The most dramatic example is African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South. But there are other examples, especially if we properly understand what makes voting more difficult (such as the imposition of the separate step of registration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) as a form of restricting the franchise. We may be undergoing a similar restriction; that’s probably one of the key things at stake in the next few election cycles.
Second, efforts to reduce (or enlarge) the electorate may be very important even if they don’t change a presidential election. There are thousands of important elections in the nation, and turning over a single Senate seat can be critical for national policy, just as turning over a state legislative chamber (or a few seats) might be important for state policy. Consider the talk about whether GOP governors will opt out of the Medicaid expansion, which shows that what state and even local governments do can have national implications.
So even if this has only marginal implications for the presidential race, it can still be important to other electoral and policy outcomes. And on a more basic level, it’s critical for democracy: a polity isn’t very democratic if large portions are disenfranchised.
Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who contributes to the Washington Post blogs Plum Line and PostPartisan.