My latest newspaper column:
Nearly swamped by the daily news of Donald Trump’s serial flailing was the recent spate of judicial rejections of voter ID laws around the country. There’s much to learn from considering those laws, the rationalizations offered by legislators, the details revealed during the court proceedings, the facts regarding in-person voter fraud, and the persisting truthless belief by the fully Foxified that it’s an actual thing. Mostly, it confirms how deeply uncomfortable today’s elected Republicans are with unrestricted voting by people who disagree with them. Like a mismatched transplant, their rejection of the heart of democracy threatens the life of its bearer.
Revelations in the smack down of the North Carolina laws are illuminating. Before writing it, Republican legislators demanded data on the voting patterns of various demographic groups: specifically, African-Americans. Then they designed the law, manifestly, blatantly, to obstruct those patterns. Not just which kinds of ID would be accepted and how to obtain them; it also restricted the most common times for voting by those groups. The court saw through it. Who wouldn’t?
Similar laws were struck down in Texas, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. In Georgia, a clear attempt by a community to purge the voting rolls of presumed Democratic voters was exposed. In every case, it was Republicans who enacted the laws. While pondering that bit of factual nescience, it’s helpful (or would be, if facts mattered) to begin with a nod to reality.
Voter ID requirements address only in-person voter fraud, because where else would you present ID but at a polling place? The most comprehensive study of the phenomenon, routinely ignored by writers and supporters of such legislation, found thirty-one potential cases among nearly a billion votes cast in many elections over many years, all over the country. Here’s how that looks as frequency percentage: 0.0000031. Still, people ask, if people are legal voters, what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong with requiring ID? Nothing, of course. Except, as the courts determined, when the laws are constructed specifically to make it hard for certain groups to obtain required forms of identification, and to limit their access to polling places. Here’s a link to a compelling article. (Yes, I know it’ll be nothing new to people opposing ID laws, and that those in favor won’t care. And no, I don’t know why I bother.)
Split along predictable lines, in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Nothing to see here, declared Chief Justice Roberts, magically disappearing racial bias like glaciers in Greenland. In the past few weeks, several federal courts have contravened that indefensible Supreme activism, the wrongness of which was unmasked within days of the decision by disingenuous legislation in Republican-led states. Ironically, maintaining their universal obstruction of all things Obama, the Senate still refuses to allow the replacement of Antonin Scalia on the Court. Ties revert to the lower court rulings. Mitch McConnell has ensured that the tossing of those transparently cynical laws won’t be reversed by November’s elections, if ever! Fun, huh?
But here’s the real point: rooted deep, at the very the core of our democracy, is the precept that politicians make their best case and then let voters decide. You win by persuading enough people, not by preventing dissenters from having a voice. Acting otherwise shows either that you have no confidence in the merits of your arguments, or that you disavow the indispensible American ideal of free and fair elections. Mysteriously, only Republicans have produced voter ID laws. Which party, then, believes in democracy? Which has the more legitimate claim on patriotism? Surely not the one that denies the most important doctrine in our Constitution. (Along with press freedom and separation of powers, both of which are under regular attack by the current nominee of that same party.)
The conclusion is obvious: today’s Republican leaders believe their core concepts, especially trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy, which have never worked as claimed, can’t win elections without tilting the field. Amusingly, Donald Trump’s cynical and possibly illegal (tinyurl.com/pollwatchers) call for poll-watchers would only serve further to confirm the lack of fraud, and make his loss even more convincing. To the non-Foxified, that is.[Image source]