It’s very clear – Republicans don’t want you to vote.
To be more specific, Republicans don’t want certain people to vote. This includes the poor, minorities, LGBTQ, the disabled, and college students.
Why? Because those groups tend to vote Democratic, often by large margins.
In fact, as our nation’s demographics continue to change and become more diverse, if the voting patterns of that diversity hold true, Republicans will become a permanent minority party across much of the United States.
They know this. They know that if EVERYONE voted in every election, they would lose more than they would win. The only way for them to survive would be to do one of two things:
- Change their policies and their platforms to appeal to a more diverse audience.
- Suppress the vote of those groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Today’s Republican party, all across the nation, has chosen Door #2.
Here’s how they do it.
Make it harder to vote
1. Refuse to expand voting opportunities
Once upon a time, a single 12-hour voting day might have made sense. Most people worked an 8-hour day, or could take time off during their day to go vote at a nearby polling location.
Those days are gone – but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the way we run elections.
- People commute to work, sometimes over long distances. They can’t get to work and back in time to vote.
- People work long shifts that prevent them from voting. For example, many emergency workers work a 12-hour shift that just happens to be the same hours as our polls are open.
- People use public transportation to get to and from work, and can’t make the connections in time to get to vote.
- And some people work two jobs in order to make ends meet. They are doing all they can to “be responsible” – but we dishonor that effort by making it hard or impossible for them to vote.
The answer to these problems is obvious: expand voting opportunities by adding early voting, implement vote by mail, make it easier to vote absentee, and expand voting hours. All of these have been proposed by both Democrats and non-partisan groups like the League of Women Voters, and all have been opposed and ultimately killed by Republicans.
2. Reduce voting hours
But, refusing to expand voting is apparently not enough. Some Republicans, especially secretaries of state and leaders of election boards, have actually cut back on voting hours.
- Locations that had early voting have lost some or all of their early voting days.
- Hours that the polls are open have been reduced.
Often, these are said to be due to budget cuts. But observe how often it is a Republican cutting those hours.
3. Reduce polling locations and polling machines
The following two related tactics are not as public or easy to see as the first two, but are possibly more damaging, as they are often not known in advance by the voters.
- The voters go to where they’ve always voted, only to find out that their polling location is closed and they have to go to a different location. If time or transportation is a challenge, they may just give up on voting that election.
- Or, they get to the polling location, only to find out that the number of machines has been reduced, resulting in long lines and an extended wait. Again, if time or transportation is a challenge, they may just leave.
Note, also, that these two tactics are often — VERY often — used against people of color or the poor. For example, Georgia in 2018:
Brian Kemp is Georgia’s governor due to one of the most controversial elections in recent memory. As secretary of state since 2010, he had eight years to winnow the electorate to his liking before November 2018, and did so by purging 1.4 million voters from the rolls, placing thousands of registrations on hold, and overseeing the closure or relocation of nearly half of the state’s precincts and polling sites.
The unstated goal — though it was clear to anyone watching similar efforts by Republicans across the South — was to reduce the voting power of unfavorable constituencies: black people, poor people, students, and others. A study from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on Friday shows just how successful these efforts were. Precinct closures and polling-site relocations in particular — which Kemp did not order, but allegedly encouraged and devised the guidelines for — prevented an estimated 54,000 to 85,000 voters from casting ballots last year, primarily by forcing them to travel much larger distances to vote.
Kemp’s actions as secretary of state, affecting an election where he was running for governor, may be the most well-known and blatant, but they are most certainly not the only instance. Republicans have been using these tactics across the country for years.
Make it impossible to vote
To the dismay of the “make it harder” crowd, some citizens are so determined to vote that they will overcome all of the above tactics and vote anyway. So, when making it harder to vote isn’t enough, Republicans take it to the next level: make it impossible for people to vote. Here are some ways they do that.
4. Disenfranchise felons
Taking away voting rights from convicted felons was ruled constitutional by SCOTUS in 1974. By 1976, there were 1.2 million felons who had lost the right to vote.
And now? The number is well over 5 million, moving toward 6 million. Florida leads the way, with over 1 million disenfranchised felons.
What about Kentucky, you ask? As of 2019:
Kentucky has more than 312,000 people who cannot vote because of a felony conviction, a 68 percent increase from 2006, according to a report released Tuesday.
Kentucky is one of three states, including Iowa and Virginia, that impose lifetime voting bans on people with felony convictions. A report from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky shows 92 percent of those with felony convictions have been released from prison or jail and live in the community, but cannot vote.
As noted in the above story, it will not be a badge of honor to be the last state to grant the right to vote back to felons who have completed their sentence. And yet, even though bills to change this law have been proposed, those bills have not made it past the Republican-controlled legislature. Perhaps this year, that will change.
5. Do voter caging
“Caging” is an old tactic whereby a political party sends registered or non-forwardable mail to a voter’s stated address on the voter rolls. If the mail comes back as undeliverable, they then use that to challenge the voter’s registration at the polls.
From the Wikipedia article on caging:
BBC journalist Greg Palast obtained an RNC (Republican National Committee) document entitled “State Implementation Template III.doc” that described Republican election operations for caging plans in numerous states. The paragraph in the document pertaining to caging was:
V. Pre Election Day Operations New Registration Mailing
At whatever point registration in the state closes, a first class mailing should be sent to all new registrants as well as purged/inactive voters. This mailing should welcome the recipient to the voter rolls. It is important that a return address is clearly identifiable. Any mail returned as undeliverable for any reason, should be used to generate a list of problematic registrations. Poll watchers should have this list and be prepared to challenge anyone from this list attempting to vote.
Shortly before the 2004 election, Palast also obtained a caging list for Jacksonville, Florida, which contained many blacks and registered Democrats. The list was attached to an email that a Florida Republican Party official was sending to RNC headquarters official Tim Griffin.
The Republican National Committee also sent letters to minority areas in Cleveland, Ohio. When 35,000 letters were returned as undeliverable, the party employed poll watchers to challenge the voters’ right to vote. Civil liberties groups challenged the RNC in a case that went to the Supreme Court, but the RNC was not stopped from challenging the voters.
Similarly, the RNC sent out 130,000 letters to minority areas in mostly-black Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it hoped to cage voters there in the Democrat stronghold.
6. Purge voters
Apparently, challenging individual voters through caging efforts wasn’t efficient enough, so the Republicans have moved on to voter purging.
As a result of the legal challenge brought by Judicial Watch against Kentucky, we have written extensively about the voter roll purge in Kentucky, going into detail about the issues and the process. Here are some of those stories:
Some things to note about voter purging:
- Federal law requires states to remove persons from the voter rolls if they can prove the persons have moved AND if the persons have not voted in at least two federal elections.
- The process usually involves sending post cards through snail mail to the last known address. If the person ignores the post card, that puts them on the list to perhaps be removed from the rolls. (You ever throw away a post card because you assume it is junk mail?)
- If someone is removed, they MAY be able to vote, but it will probably be a provisional ballot, often accompanied by a warning about prosecution if they are lying about where they live.
- And, many voter purges are later shown to be wildly inaccurate, including wrong addresses, incorrect names, and mismatches with known felons, for example.
On the one hand, it is certainly important that voter rolls be accurate. Removing people who have died or moved is part of that process. But note this: Removing those people was going on BEFORE these voter roll purges took place. The voter roll purges forced another process onto an already under-funded and over-burdened staff.
7. Require a photo ID
This is one of those ideas that seems to make sense — until you actually dig into the details.
- More people than you might think do not have a government-issued photo ID. Consider how many don’t drive or have a car, and thus don’t need a driver’s license (the most common form of photo ID). To assume that “everyone has a photo ID” is essentially a clueless statement from privilege.
- If the ID is required to vote, there can’t be a cost to getting the ID, since that would be, in effect, a poll tax. Poll taxes are illegal. So, for anyone who doesn’t already have a photo ID, the state has to provide one, free of charge.
- The ID may be free, but getting it would not be. You would have to pay to get copies of certain documents, if you didn’t have them. You would have to take time off work to get the documents, and more time off work to get the ID.
- The cost to the state would be significant, as well. SOS Adams says that providing the free photo IDs would cost less than $1 million – but in Indiana it cost $10 million, and in North Carolina, $20 million.
- And finally, requiring photo IDs to vote is an expensive hassle to solve a non-existent problem. The only thing a photo ID purports to solve is in-person voter fraud, which is so rare that no one can even name an instance of it.
Bluntly, voter photo ID is a Republican ruse to prevent certain groups of people from voting and to lower turnout. If they really cared about “election integrity,” they would use the $10-20 million it is going to cost the state to instead buy new voting machines that produce a paper trail. THAT would be worth doing.
Ignorance or malice, the result is the same
As I was compiling this list, it occurred to me that some of these tactics could be the result of ignorance combined with privilege. For example, it may just not occur to some legislators that any adult in these United States would not have a driver’s license. In THEIR experience, that’s just part of being an adult. As stated by one legislator, “Can we not require just a little responsibility?”
They’ve never had to deal with being a convicted felon. They’ve never been homeless, or having to move because they were evicted. They’ve never had to use public transportation to get everywhere. In short, their privilege makes them blind.
On the other hand, there are also some legislators who know very well how these tactics will affect some people. That’s the point. They WANT to keep those people from voting, because they care more about party and power than about democracy.
In the end, it doesn’t matter which it is, ignorance or malice. The result is the same. Democrats, by and large, want to expand voting and make it easier, and Republicans want to restrict voting and make it harder or impossible.
In light of this fact, there are three things we must do:
- Fight back – Fight these tactics every time they come up.
- Register and vote – Help people GET registered to vote, help them STAY registered to vote, and then help them to VOTE, so that we can turn out any legislators who are anti-democracy.
- Change the laws – Once we have gotten rid of those anti-democracy legislators, PASS LEGISLATION to expand voting and make it easier for everyone to vote.
The right to vote, and to have your vote count, is the bedrock of our democracy. We cannot let these tactics take that right away from us or our fellow citizens. Call out these tactics, get people registered and voting, and elect people who want MORE people to vote and not less.
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