When liberals decry voter-identification laws as tools for voter suppression, they aren’t arguing ex nihilo. The evidence is clear: identification requirements for voting reduce turnout among low-income and minority voters. And the particular restrictions imposed by Republican lawmakers—limiting the acceptable forms of identification, ending opportunities for student voting, reducing hours for early voting—certainly do appear aimed at Democratic voters.
Indeed, in a column for right-wing clearinghouse WorldNetDaily, longtime conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly acknowledged as much with a defense of North Carolina’s new voting law, which has been criticized for its restrictions on access, among other things. Here’s Schlafly:
“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.’
“The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”
She later adds that early voting “violates the spirit of the Constitution” and facilitates “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” I’m not sure what she means by “illegal votes,” but it sounds an awful lot like voting by Democratic constituencies: students, low-income people, and minorities.
Schlafly, it should be noted, isn’t the first Republican to confess the true reason for voter-identification laws. Among friendly audiences, they can’t seem to help it.
Last spring, for example, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told a gathering of Republicans that their voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” That summer, at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund conceded that Democrats had a point about the GOP’s focus on voter ID, as opposed to those measures—such as absentee balloting—that are vulnerable to tampering. “I think it is a fair argument of some liberals that there are some people who emphasize the voter ID part more than the absentee ballot part because supposedly Republicans like absentee ballots more and they don’t want to restrict that,” he said.
After the election, former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer told The Palm Beach Post that the explicit goal of the state’s voter-ID law was Democratic suppression. “The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told the Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only ... ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’” he said. Indeed, the Florida Republican Party imposed a host of policies, from longer ballots to fewer precincts in minority areas, meant to discourage voting. And it worked. According to one study, as many as 49,000 people were discouraged from voting in November 2012 as a result of long lines and other obstacles.
One could spend hours going through the abundant evidence that these laws are meant to discourage Democratic voting with burdens that harm blacks, Latinos, and other disproportionately low-income groups. In 2011 an Associated Press analysis found that South Carolina’s proposed voter-identification law would hit black precincts the hardest, keeping thousands from casting nonprovisional ballots. Likewise, if Alabama’s voter-ID law goes into effect, it will place its largest burden on black voters who lack acceptable forms of identification and don’t have immediate access to alternatives. And while most of these laws—which, it’s worth noting, have been passed in most of the states of the former Confederacy—provide for free identification, it’s not an easy reach. To get one in Mississippi, for instance, residents need a birth certificate, which costs $15 and requires the photo identification they don’t have. They’ll also need time to travel to the state office to pay or a computer to do the transaction online.
For the one in five Mississippians who live below the poverty line, there’s no guarantee of the time to go to an office, a computer to access the website, or a credit card to make the transaction. After all, more than 10 million American households don’t have bank accounts, and the large majority of them are low income. Most voters will know the steps they need to get an ID. They just aren’t easy to complete, and that’s the point.
So we should be thankful for Schlafly’s candor. The more Republicans acknowledge that these laws are designed to suppress the votes of blacks, Latinos, and others, the easier building a movement to stop them will be.