Dave McNeely’s latest column describes how Texas has gone, over the last century, from one of the most restrictive places to vote to one of the most accessible places to vote. And that it is once again heading back to one of the more restrictive. He goes through the recent spat between AG Eric Holder and Gov. Rick Perry over whether the Texas Voter ID law is or isn’t a poll tax. And the goes through some history, Texas once prided itself on voting availability.
Some background on why Holder compared Voter ID laws to the poll tax:
In the wake of the Civil War and the end of Reconstruction, Southern states — including Texas — instituted a series of laws and practices to make it difficult, or impossible, for blacks to vote:
Literacy tests — one wrong answer, you can’t vote.
White primaries — in which only whites can vote.
The poll tax — a sometimes hefty fee to register to vote.
Early voter registration deadlines — several months before an election — to catch unsophisticated would-be voters off guard until it was too late.
Gradually, all of those were outlawed by federal courts, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing the poll tax and changes in federal and state law.
Over the past few decades, Texas has:
Reduced the voter registration deadline from several months before the next election to 30 days.
Shortened the time to establish voting eligibility for people new to Texas to 30 days.
Allowed college students to vote where they go to school, rather than being required to vote in their hometowns.
Reduced the voting age from 21 to 18.
Established “Motor Voter” — easy voter registration while getting or renewing a driver’s license.
Established early voting, so people can vote for several days before election day without having to swear they’d be gone on election day.
That most of the Voter ID proponents are Republican, and opponents Democratic, is no coincidence. This is less about a “remedy” for a wave of voter fraud through fake identities than it is about partisan power.
The Texas-passed law is currently under court challenge in federal court, on grounds that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Democratic critics say that the real purpose of the Republican-driven laws are to make it as tough as possible for people — particularly brown and black voters, who tend to vote Democratic — to vote. They say it is a crass Republican plot to discourage turnout by Democratic-leaning voters.
Cited as evidence of the true Republican partisan voter suppression goal of Voter ID laws is this statement from Mike Turzai, leader of the Republicans in swing-state Pennsylvania, about Republican Mitt Romney’s challenge to Obama.
Speaking to a group of fellow state Republicans about accomplishments by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Turzai included “Voter ID — which is going to allow (Republican presidential nominee) Governor (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”
In the short term, Texas is so red — Republican — it’s by no means a swing state in the 2012 presidential election. The long-term motive is to maximize the Republican vote so that dominance continues well into the future.
For more history on how hard it once was for certain people to vote see this EOW post from 2008. In it is an excerpt from introduction to Robert Caro’s book Master of the Senate, where he describes in agonizing detail “the humiliation of [voter] registration hearings”. Which was only stopped through the passage and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But without that knowledge of history it is extremely hard for someone to understand the visceral reaction some have to the current attempts to restrict voting.
What history shows is that one of the ways in our country that people have been kept from voting is with laws restricting the right to vote or through intimidation. What is not mentioned enough is how elections are influence by those factors much, much more than by fraud. It’s is extremely hard to “rig” or “fix” an election by the means of in person election day voter fraud – especially since it does not exist. It’s much easier to fix an election by rigging the vote count, or effecting who shows up and who is allowed to vote, then through voter fraud.
That is why the statements from the Pennsylvania GOP leader in McNeely’s piece and what this GOP party leader in Ohio recently said are much more concerning, Elections in the Hands of the Partisan and Incompetent.
Over the weekend, Doug Preisse, chair of the Republican Party in Franklin County, Ohio, explained that he had no interest in “contorting” early voting rules in his county to “accommodate the urban—read African-American — voter turnout machine.”
The sentiment was not unusual coming from a partisan Republican but the context was: Preisse also serves as a member of the county’s election board, along with another Republican and two Democrats. He had voted against extending early voting. The board sets many of the rules for the counting and casting of votes and resolves election disputes. Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, a Republican elected official, breaks election board ties throughout the state.
The battle over voter identification laws is only one front in the voting wars. Today, we turn our attention to the issue of who runs our elections and how they do it. We are one of the only mature democratic nations to allow partisans to run our elections, and to give local officials, often underfunded and sometimes incompetent, control over key aspects of the voting process.
Back in 2000, Democrats rightly criticized Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris for the way she handled the dispute between George W. Bush and Al Gore over who was entitled to Florida’s electoral votes and therefore the presidency. Harris, an elected Republican who also served as honorary chair of Bush’s reelection committee, consistently made decisions which helped Bush and hurt Gore.
But Harris was hardly the only partisan actor in Florida. Counting boards in Democratic counties used more forgiving standards for counting disputed ballots than in Republican counties. Democratic election officials were much less likely than Republican officials to use Florida’s controversial purge list as a basis for removing felon voters. Republican counting boards used much more forgiving standards for counting overseas military ballots than Democratic boards, with Republican officials in two instances even counting as valid overseas votes ballots faxed from Maryland after election day.
Since Florida 2000, states have not moved away from this model of partisan election administration. The states which had partisan officials in 2000 still have them. Florida moved from having an elected Secretary of State to a Secretary appointed by the governor, arguably making the position even more political. (Kurt Browning, the former appointed Florida Secretary of State, may have resigned from office because he was not comfortable with the latest voter purge ordered by his former boss, Florida Governor Rick Scott.)
If we truly cared about democracy we’d be more concerned about why so many Americans don’t vote. Our concern should be more about solving that actual problem, then wasting time on one that doesn’t exist. As this from a group call Why Tuesday? states.
American voter participation is terrible, and has been for half a century. So why do we vote on Tuesday? In 15 states Tuesday is the only option. Absolutely no good reason whatsoever, as you’ll see in this TED talk by our Jacob Soboroff. This year, we teamed up with Participant Media to ask the GOP presidential candidates how they’d increase voter turnout. You can join us by signing our petition asking the President and Congress to move Election Day to the weekend so more people can vote.
The pitiful voter turnout numbers are the true fraud in our voting system. It’s been my belief for some time that if we had higher citizen participation in our democracy we’d have a much different set of choices on election day. But that’s an argument for another day.
Further Readging and Watching:
The Future of Voting.