Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Thinking about voter suppression
You know why I don't buy it? Because various states have been working on "voter suppression" for the past decade. It's not like trying to purge the voter rolls or requiring a ton of ID to vote is something that just happened this year. I've been hearing since aWol was in office that certain states were trying to prevent people from voting.The first I encounted the "government issued photo ID" requirement was in 2008 in Georgia. That's 8 long years ago so requiring photo IDs isn't exactly a recent event. And you know what else I've heard every two years since then? Lots and lots of whining about how horrible it is that little old ladies who had been voting since Taft was in office suddenly have trouble producing the right type of identification. Year after year of whining and talking about litigation to make the bad legislation (e.g., photo ID requirements) go away and zero talk about doing something proactive.
Let's say you're an activist in a state where the legislature has made it harder for some people to vote. Which makes more sense? Spend a lot of whining about legislation that you know isn't going to change as long as the people who enacted it in the first place are still in power or figure out a way to nullify the damage. You've got old people who have trouble getting the required photo ID -- do you sit and commiserate or do you mount an active effort to help them track down a certified copy of a birth certificate and get a state-issued ID card? The one convenient polling place in a certain neighborhood has been eliminated. Do you whine about it or do you come up with a plan for shuttle buses and car pools to get people from that neighborhood to their new polling place?
I know there are active get out the vote efforts in some parts of the country. Volunteers will drive people who don't have cars to the polls, for example, and there are also voter registration drives. But if you've been watching voter suppression in action for a decade and you're still relying on talk and litigation to lead to changes, you're living in a fantasy world.
So did voter suppression actually have an effect on this year's election? I doubt it. If you look at the overall numbers, the problem wasn't voter suppression. It was voter apathy and voter disgust. There were whole bunches of people who couldn't bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Clinton. Voter turnout was way down (over 7 million total, IIRC) from 2012. Remember, that's based on the total number of registered voters; people who have been purged from the rolls or been unable to register at all don't exist as far as that particular set of statistics is concerned.