Barack Obama, for all the talk of his stunning 2008 victory, won only 43 percent of white voters in 2008. His was a victory enabled by his dominance of minority demographics. A national election without this heavy minority turnout would have produced an equally stunning Republican landslide. The Democratic Party’s dependence on black and Hispanic voters creates a challenge for the Republican Party. On one hand, universal suffrage is a cornerstone of American democracy. On the other hand, winning elections is sort of the point.
Last summer, Rep. Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, clued America into which goal the Republican Party was prioritizing.
“Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done,” Turzai said.
The quote came after the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law requiring a strict form of photo ID — a form that millions of voters lack. Who are these voters? Well, 25 percent of blacks in Pennsylvania, along with 16 percent of Hispanics, lack the necessary forms. These forms can be expensive and difficult to obtain, and they function as modern-day poll taxes for many Americans. According to the National Council of Legislators, 33 states have attempted to draft similar laws, with similar successful efforts in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida.
The case for strict voter ID laws stems from the laws' eminent reasonableness. Who wants to allow voter fraud? Democrats' opposition to such efforts is painted as proof of their desire to stuff the ballot box. Yet facts get in the way of Republican rhetoric — namely, the fact that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. At a trial concerning Pennsylvania’s new law, Republican lawyers were unable to present a single case of fraud.
“The Parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania," the judge said at the end of the trial.
Spreading confusion is another, particularly malicious, tactic employed to suppress Democratic turnout. In 2004, a group called Voters Outreach of America, operating in Michigan, was caught discarding all Democratic registration forms.
That same year, Michigan Republican Rep. John Pappageorge said, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.”
In 2010, a document by Republican strategist Julius Henson surfaced during the trial of another Republican operative for robocall fraud in Maryland. The document detailed a plan intended for all Republican office-seekers that includes methods explicitly designed to discourage voting among African-American Democrats. It’s almost surprising so few blacks vote for Republicans.
Disenfranchising close to a million voters in one state alone in the name of rooting out an imaginary crop of bad apples is nonsense. It is not an effort in good faith to enforce law and order. It instead reflects on the Republican Party’s need to keep the voting pool sufficiently tilted in its favor. As this country’s demographics trend farther and farther away from the Republicans' shrinking base, we can only expect their efforts to become more desperate and obvious.
These latest attacks on our democracy are little more than an extension of America’s long and shameful history of voter suppression. Conservatives lost the fight against universal suffrage — first for women, and later for blacks. They must now rely on the quiet bigotry of poverty to filter the voting pool. Efforts to hinder democratic participation today are less overt. They are no less despicable and no less deserving of our scorn.