wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Most Read: Opinions

direct signup

Today’s Opinions poll

Will Rep. Paul Ryan's anti-poverty proposal help the poor?

Submit
Next
Review your answers and share

Join a Discussion

Weekly schedule, past shows

ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 04:02 PM ET, 07/05/2012

What's at stake in the `war on voting’

There’s plenty of new information out this week about what liberals refer to as the Republican “war on voting” — that is, GOP efforts to use essentially non-existent voting fraud as an excuse to restrict the franchise. Kevin Drum has a great article about how fraud has been widely trumped up out of basically nothing; there’s a set of graphs at Mother Jones about the various restrictions that have been applied nationwide; and Harry Enten has a good column about how voting rules for ex-felons could swing presidential races.

I recommend each of these pieces, and I’ll add two things. Some textbook treatments of the franchise in U.S. history treat voting as a gradual but sustained series of victories, taking the nation from propertied white men in the eighteenth century to, eventually, the vote for all adults eighteen and up. That story is wrong.

A more accurate version of the story is that plenty of people who once had the vote then lost it. The most dramatic example of this is African Americans in the post-reconstruction South. But there are plenty of other examples, especially if we properly understand things that make voting more difficult (such as the imposition of the separate step of voter registration in the late 19th and early 20th century) as a form of restricting the franchise. We may be in the process of undergoing a similar restriction right now; indeed, that’s probably one of the key things at stake in the next few election cycles.

The other point is that efforts to reduce (or enlarge) the electorate may be very important even if they don’t change a presidential election. There are thousands of important elections in the United States, and turning over even a single Senate seat can be critical for national policy, just as turning over a state legislative chamber (or even a few seats) might be important for state policy, or a city council election or school board race can be for local policy. We’ve been all talking this week about whether GOP governors will opt out of the Medicaid expansion, showing that what the states and even local governments do can have important national implications as well.

So even if all of this stuff has only marginal implications for the presidential race — which is probably the likely outcome — it can still be important to other electoral and policy outcomes. And on a more basic level, it’s critical for democracy: a polity just isn’t very democratic if it disenfranchises large portions of its population. 

By  |  04:02 PM ET, 07/05/2012

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company