During his election night speech, President Obama promised to “do something about” voting problems, and the Times reports that he is expected to propose a new effort to making voting easier. That’s good — because if anything defined Election Day 2012, it was the lines.
In Virginia, Florida, Washington D.C., and other areas, hundreds of thousands of voters stood in line for hours to cast their ballots. Anecdotally, it seemed that these voters were disproportionately black and Latino. A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirms the hunch. According to the New York Times, MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III found that “blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites.”
Likewise, a separate study, from Ohio State University and the Orlando Sentinel, found that more than 200,000 Florida voters “gave up in frustration” without voting. “Around the state,” writes the Sentinel, “nearly 2 million registered voters live in precincts that stayed open at least 90 minutes past the scheduled 7 p.m. closing time.” Of those voters, more than 560,000 lived in precincts that stayed open three extra hours or longer.
It should be said that this wasn’t an accident. Since 2010, Republican legislatures around the country — and particularly in swing states — have passed laws meant to reduce in-person voter fraud. Of course, there’s a wealth of information to show that this fraud is extremely rare, if not nonexistent. Rather than stop fraud, the practical effect of these laws was to erect large barriers around the franchise — voters had to contend with stricter identification requirements, fewer opportunities for early and absentee voting, and shorter deadlines for voter registration. Florida, for example, shortened its early voting by nearly half, from 14 days of early voting to eight.
The simple fact is that non- and infrequent voters skew Democratic, and voting reform is a sure way to bring those people into the electorate and make them regular voters. Expanding access is great for the country, but it would make the presidency a harder lift for Republicans, on account of their poor performance with women and minorities.
And so, the odds are good that Republicans will block any effort to streamline and simplify the nation’s voting infrastructure. If Obama decides to address voting in his State of the Union, the most likely outcome is continued inaction. And given Republican power at the state-level — as well as the GOP’s willingness to pass strict voter requirements — odds are good that by 2016, our voting system will be even more dysfunctional.