Republicans are furious. Some of them blame the candidates who failed to qualify. Ed Morrissey, writing at the conservative Web site HotAir.com, says Perry and Gingrich are “failing the competence primary.” He’s more sympathetic to Bachmann, Huntsman and Santorum, as he sees their failure to qualify in Virginia as “a strategic deployment of very finite resources.”
But other Republicans — and most of the candidates — have turned their fire on Virginia. Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, was particularly unsparing about the access laws. “Virginia won’t be nearly as ‘fought over’ as it should be in the midst of such a wide open nomination contest,” he wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “Our own laws have reduced our relevance. Sad. I hope our new GOP majorities will fix this problem so that neither party confronts it again.”
He hopes, in other words, that Virginia will make it easier for Republican candidates to get on the ballot, so Virginia’s voters are better able to participate in the election. It’s a noble goal, and one many Republicans share. But it runs counter to the efforts Republicans have mounted in dozens of states to make it more difficult for ordinary Americans to participate in the 2012 election.
In a paper published by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden described the changes made to the voting laws since the 2008 election particularly bluntly. “Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation,” they wrote. “In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.”
The changes take a few different forms. Thirty-four states have introduced — and seven have passed — strict laws requiring photo IDs. That may not seem like a big deal, but as Weiser and Norden note, “11% of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens” — and poor and black Americans are disproportionately represented in that total.
It’s not just photo ID laws, of course. Thirteen states have introduced bills to end same-day and election-day voter registration. Nine states have introduced laws restricting early voting, and four more have introduced proposals to restrict absentee voting. Two states have reversed decisions allowing ex-convicts to vote, and 12 states have introduced laws requiring proof of citizenship. Nationally, House Republicans voted to do away with the Election Assistance Commission.