NOTHING FRIGHTENS today’s Republican Party quite like the voters. Before the 2012 elections, GOP lawmakers in statehouses across the country tightened voter identification laws with one goal in common: to suppress turnout on Election Day among likely Democratic voters, especially minorities and the poor. It didn’t work.
Now, harking back to the days of Jim Crow, they are at it again. In Arizona and Kansas, GOP officials are moving to adopt a two-tiered voting system, the effect of which would be to disenfranchise thousands of voters. The ploy relies on requiring birth certificates, passports and other documents that establish proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in state and local elections. Such documents are not necessary to register for federal elections.
Many voters cannot easily produce such documents; fewer than half of Kansans and Arizonans possess a passport, and it’s a safe bet that many of them don’t have a birth certificate readily at hand either. That means that voter registration drives in gubernatorial, legislative and local county races, which, in the case of Democratic candidates, often target minority and poor neighborhoods, are likely to yield fewer new voters. The results are whiter and richer voters. That’s electoral gold for Republicans.
The Republican moves in Arizona and Kansas are an effort to partly negate the effects of the 20-year-old National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter law, the purpose of which was to broaden the electorate by making it simpler to sign up to vote. Under the law, voters are required to swear they are citizens, under penalty of perjury, but they do not have to provide documentation.
After the Supreme Court said that proof of citizenship could not be added to registration requirements for congressional and presidential elections, GOP officials in Kansas and Arizona decided to set up separate registration systems that require such prooffor state and local elections.
Creating two-tiered registration systems is a costly bureaucratic mess, requiring reams of new ballots specific to individual localities. Election officials are warning of the consequences. In Kansas, more than 18,000 people who filled out the state registration form already have had their voting privileges suspended because they provided no proof of citizenship.
Undeterred, Republican officials in both states are forging ahead, justifying their efforts under the banner of combating electoral fraud. This is hogwash. The simple fact is that there is not a shred of evidence in either state, or elsewhere, that fraudulent ballots have been cast in any significant number.
The GOP’s real game is voter suppression, particularly aimed at Hispanics, whom the Republicans never tire of antagonizing. In the short run, this may work in some state or local elections; conceivably, it may even swing some races into the Republican column. In the medium to long term, it is folly. Minorities, whose numbers are growing, will see the GOP’s gambit for what it is: an attempt to deprive them of political clout and subvert democracy in the process.
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