THE NATION is about to hold a midterm congressional election that, if history is any indication, will see substantially lower turnout — and therefore results that are substantially less representative of the country at large — than votes in presidential years. Responsible politicians should be doing all they can to encourage people to exercise their most precious of rights. Instead, Republican leaders in states around the country are continuing their war even on what should be uncontroversial, small-scale reforms, in a transparent attempt to depress turnout among poor and minority — that is, Democratic — voters.
The Supreme Court has ruled that GOP efforts to roll back voter-access measures in Ohio will take effect before next month’s vote. Last week the court said the same thing about crimped voting rules in North Carolina, a state whose Republican majority rushed to add barriers to the ballot box right after the court weakened the Voting Rights Act last year. Not every GOP restriction will be implemented next month; the justices halted a strict voter ID requirement in Wisconsin, where some absentee voters would have had to show up with identification after mailing in their ballots. On the same day, a district court judge in Texas repudiated that state’s voter ID law, though Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) — who is on the November ballot for governor — is promising to appeal.
In North Carolina and Ohio, much has been made of Republicans’ determination to reduce the number of early voting days in each state. Ohio’s legislature voted to reduce the early voting period from 35 to 28 days. North Carolina will end up with only 1½ weeks of early voting. But more concerning than the number of early voting days — studies have been mixed on whether adding days encourages turnout — is which days Republicans are getting rid of, and what voters can and can’t do when they show up. Ohio’s leaders eliminated “Golden Week,” in which voters can register and vote in the same week, and they have taken away a full early-voting weekend, during which African Americans tend to head to the polls.
Even worse, North Carolina got rid of same-day registration, no matter which day you show up, and a provision allowing polling places to stay open an extra hour to accommodate long lines. The state also eliminated its long-running voter registration drive and a pre-registration program for teenagers on the verge of getting the franchise. On the other hand, North Carolina Republicans made it easier to vote by absentee ballot, as white voters disproportionately do. Like Texas and Wisconsin, North Carolina is also attempting to impose a voter ID requirement.
The United States does not have a voter impersonation crisis demanding the imposition of voter ID requirements, which, as the Government Accountability Office found last week, tend to depress turnout. And it’s hardly outrageous to spend money to open polling places well before Election Day and keep them open for long hours. Instead of juicing the rules to minimize opponents’ turnout, the country’s leaders should adopt an automatic, universal voter registration system and remove absurd restrictions on which polling places individuals must attend. The current, cumbersome, two-step voting process promotes confusion and deters participation. Republicans’ blatant efforts to depress turnout even more is a disgrace.