WITH THE midterm elections next Tuesday and early voting already underway across the country, this is the season when Americans wonder: Why is it so hard to cast a ballot in our democracy? Archaic registration processes, outdated technology, low budgets and overwhelmed staff are all problems. There is no reason to make the system harder on people. Yet that is precisely what Republicans have done over the past decade, in a transparently partisan effort to discourage poor and minority voters — most of whom are Democrats — from having their say in the conduct of their government.
Georgia, where voting law has become a major issue in the state’s gubernatorial race, is the poster child for hassling voters with strict and unnecessary rules. The state suspends voter registrations that do not exactly match other government databases. A missing hyphen or an alternate spelling of a name puts registrations on hold. An Associated Press analysis found that minority voters are disproportionately affected. People with on-hold registrations can still vote but might think they cannot.
Georgia also has severe voter-ID requirements. A voter without a limited selection of IDs can cast a provisional ballot, but it will be counted only if the voter presents required ID within three days of Election Day. Virginia enforces similar restrictions.
In North Dakota, a voter-ID law threatens to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans because they live on rural reservations without street addresses. In New Hampshire, an ID law seems targeted to discourage college students from voting. Republicans tried a similar tactic in Florida, where the secretary of state attempted to keep early-voting sites off university campuses. In Alabama, voters must have proper ID to vote — except if poll workers vouch for them. This is a recipe for a racist application of the law.
In Kansas, local officials moved the only polling place in Dodge City far from its growing Latino population center. There have been hundreds of polling-place closures nationwide since 2013, when the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
States such as Iowa and North Carolina have rolled back early voting. The Supreme Court in June upheld an Ohio law that purges infrequent voters from its rolls. Louisiana, meanwhile, prohibits people on probation or parole from voting. Florida does not allow felons to vote even after they have served all of their time.
Yet there is some hope. Florida voters will decide next week whether to reenfranchise former felons, which would allow some 1.4 million Floridians to cast ballots once again. Some states, such as Oregon and California, have moved to make the voting process substantially easier. An anti-Republican wave in next week’s elections could result in better policy if statehouses change hands. In that circumstance, Republicans would no doubt ask why Democrats want to erode voting integrity. In fact, given the practical nonexistence of voter fraud in the United States, the real question should be: Why have Republicans tried so hard to stop people from voting?