On the heels of passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the nation, the North Carolina legislature has just passed a revision of the state’s voting laws that, unarguably, makes it more difficult for many voters to exercise their right to vote. The new law requires photo-ID’s of all voters, regardless of whether they have been voting in the same precinct for forty years or they have just moved into the state. It also very significantly reduces the opportunities to vote early, eliminates the option of straight-ticket voting, and while very modestly raising the limits on individual contributions to candidates for state office, permits unlimited and largely undisclosed corporate contributions to those candidates. Lastly, another provision in the bill has eliminated funding for a program offered through the high schools that has encouraged tens of thousands of students to register to vote ahead of their 18th birthdays and that has tried to prepare them to exercise their right to vote conscientiously.
GOP spokespersons have been trying to put a benign face on what is obviously just one part of a broader, pernicious effort to suppress voter turnout among groups, such as people of color, the poor—and especially the elderly among the poor, and college students, who are much more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republicans. In this “purple” state, the Republican domination of state government has derived from the low overall turnout and, more specifically, the low Democratic turnout in 2010. So what might seem to a casual observer to be broad-based and almost overwhelming GOP political power in the state depends in actuality on what are, at best, very thin margins in many districts.
After the passage of this legislation led to a national debate over its merits, one talking head for the GOP attempted to make the case that requiring photo IDs of those who don’t drive and will therefore need to be driven to, or to take a taxi or a bus to, an auto registration and license center will have the beneficial effect of engaging those voters more fully in the civic process by making them more pointedly aware of the value of voting and of the need to preserve the sanctity of the vote. She made these remarks with a facial expression suggesting complete sincerity and not a hint of cynicism, which indicated to me that she is either completely deluded or incredibly sinister.
Another spokesperson for the GOP attempted to turn the reductions in early voting into a benefit for voters, arguing that extended early voting opens the possibility that someone may cast a vote for a candidate whose candidacy somehow implodes shortly before election day, and the voter will then be unable to change his or her vote, even if he or she very desperately wishes to do so. By the time that the spokesperson had reached the moment of crisis in this fantastical scenario, her voice suggested a regret more terrible than even Sophie Zawistowska’s after she chose to send her daughter to the gas chamber at Auschwitz in order to spare her son, if only temporarily, from the same fate. (An allusion to William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice if it’s too early in the morning for you to be subjected to puzzling points of reference.)
Still another spokesperson for the GOP justified the elimination of caps on corporate contributions by pointing to the “historical precedent” created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. But when asked why the option of “straight-ticket voting” has been eliminated, even though it has existed in the state since 1925, he casually dismissed it as an outdated practice that has encouraged people to vote thoughtlessly. So, in effect, he was arguing that voters in the state should be forced to think more carefully about the individual candidates for state offices even as it becomes, purposely, much more ambiguous who is funding their campaigns and, in effect, buying their votes.
I know that this all sounds too ridiculous to be true, but all I can say is—with a nod to Jack Parr and to Robert Wuhl (whose version of the catchphrase is a little grittier)—I kid you not!
Indeed, the ridiculousness of these attempts to reframe this voter-suppression legislation as benign has not been simply an after-the-fact effort at damage control. It started with the legislators themselves, who in introducing the legislation proclaimed that it is a necessary remedy to address in-person voter fraud that is both “rampant and undetected.”
Since no open discussion of the legislation was allowed before the vote on it was called, no one had a chance to ask how one might know that anything is “rampant” if it is, in fact, “undetected.”
Such conundrums are, however, par for the course in the context of one political party’s efforts to insure a “fair election” by simply ensuring that more of its voters than those of the other party are able to vote.