For most of my adult life, the elections officials and political people I’ve been around – people of both parties – were advocates both visibly and privately for getting people out to vote. Candidates and parties always recognized that some groups of people were more or less likely to support them, and their answer to this was to try to encourage as many of those likely to back them to get to the polls.
I own and have read a number of books on political campaigns, accounts of them and how to run them. When it comes to voter turnout, they all have said much the same: The answer is to be found is getting as many of your supporters as possible to the polls (or the ballot box, as the case may be).
The election officials I’ve known were serious and dedicated to the principle that everyone legally allowed to vote should do that, and doing that should be as easy as we can make it.
It’s worth restating all this because somehow, in the last decade or so, this basic, core, obvious principle has been increasingly abandoned by one of our major political parties, the Republicans. There are stray cases among Democrats, but nationally active voter suppression – a term once rarely used, and seldom greeted with anything other than an instant and fierce denial – has become a commonplace, and in many parts of the country Republican officials seldom even both any more to deny it.
The American Civil Liberties Union describes on one web page “Suppression efforts range from the seemingly unobstructive, like voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. And long before election cycles even begin, legislators can redraw district lines that determine the weight of your vote. Certain communities are particularly susceptible to suppression and in some cases, outright targeted — people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities.”
In Texas, counties with populations larger than the state of Idaho have to make do with a single advance voting box. In Ohio this week: “In Columbus, the line stretched for a quarter of a mile. In Cuyahoga county, the hours-long wait began before polls even opened. All of this was entirely predictable. Thanks to an Ohio state law passed in 2006 by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor, the number of in-person early voting sites is limited to just one per county.”
The League of Women Voters, traditionally a good-government organization dedicated simply to participation in our system of self-governance, now is in the middle of a political fight: “Voting rights are under attack. In recent years, politicians in dozens of states have erected intentional barriers to our right to vote, including forcing discriminatory voter ID and proof-of-citizenship restrictions on eligible voters, reducing polling place hours in communities of color, cutting early voting opportunities and illegally purging voters from the rolls.”
The subject has – appallinglly – become far too vast for a single column. The point here is to say just this:
Anyone in politics who makes voter suppression happen, allows it to happen or simply stands by when it happens and could do something to stop it, should forfeit any public trust or responsibility. It should be an absolute disqualifier for that person from holding any public office, now or ever.
We need a suppression, for the generations to come, of anyone who engages in voter suppression.