It’s been a few weeks since President Obama’s non-partisan commission on voting issued a detailed report, effectively challenging election officials to make it easier for Americans to access their own democracy. Neither the White House nor commission members have the authority to implement voting reforms, but the report hoped to show how and why changes would be worthwhile.
How’s the response been so far? For proponents of voting rights, the news could be better.
Take last night’s developments along Florida’s Gulf coast, for example.
The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday voted 6-1 to approve a cut in the number of polling locations by almost 30 percent, despite pleas from speakers to delay the plan to provide more time for public vetting.Commissioners OK’d plans submitted by Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett to trim the number of precincts from 99 to 69.
Josh Israel noted that it was a party-line vote – commission Republicans supported the move, the Democrat did not – and during the public-comment section of the meeting, local residents insisted the reduction would disproportionately affect minority-heavy precincts and make it harder for voters without cars to cast a ballot.
Of course, it’s not just Florida. Republican officials in Georgia intend to cut early voting; Missouri is moving towards a new voter-ID law; and conservatives in Nevada are pushing the same idea.
And these are just some of the pending measures, which don’t include the states that have already imposed new voting restrictions since the 2012 elections.
At the same time, we’re also seeing some begin to argue that democracy benefits when fewer Americans participate in an election.
Rick Hasen published an interesting piece this week, noting that the right has been increasingly aggressive of late arguing against early-voting windows, despite the White House commission’s opposite conclusions.
[C]onservative critics of early voting runs don’t just mistrust early voters; they mistrust voters in general. As I explained here, there is is a fundamental divide between liberals and conservatives about what voting is for: Conservatives see voting as about choosing the “best” candidate or “best” policies (meaning limits on who can vote, when, and how might make the most sense), and liberals see it as about the allocation of power among political equals. Cutting back on early voting fits with the conservative idea of choosing the “best” candidate by restraining voters from making supposed rash decisions, rather than relying on them to make choices consistent with their interests.In a sense, the more barriers to voting, the better. Consider how Jonah Goldberg put it in a 2005 Los Angeles Times column: “Voting should be harder, not easier—for everybody. … If you are having an intelligent conversation with somebody, is it enriched if a mob of uninformed louts, never mind ex-cons and rapists, barges in? People who want to make voting easier are in effect saying that those who previously didn’t care or know enough about the country to vote are exactly the kind of voters this country needs now.” It is probably no coincidence that the comments on Adams’ piece on the Washington Times website go even further, by endorsing things like literacy tests or civics test before voting.I wish the calls to cut back on early voting were merely partisan. But I fear not.
The so-called “war on voting” grew pretty intense in advance of the 2012 elections. To think it’s a thing of the past, however, is a mistake.