The two Republican presidential candidates who implemented the strictest voter ID laws in the country are both now out of the race — a sign, perhaps, that the political appeal of tough voting restrictions is on the wane.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced Monday he’ll suspend his campaign amid plummeting poll numbers and struggles to raise money. Walker and Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas whose campaign never gained traction and ended earlier this month, are the only two members of the GOP’s crowded field to bow out so far.
Texas’s ID law, signed by Perry in 2011, has been struck down as racially discriminatory by three different federal courts, and remains in legal limbo while the state appeals the latest ruling. An estimated 600,000 registered voters in Texas don’t have any of the limited forms of ID the law requires. Wisconsin’s law, signed by Walker in 2011 and upheld after a lengthy court battle, is nearly as strict. Around 300,000 registered Wisconsinites lack the required ID, according to figures presented at trial.
Both men also have backed other restrictions. Under Walker, Wisconsin eliminated weekend voting, which is particularly used by working people. And Perry’s Texas imposed the nation’s strictest rules on voter registration.
Of course, their records on voting issues aren’t the reason why Walker and Perry’s presidential bids fizzled. Perhaps surprisingly, neither man drew much attention to their ID laws as part of their accomplishments in office — though Walker did send out a celebratory fundraising email after his state’s ID law was upheld earlier this year, calling it a “guard against fraud” that “protects every single voter who plays by the rules from those who don’t.”
But the very fact that neither Walker nor Perry did much to brag about their ID laws on the trail may itself be revealing. It was only a few years ago that conservative voters were demanding tougher voting restrictions, and Republican politicians were lining up to show they were listening. Texas legislators said during the ID law’s trial that they passed the measure in response to intense pressure from their base. The fever seemed to be driven in part by fears about the Obama campaign’s ability, in both 2008 and 2012, to draw hordes of new voters — disproportionately young and non-white — to the polls. But so far in the 2016 race, there’s been little evidence that the candidates are seeing a similar hunger from Republican primary voters. That’s perhaps because numerous key states — not just Texas and Wisconsin, but also North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and others — have already succeeded in making voting harder.
To be sure, there are plenty of Republican candidates remaining with awful records on voting issues. As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush oversaw a flawed purge of the voter rolls right before the 2000 election that likely disenfranchised hundreds or thousands of eligible voters. Sen. Ted Cruz has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to require proof of citizenship from those registering to vote, adding another hurdle to the registration process. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks like he won’t sign a bill on his desk that would implement automatic voter registration in his state.
"I don't think that people ought to be automatically registered to vote,” Christie said in June. “Is it really too much to ask to ask someone to fill out a form?"
And it's also worth noting that even if favoring voting restrictions is no longer a great campaign issue for Republicans, that doesn't mean the GOP won't continue to try to impose them simply because they make it harder for Democrats to vote. Perhaps they'll just do it more quietly.