Since their inception a decade ago, voter identification laws have been the focus of fierce political and social debate. Proponents, largely Republican, argue that the regulations are essential tools to combat election fraud, while critics contend that they are mainly intended to suppress turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies like minorities and students. As the general election nears -- in which new or strengthened voter ID laws will be in place in Texas and 14 other states for the first time in a presidential election -- recent academic research indicates that the requirements restrict turnout and disproportionately affect voting by minorities.
In recent weeks, we've seen some high-profile examples of Republicans accidentally telling the truth about voter-ID laws. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), a far-right freshman congressman, admitted a month ago, for example, that these laws are likely to make a difference boosting Republicans in the 2016 elections.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now the head of the Heritage Foundation, added last week that Republicans have kept up the crusade in support of this policy "because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you've seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates."
But what sometimes goes overlooked is the fact that anti-voting policymakers aren't just spinning their wheels, pushing an idea that may or may not have some effects on the margins. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Republicans are championing voter-ID laws precisely because they have the intended effect.
The Times highlighted a study published by Zoltan Hajnal, a UC San Diego political science professor, whose research found that "strict voter ID laws double or triple the gap in turnout between whites and nonwhites."
None of this is accidental. It's a feature, not a bug, of a deliberate assault on democracy. Republicans, frustrated by a series of defeats, had a choice: change and adapt in order to appeal to a larger group of American voters, or take steps to rig the game in order to give GOP candidates a built-in advantage.
In recent years, the party has preferred the latter, finding it vastly easier than actually earning more public support.
And while none of this is especially new -- we've heard the same ridiculous arguments about the imaginary "voter fraud" scourge for years -- candidates this year will face an altered landscape.
The Times' report added that in 2016, "new or strengthened voter ID laws will be in place in Texas and 14 other states for the first time in a presidential election."
It means Democrats, who are otherwise optimistic about their chances this year, can't be satisfied with a lead in the polls going into Election Day -- because in much of the country, they'll need a large enough advantage to overcome voter-suppression tactics.