Voter outreach is hard; voter suppression is easy

People cast their ballots for the US presidential election at an early voting center in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2012.
People cast their ballots for the US presidential election at an early voting center in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2012.
Every few years, Republican officials will say they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities, women, and younger voters. In each instance, GOP leaders will give every indication that they're serious and sincere about it, because they arguably have no choice -- Republicans realize their base is much older and whiter than the Democratic base, which creates a long-term demographic nightmare.
But in practice, GOP officials actually do have a choice. They could, in theory, adopt a more mainstream agenda and prioritize diversity, or they could manipulate voting laws, as they did in advance of the 2012 elections, making it easier for candidates to pick the voters they like, rather than allowing voters to pick they candidates they like.
And as it turns out, voter suppression is vastly easier than voter outreach.

Pivotal swing states under Republican control are embracing significant new electoral restrictions on registering and voting that go beyond the voter identification requirements that have caused fierce partisan brawls. The bills, laws and administrative rules -- some of them tried before -- shake up fundamental components of state election systems, including the days and times polls are open and the locations where people vote.

The so-called "Republican war on voting" in 2011 and 2012 was unlike anything Americans have seen since the era of Jim Crow, but the results were not what the GOP had hoped for. The policies had some of the intended effects -- voting lines in several battleground states were, as designed, ridiculously long -- but it didn't prevent Democrats from making electoral gains.
But this apparently has only encouraged many state Republican policymakers to try harder, as we've seen of late in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere.
In the bigger picture, North Carolina poses an especially interesting case.
As we've discussed, the voting restrictions imposed by North Carolina Republicans are arguably the most egregious in the nation. Democratic critics have been quick to point out that the new voter-suppression measures, according to the state's own numbers, disproportionately affect African-American voters.
It's led opponents of the policy to argue that the policies have nothing to do with addressing voter fraud -- a problem that doesn't actually exist in reality -- and everything to do with identifying likely Democratic voters and putting new hurdles between them and their democracy.
A few months ago, as part of a legal challenge to the new restrictions, voting-rights advocates turned up the heat. Zack Roth reported in January:

North Carolina is asking a federal judge to keep secret Republican state lawmakers' communications as they pushed through the nation's most restrictive voting law last summer. "They are doing everything they can to try to keep us from finding out what they did and how they did it and who was involved," Rev. William Barber II, the president of the state's NAACP chapter, which is challenging the law, told reporters Thursday. "It's time for what was done in the dark to come into the light." Barber's NAACP, backed by the Advancement Project, wants access to the lawmakers' emails and other internal communications in order to bolster the case that the law's Republican sponsors knowingly discriminated against racial minorities. In response, the state argued late last week that the communications are protected by legislative privilege.

Last week, as Roth and Adam Serwer reported, the voting-rights proponents scored a partial court victory.

North Carolina lawmakers who backed the state's restrictive voting law are going to have to cough up emails and other documents related to the law's passage, a federal judge said Thursday evening. [...] North Carolina had sought to block a demand by the civil rights groups that the state turn over documentation that could shed light on what the legislators were thinking when they passed the law. In an order released Thursday evening, Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ordered the state to turn over some of the documents sought by the civil rights groups. [...] Thursday's ruling didn't give the law's challengers everything they wanted, though. It said that emails that were shared only between legislators and their staffers might still be subject to legislative privilege, as North Carolina claims.

Watch this space.