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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is GOP Voter Suppression a Good Campaign Issue for Dems in 2014?

In her Care2.com post “Politicians are Beginning to Realize Voter Suppression is a Bad Idea,” Crystal Shepeard notes that more than 1,000 voter suppression bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the country since the year 2000. Nearly all of these bills designed to make it harder to vote have been introduced by Republicans. While most have failed, too many have passed, and “after the Supreme Court gutted the Voter Rights Act of 1965, voter suppression bills surged, leading to some of the most restrictive voter suppression bills to date.” However, adds Shepeard,

A new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law says the trend may be reversing.
In January, Congress introduced a bill to address the issues of the VRA the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional. This is just one of the many efforts the Brennan Center says that the focus is now on increasing voter access. While the SCOTUS ruling led to (largely) southern states ramping up their voter suppression efforts in 2013, 46 states had introduced legislation to make voting easier that same year. The momentum continues this year with 190 bills expanding voter access introduced in 31 states since the beginning of the year. By comparison, 19 states have introduced 46 voter suppression bills.
While there is often a long path between the introduction of legislation to actual passage, 13 bills making it easier to vote have passed thus far.

We also know that anger over unnecessary long lines at polls in Florida and Ohio caused by Republican sponsored restrictions on early voting, and shrinking poll hours and cutting the number of polling locations in recent elections have angered many voters, including some voters from constituencies which have favored Republicans.
Most voters who are at least moderately well-informed know that the politicized Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has rendered the Voting Rights Act almost unenforceable and has issued decisions facilitating billionaire manipulation of U.S. elections. (interestingly, one CBS News/NYT poll taken in back 2012 found that 60 percent of the public felt that lifetime appointments for Supreme Court justices was “a bad thing.”) Public opinion polls on the Holder decision have been somewhat contradictory.
Overall, however, voters have to be more than a little inattentive to be unaware that GOP lawmakers are doing everything they can to manipulate U.S. election law in service Republican candidates.
Democrats, of course, are outraged, and there is some evidence that anger over voter suppression increased African American turnout in 2012. It also seems reasonable to hope that most well-informed political moderates who have a sense of fairness and a patriotic appreciation of the right to vote might also be concerned that the Republicans have gone too far. Here and there, even some Republicans have decided that they can’t stomach their party’s penchant for abusing election law. Shepeard quotes one Republican Wisconsin state Senator;

…Senator Dale Schultz condemned his party for trying to suppress the vote. “I’m a guy who understands and appreciates what we should be doing in order to make sure every vote counts, every vote is legitimate. But that fact is, it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted.”

There have been a few other Republican state officials who have voiced similar concerns, and a couple of them have even quit their party. But they are newsworthy because they are so few. It’s increasingly possible, however, that Democrats can gain some ground with swing voters by challenging them to stand up for fairness and integrity in elections, as an inviolate principle of democracy.
In yesterday’s Strategy Notes, I flagged several articles about Democratic leaders, including President Obama, beginning to speak out more forcefully about voter suppression. It’s not too much of a stretch to guess that Dems’ internal polling indicates GOP voter suppression is an issue that can get some traction. So far there have been more than 150 protest demonstrations against the McCutcheon v. FEC decision in 38 states, which is impressive considering the short time that has passed.
In any case, Democrat have little choice but to raise hell about voter suppression, which is becoming the emblematic identifier of the GOP brand. In so doing, Dems just may pick up enough conscientious swing voters to hold the line until 2016.

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