Hillary Clinton wants to make voting easier. I can't wait to see Republicans try to poohpooh it.
For years, Democrats have been on the defensive when it comes to voting procedures. Not anymore.
In a speech in Texas on Thursday, not only did Hillary Clinton advocate for extending early voting, but she also proposed automatically registering every citizen over the age of 18 to vote. And she didn't dress her language in non-partisan terms either; she called Republican-led voter ID laws "a sweeping effort to disenfranchise and disempower people of color, poor people, and young people."
She's exactly right.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that laws requiring voters to show government-issued identification at the polls were constitutional — and particularly after the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 — Republicans have moved aggressively not just to institute voter ID, but also to restrict early voting and find other ways to make voting a little more difficult. By sheer coincidence, the burden of these laws always falls more heavily on the kind of people who are more likely to vote for Democrats, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and young people. And now Hillary Clinton is proposing to fix part of this system, with an idea that is both extremely significant and bold.
I look forward to seeing what kind of argument Republicans will offer to explain why they think this is a bad idea.
Let's cut through the baloney and be honest for a moment: Republicans don't like early voting or universal voter registration for the same reason they want voter ID laws. They know that the easier voting is, the more Democrats will turn out. Republican voters, on the other hand, are more likely to be older, wealthier, and whiter — the people for whom the kind of restrictions Republicans have sought to impose are less of a hassle. You could argue that Democrats are just as motivated by their partisan interest in taking the position they do, but that doesn't change the simple fact that Democrats want to make voting easier and Republicans want to make it harder.
So what's the case against generous and convenient voting? I suppose one might argue that it costs more money, but one would think that we'd be willing to spend a little more to have a more inclusive democracy. But with both of these proposals, Republicans don't even have the fig leaf of "voter fraud" that they use to cover their vulgar motivations in advocating voter ID.
And it really is just a fig leaf. The justification Republicans offer for their enthusiastic pursuit of voter ID laws — that they are only concerned about stamping out the crisis of in-person voter impersonation that threatens the integrity of our elections — may be the most transparently disingenuous argument made in American politics today, with the possible exception of the one saying that abortion restrictions are intended to safeguard women's health and emotional well-being.
The fact is that in-person voter impersonation is vanishingly rare, while there are millions of Americans who could be prevented from voting by ID laws. For instance, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was attorney general, he announced a crusade against the "epidemic" of such impersonations. In 13 years of looking, he found a grand total of two cases of impersonation. Meanwhile, nearly 800,000 Texans lacked the IDs that would allow them to vote.
But the stark truth is that Republicans have won the battle on voter ID laws. The five conservatives on the Supreme Court have embraced them, and public opinion tends to favor them; even if they're targeted at a problem that is all but non-existent, they have a certain common-sense appeal, as long as you remain unaware of how many American citizens lack photo IDs and how these laws are often tweaked to put a thumb on the scale in the Republican direction. (Most notably, Texas' law will allow a concealed carry permit or a hunting license to count as an approved ID, but won't allow a student ID issued by a state university.)
So since Republicans' sweeping victories in 2010, and particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that states with a history of discriminatory voting laws no longer need "preclearance" from the Justice Department in order to change their laws, conservative legislatures went on a tear, passing one voter suppression bill after another. While they usually had voter ID as their centerpiece, many also moved to restrict early voting.
Even if voter ID is going to be part of the landscape for the foreseeable future, Democrats should rally around universal voter registration and ample early voting periods. And incidentally, if it's fraud Republicans are so concerned about, they should at least embrace early voting: We'd be more likely to catch one of those elusive impersonators in the more leisurely voting traffic of an extended vote period, as opposed to when there's a long line of people pressuring a poorly trained volunteer on election day.
Fifteen years after the hanging-chad debacle in Florida, we still haven't found a way to make voting easy, simple, secure, and accurate. Yet somehow every other advanced democracy manages to carry their elections off without the kinds of problems we face. It isn't because it's such a daunting technical problem. It's because our voting system sucks, and there are people who have an interest in keeping it that way.