The George W. Bush DOJ went after voter fraud hard. It became a mantra in right-wing talking circles that voter fraud was rampant, perhaps swinging elections. The problem with this narrative was that there simply wasn't much evidence to support it. Undeterred by the lack of evidence, right-wing activists, led by Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican lawyer who served in the Bush Administration, kept pushing the idea in state legislatures. And while many laws restricting voting rights were proposed, a number were passed especially after the Tea Party got a hold of some state legislatures in 2010.
Those on the left always suspected that there was something else going on behind these types of laws: requiring photo identification, proof of citizenship, regulation of groups who attempt to register new voters, shortened early voting periods, banning same-day voter registration and increased restrictions on voting by felons. That is, these restrictions seemed designed to suppress the votes of voters more likely to vote Democratic: poor and Black.
Well, now two researchers have added some empirical rigor to the debate: what is going on with these spate of voting restrictions?
In an effort to bring empirical clarity and epistemological standards to what has been a deeply-charged, partisan, and frequently anecdotal debate, we use multiple specialized regression approaches to examine factors associated with both the proposal and adoption of restrictive voter access legislation from 2006-2011. Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs.
That's strong medicine. Unless, the data is overwhelming, academics are usually careful to couch their results in a "it depends" type of language (because, many times it does indeed depend). Not so here:
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Rather, we argue that the Republican Party has engaged in strategic demobilization efforts in response to changing demographics, shifting electoral fortunes, and an internal rightward ideological drift among the party faithful.We situate the most recent round of electoral reforms--far from historically unique--among other measures trumpeted as protecting electoral legitimacy while intended to exclude the marginalized for a particular political party's advantage. In doing so, our research bolsters and adds contemporary nuance to our understanding of the political conditions that incentivize parties to engage in voter suppression.
What were the factors that led to states passing voting restrictive laws? (1) Minorities and low-income voter turnout in the previous presidential election, and (2) a majority Republican state legislature and/or the election of Republican governor.
And which states were the worst offenders? Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio. Let me submit that it is no coincidence Florida, North Carolina and Ohio were all viewed as battleground states in the 2012 presidential election. Texas, meanwhile, is just a deep-red state: you can use your hunting license to vote, but not your student ID.
We like to tell ourselves a narrative about America and the expansion of the right to vote throughout our difficult and sometimes ugly history--the Civil War, Jim Crow, women's suffrage, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Indeed, the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court told us last June that all those states which had to go through the pre-clearance process with the DOJ -- a vetting of any law affecting voting rights -- were now freed from that allegedly onerous restriction because things had changed. Guess not.