Suppressing Democratic turnout has become a Republican specialtyby Desmond King and Rogers Smith / January 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.8m ballots in 2016. A shift of roughly 40,000 votes in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would have given her the Electoral College victory that went to Donald Trump.
What happened? Of many possible explanations, two matter most for the democratic future of the United States. One is that the Democrats lost the support of white working-class voters, particularly men, by emphasising the “identity politics” of minorities and women instead of economic grievances. A second is that they lost through vote suppression by Republican officials in the swing states.
The two are not entirely separate: history shows there have always been links between America’s racial politics and the suppression of voting rights. The longstanding deficiencies of US electoral systems in fostering full and fair participation by all voters have deepened since the Supreme Court invalidated part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby Co. vs Holder (2013).
Lurking under putatively colour-blind measures to make voting more difficult is a different “identity politics”: the resurgence of the belief that to be “great,” America must be a predominantly white-governed nation. This was abetted far more by Clinton’s failure to make a strong case for aid to disadvantaged minorities than it was spurred by any special advocacy for them.
In Shelby County, the Supreme Court declared antiquated and invalid the section of the Voting Rights Act that triggered Justice Department reviews of electoral systems in states with sordid histories of vote suppression. After the 2013 decision, 14 Republican-controlled states enacted new measures that even some proponents acknowledged were aimed at lowering the Democratic turnout—disproportionately poorer, African American, and Latino.
When a lower court struck down Wisconsin’s new strict photo ID law as unconstitutional, the state promised to provide free IDs. Remarkably, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals bought that promise. When the state breached it, the Court ordered it to ensure that none of the estimated 300,000 voters without the ID would be prevented from voting. But Republican officials still gave voters false information about ID requirements. And in areas where voters feared they were in violation of the law, most notably strongly-Democratic Milwaukee, turnout dropped by 13 per cent on 2012—a difference of 41,000 votes. Trump carried Wisconsin by less than…