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Thursday, December 8, 2016

A new research study from University of Massachusetts Boston professors Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brien confirms what voting rights advocates have been charging for years: Voter-suppression laws are partisan measures that disproportionately target African-Americans.

In the study, titled “Jim Crow 2.0? Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Policies,” the authors 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.”

Specifically, the authors find a strong statistical relationship between the racial composition of a state and the proposal of new laws that would restrict access to the ballot. “[W]here African-Americans and poor people vote more frequently, and there are larger numbers of non-citizens, restrictive-access legislation is more likely to be proposed,” they write.

These conditions also hold true with regards to the passage of restrictive laws. The authors’ analysis finds that “states where minority turnout has increased since the previous presidential election were more likely to pass restrictive legislation.”

On the other hand, states where the elderly population is growing are significantly less likely to pass laws that make it harder to vote. This is unsurprising when one considers that, between 2006 and 2011, 83 percent of the restrictive laws to be passed came from Republican-controlled state legislatures. In short, it appears that Republican lawmakers are much more interested in stopping “voter fraud” when it will impact reliably Democratic voters, and less so when it could impact Republican-dominated constituencies.

The authors conclude that “Democrats are justified in their concern that restrictive voter legislation takes aim along racial lines with strategic partisan intent.” The finding is hardly shocking; after all, the primary Republican justification for voter suppression laws — that they are necessary to fight back against an epidemic of voter fraud — has been repeatedly proven to be hollow.

The latest evidence of how voter fraud is a paper tiger came on Monday, when Iowa secretary of state Matt Schultz’s 18-month investigation into the topic was revealed to have uncovered no statistically significant evidence. Schultz’s investigation, which cost the state nearly $150,000, yielded criminal charges in just 16 cases. Five of those cases have been dismissed, and five led to guilty pleas (three of which involved registration by felons whose voting rights had not been restored, one of which involved a woman who cast an absentee ballot on behalf of her daughter, and one of which involved identity fraud).

Bentele and O’Brien’s study can be read in its entirety here.

Photo: Erik Hersman via Flickr

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