“This country has many distinctions as a democracy,” The Nation‘s Ari Berman writes in his new review of Gary May’s Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy. “The saddest is that it is the only advanced democracy ever to disenfranchise, enfranchise and disenfranchise again an entire segment of the population. What should be its most settled right—the right to vote—remains the most contested.”
Since 2010, Republicans, mostly in states that made up the Old Confederacy, have passed a torrent of laws designed to make it harder to vote. The echoes of these new restrictions to the poll taxes and grandfather clauses made illegal by 1965’s Voting Rights Act were obvious to most in America’s civil rights movement. The truth is that though racial animus may fuel the drive for new voting restrictions, the motivation is more partisan than racial. That’s why Texas’ new voter ID law, for instance, makes it harder for not just racial minorities, but also women and students. Hundreds of thousands of Texans will face new burdens on voting for a law that might have stopped four — FOUR — cases of fraud since 2004.
Republicans generally argue that restrictions on registering and voting are about the “integrity” of elections, but have never been able to prove that any American election has been stolen by in-person voter fraud. However, occasionally, a few overly honest Republicans let their true motives slip out.
That’s what happened when Don Yelton, a now-former North Carolina Republican official, spoke to The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi.
Yelton admitted that North Carolina’s new voting law, which includes a flurry of new provisions including voter ID, is “going to kick Democrats in the butt.” In one interview, he stumbled through every dumb cliché of the modern racist, including referencing his one black friend and showing disdain for “lazy blacks” who want the government to give them everything.
MSNBC’s Adam Serwer points out that Yelton is a fringe figure who has been in and out of North Carolina’s Republican Party for a decade. He’s out again, and attacking his own party after that interview. But Yelton’s cartoonish take on voting restrictions has been echoed by several other very serious Republican officials.
Here are six more Republicans who have admitted that their party is intentionally attempting to disenfranchise Democrats.
Giving Romney Pennsylvania
It doesn’t get more blatant than what Pennsylvania’s House Republican Leader Mike Turzai said in June of 2012, as he listed the Republican state legislature’s accomplishments: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Turzai was wrong. A federal court barred enforcement of the law but the confusion caused by it still had an effect on the election… at least state Republicans believe so.
“I think we had a better election,” Pennsylvania’s GOP chairman Rob Gleason said in July. “Think about this: We cut Obama by 5 percent…I think Voter ID helped a bit in that.”
‘At The Expense Of The Democrats’
Texas’ Republican attorney general and candidate for governor Greg Abbott doesn’t believe Texas’ redistricting discriminates against minorities.
It just discriminates against Democrats — who happen to be largely minorities, he admitted in a letter to the Department of Justice defending the state’s voting maps:
DOJ’s accusations of racial discrimination are baseless. In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats. It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.
‘Stop Obama’s Nutty Agenda And Support Voter ID’
South Carolina’s voter ID law was another voting restriction blocked before the 2012 election thanks to the now-gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Though the state’s Republicans denied the racial motivations of the law, it was sold as a way to fight President Obama.
“Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID,” read a card attached to a pack of peanuts passed out by the state’s GOP, state Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) admitted, then later refused to admit in court.
Clemmons, a force behind the bill, also admitted answering “amen” to a fellow Republican’s email that said offering a reward to African-Americans “would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.”
Photo: Andrew Aliferis via Flickr
Enough With All This Voting
Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly has been a Republican hero since back in the 1970s, when she led the battle in California to prevent gays and lesbians from being able to work as schoolteachers, a cause too far to the right for even Ronald Reagan. This year she was blunt in her argument for why Republicans should do everything they can to roll back any measure that makes it easier to vote:
“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving us a solid lead in the battleground states that will decide this election.’
“The Obama technocrats have developed an efficient system of identifying prospective Obama voters and then nagging them (some might say harassing them) until they actually vote. It may take several days to accomplish this, so early voting is an essential component of the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign.”
She went on to say that early voting results in “illegal votes” that “cancel out the votes of honest Americans.” In her mind, “Democratic” automatically equals “illegal.”
‘The Urban—Read African-American—Voter-Turnout Machine’
No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, Republican secretary of state Jon A. Husted seemed to be angling for a repeat of the 2004 election, when secretary of state and an honorary “co-chair” of the Bush/Cheney campaign Ken Blackwell presided over an election marred by irregularities and unforgivably long lines that resulted in thousands of voters never casting a vote.
One of Husted’s tactics was to cut back early voting in Democratic communities while expanding it in Republican communities.
In case the transparent nature of such a move wasn’t obvious enough, one state Republican was particularly blunt when explaining the party’s motivation for limiting early voting. Ari Berman explains:
Why do Ohio Republicans suddenly feel so strongly about limiting early voting hours in Democratic counties? Franklin County (Columbus) GOP Chair Doug Preisse gave a surprisingly blunt answer to the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.” Preisse is not some rogue operative but the chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio’s second-largest county and a close adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Photo: DCMatt via Flickr
I Got It Wrong
The most important admission that the motivation behind this new wave of voting restrictions is voter suppression comes from the conservative jurist who helped make photo ID laws possible.
Richard Posner — the Reagan-appointed federal judge who wrote the influential decision that ruled Indiana’s voter ID law constitutional in 2007 — now believes that he “absolutely” he got that case wrong.
Posner told Huffington Post Live that “the problem is that there hadn’t been that much activity with voter identification. Maybe we should have been more imaginative…”he said, echoing comments on the case he made in his new book. “We weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disfranchise people entitled to vote.”
It would have taken some imagination to envision the rampant voting restrictions Republicans have pursued since President Obama was elected, less than a year after a Republican Congress passed and a Republican president signed a renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Now, thanks to common sense substantiated by a few honest Republicans, it’s hard to imagine them as anything other than a blatant attempt to disenfranchise anyone who would dare to not vote Republican.
Photo: chensiyuan via Flickr