This past Sunday, former secretary of state Colin Powell warned fellow Republicans that their most recent efforts to restrict voting rights will “backfire” on the party.
After blasting North Carolina’s newest voting law at a CEO forum on Thursday, Colin appeared on Face the Nation to explain how the voting restrictions being pushed by several states – including Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and Mississippi – will hurt, not help, the GOP.
“The country is becoming more diverse,” Powell explained. “Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans are going to constitute a majority in a generation. You say you want to reach out, you say you want to have a new message, you say you want to see if you can bring some of these voters to the Republican side. This is not the way to do it.”
The former secretary of state, who served under former president George W. Bush, makes a great, but not-so-new point; Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election served (or should have served) as a wakeup call for the Republican Party. The nation’s demographics have changed, and minority voters – including the youth – now represent a large percentage of the voting population.
As former Bush campaign advisor Mark McKinnon said just days before the election, “The GOP cannot expect to win the presidency in the future by simply relying on running up big numbers with white voters.”
That message was lost on Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, however.
In 2010 and 2011, Republican lawmakers in several states began drafting new election laws in hopes of making it more difficult for Democrats to vote.
According to a Washington Post article published a year before the 2012 election, Republicans in several states had “curbed early voting, rolled back voting rights for ex-felons, and passed stricter voter ID laws.” The theory was that the carefully designed measures would “keep young people and minorities away from the polls” — groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Just a few months before the election, federal courts ruled that a Texas voter ID law, pushed by Republicans, “disenfranchised Latino and black voters.”
Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson warned Texas Republicans that the “demographic shift is already here.”
He added that the laws would not stop disenfranchised groups from showing up to the polls, but they will give the voters the “impression that the GOP is working against their interests,” and this would eventually become a “long-term problem” for the Republican Party.
President Obama’s second win proved Jillson right. The Republican-backed measures were not keeping intended voters at home; they were allowing Democrats to pick up new voters who felt neglected and forgotten by the GOP.
Powell recognizes this truth, but much of the Republican Party continues to reject history and the reality of today’s voting demographics.
Just two months after the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that protected against voter discrimination in states with histories of disenfranchising certain groups of people, several southern states immediately renewed their efforts to pass voter ID laws and redraw districts in ways they believe will favor the GOP.
The new laws are reflective of those passed three years ago, which would limit voting hours and require voters to present specific types of ID, and make it “harder to vote” for minorities and students, according to Powell. However difficult the process of voting — even just registering to vote — becomes, minority voters have shown for the past decade that they will vote, and for the party that values their voice.
The evidence? Seventy-one percent of Latino voters backed Obama in 2012. Furthermore, the GOP’s share of Hispanic and Latino votes dropped over 13 percent from 2004 to 2012.
Still, the GOP has shown little openness to reforming its platform, instead arguing that the new measures are necessary to protect against voter fraud — despite the fact that there is no evidence of a widespread voter fraud epidemic.
In a counterargument that Republicans might continue to discard, Powell suggests a different strategy for engaging minority voters: “The way to do it is to make it easier to vote and then give them something to vote [for].”
Photo: dfarber via Flickr.com