Voting Against Voting

Three months into 2013 and a total of 30 states are pushing 55 new laws to restrict voter access. These ideas range from reducing the days that polls are open for early voting to requiring specific types of identification, purging voter rolls, and eliminating Election Day registrations and some Sunday voting.
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Austin, Texas, United States, North America
Austin, Texas, United States, North America

If you are a conservative Republican and looking at the election horizon, the approaching demographic army has to appear a bit disturbing. Old white guys are disappearing into the mists of history and a young and increasingly ethnic population has begun to assert itself at the polls on Election Day. Their numbers continue to grow and the GOP has flailed away at various attempts to attract Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, and young voters. The Republican Party keeps making vows to reach out to minorities and youthful constituencies but it does so while also pushing laws to restrict voting.

The contradiction isn't hard to spot. Three months into 2013 and a total of 30 states are pushing 55 new laws to restrict voter access. These ideas range from reducing the days that polls are open for early voting to requiring specific types of identification, purging voter rolls, and eliminating Election Day registrations and some Sunday voting. The intent of the legislation is clear, regardless of how it is presented.

Texas is the most recent state to propose dramatic alterations to voting laws. The government is overwhelmingly Republican, including every statewide office and a comfortable majority in both chambers of the legislature. However, a demographic wave of Hispanic and young voters will, at some point, overwhelm the GOP's political power in Texas. This assumes, of course, continued clunkiness on the part of the right in terms of issues and communications, which seems, just now, a fairly safe assumption. The remaining option, therefore, if you are a Republican dreaming of a future, is to restrict access to the political process.

And how in the hell do you legally do that?

Simple: the first approach is to cut back on the number of days available for early voting. The Texas legislature is about to consider reducing the number of early voting days from 12 to 6 with an optional Sunday. The impact of this is imminently predictable. Early voting in Texas has consistently increased in the past two elections. Latest information, which is from the 2008 vote, shows 66 percent of the Texas electorate voted early during that 12-day period. It doesn't follow that it would be reduced to 33 percent with a 50 percent cut in voting days, but there is certain to be a significant impact on turnout.

Florida cut early voting in the last election and the secretary of state said the results were a "nightmare." When the swing state went from 14 to 8 days of early voting the result was long lines on Election Day in 2012. It was not uncommon for voters to wait 8 hours to cast a ballot and the final vote was rendered at 2 a.m. the next day. Florida lawmakers are now considering legislation to restore the lost early voting days. Their experience, however, has done nothing to chasten the conservatives in North Carolina where the state legislature is expected to vote on its own measure to constrain early voting.

Texas is also expected to vote on a measure that would instruct its secretary of state to create an interstate voter "crosscheck" system. The argument for this data matching technology is that too many people are moving and are not being purged from voter rolls in their home states, which creates confusion and opportunity for fraud. These notions are fatuous; of course, because it is difficult enough for people to find time in their daily rush to vote once in one state, much less to get to another or have someone use their registration. The greater risk is that people are unfairly purged from registration rolls because the technology that matches voter lists is inadequate. There is also no standardization of software to do the data matching. As a consequence, little more than data fields with names and addresses and date of birth may be matched, which means Juan Garza in Oklahoma gets purged from his home state list because Juan Garza is already registered to vote in Texas. Matching algorithms function best when they are designed to compare numerous fields but even then accuracy can be very low and people would be unfairly purged.

There is also nothing in the Texas bill that says what type of software will be used for matching, how the law might be implemented, and what states will be partners. Data matching has already caused a huge problem in Texas. The 2012 election saw Social Security Administration records compared to voter registration rolls in the state and thousands of voters got letters notifying them they were dead and were no longer eligible to vote. A number of these "zombie voters" sued and the purge was stopped by the courts.

Although the interstate matching may pass, it is likely to be thrown out by federal courts. The National Voter Registration Act makes illegal any purging of voters using matching technology. The law says that before a voter can be removed from a state's registration, that voter must confirm in writing a change of address, or does not respond to a forwardable notice, or does not vote or appear to vote in the next two federal elections. A state is required to attempt to communicate with a voter and, if nothing is heard, two elections must pass before the purge of the voter's name is legal.

The conservative argument has been that their only interest is in protecting the integrity of the process. But laws like video monitoring of polling places, the issuance of voter IDs, Sunday voting, motor voting, and eliminating Election Day registration, all have a singular impact and that is simply to reduce turnout, which, in turn, reduces young and minority voting. Those are constituencies the GOP continues to struggle to attract. But they are failing. So the next best strategy is to keep them away from the polls with legislative legerdemain.

And even that no longer works.

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