The Republican party has swept the most recent mid-term elections gaining a majority in the Senate, increasing their lead in the house and adding three governors. They also took control of 8 new state legislatures.
How did the republicans do it? First, they kept radical tea party candidates from winning the primaries by getting established groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, to spend big supporting moderate and incumbent candidates. This kept Republicans from blowing easy seats by talking about things like ‘legitimate rape’. The Republicans also linked Democrat candidates to an unpopular president and finally they kept a lot of people from voting.
Why try and appeal to Blacks, Latinos, or students when you can just keep them from casting a ballot altogether? Republicans long ago figured out they can win every election if only the total vote is small enough. Suppressing the vote is a good strategy for Republicans but the Holy Grail of tactics is making it difficult for liberals to vote while not inconveniencing conservatives. So what’s a clever Republican legislator to do? Simple, put in voting laws that make it difficult for everyone but your core voter - white males over the age of 30 - to vote.
This is far easier than you would expect. First you try and restrict Sunday voting. This ends the annoying ‘Souls to the Polls’ drives where many African American Churches take people to advanced polls. Next you put in tougher voter ID laws and you make it more difficult to register to vote. And as an upstanding Republican you can relax assured in your knowledge that white males over the age of 30 registered to vote a long time ago and for ID they always carry their trusty NRA membership or Nascar Ticket Stub. While you are at it, you might as well make it tougher for criminals to vote. And perhaps most important close polling stations on college campuses.
Sadly, in Canada it seems Harper’s Conservatives are taking a page right out of the Republican playbook. The Fair Elections Act blocks Election Canada from running ads encouraging people to vote instead shifting the role of increasing turnout to political parties. The changes to the act may even kill an ambitious project between Elections Canada and student groups across Canada to increase turnout. The project aimed to put polling stations on campuses across Canada and to provide information to students about registering to vote.
The Conservatives say they introduced the bill to crack down on voter fraud (similarly to the Republican lawmakers this is in spite of little evidence suggesting there is a voter fraud problem, except of course the case of a former Conservative trying to vote twice). The bill does little to address voter suppression something that actually was a major issue in the last election. All of this may not be good for our democracy but it is great strategy if your goal is to keep young people from becoming regular voters since the best time to stop someone from voting is before they start.
But none of this is new. In 1944 then US President Franklin Roosevelt joked about his opponents’ desire to ensure only voters sympathetic to their party were able to vote. In his famous “Fala” speech to labour unions Roosevelt said this:
“They are, of course, perfectly willing to let you vote - unless you happen to be a soldier or a sailor overseas, or a merchant seaman carrying the munitions of war. In that case they have made it pretty hard for you to vote at all - for there are some political candidates who think that they may have a chance of election, if only the total vote is small enough.”
[Image via Flickr creative commons]