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Sabotaging Democracy

Nov. 8, 2016
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Even in one of the nation’s most politically polarized states, surely there is one fundamental American principle that opposing political parties can agree upon. We should expect anyone engaging in politics to believe in democracy.

If only that were so. 

If it were, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wouldn’t have had to strike down unconstitutional restrictions passed by Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators reducing early voting opportunities and locations around the state.

Peterson correctly identified the real motive behind Republican voting restrictions.

“This law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” Peterson wrote. The goal of Republican legislators, he said, “was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African Americans.”

Given more opportunities to participate in democracy, voters enthusiastically broke early voting records in the state, casting tens of thousands more early votes than in previous presidential elections.

Before Walker and Republicans took control of state government, Wisconsin was proud to have one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation, usually from 65% to 70% in presidential years.

But Republicans considered such enthusiastic support for democracy a serious problem. Too many Democrats were voting in Wisconsin. Republicans hadn’t won a presidential election since 1984. 

That’s why Walker and Republicans were determined to do something to put a stop to this wildly out-of-control voting by Democrats.

The Republican cover story was that they had to make voting more difficult to prevent voter fraud. Plenty has been written about what an obvious lie that was since voter fraud is statistically infinitesimal.

And, of course, eliminating early voting opportunities does nothing to prevent imaginary voter fraud. It simply creates more chaotic conditions and longer lines in urban areas on Election Day. Republicans hoped to make voting for urban Democrats as horrendous and time consuming as possible to drive them away from the polls.

Republicans couldn’t say that right out loud so they came up with another lie. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he’ll keep trying to restrict early voting despite Peterson’s decision to make sure “everybody in the state has the same chance to vote” whether they live in urban or rural areas. 

It’s an absurd argument, and not just because Republicans so rarely support equal opportunities in America. Seriously, if Vos really wanted to give everyone in the state an equal chance to vote, he would have to add many more opportunities for early voting in urban areas instead of trying to reduce them.

There’s one overwhelming reason why voting on a single Election Day is a lot more difficult for voters in densely populated cities than for voters in small towns and rural areas. Surprise! There are a whole lot more people.

GOP Disenfranchises Voters

I know small town voting very well, having grown up in a town of a few thousand people. No photo IDs needed. Everybody knows who you are and how you’re going to vote. No lines, either. Drop in any time and vote immediately.

No one in any small town anywhere has ever had to stand in line for three hours to vote as I did at Riverside High School in 2004 to vote against the re-election of George W. Bush.

Voting comparisons between larger and smaller communities from the Wisconsin Elections Commission back up the disparity. In 2012 as impressive as the voter turnouts of 78.18% and 65.94% were in Madison and Milwaukee, they paled in comparison to 149.35% in the town of Mount Pleasant and 113.7% in the village of Bayside in Ozaukee County where same-day registration pushed turnout over 100% of previously registered voters.  

One of the excuses Republicans sometimes use for engaging in dishonest, underhanded political tactics is their claim that if Democrats were in power they would do the same thing. 

But that is clearly not true in modern-day politics when it comes to trying to sabotage democracy itself. How do we know? Because to the shame of the Democratic Party it was once true, before Democrats decontaminated their own party more than 50 years ago.

Before fully embracing the fundamental rights of democracy for everyone in the mid-1960s, Southern white Democrats routinely used phony literacy tests, poll taxes and violent terrorism to disenfranchise black voters. 

Democratic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 drove out of their party the white racists who had previously made the South solidly Democratic.

The historic shame of the Democrats was itself put to shame when Republicans betrayed the party of Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist movement by openly welcoming racists to create a solid Republican South.  

We’ve just experienced one of the most embarrassing elections in history with a presidential nominee replacing traditional Republican dog whistle appeals to bigotry with a bullhorn.

Republicans are 50 years overdue for cleaning up their own party and fully embracing democracy.

It actually would make life much easier for Republicans. They wouldn’t have to keep making up transparently dishonest explanations for passing brazenly undemocratic laws disenfranchising Americans who don’t support them.


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