If you're a political leader whose party is losing heavily among certain demographics, there are two ways to fix the problem. One, find a way to appeal to those voters. Or, two, keep them away from the polls.
The first option is tough to accomplish when your party platform is at odds with the aspirations of certain voting blocs. Democrats, for example, are not likely to seek the fundamentalist Christian vote by demanding that public schools teach creationism instead of actual science. Republicans probably won't be courting African-American voters by calling for an end to "stand your ground" laws of the sort that allowed Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, to get away with murder.
So it would seem that blocking hostile voters is the obvious path. Yet only Republicans are going that route. They alone are pushing through voter ID laws, which are really voter suppression laws dressed up in non-threatening nomenclature.
For consumption of the gullible, the stated reason is to "protect the integrity of the vote," even though no one has ever produced evidence that fraudulent in-person voting is an issue. In reality, of course, the goal is to obstruct voting for vulnerable populations who are legally entitled to cast their ballots but will have the hardest time jumping through the ID hoops -- locating documents, getting to the voter ID office, going back again when the clerk makes a mistake, etc. This group includes low-income and minority voters, who may lack driver's licenses or cars, the disabled, the young and the elderly -- all of whom tend to vote Democratic.
There is no corresponding effort by Democrats to suppress the Republican vote. On the contrary, their strategy is to follow a third option: make voting easier for everyone, regardless of political persuasion, in the hope that moderate-to-liberal voters will outnumber conservatives. Early voting, same-day registration, extended hours in cases of long lines -- all of these measures are designed to encourage voting across the board, not shut it down. And all of them are propounded by Democrats.
It's how a democratic republic is supposed to work. The people, in their wisdom or lack thereof, choose leaders in free and fair elections, and the winners get to vote on matters of state on their behalf. They govern, in other words, with the consent of the governed, deriving legitimacy from the people -- not the other way around.
Why are Republicans suddenly so threatened by this process that they have to change the rules? Why are they so terrified of the ballot box that their only path to victory is choke off access? Because, No. 1, Barack Obama's re-election left them completely unhinged; No. 2, their growing extremism is turning off the American public to the point that their best shot at winning a national election is to stack the deck; and No. 3, a reactionary Supreme Court decision gave them a green light to do it.
The GOP line on voter ID is so transparently bogus, it's almost funny. "You have to have a photo ID to get on an airplane, cash a check, blah-blah-blah." But flying and banking are not rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Voting is. And, unlike the right to bear arms, voting is not inherently dangerous -- except, perhaps, to the aspirations of Rick Santorum, who actually said recently that liberals make it uncomfortable to shower at a YMCA.
If you doubt the Jim Crow character of voter ID, consider North Carolina, which just enacted the most draconian voter suppression law in the nation. Previously, 40 of the state's 100 counties were covered by the Voting Rights Act, which meant any changes in election law had to get federal approval. But as soon as the high court struck down that provision, lawmakers went into overdrive.
Under the new law, student IDs and out-of-state driver's licenses cannot be used to prove who you are. There's no more same-day registration for early voting, or paid voter registration drives. No more straight-ticket voting or provisional voting if you show up in the wrong precinct. No extended poll hours in extraordinary circumstances. But the law will let any registered voter challenge any other voter, raise the limit on campaign contributions, loosen disclosure rules in campaign ads by independent groups, repeal publicly funded elections for appellate court judges and repeal the requirement that candidates endorse their campaign ads.
And this is to protect the integrity of the vote? Puh-leeze.
Pennsylvanians were threatened by their own voter ID law, until a Commonwealth Court judge on Friday barred its use in the Nov. 5 election. The law's intent was laid bare by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who crowed to fellow Republicans that it would deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney, and by state GOP chair Rob Gleason, who told the Pennsylvania Cable Network that all the controversy around the law helped cut Barack Obama's lead in half.
Many of these laws are being challenged in the courts, and some in Congress are urging action to restore the Voting Rights Act. Meanwhile, with no immediate fear of the feds, Florida -- yes, Florida again -- has begun "purging" its voter roles with a vengeance. The state tried this in 2012, contending there were 182,000 ineligibles on the rolls. The actual number turned out to be 198. But really, why quibble?
When detectives are trying to get to the bottom of a heinous act, the first question they ask is always the same: Who benefits? In this case, the answer is clear. Republicans are pushing voter ID to protect themselves. If there's any integrity problem in this scenario, it's their own.
Sally Kalson is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1610).