Why The GOP Is Desperately Trying To Suppress Your Vote
Voter suppression. The effort to suppress the will of the many for the benefit of the few. It has taken many forms throughout American history. Since the Constitution did not touch on voting rights, most states took the opportunity to limit it to white, property-owning males. It would take the 19th Amendment for women and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for African Americans to secure voting rights. Although the midterms took place in a different era than Jim Crow or women’s suffrage, the intention of voter suppression is the same. To put it bluntly, it is an effort on the part of white men seeking to limit the political power of minorities out of fear of becoming the minority themselves. And today, as America’s demographic shifts and appetite for progressive policies are rapidly accelerating, it has become a tactic utilized by one uncompromisingly conservative party.
In Georgia’s gubernatorial election between Republican Brian Kemp (who as Georgia Secretary of State oversaw the election in which he was running) and Democrat Stacey Abrams (a voting rights champion and state legislator) we saw some of the most brazen voter suppression tactics since the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Purging of voter registrations, voters being turned away at polling stations, voters being flagged as non-citizens which echoes the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, ballots being rejected due to “signature mismatches,” the list goes on.
Since the Southern Strategy shifted the Republican Party’s base of power to southern states and rural whites after the civil rights era, we’ve seen a renewed effort on the part of the GOP to resist America’s changing demographics. While the 24th Amendment banned poll taxes, those seeking disenfranchisement have resorted to more “clever” forms of suppression. Across the country, we’ve seen discriminatory Voter-ID laws, mass incarceration disenfranchising black voters, the closing of polling stations, and other tactics targeting communities of color. All of which were made more effective by gerrymandering, in which Republicans have drawn districts to select their voters rather than the other way around. In the 5-4 ruling in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder which allowed 9 southern states, including Georgia, to change their voting laws without federal approval, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “Our country has changed.” Justice Roberts was clearly wrong.
Ahead of the midterms, President Trump and the Republican Party embraced a nationalist agenda that scapegoated immigrants, confirmed an accused sexual abuser to the Supreme Court, and members of their leadership like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell openly talked about the GOP’s plans to cut entitlement programs. As we saw, the public rejected this agenda. Democrats secured the largest blue wave in the House since 1974, winning almost 40 seats. But in the Senate, Republicans gained seats in red states despite the fact Democrats won the popular vote in the Senate by 9 million. With changing demographics and the Senate map in 2020 more favorable to Democrats, the outcome will likely be very different.
The Democratic victory was built on the back of historic youth turnout, minority turnout, disgust with Trumpism in the suburbs, and women favoring Democratic candidates over their Republican counterparts. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are on the verge of being the largest voting bloc in America. Immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras saw a 25% increase from 2007-2015. The black immigrant population is increasing. These increases only compound the U.S. born demographic shifts, as each generation grows more diverse. All of those demographics tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans tend to secure an older, white demographic.
Not only is America becoming browner, but the country’s policy preferences are also growing more progressive. A majority of Americans opposed the GOP tax cut which overwhelmingly benefited the rich. And an even greater majority of Americans opposed the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which further fueled the midterm victory for Democrats. And not to mention, President Trump is historically unpopular. On the other hand, the majority of Americans support progressive policies like common-sense gun control, Medicare-for-all, raising the minimum wage, a woman’s right to choose, and more. Gallup found that the number of people who identify as conservative has decreased about 5% between 2009-2017 while the number of people who identify as liberal has increased by 5% in that same time frame.
To put it simply, Democrats are expanding their electorate while there is evidence the GOP is shrinking. All while the unpopularity of the GOP’s policies and their President are doing significant damage to their appeal. This is why the Republican Party relies on tactics like voter suppression and gerrymandering. It is the only way they can maintain minority rule. But as these demographic changes and shifts in public opinion continue to unfold, voter suppression might not be enough to stop the inevitable. It is vital for every American to understand that if their vote didn’t matter, Republicans wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress it.
This should concern every American. As the branches of government become increasingly politicized, free and fair elections are one of the only checks that would prevent America’s drift from democracy into authoritarianism. As President Obama said in his farewell speech, “Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make.” Ahead of 2020, choose to participate.