By Juan Williams - 06/15/15 06:00 AM EDT
Why are Democrats losing the debate over voting rights?
The biggest political fight shaping the 2016 campaigns for the White House and Senate is over limiting the Democrats’ base of likely voters.
And they are winning.
Even most black Americans — people who, overwhelmingly, don’t vote Republican — currently favor new requirements for voters to have photo identification. Three-quarters of all voters — people of all races and political parties — favor such laws, according to polls.
The black support for photo identification of voters can only be described as amazing.
For most of the twentieth century, violence, poll taxes and literacy tests were used by segregationists to deny black people the right to vote.
The current state of public opinion, including among the black community, is doubly incredible because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud anywhere in the nation.
Jill Lawrence recently wrote in U.S. News and World Report that “a recent study of more than 1 billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014 found 31 credible instances of voter impersonation…31 out of over 1 billion.”
The Washington Post’s “WonkBlog” last year similarly concluded: “There is overwhelming scholarly and legal consensus that voter fraud is vanishingly rare and in fact non-existent at the levels imagined by voter ID proponents.”
Nevertheless, public opinion is with Republican governors and state legislatures. They have used that popular opinion as a license to rope off the playing field for the upcoming elections. Their goal is to enhance the value of the declining pool of older, suburban, white and more affluent Republican voters – people with a long history of regular voting – while depressing the odds that younger people, recent immigrants, minorities and the poor can get into a voting booth.
As a cold political calculation, it makes political sense so long as the GOP succeeds at denying any racist intent.
For their part, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: Muslim soldier was a hero but his father 'has no right' to criticize me Interim DNC chair to impose 'tough standards' after email leaks Mark Cuban campaigns for Clinton in hometown of Pittsburgh MORE and the Democrats are struggling to remind voters of the ugly ghosts of racist political disenfranchisement.
"What is happening is a sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to the other," Clinton said recently.
Studies show that black, Hispanic, young and elderly people who are qualified voters are the people least likely to have photo identification and most likely to get turned away at the polls.
So how can it be that 71 percent of African-Americans in a new Rasmussen poll say they favor the use of photo identification before anyone can vote?
Three years ago, a Washington Post poll produced a very similar result. Sixty-five percent of black voters said they agreed that all voters should be "required to show official, government-issued photo identification."
In the Post poll, 63 percent of black voters said “voter suppression” during a presidential race is a “major problem.” In fact, 41 percent of all adults said they are concerned with qualified voters being denied their right.
Despite those qualms, a 2014 Fox News poll found 91 percent of Republicans supported the voter identification law; so too did 66 percent of independents and 55 percent of Democrats. People say that if you need a photo ID to fly or check into a hotel, why not the same for voting? They forget voting is a constitutional right.
Those attitudes explain the lack of political backlash against new laws to restrict voting.
"Since the 2010 election, 21 states have new laws making it harder to vote — ranging from photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions — and 14 states will have them in place for the first time in a presidential election in 2016," according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Law and Justice.
Clinton cited efforts to limit voter turnout in five major states – Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas and New Jersey.
She even named several top Republicans for engaging in “fear-mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud."
Clinton called out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for limiting early voting; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for vetoing a law to extend early voting; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for allowing a pre-election purge of voting rolls.
Clinton asked: "What part of democracy are they afraid of?"
Fact-checking website Politifact reviewed Clinton’s allegations against the Republican governors and concluded her charges were “largely accurate."
But even with the facts against them, the Republicans shot back at Clinton.
“My sense is that she just wants an opportunity to commit greater acts of voter fraud around the country,” said Christie.
“Don’t be running around the country dividing Americans,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who accused Clinton of “demagoguery.”
Walker, pointing to the polls, said, “Once again, Hillary Clinton’s extreme views are far outside the mainstream.”
50 years ago this summer, President Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Republican majority on the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the law in 2013. The GOP majority in Congress has done nothing to restore it.
“It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country,” the president said in 1965. In this bitterly political era, where facts don’t matter, Johnson might lose his argument too.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.