It’s not just Blacks: Republicans are targeting Natives, the young and disabled as well
The prime targets of Republican voter suppression measures will be minorities, particularly Blacks, but there are others affected too: younger voters, citizens with disabilities and Native Americans.
There are two driving forces behind these Republican efforts. The first is President Biden’s victory, which included carrying some Republican-leaning states with a surge of support from Blacks, over 90 percent of whom voted for the Democrat. The second, explicit rationale is the “Big Lie,” spun by former President Trump, that with widespread fraud the election was “stolen.” Under the pretense of that falsehood, Republican state officials around the country are enacting new voter restriction laws.
Blacks are an obvious — and traditional — target, but it’s also easy to see why Republicans are uneasy with young voters. The Pew Research survey of the 2020 election, far more comprehensive than the earlier exit polls, shows voters under 30 opted for Biden by 59 percent to 35 percent. Half of these eligible voters turned out, up sharply from 2016, when turnout among the younger demographic was less than 40 percent. If a young person turns out to vote for one party in his or her first few elections, it often becomes a lifetime pattern.
Some states, like Wisconsin and Iowa, already require more than a student ID for young people to register to vote in person; Montana joined in adopting similar restrictions this year. Driver’s licenses often aren’t a viable backup, as rarely do they have a college dorm address. In Texas, while a student ID from a public institution is insufficient, a gun permit is ok.
Limits on mail voting or mobile voting precincts and shortening early voting or registration also can adversely affect college students; a large share go to community colleges. This fall, New Hampshire Republicans will weigh more crackdowns on younger voters; already, they have tried, unsuccessfully, to remove college addresses as an acceptable voting domicile.
“A lot of the voter suppression bills we’re seeing, such as restrictions on mail ballot applications, barriers to third-party registration, paring back early voting and strict photo ID laws may be aimed at voters of color, but also have a dramatic impact on college students and other young voters,” says Robert Brandon, President of the Fair Elections Center, a national voting rights and election reform organization. He told me: “Other restrictions are creating barriers directly aimed at college students, like eliminating college IDs for voting or proof of residence for dorm students.”
Likewise, voters with disabilities could be disadvantaged by restrictive changes. In the 2020 election, there was a record participation by voters with disabilities: 17.7 million according to the Rutgers University Program for Disability research. Working with the U.S. Election Assistance commission, Rutgers attributes this to COVID-related accommodations for all voters that especially helped those with disabilities: facilitating voting by mail, drop boxes or curbside voting to more easily deposit early ballots, and lending assistance to those who needed it.
Yet Republican-led states are toughening requirements for mail voting, limiting drop boxes, even banning curbside voting and imposing new checks on others assisting voters with disabilities. Florida and Georgia would essentially ban providing food or water for those waiting in long lines to vote.
This adds to existing difficulties. “The majority of polling places and ballot drop locations in the United States are not compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act,” notes Michelle Bishop, director of voter access for the National Disability Rights Network. She told me that limits on mail ballots or drop boxes or assistance for voters in need “has a huge impact on voters with disabilities.”
The Rutgers survey showed that 52 percent of these citizens voted by mail last year, more than the 40 percent of others who used that process during the pandemic. Although 11 percent of voters with disabilities reported some difficulties exercising this right, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, that’s down sharply from previous elections.
This is important progress, Bishop notes, so why turn back the clock? “We should be designing the electoral process to ensure that every eligible voter is able to cast their ballots, rather than creating new hurdles for voters with disabilities on their way to the ballot box,” she said.
Native Americans, a potentially important voting bloc in some Western states, overcame some earlier efforts to restrict their vote: They reversed a North Dakota voter ID law that required specific addresses — on some reservations there are no street addresses.
But Republicans are back at it. Montana, now governed by a Republican governor and legislature, recently passed a restrictive measure that bans organizations that assist and collect ballots on more remote reservations, all of which have been certified. The state also eliminated same-day voter registration and enacted tougher voter ID requirements.
The Republican sponsor of the legislation declared that Native Americans in Montana “are going to have to change” their habits to safeguard against fraud. Of course, there have been no credible reports of fraud: The aim simply is to hold down the predominately Democratic votes cast by Native Americans.
That’s the case in each of these states: Scores of studies and analyses have revealed no evidence of any significant voter fraud. In most states it’s a felony often punishable by prison time.
The real frauds are these voting measures designed to placate a loser, Donald Trump, and safeguard entrenched Republican politicians.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.