Sunday, March 08, 2015

Maybe If We Ignore Voting Rights, They Will Go Away

Charles Pierce has a regular post he titles "Things In Politico That Make Me Want To Guzzle Antifreeze, Part The Infinity."  Not surprisingly, there are things on Fox News which inspire the same instinct.

Speaking in Selma, Alabama Saturday on the 50th anniversary of the events of Bloody Sunday, President Obama stated

The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

Characteristically even-handed, the President added

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

Pains the President took to avoid calling out Republicans, conservative, or even opponents of voting rights generally weren't adequate for at least one influential opinion maker.  On GOP News Sunday (segment below), George Will cautioned that the Department of Justice's report "demonstrates" not "bias, but disparate impact," after which Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly

Strassel agreed: "It's like George said about the narrative. One of the unfortunate things about the speech he gave in Selma, and most of it was great, he actually made really good points, he was very rousing. But he just felt compelled and he had to throw in this argument that there's still a big problem because of voter ID laws across the country."

"And that feeds another one of these narratives," she continued. "Which is just simply not true, it's not a central focus. If you look at 2012, black voter turnout exceeded that of white voter turnout. And in states with the strictest voter ID laws." 

Oh, gee- no.  In October, we learned from The Washington Post blog The Fix that

In response to a request from a group of Democratic senators, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office analyzed the effect of voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee on 2012 turnout. Their findings? Turnout dropped at least 1.9 percentage points in Kansas and 2.2 percentage points in Tennessee thanks to the laws. By our calculations, that's 122,000 fewer votes.

The 200-plus-page report looks at several issues related to laws aimed at tightening rules around voting. The GAO compiled detailed data on various demographic groups in states that changed their laws, reviewed past studies on the effects of new laws on turnout, and attempted to gather data on instances of voter fraud, the rationale usually provided for changing voting rules. Democrats counter that the laws are thinly veiled efforts to reduce the number of their supporters that vote, by adding additional obstacles to black and young voters.

The GAO report suggests that, intentional or not, that's what happened in Kansas and Tennessee. This chart summarizes what it found.

Looking at three sets of data -- numbers from the United States Election Project, data from the states themselves, and Census data -- the GAO compared Kansas and Tennessee with Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine. The change in turnout in the latter four states is indicated with the black bars for each of the three datasets. The data for Kansas and Tennessee are lighter.

In short: The GAO found that turnout was at least 1.9 percentage points lower in 2012 in Kansas vs. 2008, and 2.2 percentage points lower in Tennessee thanks to their newly implemented voter ID laws. (The report, as you'd expect, has a full articulation of its methodology starting on p. 106, if you want to dive deep.)

According to data from the states (here and here), turnout dropped 5.5 percentage points overall in Kansas and 4.5 percent in Tennessee. With registered voter pools of about 1.77 million and 4 million, respectively, that means that 34,000 Kansans and 88,000 Tennesseans likely would have voted if the new laws weren't in place.

The effects of the change weren't evenly distributed. Broken down by demographic:

Young people, black people, and newly registered voters were the groups that were more likely to see bigger drops in turnout. Sixteen percent of voters in Kansas in 2012 were under the age of 30, according to exit polls. In 2008, the group comprised 19 percent of the vote. That change wasn't entirely due to voter ID, of course, but the GAO report suggests it played a part.

The Government Accountability Office studied only two states. But it at least appears that turnout of black voters exceeded turnout of white voters in 2012 despite- not because- of voter ID laws. Presumably, the effect was mitigated (but not erased) by determination of black voters to defy GOP efforts to keep them from the polls.

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday recognized "It is a sin that we have not in the U.S. Congress re-invigorated the Voting Rights Act and gotten it back to the President for a signature. That's what we ought to be talking about in Selma today."  Hacks like Strassel ought to appreciate a president who spoke relatively briefly about voting rights during commemoration of a march for voting rights. It is a measure of the sense of entitlement among some conservative Republicans that they don't appreciate a chief executive steeped in moderation and reluctant to offend.

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