When I began working in politics, Republicans had a get-out-the-vote strategy in the rural South that focused on evangelical churches. It centered on opposition to abortion and relied on “voter education cards” to motivate the electorate. Occasionally, they supported a pro-life Democrats, but more than 90% of their candidates were Republican. Back then, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority was a major political force.
Today, Republicans are openly making the case that not everybody should vote. One conservative pundit on Twitter made the case that “uninformed” people should not be voting. A few years ago, I heard pundit Jonah Goldberg make the argument that voting should be harder, not easier. They’re trying to convince themselves, and other Republicans, that the right to vote should be earned. It’s the same argument that kept African-Americans from voting during Jim Crow.
As the conservative pundits make their case, Republican legislators are quickly enacting laws targeted at reducing the influence of constituencies that are not favorable to them. They are ending same-day registration, restricting mail-in voting (a form dominated by Republicans until 2020), reducing or eliminating early voting, and implementing cumbersome voter ID requirements. The goal is disenfranchisement and solidification of minority rule. They’re trying to justify it by claiming they want a better informed electorate. In reality, it’s an attempt to reverse the progress made since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and they believe they now have a Supreme Court that will allow it.
Their arguments are also bogus. The government has no business determining who is informed and who is not. I would argue that all of those evangelical voters who followed the advice of the Moral Majority were woefully uninformed, manipulated by people trying to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of the country. I won’t argue that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Similarly, a majority of Republicans believe today that the election was stolen and that Donald Trump was the victor. Again, they are not only uninformed but misinformed. I would assume that those conservatives do not believe they should be voting, either.
The arguments conservatives are making today led to literacy tests of the early 20th century. They ignore that people have very different experiences and perceptions. Because people experience the world differently than Republicans does not make them any less informed, just informed differently. They know that they are struggling to make ends meet. They know that their children don’t have the same opportunities as other families. African-Americans know that if they encounter law enforcement late at night that they are likely to have a different experience than White people. In fact, labeling people broadly uninformed is probably one of the least informed positions someone could take.
Restricting access to the ballot box has a very dubious and sinister history in our country. It was the primary tool of the Jim Crow South that kept Whites in power. The goal now is no different. Republicans want to keep the people with the least influence from electing people who will serve as their advocates in government. And the tools they are using reflect the ugliest part of our history. Let’s not repeat it.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >