Voting is a political act, but the right to vote should not be a political issue.
Unfortunately, it is – and a very partisan one, at that.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, at least six states have indicated they plan to move ahead with new voting laws that most observers acknowledge will reduce the number of citizens who vote in those states' future elections.
Not coincidentally, all of those states have Republicans in control of their legislatures and Republicans occupying their governors' mansions.
And, not coincidentally, the Democratic Obama Administration has responded with a promise that the Justice Department will go after any states that amend voting laws in ways that discriminate against minority voters.
Historically, that's what these laws – and these states – have done. Once it was blatant, such as Texas's attempt in 1927 to legalize all-white party primary elections. Today, it's more subtle, such as Texas's announcement on the day after the Supreme Court decision that it will move ahead with what may be the strictest voter ID law in the nation. That law was struck down by a federal court last year.
Some may think presenting an ID at the polls is a good idea (we don't do it in California). But research – with the agreement of federal courts – has shown that it disproportionately disenfranchises black and Latino voters, along with poor and young voters.
And that's where this issue becomes partisan. Those groups tend to vote for Democrats. That makes it politically rewarding for Republicans to suppress their votes and politically rewarding for Democrats to defend them.
We already have an embarrassingly low rate of participation in elections in this country, with less than two-thirds of those eligible to vote casting ballots in even the most hotly contested presidential races. Non-presidential year turnout is significantly lower.
So, instead of finding ways to allow fewer people to vote, we should be pursuing innovations to encourage higher turnout. Early voting, electronic voting, voting by mail, same-day registration and other steps have increased participation in areas where they were implemented.
But some states, such as North Carolina, now want to roll back those programs instead of expand upon them. And guess which party controls the statehouse there?
If Republicans don't like the way minorities and poor people and young people vote, maybe they should think about changing their platform. Because suppressing the vote isn't just un-democratic. It's un-American.
<i>Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.</i>