Editorials: Why Voting Reform May Never Happen | The New Yorker

When President Obama claimed victory in last month’s election, he observed that many voters had waited on long lines to cast their ballots, adding, “By the way, we have to fix that.” That was a promise he won’t be able to keep. There’s no fix in the works—and there probably never will be. It was a pretty terrible election, as far as access to the polls goes. As usual, the worst situation was in Florida, where waits of four hours were common both in early voting and on Election Day. But, of course, 2012 wasn’t even the worst election in Florida in the last dozen years. Observers of American politics may recall certain difficulties with the 2000 race in the Sunshine State. But even that fiasco—which arguably (that is, probably, or rather definitely) changed the outcome in the state and nation—led to no significant reform. Because the problems in 2012 did not even arguably change the results, even in Florida, the urgency for reform is commensurably smaller.

As we think about addressing the voting problems of 2012, it’s worth remembering the legislative response, such as it was, to the 2000 disaster. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, as weak and inconsequential a bill as ever purported to address a national crisis. What did HAVA do? It established some modest standards for voting equipment and provisional voting. And it created the Election Assistance Commission, which was available to give advice to states. But it did virtually nothing to address the principal problem with American elections—which is that the states, not the federal government, run the shows.

State control came about partly because of the Constitution. Our federal government has limited powers, and running elections is not one of them. But the Constitution is also a flexible document, and there’s a good chance that the federal government could take a larger role in preserving the fairness of elections if Congress wanted to establish one. But with the House of Representatives in Republican hands, there’s basically no chance of that happening: the G.O.P.’s interest has run in the other direction, toward passing state measures, like voter-i.d. laws, that tend to restrict the franchise. Republicans do better in low-turnout elections (like the 2010 midterms), and they have made an institutional commitment to suppressing the vote.

So, in light of the post-2010 “reforms,” 2012 was worse than 2000. The notorious butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, which clearly cost Al Gore the state and the election, came about largely because of the incompetence of local election officials in 2000. (I wrote a book, “Too Close to Call,” about the recount.) But at least before that Election Day, Florida officials played it fairly straight. The Republican officials who ran Florida state government in those days made no wholesale attempts to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters. (Well, not many attempts.)

What was different about 2012 was that voter suppression went from (largely) accidental to (completely) intentional. In virtually every state where Republicans took control in the 2010 midterms, they changed the laws to make it harder for their political opponents to vote. Most of these attempts were styled as attempts to limit “voter fraud,” a virtually non-existent problem in the United States. (A former official of the Florida Republican Party recently acknowledged that the purpose of these laws was to hurt Democrats, not to address any real problem.)

Full Article: Why Voting Reform May Never Happen : The New Yorker.

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