Conservative iconography is saturated with references to America’s democratic tradition. From Charles and David Koch’s political action committee, Americans for Prosperity, which uses the Statue of Liberty’s torch for its logo, to the ubiquitous presence of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at tea party rallies, it is commonplace for conservatives to drape themselves in the flag and proclaim their allegiance to our nation’s founding documents. But lately, conservative lawmakers across the country have launched a drive that not only contradicts this rhetoric but strikes at the fundamental basis for representative government in America: They are pursuing a raft of measures that will restrict voters’ access to the polls. A heated debate about voter ID laws — measures that require voters to take government-issued identification to the polls — has been taking place for several years. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 upheld the constitutionality of these local voter ID laws, but even the justices were deeply divided on the question; civil liberties groups continue to argue that, as with the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow South, these laws result in the disenfranchisement of poor people and people of color. However, conservatives have now opened another front in the war on the vote with a slate of recent laws that attack provisions such as early voting.
On March 27, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that eliminates weekend and nighttime early voting; this follows a 2011 move to cut early voting periods in half. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a law on Feb. 21 that bars anyone except the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballots to voters.
In a difficult economy, working people are putting in long hours and trying to juggle the burdens of job and family. At such a time, we should be expanding voting opportunities to make it easier for them to exercise their rights.
Instead, conservatives are seeking to narrow the electorate. Their actions in Wisconsin and Ohio are part of a wider trend. According to New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, 92 bills that restrict access to the vote were introduced in 33 states by the end of 2013. In the first month of this year, 49 restrictive laws were already being discussed on 19 statehouse floors.