18. Voter Suppression: An Attack on Democracy?

Since the 2020 U.S. election, 361 bills (at last count) to restrict voting have been introduced in 47 states. These measures are necessary, it is said, to protect the integrity of elections. But aren't they really an assault on a basic principle of democracy: one person, one vote?

Yes. The hypocrisy behind claims of electoral integrity is like dressing a pig in a tuxedo. But occasionally the truth bursts out, as when an Arizona state representative blurted that "... everybody shouldn’t be voting... Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well."[

Voter suppression in the United States is, of course, nothing new. From the 1880s to the 1960s it was used systematically in the American South to disenfranchise African-Americans, primary through poll taxes and "literacy" tests. Both were abolished in the 1960s.

But since then Republicans came to realize that demography was working against them. Younger voters, minority voters, urban voters -- all were trending Democratic. States like Virginia and Georgia were turning purple or blue; even Texas, the bastion of conservative Republicans, is threatened.

Rather than adjust to demographic change, it was easier to challenge the rules of the game. In 1980, conservative leader Paul Weyrich said, "I don't want everybody to vote. ... our leverage in the elections ... goes up as the voting populace goes down."

The assault began with ham-handed efforts to "purge" voting rolls of supposedly ineligible voters, without a timely chance to challenge arbitrary disenfranchisement. In New Hampshire, in 2002, Republicans used professional telephone marketers to tie up phone lines for the Democrats' "Ride to the Polls" service.

But the campaign has become more sophisticated. With Republican control of both houses in 30 states, many of the current bills will pass, as they already have in four states. The most sinister of the proposed bills are those that give state legislatures a more direct hand in tabulating and verifying the outcome. No more reliance on wishy-washy elected officials, like Georgia's Raffensperger, who actually do their job.

Generally the proposed bills make voter registration more difficult, limit the number of polling places or drop boxes (especially in minority neighborhoods), and cut back on early and absentee voting. All of this seems intended to create long lines on election day, discouraging all but the most hardy souls.

Georgia deserves special recognition for its creative approach to making these long lines even more sufferable. Only poll workers can offer food or water to those standing in the Georgia sun; anyone else bringing them relief is subject to a year in jail and a $1000 fine!

The defenders of democracy have not been idle. Bills to expand voting have also been introduced widely, though they stand little chance in red states.

But if turn-about is fair play, maybe some of the blue states might consider how, using the same tactics, they could further promote Republican shrinkage into a toothless minority. Why not relocate polling spots in Republican districts to remote spots with no parking lots? Would Republicans walk a couple of miles to cast their ballot?

And would they do better standing in long lines? They could be offered some refreshment as they do so, but -- since Coca-Cola has denounced the new legislation in its home state of Georgia-- nothing but Coke.