Voting rights are under attack again — this time it’s the Supreme Court’s turn.
The majority’s ruling in the Shelby County vs. Holder case gutted key Voting Rights Act provisions at a time when minority access to the polls faces new obstacles.
As Justice Ruth Ginsburg explained and proved in her dissent, the law is working well but remains necessary. She likened the ruling to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
But not everyone is peeved. The decision cheered up any Republican leaders who remained sour that their hospitality to the far-right fringe came back to bite them last November.
In what’s turning into a tradition, tea-partying enthusiasts forced rabid Senate candidates onto the ballot in 2012. Some of them lost what might have been easy wins when they turned out to be too radical for the general public.
Then there’s the White House. Despite spending a record $1.2 billion to win the presidency, Mitt Romney and the GOP blew that race.
Yes, the GOP did hang onto its majority in the House of Representatives. But Republicans now only have a 33-seat edge on the competition in that chamber, down from the 49-seat margin they enjoyed before the 2012 elections.
Now, you might guess these great leaders would move swiftly to rebrand the GOP to appeal to more voters. Or distance their party from those vote-repelling tea partiers. Well, guess again. They’ve settled on a different strategy: cheating.
An earlier Supreme Court ruling helped make this new approach possible. Remember that Citizens United decision? It allowed corporations for the first time to buy directly into elections with unlimited contributions.
The Republicans found out in November, when Romney outspent Barack Obama by more than $100 million, that it will take more than gobs of corporate cash to win big.
But money is only one GOP angle. Another is fraud. No, no, not that Republicans will vote twice or anything so pedestrian.
Instead, they accuse poor people of voting fraudulently, and thereupon get legislatures to pass laws making voting a serious hassle if you’re not part of the in-group with a government-issued photo ID. Republican operatives are also fond of flyers and announcements that threaten insecure new citizens and poorly educated voters with arrest if their papers are not exactly in order.
Another voting deterrence tool is inconvenience. Other nations — and many states — have long worked to increase polling places, lengthen voting hours, stimulate mail balloting, and simplify procedures.
Contrarily, numerous Republican-controlled states are seeking to reverse all those trends. The GOP’s theory is simple enough: We know who poorer, less mobile people tend to vote for, and it isn’t us. Hey, let’s make it as hard for them to vote as we can.
Yet another tactic is gerrymandering. State legislatures normally draw boundaries not only for their own districts but for Congress as well. In some states, lawmakers exert this power mainly to protect their own personal seats.
Ginsburg calls these tactics “second-generation barriers to minority voting.” Thanks to that shiny new Supreme Court ruling, they’re now easier to pull off.
Now the Republican Party, wherever it’s in charge, is going further. It’s crowding Democratic voters, especially around urban centers, into a few contorted pockets. This practice spreads the Republican voters around, helping the GOP accumulate additional “safe” legislative and congressional seats.
The GOP’s creative redistricting explains why President Obama won Wisconsin by more than 200,000 votes while Democrats only carried three of the state’s eight congressional districts.
There’s more. Coming soon to a gerrymandered state near you: an attack on presidential elections.
Here’s how this trick works: Each state gets to determine how its own electoral votes will be allocated — either by a statewide “winner-take-all” system or by congressional district. Republican-gerrymandered states are moving quickly to distribute their electoral votes by congressional district.
Isn’t that convenient? Even if the Republican Party doesn’t need any more help from the Supreme Court, our democracy sure does.