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Why Won’t Conservatives Denounce Voter Suppression?

Why won’t some principled conservative commentator like David Brooks or Michael Gerson denounce the Republican party’s voter-suppression efforts? I find this genuinely puzzling.

I don’t expect actual GOP politicians to condemn the voter-suppression movement within their ranks, because they have a partisan interest in, well, suppressing votes. The fewer low-income African-Americans and Latinos show up at the polls, the better off they’ll be. As I’ve noted before, that sort of thinking was implicit in Mitt Romney’s now-famous “47 percent” disquisition (i.e., if an unacceptably high proportion of Americans are “dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims” who “are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” and can’t be persuaded to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” then you really don’t want them venturing out of doors on Election Day).

But for anyone who’s free to contemplate voter suppression from a more disinterested journalistic perch, the utter phoniness of the GOP’s movement to squelch voter fraud must surely be obvious. It’s not as if conservative commentators are going out of their way to defend these practices, as they might be expected to do if they actually believed all the GOP’s partisan nonsense about large-scale voter fraud, which has been disproven time and again. The only such commentator I can think of who buys into it all is John Fund. He’s made this his personal crusade, and I don’t sense that his arguments command much attention even on the right. 

The bad motives of the voter-fraud movement have gotten pretty hard to ignore. The New York Times and the Atlantic both ran, recently, exposes about True the Vote, a Tea Party offshoot that harasses voters in minority neighborhoods. Mike Turzai, Republican leader of the Pennsylvania House, achieved YouTube stardom when he blurted out, in June, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done.” A Pennsylvania judge’s effort not to "to infer that other members of the General Assembly shared the boastful views of Representative Turzai" was undermined last week by Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican, when he told a Pittsburgh radio station, "As Mitt Romney said, I mean, what, we have 40-some [percent] of the people that are living off the public dole, living off of their neighbors’ hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. So, I mean, if individuals are too lazy, the state can’t fix that." In Ohio, Franklin County Republican Chairman Doug Preisse, when asked whether it was fair to end weekend voting, said, “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.”

These shenanigans have, of course, been going on a long time; William Rehnquist, for instance, was a “ballot security” activist before he went on the Supreme Court, and did his best to keep minorities from voting in Arizona. But now voter suppression has gone respectable, with Voter ID laws in 33 states, and it’s acquired a growing urgency as the country’s white majority slips away. The suppression techniques have become so blatant that judges in Ohio and Pennsylvania recently ruled against them, even though the Supreme Court has extended them some (wrong-headed) protection. Tova Wang points out in The Politics Of Voter Suppression that it has become common for conservative politicians to assert that voting is a privilege, not a right. (“This is a hard-fought privilege,” Florida State Sen. Michael Bennett said in defense of that state’s unusually draconian anti-“fraud” bill. “You want to make it convenient? The guy who died to give you that right, it was not convenient. Why would we make it any easier?”)

That is not an argument, or a set of practices, that any principled conservative should tolerate. I’m surprised and disheartened that so many do.