The Excuse of “Election Integrity"
They didn’t teach this in school either
A short time ago I had a short conversation about voting with a distant friend, a local professional woman, a faithful attendee of a relatively liberal local protestant church. I was rendered briefly speechless when she asserted, “I don’t think everyone should be allowed to vote.” Asked for clarification, she added that she thought that only “educated” people should be allowed. The statement rang in my ears for days. Whom would she qualify as “educated”, someone who could pass a literacy test?
I’ve been mulling over that encounter ever since. Growing up in the 1960s with awareness of the southern states’ voter suppression—and with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—I conceived of U.S. History as a punctuated march of voting rights expansion from white male landowners to former male slaves to women to eighteen year olds of both sexes (on the grounds that if they or their husbands and boyfriends could be drafted and die in Vietnam they should be allowed to vote)—and now to felons who had duly served their sentence and rejoined society. “I don’t think everyone should be allowed to vote” rang in my ears like screeching brakes. For me the assertion violates a basic principle of fairness in small d democratic government. If not everyone over a certain age, then what criteria should we chose, and, perhaps more importantly, who gets to decide whom to allow?
Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud is an excuse that the Republican Party has formed into a call for “election integrity”. Pursuing “election integrity” is a thinly veiled, coded excuse for limiting the right and means and places to vote for certain groups of people deemed statistically unlikely to support Republican candidates. An Arizona State Republican said the quiet part out loud to CNN in 2021:
“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” he [State Representative John Kavanaugh] told CNN. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting … Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
“Quality of votes” sounds a lot like “educated”. It begs the question: Educated by whom and about what? This is about the power of a minority to change voting rules to shore up their power. It should remind us that the modern day Republican Party is, at its base, profoundly anti-small-d-democratic. The modern day Republican Party does not believe that a majority of citizens should determine their representation in government. Instead, only a majority of voters of a certain “quality”—a “quality” defined by Republicans—should make that determination.
We tend to think the results of elections are determined solely by the final vote counts—but that is hopelessly naive. Elections are determined by those who set the rules.
In researching for last Monday’s post “More Republican Election Meddling” I was reminded that counting the ballots submitted in a general election is only a tiny piece of a long process subject to meddling. Most of us (including me) imagine that primary elections, held to determine who would advance to the November general election, have been a feature of elections since the founding of the country. Not so. Primary elections have been around only since the 1890s. In earlier times political parties held a caucus, a gathering of party members, at which the party’s candidate for the general election was selected. We still see vestiges of this process in party caucuses in some states held in the process of nominating a national party candidate for the presidency.
As you read the following passage from Wikipedia on Primary Elections recall that the racist Democratic South is a demographic constituency absorbed by the Republican Party via the Southern Strategy in the early 1970s, effectively flipping the alignment of the two parties among voters:
The first primary elections came in the Democratic Party in the South in the 1890s starting in Louisiana in 1892. By 1897 in 11 Southern and border states the Democratic party held primaries to select candidates. Unlike the final election run by government officials, primaries are run by party officials, making it easy to discriminate against black voters in the era of Jim Crow. The US Supreme Court declared the white primary unconstitutional in Smith v. Allwright in 1944.
These original “closed” primary elections, that is, open only to certain people, were conceived in the South as a method of encouraging party loyalty among those who might not have the time or interest to become involved in a party caucus. Closed white primaries (interesting article)—something they didn’t teach you in U.S. History class—were a key mechanism of perpetuating Jim Crow in the southern states until the mid-twentieth century. Who knew? We in Washington State still hear echoes right next door as Idaho Republican Party members complain of “RINOS” (Republicans In Name Only) who take the trouble to jump through the hoops necessary to vote on the Republican Primary Election ticket. The point of a closed primary is to exclude, to assure the doctrinal “purity” of the small group of primary voters who determine the candidate to advance to the November general election ballot. The primary election becomes a choke point—a further illustration that the devil is as much in the details leading to the general election as in the election itself.
Paul Weyrich, founder of the American Legislative Exchange Council, laid out Republican strategy on voting in stark terms in this famous quote which no small d or big D Democrat should ever forget, especially as we listen to Republicans promote the Big Lie and whine about “election integrity”:
"How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome: good government? They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Keep to the high ground,
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