Ross Douthat argues in the New York Times this weekend that the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act is a boon to the Democrat Party. Douthat believes the Court’s invalidation of a portion of the law will spur Republican lawmakers to enact election reforms like Voter ID. Democrats could then use these efforts, Douthat writes to galvanize and mobilize minorities so that, in future elections, they turn-out in similar numbers as 2008 and 2012.
At first blush, its an interesting theory. Minorities, especially African-Americans, voted at historic levels in both elections, providing a critical edge in key swing states. Last November, the percentage of black voters who showed up at the polls probably edged the turn-out percentage of white voters for the first time. If Democrats could repeat this turnout model in future elections, they would have an advantage.
I don’t think, however, that knowledge and, even, outrage over a piece of state legislation is going to have quite the same enticement as the ability to elect and then reelect the nation’s first black President. The most robust public mobilization on the evils of Voter ID just isn’t going to pack the same punch in getting people to the polls than being able to vote for Barack Obama. Especially since a Washington Post poll last year found that two-thirds of minorities support Voter ID laws.
Douthat’s analysis also fails because the Court’s decision doesn’t present an opportunity for Democrats to argue that Civil Rights are newly under assault. That argument is pretty much the Democrats’ campaign playbook for the past decades. In their campaign rhetoric, our nation is one election away from back-alley abortions, bans on contraception and the reimposition of Jim Crow laws. That this tactic occasionally works is evidence of the failures of the public school system.
There is no doubt the Democrats will try to demagogue the Court’s decision. Just as they would have demagogued the opposite verdict, for the fact the law was even challenged. As we approach the 2014 elections, Democrats will predictably find some new imminent threat to our rights. They don’t need a Supreme Court decision to do this, it’s in their party’s DNA.
In a way, the debate on Voter ID laws shows how far our nation has come. If the requirement to show a photo ID to vote is what Eric Holder defines as a modern-day “poll-tax”, then poll-taxes or other real efforts at voter suppression can be said to be safely confined to the history books. One can’t cash a check or even enter a government building or courthouse without a photo ID. Calling it voter suppression gets wrong the definitions of “voter” and “suppression.”
As a holiday like the 4th approaches, a lot of people kind of kick back and maybe “phone-in” their work a bit while they daydream about their grills and fireworks. Even a NYT columnist like Ross Douthat is entitled to slack off a bit right now.