In the past year, GOP state lawmakers have enacted a raft of laws intended to make it more difficult for Democrats to win election. These include so-called voter ID laws, which disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minority, student, low-income and elderly voters; laws making it easier for corporations to influence elections; and laws cutting back on early voting and erecting new barriers for absentee voters.
Today, in an interview with radio host Michael Smerconish, President Obama addressed these anti-voter laws, indicating that the Department of Justice will examine them to ensure their compliance with the law:
SMERCONISH: Are the goal posts being moved on you in 2012? In my native Pennsylvania there’s a move afoot that would change the way in which electoral votes are apportioned. You picked up 21 in ’08, you’d of only had a net gain of one if this new rule, this new system were to come into effect. I look at that, and the requirement of photo IDs in some states, and the reduction of advanced voting and I wonder what’s going on out there on a grand level. What’s your level of concern? [...]
OBAMA: With respect to Pennsylvania the people of Pennsylvania will ultimately decide how they want to allocate their electoral votes, and I’ll leave it up to them. I will say that my big priority is making sure that as many people are participating in our democracy as possible. Some of these moves in some of the other states that we’ve seen—trying to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people. I think that’s a bit mistake and I have made sure that our Justice Department’s taken a look at what’s being done across the country to ensure that people aren’t being denied access to the franchise.
The same GOP operatives who have pushed these election rigging laws will no doubt seize upon the president’s statement as evidence that DOJ’s investigations are political motivated, but the truth is that protecting the franchise from these kinds of attacks fits squarely within the Justice Department’s mission. The Voting Rights Act not only forbids laws that are passed specifically to target minority voters but also strikes down state laws that have a greater impact on minority voters than on others. Because voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, they violate this landmark legislation.
Indeed, as former President Bill Clinton recently explained, the current round of anti-voter legislation is the most “determined effort to limit the franchise” since Jim Crow. If anything, the real question is why DOJ has not been much more aggressive in filing lawsuits challenging these illegal laws.