Defending new Republican voting laws, The National Review argues for fewer voters

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This bit of clickbait is making the predictable social media stir because clickbait, but also because piping up with “There are too many people voting these days anyway” during partisan efforts to make voting harder has always been the very essence of Jim Crow laws. It’s intended to weed out the theoretically uneducated, or theoretically uninformed, or voters whose opinions might pollute the votes of their intellectual betters. Penning a column reciting each of the intellectual arguments for Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests during a firestorm of comparisons between new voting restrictions and the old laws is about as subtle as showing up at a burning building to demonstrate your torch-juggling skills. Yes, yes, we get it: The past is present. History recycles.

There are few details actually offered up, however. The author puts forward his point but is exceedingly vague about how we might go about winnowing down voters. There is a defense of “categorically disenfranchising felons” as “the intelligent default position,” and a similar defense of photo ID requirements, but no actual proposal as to how voters might be tested for, quote, “legitimacy.” The argument is only that, well, if certain new partisan-pushed demands happen to disenfranchise voters, that should not necessarily be considered a net bad thing:

“Of course that would put some burdens on voters. So, what? We expect people, including poor and struggling people, to pay their taxes—why shouldn’t we also expect them to keep their drivers’ licenses up-to-date?”

There is the money line. The rest is filler, with the usual warnings about the danger of majority rule, the not-a-democracy-but-a-republic nods, and musings on the “sedative effect” of voting as an “illusion” of control—and that’s all fine, whatever, don’t care. As I said, none of it offers detail on just what sort of voter we ought to be weeding out, other than saying that the “poor and struggling” contingent perhaps ought to better learn what America “expects” of them. It is just a generic defense of the principle of weeding out voters being offered up, as Republican-led states push forward a flurry of new laws to do the weeding. Since the argument is mostly filler, we don’t need to bother engaging it directly.

Instead, let us go through some of the many reasons why the general concept of limiting the vote to a deserving superclass has never actually worked out except as mechanism for oppressing the nonvoting underclass. But first, let’s note that in abstract not-quite-democratic principle this is:

A good idea!

Imagine it, right? A republic in which a minimum level of basic knowledge and motivation was required before you were allowed to actually participate in decision-making! Based on this learnedness, the smaller voting population would reject showboating faux-populists and elect Not Crackpots.

We could require a basic understanding of the branches of government, of important national and world history, and of the scientific principles underpinning major policy questions. We could specifically weed out those who believed fraudulent theories since anyone gullible enough to believe such scams is certainly a net negative to responsible government, aaaaand I’ve already lost all the conservatives, right? I lost them at scientific—they didn’t even make it to the fraudulent part. Yeah.

That brings us to the next point, which is that such testing always ends up as:

A vehicle for selective class-, ideology-, or demographic-based disenfranchisement

By definition, good disenfranchisement of citizens would require a governmental determination of which voters are “legitimate” and which are not. There never has been and remains no legitimate method of systemically determining such things that is not inherently ideology-based, inherently corruptible, and assuredly partisan. If we were to take the argument seriously, after all, the best test of voter merits would be something akin to citizenship tests. Surely we should weed out the voters who do not understand the role of each branch of government when voting for who should inhabit two (well, three) of the three. Anyone who does not know why the Civil War was fought should have no say in the passing or rejection of state initiatives that look to alter laws passed in its aftermath. If a voter does not understand the basics of chemical processes—trivial notions like acids, bases, oxidation, and your foundational high-school stuff—they have no foundation on which to make any judgments whatsoever on environmental policies including climate change, much less the proposed regulation or deregulation of polluting industries.

Truly, though, if there is any class of voters that needs to be stripped of their right to vote, it’s not those who have been too lazy to learn the branches of government or who cannot grasp that even if they personally do not know the science behind this or that policy decision, there are many, many devoted experts who grasp it perfectly well. The ones most in need of weeding out are the Americans who believe objectively false things and continue to believe them despite being shown evidence to the contrary.

If you believe that Donald Trump won the election based on his incoherent claims of invisible fraud, you’re out. You are simply too irresponsible to be let into a voting booth; your gullible and reflexive posturing will contribute nothing but harm to the process. If you believe in the Q-premised, neo-Nazi-parroting hoax burbling about a secret world government of child-eating Jewish and Jewish-adjacent leaders, then you are everything wrong with America, you should absolutely never be allowed to vote, and you should probably be put on a list of state deviants. We need not disenfranchise all vaccine skeptics, but a test to weed out those who still believe now-known hoax claims peddled by hucksters would keep the national debate at a better-grounded place. Anyone unwilling to wear a mask during a national pandemic is assuredly not a responsible enough citizen to decide anything else.

Wearing a mask during an international health catastrophe is, after all, a much lighter lift than trying to get a government-issued, precinct-approved identification card. Shouldn’t we “expect” would-be voters to display at least that small amount of common-sense civic responsibility?

You will notice, dear reader, that each of these tests of civic knowledge, of fundamental news knowledge, of hoax recognition, and of public duty would tend to strip conservative voters from the polling lists at a far greater rate than anyone else. We’ve long had the studies showing that Fox News viewers have less knowledge of news events than any other group; current polling shows that the majority of Republican voters believe claims of election “fraud” that are categorically untrue. These people are dangerous as voters because they have no base understanding from which to make such decisions. You might as well give the vote to dogs.

This is something that is terribly offensive to point out, but this approach isn’t something that any conservative can credibly argue against. Who least deserves the vote? People who don’t know what the hell they’re voting on. Which are the most dangerous voters? Ones who believe in far-fetched fantasies, detached from reality but still thumping into the voting booths to demand that government abide by whatever fictions they have constructed.

Which is a less “legitimate,” more dangerous voter: a convicted felon who has already completed their sentence, or a local barfly who believes the moon is a hoax foisted upon us by generations of wealthy astronomers and the opposing political party? The “intelligent default position” is self-evident.

Any test intended to weed out the politically illiterate—even if painted in utopian fantasies about meritocracy, technocracy, or simply ridding the public discourse of the incorrigibly gullible—needs to be designed by somebody, and the somebody designing the test will both naturally and of necessity design the test to weed out those the designer thinks need the most weeding out. It’s perfectly rational to expect voters to know a minimum about government before casting votes—but what minimum might that be? It would do us all a great deal of good if every would-be voter was able to explain compound interest, or could identify why drinking salt water would be a bad idea, but what knowledge explicitly is the minimum required to have an informed policy opinion?

In practice, the tests are partisan. In practice, those in power set the tests so that their allies are unencumbered by them and their opponents are stymied by them. There will never be any possible test of merit that both major parties can agree on, and if they did agree on one it should be presumed to be a corrupt attempt to disenfranchise nonbenefactors and cement the policies of the uppermost donating class.

So we can’t impose any sort of intellectual or behavioral test, because there is no such thing as a nonideological test of civic merits. The only means left of disenfranchising large groups of Americans is therefore “unintentionally” or “coincidentally” disenfranchising unfavored groups through other, more circuitous means. That brings us to the next point, which is that:

Disenfranchisement is inherently oppressive, and has always been intended to oppress

I mean, please.

If there is one through line that connects every American attempt to define “legitimate” voters from colonization to present day, it’s the declaration that a defined demographic group is inherently less capable of competently engaging in governmental affairs. First notions were that only landowners ought to vote because only landowners had concrete stakes in the decisions to be made by government and the proven (by wealth) intelligence to ponder them out—everyone else was just along for the ride. It was “the intelligent default position” that Black Americans were incapable of governing themselves, much less anyone else, and while it was accepted that women could rule entire kingdoms if they inherited that birthright, it was simultaneously accepted that of course the gender was otherwise too moody and irrational to be trusted with even a ballot box. This was all the common wisdom of the day as asserted by whoever had the most guns during any given period of time.

It was hardly coincidental, then, that governmental decisions in each iteration tended to be oppressive of those without voting rights, and by “oppressive” we mean tyrannical. Those without a vote were barraged by an unending list of laws targeting them and abusing them, all of them justified by the prevalent conceit that those classes were only fractionally human, intellectually inferior, and generally dodgy because the white well-off men deciding such things said so. Women could not have their own bank accounts in recent enough times to be remembered. This oppressive act was allowed to exist solely because past oppressions had rendered it the “default position.”

Deciding that any group, based on any criteria, is less deserving of the vote is synonymous with enforced oppression of that group. There are no counterexamples. You are both declaring those citizens to be unfit for engaging in governance and removing the only means for those citizens to object. Of course it’s oppressive; it could not be otherwise.

So, then, what about our preconceptions in the present day? Anything to learn from this rather gruesome history? Hmm.

It is now taken as the “intelligent default position” that felons be barred from the vote, to use the available example. We can presume the most logical rationale for that position to be a theory that if a citizen has such little civic competence that they cannot even abide by our most important laws, they certainly should have no stake in writing those laws. That is … not necessarily a given, though. Again, pair an American who robs a bank with an American who falsely believes their newest transient mortal enemy, an opposing presidential candidate, fixes elections and eats children. We’re arguing the felon is more likely to damage national stability by the act of voting than the pursuer of bizarre and incoherent hoaxes? Hmm.

If we presume that disenfranchisement is oppressive by nature, a lot of things fall out from that. One can imagine that one effect of disenfranchising felons en masse would be that felons, even after servicing their sentences and rehabilitation, would continue to face oppressive treatment as a group that we would not countenance if it were directed against others. Perhaps the conditions of the prisons would become increasingly shoddy since there’s not a damn thing those incarcerated could do about it. Perhaps more and more restrictions would be added on even after sentences were over, further limiting rights based on a general premise that no felon is ever truly “rehabilitated.” If only the nonfelons were making decisions on these things, it would stand to reason that the votes would always fall out that way.

Most to the point, though, a universal disenfranchisement of felons would seem to have the peculiar side effect of encouraging the criminalization of as much as possible, if only as means of extracting unwanted civilians and placing them in a designated underclass regardless of reformation or redemption. A state in which only nonfelons are allowed to have a say in government might tend always to add new substipulations turning misdemeanor counts into felonious ones while seldom, if ever, removing ones that might have gone too far.

The prison population would grow larger and larger regardless of underlying crime rate trends, eventually bloating into an industrial complex all of its own, one with lobbyists and giant corporations and profit margins that require filled cells even during flush economic times when fewer people are being arrested. You would set up a situation in which incarcerating and abusing felons was of more economic import than any rehabilitation because the jailers are the only ones allowed to do the voting. Laws are never enforced equally because law enforcement and those governing them choose what communities to examine in what proportions; those communities most targeted by local law enforcement would begin to lose more and more of their civic clout as each new sentence removed another name from the rolls, perpetuating a cycle in which less-policed communities gained ever-increasing power over more-policed ones, until the whole thing began to resemble a dystopian police state or Dickensian novel.

I kid, of course.

Disenfranchisement is inherently oppressive. That much can’t be reasonably disputed, and the only argument to be had is over which groups deserve that oppression due to unsalvageable behavior.

The reality of felon disenfranchisement is not necessarily so high-minded or theoretical, however. In practice, the “necessary” disenfranchisement of felons has been extended, reimagined, and endlessly tinkered with as proxy to further oppress already-oppressed demographic groups, meaning those groups disproportionately targeted by the written laws in the first place. It’s indisputable that the nation’s drug laws in particular have been used as cudgel against nonwhite Americans even as white Americans slide past the same supposed restrictions. It’s well known that sentences for nonwhite offenders end up stiffer than those for white defenders. In our top-of-the-world carceral state, such a large percentage of state populations are now pinned with the “felon” label that the numbers dwarf the winning margins in countless elections.

The same omnipresent racial bias that accounts for both disproportionate arrests of nonwhite offenders and targets them with more aggressive charges than are imposed for their white peers, especially among nonviolent offenders, has long been used to curb the voting power of the same communities. It’s not accidental.

Whatever philosophical justifications might be brought to bear to defend the lifelong disenfranchisement of felons except “on a case-by-case basis,” then, runs afoul of the less philosophical reality of systems that at present ensure members of some communities more often bear the “felon” label than other communities, and that we have affirmatively made those decisions and continue to enforce them at the ballot box.

Now let’s turn from our “felons” example and back to the broader case. Disenfranchisement is oppressive, and is always used to oppress.

No matter how gaudily theoretical we might strive to be, there is no separating out the systemic, racist, and generations-long segregation of Black Americans from the consequences of that segregation. Black Americans were segregated into poverty and barred from wealth, with disenfranchisement being the means for that segregation throughout. Each new disenfranchisement effort today builds off of existing, ongoing segregation. Efforts to dilute the power of Black communities by gerrymandering them into blocks of minimal electoral consequence have not gone away. Disproportionate drug policing strips nonwhite Americans of their civil rights, even as college whites, Wall Street traders, and more than a few members of Congress commit much the same offenses.

Blithely pretending at no connection between current disenfranchisement efforts being promoted by (1) partisan (2) conservative ideologues (3) mimicking the precise methods of disenfranchisement used to single out nonwhites in every past attempt to curtail voting rights, then, is buffoonery. It’s simply nonsensical. We’re not having any sort of actual discussion on which Americans might most legitimately be stripped of their voting rights. The legislative fixtures pushing for “reforms” that coincidentally infringe on some voters—such that their actions require defending with “Well maybe stripping the voting rights of those particular Americans is not such a bad thing” think pieces—are denizens of the same ideological cesspool that made white nationalism and frothing race-based conspiracy panics into nightly staples of the modern conservative news cycle.

If we take any of these new arguments seriously, we must take at face value the assertion that indeed, the new laws being peddled do “put some burdens on voters,” and specifically burden “poor and struggling people” who, it is suggested, should either meet those burdens as the price for citizenship or be cast aside as insufficiently serious about their civic duty. That is the best case, the one that bristles at notions that these new taxes on voter time and money are as intentionally racist as the last versions. The reason the new laws can be separated from all of history (including the history of just the last few years) is because the only Americans being truly targeted here are the poor.

You know, the poor. The group that clearly ought to be disenfranchised in greater proportion than anyone else, because … they deserve it. If they can’t get government identification cards in the same proportion as other groups, maybe it’s because they lack patriotism. Maybe they’re simply less civic-minded than others. If the only cost is a bit of time and money, why should we have to suffer with those who can’t put forth even that much?

And there, then, is the endpoint. The whole premise ends up being this.

Every restriction on voting disproportionally disenfranchises the poor, because of course it does

Just as every past disenfranchisement has been premised on the “legitimate” need to continue oppressing an identified underclass—that is, those groups who have been denied the vote in the United States, its precursors, and its insurrectional offshoots have always been oppressed first, with disenfranchisement being predicated on the same theories allowing the oppression in the first place—the premise this time around is that it’s the poor who are the least capable of competently deciding issues of government. They are, after all, poor.

Because 400 years of slavery, racial theory, segregation, and extrajudicial violence has resulted in nonwhite Americans being intentionally impoverished today, and because not a bit of this is somehow surprising or in dispute, this argument can’t be separated out from the racist intent that caused the disparities in the first place. The places considering new voting restrictions are places like Georgia, places in which conservative politicians believe the last elections to be illegitimate because “those people” committed invisible fraud, or “those people” simply voted in numbers that conservative legislators find irritating and feel a sudden, bladder-swelling urge to do something about right the hell now.

The somethings being done are, then, the usual. New voter ID laws are being put in place to guard against “fraud” that takes place with the approximate frequency of shark bites and that simply cannot take place in any substantive way because our systems already do not allow it. These ID laws specifically disenfranchise specific groups above others, imposing a new tax on time that can be both very significant and which, of course, puts up a new systemic hurdle to the Americans least able to pay that tax. Because the laws are not responding to actual, identified fraud, they’re merely tools to raise the bar of which voters “ought” to be counted and which should be weeded out.

There’re no subtleties in how conservative legislators have decided voting now needs to be “fixed.” After years of being a favored conservative tool for boosting the turnout of elderly voters, who tend to be conservative, the pandemic saw absentee voting take off among all groups of Americans particularly interested in not spreading or dying of a preventable disease. This has resulted in apoplectic outrage among conservatives, who now claim that Americans are abusing the Not-Death path to voting and a tidal wave of new restrictions barring absentee voting, or requiring new and expensive hoop-jumping, or limiting the means available to turn in such ballots, or take-your-pick.

Obviously, those most burdened by the new restrictions will be those with the least time available for hoop-jumping, or who cannot get to the new, more restrictive locations for turning ballots in, or who do not have an afternoon available to hunt down and pay a notary (!) for a pointless exercise in belligerent bureaucracy. Again the law targets the poorest Americans; again there are no substantive justifications for doing so other than “fraud” known to never happen and the more-or-less-vague insinuation that the poor have a less legitimate right to civic intervention to begin with so, “So what?”

Votes that arrive by mail, however, are difficult for would-be political saboteurs to sort into neat piles of those that need disenfranchisement and those that do not. They circumvent one of the most prevalent forms of race-premised disenfranchisement yet available—the old standby in which public officials coincidentally distribute polling locations and polling machines so that favored towns and communities receive a plethora of both, while the designated communities of “those people” are left wanting. A rural, conservative area might sport a polling place line of zero people; a less conservative community will be subjected to hours-long lines because, per capita, elected public officials made the conscious effort to underserve them.

This—a long line—is a poll tax. It effectively bars parents, blue collar workers, small business owners, and anyone else who can’t pay the hours-long tax from voting no matter how much they might want to. It’s a profoundly effective method of discrimination, both because long lines can be easily targeted at specific communities with specific ethnic or socioeconomic makeup and because it maintains, unless some partisan idiot f–ks up and puts it in writing, an air of plausible deniability that courts cannot necessarily penetrate.

Long lines are a poll tax that can be microtargeted towards just the precincts that need to be discriminated against while leaving other precincts untouched. Widespread use of mail-in voting, dependent only on the Postal Service to function, circumvents that tax in ways that partisan planners can’t easily defend against. The tool once relied upon to boost turnout among elderly conservatives is now therefore seen as a tool of inchoate evil for reasons nobody can quite explain but which is most often defended by, once again, those grumbling that it’s just too darn easy to vote these days, and we need to toughen the laws up lest legitimate voters find their votes diluted by the votes of less legitimate ones.

Even if we could set aside all racial components when considering United States voting laws that have historically contained nothing but racial components, the premise of disproportionately disenfranchising the poor is a mechanism for stripping the poor of their civil rights, passing laws that strike down even more of their rights, and justifying it all under theories of “more” and “less” competent voting classes. It’s still suppression. It’s still choosing a class of voters and calling them unfit, by socioeconomic status, to engage in democratic rule.

Every law between the public and their vote is a poll tax, and each measures the likelihood of fraud or corruption against the tax being imposed. We have polling lists, one ballot to one person, to prevent ballot stuffing. We space polling precincts in theory so that all voters are time-taxed equally, even if in practice corrupt-minded officials manipulate those distributions so as to achieve opposite outcomes. All of this is a balance; if tens of thousands of fraudulent votes did come in from voters each pretending to be several dozen or hundred people (which does not happen), you can expect that voter ID laws would then be put forward to defang that means of attack.

A poll tax based on no legitimate state interest, however, is just a poll tax.

From here we can get on to the last point, practically a side note to the others. If any group of voters are disenfranchised, they are by definition being oppressed by the others. A poll tax that infringes on the rights of only the poor is, by definition, a systemic oppression targeted towards the poor. The same is true of literacy tests, lifelong disenfranchisement of lawbreakers, and all the rest.

Anything intended to strip voters from the voting rolls has the plain effect of stripping voters from the voting rolls, and even if you were to eliminate the “bad” voters with surgical precision you would end up with a better-governed republic, a shining beacon of enlightened governmental competence that is … roiling with instability.

Broad disenfranchisement is a threat to the nation that tries it

We can ignore the morality or immorality of making decisions on whose vote is most dispensable, or whether concepts of one person, one vote should be treated with reverence or thought foolish. Moral arguments for the rights of individual citizens will get us approximately nowhere, because those who believe certain voters are dismissible are already asserting that voting rights can and should be stripped based on failure to meet whatever new criteria might be designated.

The better arguments in that situation are arguments that warn more directly of side effects likely to personally impinge on the comforts of the arguers. Stripping the vote from a designated underclass, even if it is just the poor, is a thing that leaves a vacuum. Just as it assures that the designated underclass will be oppressed by the governmental decisions of the overclasses, it provides concrete proof to the oppressed that the government indeed, as fact, opposes them.

We happen to have a very recent example of what happens when a class of Americans of any appreciable size (the size of the class, I mean, not of the Americans within it) believe that their government has swindled them. It is a very stupid example, but it exists nonetheless. When a group of perfectly well off, middle and upper income, travel-capable, white as the driven snow conservative Americans decided to believe the maudlin hoaxes being fed to them by a sitting president and hundreds of his lawmaking allies, they set off to Washington, D.C., to demand the nullification of an election, an unconstitutional and ephemerally premised reappointment of their chosen Dear Leader, and the potential murder of any lawmaker who refused to go along with it.

This is an extreme example, and one that admittedly hangs on a group of people who not only were not oppressed by government, but ones who believed in their heads that merely coming out on the wrong end of the stick in a single election was oppression. In the span of two months they went from chest-thumping supposed patriots to demanding an overthrow of elected government, and all because they believed their own votes had been nullified by unidentified, invisible, unprovable corruption.

This does not often happen with truly oppressed populations because they are truly oppressed. Any group of voters that were not white conservative supporters of a conservative leader would have been killed by authorities before they ever set foot in the building. There are always demands that government respond to such instability with maximum violence, and that is still true even if we exclude Sen. Tom Cotton’s contributions to the discourse. A population truly oppressed by the government might find itself facing tear gas because Dear Leader wants to demonstrate the ability to summon such violence. It might find itself under continual surveillance by state security forces, with thick files for each leader seen as even mildly dangerous to the status quo.

While we can say with marginal certainty that most such oppressions do not end up going the full French Revolution on elite necklines, there are approximately zero conservatives or gun-toting National Rifle Association members who will not readily explain to you that a government oppressing a segment of the population will assuredly lead to eventual violence. “Justified” violence, even. It is one of the conservative brand’s favorite taglines, and is everywhere.

It’s perhaps not likely that the systemic disenfranchisement of the poorest Americans, on the ever-increasing scales Republicans will need to maintain to offset demographic and ideological decay and keep the party competitive in swing states from Arizona to Georgia to Texas, will lead to the arsons, mail bombings, attacks on government buildings, and other terrorist acts that have been staples of domestic grievance-venting by members of wealthier classes. But disenfranchising a large segment of the population via new poll taxes will require, if domestic stability is to be maintained, considerable police outlay to make sure the disenfranchised do not too keenly object to their status.

Disenfranchisement is not a one-way street. Even the most casual oppression needs to be enforced, to put off the eventual day when the disenfranchised decide that the government is doing them more harm than good and its leaders need to be, to borrow from the Jan. 6 shouts and chanting, drug into the streets and hanged. There are costs associated with choosing classes to be stripped of the vote, and enforcing it.

And that’s only scratching the surface

If we establish we cannot impose competency tests for voters because the tests would inevitably be used for partisan favor, that leaves indirect tests. You may not be able to still perform literacy tests at the polls, but that does not mean they are no longer going on; obfuscating the voting process by making ballots confusing or turning absentee balloting into a scavenger hunt are literacy tests in another form. You can no longer impose a poll tax directly, but poll taxes are still rampant in the form of disparately long lines doled out with purpose by partisan powers. Even if we set aside the history of each of these schemes being a thing selected by racist states to disenfranchise Black voters specifically, the new versions that look to impose the same taxes via a demographic proxy measure still all settle on discrimination against the poor as the metric to be used, because it’s the poor who vote against conservative interests the most and thus require removing.

You can tell whether an attempt is crooked or not based on who it seeks to disenfranchise. There are no past or present laws that disproportionately throw out the ballots of the rich, or of the white. It does not happen. It is never even-handed, ever, but always something imposed by those in power against those not.

During the hours it took me to mumble all this out in not particularly animated fashion, the author of the original National Review hot take put up a vaguely annoyed response mocking whatever reactions he happened to see while continuing to brush aside the timeworn segregationist history of his own arguments as, of course, not worth mentioning. Aside from again asserting that one can have a “legitimate” government without any voting at all—which is, hopefully, a tangent to the argument here and not an end goal—it engages in no further debate and goes no farther in clarifying how votes should be separated from voters other than the original Republican plan of aiming at the poor and inviting them to dodge the bullets as they can.

For a brief but expert-laden look at why the votes of unknowledgeable or even paranoid voters do not actually wreak the havoc on democratic decision-making that one might expect, G. Elliott Morris covered the topic recently. The short version is that our party system turns out to be a good proxy that voters can generally rely on when they have no specific detail on the questions being asked, and that the magic of large numbers means aggregated decision-making tends to even out whatever individual “errors” of vote individual voters may make.

This does not mean that the system is foolproof, because voters can be coaxed into voting against their own interests through the promotion of misleading or outright false information. A corrupt ruling class or subclass can spread hoax after hoax to disinform voters outright. A corporation promising “news” could instead lead its viewers through labyrinthine corridors of useful paranoias and heart-pounding conspiracies, and those viewers might believe the conspiracies more often than not. The democratic system relies not on leaders being honest and incorruptible, but on the ability of watchdogs to inform the public if leaders attempt dishonesty or corruption.

If that is not true, even one person, one vote collapses into autocracy with advertising. Government leaders simply do what they want and rely on kept propagandists to either justify it or hide it.

I don’t think there’s any point in arguing for an inherent sanctity of voting. You get to that point only by considering all the alternatives and realizing that each is, no matter how high-minded, both subject to abuse and historically buried under it. We are only debating how much to tax each voter in terms of time and money both, and deciding whether the inability of poorer classes to meet those hurdles in the same numbers as richer classes means the poor are inherently less deserving of a ballot to begin with.

Republicans, and only Republicans, insist that the answer is yes. We are supposed to set aside a hundred years of history in which these same tactics were used for explicitly white nationalist ends, and set aside the modern-day reality that current attacks on lower classes will inherently target Americans who have been presegregated into the ranks of the poor with racist intent. We are supposed to earnestly treat the argument as if it were not the same argument used two, five, 10, 20, or 50 years ago by conservative ideologues to justify the targeting of some voters but not others for disenfranchisement—to become amnesiacs when evaluating the intent of new poll taxes now, premised on identically spurious claims of invisible dangers and the general goes-without-saying sketchiness or unfitness of the target groups.

Even for those of us born yesterday, hatched fresh out of our eggs, however, the premise of enlightened disenfranchisement simply pans out to oppression by another means. It cannot exist without arguing the disenfranchised represent an “appropriate” underclass unworthy of such representation. Coming to those conclusions based on who can spend six hours in a line or which classes can best gather a series of forms to prove their existence is dodgy even in the one-day context. It asserts the appropriateness of having such an underclass, and works backwards to build one.

This is all conservative lawmakers and their allies are doing, of course. They have looked at the last vote totals, looked at the trend lines of each voting method and each state, and responded with new poll taxes that bleed time, cash, and effort from groups that oppose them while leaving allied voters mostly unscathed. Pretending it’s anything but that is disingenuous from the start, and pretending that is mere coincidence to history rather than its predictable continuation is almost cartoonish.





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