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Voting Reform Initiatives Probably Doomed For All The Typically Dumb And Cynical Reasons

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VOTER REFORM LINES
A long line of voters stretches under 3 sample ballots taped to the window of the Jefferson-Riverdale precinct located at the Jackson Park Library, in Roanoke, Va. Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Roanoke Times, Kyle Green) | AP

Way back when President Barack Obama was reelected in November, his celebratory speech included this shout-out to the hundreds of thousands of voters who'd had to wait in long lines at the polls. "I want to thank every American who participated in this election," Obama said, "whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that."

And so, cometh the attempts to do all the fixing of that. But it won't be easy, reports The New York Times, because these attempts are "setting up a likely new conflict with Republicans over a deeply polarizing issue." Now, conventionally speaking, "polarity" is the "property of having poles or being polar," so it raises the question, "Where my poles at?"

According to the Times, on the one hand we have "studies" that "suggest that long waiting times in some places depressed turnout in 2012," and an analysis from the good folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that "determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites." Meanwhile, another study, conducted by a professor from the Ohio State University in conjunction with the Orlando Sentinel, "concluded that more than 200,000 voters in Florida 'gave up in frustration' without voting."

The other pole? Well, the Times notes that "Republicans in several states across the country have passed or promoted measures they say are meant to reduce voter fraud." Which isn't exactly an opposite pole, really. Presumably you want as many people to vote with as little burden as possible while also maintaining the integrity of those elections. I'd also point out that while incidences of real, live in-person voter fraud are rarer than UFO sightings, those long lines that everyone is talking about in those studies are, in fact, a thing that is happening with high frequency in America.

Jamelle Bouie is probably doing the best job identifying the source of all this "polarity" in his latest piece over at the Plum Line, titled, "Obama’s voting reform push is doomed (because it would mean more Dem votes)."

The simple fact is that non- and infrequent voters skew Democratic, and voting reform is a sure way to bring those people into the electorate and make them regular voters. Expanding access is great for the country, but it would make the presidency a harder lift for Republicans, on account of their poor performance with women and minorities.

And so, the odds are good that Republicans will block any effort to streamline and simplify the nation’s voting infrastructure. If Obama decides to address voting in his State of the Union, the most likely outcome is continued inaction. And given Republican power at the state-level — as well as the GOP’s willingness to pass strict voter requirements — odds are good that by 2016, our voting system will be even more dysfunctional.

Right on cue, of course, comes your Commonwealth of Virginia's legislature -- late of exploring the idea of rigging the electoral vote system -- making the voting system even more dysfunctional:

The Senate legislation, and a companion measure -- House Bill 1337, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, which cleared the House of Delegates today on a 63-36 vote -- would eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver's license and student ID card.

(Here's the requisite "I saw what you did there, with the concealed-carry allowance thing, guys" post from Alex Pareene, by the way.)

Now, I'm as cynical as they come, and if you were going to suggest that the only reason that Democrats are at all interested in shortening the lines at the polls on Election Day is to secure more, larger electoral victories, I'd say that while I've never heard any Democrat actually say this in public -- like, say, the way Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai just came out and said that the voter ID laws he was pushing were explicitly designed to give Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney -- I'd nevertheless concede that, absent the evident self-interest at play, voter reform probably wouldn't be a legislative priority or worthy of a mention at Obama's upcoming State of the Union address.

That said, it remains a matter of observable fact that those long lines didn't necessarily wreck Democrats' ambitions in 2012. And going forward, the game of campaigning is still very much the same -- both parties have the chance to pitch their policy ideas and philosophical preferences to as large a majority as possible, with the goal of scooping up that median-voter-plus-one and notching an electoral victory.

With that in mind, it doesn't necessarily follow that more voters successfully voting on Election Day ushers in some sort of permanent Democratic majority. Even if the first post-reform election goes that way, it simply creates a new set of circumstances to which the GOP is free to adapt to as they see fit.

Meanwhile, what exactly does the GOP want to tell a die-hard conservative voter in Hillsborough County, Fla. who has to give up on voting because someone needs to pick up the kids from school? "Sorry you didn't get to exercise your fundamental rights as an American, but thanks for taking one for the team?" The fear of more people voting just leads to a lot of dumb and dangerous places.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]

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