It is no secret that for years Republicans have targeted Black and Hispanic voters, doing everything they can to make it harder for these folks to vote. Their latest targets are young people: the GOP has decided that Gen Z is their mortal enemy.

The DLC’s National Communications Director, Abhi Rahman, laid it out for Rolling Stone magazine:

“Young people are the reason why Biden won in 2020 and Democrats up and down the ballot won in 2022 and 2023. If Gen Z continues to vote, we’re on the cusp of the most progressive era in our country’s history. Republicans know this as well, and that’s why they’re doing everything they can to stop young people from voting, including the fight for restrictions that we’re seeing play out in states like Wisconsin today.”

You could call it 21st Century Jim Crow, but this time it’s more like James Crow, PhD. The GOP has turned voter suppression from an anecdote into a computer-based science, and they’ve had a lot of help along the way from five corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court.

Every other November, we’re treated to photos and video on TV of long lines — sometimes as much as 9 hours long — to vote. The people in those lines are never from the white suburbs or rural areas: they’re almost universally people of color or people living in low-income, Democratic-voting parts of Blue cities in Red states.

Knowing that working-class people are less likely to vote Republican than white upper- and upper-middle class suburbanites, Republicans engineered polling situations so working people who get paid by the hour will have to wait for hours in line just to vote, losing out on income. It almost certainly discourages millions every year.

It happens so often it’s become a cliché, with the media measuring the length of the lines in an almost celebratory way, as if it’s some measure of voter enthusiasm. In reality, it’s a measure of the effectiveness of GOP voter suppression. And of how cowardly our media is about calling Republican anti-voter strategies for exactly what they are.

With a high-stakes election coming up in just twelve months, Red state Republicans across the country are doubling down on their efforts to make it harder for people they think will vote Democratic to cast their ballots.

This time, though, they’re adding a special twist: a new and heavy emphasis on preventing Zoomers from voting.

It’s part of a growing trend of voter suppression that is the exact opposite of how voting and voting registration is done in nearly every other democracy in the world (except Russia and Hungary, who have adopted GOP-like restrictions to keep Orbán and Putin in power).

Out of the 226 countries and territories in the world, 122 of them either require universal voter registration (like we do for the draft for young men) or automatically put you on the voter rolls when you turn 18. Virtually every democracy does this, and in many high-profile democracies like Argentina, Chile, Israel, and the Netherlands you’re automatically registered from census and birth records.

At least forty countries, including many in Europe, hold elections entirely by mail, just like we’ve done here in Oregon (and 4 other states) for over 20 years without a single whiff of problem or scandal. Because voting by mail makes it easier for people to look up candidates (particularly for obscure positions like judgeships and county boards) and their positions while filling out the ballot at the kitchen table with a laptop and Google, however, Republican-led Red states are radically increasing their restrictions on vote-by-mail, drop boxes, and absentee ballots.

Again, this GOP campaign to cut the voting population is taking on new dimensions, and its campaign to stop young people from voting is very new.

While there had been campaigns to challenge the voting rights of people of color like William Rehnquist’s  Operation Eagle Eye in the 1960s, where he’d stand outside voting places in Phoenix and force Native American, Black, and Hispanic voters to go home to get “proof” of their right to vote (most never returned), it didn’t really take the form of law-making until the past 15 or so years.

It was only in 1993 that showing identification to prove residency and citizenship to register to vote became a part of federal law, as part of what was then called the Motor Voter Act because it allowed states to choose to automatically register people to vote when they got or renewed their drivers’ licenses. Republicans hated it, but Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress got it passed with the ID sop to their GOP colleagues.

There had been few requirements beyond a simple sworn signature on a voter registration form that you were who you said you were — and something to prove residency like an electric bill or rent receipt — to vote pretty much everywhere in the US since the Civil War.

Why no draconian ID and proof-of-citizenship rules in the past few decades? Because — like in every other democracy in the world — the problem is always “not enough people choosing to vote.” It’s not “fraudulent voters.”

The number of people who vote when they’re not eligible, or vote more than once, has never, ever, in the history of our country (or any other developed country) had any meaningful influence whatsoever over any election.

“Voter fraud” (individuals voting fraudulently) is a non-issue, and irrelevant to the process of a functioning democracy. It’s never, ever swung an election.

Or at least it was irrelevant, until the GOP decided that an easy way to shave election margins was to prevent Democratic voters from casting a ballot, and use the phony boogieman of “voter fraud” make it as hard and expensive for them as possible.

For example, it was only in 2006 that Republicans in Indiana realized that stay-at-home moms (my mother, for example, didn’t have a driver’s license from the late 1950s forward) and bus-dependent low-income people didn’t have driver’s licenses and voted overwhelmingly Democratic: Indiana’s Republican-controlled legislature immediately passed the nation’s first law requiring a driver’s license to vote.

Yes, you read that right. Before 2006, not even one single state required ID to vote. You had to present ID to register to vote the first time, but after that states relied on a very accurate biometric: your signature. When you’d show up to vote, the person checking you in would compare your signature with the one on file from when you registered, and only challenge you to prove your identity if they didn’t seem to match.

This was actually the most effective way to confirm a voter’s identity: it’s harder to fake a person’s signature than it is to buy a fake ID in another name. But the GOP isn’t concerned about actual election integrity: they’re just looking for ways to harass voters and make it more difficult to participate in elections.

Pushing even harder to disenfranchise women, particularly Zoomer married women of childbearing age who may be concerned about abortion and birth control, multiple Republican-controlled Red states now not only require proof of residency but also proof of birth in the US: and the names on the documents must match.

Most women who marry and take their husband’s names never bother to hang onto the legal documents certifying their name change (to the best of my knowledge, Louise never even had to file for a name change, but we were married 51 years ago before this was an issue), so trying to register to vote sends married women on a difficult and often expensive (sometimes even requiring hiring a lawyer) process to become eligible to vote in a Red state.

Similarly, it was only in the past two decades that Republican-controlled states began passing laws criminalizing helping people register to vote (it’s so bad in Florida that the League of Women Voters had to stop their registration drives), helping people vote, transporting them to the polls, or carrying their absentee ballots to a drop box or voting location.

As The Kаnsаs Reflector newspaper noted, the penalty for even a minor, inadvertent error is now 17 months in the state prison and a $100,000 fine:

“The League of Women Voters of Kаnsаs and other nonprofits are suspending voter registration drives for fear of criminal prosecution under a new state law.”

The League has sued Florida, Tennessee, and Texas for their criminalization of voter registration drives as well.

But purging voters — by the tens of millions every election cycle — is where the GOP finds their best result and has since Jeb Bush purged 90,000 African Americans from the Florida voter rolls in the months leading up to the 2000 election, handing the White House to his brother, George.

As a Demos report noted:

“Between the close of registration for the 2020 general election and the close of registration for the 2022 general election, states reported removing 19,260,000 records from their voter registration rolls. This was equal to 8.5% of the total number of voters who were registered in the United States as of the close of registration for the 2022 general election.”

Additionally, seventeen million voters were purged in the two years leading up to the 2018 election, fully ten percent of America’s voting population, according to the Brennan Center.

Given that the most radical purges took place among Black and youth voters in Blue cities in Republican-controlled Red states, those 8.5 percent and 10 percent “national averages” could well be twice or three times that percentage in the Red states where these purges are concentrated.

As the Brennan Center added, most of the purge activity was taking place in former Confederate Red states that — before five Republicans on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in their 2013 Shelby County decision — had to have purges pre-cleared by the federal government:

“The median purge rate over the 2016–2018 period in jurisdictions previously subject to pre-clearance was 40 percent higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

In a way, it has been a story of two Americas.  In most of Blue state America it’s easy to vote, just like in the rural parts of Red state America. In Blue cities within Red states, and on college campuses and in college towns in Red states, though, it’s an entirely different story.

And this coming year, in particular, the GOP is working as hard as they can to make it especially difficult for young people to vote.

  • Republicans in New Hampshire pushed legislation that would prohibit students paying out-of-state tuition from voting in that state, regardless of how long they had lived in the state to go to college. Hop on a plane and fly home — while school is in session — to vote, is the GOP message.
  • In Texas, Republicans tried to ban all polling places from college and university campuses.
  • The Voting Rights Lab notes that laws making it harder or even illegal to use student ID to vote were introduced by Republicans in at least 15 states this year.

None passed in their first attempts, but these are just three examples of literally hundreds of legislative attempts to make it difficult for Zoomers to vote.

Ever since widespread voter purges were legalized when Sam Alito broke the tie and wrote the 5-4 decision in their 2018 Husted v. A Phillip Randolph Institute case that legalized voter purges, the GOP has been on a tear, throwing millions of people (with a special emphasis on Black and young voters) off the rolls.

It went into hyperdrive when the five corrupt billionaire-owned Republicans on the Supreme Court ruled in that case that Ohio Republican Secretary of State Husted could continue his practice of widespread purges in those Ohio cities with the largest Black populations.

Republicans, as always, claimed they’re “merely cleaning the rolls of people who’d moved out of state,” but in his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that only around 4 percent of Americans move out of their county every year. Yet, he wrote:

“The record shows that in [presidential election year] 2012 Ohio identified about 1.5 million registered voters — nearly 20% of its 8 million registered voters — as ineligible to remain on the federal voter roll because [Husted said that] they changed their residences.”

The Brennan Center found that just between 2014 and 2016, in the two years leading up to the Hillary/Trump presidential election, over 14 million people were purged from voter rolls, largely in Republican-controlled states.

Then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged over a million in Georgia alone, leading up to his ~50,000 vote 2018 election win against Stacey Abrams, as I document at length in my book The Hidden History of the War on Voting.

Calling the findings “disturbing,” the Brennan Center noted:

“Almost 4 million more names were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016 [just after the Supreme Court legalized large-scale no-oversight voter purges in 2013] than between 2006 and 2008. This growth in the number of removed voters represented an increase of 33 percent — far outstripping growth in both total registered voters (18 percent) and total population (6 percent).”

Most recently, the hot new strategy that the GOP has rolled out in a big way to suppress the vote in Blue areas of Red states is “strict signature matching.” They use this against voters who’ve succeeded in obtaining vote-by-mail ballots, which are authenticated when received by comparing the signature on the envelope with the voter’s registration card on file.

Because signatures can change slightly over time and often vary a lot when people are in a hurry, this is low-hanging fruit for the GOP.  Last year they started a program to field an “army” of 50,000 “poll watchers,” including interviewing candidates from among white supremacist militia groups, for the 2024 election.

While some of these poll watchers will be on hand to try to intimidate or challenge Black and young voters (a practice that is legal in most Red states), many will be overseeing the counting of mail-in ballots, which are generally more Democratic than Republican.

All they have to do is claim that, in their opinion, a signature does not match and the ballot goes into the “provisional” pile and won’t be counted until or unless the voter shows up in person at the county elections office. Most people never even know their ballot was challenged and not counted.

As congressman and constitutional scholar Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, wrote, while at least 135 countries have written an affirmative right to vote into their constitutions:

“[By] my count, only Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Pakistan, Singapore, and, of course, the United Kingdom (whose phony doctrine of ‘virtual representation’ the colonists rebelled against centuries ago) still leave voting rights out of their constitutions and therefore to the whims of state officials.”

This led Representative Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin and cosponsors, to propose a simple amendment to the Constitution. In 2013, Democrats introduced into Congress amending legislation that said:

“Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”

Such an amendment would completely flip upside down virtually all of the Republican Party’s many efforts to prevent people from voting and bring America into alignment with nearly every other developed country in the world.

Instead of voters having to prove that they were eligible to vote, the government (from federal to state to local) would have to affirmatively prove, through due process, that they’d lost that right or weren’t eligible for it (presumably by conviction for treason or loss of citizenship).

Which, of course, is why then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, refused to allow Pocan’s amendment to come to the floor for a vote, and it died in that congressional session; a similar fate has befallen every single other effort by Democratic legislators to establish an affirmative right to vote over the years.

There are dozens of lawsuits moving through the courts challenging Republican voter suppression efforts, but others being teed up expand voting restrictions against city dwellers, students, and married women who’ve adopted their husband’s name.

Much of this will probably come as a surprise to young first-time GOP-controlled-state voters who’ve never had to deal with the increasingly byzantine rules Republicans are cementing into place wherever there’s a Blue city in their Red states.

They need to get informed fast. The simple reality is that the GOP has declared war on voting while most Democrats — seemingly oblivious to it — are still talking about fixing the economy, stopping hate, legalizing pot and abortion, and saving the world from global warming.

As a result, many voters — particularly first-time Zoomer voters — are going into a political war zone with virtually no knowledge, protections, or access to legal and political weaponry.

So let your Gen Z friends and relatives know: it is important to learn how hard Republicans are going to try to prevent them from voting, throw them off the voting rolls in the months before the election of 2024, and, even if they succeed in voting, challenge their ballot because the signature doesn’t match or for other “technical” issues.

It is time to play Paul Revere. We have got to wake up the nation, particularly our country’s young people.

Dan Rentea (via Shutterstock)

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