Republicans from all levels of government in this country have made little secret in recent years of the fact that their political power derives almost exclusively from a longstanding, and largely successful, effort to manipulate the electoral process to their exclusive benefit. Extreme partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, allegations of electoral fraud — they're all tools the GOP and its conservative allies use to maximize the "right" kind of votes (that is: people who vote for them) at the expense of, y'know, actual democracy.
But if the GOP's semi-whispered reverence for restricted voting was a poorly kept secret before, the past few days have been like turning a dog whistle into a full blown bullhorn. We've gone from subliminal, to liminal, to super-liminal in record time.
Speaking with WLOX last month, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, a Republican, claimed without evidence that the Biden administration is "basically employing all the federal agencies, universities, and colleges to register as many folks as they can via this automatic voter registration." It's possible Watson was talking about the Democrats' For The People Act, which, while not a Biden administration bill, does indeed tackle automatic voter registration.
But let's not let details like "what is he actually referring to" get in the way of unpacking his deep commitment to stopping more people from voting.
"Think about all those woke college and university students now who will automatically be registered to vote whether they wanted to or not," Watson added. "If they didn't know to opt-out, they're going to be automatically registered to vote and then they receive this mail-in ballot that they probably didn't know was coming because they didn't know they were registered to vote."
You see, Watson continued, the problem with "woke college and university students" voting is that they are evidently by default (at least, according to him) "an uninformed citizen who may not be prepared and ready to vote. Automatically, it's forced on them: 'Hey, go make a choice.' And our country's going to pay for those choices."
In other words, because college students are "woke" (which, in this instance, seems to mean "not Republicans"), their being encouraged to vote would be a disaster that the U.S. is "going to pay for."
Subtle, right? Definitely the sort of thing you blurt out during a televised interview if you're trying to hide the fact that you simply don't want certain types of people at the polls. But Watson wasn't alone in his extremely blatant push for turning the country into an unrepresentative semi-democracy (at least, more so than it already is). Joining him this week was none other than the iconic arch-conservative publication National Review, which is so steeped in racist opposition to expanded voting that its founding editor, William F. Buckley, wrote in the late '50s:
The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes’, and intends to assert its own.
National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct.
Now, in the year 2021, National Review has once again waded into the question of who should be allowed to vote and why, publishing the following this week as part of an essay unironically titled "Why Not Fewer Voters?":
One argument for encouraging bigger turnout is that if more eligible voters go to the polls then the outcome will more closely reflect what the average American voter wants. That sounds like a wonderful thing ... if you haven’t met the average American voter.
The piece, by conservative author Kevin Williamson — most famous for being fired after a brief stint at The Atlantic for repeatedly suggesting that the punishment for terminating a pregnancy be hanging — conspicuously frames itself as being in favor of a democracy that is less representative and more responsible for the most number of people.
"Representatives are people who act in other people's interests, which is distinct from carrying out a group's stated demands as certified by majority vote," Williamson writes. That may be true (may!), but the current argument over protecting, and expanding, access to voting isn't based on a philosophical debate over what does and doesn't constitute a representative democracy. It's about working to counteract a renewed push by conservatives to limit voting among a very deliberately targeted group of people — frequently members of minority communities — who threaten the GOP's political power. In other words, it's not about making a better system of government, it's about gaming the system we have now.
And what would it look like with fewer voters, as conservative voices have been clamoring for with renewed fervor since the 2020 election? Well, look no further than Missouri, where conservative lawmakers have essentially decided that they're in a position to overturn a popular vote count on a measure to expand Medicaid eligibility, simply because, as one Republican lawmaker put it, he was "proud to stand against the will of the people who were lied to." Or, put another way: Never mind that voters passed a state constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid by a 53.3% to 46.7% margin (around 83,000 votes); the Republican legislators of Missouri simply know better, will of the public be damned. And wouldn't this all be so much easier if only the "right" sort of people had voted in the first place?
"I hate the term when we say we're a democracy, we are a constitutional representative republic," GOP Missouri state Rep. John Simmons, who is sponsoring a separate measure to make it more difficult for the public to vote on constitutional amendments, told the Kansas City Star on Wednesday.
"People voted us in in November, too," he added.
And clearly, those were the right kind of people.