Thursday, June 04, 2015

Who's a "real American"?

It's good to see Hillary Clinton speaking out early and loudly against Republican efforts to toss people likely to vote for their opponents out of the electorate. She's got her lawyers on the case according to the linked article.

All sorts of inventive schemes for reducing who votes have been recently become law in Republican controlled states: requiring IDs that some voters won't have such as poor elders with no drivers licenses; shortening the period of early voting; limiting who can help voters become registered. It goes on and on. We have several years of experience with who often loses their chance to vote under these schemes: preponderantly poor people, Black and brown people, young people. That is, anyone who isn't a "real American," preferably older and property owning.

Last year the Supremes limited the ability of the Justice Department to fight this stratagem by knocking out parts of the federal Voting Rights Act. There are plenty of Black people still alive who remember when it was worth your life to try to vote. Now that right is threatened again.

This time next year, much closer to the actual 2016 election, we're likely to be awaiting a Supreme Court decision on another Republican brainstorm for reducing the electoral influence of their competitors. As it currently stands, all jurisdictions implement the legal standard of "one person, one vote" by counting everyone who is a resident of a given area. The Census counts everyone -- including lots of people who aren't voters such as children, felons who have lost their voting rights, undocumented immigrants. For decades, legislatures drawing districts have used those counts. The Court has been asked to rule that states can fulfill the "one person, one vote" requirement by only counting people who are eligible to vote, not all the others living in a place. The case is called Evenwell v. Abbot. Yes, this one is from that bastion of voter suppression, Texas (Abbot is the Governor there).

The elections geeks at Five Thirty Eight opine:

A move toward counting only eligible voters, as logistically difficult as it may be, would drastically shift political power away from the urban environs with minorities and noncitizens, and toward whiter areas with larger native-born populations.

They make some additional speculations about the implications of such a Supreme Court-driven change; this would increase Republican dominance in the House of Representatives, though probably not in Senate or Presidential contests.

What seems most ominous about the Court taking this case is that the justices' decision to decide it is out of far right field. They could have ducked it. Lower courts are not split on the issue: those courts have been following the settled precedent which has all states counting everyone in a location whether or not they are eligible to vote. The Supremes had no obligation to mess around in this. But evidently -- and we can guess which party appointed them -- some of them do want to fish in these waters. That doesn't bode well for inclusive counting.

In addition to its electoral implications, as soon as I read about this case, I wondered if its turning up in the Republican voter suppression arsenal might not imply something more about how a fraction of the U.S. population is thinking about citizenship. As a settler colonial country that never had enough labor -- despite economic ups and downs -- this country has always wanted more hands. And mostly, once people arrived here, it was assumed that they or their children would be citizens. Yes, there was the obvious exception for African-origin slaves before 1865. And some later Mexican and Chinese contract laborers faced obstacles, although even these people's children were covered under the birthright citizenship provision of the 1868 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Republicans are wrestling a demographic fact. The white people most of their base thinks are "real Americans" will no longer be an absolute numerical majority by 2050. And even as they refuse to make a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already here, new immigrants will keep on coming (amidst economic ups and downs) and the country will continue to need their labor. Who do they think is going to take care of old people as we age? (Ai-Jen Poo has spelled this out.)

Ultimately, the Republican base can only preserve their power by killing off the expectation that people who come to this country to work will eventually become citizens and then participants in our democracy. They are fighting hundreds of years of national history. Will we let them change such a basic national assumption?

Land theft and slavery were our original sins. Attracting people to work among us but allowing them only truncated legal rights is our current temptation.

UPDATE: Hillary really went all out, calling for automatic universal voter registration of all 18 year old citizens. Good for her. This is the first time I can remember a national politician going there. After all, if the NSA can keep track of all our communications, it ought to be possible to get us all enrolled to vote.

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