Yesterday was a day of reckoning, or the start of a reckoning in the US Senate for the many election season mishaps of 2012. Elections administrators gathered for a hearing on “The State of the Right to Vote After the 2012 Election” before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary to unpack some of the shenanigans from last month. Testimony was divided along partisan lines, with Republicans defending “election integrity” measures such as photo voter ID laws, early-voting hours reductions, voter registration restrictions and mandating proof of citizenship for new voters. Meanwhile, Democrats castigated such measures as frivolous and built upon false pretenses of voter fraud.
Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy opened the hearing testifying that since earlier in the year he was worried that some states were erecting barriers to voting and that November’s election confirmed “that we were right to be concerned,” citing the long lines and mass voter confusion reported around the nation. Ranking member of the committee Senator Chuck Grassley went the opposite way, saying that people have been tossing around terms like “voter suppression” and “disenfranchisement” too “cavalierly” and that voter fraud—the pretense for the wave of new voter laws—is “a fact of life and it will get worse.”
It should be noted that the term “disenfranchisement” has been used not just by voting rights advocates but also by a state judge. In Pennsylvania, Judge Robert Simpson, who has no liberal reputation, found that his state’s photo voter ID law did qualify as disenfranchisement if just one voter would be denied the franchise because they didn’t have proper ID. In terms of voter suppression, it’s been quite noted among academics that photo voter ID laws and reduced early voting hours have a suppressive effect mainly on Democrat voters, and that they also help swing elections to Republicans. But speaking of cavalier use of the term, Senator Grassley needed only to hear from his fellow Republican Matt Schultz, Iowa’s secretary of state, one of five witnesses at the hearing, who testified, “Some believe their votes do not matter and that belief is a true cause of voter suppression across this country.”
There’s some truth to that, but the way Schultz states it absolves him and his peers of any agency in the matter. People don’t just wake up disillusioned with voting. There are policies that restrict people’s access to the vote that makes people feel like their vote doesn’t matter. Election officials like Schultz, the ultimate supervisor of all election activities in Iowa, are responsible for those policies.
Schultz testified that people who complain of voter suppression “offer no evidence to support their claims,” and that voter ID laws “have actually led to an increase in voter participation.” His proof of this increase, according to the footnotes of his written statement, is an article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which explored the voter ID situation in Georgia, not Iowa. In fact, Iowa doesn’t even have a voter ID law, but Schultz seemed to be hedging at what he hoped for his state’s future.