EDITORIAL: Make it easier to cast ballots

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Election Day at Commonwealth Fire Co. #1 in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

They’re at it again.

Republican officials in several states are moving aggressively to purge voters — hundreds and thousands of them — from registration rolls.

In Georgia, some 309,000 names were removed from voting rolls last week. In Wisconsin, an appeals court let stand an order that more than 200,000 residents be abolished from the voting ranks.

Actually, “they’re at it again” isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, they’ve never stopped.

The Brennan Center for Justice released a study this summer that found some 17 million voters were purged from voting rolls between 2016 and 2018. And guess which voters are most likely to be targeted?

“The problem was most pronounced in counties and election precincts with a history of racial oppression and voter suppression,” the nonprofit Common Dreams News Center wrote in assessing the report. “In such areas, voters were kicked off rolls at a rate 40 percent higher than places which have protected voting rights more consistently.”

Communities of color, urban centers, districts containing colleges — all have seen increased incidents of voter suppression since 2013, when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority egregiously took the teeth out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It’s no coincidence that these districts are often home to higher numbers of moderate and liberal voters.

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Voter purges are just one tactic in an all-out GOP effort to tip the scales at the ballot boxes. Reduced numbers of polling places, stricter voter ID laws, partisan gerrymandering, nit-picking registration policies and “use-it-or-lose-it” laws — like the one used to justify last week’s purge in Georgia — have been wielded in recent years by Republican lawmakers to gain unfair Election Day advantages.

The results of these underhanded machinations were evident in last year’s governor’s race in Georgia. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, oversaw the election. He also oversaw wholesale voter purges — roughly 1.4 million during his six years in office — while more than 200 polling places were closed. And in the months leading up to Election Day, he challenged some 53,000 new voter registrations — a shocking 80 percent of them by people of color. That was roughly the number of votes by which he eventually defeated his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, an African-American woman.

And if you’re wondering, “shouldn’t Kemp have recused himself from overseeing an election he was a candidate in?” the answer is yes, he should have. But that would have taken away an unfair advantage — and that is not how Republicans handle elections.

Don’t take our word for it; here’s a quote from Justin Clark, one of President Donald Trump’s top reelection advisers, speaking to influential Republicans at a private event in swing-state Wisconsin last month: “Traditionally, it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places.”

He went on to say that, owing to relaxed elections rules, Republicans will need to start protecting their own voters from these types of charades.

Here’s a better idea: How about outlawing voter suppression efforts altogether instead?

Voting is not mandatory; free citizens shouldn’t be forced to cast ballots to maintain voter eligibility. Nor should they have to hike to far-flung polling stations not served by public transportation. Nor should they be forced to wait hours to exercise their constitutional right to have a say in who governs them.

A bill passed this month in the Democratic-led House would address these issues, reinstating many of the requirements of the landmark 1965 law. It languishes among a pile of ignored bills in the Senate, where Republic House leader Mitch McConnell refuses to bring it to the floor.

This isn’t complicated: Lawmakers must commit to making it easier, not harder, to vote.

Add “reinstating federal voting protections” to the lengthy list of reasons voters would be well served by electing a Democratic majority to the U.S. Senate in 2020 — if they can overcome widespread GOP efforts aimed at preventing them from doing so.