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Are the Republicans Looking Toward Only Allowing Property Owners to Vote?

Some on the right simply reject the notion that more people voting is in itself a sign of civic health.

At some point the GOP decided that being outnumbered didn’t have to mean losing. Reporter Zachary Roth reveals how Republicans have been systematically leveraging gerrymandering, voter suppression, campaign finance and pre-emption laws in The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy. Order your copy by clicking here!

The Republicans have perpetrated a massive fraud in claiming illegal voting is a substantial problem. It is not. They have done this in order to enhance the voting power of those persons with means as this excerpt from The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash and the Conservative Assault on Democracy illustrates.

Some on the right simply reject the notion that more people voting is in itself a sign of civic health. To George Will, the Washington Post’s influential conservative columnist, low turn­out is a sign that everything’s running smoothly. When people don’t vote, it’s because “the stakes of politics are agreeably low because constitutional rights and other essential elements of happiness are not menaced by elections,” Will wrote in 2012, perhaps not defining, say, access to health insurance as essential to happiness. Will Wilkinson, a respected libertarian writer formerly with the Cato Institute, argues that low turnout isn’t just a sign of civic health, it’s a cause of it. “Lower turnout sets the stage for better democracy,” he has written, since “the flakiest voters—the ones least motivated to show up at the polls year in and year out—also tend to be most poorly informed.”

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The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy

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From this mind-set, it’s only a short leap to worrying more openly about the problem of low-quality voters. Perhaps we can’t stop them from voting if they’re determined to do so, goes the thinking, but we certainly shouldn’t be encouraging it. And if the election process puts up barriers that keep these people away, so much the better. “The need to register to vote is just about the most modest restriction on ballot access I can think of, which is why it works so well as a democratic filter,” National Review’s Daniel Foster wrote in 2015. “It improves democratic hygiene because the people who can’t be bothered to register . . . are, except in unusual cases, civic idiots.” Or here’s George Will again, in 2010: “A small voting requirement such as registra­tion, which calls for the individual voter’s initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations. They are apt to invest minimal effort in civic competence.”

A few prominent conservatives are willing to follow Ted Yoho to the final step: disenfranchisement. Representative Steve King of Iowa, one of Congress’s most influential right-wingers, seemed to go there as he wrung his hands about government spending at a 2011 hearing. “There was a time in American history when you had to be a male property owner in order to vote,” King said, anticipating Yoho. The idea, King continued, was that voters should “have some skin in the game.” The problem today, he went on, is that too many voters don’t pay taxes, and so “when they vote, they vote for more government benefits.” A 2014 Fox News segment was blunter, asking: “Is it time to revisit a test for people to be able to vote?” Minutes later Ann Coulter got to the point: “I just think it should be a little more difficult to vote. There’s nothing unconstitutional about literacy tests.” Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor at National Review and an influential pundit on the right, has proposed making would‑be voters take the same test given to those applying for citizenship. “Voting should be harder, not easier,” he has written elsewhere. And Glenn Reynolds, a conservative law professor and popular blogger, responded to the antiracism pro­tests that swept college campuses in 2015 by arguing for raising the voting age to twenty-five.

Versions of this thinking are in vogue even among more scholarly types. In his 2011 book, The Ethics of Voting, the libertarian law professor Jason Brennan compared uninformed voters to drunk drivers. “I’ve actually become more sympathetic to the idea that maybe people should be formally excluded from voting,” Brennan told an interviewer.

Copyright 2016 by Zachary Roth, not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Crown Books.

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