Democrats and voting rights: Do as we say — not as we do

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With the primaries in full swing, the Republican food fight over Trumpism continues, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders compete to bash Wall Street and expand government. But the issues in the primary will not be the issues in the general election. Eventually, the Democratic candidate will be attacked as a tax-raising leftist, while the Republican candidate will be tagged as insensitive to women, minorities, immigrants and civil rights. Some things never change.

One predictable line of attack from the either Hillary or Bernie will be complaints about “disenfranchisement” of voters through voter ID laws, changes to early voting schedules, or other changes to voting procedures in Southern states such as North Carolina and Texas. Especially given the tragic death of Justice Antonin Scalia, “the Republicans want to deny your right to vote,” “the Republican Court gutted the Voting Rights Act,” and similar charges will be thrown around with abandon by the Democratic candidate.

Leaving aside the overblown nature of such charges on the merits, Democratic primary season shows how little value Democrats put on the voter access issue when they are running their own elections, confirming that the coming “voter suppression” complaints are less about substance, and more about scaring minority voters to the polls with claims of the return of Jim Crow.

Consider that the Democrats made no effort to change their primary calendar to avoid the all-important first primary and caucus states being effectively minority-free affairs in New Hampshire and Iowa. The tone of the Democratic race is set before any substantial minority population gets to vote. Imagine the Republicans (and only Republicans) kept such a schedule – can anyone doubt the accusations that would fly?

Moreover, consider the Iowa caucus system itself. Caucus-goers must go to a specific place for up to several hours at one appointed date and time. Disabled and can’t get there? Out of luck. Work as a waitress during the evening shift?Too bad. No car and no public transportation to the caucus? Cry me a river. Service member deployed overseas? Pound sand, you can’t participate. There are no provisions to even absentee vote in caucuses.

And guess what? Minority and poor working class citizens are least likely to be in a position to control their schedule in order to attend a caucus during the designated times. Given this, just how important are voter access issues to Democrats when they are in complete control of the primary? Clearly not important enough.

Remember, these are the same people who accuse Republicans of seeking the return of Jim Crow in states where laws allow (only) multiple days of early voting or require some form of ID (or an affidavit to get a provisional ballot). Which system is more onerous?

Now consider New Hampshire. Notwithstanding the historic landslide victory of Bernie Sanders, Hillary still leads in the delegate count overall and is essentially tied among delegates from New Hampshire. Why? The Democratic system has “superdelegates” – politically connected insiders and Democratic office holders who get to vote for who they want at the Democratic convention regardless of what voters in their state decide. (The Republicans don’t have such superdelegates.) Seriously? Talk about smoke-filled back rooms and thwarting the will of the people. The Democratic primary system, if it didn’t already exist, would be a caricature of how Democrats presume a Koch brothers-funded Republican primary system would work.

Think about how many New Hampshire voters are “disenfranchised” by the fact that Sanders’ 20-point win may not translate into him getting more New Hampshire delegates than Clinton at the Democratic convention because New Hampshire superdelegates are free to support Clinton. How can any party that supports a system that intentionally thwarts the will of the people in the primary raise the issue of “disenfranchisement” with a straight face in the general?

But the primary system is not the only evidence that the Democrats’ cries of “voter suppression” and “voter disenfranchisement” are politically motivated rather than genuine. Democrat-controlled Rhode Island passed a voter ID law years ago, but does any remember a DOJ lawsuit? Democratic strongholds New York and Connecticut have not had early voting for years – yet it is Ohio and North Carolina, with days of early voting (and Republican governors) that are the focus of Democratic complaints. Could it be that ginning up minority anger about voting rights in key swing states is what is driving the complaints more than any principle relating to voter access?

It would be enlightening if some enterprising reporter or debate moderator would ask the Democratic candidates why, in their own elections, they accept procedures that disenfranchise far more people than the voting laws, that, come general election time, they will claim take us back to Jim Crow. Somehow, I doubt that will ever happen.

Robert N. Driscoll

Robert N. Driscoll

Robert N. Driscoll is a native of the Boston area who currently practices law in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his firm. Nor are they the views of his wife, daughters, or greyhounds. Read his past columns here.