If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?
As Democrats grow increasingly frustrated with new voter suppression laws being passed by GOP-dominated legislatures all across the country, it’s worth asking what voter suppression might look like if Democrats decided to quit fighting those efforts and started implementing their own suppression tactics.
Keep in mind, Republicans are implementing their suppression efforts in states where they control legislatures and have Republican governors willing to sign such provisions into law. But there are states where Democrats have control across the board, including some traditional swing states that could be pivotal in close presidential elections. Minnesota could well be among those states following the next election. What if DFLers here at home decided to play the suppression game in an effort to tilt the electoral map in their favor?
Just as Republicans have focused suppression efforts on urban areas, where large percentages of voters back Democrats, a Democratic version of voter suppression would turn the tables, by implementing the same kind of tactics in an effort to limit the participation of rural voters, who have increasingly backed the GOP.
One of the easiest suppression tactics, which the GOP is deploying wherever it can, is the closing of polling places and the reduction of early voting opportunities in areas that tend to support Democrats. Mostly, that’s been focused on urban centers, particularly those with significant minority populations. Residents of those areas can still vote, since explicitly denying that constitutional right would surely be tossed even by the most conservative courts. Instead, these suppression efforts are designed to make voting more inconvenient, by requiring urban voters to travel farther and, typically, wait in longer lines to vote than they otherwise would.
Those of us who live in rural areas often don’t recognize the substantial additional burden that urban voters already face with long lines to vote, so anything that makes those lines even longer is certain to prompt more voters not to participate. If it didn’t, the GOP would have abandoned such tactics years ago.
Democrats could implement laws that achieve the same objective, with a different group of voters, by making it more difficult for rural voters to cast ballots. What if, rather than voting right in your own township, a future Minnesota Legislature decided to reduce the number of polling places in rural areas? The Legislature, after all, could pass a law that eliminates the authority of townships to run their own elections. That could force most rural residents to travel to regional centers, in larger cities, to cast their ballots. In St. Louis County, the Legislature could implement a new law that would restrict voting locations to Virginia, Hibbing, and Duluth, for example. In many of Minnesota’s most Republican counties, like the many small counties in east-central and southwestern Minnesota, voting could be limited to the county seat.
Then, implement strict rules on absentee voting, which would require voters to provide hard copies of a wide range of documentation to prove their identity. That’s easier for urban residents, since a copy machine is typically not far away. Rural residents would almost certainly have to drive to find one.
Such tactics would very likely reduce the number of ballots from rural areas, which would have the effect of suppressing the Republican vote. Before anyone suggests such a move would be thrown out in court, consider that the current Supreme Court is largely signing off on suppression tactics against Democratic voters that are every bit as blatant and targeted as we just described.
Certainly, we’re not advocating that Democrats pursue such policies, which are inherently antithetical to a democracy. Yet, for residents in small towns or rural parts of the state, it’s easy to dismiss the efforts by the GOP to limit the votes of urban voters. By considering what the shoe might look like on the other foot, it’s easier to recognize the problems inherent in the GOP’s efforts.
Such efforts are a hallmark of a party that recognizes it is outside the political mainstream. That’s particularly true since the rise of Trump, which has morphed the GOP into a white nationalist party fueled by grievance and dedicated to the continuation of rule by an ever-shrinking minority of conservative, mostly rural, white voters. Democrats, by contrast, have responded— admittedly with frequent missteps— to the needs of a changing country and view greater participation by as broad a cross-section of the electorate as possible as the key to their future success. That’s why the Democrats, in the end, won’t take their cues from the GOP’s voter suppression playbook. And, for that, we should be thankful.