Sunday, March 30, 2014

the shame of the states

America's federal system gives great latitude to the states to adopt different approaches to governance. They are, in the famous words of Justice Louis Brandeis, "laboratories of democracy." States pioneered progressive government, adopting public roles in referenda, recall, and ballot initiatives. Individual states led the way with a professional civil service and wages and hours laws. My homestate of Colorado was one of the earliest to grant the vote to women, in 1892.

Now, however, several states are enacting laws to restrict democracy, to shrink the number of voters, and to make it harder for people to register and vote. The New York Times notes that much of this action is in Republican-dominated swing states, where the legislatures are  reducing polling stations and early voting and imposing other barriers to broad participation.  Even Wisconsin, which has the second highest turnout in the nation and which  has elected a lot of Republicans recently, is trying to limit the franchise. The Texas attorney general, defending his state's restrictions in a civil-rights suit, denied that the law was intended to reduce black voting by admitting that it was targeted at Democrats of any color.

Tinkering with election laws for partisan advantages has a long and dishonorable history. Surely we can agree that our democracy would be stronger if we had the broadest possible participation in the political process. Enact safeguards against fraud, but don't make it so hard for willing voters to vote.

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