Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was the political agenda that confirmed the Old South as a Republican stronghold. The Southern Strategy — following the realignment of the Democratic and Republican parties — worked in principle by putting racism in the closet of American politics: it removed words like “ni—r” from the lexicon and replaced them with words for policies like “states rights” and “the war on drugs,” which, in effect, targeted minorities. Lee Atwater, a political aide to Ronald Reagan, described Nixon’s Southern Strategy in an interview that was first released anonymously.
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Ni—r, ni—r, ni—r.” By 1968 you can’t say “ni—r” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Ni—r, ni—r.”
Atwater admits that the abstractions that excessively hurt minorities may not always come from conscious racism. Today, they probably don’t. But the effect — that blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic groups that are on average poorer than whites are hurt worse by these policies — is the same. It is not an accident that these are the standards of the party that acquired the social policies of the Old South: today’s GOP. To enshrine these economic policies within the power structure, though, the GOP needs to be in power. To this end, the GOP officially supports the spiritual continuation of the Grandfather laws, poll taxes and literacy tests that were used to both allow poor whites and prevent blacks from voting in post-slavery America. That is, the GOP supports voter ID laws.
In a section titled, “Voter Integrity to Ensure Honest Elections,” the current GOP official platform states:
“We support State efforts to ensure ballot access for the elderly, the handicapped, military personnel and all authorized voters. For the same reason, we applaud legislation to require photo identification for voting and to prevent election fraud, particularly with regard to registration and absentee ballots. We support State laws that require proof of citizenship at the time of voter registration to protect our electoral system against a significant and growing form of voter fraud. Every time that a fraudulent vote is cast, it effectively cancels out a vote of a legitimate voter.”
This would be a totally legitimate statement of policy, if voter fraud actually is a “significant and growing” threat to democracy in America. Every single academic, state or independent study done to investigate voter fraud has found that this is not the case. Seven academic papers written by Ph. D.s from Columbia, Washington University, Loyola Law School, Stanford, University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and even the unarguably right wing Brigham Young University analyzed data from multiple state and federal elections between 2000 and 2012. They investigated purported fraud of every conceivable kind: repeat ballot casting, fraudulent ballot casting, voting by felons and voting as the deceased. All investigations concluded that fraud was not a significant problem. Further state investigations in Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin and North Carolina also failed to find evidence of significant voter fraud. The judge of the Wisconsin case concluded:
“The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”
Lorraine Minnite, former associate director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia University, came to a conclusion that is closer to the truth of the political use of voter fraud in general. She wrote in her 2007 paper “The Politics of Voter Fraud”:
“There is a long history in America of elites using voter fraud allegations to restrict and shape the electorate … Today, the success of voter registration drives among minorities and low income people in recent years threatens to expand the base of the Democratic party and tip the balance of power away from the Republicans. Consequently, the use of baseless voter fraud allegations for partisan advantage has become the exclusive domain of Republican party activists.”
That is, Republicans in power support voter ID laws because it is more difficult for minorities, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat, to acquire IDs. And why do those minorities vote Democrat in the first place? Because Democrats support policies that benefit them, whereas Republicans support policies that actively hurt them, economically and otherwise.
The GOP vocally supports principles of democracy and closeness to the Constitution of the United States. Then it is strange that they actively pursue policies that prevent Americans citizens, who are constitutionally entitled to a right to vote, from voting. It would be a political disaster to claim that a significant number of Republicans are racists. In thought, they probably aren’t. But in action they are the party of Nixon, of the Southern Strategy and of current fiscal policies that demean decades of racial struggle and oppression. If these are their actions, does it matter what they think?
Alec Woodard is a College freshman from Burlington, Iowa.