Nobody likes a sore loser, especially in politics. Usually in the world of campaigns and elections losing is a painful but important opportunity to re-valuate strategy, message, tactics and sometimes do some wholesale policy changes. Nationally the Republican party, after serious losses in 2012 seems to have embraced this idea, at least publicly. The “GOP Autopsy” called for by RNC Chair Reince Priebus earlier this year suggested that the Republicans, at least publicly, were willing to acknowledge that changes needed to be made and that losing three of the last four election cycles was not a fluke but a sign of changing electoral tastes. Apparently several state Republican parties haven’t gotten the message.
One of the more despicable actions on the part of state Republican parties in the 2012 election cycle (with tacit support from many GOP presidential candidates) were the blatant and brazen attempts to suppress the vote of those deemed most likely to vote Democratic and for Obama. In Michigan, Florida, Ohio and most famously Pennsylvania, Republican led state legislatures, filled with the hubris of the 2010 midterms, set about making voting as difficult as possible. Early voting in Ohio was curtailed, photo identification became mandatory with little notice to voters in Pennsylvania and Mississippi, state funding to polling locations were cut almost guaranteeing long intimidating lines in Florida and the list went on and on throughout the country. All of this was done under the guise of stopping “voter fraud” even though everyone with common sense knew these were racist and classist attempts to stop Obama from being re-elected. And how did all of these efforts turn out? Obama got re-elected and Democrats increased their seats in the House and Senate. What’s more though it pains the Washington Post and Fox News to admit it, African American turnout increased from 2008 and in 2012 surpassed every other ethnic group in America for the first time in history. Considering the efforts put across the suppress the minority vote, one can only imagine what might have happened in places like North Carolina had voter suppression not been put in place.
Republicans across state houses, still refusing to accept legitimate losses in 2012 have turned their oppression techniques from the poor, and minorities to college students, another base of support for Obama. North Carolina began the this march with a GOP proposed bill that would raise taxes on parents whose children voted on campus as opposed to their parent’s homes. Indiana then followed suit by debating a bill that would make it illegal for students who pay out of state tuition to register to vote where they go to college. Now Republicans in Ohio, the swingiest of swing states, have tried to combine the North Carolina and Indiana plans with a proposal that hits the pocketbooks of all taxpayers and suppresses the vote. In Ohio, many state colleges and some private colleges (such as my employer Hiram College) provide students with utility bills and other documents to establish their residency on campus and make it easier to vote. A new Republican budget measure would require that all state institutions that provide documents for students to vote could only charge those students in-state tuition rates. Essentially charging state colleges and universities millions of dollars in lost revenue for helping register students and indirectly charging tax payers millions of dollars to make up for the loss of revenue in out–of-state payments.
The good news is that the Supreme Court established in 1979 that college students have the right vote at their institutions instead of their parent’s homes. Consequently the North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio Republican proposals will likely not stand up to legal scrutiny. The bad news is that this proves the Republican Party has essentially given up on winning over voters and instead seeks electoral success through cutting out as many participants as possible. This was the deep cynical undercurrent of Romney’s infamous 47% comments. What he was really admitting was that the Republican Party was done trying to convince voters and instead would just focus on suppressing those who weren’t already in the fold. The Republican party has always given mixed messages about courting Latinos, the poor and African American voters, that is nothing new. However, attempting to purge the electorate of young voters because it’s easier than trying to win their votes (and writing them off by assuming no future state or national Republican could suffer from low turnout amongst college students) is anti-Democratic and political suicide. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the GOP has learned its lesson yet, and perhaps it will take another election, another 15% loss amongst voters under 30 before Republicans perform an autopsy that goes more than skin deep.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson.