The face of America is changing very rapidly, and Republicans are reacting with a cynical and insidious attempt to hold back the future.
The percentage of white voters continues to drop every election cycle, while the strength of nonwhites rises steadily. As a result, says Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, "we're in a demographic death spiral as a party" -- one that won't be corrected if the GOP cannot "get back in good graces with the Hispanic community."
But instead of trying to win over minority voters, the Republicans have been driving them away. Donald Trump makes their problem much worse by denouncing Mexican immigrants, threatening Muslims and endorsing racial profiling. No wonder almost 9 of 10 minority voters view Trump unfavorably in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll.
"We cannot afford to alienate and demonize the largest growing demographic out there," another Republican senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, told the Post. "Back in the '60s, we Republicans lost the African-American vote that we still haven't gained back."
Faced with this disastrous trend, Republicans in many states have responded with a nefarious strategy, summarized as: If we cannot get minorities to vote for us, we'll discourage them from voting at all.
That effort takes many forms, from stricter voter ID laws and fewer polling places in minority neighborhoods to purges that simply strike citizens from the rolls. But all these maneuvers have one common goal: making it harder for groups that lean Democratic -- the young, the poor, the nonwhite -- to cast their ballots.
In a country that has struggled for more than two centuries to expand voting rights, this is a profoundly un-American approach. But if the election is close in a few key states -- like Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona -- this campaign of voter suppression could determine the outcome.
The Republican effort began after the 2008 election, when Barack Obama lost whites by 12 points yet easily won the popular vote. But it really gained momentum in 2013, after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and eliminated federal supervision over a number of states with past histories of voter discrimination.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 22 states have enacted voter suppression laws, 17 of them since the last presidential election. Supporters say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but that is an outright lie. It has been demonstrated countless times that voter fraud barely exists, if at all. These laws are "a destructive solution to a nonexistent problem," as a New York Times editorial put it.
Take Ohio, still the most important state in presidential politics. The top election official, Republican Jon Husted, has instigated an effort to purge voters from the rolls who haven't cast ballots in recent elections. On the surface, it's an even-handed policy, but an investigation by Reuters revealed that "the policy appears to be helping Republicans in the state's largest metropolitan areas."
"Voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republicans neighborhoods," Reuters reported.
Then there's Arizona, which decided to cut back the number of polling stations, ostensibly to save money. As a result, some voters in the March primary waited as long as five hours to cast ballots, but "the areas most affected were predominantly Latino," reports the Washington Post. And poorer voters, sometimes working more than one job, are far less likely to stand in line for five hours than wealthier citizens.
One of the worst examples is North Carolina, which passed a sweeping package of laws that make it harder to vote. One provision eliminated same-day registration; another instituted stringent voter ID requirements. A suit challenging the law was heard in a federal circuit court this week. The lead plaintiff, 95-year-old Rosanell Eaton, alleged that she had to make nine trips to government offices -- totaling more than 250 miles -- to get the documents she needed to vote.
Her daughter, Armenta Eaton, told the liberal website Think Progress, "Both she and I believe she should not have to have gone through these difficult times to exercise her right to vote as a citizen of these United States."
Amen. The courts are generally reluctant to intervene in political disputes, and for good reason. But these voter suppression laws clearly violate a basic and precious right.
Federal judges must stand up to the despicable Republican campaign to undermine that right. The courts should make it easier, not harder, for the citizens of "these United States" to participate in the democratic process.