Can Republicans Win Black Voters While Preventing Them From Actually Voting?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 16 2013 10:15 AM

Can Republicans Win Black Voters While Preventing Them From Actually Voting?

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Republican Artur Davis is in favor of both voter ID and restoring voting rights to felons.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This is the question I tackle in my last politics piece before a two-week reporting trip (details to come). Republicans are ramping up to the "I Have a Dream" anniversary by scheduling speeches and meet-the-media events for their African-American rising stars. At the same time, in some of the states they control, they're restricting voter access in ways that statistically affect black voters the most. Artur Davis, the black Alabama Democratic congressman-turned-Republican activist and speaker, had some extended thoughts that I excerpted for the article. The full take:

Three factual observations: first, black voter participation rose in 2012 in states with new voter ID laws, including Georgia and Virginia. Second, it is a myth that ID laws are some counter-reaction to Barack Obama's strength with black voters: most of these laws were enacted prior to Obama's election, and many of the newer laws are in states that are not politically competitive, like Kansas and Rhode Island. Third, the oft made argument that ID infringes on the right to vote ignores the fact that the right has always been coupled with responsibilities, such as the requirement to register. I do not see Democrats advocating automatic enrollment of young adults who turn 18 or declaring that election day registration is some national right.
Now, to be sure, Republicans have not always been savvy about making these arguments and the voter ID movement has been damaged by extremists who argue that Obama somehow stole both elections, or clowns like the Pennsylvania legislator who bragged with no evidence to support the notion that a voter ID law would kill Democrats in Pennsylvania. And certainly, North Carolina's law would be easier to defend politically and legally if it incorporated some of the exceptions that, say, Alabama and Virginia allow.
As for how Republicans ought to argue these laws with black voters, they should make two points: that an ID is an essential to functioning in this economy and society and that rather than patronizing blacks by suggesting an ID is too much for them to bear, black advocates should be pushing for young African Americans to get IDs when they lack them. Second, Republicans should be aligned with the movement to restore voting rights to non violent released felons as long as they are complying with conditions of supervised release. No conservative ought to have a principled objection to an ex felon being able to earn his way back into being a full fledged citizen.
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Could Republicans get behind felon voting when 1) it's not half as popular as voter ID, and 2) it wouldn't clearly benefit them?

Here's more useful data on who votes how, and why North Carolina Republicans are "fixing" that, from the Atlas Project.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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