Politics & Policy

Clinton Gets Everything Wrong on Voting

Voters in Ferguson, Mo. (Scott Olson/Getty)
She depicts every effort to make sure voters are eligible as a plot against minorities.

Hillary Clinton made so many false assertions about voting in the speech she gave at Texas Southern University that it’s hard to know where to start. Contrary to her contention, no “barriers” are being imposed on eligible Americans that prevent them from easily registering and voting in our elections.

Let’s examine Clinton’s claims in light of the facts.

She insists that state legislative initiatives to improve the integrity of our election process are a “sweeping effort to disempower and disenfranchise people of color.” Wrong. Instead, as Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity aptly puts it, states are engaged in “the usual effort to strike the right balance between facilitating voting by eligible voters and preventing voting by ineligible voters.”

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Clinton’s assertion is hard to reconcile with the U.S. Census Bureau’s finding that blacks voted at a higher level than whites by two percentage points in the 2012 election. Moreover, the Justice Department didn’t file a single case in 2014 (or, thus far, in 2015) under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act alleging the disenfranchisement of people of color.

Clinton also claimed that students and grandmothers are being turned away from the polls in Texas because of its voter-ID law. But there is no evidence that this is occurring. In state elections in 2013, turnout almost doubled in comparison with the 2011 state election (when the ID law was not in place) — including in heavily minority areas, some of which had even greater increases in turnout. And the few people who don’t have an ID are provided with one free of charge by Texas authorities.

In the 2014 midterm congressional election, the turnout of the eligible voting-age population in Texas was 28.3 percent, according to the U.S. Elections Project. In contrast, the turnout in New York, which Senator Clinton formerly represented and which has no ID law, was 28.2 percent, slightly less than in Texas. The turnout data in other states such as Georgia and Indiana that have had voter-ID laws in place for many years show that the constant claims of voter suppression are false.

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It is true that a single federal judge in Texas has claimed that the state’s law was passed with an intent to discriminate against minority voters. But if one reads her decision carefully, not a single iota of evidence supports that finding; the judge simply assumes that the only possible reason a state would pass a voter-ID law is to discriminate against minority voters. Her injunction prohibiting the law from taking effect was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reinstate it. Texans have been voting with the ID requirement in place without any problems.

Clinton similarly criticized North Carolina for passing a voter-ID law and cutting the number of early-voting days from 17 to 10. What she did not mention, however, is how wrong the Justice Department, which has so far unsuccessfully challenged the law, was when it predicted that minority turnout would go down because, according to DOJ’s unbelievably patronizing experts, blacks and Hispanics are “less sophisticated” voters who wouldn’t be able to figure out how to register and vote. In fact, the early-voting change was in effect for the 2014 election, where black registration and turnout went up in comparison with the 2010 midterm election.

Clinton criticizes the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shelby County case, which declared the coverage formula for Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional. Section 5 required certain states to get the permission of the federal government before they could make any changes in their voting laws.

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But as the majority opinion exhaustively pointed out, the coverage formula was based on 45-year-old data that did not reflect current conditions. There is no evidence that states such as Georgia and Texas differ from states such as New York and Massachusetts today — except that black turnout and the number of black elected officials in proportion to their population is generally higher in the formerly covered states than in the rest of the country.

Clinton also misstated Section 5’s requirements. She claimed that states that are required to translate their voting materials, including ballots, into other languages, could now stop doing that because of the Shelby County decision. But the provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires ballots in other languages is a totally different section that has nothing to do with Section 5.

The former secretary of state’s other three big voting-rights issues are early voting, felon enfranchisement, and universal voter registration. She wants to mandate 20 days of early voting across the country to “give more citizens the chance to participate.” However, various studies, such as one from the University of Wisconsin in 2013, show that early voting does not increase turnout. In fact, the Wisconsin study concluded that early voting actually hurts turnout — it can “lower the likelihood of turnout by three to four percentage points.” So pushing for early voting nationwide is not a good idea.

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Clinton called for a federal law that would restore voting rights for all convicted felons. However, the Fourteenth Amendment gives that authority directly to the states. Felon voting is an issue for the states to decide, not the federal government.

Finally, Clinton called for “universal, automatic voter registration.” So-called progressive groups have been pushing this concept for several years, claiming that it will improve turnout. Individuals would be automatically registered through information contained in various existing state- and federal-government databases.

Universal, automatic registration is an invitation to increased voter fraud.

Yet this could result in the registration of large numbers of ineligible voters, such as non-citizens, as well as duplicate registrations of the same individual in the same state or in multiple states. Universal, automatic registration is an invitation to increased voter fraud. What is truly ironic about this proposal is that many of the same groups pushing automatic registration oppose states’ attempts to verify the citizenship, identity, and accuracy of registration information by comparing it to other government databases, because they complain about errors and inaccuracies in those same databases.

Moreover, in all likelihood, automatic registration will not increase turnout. According to surveys of non-voters conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, lack of registration is not the reason people don’t vote. The vast majority of non-voters say they don’t vote for reasons ranging from forgetting to vote to not liking the candidates or the campaign issues or simply not being interested.

#related#A 2008 survey found that the major reason individuals failed to register to vote was that they were “not interested in the election/not involved in politics.” People don’t register because they are not interested in voting. And for those who are interested in voting, registration is easy — they simply have to download and fill out a one-page form and mail it in.

Claims of voter suppression are simply not true — and that won’t change, no matter how many times Hillary Clinton and others claim otherwise.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Along with John Fund, he is the co-author of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk and Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.


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