The Republicans are at it again, warn the Cassandras at the New York Times. Democratic strength at the polls is surging, so the Democrats’ opponents in the Republican Party are resolved to combat this popular juggernaut the only way they can: with underhanded schemes designed to suffocate the liberal vote.
This is the theme of the paper’s latest dispatch. Now, the nefarious GOP’s suppression targets have expanded to include not just women and minorities but students, too. “The Student Vote Is Surging,” the headline reads. “So Are Efforts to Suppress It.”
The Times reports first from Texas, where there will no longer be temporary polling places on college campuses. “This spring, the Texas Legislature outlawed polling places that did not stay open for the entire 12-day early-voting period,” the report notes. What was this legislative remedy designed to address? According to the Times, only the clout that Democratic-leaning student voters demonstrated in 2018. There is, of course, another side to that story, but you won’t read it in the Times.
H.R. 1888, which easily passed the Texas legislature with bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, is designed to put an end to pop-up polling stations, which can and have been used to selectively harvest votes. The menace this law was designed to address is not the imagined strength of the Democratic vote in Texas, but the abuse of school bond elections in the Lone Star State—referenda that allow schools to raise funds for various initiatives and improvements. District officials invested in the success of those referenda can and do take every measure to ensure the vote goes their way. Among the available tools to do so was a loophole in Texas law that allowed for otherwise prohibited one-day polling places in special elections. Thus, bond elections were frequent and confusing, and temporary polling places were calibrated to capture the votes of individuals who utilize specific elementary and high schools—not the communities in which those schools reside.
Critics of the law contend with some validity that this measure reduces voters’ access to the polls in places like senior-care facilities, too, but you won’t hear the Times complain about this reliably Republican voting bloc’s privation. In the Times’ estimation, the closing of this loophole and the codification of 12-day early-voting periods across the state represent the disenfranchisement of students alone, not the enfranchisement of communities that were marginalized by the status quo ante.
Having oversimplified the complex issue of “rolling polling” abuse, the Times proceeds to oversimplify election integrity writ large. The report notes that Texas’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, announced in February of last year (well prior to the Great Democratic Awakening, which we are told has so terrified Texas Republicans) another of several periodic crackdowns on fraudulent voting. “But evidence of widespread fraud is nonexistent,” the Times claims, “and the restrictions fit an increasingly unabashed pattern of Republican politicians’ efforts to discourage voters likely to oppose them.” In this sentence, “widespread” is performing a Herculean lift, and “unabashed” does the rest of the work for the undiscerning reader.
In fact, Texas leads the nation in prosecutions for election fraud. The state has uncovered illegal voting schemes that involve thousands of non-citizen participants in elections, fraudulent ballots targeting seniors, and local officials coaxing voters to mislead elections officials. The case can be made that this does not constitute “widespread” abuse, but it’s a wonder that even this level of fraud is uncovered considering the obstacles for anyone invested in election integrity. “Even in Texas, exposing election fraud relies on a disorganized, ad hoc group of aggrieved candidates and political partisans who suspect foul play,” read a detailed March report in Real Clear Investigations. “These tipsters usually encounter a system geared to dismiss their claims.”
The Times now turn to states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, which have implemented statutes that impose “tough restrictions on using student IDs for voting purposes.” In fact, most states that allow students to use a college-issued identification card to fulfill voter ID requirements do so with caveats. Even then, students can cast provisional ballots if they fail to meet those requirements.
Student IDs do not always suffice for proof of enrollment, and enrollment is not necessarily proof of residency. Moreover, student IDs that also function as magnetic keys and debit cards are stripped of identification markers such as signatures, because they could be considered a risk to identity security. The alternative—free state-issued identification—is and must be readily available. The Times makes a stronger case by citing efforts in states like Florida and New Hampshire to repress the student vote. For example, the report makes note of a Florida statute that requires polling places to have sufficient parking, which many campuses with large residential populations do not. One New Hampshire Republican even confessed that his state should clamp down on student voting because these are “kids voting liberal.” But the Times doesn’t bolster its case by muddying the issue.
Measuring a non-event—in this case, votes not cast—is a particularly useful avenue for criticizing Republicans because it is achieved only through anecdotes, not statistics. But even when there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate the implied guilt of Republican politicians caught up in allegations of voter suppression, they are summarily dismissed. The Times’ coverage of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is a case in point. As recently as this spring, the Times was still giving former gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams a platform to contend via implication that his election was illegitimate. It hardly matters that the claim is utterly without merit. Brian Kemp was not responsible for the closure of underutilized voting precincts—indeed, he opposed some of the more controversial closures. The state’s regular purge of voter rolls was not irregular or unconstitutional. African-American voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in 2018 and even outpaced black voter participation in the 2016 election. Nevertheless, Abrams has styled herself the foremost victim of Republican voter suppression efforts, and the Times eagerly indulges this irresponsible and baseless assault on Americans’ faith in foundational institutions like elections.
The New York Times’ latest report on GOP-led attempts to erect barriers before student voters makes some valid and disturbing points. Those points are outnumbered by the paper’s willingness to be selective with the facts and paint an incomplete portrait for their readers. The Times’ failure to distinguish between the outrageous affronts and legitimate efforts to secure the ballot will fail to convince all but the most hardened of Democrats. But then, given the consistency with which complicating details are omitted from the Times’ simplistic coverage of the GOP’s “voter suppression” efforts, maybe convincing anyone is beside the point.