Why GOP’s Southern Strategy Moved North

The scariest voter-ID laws might be the ones that aren't in solidly red states.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

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 Next, conservatives took their plan nationwide. Fueling propaganda that millions of Mexican immigrants were draining government health care resources and voting illegally, Republicans pushed for stricter voter laws at the state level and harsher immigration policies. Why? One reason could be that Obama received 76 percent of the Hispanic vote — and a growing coalition of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans had made the nation’s smaller conservative Cuban community less politically relevant.

Abandoning President George W. Bush’s more inclusive approach, the Tea Party-influenced GOP assumed that the Latino vote — like the black vote — wasn’t worth courting. This is where Ohio and Pennsylvania become so crucially important, since poor and working-class whites make up a significant part of the electorate there.

This base support — normally guaranteed for a Republican candidate — is now a swing set. Obama’s successful bailout of the car industry, upon which many Ohio and Pennsylvania manufacturing workers rely, has left him in good standing with independents in these key states. The GOP’s strategy to regain that support has been to wage an aggressive anti-Obama campaign: attacking his signature achievement, health care reform, and resorting to race-baiting tactics to make the president appear foreign and outside the mainstream. 

New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania are all non-former Confederate states whose legislatures have instituted restrictive voting laws — mirroring the GOP strategy to bypass the Voting Rights Act provisions altogether.

Dan Froomkin, deputy editor for Nieman Watchdog, has derided the failure of mainstream press outlets to call Republican tactics what they are: a deliberate effort to disenfranchise minorities. By attempting to be unbiased, the media allow Republican claims of voter fraud to appear legitimate, and this amounts to journalistic malpractice. Froomkin writes, “Failing to call out the voter ID push is like covering the civil rights movement and treating ‘separate but equal’ as if it was said with sincerity.”

The U.S. Justice Department is charged — under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — with reviewing changes to voter laws in states with a history of discrimination. This process, known as preclearance, oversees much of the American South. Attorney General Eric Holder has used this authority to halt new laws in Texas and Florida, but Northern states like Pennsylvania and Ohio do not fall under the provision. Instead, a case must be made in court and empirical evidence presented.

Enter Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old African-American Philadelphia resident who has voted in every election since 1960 but will be disenfranchised by the new laws because she no longer has an original birth certificate or driver’s license.