In Texas and across the country Republican lawmakers are supporting “election integrity” bills to purge voter rolls of illegally registered voters; limit early, absentee, and mail-in voting; and take other steps which they say will reduce voter fraud in upcoming elections. But Republicans should be very careful lest their efforts backfire, and they should concentrate rather on measures to expand their own voter base.
Since 1932 more Americans have self-identified themselves as Democrats than as Republicans. The Republicans have lost the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections, including the last 4. Clearly, if the GOP is to reclaim the presidency, it must start winning more votes. Election integrity measures may undermine its ability to do so in least three ways.
First, these measures, if adopted, will impose more limits on who can vote and how they can do so. As a general rule, one must always be careful of the limits one imposes on others, because these limits could someday be used by others to limit the limiters. This is why I support free speech for Colin Kaepernick and the Ku Klux Klan, and due process for Andrew Cuomo. Whatever weakens their rights may someday be used to take away mine as well (By the way, this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the spectacle of Cuomo trying to defend himself against sexual harassment charges; given how supportive he was of Democratic efforts to smear and destroy Brett Kavanaugh over charges which were either unproven or proven false, it’s nice to see him being administered doses of his own medicine).
Second, election integrity laws may antagonize voting groups and make them more hostile to the GOP when, in fact, the GOP will soon need their support for its own survival. Opponents of the GOP’s current efforts say the GOP is less concerned with making elections more honest and more concerned with limiting the rights of Latinos, Blacks, and other minorities who would otherwise vote Democratic. But in Texas, the Republicans’ Anglo base has shrunk from 66% of the population in 1980 to 43% today. Nationwide, working class Whites, a Republican mainstay, have shrunk as a percentage of the overall population from over 50% in 1990 to under 40% today. White evangelical Protestants, also among the Republicans’ strongest supporters, have likewise shrunk from 24% of America’s population in 1992 to 13% today. Obviously, as the GOP’s natural voters decline as a percentage of the overall population, it must win more minority voters if it’s to remain viable. Antagonizing minorities will not win their votes.
Third, the GOP’s efforts to implement election integrity measures may divert resources needed to implement precisely those measures which can otherwise expand its base of support. There are only finite and limited amounts of time, money, and effort that can be used to implement any strategy, and whatever resources are used to pursue one strategy may make the implementation of other strategies more difficult. The GOP actually showed in 2020 how to win both more minority and more White voters. In Florida, for example, the GOP won the support of anti-communist Cuban Americans by stressing the “socialism” of the Democrats. In Texas, and especially in The Valley, the GOP won Latino support by emphasizing its support for law and order, for limits on abortion, and for the maintenance of the fossil fuel industry, a major source of jobs for Latinos. The Texas GOP also used new and improved technology to find, register, and get to the polls not only more minority-leaning Republicans, but more Anglo voters too. It was through these efforts that Trump was able to carry both Texas and Florida, and the Republican Party of Texas was able to halt, at least temporarily, the inroads into its statewide strength made by the Texas Democrats in 2018. Given the success of these measures in winning more support for the GOP, continuing to pursue them may be the best use of limited resources.
Nobody can dispute the need for honest elections. But the risks that election integrity laws may prove counterproductive, and the hope that efforts to expand the GOP base may continue to prove successful, show that the Republican Party should devote the bulk of its effort not to the imposition of limits to voting, but to the addition of more voters instead. It can be done. Sound conservative policies appealing to minorities and the systematic use of get-out-the-vote technology will add more support to the GOP—perhaps even enough to enable it to win more presidential elections in the future.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.