February 11, 2013 Articles

Turning the Tables on Turnout

How Democrats neutralized and utilized restrictive voting laws in the 2012 election.

By Suhas Subramanyam – February 11, 2013

β€œTo accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor.” Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words seem to have resonated 55 years later, as a similar attitude of resilience against perceived oppression generated unexpectedly high turnout among low-income and minority voters, despite measures passed in several states that disproportionately hindered their ability to vote. As pundits continue to analyze what led to Democratic victories in November, many point to President Obama's superior field operation and ability to paint Romney as an elitist. Others say that heavy support and high turnout from minorities and low-income voters who supported Obama, particularly in crucial swing states such as Ohio and Florida, tipped the scales in the president's favor. Two key factors contributed to this tip of the scales: (1) Democratic legal victories, which undermined new state voting laws that disproportionately impacted minority and low-income voters; and (2) the subsequent perception that Republicans were trying to use these laws to prevent minority and low-income people from voting because these groups normally vote for Democrats. This perceived suppression provided Democrats with ammunition to rally these groups to the polls in droves during early voting and on Election Day. Thus, new voting laws that many assumed would benefit Republicans by curbing turnout in primarily Democratic-heavy minority districts may have actually motivated minorities to turn out in greater numbers by evoking feelings of oppression.

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