Donald Trump might singlehandedly ensure Democratic victories up and down the ballot in 2024. But the biggest threat to the long-term viability of the Republican Party is not Trump – it is demographics. Each year the electorate becomes more Democratic. Republican strategists know this. Their solution is to suppress voting and hide behind the made-up justification of election integrity. Voters aren’t fooled.
First, the GOP’s demographic problem. Republican voter strength is primarily among older voters – Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. These are voters born before 1965 and they are aging out. The number of Boomers has declined 10% since 2000. Younger voters in the cohorts Generation X (1965 to 1980) and Millennial (1981 to 1996) vote overwhelmingly Democratic. For example, in 2016 Millennials voted Democratic over Republican by a margin of 24%.
It is not just aging Boomers that are problematic for Republicans, it is also that the electorate is becoming more diverse. African American, Latino, and Asian voters are overwhelmingly Democrats, even though Republicans have recently made inroads with Latinos.
While Republicans are generally strong among white voters, each year the proportion of white voters in America declines. In 2020 Trump lost seven states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — even though he carried the white vote in them.
Republicans have gained strength among white voters without college educations. In fact, turning this group into supporters is the biggest success for Republicans in the last half century. This has not happened because Republicans have offered policies that meet the needs working class Americans. Instead, exit polling and other data show that non-college whites have switched allegiance to the Republican Party because of racial resentment. This switch has taken 40 years, but has accelerated since 2012. It is not pretty, but there you have it.
More recently GOP strategists have responded to adverse demographic changes in the electorate with voter suppression legislation. Measures to make it harder to vote have been introduced in every Republican-controlled state legislature, including our own in West Virginia. Republicans claim these are election integrity measures, but if that were true you would expect them to be responsive to particular integrity problems occurring in those states. But this legislation is not solving real election integrity problems.
The situation in West Virginia perfectly illustrates this. West Virginia does not have election integrity problems. Just ask Mac Warner, our Republican Secretary of State for the last seven years. Warner is now a candidate for Governor. In June 2023 he said, “West Virginia voters can rest assured that our election process is safe, secure, and anchored by the most accurate voter registration lists in the history of our state.” Warner boasted about the integrity of the 2020 election and said West Virginia “has become an election model for the rest of the country.”
Voter impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent in the United States and no cases have been identified in West Virginia. Ignorant of this, the Republican-controlled West Virginia legislature passed a law in 2018 requiring aspiring voters to present specific types of identification to the poll clerk. Strict voter ID laws complicate the voting process, intimidate some potential voters, and reduce the numbers of poor and less-educated voters. These are the people who are less likely to have the required ID. Strict voter ID laws are chasing a problem that doesn’t exist and discourage voter participation as a side effect.
What should be of greater concern to the Legislature than non-existent voter fraud is the abysmal voter turnout numbers in West Virginia. Statewide, only 43% of registered voters cast ballots in the November 2022 mid-term election. Only five of 55 West Virginia counties had turnout over 50%. In 2016, the most recent, non-COVID presidential election year, voter turnout in West Virginia ranked 50th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. We ranked 48th in 2020. If they cared about democracy, shouldn’t our leaders be advancing policies and legislation that improve these numbers?
But no. In the 2023 legislative session another assault on voting access was attempted, led by Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson). This came in the form of SB 459, a measure with several voter suppression features, including even stricter voter ID measures.
SB 459 would have limited eligibility either to register or vote in West Virginia to “legal” residents of the state. Legal resident was defined as someone who is both actually living in the state (domiciled) and who intends to remain in the state. On its face, this definition would have excluded students who come from out of state and are living here while studying at our colleges and universities, but who intend to return home after graduation.
Why should someone’s future plans disqualify them from voting? Obviously, future plans should have nothing to do with the right to cast a ballot if other requirements are met. Unless, of course, you are more concerned with how they will vote rather than whether they will vote.