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Carving up the country

New York Times, July 26 2013

By Charles M. Blow

Our 50 states seem to be united in name only.

In fact, we seem to be increasingly becoming two countries under one flag: Liberal Land — coastal, urban and multicultural — separated by Conservative Country — Southern and Western, rural and racially homogeneous. (Other parts of the country are a bit of a mixed bag.)

This has led to incredible and disturbing concentrations of power.

As The New York Times reported after the election in November, more than two-thirds of the states are now under single-party control, meaning that one party has control of the governor’s office and has majorities in both legislative chambers.

This is the highest level of such control since 1952. And Republicans have single-party control in nearly twice as many states as Democrats.

This is having very real consequences on the ground, nowhere more clearly than on the subjects of voting rights and women’s reproductive rights.

Almost all jurisdictions covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the section that requires federal approval for any change in voting procedures and that the Supreme Court effectively voided last month — are in Republican-controlled states.

So, many of those states have wasted no time following the court ruling to institute efforts to suppress the vote in the next election and beyond.

Within two hours of the Supreme Court ruling, Texas announced that a voter identification law that the Department of Justice had blocked for two years because “Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification” would go into effect, along with a redistricting map passed in 2011 but blocked by a federal court.

The department is trying to prevent those actions in Texas, but it’s unclear whether the state or the feds will prevail.

Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have also moved forward with voter ID bills that had already passed but were being held up by the Justice Department. (Virginia has passed a bill that’s scheduled to go into effect next year.)

And on Wednesday, a federal court gave Florida the go-ahead to resume its controversial voter purge by dismissing a case filed against the state that had been rendered moot by the Supreme Court decision.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not surprised by this flurry. She voted with the minority on the Voting Rights Act case, and she wrote in a strongly worded dissent: “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proved effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed.”

She continued, “With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”

History does appear to be doing just that. In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Ginsburg reiterated her displeasure with the court’s decision and her lack of surprise at what it has wrought, saying, “And one really could have predicted what was going to happen.” She added, “I didn’t want to be right, but sadly I am.”

While Republicans may claim that voter ID laws are about the sanctity of the vote, Republican power brokers know they’re about much more: suppressing the votes of people likely to vote Democratic.

Last week Rob Gleason, the Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman, discussed the effects of his state’s voter ID laws on last year’s presidential election, acknowledging to the Pennsylvania Cable Network: “We probably had a better election. Think about this: we cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He won — he beat McCain by 10 percent; he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably voter ID helped a bit in that.”

And on women’s reproductive rights, as the Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this month, “In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights.” The report continued, “Although initial momentum behind banning abortion early in pregnancy appears to have waned, states nonetheless adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and is as many as were enacted in all of 2012.”

A substantial majority of the new restrictive measures — which include bans on abortion outside incredibly restrictive time frames (at six weeks after the woman’s last period in North Dakota), burdensome regulations on abortion clinics and providers, and forced ultrasounds — were enacted in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

These are just two issues among many in which the cleaving of this country is becoming an incontrovertible fact, as we drift back toward bifurcation.

© 2013 The New York Times

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