Louis Menand’s recent essay on affirmative action is characteristically excellent — I plan to return to its central point in a subsequent post — but it contains this curious passage:
The Court’s decision in Shelby v. Holder vacating a central provision of the Voting Rights Act has backfired. It turns out that, when you remove enforcement mechanisms and remedial oversight, things tend to revert to the status quo ante.
It’s true that the policy impact of Shelby County has been materially bad. But it’s not accurate to say it “backfired.” It worked exactly as John Roberts — a proponent of rolling back voting rights from his days as a Reagan administration functionary — intended! And he has the full support of his party at both the state and federal levels.
It’s not only that Republicans know exactly what they’re doing — they actively relish it. Brian Kemp is the latest example:
To summarize, the first exchange finds Kemp congratulating his campaign staff for the seeming opacity of a news report that shed light on Georgia counties’ possibly illegal efforts to challenge their residents’ right to vote. The second finds Kemp and a top staffer, David Dove, exchanging messages with the word us next to smiling and laughing emoji in reference to a story about how Georgia — coordinated by Kemp and his office — was deleting voters erroneously from the rolls and making it harder for others to cast ballots. Neither exchange has quite the cartoonish clarity of purpose exhibited by, say, the private notes of the late Thomas B. Hofeller — the Republican strategist whose research, made public by his daughter after he died, argued that Republicans should try adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census because it “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” (The Trump administration would go on to use Hofeller’s work as a guide for its own failed efforts to include the question.) But it does suggest a level of enjoyment taken in the process that clashes with the sober defenses of election integrity that Republican officials claim to be pursuing. Few were unaware that Kemp was trying to suppress votes. But fewer still have gotten to see how much he appeared to enjoy it.
If this is an ungenerous reading — and there’s little reason to believe that it is — the acts alluded to in Kemp’s messages are still the substantive reality of what Georgia voters have endured at his behest. He’s made it harder for the GOP’s least favorable constituencies to vote here while lying that he’s merely trying to prevent fraud — a passingly rare occurrence that no credible election expert can bring themselves to treat as a real problem. And when actual election-security issues have arisen, he’s neglected them or fought efforts to solve them. In 2016, after a cybersecurity researcher found hacking vulnerabilities in Georgia’s digital voting system, a range of experts called on Kemp to return to paper ballots. Kemp not only refused to do so, he declined to fix the vulnerabilities. The same month, he spoke out against federal efforts to reclassify the American election system as “critical infrastructure” because doing so would’ve let the Department of Homeland Security offer him cybersecurity support. Kemp saw this possibility as part of a big government conspiracy — an effort to “subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security,” in his words.
Let us dispel with the idea that Republicans don’t know what they’re doing here. They know exactly what they’re doing.