'Soft Apartheid': Harsh Drug and Immigration Policy Is Just Another Means of Voter Suppression

Strong Republican pushes for harsher drug and immigration policies are in fact a disguised long-term strategy to permanently blunt demographic changes and maintain current voting majorities well into the 21st century.

This strategy is not new. As far back as Richard Nixon and the architects of the 1968 Southern Strategy, the Republican party aligned itself firmly with white voters. In 2012, after two consecutive election defeats driven significantly by a surge in minority voting, Republican leaders faced a choice: reform to become more appealing to a diverse electorate, or work to disenfranchise millions to make the electorate less diverse and not reflective of the actual US population.

They also realized that they had won over, by a large and consistent margin, white, middle and working class voters, and made democrats much more dependent on demographics and minorities than they were before 2000 (both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter won very significant shares of white working class voters). So they chose the latter strategy, which has driven US politics for the last four years and brought us to where we are today.

In the 2016 election, direct vote alteration and suppression strategies were employed in spades, especially three principals: 1) close voting precincts in urban and majority non-white areas to discourage voting, 2) get absentee ballots by minorities thrown out for minor errors as often as possible, and 3) spread a misinformation and hacking campaign. It worked in 2016 but those same strategists know these direct voting tactics will not be enough to handle the level of demographic change by 2024, if current voting preferences among minorities and liberal whites hold.

They know that the real lion share of opportunity to disenfranchise minority voting in the long term lies in immigration and drug policy.

Immigration policy consists of both deporting those already here and denying a viable path to citizenship and employing policies such as harder asylum, unfriendly border control, and lower legal immigration quotas. Because high skill workers with a masters education and above skew heavily democratic in recent elections and low skill immigrants vote overwhelmingly democratic as well, this is an extremely powerful tactic. The strategy also shows why Republicans vehemently attack the DREAMERS: as young, overwhelmingly liberal children of immigrants protected by executive order, they represent a potentially large group of new democratic voting citizens if a path to citizenship is enacted.

Drug policy targets black people, primarily, along with Puerto Ricans living in the continental US and the natural born children of Hispanic immigrants. All of these demographic groups are natural born US citizens with voting rights in Federal elections, so they cannot be targeted effectively by immigration policy and direct voting strategies cannot be effective at these population numbers. Strategically, the best way to disenfranchise existing citizens is to get them a felony record, which wipes out their voting rights in perpetuity according to the law.

There are, of course, many ways to increase the number of felony records in the US, such as giving them out for busted taillights, but most strategies would not be as effectively racially disproportionate as drug busts. Statistics are very clear that a) young people are over 3x more likely to be busted for drugs than older people and to be sentenced if they are busted and b) that people of color are also over 3x more likely to be busted and sentenced. Because both youth and minorities are core democratic voting groups in our current electoral alignment, this serves Republicans well.

And, unlike voting strategies, which only work for one election and need to be repeated each time, felony convictions are permanent. It’s like instead of striking out a voter for one inning, they are simply out of the game.

The net sum of all of this is that Americans need to wake up and realize the core goals of current Republican electoral strategy and policy. Those bemoaning “why we cannot come together in the center” simply do not see the stakes the way Republican leaders do: from their point of view, the white, Christian, straight, propertied voter majority in this country since 1776 is under existential threat from minority demographic growth and millennial voting habits. They will do anything they can to protect it – including instituting America’s very own version of soft-apartheid.

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