I just came to a fascinating and frightening realization about the connection between Republican voter suppression efforts and the war on drugs while watching Up with Chris Hayes this morning.
For decades Republicans have been working to find ways to stem the influence of the growing minority population in elections. The latest efforts at limiting voter “fraud” by making it tougher to register and requiring photo ID to cast a ballot are the most visible.
However, over the past several decades there has been a hidden and much more insidious scheme going on through the war on drugs by shifting populations to prisons. During the course of this decades-long domestic war, there has been almost no impact on actual drug use while at the same time the number of people incarcerated in the prison-industrial complex for non-violent drug offenses has ballooned by a factor of seven!
Most of those inmates are black males from urban areas. Blacks comprise 12.3% of the US population, about 14% of drug users and 37% of drug arrests! People living in densely populated urban areas are generally more likely to vote Democratic while it seems many of those in rural areas veer toward the right.
The drug war has a couple of different effects on voting patterns. First, just as prohibition triggered violent crime in the 1920s, drugs are doing the same in inner cities now. The result is creating an atmosphere of fear among more affluent urban dwellers even if it’s mostly unwarranted. Republicans prey on this fear with a law and order attitude toward drugs. That can tend to cause voters to shift to the right.
However, the more dangerous aspect of all this is the population of the prisons. Prisons are typically located in rural areas with smaller populations. When the census is done every ten years, the population of a prison is counted toward the population of the region where it’s located even though it’s inhabitants come from somewhere else. However, those inmates are not allowed to actually vote. As a result, when the electoral districts are defined, these rural areas can end up with a disproportionate representation while fewer members of the population get to cast ballots.
So the war on drugs shifts potential voters out of their homes, takes away their votes and gives more representation to those that are likely to vote Republican!