I HAVE TWO questions about election-law changes sought in Pennsylvania and pursued or enacted in many other states. The first question, since most analysts agree that such changes are aimed at diminishing Democrats, is:
Where's the outcry from President Obama's re-election camp? And, yeah, I saw something Obama's campaign calls "Operation Vote," targeting minorities, gays, seniors and other traditionally Democratic voters.
But that's not what I'm talking about. Where's the protest over Republican states out to suppress the vote that helped Obama win in '08?
This includes new voter-ID and proof-of-citizenship laws, or a reduction in registration and voting opportunities in key states such as Florida, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, all ostensibly to fight voter fraud.
Isn't this a political ruse?
George Mason University political scientist Michael Fauntroy - who next week hosts a National Race and Public Policy Conference at the school - says, "Yes. If you look at research on voter fraud, claims that it's a problem are not substantiated by the evidence."
And what about Pennsylvania's plan to award electoral votes by congressional district rather than our longstanding winner-take-all system?
At a state Senate hearing yesterday, Gov. Corbett's deputy chief of staff, Luke Bernstein, testified that the plan is aimed at protecting "the integrity of an individual's vote" and not at Obama.
But national Common Cause boss Bob Edgar issued a statement noting that such a change means that most Pennsylvania electoral votes would go to the GOP candidate.
And Fauntroy says that if it's about better representation and not GOP political gain, the Legislature should make it effective in 2016.
So, where are Dem talking points? As in: Don't let plotting, power-hungry Republicans constrict democracy with laws that make it tougher to vote! They're doing this because they fear the people! Don't let them rig the 2012 elections! (For the sake of balance, many Republicans believe that they're superpatriotic by dreaming up ways to deny Obama a second term on grounds that the country's in the tank and only a GOP direction can save it. These folks agree with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who famously summed up the Republican agenda: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.")
My second question is this:
With or without a rallying message, do widespread election-law changes in multiple states create a backlash that ends up energizing the Democratic base?
"I think you're absolutely right," says University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry Sabato. "This has turned into a national movement . . . a party believes election rules are fair when they elect their side . . . these changes are aimed at Democratic voters, period."
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School this week released a study on the likely impact of 21 election-rule changes in 14 states so far this year.
The study says such changes could make it "significantly" harder for more than 5 million voters - especially minorities and the poor - to vote next year.
But all of this, even if you view academia as liberal and biased, even if you think Common Cause is communist, can be settled if you believe one thing: Governing should be based on the majority will of the governed.
Questions over rules, their impact or backlash, can be replaced with a national effort to elect the president by popular vote. Whoever gets the most votes wins.
Tinkering with rules serves partisanship more than people. I'm for change. But it should expand democracy, not contract it.