Jeb Bush opposes Voting Rights Act restoration, says ballot access “exponentially better” now

Jeb “Voter Purge” Bush isn’t exactly up to speed when it comes to state-level ballot access. From earlier today:

Said Bush, in response to a question of where he stood on the Voting Rights Act:

I think that to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960, because that’s when basically many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been a dramatic improvement in access to voting. Exponentially better. I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places, maybe some, but in most places where they did have a constructive role in the 60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is.

There are a whole bunch of problems with this answer, starting with the fact that it’s downright confusing. The Voting Rights Act was “reauthorized” in 2006. It’s preclearance section — the one that requires states and localities with a history of racially-oriented voting laws to submit changes to their election law to the federal government for review — was struck down in 2013. Election Law Blog founder Rick Hasen thinks that Jeb’s answer is more of a reference to the latter:

I think the fairest reading of these comments is that he is opposed to something like the Voting Rights Amendments Act, which would restore Section 5 Voting Rights Act preclearance in some form which the Supreme Court gutted in the Shelby County v. Holder case. That’s not precisely “reauthorization”–the act was reauthorized in 2006, but then struck down in part in Shelby County. But this is how I think Bush took the question.

It is possible to read the comment more broadly to reject other provisions of the VRA as well, including Section 2, which provides national voting rights protection, does not expire, and was not at issue in Shelby County. If that’s what Bush meant, that’s a major statement and potentially a big change in position by a major Republican presidential candidate. I’m sure someone will follow up and ask Bush’s team if that’s what he meant, and my guess is they will say that’s not what he meant.

Either way, the most charitable version of Jeb’s answer is still way, way wrong. Ballot access is not “exponentially better” now than it was in the 1960s. And the only reason it’s at all better is because of the Voting Rights Act. Now that the law’s preclearance requirements have been invalidated by the Supreme Court (after being extended by Jeb’s brother in 2006), states and localities that were previously subject to them have enacted severe and measurably racist restrictions on ballot access — and said restrictions almost certainly decided a congressional race in 2014.

Even if that weren’t the case, however, Jeb still seems genuinely misinformed about what the current proposal to restore the Voting Rights Act would do. Rather than simply re-instating the static list of states and localities subject to preclearance, the bill would implement a dynamic system that updates over time based on whether states, you know, try to restrict voting rights based on race or other specific demographics. This means that if Alabama were able to go 25 years without, I dunno, targeting its “Black Belt” with budget cuts that restrict access to required voter ID, they could work their way off of the list of states required to submit changes to their election laws to the federal government for review. It also means that a few new states that aren’t in the South — namely New York and California — would also be subject to preclearance requirements, as their electoral systems have discriminated against Asian and Latino voters in the not-too-distant past.

So no, restoring the Voting Rights Act doesn’t mean regulating states “as though we’re living in 1960.” It means that we’re regulating states without kidding ourselves about the fact that our country, and by extension our elections, aren’t racially neutral. There’s a good reason that the states that would be covered under the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 Venn Diagram quite a bit with the ones covered under the original version: America is still pretty racist, and that racism is still reflected in public policy in those states.

So not only does Jeb Bush not understand the issues surrounding restoring the Voting Rights Act, his position on ballot access is wrong on his own terms. Racism isn’t dead in America. To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we threw away our umbrella in 2013, and Jeb would have us believe that it isn’t still raining.

He’s wrong, on so many levels.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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17 Responses to “Jeb Bush opposes Voting Rights Act restoration, says ballot access “exponentially better” now”

  1. Indigo says:

    It occurs to me to wonder whether he has a clear grasp of the meaning of the word “exponentially”? Then again, maybe he is saying exactly what he means, that fewer voters have access to the ballot. That could be his idea of an improvement. He’s a Bush, after all. One of Prescott’s grandsons. Prescott . . . wasn’t he the Nazi sympathizer who was selling goods to the Third Reich to help them achieve their praiseworthy agenda? Or something like that. It’s so well veiled these days, maybe it’s time to take the wraps back off that . . . um . . . scandal? story? unfortunate misunderstanding? outright treason? whatever . . .

  2. therling says:

    One can always spot “copypasta” by the awkward line breaks.

  3. hidflect says:

    “There’s been a dramatic improvement in access to voting”
    I guess he means the motor vehicle as opposed to the trap and pony.

  4. UncleBucky says:

    It has been demonstrated time and again that word salad is never right, especially from the mouth of Jebya.

  5. UncleBucky says:

    Not Florida 2000 again….

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  7. DoverBill says:


  8. crazymonkeylady says:

    Of course it’s exponentially better. For white republicans it’s never been better!

  9. Bob Munck says:

    ballot access “exponentially better” now

    Quite true.

    For an exponent < 1.0.

  10. 2karmanot says:


  11. Naja pallida says:

    Yeah, but that’s a little like saying “This turd smells better than that last one I sniffed.”

  12. Naja pallida says:

    Well, by ‘better’ a Republican obviously means “fewer brown people will vote against me”.

  13. nicho says:

    No Bush has ever been right.

  14. BeccaM says:

    Jeb “Don’t Say My Name” Bush spews a mouthful of word-salad to try to claim down is up and the sky is tangerine.

  15. Indigo says:

    Repeat after me, “Jeb’s the smart one!”

  16. rogerclegg says:

    Mr. Bush is right. No new
    legislation is needed. The Supreme Court struck down only one provision in the
    Voting Rights Act — which was indeed unconstitutional, and which was never a
    permanent part of the Act anyway — and there are plenty of other voting-rights
    laws available to ensure that the right to vote is not violated. What’s more,
    the bill that has been drafted and is adverted to here is bad legislation. For example, it contains much that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision; and it itself violates the
    Constitution by prohibiting practices that are not actually racially
    discriminatory but only have racially disproportionate effects.

    It’s even more extreme that an earlier bill that was introduced and has gone nowhere. The new bill would not, for example, exempt voter
    ID, and it would cover more jurisdictions than the earlier bill — indeed, more
    jurisdictions than the original Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So we
    are to believe that there are more racist jurisdictions in 2015 than there were
    in 1965 — comprising half the country’s population. It’s hard to believe
    that the bill’s sponsors expect the bill to be taken seriously. More
    likely it is a bone being tossed to the more extreme parts of their base, who
    thought the earlier bill — though bad in the extreme — was not bad enough.

  17. nicho says:

    We interrupt this blog for a special message. McCarthy withdraws as speaker.–politics.html

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