Voter ID Laws and the Question of Political Satire

Tracy Wuster

Most of the time, politics is a serious business.  People tend to take the government fairly seriously–our laws, our government, our rights.  True, traditionally Congress has been an object of fun, and politicians–from Abraham Lincoln to Sarah Palin–have been the butt of jokes.  But the importance of political humor–from parody to cartoons to satire–might best be seen as a reflection of how seriously people take politics.

In this highly political year, I have been very interested in questions of how political humor functions in American society.  Recently, I discussed the satire of the RNC and DNC conventions on the Daily Show.  Similarly, Self Deprecate’s contributions to our site and his site have tackled the current state of political humor.

One political issue that I have been increasingly concerned with this year is distinctly not funny: voter suppression.  While proponents of voter ID and other voting laws argue that voter fraud is a real issue (apart from their clownish attempts to prove voter fraud by committing voter fraud), critics of these laws have argued that they are better explained as politically motivated efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, the poor, and the elderly.  As John Dean argued in a blog post entitled, “The Republican’s Shameless War on Voting“:

There is absolutely no question that Republicans are trying to suppress non-whites from voting, throughout the Southern states, in an effort that has been accelerating since 2010.  It is not difficult to catalogue this abusive Republican mission, which unfortunately has spread, in a few instances, to states above the Mason-Dixon Line as well.

Other stories back up this argument:

Juan Williams on Fox News

Harold Meyerson on the Washington Post

Charles Blow in the New York Times

Recent developments in voter laws in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states also testify to the seriousness of this issue.  Those with any historical sense hear echoes of past efforts to restrict suffrage for political gain and based on cultural prejudice.  Serious stuff.

Where does the humor come in?

Let’s start with Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” strip from July 23 of this year:

doonesbury jim crow voter id suppression gary trudeau

And from the next day:

doonesbury voter id supression jim crow

And check out the rest of the series: here, here, here , and ending with this one:

But that wasn’t all…

Cartoonists took up the issue with gusto.  A few examples:

Adam Zygus showing a common theme: the GOP trying to squash votes for its own benefit.

Dave Granlund takes up another theme: the difficulty of voting as a consequence of the laws. (also, here)

M. Wuerker on the GOP’s efforts using a war metaphor.  A different version.  Another from Wuerker.

The aim of these cartoons seems to be two-fold: to raise awareness of the issue of voting rights and to argue that Republican efforts are overreactions designed to make voting harder for certain groups.  Trudeau goes further than most in linking these efforts to Jim Crow laws (but see this one).

As satire, the aim or impact of such humor might depend on the audience, depending on whether one has a settled opinion of the issue at hand or whether one is undecided or unclear on the issue.  As with the satire of the conventions, the workings of such political humor is a complex transaction that has different aims depending on audience.  While it is undoubtedly important to think about such material in terms of changing opinions, it is also to spend more time thinking about how cartoons might reify and clarify existing opinions.

One test might be one’s reactions to cartoons/humor that challenges one’s views (and if you are in favor of voter ID laws, then you have already seen those examples).  But for me, the examples are below. For instance, Gary Warvel raises the most prominent counter-argument about the activities that require an ID.  See here, as well.  (Also, see a few that raise the issue of dead voters–also here).

The argument here is simple and straightforward and needs to be addressed, as its logic clearly appeals to large numbers of people (whereas the fear of dead people voting, or people voting multiple times, seems simple a fear tactic).

More pieces of note:

*Daily Show on voter ID laws.  Ohio. (also, here and here)  Pennsylvania.


*Some nice history with a bit of satire by David Blight.  A cartoon comment on the history.

*Bill Maher on voter suppression.

*How to Steal and Election (feature comics)

*This might not be directly related, but W. Kamau Bell’s new show “Totally Biased” is great. And he is doing really interesting political humor.

*Register to vote.  Go here for instructions.


*A good collection of cartoons on the subject at Cagle’s place.

What else?  Feel free to post other humor on the issue or to comment on this post.

(c) 2012, Tracy Wuster (all images and clips copyright of their producers, used under fair use)

15 responses

  1. How about this as a voter fraud story? It would put all those supposedly dead voters to shame.

  2. […] keeping with our recent political focus, we present Mark Twain’s “A Presidential Candidate.”  In light of […]

  3. Good to note the difference between voter fraud (illegal voting) and election fraud (coordinated efforts to disenfranchise or otherwise influence elections). Note:

  4. […] here.  We have also looked at political cartoons here and here . The question of voter fraud here. See also Mark Twain’s views on running for president here.  But increasingly that role […]

  5. Reblogged this on Humor in America and commented:

    Today is the last day to register to vote in Texas. Check your status and vote.

  6. I think it’s really fascinating how blatant the actions of our politicians are, these days. No matter how much light the opposition sheds on issues like voter registration, the indoctrinated will always defend it. Its really sad how systematically dumbed down and brainwashed Americans have become that our elected officials don’t even have to cloak their actions all that heavily, any more.

  7. Voting could be lots more fun if it weren’t for the Democraps and Repuglicons. I mean it isn’t like the parties actually listen to regular folk. There isn’t much difference between ‘Craps’ and the ‘Licons’. Not really. The “parties” seem almost like conjoined at the hip twins. Or maybe parasitic cling-ons with the War Party being the host body.
    Besides, voting only encourages the warmongering freaks and I’m one American that’s about had enough of that ever so annoying ‘global war of terror’.

    1. No difference between the parties? Surely you must be joking. Maybe not on some issues, but even on the issue of voting rights–which a lot of people fought a long time for–the differences are stark and clear. Your clever names almost had me convinced, though.

      1. tsk tsk, no sense of humor whatsoever…

      2. At least “skulzstudios” understands his/her problem.

  8. Excellent post. I am going through some of these issues as well..

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