Allegations of voter suppression continue to rock America.
In North Dakota, thousands of Native American voters may be prevented from voting next week in a key Senate race because of an ugly technicality that amounts to targeted voter suppression.
And in Kansas — where restrictive voting laws have been championed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach — the majority-Hispanic residents of Dodge City can no longer vote in their community after its single polling place was closed.
In Georgia, hundreds of thousands of citizens were “purged” from the voting rolls in what election-law experts have called the worst disenfranchisement of voters in modern American history.
Other states such as Ohio and Georgia have enacted “use it or lose it” laws, which strike voters from registration rolls if they have not participated in an election within a prescribed period of time.
Republicans in Michigan managed to claim nine out of 14 congressional seats after winning only half of the popular vote – for the third election in a row. There is a new initiative to end to gerrymandering in the state, on the ballot, but a group backed by the conservative DeVos family just donated $1.6m to defeat the anti-gerrymandering initiative.
Yes, voter suppression is alive and well in the United States.
Many of the restrictions are part of a broader Republican strategy to tighten access to the ballot — an effort that was bolstered in 2013 by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling.
Georgia has closed 214 polling places in recent years. They have cut back on early voting. They have aggressively purged the voter rolls and have removed almost 10 percent of people from its voting rolls. That’s one and a half million people that have been purged from 2012 to 2016 in Georgia alone. Most of them, minorities.
Current Georgia secretary of state and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp has been criticized for remaining in office as he runs against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Under Kemp an “exact match” policy has been enacted. This is when a voter’s application has to match – without an errant dash, space, hyphen or period, for example – the information listed in social security or driver’s license databases. Outraged civil rights groups and a number of lawsuits claim it disproportionately affects minority voters, specifically African Americans.
Georgia first tried to put this policy in place in 2009 when it previously had to approve its voting changes with the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, and the federal government actually blocked this exact-match system from going into effect because they said it was discriminatory against minority voters, who are more likely to be flagged by this system. Then when Brian Kemp was elected, in 2010, he started doing this administratively.
In recent weeks, Georgia has attracted national attention for a number of measures and practices that voting rights advocates say are aimed squarely at decreasing minority turnout in a close contest. Kemp’s own comments have only fueled the fire, with leaked audio of Kemp complaining about increased voter turnout this election cycle.
Now, former President Jimmy Carter has joined a growing group of voting rights advocates and Abrams’s campaign in calling for Kemp to leave office before Election Day over a potential conflict of interest.
In an October 22 letter, the former president says that Kemp’s resignation is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s election. “One of the key requirements for a fair and trusted process is that there be nonbiased supervision of the electoral process,” Carter wrote, urging Kemp “to step aside and hand over to a neutral authority the responsibility of overseeing the governor’s election.”
Carter adds that Kemp stepping down “would be a sign that you recognize the importance of this key democratic principle and want to ensure the confidence of our citizens in the outcome.”
“What is happening to voting rights is fundamental to how we function as a country,” says Robert Greenwald, an independent filmmaker who is trying to fill the gap with a video that explores the problem.
“There has been nowhere near enough media attention,” he said.
Americans used to tell a joke about a black Harvard professor who moves to the Deep South and tries to register to vote. A white clerk tells him that he will first have to read aloud a paragraph from the Constitution. When he easily does so, the clerk says that he will also have to read and translate a section written in Spanish. Again he complies. The clerk then demands that he read sections in French, German, and Russian, all of which he happens to speak fluently. Finally, the clerk shows him a passage in Arabic. The professor looks at it and says, “My Arabic is rusty, but I believe this translates to ‘Negroes cannot vote in this county.’ ”
Old jokes have lately been finding renewed salience. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses, once the most common mechanisms for disadvantaging minority voters, have been consigned to the history books, but one need look no further than the governor’s race in Georgia to see their modern equivalents in action.
The big voting issue in North Dakota is that that state has recently passed a new voter ID law that was upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this month, and what’s alarming about that law is that the Republicans in North Dakota wrote it in such a way that for your ID to count, you have to have a current residential street address on your ID.
The problem in North Dakota is that a lot of Native Americans live on rural tribal reservations, and they get their mail at the Post Office using P.O. boxes because their areas are too remote for the Post Office to deliver mail, and under this law, tribal IDs that list P.O. boxes won’t be able to be used as a valid voter IDs. So now thousands of Native American voters will not be able to vote in the 2018 elections.
Florida is one of only four states that prevents ex-felons from voting, meaning even after you’ve served your time, you’ve paid your debt to society, you have to wait five to seven years in Florida to appeal to have your voting rights restored by the governor and his executive clemency board.
The current governor, Rick Scott, has restored voting rights to almost nobody. You have a situation in Florida where 1.6 million ex-felons can’t vote. That’s a staggering number. What that means is that one in 10 people in Florida — including one in five African-Americans in the state — can’t vote because they have a felony conviction.
So 10 percent of people in the most important swing state in the country, that has routinely decided recent presidential elections, aren’t able to participate and aren’t able to vote in 2018. And, most of these disenfranchised voters are minorities and more likely to vote democratic. No surprise there.
When Kris Kobach was first running for office in Kansas in 2010, he claimed he’d found evidence that thousands of Kansans were assuming the identities of dead voters and casting fraudulent ballots – a technique once known as ghost voting. However, no evidence emerged that anyone had ghost voted in Kansas that year.
Seven years on, as Donald Trump’s point man on reforming the US electoral system, Kobach has not backed away from those same scare tactics – no matter that he is frequently called a fraud and a liar, and his allegations entirely baseless.
On the contrary. Backed by a president who, days after assuming office, claimed that 3 to 5 million fraudulent ballots had been cast for Hillary Clinton, Kobach is enthusiastically spreading stories of voter impersonation on a massive scale, of out-of-state students voting twice, and of non-citizens casting illegal ballots.
As vice-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, his mission to root out “fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting” is sending chills down the spines of election experts and voting rights activists who believe he is intent on instituting a sweeping wave of new voter suppression laws.
Vanita Gupta, who headed the justice department’s civil rights division under President Obama, calls the commission a pretext “to kick millions of eligible voters off the rolls and undermine the sanctity of our election systems.”
In many states – notably North Carolina and Texas – Republicans have exploited their majority in the state legislature to gerrymander congressional districts to their advantage. While both parties gerrymander, it has become surprisingly common for the Republican party to win fewer votes than the Democrats and still come out ahead in the House or Senate or both.
Often, Republicans say there is voter fraud, thus the need for tighter laws. However, voter impersonation – of the type Trump repeatedly shouts about – is not a significant factor, and study after study has shown that while individual voter fraud does occasionally occur, it is rarer than being struck by lightning.
The specter of voter fraud was often invoked in the segregation era as an excuse to crack down on the rights of blacks and poor whites… and so it has proved alive and well in this century.
In the wake of Barack Obama’s election in 2008, there was an epidemic of racially coded appeals to the electorate’s worst instincts, including insinuations that Obama was not born in the United States and that busloads of illegal immigrants had poured over the Mexican border to seal his victory at the ballot box.
Most insidious of these efforts has been the introduction of strict new voter ID laws in Republican-run states across the country, because they have proven easy to sell as a common-sense antifraud measure. They also happen to create difficulties for voters – the transient, the elderly, students, the poor, all less likely to have driver’s licenses or other government ID – who are disproportionately black or brown and tend to favor the Democrats.
A government study has suggested that the introduction of stricter ID requirements could shave two to three percentage points off the Democratic party total.
The fact is, the president’s Election Integrity Commission and its actions are a ruse. Their only real intention is to disenfranchise voters. This is America.