As primaries for November’s mid-term elections happen all over the country, our attentions are again on election integrity.
We are all aware by now Russia had an enormous hand in influencing the outcome of 2016.
And although Russia is an existential threat we must address, we don’t actually need Russia to turn people away from the polls.
We’re doing a pretty effective job of disenfranchising voters–particularly minorities–on our own.
Last week, it took the two-member Randolph County, Georgia elections board under one minute to vote to shudder seven predominantly African American polling places.
The board claimed there were “discussions about the number of voting precincts in Randolph County for many years,” citing finances due to declining population and the county’s tax base.
But critics argue the board’s decision pertained to Georgia’s gubernatorial race where former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, an African American female, faces Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal director, Sean J. Young, wrote in a letter to the elections board:
“These are the exact same polling places used in the primary and primary run-off earlier this year. It makes no sense to suddenly reduce the number of polling places for this November’s election, which will see far higher voter turnout than in primaries or the primary run-off.”
Last Friday morning, dozens assembled outside the county government building and packed into a courtroom to confront the suppression’s perpetrators.
Board of Elections member, Michele Graham, hastily made a motion the board reverse its initial decision.
Her fellow board member, J. Scott Peavy, seconded it.
The room exploded in laughter and applause.
It took a mob to show up and make them do the right thing.
A member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors, Edward Dubose, said about the victory:
“We are excited about this moment, but we’re watchful. This is a victory, but by no means should anyone relax. All of this happened under the leadership of Brian Kemp. We need to follow the trail all the way back and search out all of these attempts to set us back in voting rights.”
“This is a small example of what’s happening across Georgia to disenfranchise African Americans and minority voters.”
Most, though, are not achieving these victories.
43-year-old mother of three, Crystal Mason, of Texas has been sentenced to five years in prison with extra time in federal lock-up because she dared to vote.
She showed up to vote in the November 2016 presidential election to learn her name wasn’t registered on the voting rolls.
Instead of shrugging her shoulders and walking out, as most would have–and many hoped she would–she cast a provisional ballot.
She didn’t know she was ineligible to vote under Texas’s law prohibiting ex-felons from doing so.
After serving five years for tax fraud and living under supervised release, she is now looking at five more years for voting illegally.
Days before her court hearing, she told The Guardian:
“It doesn’t make any sense. Why would I vote if I knew I was not eligible? What’s my intent? What was I to gain but losing my kids, losing my mom, potentially losing my house? I have so much to lose, all for casting a vote.”
Ironically, provisional ballots aren’t even counted, so she was literally arrested for nothing.
Ten years ago the Republican party was licking its wounds after the country elected its first African American president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
But there was another, more insidious strategy.
Republicans knew they couldn’t come right out and criminalize voting, so they devised ways to make casting ballots harder, more inconvenient, frustrating, hoping people would stay home rather than go through all the trouble to practice their civic duty.
That’s when the term “voter fraud” started circulating around right-wing media. Simply accuse random people (mostly immigrants) of voting illegally, and enough “patriots” would rise up in an altruistic fervor to fortify the most fundamental of democratic institutions against those who seek to denigrate it. Some (Republican) states began instituting “voter I.D.” laws, requiring birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, for the right to vote. After all, minorities vote primarily for Democrats. If they are to preserve their hegemony, Republicans must take evasive measures.
Voter fraud, however, is a myth.
Voter suppression is very much alive in America, and Republican states are engaging in it in order to purge the voting roles.
We needn’t look further than Kansas, where the current Republican gubernatorial candidate and Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, masterminded the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.”
In 2013, Kobach boasted his Crosscheck system uncovered 697,537 “potential duplicate voters” in fifteen states. Those “potential duplicate voters” are listed by first and last names only on the supposition they are running around from state to state on election day casting multiple ballots. Everyone with that first and last name is kicked off subsequent nationwide voter roles irrespective of other identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, or birth dates.
“The Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races.”
According to Palast’s data, the 2016 presidential election produced the following results:
Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107
Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922
Trump victory margin in Arizona: 85,257
Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824
Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008
North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393
In June, the Supreme Court ramped up Republican voter suppression tactics when it decided in a split 5-4 decision along partisan lines to permit Ohio’s system for stripping voters from the rolls to proceed.
Image credit: Common Dreams