One hundred and forty-eight years after the 15th amendment granted all Americans the right to vote and people are still fighting for voting rights in the US. The gains made by Democrats in the 2018 midterms are all the more remarkable given the ways in which the GOP has subverted democracy and skewed the playing field in their favor. Trump and Republicans allege electoral fraud as a pretext for voter suppression. While voter fraud is a ruse voter suppression is a very serious impediment to democracy in the US.
There are 18 states that have passed voter ID laws that make it harder for certain communities to vote. Joe Biden recently said that there are 70 pieces of legislation introduced by Republicans in 34 states that constitute voter suppression. Voter suppression contributed to Trump’s electoral victory in 2016. As a senior Trump official told Bloomberg “we have three major voter suppression operations underway.”
Until recently, these egregious efforts to sabotage democracy got little media attention. Analysis by Media Matters found that voter suppression was mentioned in only 8.9 percent of TV news segments on voting rights from July 2016 to June 2017 while Trump’s fraudulent fraud claims about non-citizen voters garnered 70 percent of the attention.
Wisconsin suppresses the black vote
The election that saw Trump lay claim to the Oval Office was the first election in Wisconsin’s history that required voters to present specific IDs to cast a ballot. This caused the number of African American voters in Milwaukee to decline by 23 percent compared to 2012. Nearly two-thirds of the state’s African American population resides in Milwaukee.
No Wisconsinite is more closely associated with rigging the system than Scott Walker who became governor in 2011. Along with his Republican legislature, he passed some of the most prohibitive voting laws in the country.
Although defenders of voter ID laws in Wisconsin point to voter fraud as a justification, however, there is very little evidence to support this contention. Citing a lack of evidence a federal judge blocked the Wisconsin voter ID law in 2014. This ruling was overturned by a conservative appeals court panel allowing Trump to reap the benefits in 2016. An MIT study by Charles Stewart estimated that due to hurdles like voter ID laws more than 1 million people were prevented from voting in 2016.
US District Judge James Peterson ruled that citizens in Wisconsin were denied the right to vote despite being “unquestionably qualified”. He also pointed out that 85 percent of those denied IDs by the DMV were black or Latino.
Cheating to win
As explained by Glenn Grothman, then a Republican state senator, the objective of voter suppression is to subvert democracy so that the GOP can win. “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity,” Grothman said.
The GOP‘s efforts to manipulate democracy through voter suppression began in 2010 when they took control of the 26 state legislatures. They immediately went to work passing laws that make it harder to vote. Since then 22 states have adopted voter suppression tactics.
What makes this practice even more disconcerting is the fact that it has been upheld by the Supreme Court. In 2013 the nation’s highest court gutted the Voting Rights Act which eliminated 868 places to vote. Now that the GOP has stacked the courts, justice on voting rights may prove elusive.
Another commonly employed tactic is to fail to provide adequate voter information in areas where the GOP is unpopular such as minority communities. A number of conservative groups either support or take an active role in voter suppression. The American Legislative Exchange Council helps states draft voter ID laws that exclude people of color.
Voter ID laws are one way to eliminate votes another even more brazen approach is to simply purge them from voter rolls. The midterm elections saw Republican Gubernatorial candidate and secretary of state Brian Kemp purge 1 in 10 Georgia voters in a successful electoral bid. It is no coincidence that most of those that were purged are African Americans.
This is not Kemp’s first attempt at manipulating the vote. A bit more than a year ago Kemp was on the losing side of a lawsuit that forced him to return over 40,000 votes to the voting rolls. At the last minute, Kemp also accused his opponent Stacey Abrams of hacking without any substantiating evidence.
While voter suppression has not gleaned much attention in the past that appears to be changing. There were court rulings, ballot initiatives, and action in state legislatures designed to prevent voter suppression and make voter registration much easier.
Oregon was the first state to enact automatic registration in 2016, a dozen other states (and the District of Columbia) have passed or implemented similar laws. As of November 2018, there are now almost 20 states that are facilitating voter registration.
In Florida, voters approved Amendment 4 which is a measure that automatically restores voting rights to more than 1 million felons who have completed their sentences (this measure will not apply to those convicted of sex crimes or murder). In Maryland and Michigan voters supported allowing residents to register on election day The latter and Washington state have enacted automatic voter registration. Nevada passed Question 5 which is another ballot measure on automatic voter registration. New Jersey has also agreed on automatic voter registration.
“The ability to exercise your basic right to vote has become a right that’s more important now than arguably any other time in our nation’s history,” Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was elected last year, told Mother Jones. “Opening democracy up and making it work for as many folks as possible has never been more important.”
As reported by Mother Jones the Brennan Center for Justice indicates that there are a total of 514 bills to expand voting access. Even red states like Alaska, Georgia, and West Virginia have adopted automatic registration.
North Carolina keeps voter suppression alive
North Carolina is bucking the trend towards a more open democracy with the passage of a ballot initiative that will force voters to show a photo ID approved by legislators. North Carolina is a leader in voter suppression. They are one of the first states to make it harder for African Americans to vote and while this was struck down in federal court, the recent ballot measure will stand. There are currently restrictive voting laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
More than 50 years after Selma Alabama Americans are still fighting for their right to vote. States are pushing back against this cynical agenda as a part of a wider battle to defend democracy from Republicans.