It should be easy for every citizen to vote. Republicans have made it way, way harder.
11 min read
“I don’t want everybody to vote. … [O]ur leverage in elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down…” — PAUL WEYRICH, right-wing political strategist and a co-founder of both Heritage Foundation and ALEC, in a 1980 speech preaching the virtues of voter suppression.
Like a mad Roman emperor, the man in the White House paces the dark hallways in the wee hours, cursing all who defy him and screeching at the gremlins torturing his mind. “Where’s the collusion?” he bellows through his thumbs. “Witch hunt!” the emperor shrieks, blaming the dreaded Mueller, the craven Sessions, traitorous Democrats, the fake news media, the rotten Rosenstein, and so many other diabolic forces ruining his reign with accusations that his 2016 Electoral College victory was boosted by Russian meddling. “It is all a big hoax,” he mutters manically, pointing out that he’s been told by Putin himself that Russia did not interfere.
In fact (a place Trump never wants to visit), election meddling was rampant in 2016, and his campaign’s blatant collusion in it corrupted America’s democratic process and perverted our nation’s public policies for the benefit of those behind the rigging. Moreover, the riggers are doing it again, with the goal of stealing the November midterm elections. But Putin and his Kremlin trolls are the least of it. The chief US election meddlers are not Russians. They’re Republicans.
For more than a decade, such GOP political schemers as Karl Rove, the Koch cabal, and ALEC have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars from corporate supremacists like ExxonMobil, the US Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, and AT&T to collude in a massive, nationwide offensive to re-write rules and take actions to prevent you from voting. Yes, you. The GOP’s relentless voter suppression strategy is both way less and much more than they want us to know. Start with less. The party’s suppressionists insist they are patriots coping with a crisis of fraudulent voters, including hordes of “illegal aliens” swarming across the Mexican border to vote Democratic in 2016. Trump alleges that he, not Clinton, handily won the popular vote–“if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” (The final tally by the non-partisan Cook Political Report shows Clinton winning the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes.)
You have no right to vote
THE RIGHT OF ALL CITIZENS to help choose their representatives is the heartbeat of our democratic society. Right? Yet–heart attack!–the US Constitution does not actually guarantee that right. Rather, in a Big Boo-Boo, the founders relegated laws regarding suffrage to the states, thus empowering assorted state and local officials to grant–or deny–access to the ballot to various groups of Americans. The 15th, 19th, and 25th Amendments to the Constitution decree that states cannot deny the vote to anyone on the basis of race, sex, and age, but all other exclusions are left open. This is the skeleton key that unlocks the door for racist, plutocratic, misogynous, xenophobic, theocratic, and other malevolent forces to exclude portions of the masses from having a say in their nation’s public affairs.
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In 2011, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., worked diligently to right this wrong by pushing for a Constitutional amendment establishing voting as a HUMAN RIGHT, not subject to the inclinations of a state official or leg-islature. Jackson’s amendment would have prohibited any “public or private person or entity” from rigging the polls with artifices to deny or hinder a qualified person’s entrance.
Ironically, Jackson’s Right to Vote Amendment was never allowed to come to a vote in Congress. Today the need to enshrine our voting right in America’s most authoritative document is more pressing than ever, and the idea has since been re-introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan and 37 co-sponsors.The grassroots group, Fair Vote, is rallying public support for a Right to Vote Amendment and other reforms. fairvote.org/right_to_vote_amendment
Oddly though, only Republicans have the super-sense to see so many foreigners casting ballots. Odder yet, when grandstanding GOP politicians launch official investigations to uncover, capture, and prosecute the miscreants, they can’t find them.
Thee Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity that Trump created in May 2017 to snare those chimerical Hillary voters only met twice, and its fractious and goofy members turned up no villainous voters.
How goofy? Trump’s choice for vice chair was Kris Kobach, a clownish Tea Party extremist, Kansas secretary of state, and now the Republican gubernatorial nominee. He’s an infamous basher of immigrants and Muslims and pursuer of illicit Latino voters. In his eight years as Kansas secretary of state, huffing and puffing about the horror of mass voting violators, Kris nailed a grand total of nine poll violators. Nine. None were Mexicans sneaking in to elect Democrats. Indeed, most were older, white Republican men caught voting twice. There are your “hordes.”
Kobach’s bumbling followed him to the commission, which was so unsuccessful that Trump abruptly disbanded it after eight months of catching nothing but withering public ridicule for frittering away taxpayer money to chase a partisan fiction. Even then, Trump maintained the lie: “[There is] substantial evidence of voter fraud.”
Huh? So zero is now “substantial”?
It comes down to the Elementary Principles of Political Lying: First, make it a BIG lie, the more outlandish the better; second, reiterate and embellish it constantly, using your most authoritative voice; third, add a bugaboo that plays to xenophobia and racism; and fourth, don’t worry about proving the lie, just create suspicion within a small but noisy and hyper-partisan minority that it might be true. Thus, we have Trump, members of Congress, governors, and other far-right officials claiming that masses of malevolent foreigners are slipping undetected into voting booths to pervert America’s democratic process.
This is where and why the GOP’s suppression strategy switches from being less than meets the eye to being much, much more. While the number of foreigners voting illegally is insignificant, they are the hobgoblin spotlighted to distract public attention from the real agenda: implementing scores of repressive anti-voting measures and blocking millions–yes, millions–of qualified voters from any demographic group that might be inclined to favor Democrats and progressive ballot initiatives.
VOTE! (if you can)
At election time, our nation’s establishment blossoms in a glorious display of patriotic purpose as political parties, the media, banks, corporations, etc., drape themselves with bunting and implore everyone to exercise their “right and duty” to vote. But wait, this rousing bugle call to democratic participation omits a little-known sour note: There is no explicit, Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.
Indeed, from the start of our United States of democratic ideals, exclusion from the voting franchise has been the norm. It has taken decade after decade of epic struggles to bring more Americans–ever so gradually–into our country’s voting community. This political and social drama has often been violent, sometimes shameful, and occasionally triumphant, including these plot twists:
In the first national election, only white, male property owners (6 percent of the population) could vote.
The women’s suffrage movement was launched at a “rights of woman” convention in Seneca Falls, NY.
The property ownership requirement was eliminated, so nearly all white men were legally permitted to vote.
Connecticut and Massachusetts adopted a literacy test to prevent Irish Catholic immigrants from voting.
The 15th Amendment was adopted, allowing male citizens of all races, including former slaves, to vote.
Southern states began imposing poll taxes to exclude poor people generally (and racial minorities specifically) from voting.
Numerous states (not just in the South) began imple-menting “literacy tests” aimed at keeping African-Americans and Latinos from voting.
The 17th Amendment required US senators to be elected directly by popular vote, not appointed by state legislatures.
The Supreme Court ruled literacy tests unconstitutional.
The 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote, 72 years after Seneca Falls.
The Indian Citizenship Act allowed Native Americans
The Supreme Court outlawed “White Primaries” run by private associations, declaring the nomination process a public process.
The Supreme Court ruled gerrymandering unconstitutional.
The 24th Amendment banned the poll tax in federal elections ($1.50 at the time, $12 today) per voter.
In Selma, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., headed a voter registration campaign that led to President Lyndon Johnson’s push for passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The VRA outlawed blatant legal barriers that shut racial minorities out of the polls and required the Justice Department to review new voting requirements proposed by Southern states.
The 26th Amendment, pushed by the anti-Vietnam War movement, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
The “Motor Voter Law” passed, making it easier to register to vote.
In an unprecedented act of judicial activism, a slim majority of Supreme Court justices (driven by anti- democracy ideologue and fierce Republican partisan, Antonin Scalia) fabricated a contorted legal argument in Bush v. Gore to prevent a recount of Florida’s presidential vote, thus making George W president by judicial fiat. is brazen theft of democratic authority was an eye-opener for GOP funders and operatives, who saw that partisan courts could give legal cover to their large-scale rigging of election mechanics to take away Democratic votes–all in the name of assuring election integrity.
Suppression is us!
In the best of circumstances, getting workaday people to vote is not easy. Some can’t afford to skip work. Some say, My vote doesn’t matter anyway, or It’ll put me on the list for jury duty, and I can’t afford to serve. It’s been consistently shown that any added hindrance reduces turnout. Eureka! shouted right-wing interests, as it dawned on them that this natural tendency could be exploited with a two- pronged game plan: (1) deliberately create barriers and burdens to make voting difficult or dicey in targeted precincts, and (2) pour money and political energy into electing and appointing activist Republican judges who would uphold those burdens as lawful.
👇 DO SOMETHING 👇
Election Protection–866-OUR-VOTE–is a national, non-partisan, year-round coalition of groups working to protect everyone’s right to vote in every state. The coalition has produced state-based “what to do” guides and a national hotline for voters who encounter problems. Learn more and volunteer: 866ourvote.org
The Voting Rights Institute takes on small and large voter rights cases across the country. Resources for voters and lawyers alike are here: votingrightsinstitute.org
iVote works to elect secretaries of state who support voting rights and supports automatic voter registration legislation: ivoteforamerica.org
DontGetPurged.org lets voters check the national voter file co-op to make sure they are still on the rolls. It’s easy to check if you have been purged or not. Visit DontGetPurged.org. And spread the word! They need our help getting the message out–especially in aggressive purge states.
Thus, outright voter suppression has quickly become the core component of the GOP’s electoral strategy. Republican leaders became wholly committed to this approach after Barack Obama won the national election in 2008 with a heavy outpouring of support from young people, African-Americans, women, Latinos, union members, and other components of America’s progressive majority. Many of their repressive tactics have been in play for decades, but recently, their expansive plan has grown more urgent (i.e., desperate) as their man Trump has grown more obviously unhinged and unpopular. Incapable of increasing the number of Republican voters, their hope rests on decreasing the number of Democratic ballots. Thus, a shocking array of scurrilous schemes will be in place next month to deny the most fundamental means of democratic participation to entire groups of valid, Democratic-leaning voters.
Just as the GOP intended, its decade-long effort to stack courts has cleared the way for this massive daylight robbery, with a five-person Supreme Court majority under Chief Justice John Roberts taking the lead. Five Supremes blew open the door to electioneering chicanery in a 2013 ruling, in Shelby County v. Holder, that eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision was written by Roberts, who blithely decreed that the federal government no longer needs to protect voters, even from rank racial discrimination, because –hallelujah!–“things have changed dramatically.” Evidently racism has been eliminated!
Of course, Roberts’ phony, kumbaya sentiment was pure sophistry, disguising his real intent: signaling to Republican officials across the country that it was now open season on Democratic-inclined voters. Sure enough, within hours of the court’s ruling, North Carolina’s rabidly repressive GOP legislature slammed the ballot box shut on multitudes of Black, Latino, and other voters with its voter ID law. One Tar Heel official gloated: “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.” Likewise, Republican-controlled governments in Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, and elsewhere immediately rushed out to a briar patch of vote-denying tactics:
Purging nearly 16 million eligible voters from registration rolls on the arbitrary grounds that they haven’t voted in six years.
Rejecting voter-registration applications on absurd technicalities (Ohio’s election chief nullified tens of thousands in 2016 because the applications were printed on paper he deemed too thin.)
Demanding proof of citizenship to get a ballot
Discriminating among voters with the forms of acceptable photo IDs (In Texas, open-carry gun permits are sufficient; college student IDs are not.)
Refusing to reinstate citizenship rights to former felons who’ve served their time, taking the ballot from 6 million people
Autocratically ruling that college students must vote in their parents’–not their campus–precinct
Disqualifying the votes of people who make trivial mistakes on their ballots, such as putting the date on the wrong line
Imposing logistical barriers such as: shrinking early voting periods from a month to just days; cutting the number of polling places in Democratic-inclined communities; and shriveling budgets so only a handful of voting machines and election officials are available, thus creating such intolerable lines and waits that many people give up their franchise
Using old-fashioned intimidation and trickery, such as circulating fliers listing a wrong date or bad address for neighborhood polling places, putting pistol-packing white “poll watchers” in black precincts, or loudly warning voters in Latino neighborhoods that immigration officials are coming.
Let me put this as bluntly as it deserves: The governors, lawmakers, corporate front groups, election officials, and all other shamefully partisan actors in the vote suppression game are lowlife gangsters. In an honest world, all of them would be required on Election Day to wear ski masks that exemplified their role in the GOP’s grand theft of the American people’s most valuable civic property: their votes.
Conspiring in statehouses, courts, and corporate dens, their treachery is also pillaging our society’s essential foundation: faith in the fairness and integrity of elections. I didn’t grasp the scale and depravity of the thievery until I started preparing this piece. They’ve stooped to the level of stealing democracy itself.
Striving to minimize turnout for partisan gain is not only base and destructive, it is, in a word, immoral. Voting ought to be made easy and open–an inviting, uplifting, and patriotic experience for all. Voter registration should be simple, automatic, and permanent. Election day should be a national holiday, so work doesn’t inhibit participation. Early voting, voting by mail, and secure in-person voting systems should be the norm in every precinct. Polling places should be abundant, easily accessible, open at convenient hours, and amply staffed with cordial and capable problem solvers. All voting machines should include verifiable paper-ballot backups. Intimidation and trickery should be not only scorned, but outlawed. In short, the guiding ethic behind every election should be to encourage participation by every citizen.
Like getting plutocratic money out of politics, freeing the polls so that every citizen can participate in elections is essential for our democracy. The good news is that, while many electoral changes are needed at the national level, grassroots coalitions can still enact substantial democratic advances right where they live–at the state, country, city, and even precinct levels. See the Do Something box to see how you can help. The vote you save might be your own!