Tag Archives: vote suppression

How To Suppress The Vote

I recently moderated an online discussion about vote suppression; it followed the showing of “Suppressed and Sabotaged: The Fight to Vote,” a documentary that was eye-opening. It turns out there are lots of ways to suppress votes that most of us don’t think about. The documentary illustrated a number of ways in which vote suppression has become more sophisticated—and less visible—since Reconstruction.

There are two main methods of discouraging the vote. The first is primarily aimed at minorities and poor people, who tend to vote Democratic, and focuses on making it as inconvenient as possible for the targeted people to cast ballots. The second is gerrymandering, which—among other pernicious things—suppresses the votes cast for whichever party is in the minority in a particular district, by convincing people in that party that their votes won’t count, so why bother.

And recently, just in case those methods don’t work, Trump partisans have come up with another tactic, triggered by belief in the “Big Lie.”

The film focused primarily on the first method, just making it more difficult to vote. Some of those tactics included shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots, making it harder to remain on the voter rolls, not sending mail ballots unless people specifically requested them, limiting drop boxes and early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods…and ensuring that the ones that do remain open will have interminable wait times by sending them an insufficient supply of voting machines. (The film showed the enormous disparity in the number of voting machines available at polling places in minority neighborhoods versus white suburban ones.)

There are also a wide number of bureaucratic moves and “inadvertent errors” that can make it more onerous to cast a ballot if you are in a targeted community.

The second method of vote suppression is gerrymandering, which is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

Gerrymandering, as you undoubtedly know, is the process of creating as many districts as possible favoring the party that controls the state legislature during redistricting. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans, and they’ve done a very good job of it; Indiana has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states. Indiana doesn’t have “one person one vote” because our districts have been drawn so that the rural areas where  most Republican voters live are vastly overrepresented.

As a result, in a depressingly large number of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed even by a token candidate. If you don’t have a candidate to vote for, why go to the polls? Indiana isn’t unique; In 2021, the Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a competitive Congressional District.

If all that wasn’t enough, in several states, Republicans pushing the Big Lie have embarked on yet another method of ensuring the victory of their candidates—placing partisans in the offices responsible for counting the votes. The GOP argues that vote fraud is widespread, despite reliable data showing that it is in fact extremely rare– and that the few scattered incidents that do exist don’t change results. (We also know that, despite hysterical accusations, non-citizens aren’t descending on polling places and casting votes for “the other side.”)

The real danger isn’t coming from people casting improper votes. The threat is that the people controlling the voting rolls and counting those votes will be dishonest, which is why a recent report from the Brennan Center is so concerning. This year, races for Secretary of State—the offices charged with administering the vote– are attract­ing far more atten­tion than in recent memory. And in state after state, including Indiana, those campaigns are focusing on elec­tion denial—Trump’s “Big Lie” as a cent­ral issue.

Money is flow­ing into these races at a rate not seen in recent memory–more than two and a half times the amount raised by the analog­ous point in 2018, and more than five times that of 2014. Brennan reports that elec­tion deniers in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Nevada are currently either in the lead or running a close second in fundrais­ing. National groups and donors are spend­ing on these races, includ­ing Donald Trump’s lead­er­ship PAC and others with ties to efforts to chal­lenge the 2020 result. Donors who haven’t previously given to secret­ary of state candid­ates are suddenly making major contri­bu­tions.

All of this activity is inconsistent with the notion that “We the People” elect our representatives. Instead, partisans—who are mostly but not exclusively Republicans these days— decide which people deserve to have their registrations honored and their votes accurately counted.

Something to think about in the run-up to the midterms…..

 

Vote Suppression Goes Sophisticated

Tuesday evening, I will facilitate a Zoom conversation sponsored by the League of Women Voters. (If you are interested, the link is to registration–it’s free.)The conversation will follow the showing of a film (“The Fight to Vote”) documenting the methods state legislators and Secretaries of State currently employ to keep “those people” (groups likely to vote for the other party, in this case, mostly Democrats) from casting their ballots.

They’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated since they turned vicious dogs on Black folks, demanded poll taxes and “constitutional tests”–but the new tactics are very effective.

Here is a general outline of the remarks I plan to make introducing the discussion.

________________________

What we’ve just seen shows the ways in which vote suppression has become more sophisticated—and less visible—since Reconstruction. There are actually two main methods of discouraging the vote. The first method is primarily aimed at minorities and poor people, who tend to vote Democratic. The tactic, as you saw in the film, is making it as inconvenient as possible for those people to cast their ballots. The second is gerrymandering, which—among other pernicious things—suppresses the votes of members of the minority party in a particular district by convincing people in that party that their votes won’t count anyway.

And recently, just in case those methods don’t work, they’ve come up with another tactic, triggered by belief in the “Big Lie.”

The film you just saw focuses primarily on the first method: making it more difficult to vote. Some of those tactics, which have been the focus of recent legislation in a number of states, include shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots, making it harder to remain on the voter rolls, not sending mail ballots unless people specifically request them (or “losing” them in the mail), limiting drop box locations and early voting, closing polling places in minority neighborhoods and ensuring that the ones that remain open will have horrendous wait times because they haven’t been supplied with enough voting machines. There are a wide number of bureaucratic moves that can make it much more onerous to cast a ballot if you are in a targeted community. The film gave you a good overview of those moves.

The second method is gerrymandering, which is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.

Gerrymandering, as you undoubtedly know, is the process of creating districts that will favor the party that controls the state legislature during redistricting. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans. Thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana doesn’t have “one person one vote” because the rural areas where Republican voters live are vastly overrepresented.

Gerrymandering allows the GOP to control our state legislature with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by thousands of votes statewide. We are not unique; In 2021, the Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a competitive Congressional District.

It isn’t hard to see how gerrymandering suppresses the vote. A lack of electoral competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduces political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to or campaign for a sure loser? Why vote at all?

It’s also very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the general election ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal candidate who offers no genuine challenge. In a depressingly large number of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed even by a token candidate. If you don’t have a candidate to vote for, why go to the polls?

Now, there’s something new to threaten American democracy and the vote. Recently, in several states, Republicans who purport to believe in the Big Lie have embarked on yet another method of ensuring the victory of their candidates—placing partisans in the offices responsible for counting the votes.

If they succeed, the danger won’t come from people casting improper votes. The threat is that the people controlling the voting rolls and counting those votes will be dishonest partisans, which is why a recent report from the Brennan Center is so concerning. This year, races for Secretary of State—the offices charged with administering the vote– are attract­ing far more atten­tion than in recent memory. And in state after state, those campaigns are focusing on elec­tion denial—Trump’s “Big Lie” as a cent­ral issue.

Money is flow­ing into these races at a rate not seen in recent memory–more than two and a half times the amount raised by the analog­ous point in 2018, and more than five times that of 2014. Elec­tion deniers in Arizona, Geor­gia, and Nevada are currently either in the lead or running a close second in fundrais­ing. National groups and donors are spend­ing on these races, includ­ing Donald Trump’s lead­er­ship PAC and others with ties to efforts to chal­lenge the 2020 result. Donors who haven’t previously given to secret­ary of state candid­ates are suddenly making major contri­bu­tions.

If this effort is successful, partisans won’t have to come up with creative ways to suppress the vote. There will be an actual “big steal.”

Obviously, all of this activity is inconsistent with American democracy. All of it rejects the notion that “We the People” elect our representatives. Instead, partisans—who are mostly but not exclusively Republicans these days— decide which people deserve to have their registrations honored and their votes counted.

As Common Cause folks put it, we voters are supposed to choose our legislators—our legislators aren’t supposed to choose their voters.

HR 1

HR 1 was the first bill passed by the House of Representatives after the Democrats won control in 2018, and it languished, of course, in Mitch McConnell’s “do-nothing-good” Senate. The question now is whether– with Democrats razor-thin control of that body–it can be passed.

Because passage is truly essential if we are to recover basically democratic governance.

There have been a number of articles and editorials about HR 1, but I particularly agreed with the headline on the subject from Esquire:“If We Don’t Pass HR 1, We Are F**ked As A Nation.”

The headline came from a quote by Josh Silver, who works for Represent.Us, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to ending political corruption, extremism, and gridlock.  The organization has promoted model legislation very similar to HR I since 2012.  Silver believes that, should we fail to pass these reforms,  America will continue what he calls “our decline into authoritarianism.”

“It is these problems that the bill addresses that are the root cause of the extremism and polarization that gave rise to Trump and the new sort of anti-representative form of government that the Republican Party has chosen to embrace. And I’m saying that as a truly nonpartisan guy.”

So–what would this measure accomplish?

Title one of the bill is John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act. Lewis introduced it–and saw it die–in five congresses in a row. It would make voting and access to the ballot box easier and more convenient by creating automatic voter registration across the country, and expanding early and absentee voting. It would also restore voting rights for felons, streamline the vote-by-mail process, and prohibit various voter-suppression tactics currently in vogue. It would also beef up election security– promoting the use of paper ballots and strengthening oversight of election-system vendors. (It also evidently backs a  grant of statehood for Washington, D.C., although not directly.)

In my favorite part of the bill, HR 1 would take on gerrymandering. It would require states to use independent commissions subject to strong conflict-of-interest rules. District maps would be approved differently, and would be more easily challenged if they are partisan and/or unrepresentative.

Another part of the bill–called the Disclose Act– would address “dark money” in politics.

The bill would institute an “Honest Ads” policy, where disclosure requirements for online political advertisements are expanded and strengthened. It would put in place a “Right to Know” policy where corporations would have to make shareholders aware of their specific political activity. It would root out participation of foreign nationals in fundraising—a foreign money ban. It would, per the name, beef up disclosure requirements for organizations engaging in political spending, including by reinforcing the Internal Revenue Service’s powers and prerogative to investigate misuse of charities to hide the source of political money.

The bill also addresses fundraising for Inaugurations, which has previously been a way for wealthy donors to curry favor with incoming administrations.

And finally, HR 1 deals with lobbying. It closes what has recently been called “the Michael Cohen exception,” where people who don’t lobby directly aren’t covered by some of the registration requirements, and it gives real enforcement power to the Office of Government Ethics. The bill bolsters ethics law in general: it requires presidents to release their tax returns, expands conflict-of-interest policy and divestment requirements, and attempts to slow the “revolving door” through which members of Congress and their staff have moved between government and the private sector, influence peddling while lobbying or serving  on corporate boards.

There are other provisions, but this overview gets at the major elements. Every citizen who has railed against vote suppression, despaired of getting rid of gerrymandering, and  cursed the outsized influence of big money in politics should lobby their Senators for its passage.

Florida, Felons And The Franchise

According to The Guardian, voter disenfranchisement is an American tradition.

It’s hard to dispute that charge when we find ourselves in the middle of vicious–and very public– attempts to suppress the upcoming vote: an assault on both vote-by-mail and the Post Office that would deliver absentee ballots, enthusiastic and none-too-careful “purges” of state voter rolls, and of course the continued insistence that “Voter ID” documentation is needed to prevent (virtually non-existent) in-person voter fraud.

But it’s hard to beat the obscene shenanigans of the Florida GOP, which has used every mechanism in its power to defeat the expressed will of citizens who voted to return the franchise to formerly incarcerated citizens. The Guardian provided background:

Civil death is a form of punishment that extinguishes someone’s civil rights. It’s a concept that has been reshaped and reinterpreted over many generations, persisting in the form of felony disenfranchisement, through which a citizen loses their right to vote due to a felony conviction.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who cannot vote in the country’s elections because of some form of civil death. Depending on the state they live in, they might even lose their right to vote permanently, or for years after they are released from prison. While the US has come to see this form of civil death as status quo, it is actually rare for a democratic country to take away a citizen’s voting rights after they leave prison, let alone forever. Countries like Germany and Denmark allow prisoners to vote while incarcerated, while others restore their rights immediately after release.

The US’s history of restricting the number of people who can vote in elections goes back to the colonies – and it’s a history that has disproportionately affected black people.

Why am I not surprised that this policy–like American social welfare policies–is rooted in racism?

The Guardian article proceeds to lay out the history of felon disenfranchisement, going all the way back to ancient Athens, Rome and medieval Europe and then through history, up to and including the Supreme Court’s refusal to find that either the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution forbid the practice. The history also laid out the way in which the drug war–which Michelle Alexander showed decisively was a new form of Jim Crow–was cited to justify the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals  who “just coincidentally” were overwhelmingly African-American.

In 2018, Florida voters passed “Amendment 4”, a measure that would restore the franchise to up to 1.4 million ex-felons. That ballot initiative, the Guardian noted, was one of the most significant voting rights victories for this population in decades.

So what happened?

Republican legislators passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay court fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. Critics of the law have called this payment requirement a modern-day poll tax. In July of 2020 the supreme court ruled in favor of the legislature, making it difficult for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to vote in the upcoming election.

As NPR reported last month,

The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a lower court order that likely will prevent hundreds of thousands of felons in Florida from voting in the November election. It is the fourth time that the court has refused to intervene to protect voting rights this year.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder, white Americans have begun (belatedly) to recognize how many of our policies are motivated by racial animus–and how many of those policies end up hurting everyone, not just their intended victims.

When it comes to voting rights, the GOP’s sustained effort to depress the votes of urban dwellers, people of color and poor people is both an admission and an attack: an admission that the party cannot win “fair and square,” and an attack on the majority rule that is the essence of a democratic system.

 

The Real Objection To Vote By Mail

I have some truly brilliant Facebook friends who regularly enlighten me.

For example, I have been puzzled by the degree of opposition displayed by Trump Republicans to voting by mail. The research shows pretty conclusively that vote by mail  doesn’t benefit either party (although it does increase turnout, and there are those who believe that larger turnout benefits Democrats.) It just seemed odd that the Trumpers would get so hysterical– and spend so much time and energy– fighting mail-in ballots.

Now I understand.

One of my Facebook Friends is David Honig, an Indiana lawyer whose posts are always informed and perceptive. However, his post this week–in which he answered the “why” question–was especially brilliant, because he cut through all the speculation and explained what is really motivating Republican opposition to vote by mail.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities telling them the election has been rescheduled, or their polling place changed, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, robocalls to black communities on election day, telling voters to relax, the Democrat has already won, won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, calling out the “Militia” to intimidate voters won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, a “random” road block near a black neighborhood on election day won’t work.

If people mail in their votes, closing down the polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods, and leaving the only polling place miles from the populace, without any public transportation, won’t work.

As David argues–pretty persuasively– this isn’t about managing expectations, or creating an argument about errors in the vote in the event of a close Trump loss. This is about Republicans not being able to use their usual tactics– their time-honored strategies to suppress minority turnout on election day–to eke out a win. (The links will take you to recent examples of those tactics.)

GOP opposition is about the fact that vote-by-mail would eliminate most of the cheating we actually see every election.

As one of my sons pointed out in a comment, an additional problem Republicans have with voting by mail is that it returns the system to good old-fashioned paper. Voting by mail, with paper ballots, eliminates concerns about computer hacking and (with many of the newer voting machines) the lack of paper backup.

With “vote by mail” there is a paper trail that can be checked for accuracy in the event of a dispute or recount.

Ironically, it turns our that the arguments about vote by mail actually are arguments about voter fraud– just not in the way Republicans are framing it.  Vote by mail is a way of preventing fraud–preventing games the GOP has perfected and played for years–preventing voter suppression tactics that are every bit as fraudulent as casting an unauthorized or impermissible ballot. When we talk about rigging an election, these are the methods that have been used for years to do the rigging.

Ultimately, vote by mail isn’t just about preventing the spread of disease, or about accommodating the schedules of working folks, or even about facilitating the casting of more thoughtful and considered ballots, although it will do all of those things. It’s about keeping elections honest.

I just didn’t see it before.

No wonder the Trumpublicans oppose it.