The polls are showing many very tight midterm races across the country, a sign that Republicans could retain control of Congress in 2019. The thoughts of another two years of President Trump — with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and likely Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doing his bidding on Capitol Hill — are too frightening to contemplate. But if that occurs I believe it will be due in no small part to Republican efforts to suppress voters.
In 2013 the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act that required prior federal approval for voting law changes in some — mostly southern — states. Republican-controlled states immediately began passing voter ID legislation to make voting more difficult for minorities and other voter segments that typically favor Democrats.
Republicans use voter fraud as a reason for voting restrictions even though multiple studies show that illegal voting is almost nonexistent. They don’t care; they simply lie about the statistics and continue taking extreme measures to prevent something that rarely occurs.
Voting is probably the most fundamental and important right we have as American citizens. Without it, we have no voice in government and our fate is decided by others. Republicans want to make sure those “others” are older white people.
Many Americans believe voter ID laws are appropriate. A picture ID is required to fly, cash a check and even see a doctor. Why shouldn’t everyone have to show one to vote? Well, there are millions of people who don’t have a driver’s license, who never fly and who don’t have a bank account. Some are elderly, some are in college and many are poor minorities. But these laws always go much further than simply showing identification; they limit voter registrations, cut early voting days and much more.
The 2013 North Carolina voting law was a classic attempt to suppress typically Democratic votes. It was struck down by a federal court in 2016 because the judges found that its provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The Republican-controlled legislature did a study on when North Carolina’s black citizens vote; then they crafted the law to limit those opportunities, including Sunday voting.
Republican secretaries of state like Georgia’s Brian Kemp and Kansas’ Kris Kobach – both current candidates for governor in their states — have been aggressively purging voter rolls for years. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 1.5 million were eliminated in Georgia alone. Purges have also occurred in Texas, Florida and other states formerly restricted by the Voting Rights Act — and many voters were eliminated secretly and without notice.
In North Dakota, which has a substantial native American population, the Republican legislature passed a law that picture IDs must have a street address to be valid for voting purposes. They knew that Indian reservations don’t necessarily have streets marked out and that residents don’t have addresses. I believe their intent was to limit voting by this group who mostly support Democrats, including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp who is on the ballot this year. I think this is criminal.
In Georgia, the Republican legislature passed an “exact match” law that allowed the secretary of state’s office to reject voter registration and absentee ballot applications where the name and address did not precisely match records the state had on file. Secretary of State Kemp was holding up 53,000 applications under this law. Even an extra comma or space would invalidate an application. How ridiculous can an attempt to suppress voters get? Fortunately, a judge blocked this law from taking effect.
Closing polling places or positioning them to make voting more difficult is popular in Republican-controlled states and counties. Examples abound in Georgia, Florida and in other – mostly southern – states. Moving polling places off college campuses is typical; so is closing them in counties with a large minority population. A report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that Cochise County, Arizona, which has a 30 percent Spanish-speaking population, shutdown 63 percent of its polling places after the 2013 SCOTUS decision on voting rights. In 2016 there was only one polling place for every 7,200 residents.
Perhaps the most egregious example of poll manipulation has recently occurred in Dodge City, Kansas. The 13,000, mostly Hispanic, registered voters had their polling place moved a mile outside the city. There are no bus stops nearby or sidewalks from the city to the polling place. In a state where the average number of voters per polling place is reported to be 1,200, the voters in Dodge have only one.
Enacting discriminatory voter ID laws, purging voter rolls without informing those involved and eliminating polling places to make it harder for minorities and college students to vote should be a crime. And those — mostly Republican — officials who have committed these acts should be prosecuted. Intentionally destroying ballots is a crime, why shouldn’t intentionally suppressing voters call for jail time too?
If Republicans retain control of Congress after Tuesday’s election, I believe it will be primarily due to two factors — Fox News and the pervasive right-wing media as outlined in my last blog — and the undemocratic efforts of Republican officials to suppress the votes of those who support Democrats.
Instead of adopting winning policies on things like health care, Republicans try to change the rules to disenfranchise opposition voters. I say, lock’em up.