Voter Suppression: The Sneak Attack on Democracy
“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Voter suppression is, unfortunately, nothing new in the United States. But since May, when Trump announced a commission to investigate “voter fraud” in the 2016 presidential election (during which he claimed “three to five million” votes were cast illegally), there have been renewed attempts to use the minuscule threat of fraudulent votes being cast to systematically purge voter databases and block citizens from voting.
The “election integrity” commission is chaired by Vice President Pence and vice-chaired by Kris Kobach, who is notorious for his ties to white nationalist organizations and his work to suppress and intimidate voters in his home state of Kansas. There, as Secretary of State, Kobach has led the effort to suppress Black, Latinx, and Asian voters with his Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program. Common Cause’s report “Flawed From The Start” explains how this commission, unlike its predecessors, is controlled by one party (Republicans) instead of being truly bipartisan; holds closed instead of open meetings; and focuses on stopping people from voting rather than facilitating voting processes.
The Myth of Voter Fraud
There is no need for a special commission to investigate double voting or any other types of improper votes. Voter fraud, at least on the vast scale Trump seems to think it happens, does not exist.
The real goal of the commission is to continue the legacy of voter suppression in the US by purging tens of millions of eligible voters from the rolls. This effort has already begun. In June, the commission’s first act was to ask all 50 states to turn over all publicly available data on voters, including their party affiliations, addresses, and partial social security numbers. We don’t know exactly how these data will be used; the commission hasn’t disclosed this yet. Because of this, many states refused the commission’s request. There have been lawsuits against this request on the grounds that under the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, the federal government is prohibited from maintaining records of voter party affiliation.
Vote Suppressing Policies
As Secretary of State of Kansas, Kobach has constantly made unfounded claims of improper voting in Kansas – and across the country. In fact, in one glaring example of Kobach’s baseless accusations of voter fraud he claimed that a specific deceased Kansas citizen – Albert Brewer – had cast a ballot in 2010, based on a simple name comparison between the voter registration database and vital records. The problem? Mr. Brewer had a son, also named Albert Brewer, who was very much a living, eligible voter.
Despite finding fewer than a dozen substantiated cases of improper voting in the state of Kansas, Kobach has successfully lobbied for strict voter ID laws and the ability for his office to prosecute voter fraud cases. Perhaps even more dangerously he has worked to promote vote suppressing policies and legislation across the country, including inviting a cadre of vote fraud fearmongers to testify before the commission.
Fight Voter Suppression
At the LOCAL level
- Investigate opportunities in your county to serve on or attend meetings of an Election Advisory Committee, Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee (improving voting access for people with disabilities), or a Language Accessibility Advisory Committee (improving voting process for people with limited English proficiency). If these advisory committees do not all exist in your county, you can work toward forming a new committee!
- Become involved in ACLU People Power activities as part of their Let People Vote campaign.
- Find a local League of Women Voters.
At the STATE level
- Check on where your state stands here or here with regard to laws restricting voting access or increasing voting access.
- Contact your elected state representatives to advocate for specific measures to remove barriers to voter registration and voting (removing strict ID laws, implementing automatic voter registration, etc.).
- Find your Common Cause state office (they have 35 state offices) and learn about what initiatives they are working on and how you can help.
- Work toward putting an initiative on the ballot that would increase voting access. These states are the ones where citizens can sponsor a ballot initiative.
At the NATIONAL level
- Urge the Democratic Party to fight voter suppression at the state and local levels and in the courts.
- Consider volunteering with or donating to one of these national organizations committed to expanding voting rights.