Republicans make up about 26 percent of the electorate in America, yet they control two-thirds of statehouses across the country. How is that possible?
I’ve been around politics all my life, so let me cut to the chase of what can be a fairly complex issue.
It’s called voter suppression.
Republicans, in their hearts, desire one day of voting for everybody on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
Democrats, in their hearts, desire weeks, which includes weekends, of early voting leading up to the November election.
Republicans are also keen to support additional requirements, like mandatory picture ID or proof of a home address.
Democrats want voting as convenient — especially for young people, minorities and the working class — as possible.
Because Republican voters are more traditional, more white. more rural, and more likely to show up on a given day for a one-day vote.
Where Democratic voters are less traditional, multicultural, working class, younger, and more likely to vote if you give them multiple ways to do it.
So it’s not surprising that the majority of Republican officials, including governors, secretaries of state and legislatures, across the country have been working feverishly for years to roll back early voting, and purge the voter rolls.
Why open up the process when your team does so much better if you can contain who is voting and when?
Republican strategist Paul Weyrich was very honest about it back in 1980:
“I don’t want everyone to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the election quite candidly goes up as the voting population goes down. We have no responsibility, moral or otherwise, to turn out our opposition. It’s important to turn out those who are with us.”
For decades Republicans have employed techniques that favor smaller voter turnouts, including:
- Closing polling places in largely minority precincts
- Purging eligible voters from the rolls without their knowledge
- Barring felons from voting
- Mandating photo ID
- Eliminating early voting
All of these strategies, designed to suppress the vote, have been widely successful for a party that now controls the White House, Congress, Supreme Court and two-thirds of governors and state legislatures across the country.
This isn’t a new issue. But what is new is the length that some Republicans are going to in order to prevent some people from voting.
Just last week the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, including Justice Brett Kavanaugh, allowed North Dakota’s onerous voter-ID law to remain on the books and enforced for the 2018 election cycle.
That law requires specific forms of ID and proof of residence, both of which many Native Americans lack. Many Native Americans do not have traditional residential street addresses, meaning they simply cannot comply with the new law.
The requirements were put into place by Republicans after Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s razor-thin victory in 2012, together with a host of other rule changes that make it harder for Native Americans—who make up about 5 percent of the state—to vote.
This year, Heitkamp is facing a tough re-election race against a Republican challenger who is now favored, thanks to her vote against Kavanaugh, to win.
With the GOP in charge, the rate at which people are being purged from the voting rolls has increased substantially compared to a decade ago, according to a report from the Brennan Center published this summer.
The analysis found about four million more people were purged between 2014 and 2016 than in the equivalent period between 2006 and 2008.
“We also found that there was a particular increase in areas that used to be covered by the Voting Rights Act Section 5,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel with the Brennan Center’s democracy program and co-author of the report.
In 2013, the Supreme Court decided Shelby County v. Holder, which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act and made it much easier for states and municipalities to enact discriminatory measures.
Prior to this decision states with a history of racial discrimination had to secure advance clearance from the federal government before changing voting processes.
But the Supreme Court did away with those requirements, opening the floodgates to voter suppression.
One of the states taking full advantage of it is Georgia, which begins early voting today.
“Georgia has had a number of problematic and controversial voter registration and purging practices over the last few years,” said Brater.
So far 214 polling places (8 percent of the state’s total) have been closed in Georgia since 2012.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp is now the Republican candidate for governor of that state, running in a dead heat with longtime voting rights activist, Democratic state representative Stacey Abrams.
As a result of Kemp’s closures, 53 of Georgia’s 159 counties have fewer precincts today than they did in 2012. Of those 53 counties, 39 have poverty rates that are higher than the state average, and 30 have black populations of more than 25 percent.
Bottom line: Three-quarters of the counties affected are disproportionately non-white. Or non-Republican voters, which helps Kemp in his bid for governor.
In battleground Ohio, a pivotal swing-state, Republican secretary of state Jon Husted, now a candidate for lieutenant governor, has been busy purging the voter rolls.
As I wrote in my book Front Row Seat at the Circus:
There is no question Republican lawmakers in Ohio and other states have looked at where the Democratic early votes are coming from—like the Sunday before the election “Souls to the Polls” effort where predominately African American parishioners go from church to the polling place—and attempted to eliminate or restrict them. Billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros has bankrolled lawsuits against states like Ohio that have started rolling back early voting opportunities. Republicans claim they’re doing it to prevent voter fraud, but Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is in charge of Ohio’s elections, admits that is not an issue in the Buckeye State. In fact, voter fraud in Ohio amounted to 0.002397 percent (135 “possible” cases out of 5.63 million votes cast) in 2012.
Ohio’s voting law is similar to Georgia’s, except registered voters in Ohio become ineligible in two years instead of three.
The Commission on Civil Rights concluded in a report, “voter roll purges often disproportionately affect African-American or Latino-American voters.”
Do you need more examples of how Republicans are tilting elections their direction?
The legacy of Jim Crow is still alive in the south, where felons are barred from voting, even after their sentences are complete.
That happens in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia—all former Confederate states.
As a result, more than 7 percent of the total voting-age population is disenfranchised because of criminal convictions.
In four of those state,s more than one in five black Americans is disenfranchised—Florida (21 percent), Kentucky (26 percent), Tennessee (21 percent), and Virginia (22 percent)—due to policies of mass incarceration, crime rates in communities struggling under economic and racial oppression, inequality of opportunity.
It’s called the “New Jim Crow” for a reason.
There are the 3 million Americans who lack photo IDs, typically less affluent people in urban areas—disproportionately people of color. Again, likely non-Republican voters.
After President Obama’s reelection in 2012, 15 states with Republican majorities enacted voter-ID laws, with a false claim that it was about voter fraud.
Keep in mind, most of these Republican officials also serve as head of elections too. Meaning if there was truly voter fraud, they would be responsible for overseeing it.
As Husted admitted, there is no fraud issue in Ohio and the same goes for other battleground states (most with GOP election officials running the show).
Voters can reclaim this issue by simply voting.
There are more pro-voter ballot initiatives this year than perhaps any election in recent history.
These include the restoration of voting rights to people who have served their time in Florida, wholesale modernization of the elections system in Michigan, automatic registration in Nevada, Election Day registration in Maryland, and nonpartisan redistricting in Utah.
The question is: Do voters who have a difficult time voting find the time to cast a ballot? We’ll know the answer soon.