On May 11, 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order creating The Election Integrity Commission to combat voter fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law called this action a “sham” the very day the announcement was made. The Brennan Center, founded 25 years ago, is the premier authority on The Voting Rights Act of l965, Voter ID laws, Restricting the Vote, Redistricting and “The Myth of Voter Fraud”.
History: November, 2000 marked the controversial presidential election results between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Weeks stretched on before The Supreme Court stopped the chaotic vote count in Florida and declared George W. Bush president on the basis of his electoral vote total. Al Gore won the popular national vote, but he did not dispute the decision although many Democrats urged him to do so. George W. Bush moved on with his job and never raised the issue of voter fraud during or after the election.
On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump won the election with over 270 electoral votes to become president. Hillary Clinton brought in 2.8 million more popular votes when they were all counted. Ever since winning, the president has been obsessed with the size of the crowds at his inauguration and “the millions of people” who voted him into office. He has challenged Clinton’s popular majority vote by claiming that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally for her in California and other western states. The subject of voter fraud is one that he always brings up in interviews to support his claim that he is the “majority” president. He repeats it at victory rallies since the election, basking in the adoration of the crowds who invoke the “Lock her up” chant of the campaign.
In Arizona, Republican secretary of state, Michele Reagan, said that her state “didn’t have widespread voter fraud.” In New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said that the president’s allegations were “simply not true.” The American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) filed a legal request of the White House showing “concrete evidence “ of fraudulent voting.
At the Brennan Center, there was concern that Trump’s charge of “voter fraud by illegals” in the 2016 election would harm faith in the election system. They decided to prove once more that allegations of “widespread fraud” specifically noncitizen voting” were untrue. Over four months, they gathered facts from the officials who administer elections in the cities and counties with the largest numbers of noncitizens in the country. Across the 42 jurisdictions in their study of the 2016 election, they tabulated over 22 million votes. They documented 30 suspected incidents of noncitizens voting. As a percentage, this breaks down to 0.0001 % of all ballots counted. That’s one in 800,000 chance of voter fraud. A Texas election official dismissed Trump’s claims as “much ado about nothing.”
There was deep irony in the title of Trump’s Election Integrity Commission. Vice President Mike Pence is the head of the Commission and his spokesman Marc Lotter brought that out when he said that “voter suppression” would be among the topics studied by the commission which would take a wide-ranging look at the problems at the state and national levels. This broad aim was not in Trump’s order. He made no mention of voter suppression or voting restrictions, only “improper” or “fraudulent registration” as issues to be explored.
Trump named Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, who has championed the strictest voter I.D. laws in the country to be vice-chair of the commission. “Selecting Kris Kobach as vice-chair reflects exactly the kind of discriminatory witch hunt people can expect from this commission” , said the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi of California. Kobach was behind a Kansas law requiring new voters to produce a passport or birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship in order to cast a ballot. In 2016, he worked to disqualify the state and local votes of thousands of people who did not meet those criteria. He has alleged voter fraud without producing any proof.
Voter Suppression should be the main subject that the Election Integrity Commission investigates. It began in earnest after the 2000 election and has grown steadily since then, fueled by laws passed in the state legislatures. It is a 21st Century phenomenon and a dangerous threat to the health and strength of our democracy.
We have come a long way from the voter suppression of the 19th and 20th centuries: poll taxes, grandfather’s clause, intimidation, cross burnings, literacy tests, violence and lynchings. Women finally gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920. The Civil Rights Movement in the 50’s and 60’s led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement and current Representative from Georgia, calls “The Right To Vote the heart of our democracy.”
After the chaotic 2000 election 19 states passed laws that required ID for all voters with photo or non-photo ID accepted in most states. Six states required photo ID: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota. Indiana passed the country’s strictest law, requiring the ID meet four criteria to be acceptable: driver’s license, passport, state issued ID and some other government issued photo ID. This law was challenged in the courts by the Democratic Party and A.C.L.U. They presented evidence that the rationale – to prevent voter impersonation fraud –was not supported by fact. There had never been a case of voter fraud proven in Indiana! They argued that the purpose of the law, passed by the Republican legislature was to suppress voting by poor, elderly, minority and disabled citizens – groups that usually voted Democratic. The law reached the Supreme Court and was upheld with Chief Justice Roberts in the majority.
After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the Midterm elections in 2010 resulted in Republican control of many state legislatures. A group financed by the Koch Brothers, ALEC, The American Legislative Council, approached the state legislators holding seminars and presenting proposals for laws to increase conservative aims and programs. They were very successful launching voter ID laws to reduce the number of young, minority, elderly and the poor in the 2012 election. Election analysts reported those groups were the least likely to have a driver’s license or a passport.
ALEC also had learned that early voting accounted for one third of all registered voters in states that offered that option. By 2011, five states cut back their early voting, including Florida which cut early voting from 14 to 8 days and eliminated the Sunday before election day, known as “Souls to the Polls” by African American churches. Georgia cut early voting from 45 to 21 days and Maine stopped voters from registering to vote on election day which had enrolled 60,000 new voters in 2008.
During the 2016 election campaign , North Carolina’s Republican legislature cut certain voting districts that served primarily African American voters from sixteen to one district! When Donald Trump won the state, civil rights groups challenged the law in court. The suit reached the appeals court of the Fourth Circuit which struck down the law as an “effort to target African Americans with almost surgical precision”. On Monday, May 16, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal, turning back one of the most restrictive state laws written to counter what they called widespread voter fraud. The law rejected ID forms used disproportionately by African Americans including IDs used by government employees, students and people receiving public assistance. The headline in the New York Times article: “Justices Thwart Strict ID Law That Unevenly Hurt Blacks” ran above the picture of African Americans celebrating at their church in Raleigh, North Carolina on Sunday.
………………………………………………………………………………………………… Joyce S. Anderson