Every once in a while, the curtains part and we get a glimpse of the ugliest, most shameful spectacle in American politics: the Republican Party’s systematic attempt to disenfranchise African Americans and other minorities with voter-ID laws and other restrictions at the polls.
If you thought this kind of discrimination died with Jim Crow, think again. Fortunately, federal courts have blocked implementation of some of the worst new laws, at least for now. But the most effective response would be for black and brown voters to send the GOP a message by turning out in record numbers, no matter what barriers Republicans try to put in our way.
The ostensible reason for these laws is to solve a problem that doesn’t exist: voter fraud by impersonation. Four years ago, you may recall, a Republican Pennsylvania legislator let slip the real reason for his state’s new voter-ID law: to “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state. In the end, Romney didn’t. But Republicans tried mightily to discourage minorities, most of whom vote Democratic, from going to the polls.
Now, thanks to documents that surfaced in a lawsuit, we have an even clearer and more egregious example of attempted disenfranchisement, this time in North Carolina. As The Post reported, the documents show “that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.”
The article continued, “The law, created and passed entirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly history of blocking African Americans from voting — practices that had taken a civil rights movement and extensive federal intervention to stop.”
The media’s telescopic gaze following the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia last week was, true to form, pointing in exactly the wrong direction. Scalia’s death prompted a breathless flood of pundit analysis focused on whether the Republican Party is violating Senate protocol or the Constitution itself by refusing to vote on the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice in President Obama’s final year in office. Much chatter was devoted to rehashing the deliberate obstruction this president has had to cope with. While undoubtedly true, this misses the forest for the trees. It doesn’t matter so much what Republicans’ “excuse” is—or even whether it violates the clear intent of the Constitution—it does.
What really matters is why they’re doing it, and who it serves. The answer to that question leads straight to their donor base. Although it scarcely bears repeating, the Republican Senate and (to an even greater extent) the Republican House of Representatives now exists to serve the economic interests of a tiny group of very, very wealthy people, people who now stand to either gain or lose hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars spent complying with environmental, finance and labor laws and regulations, depending on who replaces Scalia. That is what this fight is all about. For the GOP and the billionaires who pull their strings, much ballyhooed rhetoric about abortion, affirmative action, union rights and voting rights are all subsidiary to this main event.
The two most prominent members of this tiny group of people are Charles and David Koch:
“In this election cycle… the Kochs have publicly stated that they and their compatriots will spend $889 million, more than either the Republican or Democratic parties spent last time around. According to a recent analysis in Politico, their privatized political network is backed by a group of several hundred extremely rich fellow donors who often meet at off-the-record conclaves organized by the Kochs at desert resorts. It has at least 1,200 full-time staffers in 107 offices nationwide, or three and a half times as many as the Republican National Committee. They may be the most important unelected political figures in American history.”
Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America.
At the heart of this voter-roll scrub is the Interstate Crosscheck program, which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names. Officials say that these names represent legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.
Until now, state elections officials have refused to turn over their Crosscheck lists, some on grounds that these voters are subject to criminal investigation. Now, for the first time, three states — Georgia, Virginia and Washington — have released their lists to Al Jazeera America, providing a total of just over 2 million names.
The Crosscheck list of suspected double voters has been compiled by matching names from roughly 110 million voter records from participating states. Interstate Crosscheck is the pet project of Kansas’ controversial Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, known for his crusade against voter fraud.
Based on the Crosscheck lists, officials have begun the process of removing names from the rolls — beginning with 41,637 in Virginia alone. Yet the criteria used for matching these double voters are disturbingly inadequate.
There are 6,951,484 names on the target list of the 28 states in the Crosscheck group; each of them represents a suspected double voter whose registration has now become subject to challenge and removal. According to a 2013 presentation by Kobach to the National Association of State Election Directors, the program is a highly sophisticated voter-fraud-detection system. The sample matches he showed his audience included the following criteria: first, last and middle name or initial; date of birth; suffixes; and Social Security number, or at least its last four digits.
In North Carolina, Republican officials are loudly proclaiming their hunt for alleged double voters using Crosscheck. But in nearby Georgia, Democratic leaders say they are shocked that they have been kept in the dark about the state’s use of Crosscheck lists — and the racial profile of the targeted voters.
“It’s biased, I think, both in form and intent,” says Rep. Stacey Abrams, leader of the Democrats in the Georgia state legislature. “But more concerning to me is the fact this is being done stealthfully. … We have never had this information presented to us.”
Abrams, in her second role as founder of New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter registration group, has, in coordination with the NAACP, already sued Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp, on behalf of 56,001 voters who filled out registration forms but have yet to see their names appear on voter rolls.
Al Jazeera America showed the Crosscheck lists to Martin Luther King III, who succeeded his father and Lowery to lead the SCLC. He notes that using shoddily put-together lists of supposed matches is not a new tactic. The capture of common names is certain to ensnare black voters, he says, and reminds him of the presidential race of 2000, when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris wrongly purged voters from a list of nearly 58,000, many of them African-American. They were purged on the grounds that they were felons and thus banned from voting, which helped to hand the presidency to George W. Bush. Yet not one was found guilty of voting illegally. Once again, King notes, this minority-heavy list falsely flags fraudulent voters. Compared to the prior purge, this new one is more sophisticated, he says. “I hate to characterize it as a trick [but] it really is. It really is about trying to control who can and cannot vote.”
With millions of suspects, one question keeps arising: Why have there been no mass convictions? Kobach proudly proclaims that Kansas has “referred” 14 voters for prosecution for double voting. And none of them has been convicted.
Yet demands to purge lists of double voters have reached a histrionic volume. In April of this year, former presidential counselor Dick Morris told Fox TV audiences that “probably over a million people that voted twice in [the 2012] election. This is the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud.”
In North Carolina, state officials have hired former FBI agent Charles W. “Chuck” Stuber, who played a major role in the campaign finance fraud case brought against former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, to, in the words of their press release, “investigate cases of possible voter fraud identified by an interstate cross-check comparing election records from 28 states.”
But despite knowing the names and addresses of 192,207 supposed double voters in the state, Stuber has not nabbed a single one in his five months on the job. Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the board of elections, says, “This agency has made no determination as to which portion of these [lists] represent data error or voter fraud.” In fact, to date, Lawson admits that Stuber has found only errors and not one verified fraudulent voter.
But Lawson did shine a light on the great benefit of the Crosscheck manhunt to the state’s Republican Party, now locked in a tight battle over the U.S. Senate seat of incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. While the use of Crosscheck has yet to produce a single indictment of a double voter, Lawson says, the program could be used for “list maintenance.” That is, voters on the list, proven guilty or not, could be subject to a process of removal from the voter rolls.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA—On Tuesday, Judge Christopher Brasher of the Fulton County Superior Court denied a petition from civil rights advocates to force Georgia’s Secretary of State to process an estimated 40,000 voter registrations that have gone missing from the public database.
Though early voting is well underway in the state, Judge Brasher called the lawsuit “premature,” and said it was based on “merely set out suspicions and fears that the [state officials] will fail to carry out their mandatory duties.”
The New Georgia Project, who spearheaded the voter registration drive and brought the lawsuit against the state, vowed Tuesday to “continue to pursue all legal avenues available.” But with the election mere days away, there may be little remedy for the tens of thousands of people who submitted all necessary documents, but have still not received a registration card. Four of those impacted voters were present at the court hearing, but were denied the opportunity to testify.
On Monday, dozens of Georgians occupied the Secretary of State’s office to demand he meet with them and explain what happened to the tens of thousands of missing registrations. At that protest, in which eight activists were arrested, former American Government teacher and civil rights lawyer Marsha Burrofsky told ThinkProgress she suspects foul play.
“When we started registering people this spring, people were saying, ‘You know, I registered six months ago, but I haven’t gotten anything yet!’ We thought that was strange,” she said. So we sat down with our list of registrations and checked, and about 20 to 20 percent were not showing up. We truly don’t know where things stand with them.”
Burrofsky said the people she registered in Dunwoody, Georgia, a more affluent and conservative community, did show up in the system, while those in more diverse and low-income communities in DeKalb County mysteriously disappeared.
The explosion and enforcement of restrictive voter ID laws make this one thing very clear
Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a law that could disenfranchise 600,000 Texans. But the effects of the law won’t fall equally: African-Americans and Latinos are 305 percent and 195 percent less likely (respectively) to have the necessary forms of identification than whites. The Republican party is increasingly unpopular, and relies almost exclusively on white voters. The charts below show the 2008 if only white men voted and if only people of color voted (source). Since 2008, people of color become a growing share of the voting population while the GOP has, if anything, moved further to the right. It has further alienated voters of color with racist attacks and laws. But as they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, make sure they don’t vote. Over the last four years the Republicans have gone through elaborate attempts to make sure populations that don’t support them don’t get a chance to vote.
Since 2006, Republicans have pushed through voter ID laws in 34 states. Such laws did not exist before 2006, when Indiana passed the first voter ID law. The laws were ostensibly aimed at preventing voter fraud, but a News21 investigation finds only 2,068 instance of alleged fraud since 2000 (that is out of over 146 million voters). They estimate that there is one accusation of voter fraud for every 15 million voters. As Mother Jones notes, instances of voter fraud are more rare than UFO sightings. There have been only 13 instances of in-person voter fraud (the sorts that a voter ID law would reduce), while 47,000 people claim to have seen a UFO.
On the other hand, research by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that, “as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID.” Those who do not have ID are most likely to be “ seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students” — i.e.. people who vote Democratic (chart source).
There is now a large literature studying the effects of voter ID laws. James Avery and Mark Peffley find, “states with restrictive voter registration laws are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout.” The GAO finds that voter ID laws reduce turnout among those between ages 18-23 and African-Americans (two key Democratic constituencies). A 2013 study finds that the proposal and passage of voter ID laws are “highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs.” They write, “Our findings confirm that Democrats are justified in their concern that restrictive voter legislation takes aim along racial lines with strategic partisan intent.” [Italics in original] The authors also find that increases in low-income voter turnout triggered voter ID laws. A more recent study finds, “where elections are competitive, the furtherance of restrictive voter ID laws is a means of maintaining Republican support while curtailing Democratic electoral gains.” That is, not all Republican legislatures propose voter ID laws — only those that face strong competition from Democrats. If Republicans are concerned about election integrity, why do they only pass voter ID laws when they’re about to lose an election? Because they’re cheaters.
Voter ID laws are also racially motivated. A recent study finds that voters are significantly more likely to support a voter ID law when they are shown pictures of black people voting than when shown white people voting. One voter ID group had a picture on their website showing a black inmate voting and a man wearing a mariachi outfit — clearly playing off racial stereotypes.
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and THEODORE SCHLEIFERJUNE in The New York Times
WASHINGTON — As Senator Thad Cochran, the veteran Republican, fights for his political life in Mississippi by taking the unexpected step of courting black Democrats, conservative organizations working to defeat him are planning to deploy poll watchers to monitor his campaign’s turnout operation in Tuesday’s runoff election.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing Mr. Cochran’s Tea Party opponent, State Senator Chris McDaniel, said in an interview on Sunday that his group was joining with Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots in a “voter integrity project” in Mississippi.
The groups will deploy observers in areas where Mr. Cochran is recruiting Democrats, Mr. Cuccinelli said. J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department official and conservative commentator who said he was advising the effort, described the watchers as “election observers,” mostly Mississippi residents, who will be trained to “observe whether the law is being followed.”
In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.
First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.
Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.
Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports.
The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.
These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.