The ugliest, most appalling spectacle in American politics

Members of North Carolina student chapters of the NAACP. Photo credit: Geery Broome/Associated Press)
Members of North Carolina student chapters of the NAACP. Photo credit: Geery Broome/Associated Press

By Eugene Robinson

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 Washington Post

Jim Crow returns: Millions of minority voters threatened by electoral purge

Elderly voters board a van that will take them to a polling station in Atlanta on the first day of early voting, Oct. 13, 2014. via Al Jazeera America
Elderly voters board a van that will take them to a polling station in Atlanta on the first day of early voting, Oct. 13, 2014. via Al Jazeera America

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.

Read more at Al Jazeera America