President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (R-Indiana) have embarked on a questionable course of action with potentially dangerous repercussions for all Americans. The two might undermine faith in the electoral system; and ignite racial and class tensions, with a needless investigation into vote fraud.
Trump signed an executive order creating a commission that critics charge will be a cover for a nationwide campaign of voter suppression. The commission; headed by Pence and former Kansas Secretary of State of Kris W. Kobach, is supposed to investigate allegations vote fraud and offer remedies, The New York Times reported.
Critics immediately attacked the commission as an effort to suppress votes. The New York Times editorial board labeled it “Trump’s Fraudulent Voter-Fraud Commission” and The Guardian’s Steven W. Thrasher blasted the panel as a “Shameless White Power Grab.”
Thrasher’s contention is that the Commission will recommend measures to disenfranchise millions or tens of millions of African American and Latino voters. The Times’ editors accused the administration of using of hysteria about vote fraud to promote a Republican agenda.
Is Vote Fraud Really a Problem?
How accurate are these allegations and should we take them seriously? Perhaps, because there is no evidence that vote fraud is a serious problem in modern American elections.
There is no evidence to support the frequent allegations of widespread vote fraud and voting by illegal immigrants Trump has made, three scholars at Dartmouth College determined. When David Cottrell, Michael C. Herron and Sean J. Westwood put Trumps charges to the test in a research paper they found no evidence to support his claims, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.
“Essentially what they [other researchers] find is the kind of fraud that he is asserting — dead voters, multiple votes from voters registered in multiple states — just doesn’t exist, and when it does exist, it’s likely a result of clerical error and not a result of malicious intent,” Westwood said of Trump’s charges.
Only 30 documented cases of voting by noncitizens were discovered in a survey of 23.5 million votes cast last year by the Brenan Center at the New York University School of Law, The Chronicle reported. There were just four documented cases of vote fraud in the United States in 2016 even though 135 million people voted, The Washington Post reported.
Is the Trump/Pence Vote Fraud Commission Really a “White Power Grab?”
The lack of vote fraud raises serious doubt about the commission’s purpose. Is it really a “White Power Grab;” as Thrasher alleges, or something else?
A better way to describe the Commission is as a “Republican Power Grab.” Its’ real purpose might be to disenfranchise those voters least likely to vote Republican. That would include disproportionate numbers of people of color, but it would also target young people and urban residents.
Veteran political operatives like Kobach; Pence and White House Chief of Staff ;and former Republican Party Chairman, Reince Priebus, are well aware of polls that indicate 93% of blacks voted for President Obama in 2012. They are also undoubtedly familiar with polls that show Donald Trump received only 37% of the votes of people under 35. The goal of the commission is probably to keep such people as far away from the ballot as possible.
How Republicans would suppress the Vote
This would be achieved through a set of “recommendations” for “voting reform” or “ballot security” that the commission would make. The recommendations would form the basis for “vote reform” legislation; the Republicans would try to push through Congress.
A model for it would be the legislation that Kobach has pushed in Kansas. Some of the voter-suppression tactics Republicans might try to implement nationwide include:
- Require state-issued photo IDs (driver’s licenses) or passports to vote. This would hurt young people and urban residents more than anybody else. A study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Institute found that 20.3% of people aged 20 to 24 did not have a driver’s license, USA Today reported.
- Ban mail-in elections. My home state of Colorado has not elected a Republican Presidential candidate since it adopted the practice. Republicans in Montana are reportedly trying to block their state’s adoption of mail-in voting.
- Restrict voting to one day a year, by ending early voting. This would penalize working people that cannot afford to take time off from jobs to vote. It would help Republicans because a larger percentage of their voters are older; retired, and free to go to the polls on Tuesday afternoon.
- End Sunday voting. This would penalize African Americans who are often encouraged to vote through their churches. It would also make it harder for volunteers to drive elderly, poor or disabled people to the polls.
- Ban new electronic and digital voting technologies which would make it more expensive to run election and limit the number of polls.
- Strip the U.S. Justice Department of its ability to enforce voting rights laws. One way to achieve this is to simply cut the budget.
- Implement expensive new requirements for polling places and election equipment. For example require all polling places to offer electronic voting; or all machines to offer a paper ballot. This would limit the number of polling places; and access to the polls, by making it more expensive to conduct elections. It would also disenfranchise people that live in less-affluent communities that lacked the funds to comply with the “standards.”
- Require a visa or birth certificate to register to vote. That would disenfranchise immigrants, many young people, some mostly elderly African Americans, and poor people that lacked those documents or access to them. For example a construction worker who lives in Los Angeles; but whose birth certificate is at his mother’s house in Ohio.
- Ban motor voter and require citizens to present themselves at a special government office to vote. This makes registration a chore which discourages people from registering. Many people would not be able to take time off from work or school to register.
- Have Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at the polls to harass Latino voters.
- Require a residency period and proof of residency for voting. This would disenfranchise young people and students.
- Gerrymander new House Districts to create regions of all white or all black voting. Disturbingly this would probably find a lot of support from African American politicians who are usually foes of voter suppression. In politics winning elections almost always trumps principle at the end of the day.
- Have federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI conduct “vote fraud investigations” to intimidate election officials that refuse to go along with suppression.
- Prosecute or sue local or state officials that encouraged young or minority voting for “vote fraud.”
Voter Suppression is a Threat to Democracy and Law and Order
Such cynical and self-serving measures will hurt faith in democracy by convincing large numbers of Americans that their vote does not matter. Under such circumstances many younger Americans, poor and people of color will be convinced that the only way to achieve political change is through civil disobedience; or worse violence.
If Republicans succeed in their vote suppression efforts our cities will burn. Two of the worst states for vote fraud are Wisconsin and North Carolina. It is no coincidence that cities in both of those states; Charlotte and Milwaukee, experienced rioting last year. Most of the rioters were members of a group targeted by Republican vote suppressors; African American men.
There will be terrorism, rioting and violent attacks on Republicans and white people if suppression continues. History teaches us that those who are denied representation through the ballot will pick up the gun or the rock. Disturbingly such unrest might already be beginning.
The Trump Inauguration in Washington was marred by violence that included the burning a limousine and the smashing of shop windows. Trump supporters have been attacked by angry mobs of young people in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Under a regime of voter suppression such violence will become the norm.
Why the Alt Right should be Scared of Voter Suppression
Trump; the Alt-Right, and other self-styled tribunes of poor white people should also be afraid of voter suppression. The same voter suppression tactics employed against poor blacks or Hispanics can easily be turned against working class whites.
Trump’s commission might become a template for a voter suppression effort aimed at poor, uneducated, elderly or working class whites (in other words Trump voters) by a future Democratic administration. The rationale behind such suppression would be “keeping those ignorant racists (i.e. Republicans)” away from the polls.
Trump, Pence, Priebus, Kobach and company are setting a terrible precedent that might damage our democracy and harm all Americans. Both the false claims of vote fraud; and the very real voter-suppression efforts, need to end now for the sake of our democracy and the rule of law.