“After more than 250 years of debate, five constitutional amendments, decades of protest, and a handful of monumental Supreme Court decisions, the basic right of American citizens to vote in our elections is still not a settled matter. While minority voters no longer face literacy tests or have to guess how many marbles are in a jar when they register to vote, there are new strategies for disenfranchising Black and brown communities.”
Rep. Terri Sewell, “Voting Rights: Old Battles Become New Again,” State of Black America, May 2, 2017
Throughout his campaign, President Trump trumpeted the baseless claim that our nation’s elections are riddled with voter fraud. He has repeatedly blamed his gaping three million plus-popular vote deficit on a phantom horde of illegal voters.
He complained, without evidence and unfairly maligned wide swaths of communities. Finally, two days after unceremoniously firing FBI Director James Comey—a move that has swallowed the 116-day old Trump administration into the jaws of fresh political scandal complete with growing calls for impeachment—Trump doubled down on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and signed an executive order creating the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.
The bipartisan-in-name-only commission led by Vice President Pence and Kris Kobach, a well-known advocate on voting restrictions and immigration, is to study our nation’s election protocols.
Hot on the heels of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—no longer requiring the Department of Justice to review and approve any changes in election laws for states with long histories of racial and voting discrimination—North Carolina was the first state to sign sweeping, drastic voter ID measures into law.
The provisions, which included measures to eliminate same-day voter registration, cut down on early voting and presenting select government-issued photo identification at the polls, was described by its critics as the strictest in the nation and characterized by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals—that ultimately struck down the appalling array of voting restrictions—as targeting African Americans “with an almost surgical precision,” and imposing “cures for problems that did not exist.”
The Supreme Court now has allowed the circuit court’s ruling to stand, denying Republican efforts to revive the law. And while those who advocate for the removal of superficial, politically and racially motivated barriers to the polls have won a critical battle; the war is far from over. Chief Justice John Roberts cautioned in a two-page statement that the court’s decision to reject the case was based on procedure and should not be interpreted as a decision on the merits of North Carolina’s voter ID law, or as an endorsement of the lower court’s ruling.
Before I go any further, I want to quickly remind you that study, after study, after study has found the same thing: voter fraud, particularly the type that claims to be solved by strict voter ID laws, is rare.
Kobach, who is Kansas’ secretary of state, is also the only secretary of state in the nation with prosecutorial power. In his unrelenting quest to unmask massive voter fraud in Kansas, he has prosecuted less than 10 cases of voter fraud since taking office in 2011.
In a court filing opposing Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s request for a vote recount, Trump’s own attorneys asked the court to deny Stein’s request based on the fact that, “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
If any fraud is being perpetrated, it is being perpetrated on the American people and our democracy. The flimsy “evidence” and falsehoods that undergird this so-called voter fraud commission are egregious, but even more egregious is the transparent, political-motivated effort to put the thumb on the scale of political gain by keeping communities of color and traditionally Democratic leaning voters away from the polls.
When we toy with a pillar of our democracy as if it were a political football, we cast doubt on the integrity of our electoral process—and our elected leaders.
Trump’s so-called voter fraud commission is a sham, a serious attack on voting rights, a cover to squander taxpayer dollars and a solution in search of a problem countless studies and experts have repeatedly concluded does not exist.
The National Urban League has 93 affiliates serving 300 communities, in 35 states and the District of Columbia, providing direct services that impact and improve the lives of more than 2 million people nationwide. To learn more about the National Urban League, visit www.nul.org and follow us on Twitter @NatUrbanLeague.
By Marc H. Morial