GOP Voter Suppression Looms Large In Run-Up To Mid-Term Elections

2018 mid-term elections are weeks away.

Are you registered to vote?

Do you know where your polling place is?

Why don’t you take a moment to check.

Ten years ago the Republican party was licking its wounds after the country elected its first African American president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

So Republicans came up with a strategy: concentrate on 16 states and gerrymander them so badly Democrats have little to no mathematical chance of winning in the 2010 mid-term elections.

But there was another, more insidious strategy.

Republicans knew they couldn’t come right out and criminalize voting, so they devised ways to make casting ballots harder, more inconvenient, frustrating, hoping people would stay home rather than go through all the trouble to practice their civic duty.

That’s when the term “voter fraud” started circulating around right-wing media. Simply accuse random people (mostly immigrants) of voting illegally, and enough “patriots” would rise up in an altruistic fervor to fortify the most fundamental of democratic institutions against those who seek to denigrate it. Some (Republican) states began instituting “voter I.D.” laws, requiring birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, to “protect election integrity.” After all, minorities vote primarily for Democrats. If they are to preserve their hegemony, Republicans must take evasive measures.

Voter fraud, however, is a myth.

Voter suppression is very much alive in America, and Republican states are setting a record for purging voting roles.

Here are some of the most recent examples.

Now that the Supreme Court maintains a 5-4 conservative majority, we got a taste this week of how it’s likely to further enable voter suppression instead of ruling against it.

The court decided in favor of the Eighth Circuit Court’s decision allowing North Dakota to require voters to maintain residential street address, not post office boxes, and an accepted form of identification stating that address.

“So, where’s the problem?” you might be asking.

The problem is the 2017 requirement Republican Gov. Doug Burgum introduced blatantly targets indigenous voters since many live on reservations with P.O. boxes instead of street addresses.

Standing Rock Chairman Mike Faith said in a press release:

 “Native Americans can live on the reservation without an address. They’ve lived in accordance with the law and treaties, but now all of a sudden they can’t vote. There is no good reason that a P.O. box is not sufficient to vote.”  

He added:

“Why is it getting harder and harder for Native Americans to vote? This law clearly discriminates against Native Americans in North Dakota. Our voices should be heard and they should be heard fairly at the polls just like all other Americans.”

Jacqueline De León, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) representing several plaintiffs, said in a statement:

“Access to voting should not be dependent on whether one lives in a city or on a reservation. The District Court in North Dakota has found this voter identification law to be discriminatory; nothing in the law has changed since that finding. North Dakota Native American voters will now have to vote under a system that unfairly burdens them more than other voters. We will continue to fight this discriminatory law.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent:

“The risk of disenfranchisement is large… Seventy thousand North Dakota residents—almost 20 percent of the turnout in a regular quadrennial election—lack a qualifying ID; and approximately 18,000 North Dakota residents also lack supplemental documentation sufficient to permit them to vote without a qualifying ID.

“The risk of voter confusion appears severe here because the injunction against requiring residential-address identification was in force during the primary election and because the Secretary of State’s website announced for months the ID requirements as they existed under that injunction…Reasonable voters may well assume that the IDs allowing them to vote in the primary election would remain valid in the general election.”

Next, we turn to Georgia, where Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is running for governor.

The Associated Press reported this week that under Kemp’s charge, at least 53,000 voter registration applications–mostly from black voters–are being delayed for “additional screening.”

As Secretary of State, Kemp has direct jurisdiction over the voter rolls, yet he refuses to vacate his position before the general election, a move voting rights advocates, civil rights groups, and Kemp’s Democratic challenger, former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, argue presents a flagrant conflict of interest.

Kemp’s office is freezing registration applications supposedly flagged in the state’s “exact match” process in which each application must precisely match the state’s Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration data. If they do not match, applicants are given an interval to correct discrepancies like misspelled names, middle names not being fully stated, or missing hyphens.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast, author of the Rolling Stone piece “The G.O.P.’s Stealth War Against Voters,” threatened to sue Brian Kemp to compel him to turn over voters’ names.

Two weeks ago, Palast published on his website names of every Georgia voter purged from voter rolls.

In August, it took the two-member Randolph County, Georgia elections board under one minute to vote to shudder seven predominantly African American polling places.

In June, the Supreme Court ramped up Republican voter suppression tactics when it decided in a split 5-4 decision along partisan lines to permit Ohio’s system for stripping voters from the rolls to proceed.

Image credit: The Progressive

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.