WASHINGTON – Yesterday, President Obama joined the chorus of Democratic leaders warning that Donald Trump’s “whining” about the presidential election being “rigged” could undermine the American people’s faith in the “fairness” of our elections.
Obama and the Democrats are missing the point: Trump is doing more than “whining,” he’s setting up what could be commando squads to intimidate voters in poor and minority precincts.
What’s more, the Democrats’ concern about upholding the “fairness” of American elections papers over the fact that for years Republicans have been doing everything they can to shut out large numbers of Americans from participating in what is supposed to be the heart of our democracy: free and fair voting.
On the stump, Trump has been inciting his supporters to “get every one of your friends … get everyone in your family … you’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch” voters in predominately African-American areas ‘like St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Chicago.’
Without a shred of evidence, and without citing a single example, Trump and his mouthpieces like Rudy Giuliani are saying that the Democrats are “illegally letting in hordes of immigrants so that they can vote,” that people in minority precincts are allowed to vote “10, 14 times,” and that in general “horrible, horrible things are taking place.”
The purpose of this “cheating,” according to Trump, is to help “international bankers” steal the election from him.
For months, Trump has been urging supporters to sign up for “election protection” squads. Now he’s appointed Mike Roman, well known for devising voter intimidation schemes, to coordinate their efforts.
Roman’s claim to fame, accord to New York magazine writer Eric Levitz “is stoking outrage over a video [he took eight years ago] that showed two members of the New Black Panther Party” standing for about an hour at a polling place.
“A justice-department investigation,” Levitz wrote, “failed to turn up a single voter who said he or she was intimidated …”
Nevertheless, for years Roman has been using his video to scare white voters, until finally he has succeeded in getting Trump supporters to pledge to go to minority voting precincts and intimidate people there.
Levitz quoted one Trumpite as saying, “I’m going to go, for sure. I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them … I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
This danger to voting rights from this kind of intimidation is particularly acute because there will be fewer federal observers at polling places on November 8 than at any time since the 1960s,
For over 50 years, the Justice Department has sent hundreds of observers and poll monitors across the country to ensure that voters are not intimidated or discriminated against. In 2012, during the presidential election, the department sent more than 780 observers to polling places in 51 jurisdictions in 23 states to report on possible civil rights violations.
But the following year, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and in doing so limited the Justice Department’s authority to monitor elections.
In short order, some 22 states, mostly dominated by Republicans, passed voter suppression laws.
Mere hours after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, the Republicans who had captured the government of North Carolina began passing a law that ended early and extended voting hours needed by workers unable to take off on election day. The bill also limited Sunday voting, ended the practice of allowing high school students to pre-register in civics classes or when they got their driver’s licenses and prevented students from voting in the locations of their schools.
Furthermore, the new law outlawed casting ballots out of your home precinct while at the time cutting down the number of polling places, causing voters in minority areas to have to drive long distances to vote and to wait as long as half a day in unprecedented long lines.
Worst of all, the new North Carolina law required voters to have IDs backed up by documents many poor people could not afford to obtain.
Most of the other states passing voter laws modeled theirs on North Carolina’s.
Turnout by low-income voters and voters from minority groups has plummeted ever since.
To make matters worse, voting officials in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada and New York purged hundreds of thousands of people from their voter eligibility lists. Citizens at the bottom of America’s economic pyramid were disproportionately hit.
Here’s why: the voting officials claimed that those who were purged failed to respond to notices sent to the address on record in state rolls. The reason was clear: many of the purged people had lost their homes or were forced to move to look for work due to the Great Recession of 2008.
Voting rights advocates, civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice have succeeded in getting courts to knock down some of the most onerous restrictions on voters’ rights, but the official poll watchers in many locations were already trained to enforce the voter restriction rules and have received no training after the new rules were blocked by courts.
Between the confusion this might cause and the intimidation being incited by Trump, it is very likely that the outcome in many states November 8 will be skewed toward Trump and the Republicans, regardless of the will of the citizens.
This is exactly what the Republicans are counting on.
Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and now president of the right wing Heritage Foundation , acknowledged that the rash of Republican voter suppression laws will help to elect “more conservative candidates.”
He said, “… [voter ID laws] is something we’re working on all over the country, because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you’ve seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates.”
He’s not the only Republican who has forthrightly said that the purpose of voter suppression laws is to rig elections in favor of right wingers.
A Wisconsin Republican, Glenn Grothman recently boasted that enacting harsh “photo ID laws is going to make the difference” in defeating Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election.