Trump’s Focus on Voter Fraud is a Prelude to Suppression
Guest post by Faith Fried.
Like fetch, President Trump won’t stop trying to make voter fraud happen. For months after the election he insisted that 3 million people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton (“coincidentally” almost the same number by which he lost the popular vote). More recently, Trump claimed he would have won New Hampshire if not for illegal voters bused in from Massachusetts, a claim that both Republicans and Democrats in New Hampshire say is absurd. Taking these claims further, Trump has announced that Vice President Mike Pence will head a commission to investigate this unsubstantiated fraud.
While it’s easy to dismiss this investigation as a vanity project – Trump can only accept receiving fewer votes if they were false – it could have harmful consequences for women, people of color, the elderly, and the young. Throughout our nation’s history, cries of voting fraud have been used to justify voter suppression, or measures that make it more difficult to register to vote or cast a ballot. My work on voting rights at the National Council of Jewish Women has exposed me to the many ways that legitimate voters are blocked from the ballot. Here are five methods of voter suppression that the commission should really investigate:
1. Eliminating the Election Assistance Commission
The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was created in the wake of the chaotic 2000 presidential election to help states update and improve their voter systems. The EAC addresses issues that make it more difficult for people to vote, such as updating machines, or increasing accessibility at polling stations for people with disabilities. Right now, the House of Representatives is considering a bill to terminate the EAC.
2. Requiring Proof of Citizenship to Vote
Requiring proof of citizenship in order to register to vote plays on the fear that people unable to vote in the US are in fact doing so — even though there is no evidence of this happening. What this requirement does do is make it harder for people without documentary proof of citizenship to vote, such as women who have changed their names when marrying. In 2016, attempts to require proof of citizenship (led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close Trump ally) were struck down in Arizona and Kansas, but given Trump’s rhetoric, this issue is far from over.
3. Closing Polling Stations
One deceptively easy way to suppress the vote is to close polling stations under the guise of “cost-savings.” In the 2016 presidential election, counties formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (see more info below) had almost 900 fewer places to cast a ballot than in past years. Worse, many closures occur in communities of color and low-income communities, where individuals might not have the flexibility with work or childcare to wait multiple hours or come back later in the day.
4. Passing Voter ID Laws
Voter ID laws stipulate that you must show an ID at the polls in order to vote, and are held up as ways to prevent in-person voter fraud, which studies have shown does not exist. However, these laws end up making it more difficult for many women to vote, since obtaining an ID requires ample time and money. One member of NCJW shared a story about her grandmother’s difficulty in obtaining an ID to vote – a Holocaust survivor, she was unable to obtain the necessary birth documentation required. And this after voting in every election since immigrating to the United States!
5. Decimating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Underpinning all of these issues is the fact that in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its Shelby County v. Holder decision. Section 5, known as preclearance, mandated that jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression needed approval from the Department of Justice before implementing the laws listed above (and more). Absent Section 5, the only remedy for voter suppression is lengthy and expensive lawsuits.
These efforts to suppress the vote harm those whose voices have long been ignored, including women and people of color. And unlike Trump’s claims of fraud, they are real — they impact our elections and ultimately undermine our democratic process. But will they be investigated by Pence’s commission? We doubt it.