High Desert Sketches: Voter suppression is dirty tricks

Art by Valerie “CrowCrumbs” Howard

When a political party must use voter suppression as a means of winning an election, it has no principles, and their morals are questionable. We can begin with the history of voter suppression during Jim Crow days. But it would take a very lengthy book and instead we’ll look at the modern techniques of the Republicans. First: Texas refused to allow COVID-19 as a valid excuse for absentee voting. Then: Governor Abbott removed ballot drop boxes across the state, limiting access to only one dropbox per county. Brewster County is larger than the state of Connecticut, and yet we are only allowed one box? Now: The Supreme Court is siding with Governor Abbott and refusing to allow Houston to distribute mail-in ballots for eligible voters.

In 2013, the Republican Supreme Court abolished most of the protective provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Almost immediately we entered an era of creative voter suppression with the southern states going back to their old ways.

  • Back in the 1980s, the Republican National Committee created the National Ballot Security Task Force to patrol polling stations in search of voter fraud. The task force, staffed by off-duty police officers armed with loaded service revolvers and wearing blue armbands, was sued for scaring black voters away from voting stations in New Jersey and were forced to disband.
  • In 2011, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach demanded Kansans show “proof of American citizenship” in order to register to vote, citing false claims of noncitizen voting. Most people don’t carry the required documents on hand — like a passport or a birth certificate — and as a result, the law blocked over 30,000 Kansans from voting. In 2018, the courts reversed the law.
  • Texas, for example, allows a gun permit and other government-issued IDs but not a college or university picture ID. Some states allow exceptions to their laws, but the process of obtaining an exception can be arduous, especially for poor and time-constrained voters.
  • Ohio cut a whole week from early voting, eliminating the “golden week” in which voters could register and vote on the same day. Texas Governor Abbott added a week to registration, but the Republican Party sued to stop him. The court stopped the party.
  • A limited survey showed that states, including Arizona and the southern states, eliminated more than 800 polling places. The Voting Rights Act of 2013 could have allowed the Department of Justice to stop these closures before, but not anymore. These are only the closures tracked in about half the counties that were once covered by the Voting Rights Act due to their long histories of racial discrimination, so there have likely been hundreds or even thousands more closures nationwide.
  • Several states have attempted to conduct sweeping purges of voter rolls, potentially undoing voters’ registration without their knowledge. Some of these purges — such as North Carolina’s and Florida’s — have been overturned by courts, but not all are even known to the public until it’s too late.
  • Texas has fought the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter Act, for four years. The law was enacted under the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution and advances voting rights in the United States by requiring state governments to offer simplified voter registration processes for any eligible person who applies for or renews a driver’s license. The law includes criteria that must be met before registered voters may be purged.
  • Cleaning up voter rolls can be a responsible part of election administration because many people move, die or become ineligible to vote for other reasons. But sometimes, states use this process as a method of mass disenfranchisement, purging eligible voters from rolls for illegitimate reasons or based on inaccurate data, and often without adequate notice to the voters. A single purge can stop up to hundreds of thousands of people from voting. Often, voters only learn they’ve been purged when they show up at the polls on Election Day.
  • Voter purges have increased in recent years. A recent Brennan Center study found that almost 16 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, and that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination — which are no longer subject to preclearance after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — had significantly higher purge rates.
  • Disinformation is another hugely popular tactic for suppressing votes in a target population. In the 2008 elections, Democrats in Nevada received robocalls informing them that they could vote on November 5 — a day after the election — to avoid long lines. Hispanic voters in Nevada received similar messages saying that they could vote by phone. Voters in Lake County, Ohio, received official-looking mail stating that voters who had registered to vote through Democratic-leaning organizations would be barred from the 2008 election. Michigan’s secretary of state had to fight a phone-based disinformation campaign telling absentee voters to mail their ballots to the wrong address.

Thanks to COVID-19 and the various attempts of voter suppression, this may be the most difficult election of the past century. Lots of luck!