Voter Suppression in the USA
by John M Repp
a review of the book The Hidden History of The War on Voting: Who Stole Your Vote – And How to Get It Back by Thom Hartmann and of the Carr Center (Harvard) report “The War on Voting Rights” by John Shattuck, Aaron Huang and Elisabeth Thoreson-Green, https://carrcenter.hks.harvard.edu/publications/war-voting-rights-ccdp-2019-003-february-2019
Hartmann writes that this issue – voter suppression- is not talked about much in the corporate media. Also, as far as I know, the Washington State election system with mail-in ballots is fair, so many people here in our state are unaware of this problem, even though it effects us because of the power of Congress and the President. I heard once that Democrats don’t want to talk about it much because they are afraid it will depress their voters. In any case, voter turnout in the United States is abysmal anyway. Trump got the votes of only 26 percent of eligible voters in 2016.
Republican operatives, especially Secretaries of State in Republican controlled states have used a large number of methods to purge especially minority voters, Blacks, Latinx and young college student voters from the rolls of eligible voters. A few of the methods mentioned are: 1) “Caging” challenges or “checks” a voter’s registration status by mailing them postcards and then striking them from the rolls if the postcards are not returned. 2) Requiring picture ID to vote is another method of voter suppression. 3)“Perfect match” is another way to prevent a person from voting: a prospective voter’s name, middle name, last name and any punctuation must be exactly the same as what appears on the registered voters list. 4) Reducing the number of polling places and shortening the time for early voting is also used. All these methods are applied differently depending upon the neighborhood or county. Since our country is still very segregated, this means the minority vote is more affected by voter suppression in all its forms. Racism is behind so much of the voter suppression today and throughout American history. The Democrats were guilty of wide-spread voter suppression in the Jim Crow South before the Civil Rights movement that pushed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Maybe part of the reason the problem is not more widely known is that in many cases, if a person goes to the polls thinking they are registered and they find their name is not on the list, they are given a provisional ballot. This practice probably prevents a larger outcry; for the person then thinks they have voted. However, often the provisional ballot is not counted.
The Carr Center report also mentions 5) partisan gerrymandering. The Supreme Court on July 2019 refused to rule on a case to prevent this type of voter suppression. Taking people off the voter registration rolls or preventing them from voting at the polls are not the only voter suppression methods. 6) There is also voting machine and vote counting problems in many Red states. There exit polls show there is a 5% “red shift” for Republicans i.e. the final vote count is 5% higher than an exit poll. Exits polls are considered very accurate the world over. Hartmann writes: “in states without a Republican secretary of state, there is virtually no ‘shift’ at all.” (p.92)
This is no small problem: “The Brennan Center found that just between 2014 and 2016, in the two years leading up to the presidential election, over 14 million people were purged from voter rolls, largely in Republican-controlled states.” (Hartmann, p.84) The cover story or excuse the Republican operatives use to justify their efforts is that there are “millions of illegal immigrants voting in our elections” although there is virtually no evidence of this. The story nevertheless is spread by FOX news, the right-wing radio talk shows and Trump.
Hartmann writes that Nixon and Reagan committed treason to get elected but after the Iran-Contra scandal, the Republicans realized they would have to change tactics to continue remaining in power. Hartmann writes: “Without these major voter purges, and without the disenfranchisement of young people, old people, and poor people by voter ID laws, it’s a virtual certainty that America would have had President Al Gore and President Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic Party would have a six-to-three or larger majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.” (p.9)
What is to be done? Part Three of the book suggests solutions and the Carr report tells of an inspiring counter-movement in many states and local jurisdictions to strengthen voting rights. When Democrats got control of the House of Representatives in 2018, they passed HR1”For the People Act of 2019” that would correct many of the problems of voter suppression. The Republican-controlled Senate refused to take up the bill. The bill would create automatic voter registration at the national level. Hartmann also recommends ending voter “caging”, making election day a national holiday, vote by mail, extending early voting, paper ballots, and non-partisan redrawing of voter districts (something we have in Washington State).