With a few heartening exceptions, the trend in voting rights in America is toward suppression and trickery—with just 9 weeks to go before the crucial 2018 midterm elections. As I recently observed, voting rights in the Trump era is a one-step-forward-two-steps back story. And just when you think you’ve caught up on the news, another state, another county, or another White House authoritarian surprises you with a new wrinkle. Here’s a roundup of some voting-rights developments that cropped up in just the past few days:
In Georgia’s Randolph County, a consultant recommended closing seven of the county’s nine polling places, as a cost-saving measure. The trouble was that Randolph County is predominantly black, and the closings would have forced many midterm voters to travel as far as 30 miles to get to a polling place. Also, it just so happens that there’s a hotly contested election for Governor on the November ballot that pits Democrat Stacy Abrams, who would be Georgia’s first black chief executive, against a white Republican—Brian Kemp—who has been called a “master of voter suppression” by his political opponents. Democrats cried foul—and won. At its August 18 meeting, the Randolph County election board rejected the proposed closings by a vote of 2—0.
So, will voters know whether their polling place is open, or will they be unsure and give up? Failing to complete their mission of suppressing the minority vote by making it impossibly inconvenient to get to a polling place, Georgia still has managed to sow confusion, which is a voter-suppression tactic in itself.
In North Carolina, a three-judge panel ruled – on Aug. 27, just 10 weeks before the midterms—that the state’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans over Democrats and said it may require new districts before the November elections, possibly affecting control of the House.
According to the Washington Post,
The judges acknowledged that primary elections have already produced candidates for the 2018 elections but said they were reluctant to let voting take place in congressional districts that courts twice have found violate constitutional standards… North Carolina legislators are likely to ask the Supreme Court to step in. The court traditionally does not approve of judicial actions that can affect an election so close to the day voters go to the polls.
One judge has proposed some unusual ideas for remedying the situation: appointing a special master to draw new districts; holding general elections without party primaries; or even turning the November elections into a primary and holding the general election sometime before the new Congress convenes in January.
North Carolina’s record in voter suppression and racial gerrymandering has a long history, so this development is not a surprise. This is the kind of chicanery that was institutionalized in North Carolina before Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then, in 2013, the Republican Congress gutted the 1965 act, and all hell broke loose in states, like North Carolina, whose voting authorities had previously operated under the watchful surveillance of the courts. States like North Carolina, freed from supervision, reverted to their natural states of voter suppression and discriminatory practices.
The question now is: How will this latest court ruling affect the November 2018 midterms? Can the state redraw its district maps with less than 10 weeks to go before the election? If it does, will voters know what district they’re supposed to vote in? The net effect is more confusion—and the logical consequence is less voter participation.
Meanwhile, at the White House, Donald Trump has made his own contribution to the confusion agenda. The Trump administration has pressured its Republican allies in the Senate to squelch a bipartisan bill to protect American elections against interference, Yahoo News reports.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) proposed the Secure Elections Act, which was then cosponsored by Democratic senators like Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Republicans Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
Before the White House got involved, the bill was expected to pass the Senate and become a rare bipartisan success story for Congress.
The bill would have given the top election official in each state security clearance to receive information on electoral threats, formalized information sharing between the federal government and the states, mandated an audit of federal elections, and incentivized the purchase of voting machines that leave a paper trail.
This move, passively supported by Republicans who constantly refer to themselves as “patriots” and guardians of the U.S. Constitution, reveals the true Republican agenda: Republicans benefit from election interference, and they will do anything to preserve their own seats in Congress and their overall majority—at whatever cost to the “democracy” they claim to defend.