A State-by-State Update on Voter Suppression

Since June’s Supreme Court ruling that threw out parts of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has lost its ability to block state laws designed to disenfranchise blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities. Subsequently, Republican-run states have been eagerly taking advantage of their vote-suppressing opportunities.

Here are the stories I ran across just this month:

North Carolina. The can’t-miss video clip of the week was The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi interviewing North Carolina Republican Executive Committee member Don Yelton. Yelton

  • admitted that the voter-fraud problem in his county was no more than 1 or 2 people out of 60,000
  • used the cliche “One of my best friends is black.”
  • admitted he shared the famous Obama-witch-doctor photo on Facebook
  • admitted that North Carolina’s voter-suppression law “is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. … If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get off their bohunkus and get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.” When Mandvi summed up “and it just so happens that a lot of those people vote Democrat”, Yelton sarcastically said “Gee” as if no one could have possibly foreseen that.
  • justified voter suppression by pointing to people “too stupid” to get a photo ID and asking: “Do you want those people picking your president?”

At one point Yelton’s responses caused Mandvi to say, “You know that we can hear you, right?” Apparently the local Republican Committee chair could hear him too, because he asked for and got Yelton’s resignation.

Virginia. Virginia has a statewide election a week from tomorrow, so of course it’s time for a last-minute purge of the voter rolls. (That’s how Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State — and George W. Bush campaign chair — Katherine Harris won the White House for Jeb’s brother in 2000.) MSNBC reports:

Lawrence Haake III, the registrar of Chesterfield County and a Republican, told MSNBC he received a list from state election officials in August of around 2,200 voters in his county to be struck from the rolls. The state said the names had shown up in a database of voters registered in more than one state.

But when Haake tested a sample of around 1000 names, he found that 174 of them had registered in Virginia more recently than any other state, meaning they were eligible to vote. In an affidavit filed as part of the Democratic challenge to the purge, Haake called the list “clearly inaccurate and unreliable.”

Since there is no evidence that any of the voters on the purge list have voted in multiple states at once (or intend to), the main (and possibly the only) effect on Virginia’s elections will be to disenfranchise voters who believe they are registered legally.

The court challenge to the purge was denied. (Since Haake and a few other local election officials had refused to purge any name they found to be inaccurate, there was no proof that any specific person had been unfairly disenfranchised, despite the fact that other officials appear to have implemented the purge without further investigation.) The purge was defended in court by the Virginia Attorney General’s office. Coincidentally, the AG is Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who is currently trailing in the polls.

The problem here is similar to the one in South Carolina that I discussed in “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“: When you assemble lists like this by matching computer databases (in SC they matched voter rolls against death notices) you make mistakes. Taking a voter off the rolls needs to be treated as a serious matter, requiring human oversight. Those humans need time to do their jobs, and the purged voters need to be notified and given time to protest, rather than just being told they can’t vote when they show up at the polls.

Texas. Texas women are discovering an important reason everyone should care about protecting everyone else’s vote: You might be next. The new Texas voter-ID law mandates that the name on your voter registration and the ID you show match exactly, which can be a problem for many women. The new law tripped up Judge Sandra Watts, because her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name (as was standard in 1964 when she got married); her voter registration lists her actual middle name.

KIII TV reports: “Nueces County election officials say it is often a problem for women who use maiden names or hyphenated names.” As for the voter fraud this law supposedly targets, KIII quotes District Attorney Mark Skurka: “I have never seen an issue of that in Nueces County, in all the years that I’ve been here.”

Because local election officials determined that the name on Judge Watts’ driver’s license was “substantially similar” [definition here] to her voter registration, she did get to vote after signing an additional affidavit. (Not only does this take extra time, but it gives a vote-suppressing local official an opportunity to cut corners on the definition of “substantially similar” or to say menacing things about the penalties for perjury in hopes that the voter will be intimidated and go away.) She could also have voted a provisional ballot, which would only be counted if she came back with “proper identification” within six days. If the problem is a name mismatch, proper ID might have to include a marriage or divorce certificate. (And if you can’t lay your hands on those documents and say “screw it, the election wasn’t decided by one vote anyway”, the vote suppressors win.)

Of course the primary targets of voter suppression are people who don’t drive: primarily the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. If you’re poor, live in a city, and take the bus to work, Republicans want to make it as hard as possible for you to vote.

It’s estimated that 1.4 million Texans who would otherwise be eligible to vote don’t have a driver’s license or other acceptable ID. Supposedly that’s OK, because they can obtain a free state ID card. According to the Dallas Morning News, 41 such cards have been issued.

Again, you need documentation verifying your current name. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, about 1/3 of women can’t meet that standard. Time quotes the Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser: “A full 34% of women don’t have documents proving citizenship with their current name on it.”

And this is all supposed to solve the problem of voter impersonation, which the Dallas Morning News describes as “nearly non-existent“. In July I described the attempt of the conservative media to create a different impression in “The Myth of the Zombie Voter“.

Kansas and Arizona. Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement for registering to vote was thrown out by the Supreme Court in June — it was so bad that the 7-2 majority opinion was written by arch-conservative Justice Scalia — because it violated the federal National Voter Registration Act. But Arizona (and Kansas, which passed a similar law) think they have a way around the Court’s ruling: two-tier voting. Federal elections may be subject to the NVRA, but maybe if a separate registration is required for state and local elections, the citizenship-proof requirement can be applied to them. And if the dual-registration process is time-consuming and confusing for new voters … well, that’s win/win, isn’t it?

If that tactic reminds you of Jim Crow, it should. The Nation’s Ari Berman quotes the ACLU’s Dale Ho:

These dual registration systems have a really ugly racial history. They were set up after Reconstruction alongside poll taxes, literacy tests and all the other devices that were used to disenfranchise African-American voters.

This time Hispanics are the primary target, but they’re also suppressing Arizona’s Native American vote. (The Intertribal Council was the lead plaintiff in the suit against the Arizona law. Native Americans have been specifically targeted in South Dakota and Montana.) (BTW, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly apparently did NOT say Native Americans were illegal immigrants. That rumor is another case of satire jumping the fence into the news pasture.)

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