● Voter Suppression: In May, Donald Trump created a “Voting Integrity Commission” that we knew was purely a pretext to promote voter suppression nationwide. Now this panel has launched its opening salvo and confirmed its true purpose. The board is proposing to scrutinize each state’s voter registration records and intimidate the states into conducting voter purges—and it’s named America’s most prominent voter-fraud scaremonger to the commission itself. These actions are designed to give Trump and congressional Republicans an excuse to impose new voting restrictions at the national level.
Led by vice chair Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state and one of the country’s foremost crusaders for voting restrictions, Trump’s commission has requested that every state send in its voter registration records in their entirety. For some states, these records would include voters’ names, addresses, birth dates, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, party affiliation, the history of which elections they’ve voted in over the last decade, their registration status in another state, their military status, and whether they have felony convictions—in other words, quite a lot of personal information.
Although registration information is technically public, states have restrictions on with whom it can be shared and how, given the obvious privacy concerns with such sensitive data. While the federal government already has access to some of these statistics for every voter, the commission itself is required to make all documents it receives available to the general public, which would effectively defeat the attempts that the states have made to safeguard this information.
Kobach will likely abuse these registration records to demonstrate examples of the same person voting more than once in an attempt to claim that voter fraud is widespread. These examples will be bogus, though. Kobach has done this very same thing with his national “Crosscheck” system, which he’s convinced over 30 states to adopt. Crosscheck is notoriously riddled with inaccurate information, since it often compares just a few data points to suss out duplicate registrations, such as name and birthdate, leading to many false positives. (How many guys do you want to bet are named James Smith with a birthday of April 20? A lot, no doubt.) Election experts have estimated that Crosscheck could disenfranchise 200 valid voters for every one actual case of double registration that it eliminates.
Many Democratic state elections officials have refused Kobach's request, while even a few Republicans have said they will only comply with the legal bare minimum and won't submit private data. (Operative Matt Berg is keeping track of all the responses.) In a fitting ironic twist of incompetence, Kobach himself is unable to supply all of the requested information because of Kansas state law. Unfortunately, Kobach will likely enough get the information he needs from more pliant Republican officials in order to be able to falsely claim that voting irregularities are widespread.
Even if there were a legitimate reason to send the commission these records, Kobach was recently reprimanded by a federal court and fined $1,000 for “patently misleading representations” he made in a lawsuit over the contents of a document he was seen carrying that outlined proposed changes to federal voting laws. From the start, Kobach’s findings have been predetermined to support future voting restrictions.
As if Kobach weren’t awful enough, Trump also named Hans von Spakovsky to the commission. Spakovsky is perhaps the country’s most notorious promoter of the lie that voter fraud is widespread. As an attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under George W. Bush, Spakovsky played an instrumental role in politicizing the department to whip up the specter of voter fraud while greenlighting nascent Republican-passed voter restrictions like Georgia’s voter ID law over the objection of career DOJ employees. It’s really like they’re putting together the worst imaginable team of voter-suppression supervillains they possibly can.
Unfortunately, this commission is just one part of the Trump administration’s multi-pronged effort to impose new restrictions on voter registration. The Justice Department itself has played into this charade by sending a letter to the states warning them that it is “reviewing voter registration list maintenance procedures in each state” while querying them on how they plan to clean up their voting rolls. This action is another likely attempt at intimidation that will also encourage Republican-run states to purge their voting rolls, potentially disenfranchising many valid voters.
Meanwhile, congressional Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have introduced a bill to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission; back in February, the House Administration Committee voted to do the same thing. This latest measure is part of the GOP’s budget proposal, which stands a good chance of passing. The EAC was created after the 2000 election debacle to help states run their elections, and it’s the only federal agency tasked with ensuring that voting machines aren’t vulnerable to hacking.
Yet rather than protect the country’s elections infrastructure from the very real threat of intrusion, the GOP is whipping up hysteria over nearly nonexistent voter fraud. This fear-mongering will likely serve as a pretext to amend the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, and more popularly known as the “Motor Voter” law. This would be the logical culmination at the federal level of the wave of GOP-passed voting restrictions that have swept state governments in the last decade.
If Kobach gets his way, congressional Republicans will amend the NVRA to require proof-of-citizenship for all voter registrants. Kobach and his allies in fact tried to require citizenship documentation in Kansas, leading to the suspension of one in seven new voter registrations until a federal court intervened last year.
This requirement is a solution in search of a problem, since Kobach himself has only successfully prosecuted one non-citizen voter ever. Many citizens don’t have easy access to the kinds of documents necessary to prove citizenship, and the requirement would utterly destroy the ability of civic groups to conduct voter registration drives, since people don’t exactly walk around around with their birth certificates in their back pockets.
Trump’s voting integrity commission is an unmistakable witch hunt that no one who believes in representative democracy should normalize. Those who support free and fair elections should urge their elected officials to refuse to comply with the commission’s request for voter registration records. Furthermore, Democrats like New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner should end their participation on the commission, since their service only helps to legitimize a partisan effort to suppress votes in order to unfairly win elections.
● North Carolina: It seems no week’s Voting Rights Roundup would be complete without some outrageous new attempt by North Carolina Republicans to subvert the electoral process. Their latest scheme involves a resolution to investigate Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall for impeachment, which a state House committee advanced on a party-line vote on Wednesday. Because the legislative session is drawing to a close, the GOP-dominated chamber is unlikely to further consider the resolution right now, but state Rep. Chris Millis, who is leading the charge, said he will continue his efforts ahead of the next session, which will likely take place in August.
Millis claims that Marshall has issued notary-public commissions to non-citizens who are in the country without authorization. However, federal law allows legal residents to serve as notaries, and Marshall’s office also countered that it does not accept documentation used by immigrants who take advantage of the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program (better known as DACA), contrary to Millis’ allegations. Millis even invoked the specter of bogus voter fraud if unauthorized immigrants were allowed to serve as notaries, but North Carolina law does not require notarization to cast an absentee ballot, so his claim is nonsense.
This impeachment investigation instead appears to have one goal in mind: removing a fairly elected Democrat from statewide office. Republicans have continually failed to unseat Marshall following her initial 1996 election victory over former NASCAR legend Richard Petty. But what they can’t do at the ballot box, they can do in the statehouse. Thanks to their unconstitutional legislative maps, Republicans hold the necessary two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate required to remove Marshall from office if the state House impeaches her (which requires just a simple majority vote). The one backstop here is that should the GOP do this, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would get to appoint a replacement, who would serve until a special election in Nov. 2018.
If Republicans proceed, they’ll be joining some incredibly ugly company. No statewide elected official in North Carolina has been removed from office since 1871, which marked a shameful chapter in state history. After white supremacist “Redeemer Democrats” regained control of the legislature in the 1870 elections, they impeached Republican Gov. William Woods Holden for enforcing civil rights laws and using the militia to suppress the Ku Klux Klan, removing him from office and ushering in the end of Reconstruction. Sadly, returning to the tactics of the Jim Crow era would be par for the course for state Republicans, who’ve done everything they can to undermine democracy itself ever since Cooper’s election last year.
● Maine: Electoral-reform proponents scored a major—and unexpected—victory on Wednesday when Maine’s state legislature failed to advance a measure to repeal the state’s new instant-runoff voting (IRV) law, leaving it on course for implementation in 2018. In a non-binding opinion issued in May, Maine’s state Supreme Court opinion said that IRV (sometimes called ranked-choice voting) was unconstitutional for state-level general elections, but not for primaries or federal races. That opinion gave IRV’s opponents, who are mostly Republicans but include some Democrats, a pretext to unsuccessfully try to repeal the voter-approved statute, but that effort failed.
Republicans control the state Senate while Democrats run the state House, and the two parties reached a deal to hold a vote on a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the apparent legal conflict. However, it was all political theater, because GOP opposition meant that the amendment would never reach the two-thirds supermajorities needed to send it to a voter referendum for eventual ratification.
After the amendment predictably failed last week, the Senate proceeded to pass a bill to fully repeal IRV, with a few Democrats siding with the Republicans. However, under pressure from activists—who had threatened to place a “people’s veto” on the ballot to block any repeal legislation—the House instead passed a competing measure. That proposal would implement IRV for primaries and federal races while merely suspending it for state general elections unless and until the constitution were amended to make that aspect kosher. Faced with differing bills, the opposing chambers failed to reach any compromise, taking repeal off the table this year as the 2017 legislative session draws to a close.
So where does that leave Maine voters? With the legislature at an impasse, the current legal landscape has IRV slated for full implementation starting in 2018. But thanks to the state Supreme Court’s advisory opinion, there will almost certainly be lawsuits to block IRV from going into effect for state general elections, which have a good chance of success. However, barring a major change of course by either legislative Democrats or the high court, IRV will be used in all primaries next year, plus the November general elections for the U.S. House and Senate.
As a result, Maine will become the first state in America to adopt instant-runoff voting statewide, although utilizing it for state-level general elections would have been the most important aspect of this reform since no candidate has won a majority in nine of the state’s last 11 gubernatorial races. Hopefully, if this more inclusive electoral system produces meaningful changes in primary outcomes on both sides of the aisle, voters of all stripes will demand their legislators pass a constitutional amendment to finally implement IRV for all races.
● Gerrymandering: A new statistical analysis by the Associated Press adds further evidence for an already well-supported notion: Redistricting plans across America widely favor the Republican Party. The AP used a statistical test call the “efficiency gap” to measure how many voters each party “wasted” across congressional maps and lower house legislative chambers in each state, a method that we have previously explained in detail. The AP’s analysis contends that Republicans won as many as 22 extra congressional seats nationwide thanks to their maps, which would be just two seats shy of the 24 additional districts Democrats needed to capture a House majority in 2016.
These findings echo a similar recent report from the Brennan Center, which looked at congressional races using three different statistical tests, including the efficiency gap. Their report found that maps similarly gave the GOP a substantial 16 to 17 extra seats. However, despite media coverage to the contrary, both reports’ statistical analyses alone do not argue that this “seat bonus” came about solely due to intentional gerrymandering, since it can also include other advantages the GOP receives when mapmakers adhere to traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria like compactness and municipal integrity.
Nevertheless, Daily Kos Elections’ own work analyzing hypothetical nonpartisan maps to try to distinguish between the GOP’s advantage from intentional gerrymandering versus how it benefits from geographic factors still finds that gerrymandering provides a major boost to Republicans. We’ve been looking at individual Republican congressional gerrymanders state-by-state in an ongoing series of articles, and our preliminary estimate is that gerrymandering gave Republicans roughly 19 extra House seats nationwide in 2016. We’ll publish this analysis in much greater detail in an upcoming project.
● North Carolina: Republican legislators have gerrymandered North Carolina from Congress all the way down to local school boards, so it’s unsurprising that they recently unveiled a proposal to gerrymander the state’s prosecutorial and local court districts. If enacted, this bill would reduce the political power of African Americans and Democratic-leaning voters, which means there’s a good chance it could face lawsuits like the ones that have led to the GOP’s gerrymanders for all other levels of government getting struck down in recent years.
Although a state House committee passed the bill, it won’t clear the full chamber in this soon-to-adjourn legislative session. However, the legislation’s sponsor promised it would return at the next session, which is no idle threat since the GOP-dominated legislature is planning to call one in both August and September to handle—among other issues—redistricting. Why? To fix one of their own illegal gerrymanders, of course: Republicans have to redraw their state legislative maps after the Supreme Court struck them down in June.
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