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Sunday, March 11, 2018


With every instrumentality at their disposal

by Tom Sullivan

Han von Spakovsky's "Ya Got Trouble" routine may not have found its way to the fictional River City, Iowa. But for decades now, plenty of real places across the country have heard his pitch about the caliber of disaster represented by the fictional presence of rampant voter fraud in their communities.

He's not selling boys bands. He's selling vote suppression.

A federal judge in Kansas City, Kansas is not buying. Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, heard arguments last week in the case of Fish v. Kobach, a challenge to the state’s controversial "proof of citizenship" voting law. It pits the ACLU and state plaintiffs denied their right to vote against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach has promoted amending the National Voter Registration Act to waive provisions for states that adopt a proof of citizenship voter registration requirement.

Tierney Sneed has been covering the trial for Talking Points Memo.

Intent to defraud is irrelevant, von Spakovsky argued as a witness for the state. Whenever a non-citizen registers or votes “they are defrauding citizens,” he argued. But what about the thousands of qualified citizens denied their votes by the restrictive laws? “Would that not also be defrauding the electoral process?” Robinson asked:

“As long as you have an open process to allow the potential voter to obtain the ID to vote,” that’s neither discriminatory nor unconstitutional, then the system is not being defrauded, he said.

Robinson said she was taking from that answer that von Spakovsky wanted to consider the context around burdens in this case. But, conversely, in non-citizen voting — whether that person made a mistake or there was an administrative error — context shouldn’t be considered, she said, describing von Spakovsky’s apparent view.

Why should you only look at it contextually when talking about citizens? Robinson asked.

Von Spakovsky tried to avoid the contradiction again, and said that context should be considered in prosecutions.

“I am not asking about prosecution,” Robinson said. She was asking him how he characterized voter fraud, she said.

Again, von Spakovsky brought up the distinctions he saw between prosecutions and the effect of when a non-citizen casts a ballot.

But Robinson appeared unconvinced. For thousands who are actual citizens, Robinson said, “that’s not diluting the vote? And that’s not impairing the integrity of the electoral process, I take it?”
Neither is the process served when people self-censor by staying home, argues the New York Times in an editorial. They are not, as some believe, protesting poor choices, but "putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote." People like von Spakovsky.

In Virginia, in Alabama, and perhaps this week in Pennsylvania, the Times argues, protesting at the ballot box can make a difference. The Times promises to examine why people abstain in a series of columns between now and November.

Disillusionment with the major parties is part of the problem: "Some people wouldn’t vote if you put a ballot box in their living room." So are the frustrations of failing election technology. But so is the vote suppression on trial in Kansas.

The Editorial Board writes:
Keeping people from voting has been an American tradition from the nation’s earliest days, when the franchise was restricted to white male landowners. It took a civil war, constitutional amendments, violently suppressed activism against discrimination and a federal act enforcing the guarantees of those amendments to extend this basic right to every adult. With each expansion of voting rights, the nation inched closer to being a truly representative democracy. Today, only one group of Americans may be legally barred from voting — those with felony records, a cruel and pointless restriction that disproportionately silences people of color.
But with each expansion of voting rights come redoubled efforts by the modern analogues of white male landowners to roll them back.
A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before.

Stories like these are distressingly familiar, as more and more states pass laws that make voting harder for certain groups of voters, usually minorities, but also poor people, students and the elderly. They require forms of photo identification that minorities are much less likely to have or be able to get — purportedly to reduce fraud, of which there is virtually no evidence. They eliminate same-day registration, close polling stations in minority areas and cut back early-voting hours and Sunday voting.

These new laws may not be as explicitly discriminatory as the poll taxes or literacy tests of the 20th century, but they are part of the same long-term project to keep minorities from the ballot box. And because African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, the laws are nearly always passed by Republican-dominated legislatures.
Those legislatures have declared war on voters not of their persuasion and have prosecuted that war with every instrumentality at their disposal, from redistricting blue cities to undermining public education to gerrymandering to naked voter suppression. We know too well in North Carolina that since 2011 the courts have been the last line of defense against the reactionary Republican hegemon. Those lines won't hold for long. So long as Republicans hold their majorities, their war will continue and democracy as an American ideal will wither.

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu," goes the modern proverb. Those who don't or won't vote are the fricassee.

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.