Trump And GOP Go Full Steam Ahead On Voter Suppression

The Republican party is intensifying its efforts at voter suppression under the Trump administration as it continues its decades-long attack on our democracy in its quest for raw political power. These attacks are occurring on multiple fronts, both at the federal and state level as well as with the help of outside, independent actors.

This week we had Kris Kobach’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity requesting states to provide “full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” So far, this effort has largely been rebuffed by the states and it remains to be seen how the administration will react accordingly.

On the same day that those requests went out, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ also sent out a letter to the 44 states covered by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requesting details on their compliance with that law. One of the provisions of that law is specifics about how and when voters must be purged from the rolls. There would be nothing unusual about seeking this information from one or two states if there were specific incidents or complaints raised, but clearly asking all 44 states covered by the law raises some red flags.

As the former head of DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama notes, “These two letters [Kobach’s and Sessions’], sent on the same day, are highly suspect, and seem to confirm that the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to suppress the right to vote. It is not normal for the Department of Justice to ask for voting data from all states covered by the National Voter Registration Act. It’s likely that this is instead the beginning of an effort to force unwarranted voter purges.”

Sam Bagenstos, who served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights from 2009 until 2011, worries that the DOJ effort will be far more successful than Kobach’s, saying, “[T]he folks at DOJ know what they’re doing and I really worry that at the end of the day there’s gonna be a lot of noise about this Kobach-Pence commission and people will miss the enforcement efforts of DOJ. DOJ, at the end of the day, is more likely to be successful as a tool in this process than is this commission, so that’s why I worry more about them.”

Meanwhile, the remnants of Karl Rove’s voter suppression efforts under the Bush Administration have moved into the private sector but are still working as hard as ever on their goal. Charles Pierce reports that one of prime movers in that scandal has now moved on to something called the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), an organization that bills itself as a right-wing ACLU. That group has sent out letters to local election commissioners in small, predominantly poor and minority counties across Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arizona threatening legal action if they did not purge voters from the rolls, based on the number of registered voters versus population compiled by the ACRU. Many of these poor counties do not have the means to mount an effective legal defense, much less incur the costs of a lengthy judicial process. Instead, they essentially agree to sign a consent decree to purge voters from the rolls to satisfy the numbers provided by the ACRU. This effort has now expanded to include larger election districts in certain swing states, again largely targeting traditionally Democratic voters.

All this is on top of the efforts at the state level to restrict voting rights in other ways such as restrictive voter ID, limiting voting hours and polling places, and making it as hard as possible to even register. Added to that is the extreme gerrymandering that has also taken place further diluting Democratic votes. Because the states and the courts slow-walk the judicial process, it takes years and many voting cycles to determine whether these actions are constitutional and, if they are ruled not so, the courts provide no redress to those effected voters, meaning that some voters have been disenfranchised in almost every election this decade.

One of the biggest problems that Democrats continually have is getting their voters out. This is clearly a failing that the party must deal with. But there is also no doubt that voter suppression and the hurdles to actual voting are also a part of that same problem. It is also clear that things will only get worse under the Trump administration.

Originally published at on July 7, 2017.